Capitalism and Christianity are a match made in heaven

The economy is one of the most important environments where Christians interact. It is where they find employment, provision food and shelter, derive savings for the future, create value, serve others, consume goods and services, contribute charity, and apply their imagination. It is the core instrument of civilization progress. God has a lot to say about the economy and Christians should engage in the economy with a Biblical worldview. Ethics and morality are indispensable supports for a sound economy. Christians should be actively engaged in economic policy matters.

A Christian worldview of business and the economy is essential if America is to recover its eroding economic leadership in the world. A Christian worldview of commerce is predicated upon the fact that man is born sinful (Ephesians 2:3) does not prosper by injustice (Ephesians 4:28) should work (2 Thessalonians 3:10) respects private property (Exodus 20:15) prospers through diligence (Proverbs 21:5) avoids the envy of other people’s property (Exodus 20:17) and that righteousness can yield abundance (Proverbs 16:8).

Some liberal Christians, e.g., Jim Wallis, etc. believe that the Bible prescribes socialism (Acts 4:32-35) and social justice (redistribution of private property) but this represents a failure in hermeneutics. This is a failure in thinking because the example presented in Acts 4:32-35 is characterized by the volitional decision to share private property. The passage is explicit in that the property shared is privately owned (antipodal to the state owned model of socialism) and that the redistribution is not compulsory (also antipodal to state run socialism). There is no Biblical support for state run socialism.

Given the economic choices between capitalism and socialism, capitalism is the best expression of a Christian worldview with regard to economics. Dr. Ron Nash (1936-2006) said “One dominant feature of capitalism is economic freedom, the right of people to exchange things voluntarily, free from force, fraud, and theft…[while] socialism, on the other hand, seeks to replace the freedom of the market with a group of central planners who exercise control over essential market functions.”[1] Capitalism is an economic system where production, distribution, and trade are privately owned to yield a profit for those who have made the investment to support that objective. It is done in a largely free marketplace where the government respects private property and the legal system protects contractual law. Problems arise based upon the moral and ethical failure of owners (committing fraud) or the market (committing theft) or the government (limiting freedom and violating property rights).

Winston Churchill eloquently observed “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”[2]
Thomas Jefferson rebuked the notion of government control, “Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread.”[3] Margaret Thatcher said “Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They [socialists] always run out of other people’s money. It’s quite a characteristic of them.”[4]

God blesses people and nations according to His will (Psalm 67) and He is not accountable to man (Romans 11:33) and is sovereign (1 Chronicles 29:11-12). However, Christian stewardship requires a responsibility to God for decisions and behavior. “Biblical stewardship views God as owner of all things and man (individually and collectively) as his steward.”[5] When man abandons the authority of God in such affairs, he risks danger as Lord Acton stated “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”[6]

The status of the current American economy is precarious. One of the best measures of a country’s economic health is the debt-to-GDP ratio, an indicator of the relationship between debt and production. The official US debt is approximately $15.7 trillion[7] while the US GDP is approximately $13.5 trillion[8] constituting a ratio of approximately 116%. The US ratio is considerably worse than France or Germany but not as bad as Greece or Japan.[9] Further, the unfunded liabilities (obligations without funding sources) is well over $100T. This includes Medicare Part A at $36 trillion, Medicare Part B at $37 trillion, Medicare part D at $15 trillion, and Social Security at $17.5 trillion for a grand total of unfunded liabilities over $105T.[10] America has economically fallen far in the past few years. This suggests that absent draconian measures to cut entitlements (currently above 60% of GDP and growing), the United States may face an environment of bankruptcy. [11] We can not grow ourselves out of this mess without concomitant entitlement reform.

The US government spending as a percentage of GDP has reached an all-time high (excluding World War II).[12] This has happened as more politicians promise more benefits to more people who vote themselves larger abundance. It is a failure of leadership and of the governed. It is both unsustainable and a moral failure of epic proportions. At the time of Jesus, Rome imposed a 5% inheritance tax[13] and a 1% sales tax (compared to the average state sales tax in the US of 5.6%).[14] The US government taxes estates at 35% for those with estates over $500,000.[15] Suddenly, the oppression of Rome doesn’t look so bad.

What is the Biblical worldview of economics? It is based on the Judeo-Christian principles of morality, freedom, and protection of private property. Capitalism is the economic system best suited to address the tenets of a Biblical worldview.

What should the Christian do in response to the precarious nature of the US economy and the increasing role of the state? The Christian should recognize that there are seasons of feast/famine where saving is essential to survive the bad times (Genesis 41:34-36) that debt can create bondage (Proverbs 22:7) that ignoring the signs of the times can bring disaster (Proverbs 22:3) and to trust in the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6). Finally, the Christian should not run to the state (man) for rescue but to God (Jeremiah 17:5). Therefore, it is prudent to prepare for difficulties ahead, restrain spending and borrowing, strengthen savings behavior, embrace the morality of individual responsibility in uncertain times, and get involved in the culture (the recent Wisconsin vote is a perfect example) to assure we have righteous leaders and economic practices. Ethics and engagement matter. We are called to redeem the culture (Acts 15:1-31, Colossians 3:17, and Genesis 1:28).

Those that seek state solutions first may jeopardize their own freedom. Karl Marx said “There is only one way to kill capitalism- by taxes, taxes, and more taxes.”[16] Abraham Lincoln said “You can not help men permanently by doing for them what they could do and should do for themselves.”[17] Thomas Jefferson said “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.”[18]

Christians must remember that God is more interested in our character than our comfort. In fact, our historical national character has been abundantly blessed by God and has led to the greatest comforts any nation has enjoyed throughout recorded history. Sadly, the dependence on the comfort of state provisioned solutions has effectuated national character decline. Christians must be salt and light to the culture and the economy. A national repentance of pursuing secular statism will certainly precede a national blessing of recovery. Our nation’s economy is ultimately contingent upon the character of our people. The road we choose as individuals will determine the road we take as a nation.


[1] David Noebel, Understanding the Times, Manitou Springs, Summit Press, 2006, p.354.

[2] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Capitalism

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Margaret_Thatcher

[5] Calvin Beisner “Understanding the Times” Manitou Springs, Summit Press, 2006, p.355.

[6] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/l/lordacton109401.html

[7] http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/

[8] http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/2012/pdf/gdp1q12_2nd.pdf

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_by_public_debt

[10] http://ezinearticles.com/?What-is-the-Total-Unfunded-Liability-of-the-US-Government?&id=3531013

[11] http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/united_states_total_spending_pie_chart

[12] http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/us_20th_century_chart.html

[13] Charles Adams, The Good and Evil. First Madison Books, Lanham, MD, 2001, p.101

[14] http://www.usa-sales-use-tax-e-commerce.com/table_sales_rates.asp

[15] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estate_tax_in_the_United_States

[16] James Cook, The Free Market and its Enemies; a Book of Quotes, IRI, Minneapolis, p.108.

[17] Ibid. p.100

[18] http://www.federalbudget.com/biggov.html

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