Biblical Stand: Socialism or Capitalism?
A friend that I have known for more than 40 years gave a challenge in his recent blog. Even though my friend grew up in a Southern Baptist church environment as a child, he later rejected the Bible and God in his early adult life. Today, he is a leader and member of several groups – a Humanist Association, a local atheist group, a chapter of FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) in his area, and the Freethinkers movement. On many occasions, he and I have spirited discussions on-line about religion and faith and the reality of God. I do not debate in any formal sense. I simply express my beliefs and views as clearly as possible, while listening to him and others to see how they come to their conclusions.
My friend began this latest discussion by saying that one can find a Biblical text to justify anything. Because of his beliefs, he apparently wanted to prove his point that he can validate the Bible’s stand on socialism. He quoted from Acts 4:32-37, which describes the actions of the Christian believers in the early church. The believers “had all things common….brought the prices of the things (land and houses) that were sold…and laid them down at the feet of the apostles…and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.”
The challenge came in the form of a statement. “Surely there must be a passage in the Bible which justifies laissez faire capitalism. When you find it, send it to me or post it on your blog.” Okay, I am a sucker for challenges so here goes!
To begin with, let’s start with some definitions.
Socialism. Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy. Through equal-power relations, production is determined by demands and needs, while allocation of products and services is determined by the principle of individual merit / individual contribution. Modern socialism evolved from a political movement that criticized industrialization and private property, attempting to secede from a capitalist society.
Laissez faire. The term laissez faire is French and literally means “let do.” In the context of economy, it means “let it be” or “leave it alone.” It has come to be defined as “let the people do as they wish.”
Laissez faire capitalism. Laissez faire capitalism is an economic system involving ownership by individuals. The goal of individuals is to use property (buildings, machines, capital) to produce goods and services to earn income. It is a culture in which economic transactions between parties are free from government interference and restrictive regulations and taxes.
Next, let us establish the truth that the Bible does not speak specifically about socialism or capitalism. One may find some little thread of thought, by some sense of logic or inference about socialistic or capitalistic ideals. But, again, there is no mention of socialism or capitalism within the body of Scripture.
However, the Bible is very clear about work ethic, financial responsibility and helping others.
With that in mind, let us go back to the Scripture text of Acts 4. We have looked at verses 32-37, but my friend left out the most important verse preceding this passage. In Acts 4:31, it says that the believers prayed and the place was shaken where they had assembled together. They were all filled with the Holy Ghost (the Spirit of God) and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
Do you see how this affects what happens in verses 32-37? Because of the presence of God, the believers testified, became one in unity, shared their possessions and property and finances, sacrificed, felt the power and grace of God emphatically, and saw how the needs of all present were met.
It was definitely not socialism in action. It was God’s movement in action. It was not by vote or decree that believers gave of themselves. It was by the power of God in their hearts that they gave.
Socialism allows secular society to determine needs and distribution. In socialism, there is someone (or some policy group) who has power and authority to determine what is best, even though the system is supposed to be communal in decision-making. Socialism comes from the intellect of mankind.
On the other hand, ministry (meeting the needs of others) in the spiritual context comes from the heart, not the intellect. The heart is moved by compassion, not by decree. The heart is moved by kindness, not by dictate. The heart is moved by love, not by demand.
Someone has said: “The corrupt mind seeks to gain at the expense of others. The Christian mind seeks the good of others at their own expense.”
The difference is clear. God’s people reach out to meet needs to bring others up. Government and socialist groups reach out to make all things equal by bringing others down. It is a huge distinction.
I do not promote capitalism in opposition to socialism. There are pros and cons to both sides. It is not an “either-or” situation. The best any society can do is to incorporate both principles and theories to meet needs of those less fortunate. Personally, I have always felt that, if the church did its part to meet needs as the Body of Christ should, there would be no need for government assistance. Similarly, if the individual believers would take care of their own families, there would less inclination to allow governmental agencies to be put in place. The church of our generation has failed to obey the call of Jesus to help those around us!
The Bible does not teach on the subject of economics as such. It teaches us about work and personal responsibility and accountability. I believe that the economics of the business world (and I have studied both macro-economics and micro-economics for my B.S. degree major of Business Administration) will fall into place in right relationship with mankind when our personal economics (living and working as God commands) are in place.
Work is noble and God-ordained from the very beginning, as we see in Genesis 3:19: “By the sweat of your face shall you eat bread.” When men seek to live off the toil of others, they seek to overturn God’s plan for mankind. Paul, the great apostle, wrote: “Let him who steals, steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his hands what is good.” Later, he penned the phrase, “A man is worthy of his hire.”
We find out that we work so that we may be a blessing to those in need. We are never self-centered. We live by the principle of grace, not greed.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:8, we work and “do not be a burden to others.” In addition, 1 Timothy 5:3-8 encourages us to work “so our family does not become a burden to others.” Work is not drudgery but a delight. Work was to be a pleasure in the Garden of Eden, but because of the fall of mankind (Adam and Eve) work became toil. We can still bring work to the point of delight when we seek to bring God glory through our toil. Proverbs 14:23 reminds us, “In toil there is profit.”
Colossians 3:23 says to “work heartily.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10 brings a warning to those “not willing to work…(that they) will not eat.” In Proverbs 10:4, the thoughtful and wise individual writes that a “slack hand causes poverty.” When Job suffered loss, he did not look to nor receive help from friends. He looked only to God, and he found peace and blessings. Those who cannot work or gather income are to be taken care of – the widows, the orphans, the sojourners. All others are to find work. Thomas Edison said: “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” We must be willing to do any task that offers us the chance to work.
Listen to this quote: “The Christian work ethic requires more than hard work. It also requires a worthwhile enterprise, something good and beneficial, something that is productive and has value.” Our values must be Biblically based.
Here are some thoughts from another minister:
• Work allows us to be self-reliant and respected.
• Work entitles us to an honest earthly reward.
• Work affords us the joy of helping others.
• Hard work leads to a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.
• Good work results in prosperity and opportunities.
In conclusion, we must find work that we love and that allows us to serve God through it. My real “job” is to worship and love the Lord. My vocation, on the other hand, is something I do that allows God to provide for me. My daily task at the workplace is God’s provision for my daily needs – food, shelter, raiment. Anything above those basic needs is just added blessing.
Socialism instsituted in the Bible? No. Capitalism promoted in the Bible? No. Personal responsibility by God-directed generosity to help those in need taught in the Bible? Yes.
There is no economic system (corporate or government) that is given a blessing in Scripture. The Bible calls mankind to have a personal relationship to God through Jesus Christ. Through that, the economics of each generation will be right and just and good. It is neither socialism nor capitalism that reflects the heart of God. It is only the economics of love, mercy, grace and compassion that reflect the heart of God!
Let us work to represent God in the workplace. Let us live to bless others. Let us glorify God with all we have and do. Let us worship and praise the Lord with every fiber of our being!