Was Jesus A Socialist, Capitalist, Or Something Else?
Politicians demonstrate uncanny memories for selected Bible passages trumpeting secular economic platforms. The left’s emphatic opposition to intermixing church and state rarely precludes recitation of Scripture for progressive causes. Liberals suggest it’s “un-Christian” to deny lavish benefits for illegal immigrants; or, equate socializing medicine with Moses freeing Israel from Egyptian slavery.
President Barack Obama repeatedly references the “least of these” even as he avoids crediting “their creator” when quoting The Declaration. Obama disdains association with those bitter Bible clingers except to heap guilt upon taxpayers.
It’s fascinating how frequently modern dilettantes re-make Christ in their image via Matthew 25. Socialists finesse Scripture to justify redistributing wealth to “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40), while capitalists overplay the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Both tout Christ’s teachings as a crucial trump card.
Other passages are mentioned. Socialists highlight descriptions in Acts of voluntary, privately orchestrated, local and temporary communalization to prescribe permanent, coerced communism under a distant, godless government. As shown previously, Christianity and Marxism share little similarity.
Likewise, capitalists espouse Proverbs and various idioms found throughout the epistles. But Matthew 25 leads from both directions.
The rapidity and carelessness of these misappropriations of “End Time” parables startles anyone who actually reads Matthew 25. Either these essential lessons are torn from context transforming Christ into favored worldly philosophers, or this man who changed history contradicted himself within the span of several sentences.
He demanded sustenance for “the least of these” 20 seconds after declaring “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
Like most of Christ’s ministry, Matthew 25 teaches spiritual lessons. We are to serve Christ with all our talent which entails supporting brothers and sisters being persecuted. The “least of these” in Matthew 25 are Believers enduring the tribulation described in Matthew 24.
Taking these passages in an economic sense eschews their essential meaning. Christ’s mission wasn’t to elevate our physical status, but to redeem mankind. Christ came to ransom sinners, not to cure cancer and extend voting rights; nor implement free markets. He comforted temporal afflictions to authenticate his claims so we’d believe, not for humanity’s physical comfort.
Politicians expand power by sowing discontent with our worldly estates relative to others – what the Bible calls covetousness. Demagogues encourage jealousy to justify looting taxpayers. They violate the eighth and tenth commandments through programs enabling recipients to avoid the fourth commandment’s requirement of work (Exodus 20:9).
This misaligns incentives from the underlying goal of economics: efficient allocation of scarce resources. To fund this largesse, Washington employs counter-productive policies that arguably violate Scripture: progressive taxation which distorts incentives (Moses instituted a flat tax); exploding public debt (Proverbs says borrowers are slaves to lenders); and debased currency (the Bible repeatedly condemns false balances).
Old Testament rules for Israel’s small, homogenous theocracy are less relevant to large, diverse secular states except in principle. Christ freed his followers from the law anyway so applicability to present conditions is tenuous, but redistributive “social justice” appears un-biblical even if the “poor” get part of the booty in exchange for votes.
Elections are popularity contests and democracy allows crowds to compel injustice, but God’s truth is eternal. Divine justice doesn’t flutter per public opinion.
Our Heavenly Father shows no favoritism. We stand equal before Him, but not in an egalitarian sense. Biblical jurisprudence entails impartial application, not neo-Marxist conceptions of “social justice” enforcing equal outcomes. Nowhere in Scripture are states tasked with leveling wealth.
Egalitarianism rarely lifts the “least of these.” Instead, it deprives their right to rise beyond their circumstances. Even the poorest in America generally have more than anyone save perhaps the dictator’s inner circle where governments enforce equality.
The Bible prescribes impartial justice, sound money and sanctions property. Scripture also advises limited government – the foundations of free markets. Christ even employed capitalist principles in several teachings. Jesus obviously understood incentives. He created us.
However, Christ wasn’t Adam Smith any more than liberals fancy him a hippie. The Bible provides a guidebook for life including politics and economics. It ought to inform our very essence. Yet, when Joshua asked pre-incarnate Christ before Jericho, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” Christ responded. He captained the Lord’s army.
Capitalism began in Christendom and surged post-Reformation. Some say Calvin invented capitalism or attributed its success to the “Protestant Work Ethic.” This is exaggerated, but Calvinists did commend material progress as socially desirable and developed usury codes in keeping with the spirit rather than letter of Mosaic Law.
Although capitalism appears compatible with Christ’s teachings the Bible never specifically endorses free enterprise. Neither are markets anywhere condemned, only the sinful actions of those abusing others. Markets offer freedom, which amplifies character. Without room for good or ill, morality is irrelevant.