The argument is basically capitalism is evil because it ends up exploiting those at the bottom but communism aims to support those at the bottom. I say this as I have heard and probably many of you have heard the appeal against capitalism in preference for communism because that is how the early church operated. They quote passages like this these:
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2)
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. (Acts 4)
While we are at it let’s not forget Exodus 36 where the children of Abraham brought all their treasures and skills to work together for the building of the tabernacle. They freely gave and they freely shared and they all benefited. Sounds wonderful, so that is what we should do in politics right?
Well it depends on what you are building, and furthermore where the agency lays? In these Biblical passages what we are told is that the people of their own accord came and shared and benefited. What happens when we try to use government and say “Ok now everybody has to come and share and benefit.” Where does the agency now lay? A better question is what are we building? So where are the benefits so to speak. In the Biblical accounts they were themselves the very benefactors and the beneficiaries, they were both. The church was building itself. The reasons were not an external impetus but a heart condition that was responding to the change of the Gospel.
So take this over to government. What is the impetus? It is the government backed by force. This undermines any heart condition I may have had, it is now coercion. So what may have been good intentions for community has instead set up hierarchy, the common people and those who impose the communal living upon them. It may be for the a common good, but it is now a common good only as defined by those in power. Even the Bible recognizes this change when structuring a Kingdom.
11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots.12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work.17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel)
The Bible teaches us that when some are put in command the power structure changes, the demands on the people changes, the level of relative freedom changes. So when we look at the New Testament and see these communities working in love and sharing of their own households and even meeting in households we need to demarcate between what Christianity may look like and how a government operates.
Romans 13 tells us that the government are actually a branch of God’s own justice in the world. Their primary calling is justice. What do we do when someone fails to simply join in the communal giving? What do we do when someone takes from the communal giving but doesn’t himself give? What do we do when someone steals from the community? What do we do when someone grossly violates the community standard and causes harm? What do we do when the community is unable to actually address the transgressions themselves? These things get increasingly difficult to handle in a system of sharing and hugs. This is why God gives government that stands in stark difference to the church. In the same way he wants the church to operate in decency and order he wants government that steps in when force is needed, such as when actual injustice is starting to prevail.
Might part of the problem arise in that we are making demands of the government because our churches are simply failing at their part? The recipe of communal living and sharing has to be based in something. In the first part we understand that this was based in Jesus Christ. This is why when a secular system tries to implement a communist agenda, it doesn’t work, it is missing that essential life-giving element of the savior of the world. The element that refuses greed, that holds to a holy standard, that element that is actually God pleasing and man benefiting. God is that binding element, that moral element, that element of good will towards men. Without the allegiance to Christ, human institutions can only tighten its grip in order to make the people commune. Share with each-other dangit, or else!
It would be like all those uncomfortable appeals to join a community group at church when you have decided not to, and then the pastor brings out the men with guns to force it upon you. Even though we are still talking about community here it wouldn’t feel very authentic would it? Well going to small groups at gun point is what communism is. We get the communal aspect, but that “ism” part is so pushy.
The truth of the matter is that ideas more like capitalism are also recognized in the Bible as a more excellent way. The Bible commends the hard workers and then recommends that they be honored and rewarded for their efforts. As those who excel produce, and then more people are blessed. It is a system based entirely in responsibility.
Proverbs 14:23 All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.
Proverbs 12:24 Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor.
Proverbs 22:29 Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.
1 Timothy 5:8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and it worse than an unbeliever.
Many more could be cited but the idea is that the Bible doesn’t view poverty as an intrinsic evil to be fought against but one to get a job and be worked out of. A principle here is provide for your own. What if everybody provided for their own? That covers most of us doesn’t it? For some reason we seem to think that the government needs to step in when we are the ones failing. If everyone cared for their families, and everyone needn’t be a Christian here, most people understand family, where would we be? It is only as we fail to have families that a problem occurs, but that is part of our problem isn’t, we want more personal freedom, autonomy, so much so that less are choosing to make families. If we valued family as we used to, we might value each other as we used to as well.
Exodus 31 is all about how God calls skillful men to serve, he didn’t simply create an assembly line. My point here is the idea that God rewards hard work, and that hard work makes one glad as one recognizes God over his work, this is a major theme in the book of Ecclesiastes. (2:18, 3:22) This is why capitalism is more Biblical, if we want to even use these terms, because it provides the opportunity for all men to work in a way that they can prosper. Sure it can be abused, but it can also be rectified with similar effort. I can praise God for the work of my hands as I find a place to prosper and earn, or I can thank the government when my rations are handed out and hope there are more next time.
8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2)
So of course we share but we are not to become a burden to one another, and we do this by keeping ourselves busy. This is where Paul reminds us that those who won’t work will not eat. The solution is not to gather men with guns and demand that we support those who won’t work, but that those who won’t work, should start. They shouldn’t be forced either, but should experience the real result of their choices, you know, to prompt a change. We are always to show compassion no doubt, but we should have structures that encourage and reward ways out of poverty not the other way around.
The issue is really this: the new testament is not pushing for a certain kind of governance but it is pushing for a certain king of disciple. A disciple gives and shares and ministers to those that God has placed in his life and he works hard to provide for his own. So maybe go join that small group before hoping that the government comes to take away our right to assembly all because we wanted them to handle the problems that we refused to address.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the episode that people like to go when talking about this subject. It is of course the story of the rich young ruler where Jesus prompted him to sell all that he had and give to the poor and then follow him. See, Jesus wants us to redistribute wealth! Well, this was not a universal command or more of us would be homeless. What this was, was Jesus placing his finger on an a big issue in the man’s life. Jesus was saying I do want you to follow me, but this is an idol you will want to look at first. He didn’t go away sad because he was a republican, but because his finances were central to his life. In a similar manner if Mathew at his calling had wanted to still keep his tax collecting business and continue to cheat his fellow Jews, Jesus would have also have told him something in like manner.
So before we scream about the centralization of power while praying for a redistribution of wealth ask God what your issue is that he might need to place a finger on. Let’s start there, start working hard then begin caring for our families and see if that makes a difference.