I have summarized the Bible’s teachings on economic decisions in six principles:
(1) Work wholeheartedly for the Lord at whatever task He gives you, whether great or small.
(2) Trust God to reward your work with enough in this life and abundance in heaven.
(3) Use thankfully the abundant resources of God’s earth for enjoyment and for productive purposes.
(4) Give generously to the needs of others, especially Christians.
(5) Take care of what God gives you, whether much or little.
(6) Love God, not your possessions.
How do two major world economic systems – communism and capitalism – compare to the biblical teaching summarized in these six principles?
Communism may be defined as an economic system in which both the means of production (such as factories and land) and all possessions (houses, cars, etc.) are owned by the state, not by individuals. Communism substitutes the state for God at every important point in our six principles. In a much simplified summary we might represent communist theory as follows:
(1) Work wholeheartedly for the state at whatever task it gives you.
(2) Trust the state to decide what you need and to give you enough in this life (for there is no heaven).
(3) Use (with thanksgiving to the state) your small share of the resources of the people’s (the state’s) earth for material productivity (there is no spiritual productivity).
(4) Let the state care for the material needs of others.
(5) Take good care of the resources the state assigns to you.
(6) Love (not God but) the increasing material productivity of society.
Thus communism in theory opposes a biblical economic perspective. In actual practice, the closer countries have moved toward “pure” communism, the more acute have been other negative consequences: (1) There is a disincentive to wholehearted work because the worker keeps little earthly reward and has no hope of heavenly reward. Thus productivity is low and (2) there is seldom “enough” even in this life.
With less production (3) there is much less of the earth’s resources to enjoy. Moreover, state-managed production and distribution diminishes variety and personal choice, which God intends to enrich human economic activity for His glory. (4) The small and nearly equal allocation of resources means individuals have little ability to give to others and are robbed of the joy of generous giving.
When communism denies private ownership of property (5) it robs people of the fulfillment and individual distinctiveness that come from faithful stewardship of one’s own possessions. And without ownership, care for possessions is diminished. (6) Communism forces people to emphasize materialistic activities, for the only values it recognizes are of this world. For example, to devote one’s life to preaching the gospel would be robbing society of the years of work you rightly owe to “the people.”
Many of the evils of communism are also found in the near-feudalism of some Latin American countries that concentrate ownership in the hands of a few wealthy families.
Though such economies are in a sense capitalist rather than communist because individuals rather than the state own the property they deny private ownership of property to 99 percent of the people. They show the evils that can come from private ownership when power is concentrated in the hands of a few and the free market aspects essential to the right functioning of capitalism are removed.
Capitalism is an economic system in which most of the capital (the means of production and possessions) is owned by individuals, not by the state. A related term – perhaps a better one – is a free market economy, for the forces of the marketplace, not the government, determine most economic activity.
Of course, today there is no perfectly free market. Government influences affect every modern economy, some in a helpful and necessary way, and others in a harmful way.
The very idea of a free economy means that there will be great differences in how individuals choose to act. Some will be generous, fair, and kind; others will be selfish and dishonest. Yet that same freedom means Christians are better able to follow biblical principles.
Here, however, I wish to examine the free market or free enterprise system in its purely secular form. What would the champion of free enterprise, the ideal self-reliant man, substitute for our six biblical principles?
In each case, a purely secular capitalism would substitute the self for God:
(1) Work wholeheartedly for yourself at the most profitable task you can get.
(2) Trust your own work to provide you with as much as you want in this life (for who knows if there’s a life to come).
(3) Use as much as you can get of the earth’s resources for your own enjoyment and for productive purposes (and be proud of what you have done).
(4) Give to others only when it brings some benefit to yourself (through tax deductions or public relations or community recognition).
(5) Take very good care of all the possessions you can accumulate for yourself.
(6) Make wealth the most important goal of your life. Set your heart on your possessions (for they bring you joy), and make careful plans to enjoy in this life all you have earned.
I realize that people do not necessarily think that way in a free market economy. But I put these statements in blunt terms to show that the profit motive or free enterprise by themselves are certainly not the same as a biblical view of economics, nor will they motivate people to act according to biblical principles. Such a system will result in much higher economic productivity because it provides rewards and incentives for better work and more efficiently allocates resources. But greater productivity does not guarantee that people will please God.
What, then, is the advantage of capitalism? It gives people the freedom and the economic productivity that enable them to please God in all the economic areas of life; to work wholeheartedly at whatever task God gives and to trust Him to grant fair reward for their work; to use thankfully the abundance of God’s earth and to give freely to the needs of others, to be good stewards of much or little and to devote all their lives (if they wish) to spiritual productivity.
Thus a consistently biblical viewpoint endorses no secular economic system in itself. But it does see in pure communism a necessary contradiction of God’s purposes for economic activity. And it sees in a more free market system the freedom and productivity necessary for people to best fulfill God’s principles for their economic decisions.
Wayne Grudem, Moody Monthly