Christ and Capitalism
Many today make the claim that capitalism, especially the concept of personal ownership, is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. Let’s examine the scriptures to see what examples and principles we find there.
1 Kings 4:25 During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and fig tree.
Micah 4:4 Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
Acts 5:3-4 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Acts 2:45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
Hebrews 10:34 You sympathized with the imprisoned and accepted the confiscation of your property with joy, knowing you have better property that no one can ever take away.
1 John 3:17 Now if anyone has an income in this world yet sees someone in need and is cold-hearted, how can the love of God remain in them?
2 Timothy 4:13 When you come, bring the overcoat I left in Troas with Carpus, and the little scrolls, especially the parchments.
Ephesians 4:28 Let the thief stop stealing! Instead let him work! They must work with their own hands so they can share with the needy.
1 Thessalonians 4:11 Strive for a quiet life, minding your own business and doing your own work, just as we directed you.
2 Thes. 3:8-10 Neither did we accept handouts from anyone, but worked very hard night and day so we would not be a burden to any of you. And it isn’t like we don’t have the right! But we wanted to be a model for you to follow. Even while we were still with you, we made the rule that if anyone refuses to work then they should go hungry.
Notice the presumption, in both Testaments, that people own property. Ownership is also portrayed as a good thing, a sign of God’s blessing. And theft is impossible if people own nothing. How can one’s property be confiscated unless they own it? And how can anyone be generous if they own nothing?
Of course we all recognize that as Christians our lives are not our own, and everything we have belongs to God. We are, in this life, stewards of what God has entrusted to us. But God has also made it clear that a person has the right to enjoy the fruit of their labor (1 Tim. 5:18, James 5:4). Conversely, the lazy have no right to eat! Food, clothing, shelter, and medical care are necessities but not rights; they are privileges for which we should be grateful. In the US, our rights are spelled out but do not include these necessities; only “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. (Other rights were spelled out later of course, but again, they do not include guaranteed necessities for all.)
So capitalism is not at all in conflict with the teachings of Jesus, nor with anything in the Bible. In fact, when a government denies personal ownership, it makes generosity and sharing one’s possessions utterly impossible. It is the same with angry sermons about tithing; we cannot obey the scriptural mandate of cheerful, voluntary giving (2 Cor. 9:7) while being commanded to pay, for that is compulsion.
Some will cite Acts 2 as support for communism, but as I’ve said before, the critical error in that view is that the early believers gave willingly. There was no governing body ordering them to “share”, and what is sharing if the group already owns it all? Others will cite Acts 6, where seven were chosen to distribute food to the needy, as a mandate for the Christian community for all time to have a governing body “redistribute wealth”. But again, nobody forced anyone to give, whether from one individual to another or by people bringing their gifts to one location and having others see to its distribution.
Communism is no guarantee of compassion and in fact acts against it, just as surely as capitalism risks the neglect of the poor. But as Paul said clearly,
But keep this in mind: the one who plants sparingly will harvest little, and the one who plants generously will harvest much. Let each one give as they decide in their heart— not out of sadness or compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver.“Charity” that is enforced by a governing body does not glorify God. We cannot learn to be generous or volunarily make sacrifices for the poor unless we first work for something and own it. The lazy are not to be pampered for the same reason; they must learn to be providers themselves instead of dependents. Then, and only then, will there be enough resources to help the truly poor. If the poor lack under such a scenario, it will be because the people as individuals lack compassion. But no amount of coercion can change that. God will deal with such people; it is not the place of any of us to try and dictate compassion in others.
Now God has the ability to shower you with gifts, to the point where you will not only have all your needs met, but that you will overflow with good works. As it is written, “He gives generously to the poor, and his justice remains forever.” May He who supplies seed to the one who plants and bread for food give you a limitless expense account so that the produce of your justice will multiply! Then you will be rich in every way— enabling you to be generous, which will result in gratitude to God. This official service— meeting the needs of the holy ones— will certainly produce overflowing gratitude to God. By means of this evidence— this distribution— God will be glorified, because they will see your support and agreement with the good message of the Anointed One, your generous partnership with them and everyone. And they will pray for you and be eager to meet you because of the overflowing grace of God to you. Thank God for his indescribable gift! — 2 Cor. 9:6-15