On Capitalism- 5/29/12
By Pastor Gregory J. Scalzo
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And a distinction must be drawn between freedom and the choices we make in the exercise of that freedom. Freedom allows certain behavior, but that does not mean all behavior is pleasing in the sight of God. Clearly Scrooge has the freedom legally to make the business decisions he does for most of his life. Yet we are free to deem those choices as hard and unfeeling and, yes, even un-Christian. And we rejoice at the change of heart the character finally has at the end of the story.
I believe there is great confusion in our country and even in the church over this whole area of money, wealth, economics, and the role government should play when it comes to our financial well-being. And I believe an understanding of basic Biblical principles can shed much needed light to answer the questions, “Is capitalism good or bad? Is it of God or not?”
First, let’s consider what I hold as an important spiritual construct. Beliefs, ideas, principles, and concepts may be considered as unnatural, natural, or supernatural. And while a shallow examination might consider the unnatural and supernatural similar, they are anything but. What do I mean? Let’s take money, property, and possessions since they are relevant to the topic. It is the natural state for each person to consider what he or she has as belonging to him or her—to own it. Certainly, everything belongs to God. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). We could not even possess our own bodies except that He has established systems and pathways down to the submicroscopic level. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Even with all of our modern science and technology, we do not understand it all. But we enjoy these vessels He has created for us. The very air we breathe is His. And we come into this world and go back out without being able to take any possession, item, or wealth with us.
However, God allows us ‘ownership’—it is ours for a time. And He does this as part of His plan to create a stable environment. God is not the God of chaos, rather He is the Creator who systematically in Genesis forms and orders all that is needed for man. And He gives man dominion over His creation, requiring responsibility and stewardship on man’s part. It was crucial for the Old Testament to come chronologically before the New. The Old Testament Law of Moses deals with many of the basic conditions of life and what is natural and unnatural in God’s opinion. A center piece of that law is the Ten Commandments, proclaimed from Mount Sinai with peals of thunder, lightning, and the manifest glory of God. And the eighth commandment shouts, “You shall not steal,” confirming God’s recognition of each person’s right to ownership. Consider the societal stability this commandment provides. Consider the stability for your family. What if someone or some group could just walk in and take your home, your clothes, the things you’ve worked hard for to give to your spouse and your children, and the things that are memories valuable to you? Consider total anarchy—no structure, no ownership rights, no sense that you have the right to have your possessions protected as yours or your home protected as yours. It has happened unfortunately in human history and the outcomes have been horrifying. How can children grow and be nurtured in such a turbulent, uncertain environment? Certainly such anarchy, far from being the Utopian commune some profess, favors the strong over the meek and the mob over the individual. The thief is no longer a thief. It is unnatural. Thou shalt not steal!
Throughout the Old Testament, God recognizes ownership and even cites His blessing of the patriarchs and Israel with possessions and wealth as a good thing. Property rights are upheld, the ideal condition being when each family has a piece of land to call their own as in the allotment of the Promised Land. And it says in 1 Kings 4:25:
And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, each man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan as far as Beersheba, all the days of Solomon. NKJVTM
Again, under the reign of Messiah it is prophesied:
But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree,
And no one shall make them afraid;
For the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. NKJVTM
It is right for each person to have possessions that they can call their own in peace and safety.
It is often a ploy of those who seek power to point to those with greater possessions and wealth as a potential source of finances to redistribute by mandate to those less fortunate. Since there are usually more of the latter than the former, it can be an easy way of building up a majority for control. “Shouldn’t you have some of what they have?” is the cry. But remember, just as there are always some better off than you, there are always some worse off. Unlike the American Revolution where the colonies recognized God and His ways as so important, including what His Word says about property rights, the rebels of the French Revolution looked for a society apart from any Biblical influence. In their godless revolution, they delighted as the wealthy and aristocratic were beheaded only to find their own heads in the guillotine a few years later as another mob sought to replace them. Chaos, instability, and ultimately a new despotism emerged, this time in the antichrist-like figure of Napoleon. Please understand. You may see your home as modest, not like that mansion on the other side of town. If only you had some of his. But someone else is looking at your home and saying the same thing. Stealing, even when desired by the majority and renamed redistribution, is not God’s natural law for man. It is ungodly and against God’s holy Word. The consequences are anything but “fair.”
But what about those in terrible circumstances? Does the government have any Biblical role to play in assuring what we call a safety net? Some believers will say “no,” but I strongly disagree. In the Old Testament, in the Law God gave to Moses, it says:
19 "When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.
21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. NKJVTM
28 "At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates.
29 And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. NKJVTM
In the first Scripture, consider the condition of the provider. They had a harvest. Notice that the government is not taking their land or possessions, but from the bounty of their produce they were required to leave a remainder for the less fortunate. Consider the recipients. They could not sow, nor did they have the ability to plant and maintain. They were reaping what they did not sow, but they were reaping. Some effort was required on their part, even though obviously most of what they received was a gift.
In the second Scripture, provision is made even without the reaping. Provision for the Levites who were in the service of the Lord is clearly understandable. They were working all the time in ministry and did not have land to dedicate for growing, and so had to rely on the people for provision. But the less fortunate—the stranger, fatherless, and widow within the community—were also taken care of under the Law. And the people received a blessing for their obedience to this law.
A godly nation must be a free nation that respects individual rights of ownership, but it must also be a compassionate nation at the very basic level, understanding that the very weakest must be assisted. And from the above examples we see that it is Biblical for the government to impose a basic “help” mechanism, since every individual is valuable in God’s sight. At some rudimentary level we should not be allowed to shirk this responsibility. The key is a basic safety net to satisfy minimal needs, not an elaborate bureaucracy that feeds on itself by promising more and more to some by taking from others. I believe some react so negatively to this concept because of the gross abuses that have taken place over the decades. Rather than an appreciation for help, a brazen demand for more is often shouted. Rather than a population that would only seek such aid as a last resort when truly needy, an attitude of “get everything you possibly can” is unashamedly displayed. And the young and healthy are encouraged to put pressure on the “net” that is impossible to sustain, and dangerous for their souls.
But what about Christian sharing? Doesn’t the book of Acts teach a type of communism or at least socialism? What is referred to here is chapter 2 where the Scripture reads:
44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,
45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. NKJVTM
And again in chapter 4:
32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.
33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.
34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold,
35 and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
36 And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus,
37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. NKJVTM
Here we have a manifestation of the supernatural in the Lord. Look at the background. Jesus Christ had risen from the dead! Many had been witnesses of the resurrection and even more had experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In chapter 2, back in verse 41, we are told that they gladly received the word of God and were baptized, and in verse 42 that they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and in fellowship. Verse 43 tells us that many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. After which it follows, “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common.”
They had experienced the kingdom of God on earth. This was God’s supernatural movement. And they were each part of the family of God. It was an ever-present reality—a family based on love, faith, and hope. And just like any good family dwelling in a house, all were quick to share. They were in this together. All were willing to help and sell what they could so none would be in need or hunger. You cannot fake this kind of love and affection and mutual concern. Neither can you force it. It is based on love, the brethren in Christ. It is indeed supernatural, the natural concerns of the old man subservient to the will of God. But what you have in the book of Acts is not a mandated, governmental movement. You cannot force someone to give, to share; otherwise, it is not giving, it is not sharing.
Notice also the trust they had in the apostles’ decisions and judgment: “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4:34-35 NKJVTM). The apostles were given the keys of the kingdom and were filled with God’s Holy Spirit, as the words they spoke and the signs and wonders that accompanied their ministry proved. They themselves had given up all to follow Christ. But notice also, they were not commanding the brethren to give; rather, the believers were coming to them with offerings of their free will. What a distortion it would be to equate the judgment of these men with some governmental secular elite body. And what a twist to equate free will gifts given out of love with governmental mandated confiscation empowered by the edge of the sword. No my friends, what you have in Acts 2 and 4 is anything but governmental communism and socialism. For that matter, the more Caesar compels you to give to his cause and the more Rome takes, the less true believers have to give as the Holy Spirit moves them. And no matter how fine Caesar’s words and purposes might seem, he is no substitute for the Spirit of God moving on the hearts of men and women.
Let’s look further into the account in Acts. After verse 37, where Barnabas brings the gift from the land he sold to the apostles, you read in chapter 5:
1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.
2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet.
3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?
4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."
5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.
6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
8 And Peter answered her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?" She said, "Yes, for so much."
9 Then Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out."
10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.
11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. NKJVTM
Clearly Ananias and Sapphira were playing a game with the apostles and with this Jewish church. And they had little respect for the Spirit of God—the Spirit of truth. In order to look favorable before the brethren, they conspired to sell land, keep part of the money for themselves, but present the remainder to the apostles as the full selling price. Obviously this was pride. “Look! We also sold a field and gave everything. Look how good we are.” This must have been their attitude, not sincere giving in love and humility. Moreover, it was greed and deceit. “We want the praise, but we don’t want to give everything.” And neither did they have to. But then they would not have looked as good as those who did. Clearly this gift was for appearance sake. And there is a great element of unbelief here and a low opinion of the power of God. Miracles are happening all around them in the name of Jesus. Yet somehow they think God will not see through their pretense and reveal this deception.
Look at the key responses of Peter which should conclusively end any translation of this section of Scripture into a socialistic doctrine: “‘While it remained, was it not your own?’” (Acts 5:4a) Even though many of the believers were acting in a supernatural way—not counting the things they possessed as their own—the natural laws still remained. It was their property. Property rights still mattered. They had a right to it, and if they shared, it was their free will decision, not some unnatural mandate—not even from the apostles. “‘And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?’” (Acts 5:4b) Even after Ananias sold the land, the money was his to do what he wished—it was under his control. Ananias and Sapphira still had ownership of their finances. They could have said, “We needed some money so we sold a field and we would like to give this part to the church as a thanksgiving for God’s goodness to us,” and all would have been fine, blessed, and appreciated. Their giving was between God and them, and if God wanted them to do more, that too was between God and them. The problem was the lie and the pretense and the purposeful deception. “‘Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’” (Acts 5:4c) “And Peter answered her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?’ She said, ‘Yes, for so much.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?’” (Acts 5:8-9a) NKJVTM
The heart of the believer should be to give. Jesus taught:
38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." NKJVTM
But even in the church, the old human nature sets in. Look a few chapters later in the book of Acts. The church is growing. That initial reality of the kingdom of heaven on earth might be dimming a little:
1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.
3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business;
4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word."
Already basic human contentions arise: “Our widows are not getting their fair share of the daily distribution of the food by the congregation.” And the apostles are being caught up in this mundane, fleshly, very human dispute which threatens to steal precious time from their ministry and the word of God. Too often today’s social gospel of help will overshadow the gospel of salvation.
Much later on, the apostle Paul would have to deal with a problem in the Gentile church where people would “expect” provision without effort, corrupting the ministry to help the truly poor and helpless into a sham benefitting the takers:
2 Thessalonians 3:6-12
6 But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.
7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you;
8 nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you,
9 not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.
10 For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.
11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies.
12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. NKJVTM
The supernatural giving heart of the believer does not negate the need to recognize the natural rights of possession and ownership, nor does it negate the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal!”
Freedom is precious. Not having an antichrist-type government dictate what you can do, what you can become, what you can own is clearly desirable in Scripture. It is good to be free from Pharaoh’s hard bondage. And the freedom provided by our nation was part of the formula that made it great. Think of the freedom to worship according to the dictates of your heart. Yet this governmental freedom does not relieve a person of making the correct choice before God. Neither does it protect the libertine from the opinions of the Scriptural who recognize that his lifestyle is unbiblical. They are just as free to draw their conclusions as he is to rebel against God.
Think of economic freedom—free enterprise. You decide your profession. Think of all the small businesses started from the early colonial days—people pursuing their dreams and making America great with a healthy, working, optimistic middle class seeking to better themselves and their children’s lives. As well as people joining together in partnerships and forming corporations to do what a single person could not. Key to both the sole proprietorship and these larger corporations was the idea that you had something at stake. You had invested more than money. You had invested part of yourself. One thing that’s concerning about hyper-capitalism is the “disconnect,” and I believe it will become clear what I mean in a moment.
This freedom was part of what made America great. But only part. Too often in today’s “post-Christian” secular society, we forget the complete formula. Judeo-Christian values permeated this nation from its inception. They provided much of the motivation, and they were a critical buffer, tempering the natural human nature and self-indulgence with a holy respect for what is proper and right. The “things” of this world were weighted against the “rewards” of the next. As stated in the opening: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. A distinction must be drawn between freedom and the choices we make in the exercise of that freedom. The entrepreneur must be free within the law to make certain business decisions, but that does not mean the decisions he makes are pleasing to God. Nor does it mean that he is shielded from the opinions of those who see those decisions as hurtful or unbiblical. They are as free to draw their conclusions as he is to make his choices. And the compass of the Bible, of Judeo-Christian teaching, was a powerful restrainer in a Christian society. And it was an inhibitor even to those who personally cared little about God. You see, you cannot remove God from a free society and expect people to act the same way.
There are those who long for the dark chains of socialism and communism, even hoping for chaos and civil disorder to bring them in. But there are also those who have forgotten this important principle of free enterprise. Taking God out of the picture results in some Darwinian view of capitalism where the strong are to be applauded whether they used godly means or not to attain the end—which is winning and amassing at any cost. Scrooge, pre-repentance, would be a hero, and post-change a fool in their sight. This hyper-capitalism is not the Biblical picture the Lord Jesus gives of how His servants should be. And while there is freedom to choose to be Scrooge, when did we start commending those who do?
(Recently, some politicians began to accuse their opponents of practicing “Darwinism,” but unlike my argument above, they are doing so in the cause of advancing a socialistic system. Ironically, these same politicians, who are using the phrase “social Darwinism” as a smear, seek every opportunity to teach Darwin’s theories as fact in America’s public schools to the exclusion of all the evidences for a planned creation. But maybe just as ironic are those on the other side who happily embrace “creative destruction,” a term economist Joseph Schumpeter adapted from the work of Karl Marx.)
Let me give an example from my time in corporate business. Years ago I worked for a company that was a division of a larger corporation. This company by itself stood as a leader in its business sector, as did other divisions in the corporation. Each individual division was successful and profitable, and overall the corporation employed many people across the country. Then, one day in the late 1970’s, our management became nervous. The reason: the management above at the corporate level was nervous. Rumors were growing. You see, this was the age of the corporate raiders. A person who was famous at the time for hostile takeovers had expressed interest in buying a controlling share of our corporation. His reputation was as a ruthless vulture who would set his sights on a corporation, buy control (often using leveraged money), and then keep divisions he had interest in (though dramatically reorganizing and downsizing them) and sell off for fast profit those he could, as well as selling needed assets (asset stripping) for quick dollars to repay the debt used to purchase the corporation. He would generally pick the companies clean for whatever benefitted him in the short term. Many people would lose jobs, and these jobs were in profitable companies, not stinkers. Free enterprise is commendable. This was not. The upper management fought as hard as they could to block him. And a sigh of relief went up when he finely relented.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And certainly when capitalism becomes defined as “lauding” the type of activities of this man because he “seems” successful, it becomes an unbiblical definition. Consider how much he is the antithesis of a man who invests his life in creating a business, learning all the details of his field, creating jobs that did not previously exist, and profiting his business and himself personally by providing needed services through well thought out care and concern. This business is his baby which he has nourished and grown. To the other man, the business is a dead carcass to devour.
And there is an important principle here. Whether it is a mom and pop store or a large corporation like the one above, there should be a vested long term interest. Everything in the Bible screams stewardship—being entrusted to act responsibly for that in your care. Everything in Darwinism screams selfishness. Benefit yourself now, short-term. What you control is only to be used for your immediate advantage, regardless of whom you hurt. And anything can be abandoned or disposed of without compunction when it no longer suits your needs.
Don’t misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with self-interest—doing that which is needed for prosperity to care for yourself and your family and hopefully having an abundance to help others. But if self-interest is not tempered with Biblical morality and discipline, then selfishness, lust, and greed are the unbiblical end products and a whole society is destined for ruin. That is the danger in America today. It is not freedom. Freedom is a gift from God. It is not free enterprise and capitalism. These are the natural way a society should run. It is the lack of the supernatural heart of the Christian. This cannot be legislated, but it is so essential to societal health. In our modern, materialistic age with all the technological advances, we are in grave danger of losing the heart.
There is also another principle of which we should be aware. The historical result of communism and socialism is the overshadowing control of the individual by the state. Freedom is lost. An individual’s hope is extinguished. The state becomes all, and the person is a mere faceless worker in a great machine.
Freedom as we have had in the U.S. is just the opposite, and free enterprise is an important part of that. But when corporations become “too big”—too big to fail; when there is no competition because the entry cost is too high and only a few very large players can play; when these mega-companies join hands with a burgeoning governmental bureaucracy and the two follow a secular script produced by a monopolistic academia of a few elite, very liberal, large universities; you again have an oligarchy of control over the individual. Hyper-capitalism, in sync with a large, over controlling government, and joined to a large media and academia (which together now become the heart replacing Judeo-Christian principles), is destined to become as overshadowing as any system Lenin could have envisioned. Its tentacles will run into every area of our lives, including our freedom of religion. Increasingly in these large corporations, political correctness and globalism replace traditional values. Under the guise of freedom, hyper-capitalism can actually restrict our economic choices. You become part of it, or are impoverished. The rows of storefronts and shops of independent men and women disappear. The government and its mega-corporate mirror in the “private” sector are all that remain. Both are ripe soil for a man of lawlessness who seeks total control of the world.
As believers we should resist communism and socialism with determination. But let us beware any unbiblical ideas some might champion as successful capitalism. They may just turn out to be the very cage we’ve been trying so hard to avoid.
© 2012 Gregory J. Scalzo
Scripture quotations marked (NKJVTM) are taken from the New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Bible text from the New King James Version® is not to be reproduced in copies or otherwise by any means except as permitted in writing by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Attn: Bible Rights and Permissions, P.O. Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214-1000.