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Acts 4:32-5:1 by Robert Dean
As we continue in our study of the Biblical concept of labor, property, and value, many questions arise. Is Christian socialism legitimate? How do we define value? The Bible clearly teaches that we are to labor, so how does the Bible relate to modern day economics? How we answer these questions determines how our society prospers.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 33 secs

Prosperity, Responsibility, Liberty. Acts 4:32-5:1

 

Some of the passages in the Gospels that are used to support the idea of a Christian socialism are the same passages that are used to support replacement theology. This is because a number of those are used to relate to God's plan for Israel and they are not talking about society at large or an economic theory per se but they are talking about specific circumstances related to Israel. But when we look at those passages within this grid of amillennial theology that dominated Roman Catholicism—which was much of European Christian thought for more than a thousand years—we realize it develops into different types of interpretation, one of which leads to replacement theology and it the seed bed for the anti-Semitism that characterized much of European history. Also, another fruit of that approach to utilizing Scripture leads to the same idea of Christian socialism.

 

Economics. The Bible establishes the fact that money in and of itself is not evil. It is the love of money that is evil—1 Timothy 6:10. How are we going to define economics? The basic word for "economics" comes from the Greek word oikonomia [o)ikonomia] which is also where we get the Greek basis for the term "dispensation." According to the lexicon oikonomia refers to a manager of a household; the position, work, responsibility or arrangement of an administration, as of a house or of a property, either one's own or of another. It is a spiritual dispensation, a management or an economy. It has to do with the management of a household, a country, an estate, and the management of those resources that are in the house, in the estate or whatever. Thomas Sowell, quoting from Lionel Robins: "Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternate uses." Take, for example, time. If we spend an hour in the afternoon taking a nap what is the value of that nap? Well the value of that nap is relative to the value of other things you could accomplish during that hour. So economics is the study of the use of scarce resources—food, energy, etc.—whatever the resource may be and how we could utilize alternatives in place of that scarce resource.

 

Later on Sowell writes: "Economics is not about the financial faith of individuals; it is about the material wellbeing of society as a whole. It shows cause and effect relationships involving crisis [value], industry and commerce, work and pay [responsible labor], and the international balance of trade…" Trade has to do with the exchange of goods which is property "… all from the standpoint of how this affects the allocation of scarce resources in a way that raises or lowers the material standard of living of the population as a whole."

 

As we look at his expanded definition of Lionel Robins' short definition we notice that both of these definitions bring in the idea of how these finite resources are managed or administered. Whether the people in a given economy are going to be prosperous or whether they are going to be in poverty all depends on how those resources are managed. If the resources have to be managed, what does that tell us? It tells us that somebody, some group, some entity is managing how those resources are being allocated. It implies that there is someone, some group, some entity that has control or ownership over those resources. The implication that somebody has control over the resources implies ownership, control and ownership of those resources.

 

Whenever we talk about property right and ownership and about determining how certain resources are allocated we have brought in two critical elements: property rights and responsibility. That is fundamental to any discussion on economics, on management, on any sort of business—who is responsible and who has ownership of the resources. If we develop our thinking a little more we see that there are some questions that ought to come to our mind when we think about this basic definition of the use of resources. Who owns the resources in a given economy? How is ownership determined? Different economies are going to determine ownership in different ways, e.g. the Soviet Union compared to the USA. Another question: Who has authority over the resources and who determines their allocation?

 

Another question we ought to address is the way in which ethics—right and wrong, justice and injustice, fairness and unfairness—relate to the allocation of resources. Often we hear politicians talk about the tax code in terms of "everybody needs to pay their fair share." But what does that fair share mean? As soon as we say that we imply a set of values in order to determine what fairness is. For some fairness is that everybody pays and equal percentage of their income for taxes. For others fairness is on a progressive scale so that if you have less you will pay a lower percentage and if you have more you will pay a higher percentage. But who is it that determines where those lines are? What is the basis for making an evaluation of where poverty is and where rich is? Rich used to be several million dollars; rich today has been lowered to a couple of hundred thousand dollars. Who among us has the right to make the decision as to what is an appropriate amount of income and what is inappropriate? What is it that gives anyone the right to say you have made so much money, you are classified as rich? Does anybody have that right? Because if they have that right they have the right to determine a lot of other things affecting the individual's freedom.

 

Another set of questions as we think about the idea of scarcity of resources. This implies that there is a scale of values related to the degree of scarcity. In Minnesota there is a lot of water; in Arizona they don't have a lot of water. So who is going to assign a value to the resource of water? In some places it is less valuable; in some places it is more valuable because of its presence. Some places it is easy to get to; in some places it is harder to get to. So that is going to bring in the whole idea of labor, and how you get to the resource to develop the resource.

 

Question: Is value intrinsic or is it assigned? So then we have to ask the question: One what basis, then, do we assign value? In Minnesota there is an abundance of water; in Arizona there isn't, so the value assigned to water is imputed by the people who need it. How we answer some of these questions determines how a society prospers. As Thomas Sowell points out in Conflict of Vision the most fundamental presupposition that governs people's answers to questions has to do with their view of the nature of man. So if the nature of man affects how you answer these questions—whether man is basically good or man is basically flawed or sinful—that implies also a certain view of God and a certain view of ultimate reality. We start thinking about God and man and nature which are all addressed in some way by the questions we ask related to the economy and we come back to the basic elements of theology. So economics, like every other area in God's creation, is going to be impacted by how we understand God, man and nature. Everything ultimately goes back to religious assumptions. Whether people have thought about it or not is a totally different issue. But philosophers and theologians through the centuries have all recognized that our view of God, man and nature or creation impact our view of politics, law and economics.

 

The Bible is not an economic textbook but it does tell us true things that relate to these issues of economics. It says a lot about money, values, property. Property is a crucial element in relation to an economy; it is integral to how we think about economy. The freedom to own property and to dispose of that property as you will, without interference from government, is integral in experiencing freedom. If you don't have freedom to your property then you don't have freedom or liberty at all.

 

The Mosaic Law gives us much more detailed information and a divine perspective within a government framework—on labor, on the value of labor, on financial obligations, the ethics related to labor and how to treat servants, and the use of wealth. At the very core of the Mosaic Law's theology of money and value is property rights. In the Ten Commandments, Thou shalt not steal recognizes the right of property ownership and that it is wrong for someone to abrogate illegally property ownership and property rights. The New Testament doesn't contradict any of the things said in the Old Testament. It doesn't address them in the same way because the church is the focal point and the church isn't a national entity, it is a trans-national entity, and so the focus is different. But the principles that are seen in the New Testament are still consistent with those in the Old Testament.

 

Many of the parables relate to a property owner and a steward, and that the property owner (not the government) has the right to set wages and determine how much he will pay.  

 

We often hear today that the problem with capitalism is that it is motivated by greed. There are a lot of people who want to better themselves and that may be classified as greed. There are some who just accumulate a lot because they value possessions and money and are going to be happier, more secure by what they have. That would be classified as Greed, and the Bible condemns greed. So whereas one person can be motivated by personal greed to amass great wealth another person can be motivated by a desire for social approbation, and his greed is not for money, for things that money can buy or for property; his greed is for social approbation and recognition. So the path that his greed takes is to try to legislate some of the property and the wealth of the one person to redistribute it to those who don't have—just as much an aspect of greed as the greediest capitalist. Greed doesn't have to be greed for money. It can be greed for recognition, for power, for approbation, and any number of different objects. Often materialism is camouflaged by some sort of socially justified position but who is to say that their greed is better than the greed of the CEO or the property owner.

 

Basic definitions                   

 

Capitalism: It has a variety of definitions but generally it is defined as an economic system where the means of production—property, land, machinery—are privately owned, operated for profit from investment and in competitive markets. (There is no such thing as basically a free market economy. That is what we would strive for but it doesn't exist and hasn't really existed anywhere. The closest it came was maybe a few years after the United States was founded, but since the rise of central banking and the use of tariffs prior to the War Between the States, there has been government control. When you have government control to produce certain economic results you no longer have a free market.) It is operated from profit. There is a legitimacy to making a profit. If there weren't people making a profit and people who made a lot of profit, then just think how culturally impoverished we would be as a nation. When the government comes in and tries to pick the winners in the competition you start having problems. This happens in a lot of different ways—agricultural subsidies paid to farmers who are paid not to grow rice, corn, etc. If those restraints were taken off [it is feared] and they grew all the rice and corn they wanted it would so upset the balance of economics that we couldn't survive it. So the government has to control it by paying subsidies. So a lot of tax-payer dollars are paid to people for not growing certain things. Question: Who has the omniscience in any government to make those kinds of decisions? It is a manipulation of the market place.

 

Communism: This is the other end of the spectrum. It is technically defined as a social and political economic movement that aims at the establishment of a classless and stateless communist society structured upon common ownership of production. This means nobody owns any property; the government own the property, the means of production, the factories. This destroys all competition and guarantees that people will quit trying hard. Communism tries to guarantee the results. When the government guarantees results it destroys incentive, any kind of desire to improve.

 

Socialism: The last train stop before you get to communism. It is an economic system in which the means of production are commonly owned or controlled cooperatively. The government either owns or controls the means of production. In a lot of situations the government doesn't own the companies but by legislation and regulation it controls the production. And the government through taxation is the only entity that comes out ahead. Modern socialism originated from 18th century intellectual and working class political movement that criticized the effects of industrialization on society.

 

Every one of these systems has to do with private property, the ownership of private property. The Democratic Socialists of America: They believe that both society and the economy should be run democratically, to meet public needs, not to make profits for just a few. The only way to accomplish that is for the government or some entity to control all of the forces of the economy to guarantee the results. They have to be able to control the outcomes and the results. This means people can't really own things, and by ownership is meant the right to determine how those resources are going to be used for themselves or for others.