Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christian Economics

Several years ago I heard a lecture presented by R.C. Sproul which he titled: Christian Economics. We don’t normally hear these two words placed together, do we? Many Christians, perhaps thinking of Jesus’ famous, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” think in a false dichotomy. That is, they think of Christianity as being confined to the spiritual, and economics as being confined to the material.

Yet, historic Christianity is not dualistic--with the spiritual and the material being absolutely separated--but rather, Christianity has a holistic or integrated view of reality and the world. Said another way, the Christian worldview is not stunted or constricted; but it is comprehensive.

Economics is a major force in the world and in the life of every person in the world, and the Bible has much to say concerning the economy or stewardship. (Economy comes to us from combing two Greek terms for “house” and “law,” so etymologically economy means “house law” or “law of the house.")

We could undoubtedly list numerous biblical principles of economics, but we will here limit ourselves to four very broad and fundamental categories. Without discussing these in any particular order of importance, I begin with the biblical principle of private property.

Vital to Christian economics is the recognition and the respect for the individual’s right to own property. The right of the individual to own private property is the implicit philosophy behind the commandment of the LORD: “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15).

The second principle of Christian economics is equity. By equity I mean “justice” or perhaps, “fairness.” Equity in this sense speaks of just or fair wages and just or fair prices. We may look to the teaching of Jesus [spoken in the context of preaching the Gospel]: “...the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7). The Apostle Paul combines this saying of Christ with Deut. 25:4 “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain (1 Timothy 5:18).

Next, we find the principle of industry. Like private property, industry is also implicit in the command “You shall not steal.” Many mistakenly believe that industry or labor or work; is the result of the sin of Adam and Eve. Yet, we find Adam and Eve working before we find them sinning: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). The principle of industry is a creation ordinance predicated upon or patterned according to the work of the Creator God Himself.

The fourth principle of Christian economics is compassion. God’s Law is clear: the poor are not to be taken advantage of or exploited. Biblically, we are not to exploit the poor, and further, we are to practice benevolence; i.e. we are to feed and clothe the starving and the naked. “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

Now, there is another principle which under girds the above four. This underlying and necessary principle is freedom, economic freedom. Dr. Alvin Schmidt aptly observes,
Just as God does not want people to be coerced in spiritual matters, so too He does not want them to be coerced in earthly matters, for instance, in their economic activities.  There is not a single reference in either the Old or New Testament in which God denies economic freedom to people, as do fascism, socialism, and communism. (Under The Influence, p.205)
Communism is largely a failed economic and social experiment, but socialism is alive and well (Or should I say “alive and unwell”?) in much of Europe and in the hearts of many Americans. Often times the American socialist or communist or fascist will use the Bible--in an appeal to the principles of equity and compassion--to justify their economic philosophies. But is socialism or communism agreeable to Christian economics?

The answer is “no.” First, we must point out that socialism (communism and fascism are two kinds of socialism) is not, in the final analysis, concerned with equity, but rather is devoted to equality. Equity is not equality. The laborer is certainly worthy of his wages but the laborer is not necessarily worthy of his neighbor’s wages. Clearly, Jesus’ parable of the talents shows that equity is not equality. Socialism confuses and conflates the two and thus proves to be unjust and unfair.

We should also point out that some of the lowest standards of living are not to be found in capitalist countries, but in socialist countries. Making all people poor is a poor act of compassion. Still, many American socialists appeal to the nascent church of Acts 2. The Bible says that the Lukan-Acts community “had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45).

There is one basic and obvious difference between the infant church and socialism: The early Christians behaved in such a way temporarily and voluntarily. There is no such thing as voluntary socialism. Socialism is primarily about one thing: The forced redistribution of wealth. The forced redistribution of wealth is entirely unbiblical for it denies private property and equity; and ultimately, it undermines industry, which inevitably precludes compassion.

In short, Christian economics ensures freedom to the individual to own private property so that he may perform worthy work for a worthy wage. It honors the profit motive—yet precludes exploitation--so that industry may increase production; thereby helping the poor (scarcity helps no one, especially the poor). And finally, Christian economics encourages--not enforces--benevolence, to curb the callousness of unbridled selfishness; the sinful selfishness which knows no categories of “haves” and “have nots.”

4 comments:

  1. This wwhat I put as a response elsewhere to this comment above:
    The problem which the article fails to properly address is what it is that socialism actually is. There is confusion between socialism, a very broad term in our language, and statism. They are not necessarily one and the same. There are brands of socialism that are anti the state,e.g. Trotskyites.

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  2. Jeff,
    Thank you for reading and commenting.

    For a differing view of Trotsky and Trotskyism [that Trotskyism is also statist] see below.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/clives_lives/2007/04/leon_trotsky.html

    http://bonzai.squarespace.com/blog/tag/trotsky

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  3. Well maybe you could argue that...who knows what Trotsky might have been had Stalin not put a hatchet in his head. I do know that in my country there were several brands of Marxism and some claimed to be anti bureaucratic and Trotskyist. I think that some form of socialism could work in a small island community such as Norfolk Island or some other Pacific island. However it would always tend to statism in the broader context.

    I am not paranoid about the state but I do believe that people are best governed when they are least governed. I think that the state can legitimately intervene on behalf of the poor to avoid poverty traps.

    I would not mind dialoguing with you more, Steve. I think we might have some issues that we could address together.

    God bless,
    Jeff

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  4. Blessings to you too, Jeff. Thank you again for reading and commenting. Feel free to contact me any time.

    If we don't bump into each other before then...Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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