The Voice 5.08: February 22, 2015

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The Voice

Christians and Society: Capitalism

Christianity was established during the days of the Roman Empire with the claim that God had made Jesus of Nazareth Lord and King, declaring Him the Son of God through His resurrection (Acts 2:36, 17:6-9, Romans 1:4). All Christians, therefore, recognized they were part of the great spiritual and trans-national Kingdom of God in Christ over whom Jesus rules as Lord (Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:13, Revelation 1:12-20). Meanwhile they still lived within the Roman Empire, obeyed civil authority whenever possible, and strove to live by their faith while existing in Greco-Roman culture (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, 1 Peter 2:11-15). The Roman Empire has come and gone as have many other successive states, powers, societies, and cultures, yet Christians continue to strive to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven while existing within their societies and cultures on earth (Philippians 3:20-21, Colossians 3:1-11).

In the early modern era the Western world saw the end of feudalism and the rise of capitalism; today capitalism is the predominant economic model throughout the world. Capitalism is an umbrella term for economic systems featuring private ownership of business, industry, and material for the primary purpose of making a profit (thus, the obtaining of capital). In a capitalist system wage labor is the means by which most people make a living; some tend to become quite rich while the majority live at subsistence level. Capitalism is also known for market competition exemplified in the American stock market. Within capitalism many different theories of practice abound: laissez-faire and liberal theories of capitalism maintain strong confidence in the market and property rights and see less room for governmental interference, while Keynesian and neo-classical macro-economic theories emphasize the role of governmental regulation to reduce monopolies and reduce the effects of market volatility. Some countries maintain almost pure laissez-faire capitalism; others maintain almost purely state-controlled capitalism. Most, however, feature “mixed” capitalism, espousing elements of different theories of economic capitalism with different levels of fervor depending on market conditions, with certain markets controlled by the state and other markets controlled by private individuals. In light of the New Testament, what should be the relationship between Christians and capitalism?

New York Stock Exchange, Wall Street 1

Despite popular views to the contrary, capitalism (let alone market or laissez-faire capitalism) is not the default economic model for the world; before the modern era it did not even exist. The New Testament does not commend any particular economic theory or system; Christians are called to obey the government and to work and make their own living quietly no matter who is in charge or under what economic system they live (Romans 13:1-7, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, 1 Peter 2:11-15). In New Testament times the Roman economy was predominantly agrarian; trades were dominated by guilds; some would hire themselves out for labor, while many laborers were slaves (e.g. Matthew 20:1-16, Ephesians 6:5-8). Jesus and the Apostles maintain the same types of expectations of Christians in their economic dealings as can be seen in Israel: laborers and slaves are to work diligently and be worthy of their wages/keep; employers and masters are to treat their workers fairly and pay wages on time; economic transactions are to be handled fairly for both parties; special care should be given to the poor and marginalized (Matthew 25:31-46, Ephesians 6:5-9, James 1:26-27, 5:1-6).

While capitalism may not be specifically commended in Scripture, Christians can thrive and serve God while living within a capitalist economy. Christians today can live quietly, make a living by working for a wage or by owning a business or investments, and have the opportunity to provide for their families and give to those in need (Ephesians 4:28, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, 1 Timothy 5:8).

Among modern economic systems capitalism has proven most effective at incentivizing investment, labor, and productivity; capitalistic enterprise built America and other Western industrial nations. Nevertheless, a capitalistic economic system is not inherently good or evil: the system’s ethics are only as strong as the ethics of those who participate within it. Capitalism incentivizes greed and covetousness, condemned in Ephesians 5:3, 5 and Colossians 3:5. It is easy for those within capitalistic systems to begin exploiting people and resources; Christians do well to stand against such abuses and excesses, as James did in James 5:1-5. The “losers” in capitalistic competition are easily forgotten and fall through the system; Jesus expects Christians to help provide for such people (Matthew 25:31-46, Galatians 2:10, 6:10). Without ethical constraints capitalistic societies end up feeding on themselves and consuming themselves; as Christians, we must affirm what is commendable about capitalistic enterprise while remaining sober-minded and vigilant about its excesses and failings (Romans 12:9, Philippians 4:8).

Most Christians today live in capitalistic societies; many Christians are very actively engaged in capitalistic enterprise. Great blessings and opportunities can come to God’s people through such enterprise but we must always be on guard against covetousness, greed, selfishness, alienation, and a neglect of the poor. Let us serve God while living in our capitalistic society, standing firm for ethical and godly principles!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Voice 5.08: February 22, 2015

The Voice 4.52: December 28, 2014

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The Voice

Christians and Society: Communism

Christianity was established during the days of the Roman Empire with the claim that God had made Jesus of Nazareth Lord and King, declaring Him the Son of God through His resurrection (Acts 2:36, 17:6-9, Romans 1:4). All Christians, therefore, recognized they were part of the great spiritual and trans-national Kingdom of God in Christ over whom Jesus rules as Lord (Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:13, Revelation 1:12-20). Meanwhile they still lived within the Roman Empire, obeyed civil authority whenever possible, and strove to live by their faith while existing in Greco-Roman culture (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, 1 Peter 2:11-15). The Roman Empire has come and gone as have many other successive states, powers, societies, and cultures, yet Christians continue to strive to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven while existing within their societies and cultures on earth (Philippians 3:20-21, Colossians 3:1-11).

Ever since the middle of the nineteenth century many people have hoped to establish or live in a society ordered according to the principles of communism. “Communism” is a term that can mean many different things depending on one’s scope and reference. In the broadest sense of the term “communism” refers to a society in which all things are held in common (from the Latin communis, “common, universal”). In the middle of the nineteenth century the term became associated with the political and economic philosophy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who claimed that society was presently ordered into two classes, the “proletariat” (the working class) and the “bourgeoisie” (the middle and upper classes). They claimed that the class struggle between the groups would eventually lead to the victory of the proletariat who would then abolish money and class distinctions, the reason for government, and thus lead to the ultimate “communist” society where all things are held in common. Such is also called Marxism. In the twentieth century communism became associated with the Comintern of the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, a totalitarian government run by one party, highlighting certain elements of Marxist thought while dispensing with others. When most people think of communism they still have in mind the government and socio-economic systems of the former Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, China, and Vietnam.

What should a Christian’s attitude be toward a communist society?

In the New Testament we do not see a particular socio-economic theory specifically commended; Christians may live under many different types of governments and in many different socio-economic systems and are called to remain faithful in such environments (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, 1 Peter 2:11-15). In terms of the culture of the local church the New Testament provides an example of “communism” in the most general sense in Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37, in which all Christians had everything in common and had no need among them. While such a culture has Apostolic commendation it was not imposed on all Christians: we read of Christians who had greater wealth than others (e.g. Romans 16:1) and of Christians of different classes assembling with each other without the expectation that everything would be held in common (but to be sensitive so as to not allow class distinctions to divide the Body; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). The Bible is full of exhortations to care for the poor and to provide justice for the widow and orphan and excoriates those who accumulate wealth by oppression and to the hurt of his fellow man (e.g. Psalm 10:1-10, Isaiah 1:10-17, Amos 4:1-3, 5:24, Matthew 25:31-46, James 1:27, 5:1-6). God is very concerned for the welfare of the poor and dispossessed.

Nevertheless, in practice, communist societies have proven impractical and quite hostile to Christians and the Christian faith. Humans are sinful and seek their own advantage (Romans 3:11-23); government is established for a reason and has its purpose (Romans 13:1-7). No society has been able to practice pure communism, for some will labor diligently and others will not, and there is no mechanism by which to censure those who are not diligent in their effort (contrary to 2 Thessalonians 3:10). All remaining “Communist” societies have either accommodated with capitalistic market forces (China, Vietnam) or have been impoverished and ever more firmly under dictatorial rule (Cuba, North Korea). Meanwhile, communism in modern practice took Marx’s dictum that “religion is the opiate of the masses” (a condensed version of a quote in Marx, “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, February 1844). To Marx religion, especially Christianity, was escapist, a means by which the bourgeoisie controlled and manipulated the proletariat to accept their lot in life. Communist societies attempted to do away with religion and those who maintained adherence to them. The Soviet Union sent many professing Christians to the gulag and before the executioners; to this day Christianity is not fully legal in any Communist society and Christians continue to be persecuted for their faith in them.

Therefore a Christian cannot fully affirm allegiance to the Kingdom of God in Christ while identifying as a full Marxist or Communist since Marx and those who later claimed his mantle were atheists and hostile toward God in Christ. Nevertheless many Christians continue to live in communist countries and societies; they do well to seek to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus, working in their jobs as to the Lord, promoting the Gospel, ready to suffer persecution from the authorities if need be to uphold God’s work in the Kingdom of His Son (Ephesians 6:5-9, 1 Peter 1:3-9, 4:1-19). All Christians do well to pray for these saints so that God may strengthen them (1 Peter 5:8-9). Let us ever affirm Christ, remain rooted in Him, and maintain our allegiance to His Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Voice 4.52: December 28, 2014