This is the third part of a six-part essay. Here are the six parts.
- Why Did I Write This Series?
- Capitalism Versus Socialism And The Culture War?
- What Does The Bible Say About Private Property?
- What Is The Problem With Collectives?
- When Is Socialism the Best Moral Choice?
- When Is Capitalism The Best Moral Choice?
What Does The Bible Say About Private Property?
If you have ever raised a child, then you know that one of the first words uttered by a child is “MINE.” If the ideas are not instinctive, then the concepts of property and ownership are quickly and easily learned. Children have no trouble understanding what belongs them. What parents have difficulty teaching are the advantages of sharing. It takes adult maturity to complicate what seems to a child an otherwise simple matter.
What does Christianity say about the ownership of property? After God made human beings, what was the first thing he did?
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
After creating us, God gave us the fruit of His labors. He gave us the gift of ourselves and of the Earth itself.
The Bible is filled with stories of hardworking men and women. In ages past these people set an example for us. Imitating the example of our Creator, they generously gave others the gifts of their labors. At the same time, the Bible clearly distinguishes the difference between stealing and accepting a gift. God has given us unambiguous commandments. As first stated in Exodus 20:15 and repeated in Deuteronomy 5:19, God himself has told us: “You shall not steal.”
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
So it is then that most parents teach children what belongs to them, what belongs to others, and to give generously to those in need.
As adults, we must participate in the conduct of our societal institutions. That includes a great titanic struggle of our time, the choice between two forms of economics: capitalism and socialism. Here are the definitions.
Note that the lexicographer believes capitalism and socialism express opposite concepts, that is, these words are antonyms. In practice, most assume neither extreme capitalism nor extreme socialism can be made to work. This suggests that one of the objects sound economic management is to find the right balance between capitalism and socialism, but I think that is the wrong conclusion. Such a notion transforms what should be an ethical decision into a mere management decision. It allows “experts” to decide what more appropriately should decided by the ordinary citizenry. What we citizens must do is define and live by an ethical concept of ownership. Did God intend for individual human beings or our government to be the stewards of His gift?
What position does the Bible take? Does the Bible affirm capitalism or socialism? That is not clear. The Bible has only one definitive purpose. The Bible tells us of the story of our redemption. We are told God loves us and sacrificed his only Son for our salvation. We are told we are to love God and each other.
Nonetheless, if you google “christian socialism,” you will get a startlingly 3,470,000 hits. Whereas if you google “christian capitalism,” you will get 4,190,000 hits. There is a raging debate.
Given the fact the Bible condemns stealing and covetousness, we each certainly have the right to own property. Still there are those confusing passages in Acts, 2:42-47 and 4:32-37. Let’s consider the latter.
Acts 4:32-37 – The Believers Share Their Possessions
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Yet by Acts 5, because the Apostle Peter had punished a couple for pretending to give up all their worldly possessions and sharing everything they owned, others had become afraid to do the same. Shortly thereafter, Acts 8 records the persecution and scattering of the early Christian church. People still adopted the faith and participated in worship, but the believers became missionaries and martyrs. The time for sharing all their worldly goods with each other had not necessarily passed, but it had become apparent they had to work as well as worship. For who knows the day of the Second Coming?
Consider what the Apostle Paul had to say about work.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 – Warning Against Idleness
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
The apostles knew full well the weaknesses of men. Because of the Bible, their lessons are still remembered. Unfortunately, they are not remembered well or easily put into practice. Thus Will Rogers had occasion to remark not quite so long ago:
“Communism is like prohibition, it is a good idea, but it won’t work.” (from here)
So what is the answer? How do we get people to both work and to share?
Continued — What Is The Problem With Collectives?
Cartoon from here.
Cartoon from here.