Why is it that there is so much disparity between wealthy and poor countries in the world? We have rich countries with no natural resources and poor countries dripping with a favourable climate and endless mineral resources. The difference lies in the degree to which a country adheres to the economic, ethical and social principles of responsibility laid down in the one ancient book with more wisdom than any other, the Bible.
When the Bible talks about justice in the market, corruption, a stable currency, low and fair taxation, a strong work ethic, vocation, families as the economic and educational foundation of society, keeping your contractual word, the rule of law, private ownership of the means of production, long term economic cycles, aid to the poor, debt avoidance, social justice, charity and a host of other topics, the conclusions it comes to will seem very familiar to people in rich “western” countries. This is because our economic system has been largely built on the principles found in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. As the industrial revolution took off in Europe many of our current beliefs about economic policy were forged within a culture that was still largely adhering to the Judeo-Christian worldview.
It was no accident that the scientific, industrial, economic and urban revolutions of the 18th and 19th century started in European Protestant countries before moving elsewhere. It is also no accident that the degree to which a country develops economically today is dependent on how well they copy the examples laid down by those Protestant countries who industrialised first. There is a direct relationship between the worldview of a people and their economic destiny.
The reason why our western culture is now in a downward economic spiral is because we have abandoned our Christian worldview and economic heritage sometime in the last 50 years. The result will be a continual drop in wealth and prosperity as our selfish lust for “spend-now-pay-later” debt blows up as massive national debt defaults and currency crashes in the coming decade (2010-2020). The party is over but the people are still too economically drunk to realise the chairs are being packed up.
None of this has to be. If only our leaders had held fast to the wisdom of the ancient scriptures then the debacle of the present and near future would not unfold. Even now there is a way out, but it is too late to leave the party without some form of pain.
This seminar and the following three are my attempt to distil and pass on some form of understanding of the Christian worldview as it applies to economics and government. This information comes from the many Christian economics policy books I have accumulated over the last 25 years.
GENESIS AND ECONOMICS
The Genesis account of the fall teaches us much about modern economic theory. The following is an introductory list of the economic implications of the first three chapters which cover the origin and fall of humanity:
- God is the boss. He is sovereign and the employer of humanity.
- God privately owns everything, including us. Private ownership is therefore a very important Biblical concept (Psalm 50:10, Colossians 1:16-17).
- God has leased the planet to us. We are stewards and foremen over creation. Dominion was our first assignment (Genesis 1:28-30).
- The first sin was economic. It was theft from a tree, theft from God. In all our sinning since, we have been thieving from God.
- God has placed performance standards and accountability in creation. Adam and Eve failed the test of dominion through submission. The workers tried to sack the boss, take over the estate and create a paradise where all were equal to God. For this little insubordination they got fired!
- Because the fallen nature of humanity centres on the will to personal power, God had to decentralise power and responsibility through a curse on creation.
- Scarcity in nature is therefore deliberate, placed there so that humans have to work to live. Dominion has become much harder now, though still possible.
- Humans are now selfish by nature. (Luke 12: 16-21).
- We are also slaves to sin in need of a redeemer. A redeemer is someone who can buy a family member out of slavery (Colossians 3:13).
The Greek word for economist is “oikonomia”, meaning the manager of a household. Because of the fall and the curse with its built in scarcity, every human has had to become an economist. Why? Because every human now has to make decisions concerning the limited resources at their disposal. Conversely, because we are selfish, our human needs and wants are unlimited. Economics is therefore the art of balancing the scarcity of the curse with the needs and wants of humans. This makes economics a religious function, like all others.
However, overcoming scarcity and taking dominion is still achievable through using the administrative, legal, and ethical principles explained by God in scripture. This is one of the most important messages of the Bible (Deuteronomy 28, Matthew 6:33, Luke 18:30). Submission to God allows an individual and a culture to take dominion over its environment once again (Romans 8:21-22). But this mandate to rule the earth is now corrupted by the spiritual forces that work against us. It is also held back by the corrupt nature of the human soul, the will to personal power, the spirit of mammon and repressive or dualistic worldviews. It is only when we deal with these realms that we can move forward economically. To the extent that we do not deal with these foundational issues, we will be left in poverty, or return to it over time.
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.”
Matthew 28:18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
The typical modern Christian, brought up as they are in Christendom, the philosophy which says there is are separate and disconnected religious and secular spheres of life, has a huge intellectual problem. They read in scripture that Jesus has sovereign authority and power over all of life. On the other hand, when they conduct their daily life they give scant regard to this claim. It is as if they live in two disconnected worlds: the world of church, religion, family and personal issues, and the other world of work, business, science, education, law, recreation, the media, money and government. There is an unspoken rule in most churches that these latter issues are not “Gospel” and are for others to deal with.
This split personality among so many modern Christians is the product of enormously powerful cultural conditioning. The western world has inherited an ancient Greek conceptualisation of reality. The Greeks divided their existence into two distinct spheres. The spiritual and intellectual spheres were clean and pure, while the material sphere was polluted, evil and morally impure. This concept unfortunately found its way into early Christianity and we have been stuck with it since. There was an intellectual intensification of this dualistic view of reality during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. From the time of these two intellectual events European culture and thinking has been on a relentless journey toward the separation of “religious” spheres of influence from “secular” spheres of influence. Wherever European culture has spread around the world, dualism has followed.
Because of the scourge of dualism, also called secularism and modernity, the modern church has almost completely abandoned its influence in the social, legal, educational, scientific, economic and political spheres of life. This has allowed the Humanistic worldview to dominate western culture during the Twentieth Century.
There is no room for dualism if Jesus Christ really took sovereignty over this planet as He said He did in Matthew 28:18. Scores of scriptures and Biblical events boldly declare to us that God is indeed sovereign and humans are responsible to Him in all spheres of life (Isaiah 9:6-7, 61:1-3, Acts 217:24-28). If we Christians believe our faith is the true understanding of reality then that faith must speak to all areas of life or it is a fraud. Furthermore, if it is true, it will provide the best possible answers to questions of life and living. Without addressing all life’s issues, we cease to give credible answers to the seven great questions of life (What caused everything? How did we get here? How do we determine right and wrong? How should we live? What happens when we die? What is truth? What will the future hold?). We then cease to be a convincing alternative to worldviews such as Humanism and Islam.
Economics and finance are areas of study and social interaction that scarcely one Christian in a hundred fully understands. It is imperative that Christian leaders begin to study some of the mysteries of these important spheres of life. There is currently a desperate need to do this because the kingdom of God is destined to rule the earth, but few Christians know how we should be ruling. Kingdom principles provide the best vehicle for the growth of a prosperous and stable nation. Wholesale economic mismanagement has now created a case of “When all else fails, read the owner’s manual.”
Biblical principles are the standard to guide us in this quest to bring economics and government back to the wisdom of God. It is vital when considering a Christian approach to economics and finance to look only at scripture. Many writers claim to have a “Christian” approach to economics and finance when they are merely parroting the prevailing humanistic worldview. All principles that you are about to explore have their roots strictly in the Bible (Colossians 2:8).
Any individual worldview which expects to overturn the existing social order must have five foundation stones present: it must believe it alone has ultimate truth, it must believe in natural or divine favour, it must have an optimistic view of the future, it must have a binding comprehensive structure that covers all of life, and it must take the high moral ground. A truly Biblical understanding of economics, combined with the right eschatology, has all of these factors present.
THE SPIRIT OF MAMMON
Jesus talked about the kingdom of God more than any other topic. Interestingly though, his next most popular topic was money. This was because everyone handles money. Our handling of money is a vital window to our soul and our soul is the throne room of the King. It matters little whether you are a government treasurer handling billions of dollars, a businessman handling thousands, a mother struggling with grocery money, or a village farmer who only sees money when she comes to the market. All of us develop an intricate value system based around the money we handle and what it means in our lives. This attitude becomes a deeply ingrained part of our worldview. All of us are “economists” we all run a government, whether it consists of one person, a family or a nation. We all need good financial governance.
Money has a dark side to it that Jesus continually addressed. He attacked the selfish rich (Luke 6:24). He suggested we seek treasures in heaven before treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19). He warned us of the dangers of greed (Luke 12:15). He drove the moneychangers out of the temple (John 2:12-16). He also challenged us to choose between loving money and loving God (Luke 16:13). It is this last point that is most important in this discussion on economics. When Jesus spoke about loving money in Luke 16, He actually used the word mammon, not money. Jesus deliberately used an old Aramaic word that means money personified, deified and worshipped. By using the word mammon instead of money, He was declaring money to be a rival god. He was giving it personal and spiritual character. He was telling us that behind money are very real and powerful spiritual forces. Money, contrary to popular humanistic dualistic thinking, is not morally neutral. It has a life of its own that can take over our heart.
There is room in the human heart for only one lord. That place belongs to Jesus, the creator of the universe. However, money is currently the most worshipped god on earth. Its worship covers all cultures, all religions and all worldviews. The rich young ruler worshipped this rival deity and walked away from Jesus (Matthew 19:21). Zacchaeus renounced his worship of mammon and it was considered salvation (Luke 19:8-9). Today’s call to salvation rarely asks us to count the cost to our wallet (Luke 14:25-32-33). In the course of Christian discipleship there must be three conversions, that of the heart, the habits and the wallet. Often the discipleship of the wallet is the hardest of the three.
It is very instructive to stand back from life and observe the frantic scramble for money and possessions that takes place in our communities. No matter what the country or social class, so much time is spent in the pursuit of riches and material assets. The Bible correctly defines this love of money as the root of many evils in our world (1Tim 6:10). In practical terms, this means there is very little that a mammon worshipper will not do to get hold of money and keep hold of it. They will break laws, step on people, cheat on their tax, steal from neighbours, steal from voters, customers or suppliers, rip off contractors, do sweet deals with mates, swindle their family and workers, lie when selling, lie when buying, and the list goes on and on (James 5:1-6). If not quite so possessed by money, “nice” middle class average people still value each other in relation to how much affluence we have. Our cities and lifestyles are divided along strict rules of wealth and poverty (James 2:1-4). Money is a symbol of status, strength, influence and power. However, if we really knew who our creator is and how his value system works, which is the only one that counts in the end, only a fool would choose to live like this (Luke 6:24-26, 16:19-31).
God also knows of another side to money and teaches us through scripture how to handle it without selling our soul to mammon. God blessed men such as Abraham and Lot with great wealth. The Israelites were promised a land flowing with milk and honey (Deuteronomy 8:18). Faithful paying of the tax/tithe opened the windows of heaven for the ancient nation of Israel (Malachi 3:10). Wealthy women helped fund Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8:2-3). Nicodemus used his assets in the service of Christ’s burial (Matthew 27:57-60). God continues to give dominion to obedient nations today and He continues to bless individuals with great wealth. How can this be when He said money is so dangerous?
Christianity does not teach us to do away with money and live in poverty in order to be more spiritual, as some beliefs teach. The Biblical test is whether you use money for the kingdom of God or for your own kingdom (Matthew 6:25-34, 13:22). The three wise men brought their wealth to Christ. Wise men today do the same. Scripture teaches us that God gave us the earth and its bountiful harvest of blessing is a gift from him (Deuteronomy 8:18). Our stewardship of these resources will be effective when we are in submission to God (Proverbs 22:4). Submission comes first and dominion follows submission. Generosity follows dominion. It’s all about seeking first the kingdom (Matthew 6:33).
God has given us everything, absolutely everything we can touch, smell, taste and feel on this planet. There is nothing we have that God has not given us. The lifelong challenge given to us is to dedicate everything to Him in return. This begins with our very soul and expands out into our relationships, time, possessions and money. This is not a simple matter of giving a few dollars regularly to a church. The divine expectation is that we should see every use of our money as an opportunity to give back to God. This could be as simple as providing for our family, paying for their godly education, helping a sick friend, sharing a meal with neighbours, fighting for social justice, helping the underprivileged, giving a gift, starting a business, choosing a career or buying land or a home. It is not so much what we do with our money as why we do it (James 4:13-16). This was the lesson of the little widow’s mite (Mark 12:41). Jesus sat and deliberately watched how much people gave. He discerned the spirit in which they gave. This poor struggling widow gave the equivalent of two cents. She gave the most because she had the right spirit, a spirit of generosity.
CONTROLLING THE DESIRE FOR POWER
The entire future of a sovereign nation boils down to the state of the human heart and how it handles power. When addressing the economic future of a people, the place to start is not with economics. Economic progress, development and exchange are simply visible reflections of deeper longings, drives and desires for power over our circumstances and others. As Christians we must develop a Biblical approach to dealing with this lust for personal power and the spiritual forces that lie behind it, as a pre-requisite to dealing with economic issues.
The original sin was the desire for personal power. Adam and Eve were not content with their created status. They wanted to be gods. The will to power is the lust to be more that you know you should be and which your current social position ethically allows. It means the yearning desire to hoard, to possess, to control, to be the “top dog”, to be a god. Think of the disciples arguing with each other over who would be greatest (Luke 9:46-48). They genuinely lusted after political and spiritual power because all four gospels mention these arguments! The response of Jesus was instructive. Jesus took a child and showed them that when they have no desire for control, supremacy and power, but are content with what God made them to be, then they would be truly great. His very incarnation modelled this truth. We must follow our Lord.
There is an intimate connection between pride and power. Power was Lucifer’s dream. Pride was Lucifer’s downfall (Ezekiel 28:11-19). Scripture speaks of Satan’s very real unseen spiritual power that manifests itself in the structures of our social world (Ephesians 6:12, Matthew 4:1-11). His powers were originally given to serve and glorify God, but he lusted after God’s position. He, along with one third of the angels, was judged and they now inhabit earth (Luke 10:18). Satan craved the position of absolute power held by God. He lusted after total control of the universe (Isaiah 14:12-15). He was not content to serve. That lust was still in him when Christ was tempted at the start of His ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). In the rebellion of the first two humans, the same lust for power was in operation. They wanted to “be like God, knowing good and evil”. They were not content to serve God or obey God. They craved dominion and power without submission to the authority of God (Genesis 3:4-8). As Satan and Adam found out, the lust for power always fails (Luke 10:18-19).
This demonically based power is the real enemy of economic progress. These demonic spirits inhabit institutions and social structures as well as individuals. Satan’s influence over the economic climate of every nation is still visible today. It is visible through obvious and deep-seated social, political, economic and structural problems. Paul, in Ephesians 6:12, tells Christians interested in economics that they must fight on two fronts. If we only deal with the natural realm, we will fail. This will be hard for those accustomed to a dualistic, secular understanding of reality and economics. However, consider the rise and fall of Communism, Nazism, the Rwandan genocide, Islamic fundamentalism, Cambodia’s Pol Pot, North Korean xenophobia, the Burmese military suppression and Zimbabwe’s economic collapse. There were powerful spiritual forces behind each of these disasters.
To fight the powers that bind nations and inhibit economic, political and social progress we must first cleanse our own heart. Right at the outset, we must discern and defeat the lust for personal power that nips at our own heels. If we do not, we will end up using the same tactics of the powers we oppose. We will then become as evil as they are. Too often we hear of Christians in high office falling into this very trap. Claiming the high moral ground, they become guilty of the very tactics of the enemies of Christ. The result is blatant hypocrisy and disrespect for the name of our Lord. Somehow, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we must become aware of our own lusting for personal power, openly renounce it and learn to live our lives in service and obedience to Gods law. If Satan is so arrogant as to offer this power as a temptation to Christ, consider how often he offers it to mere mortals.
In this task of dealing with these spiritual powers our role model is Jesus. Having died to Himself in the desert for 40 days, He defeated Satan’s temptations on His return and went on to conquer the spiritual realm (Colossians 1:15-20). However, if you take on the spiritual powers behind the economic powers without dying to our own lust for power, you will end up another statistic on the corruption scrap heap. Greed, pride and ego must die before the battle even begins. Once engaged in the battle we must always remember that prayer, submission, obedience to God’s law, ethical purity and faith are far more powerful than any weapon on earth (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). Paul’s analogy of a Roman soldier in Ephesians is instructive. They were the most ruthless and efficient military outfit in the world at that time, but each soldier was in total submission to his commanding officer. Spiritually that’s us. Our enemy greatly fears us when our obedience to Christ is complete.
A nation can prosper only if Christians first deal with their own economic and ethical weaknesses. Then, through intercession, they can move on to discern the spiritual strongholds that bind nations. Once these spiritual forces have been bound, it is time to launch into the economic arena in the strength of God, the humility of Jesus and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:6).
POWER VERSES SERVICE
But there is another economic force at work in the world today besides the selfish will to personal power just mentioned (Luke 4:6, Colossians 3:5). It is the generosity of love expressed through service (1 John 4:16). All humans are selfish but they are also loving, which economically and governmentally expresses itself through service. Either side of our human nature can dominate, depending on the will of the individual. Marriage relationships, parenting habits, educational achievements, professional choices, racial and ethnic problems, land ownership issues, class divisions, government structures, legal frameworks, church government and the pursuit of money are just a few of the aspects of life that can be used by people as instruments of power or love/service over their own lives and the lives of others (1 Peter 5:2-3).
Love is a more powerful force than the will to power and these two forces are constantly at war. They clashed right through the Old Testament (1 Samuel chapters 18 to 26, Ezekiel 33:31). They clashed famously in the week leading up to Gethsemane (Matthew 21:12-17, 23:1-38). They still clash today in the heart of every human and every human relationship and institution (Romans 7:14-25). They clash daily in public and private life. The role of the Christian is to sow love and service into every aspect of society that their lives touch (Ephesians 5:1-14). This is our role in the war for this world. The spiritual victory was won through the cross and resurrection. History is the cultural “mopping up” operation begun on the cross that will continue until, sometime in the future, all Christ’s enemies are under His feet (Malachi 1:11, Luke 24:47, 1 Corinthians 15:24-25).
God is love, and God is all-powerful (John 13:34-35), that’s why love is a more powerful economic force. To love God is to obey God. Thus love expresses itself through submission to God and His laws in all areas of life (1 John 4:7-21). Love also expresses itself in service to others and submission to God’s ordained authorities (Colossians 3:18-4:1, Romans 13:1-6). Love covers nearly every known ethical law. In fact love fulfils the entire law (Romans 13:8-10). This is the message of the incarnation of Christ. He had sovereign power but came as a loving servant (Luke 22:27). It is also the message of the Gospel: to love God with every part of your being, to love your neighbour as yourself, to die to sin, serve others and stop seeking personal power (Mark 12:29-31, 2 Timothy 2:22).
Here are two Biblical examples of power and love in economic action.
Zacchaeus was a contract tax collector who worked for the occupying Romans. He was unjustly rich and rightly hated by his fellow citizens. He enjoyed the power of money and abused many people to get to his very comfortable position in life. The day he met Jesus, everything changed. His heart softened. He gave half his wealth away and promised to repay four fold anyone he had defrauded. It must have been a riotous dinner party that night! (Luke 19:1-10) God expects nothing less of any corrupt wealthy person who gives their life to Him today.
The second story was a parable Jesus told about a rich man who enjoyed the power of wealth and sought not to use his wealth to serve the greater good (Luke 12:16-21). He wanted bigger and bigger barns (bank accounts, houses, incomes, material assets) but refused to be “rich toward God”. When he died before he could expand his little kingdom, he received a hellish judgement from the one who knew his heart. We cannot serve two masters. Zacchaeus got the message, but this rich man did not.
The outworking of the battle between power and love can also be seen in the historical battle between the medieval church’s hierarchical power structures and the servant heart of the early apostolic church leaders. Sadly, too many of today’s denominational hierarchies have become power structures that resemble the corporate world, not the kingdom of God. There are few truly holy leaders at the head of most denominations today.
The slow development of democratic political institutions from the Middle Ages to the present reflects another episode in the battle between power and service. In this case kingdom principles of service have had a win over the will to personal power. The era of dictatorial royal power has now given way to democratic systems of government where leaders are “ministers”, or servants, who take turns administrating for the good of the community. That is the theory anyway! The subdivision of power between parliament, the judiciary, governors and the public service, and then between the federal, state and local governments in many Protestant countries is a good example of a wise separation of power so as to control the human lust for power. This system is the result of enormous Christian intellectual input over hundreds of years, especially in England.
THE KEY TO POWER STRUCTURES
The common thread between most power structures is money. Money itself is a form and expression of power, as are other corrupt economic practices such as monopoly controls, entrenched ruling elites, corrupt civil administrative practices, fractional reserve banking powers, onerous taxation laws, government spending habits, biased development decisions, corrupt foreign aid, high debt levels, import/export restrictions and much more. Money is the root of many of these evils (1 Timothy 6:10). Is it little wonder that Jesus spoke about economics and money more than most other topics? You cannot serve God and money at the same time. Only one will master you.
The job of the Christian is to submit their economic activities, as a love offering, to the counsel of God. They must turn what is a huge temptation to create power into a desire to serve others (Hebrews 13:5). If they serve the kingdom of God first, before they serve money, they will have the best of both worlds (Matthew 6:33). If they reverse the order, as most western Christians do, they will simply mimic their surrounding greedy consumerist, materialistic culture instead of acting prophetically and showing the way toward God’s kingdom (2 Timothy 3:1-5, James 5:1-6). Our purpose over the course of our lives is to seek a Biblical understanding of how finance and economics would work in a society fully submitted to Christ. The continual challenge after that is to find ways to get out there in the market place and change the existing power structures to a point where they function as servants to the culture, community and kingdom of God. This is no small task!
The eighth and tenth commandments prohibit theft and the desire to thieve (Exodus 20: 15, 17). The ultimate test of an individual’s responsibility under God is respect for the possessions of others: their family, their property, their time, their self-esteem, their rights, their money, their life, and their body.
These commands speak to the government as well as the individual. Why would people sacrifice current earnings to obtain a professional education, or sacrifice current spending for investing if their efforts were to result in the government confiscating the results of their labour? Why bother earning more income if inflationary bracket-creep steals your earnings? If a corrupt government department could steal your land, why would you invest and build on it? Why seek a good inheritance for your children if the state takes half in death duties? Why pay tax when the wealthy can hire lawyers to eliminate their taxes or when politicians waste the money on handouts to themselves or their friends. Why support a government that awards contracts to special acquaintances at special rates? Why save for the future if currency manipulation eats into the value of those savings?
Got the point? The state has the capacity to steal from its people in far more varied, complex and subtle ways than common criminals do. The wholesale rebellion against the economic teachings of Biblical Christianity during the Twentieth Century by the developed world has resulted in the greatest wave of thieving by governments that the world has ever seen. Two quick examples just from the USA: The effect of inflation in America has cost the US dollar 97% of its value since 1900. Every year people were losing about 3-6% of the value of the money in their wallets. The US government also confiscated every citizen’s gold in 1933 and immediately inflated the paper currency by 50%. If this is what a supposedly honest and accountable government can get away with, imagine what a deliberately corrupt government will try.
When the state is the biggest thief in the culture, smart people learn quickly to seek the power of the politician or the bureaucracy. To get inside the political fence allows them also to benefit from legalised theft. The result is usually a small power-elite with control over most of the nation’s productive resources and the tragic impoverishment of the people as the productive middle-class is wiped out. The two hundred or so families that control over 80% of the Philippines economy and its politics are a sad example of this process in action. Many other poorer nations could also be named. Political instability is inevitable in such a situation. Theft reduces dominion. Government theft is an assault on the very foundations of civilization. Instead of suppressing evil, the state becomes the evil.
SOCIALISM AND CAPITALISM
During the Twentieth Century there was a great battle fought between communism and capitalism. Which system of ownership does the Bible teach? This is no idle academic question. Hundreds of millions of lives were lost during the Twentieth Century in the bloody battle between these two competing economic ownership systems. Communism decided the state should own the means of production and millions died fighting to defend their farms. But capitalism stands accused of greed and environmental destruction. Where should we look for answers?
The story of the fall tells us that private property is part of God’s order, because God privately owns everything (Matthew 20:15). It also teaches us that freedom of choice is fundamental to economics, and spiritual destiny! By extension, it teaches that a system of economics which allows private ownership and maximum choice in society is ideal, and will produce the greatest reversal of the curse. This leads us to capitalism, or free market economics. We are not talking here about the capitalism of greedy multinational companies who use their power to keep governments in their pocket and manipulate markets. We are talking about the capitalism of honest business and free markets. Capitalism allows private individuals, who are physically and emotionally closest to resources and markets, to make their own choices as to how to allocate nature’s inherent scarcity. They reap the benefits if they get their decisions right and they pay the costs if they get them wrong. We all make economic evaluations and are responsible before God for our personal economic destiny. This is the genius of the free market system. It is the best system humans have ever devised for making the never-ending cost-benefit estimates that consume so much of our time, energy and limited natural resources. Jesus even challenged his listeners to do a cost-benefit estimate exercise when considering salvation (Luke 14:28-30). You made a cost-benefit decision when considering reading this essay!
The parable of the talents is very instructive when considering Biblical principles of economics and private ownership of the means of production (Matthew 25:14-30). The owner was sovereign over his estate. He assigned the task of dominion to individuals and gave each of them resources to use. Each individual had different economic strengths and was free to make individual cost-benefit decisions. Each was also accountable for the economic management of their master’s allocated finances. Finally, each was expected to extend his economic prosperity and was accountable for his individual returns.
Modern capitalism first appeared in spiritually progressive Protestant countries where a Biblical worldview dominated. This was no accident. The Protestant Reformation, the protestant work ethic, increased capital accumulation, the right to private property, limited government, patent laws, limited taxation and a structured searching after God’s physical laws, (nowadays called science) all led to a flowering of technology and economic development in these nations. It began slowly and took hundreds of years to filter through all segments of society, but it was an unavoidable consequence of internal and external obedience to God’s laws. South America and parts of Asia are now experiencing the same increasing levels of dominion directly because of their current obedience to God’s internal and/or external laws.
But a Biblical system of free markets must still be subject to God’s order. In a world inhabited by greed, freedom without limits results in anarchy. The will to personal power in the heart of humanity implies some participants will cheat any system. The state must act to prevent moral evil, protect the family, set safety standards, provide a consistent legal system, prevent theft and fraud, safeguard private property, safeguard the currency, prevent pollution and protect the environment. However the state must not interfere with a person’s responsibility as steward of their private property. We are stewards under God, and the ministry of the state is to be the steward of the community.
Socialism/communism presupposes that scarcity is the fault of institutions, not human nature. It supposes that the heart of the average worker is good and that greedy capitalists exploit the environment and workers. Because these assumptions about the nature of humanity and reality are incorrect, they produce inferior economic results. Governments that flirt with socialism invariably produce a poorer society. Socialism is the economics of envy. The government invariably seizes control of the means of production from successfully productive citizens (Exodus 20:17, Micah 2:2). Capital flees to safer markets and the people grow poorer. The only winners are the ruling elite who seized the resources. Zimbabwe gave us an excellent outworking of this process in the last few years.
Inherent in socialism’s method is a belief in the fallacy of God’s written word. Socialists fight God’s order, especially Christianity. They fight scarcity. This is one of the reasons why they hate the gold standard and insist on government decreed currencies. Every country in the world today has a fiat socialistic monetary system. Socialism wants to believe that creation is not permanently cursed and capitalism’s privately owned institutions and wealth have restrained this natural productivity. The state takes over the allocation of scarce resources from individuals. The state becomes sovereign, declaring it knows best what to do economically. The state also becomes an economic saviour or messiah figure, claiming it can lead its people to a financial promised land. Contrary to popular myth, most western countries are now socialist. They deny God, love state dependency and love debt. The next step will be economic slavery and poverty.
This promise of a perfect society through economics is the counterfeit salvation of socialism. They promise heaven on earth and usually deliver hell on earth, as they did in Russia, Cambodia, China and Eastern Europe. Capitalism, on the other hand, leaves salvation to the church. It simply funnels man’s selfish tendencies into productive activity in the service of others. It allows the individual to benefit personally from this service. Capitalism cooperates with our selfish nature but at the same time controls this sin nature through the need to serve others to make the money to meet ones owns needs.
MONOPOLIES AND DICTATORSHIPS
Political dictatorships and economic dictatorships are both a form of monopoly. God alone has the right to monopolistic power because He alone can use it to express love and service without being corrupted by power. In a competitive free-market system, it is difficult for monopolies to develop, because success has many imitators. However, people being what they are, there is a tendency for the economically powerful to use the political system to create a monopoly for their benefit. It is through political decree that most monopolies find their creation. This is economic dictatorship. Modern practices such as tariffs, special loans, licences, import quotas, tax breaks, assistance to companies or “special friends” are so often used to the benefit of power elites. The consumer pays dearly, competition is restricted and the state loses the respect of its citizens. This is not the Biblical way (Habakkuk 2:9). Leaders are to serve the citizens, not economically powerful interests.
Perhaps the most critical Biblical example of an economic dictatorship and monopoly is in Jesus’ ongoing conflict with the Sanhedrin, the controllers of the temple in Jerusalem. The high priest and his colleagues had set up a religious/economic monopoly that required all Jewish worshippers to exchange their gold and silver currency for temple money of a lesser value metal, usually copper. With this new currency, they then had to buy their temple offerings at inflated prices from registered dealers who worked in conjunction with the Sanhedrin by paying kickbacks. The high priest and his family amassed enormous wealth through this fragrant violation of God’s law. Jesus at one stage made a whip in protest and drove the moneychangers and sellers out of the temple (Matthew 21:12-13). It was soon after this that they began scheming to kill him. Christians be warned: If you take on powerful and entrenched monopolistic economic forces it will get nasty, they have a lot to lose.
GODLY LEADERSHIP, GODLY GOVERNMENT
All of us must learn the art of self-government or we will lack self-control and be brought under the government of others. At some stage in our lives, we will also run a micro-government, whether as parents raising a family, professionals in an office, volunteer leaders in a charity, or profit seekers running a business. Learning how to shoulder the responsibility of leadership and government as Jesus modelled for us will help all of us reflect Christ in whatever social, economic or managerial circumstance we find ourselves.
Think for a minute of Jesus as a manager and a leader. His prime task was to train twelve future leaders to initiate a global revolution. In the process, Jesus repeatedly used the key word “servant” to describe the type of leaders He wanted them to become (Mark 10:42-44, Matthew 23:12). One of the main purposes of His three years of ministry, apart from His death and resurrection, was to demonstrate this leadership style through his own acts of service (Luke 22:27). He modelled what He expected from them and all future Christian leaders. He laid down His life for others and He washed their stinking feet. It took three years to get this message through to his trainees. They, on the other hand, were just like us: they fought, argued and jostled for the best positions and status. They were jealous of each other, indignant, full of pride and ambition (Matthew 20:20-28). Any organisation of more than a few workers or members today will have all of these same human weaknesses clearly visible in the relationships between individuals. These selfish mind-sets must all be removed and replaced with a servant heart, and it begins with the leader modelling that servant heart. Authority comes to those who serve.
Wherever we are on the economic and social ladder, we have choices in how we lead. We can imitate Christ or we can emulate the immature disciples. Self-seeking leaders can be spotted a long way off. Co-workers despise them, regardless of what they may say about their Christian life. Those under their management will grumble about double standards and hypocrisy. The number one priority for any Christian who leads is to reflect Christ in all things (John 13:12-17, I Corinthians 11:1). This must be through action, as well as words. The type of actions that will lead co-workers and subordinates to respect what the Christian stands for include:
Christian leaders must be ruthlessly honest in all transactions and communications with others (Proverbs 4:24). Half-truths and deception will invariably be found out and despised (Numbers 32:23).
Jesus was accountable to God the Father and to the Holy Spirit (John 17:4). However, He was also accountable to the disciples, He washed their feet. Most leaders forget about accountability to those under them. Leaders who avoid accountability usually fall into temptation and sin. Pride comes before a fall (Proverbs 29:23).
3. Quality Service
Providing quality service and doing highly professional work, demonstrates a servant heart (Colossians 3:22-23). This could be through faithfully serving customers, working well with other government employees, doing that extra bit for your school students, or raising your children well. Christians who provide high quality service win enormous community respect for the Lord they serve (Proverbs 3:27-28).
4. Financial Integrity
The Christian leader should never be under suspicion of corruption. They should be above reproach when it comes to using their position to get favours, using equipment for personal reasons and accessing finances illegally (Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 5:2).
5. Respecting Others
Leaders who practice fairness demonstrate a character attribute of God (Deuteronomy 32:3-4). There is a tendency for managers to look down on those under them in the hierarchy. Christian leaders must come to their job with the opposite spirit. Their job is to help each person under them come to know Christ and to reach their God-given potential. Christian leadership is about empowering others as Christ did. It is not about grabbing power (Philippians 2:4).
Some Christian leaders try to elevate themselves by associating with other social climbers (James 2:1-4, 1 Peter 5:3). Entering the status game is a major temptation for any leader. It is a weakness of the human ego that boasts “I did it myself and I am better than you.” Jesus was better than all of us. He was the creator of the universe, but He still came as a servant (John 13:5).
The bottom line on Biblical leadership is this: Would you feel comfortable if Jesus came and hung around your home, worksite or office for a week or so, watching how you operate as a leader or worker? Would he see you following his ways of leadership and micro-government, or the world’s ways? Are your actions and heart motives based on the word of God or on the ways of the world? Would He see yet another immature disciple chasing position and power with a smug air of superiority, or would He see a mature Christian who emulates the kingdom admonition to serve (1 Peter 5:1-5)?
Good government starts in individual hearts, moves into their personal relationships. It then encompasses the local community and eventually moves up to a provincial, state and national level. If a critical mass of Christians begin to submit to the government of God in their hearts, then inevitably this they will positively affect their nation’s economy and government. If Christian faith and discipleship wane in a significant way, eventually the nation and its economy will become corrupt and return to poverty.
This, unfortunately, is the future fate of the western world in the 21st century. Will looming poverty return us to our Biblical roots?