THE BIBLE NEVER USES THE TERM “SOCIALISM,” but the concept is present and implicitly condemned.
Another name for socialism is statism. Statism occurs when the State takes over functions that God has assigned to the individual, family, or church. Social welfare programs (food stamps, aid for dependent children, WICK, Federal welfare, disability, etc.) are good examples. They purloin the responsibility to care for the poor that God assigned to individuals, family, and church. Social Security is another example. It assumes care for the elderly that God delegated to the family. The examples are almost endless. Most of the growth in State and Federal government that has occurred in the last fifty years are examples of statism.
The City of Man
Statism first appears in Genesis chapter eleven. At this point in history, everyone spoke the same language. They decided to consolidate their power and build a city, Babel, with a tower that will rise to find God. They wanted to make a name for themselves.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.Genesis 11:4
The people of Babel attempted to concentrate their power in the hands of the State, in this case the city-State—Babel. Their motive was transparent, boasting. They wanted to “make a name for themselves.” God was not happy. He disperses them by dividing them into different language groups, so that they could not understand each other.
The City of God
The next chapter, Genesis twelve, introduces Abraham, the father of Israel. Abraham did not try to make his name great. Instead, he humbled himself and obeyed. So God reversed the paradigm and told him, “I will make your name great” (Genesis 12:2). Unlike the citizens of Babel, Abraham did not try to build the City of Man. Instead, he wandered throughout Mesopotamia seeking “the city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
The principle that governed Abraham’s city was subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is an important principle, one that today is mostly forgotten.
“Subsidiarity is the principle that central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level.”The Old English Dictionary
Subsidiarity flees strong central government. It maximizes governmental control in the individual and the family. Today the City of God exists imperfectly. In the world to come, it will be all-encompassing and perfect. Because they are led by the Spirit, wherever the City of God exists on planet earth, individuals are self-governing.
The ideal of subsidiarity re-occurs throughout scripture. The nation of Israel that came out of Egypt submitted to little central authority. Each tribe and clan governed itself. The failure of subsidiarity is one principle that later doomed the Davidic Monarchy. Whan Solomon centralized power in the State he violated God’s clear commandment in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. When Israel asked for a king like the other nations, the prophet Samuel predicted that Solomon would violate this principle (1 Samuel 8:10-18).
Our founding fathers believed in subsidiarity. They saw it as a key to personal freedom. When the State concentrates decisions and power in itself, liberty perishes.
This is why our Founders inserted so many checks and balances into the federal Constitution and why they knew the federal government must have clear, defined limits.Madison Liberty Institute
In a culture that practices subsidiarity people submit to God’s law and seek to obey it. Therefore, little central government is needed. The individual is the first and fundamental unit of government. He methodically saves for the future. He doesn’t need social security. He cares for himself and his relatives in old age. He is faithful to his marriage vows. He disciplines, loves, and teaches his children, and they grow up to be self-governing. He doesn’t need the welfare programs of the Great Society. When times get hard, his extended family, or the local church, provides for his financial needs.
In 1914 my grandfather, Cornelius Meagher, was married with two small children when he was injured in an industrial accident. Government programs to remedy his situation did not exist. (That was actually a blessing). So, he returned to Minneapolis and recuperated with his extended family for six months. Once convalesced, he was hired by Devoe Paint company as their salesman in Southern Idaho. My grandfather was the norm. Before 1962 people relied on family, not civil government.
The Collapse of Subsidiarity
This was how it worked in the United States before the Great Depression. Was it imperfect? Yes. We live in a fallen world. Sometimes people without family or church suffered. But the damage caused by the State attempting to compensate has been a nuclear family wrecking ball.
The first significant symptom of a modern Babel was the 1930s New Deal under President Roosevelt. This included Social Security. The second big expansion, an enlargement that encroached even greater on the prerogatives of the family, was Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in the early sixties. Suddenly it was the government’s job to care for the poor, single mothers, children, and the disenfranchised.
Since the sixties, American culture has grown more secular. This has motivated the transfer of dependence from the family to the State. Unsurprisingly, the family has withered. Without the motivating power of Christianity, individuals have become more lawless. Think the 2020 riots in Minneapolis, Kenosha, Portland, and Chicago. The nuclear family is slowly collapsing. This means more civil government to control and provide for the increasing number that, uninfluenced by the Bible, will not control or provide for themselves.
Returning to the City of God
Gospel proclamation is the key to subsidiarity. When the church proclaims the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, individuals are converted. They become law-keepers. They become self-governing. Families get renewed. More people marry and stay married. Parents perform their duties to their children. As people govern themselves, civil government shrinks to its proper role. Like Abraham, we become a Babel-rejecting-people, “seeking the City that has foundations whose designer and builder is God.”
How should we respond? The principle of subsidiarity has almost completely vanished. We cannot reinstate it with human strength. It is a spiritual problem with a spiritual solution. We need the power of Holy Spirit. We need revival. Join me in prayer. Confess your sins, the sins of your fathers and mothers, and the sins of our nation, and join your brothers and sisters in pleading with God to show grace to the unworthy.