Christianity and Capitalism
Capitalism has its roots in religion, specifically in Christianity. The first instance where capitalism began to be created was in the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages. There were monasteries that rationalized economic life and began to put into place practices that favored private ownership of goods and services that were provided to individuals for the payment of a fee. Historian and sociologist Randall Collins said that the Church was the first place to put the rule of law and a system that resolves disagreements rationally into an economic marketplace. The Church also created the first specialized and mobile labor force, which was used to create an investment strategy that allowed for intellectual and physical capital to be passed down to future generations. These practices by the early Church fostered a strong desire for people to discover and enterprise new ideas that allowed for a large expansion of new jobs and wealth creation. If they did not use these principles, which are the beginnings of capitalism, we would not have some of the technological advancements that we have seen throughout history.
If there was not the freedom to pursue to discover and create new advancements that created the opportunity to make the lives of people easier we would not have the free enterprise system that each of us thoroughly enjoys. In the case of Socialism, where the government would control the economic enterprises, there would be no desire to create new technological advances or improvements to the daily lives of people because there would be no incentive to do so. Without the growth of capitalism we would not have had the technological advancements and ideas being placed into the hands of the people who needed them the most. These new ideas sparked the desire for other people to pursue their own ideas and compete with one another. This competition powered the engine of entrepreneurial spirit in the society, which in turn sparked a desire for individuals to constantly give their best for the goods and services that they provide to people. Healthy competition in a Biblical way produces the greatest growth possible in the economy of a society. Capitalism done in a Biblical way will also lead to the creation of corporations that will pay their workers a fair and competitive wage and provide benefits based upon their character, work ethic, and skill level. The corporations should also serve the communities within society in a way that stimulates and provides incentives and capital for them to achieve success on their own. Many of the most successful corporations in the world employ these principles and then some so that they make sure their customers and their employees are properly provided for. Thomas Aquinas said that one of the first defenses in a free and civil society is its inherent right for people to from corporations.
In no other part of the world, outside of Europe, has a country achieved and sustained economic growth on the level of the United States of America. In no other country has there been so many poor people raised into the middle class through education, invention, and innovation. Historian David Landes has said that the main factors creating this economic growth are rooted in religion. For example, one of the factors is the desire to create because we as humans were created in the image of God, imago Dei, and we were instructed by God to be creators ourselves. We are the only members of creation that are capable of creating ideas and things by ourselves. We have a very deep value of doing hard and excellent work because we are commanded in scripture, “whatever our hands find to do, to do it with all of our might”. We have a very deep respect for one another and want to do what is best for other people and for ourselves. In Genesis 1:28 it says that God tells us to subdue the Earth and to have dominion over it. One way that this is possible is for human beings having the ability to privately own and sell property for a profit. Capitalism has given society a firm foundation for economic and political freedom. When government does not control the marketplace there is a large increase in entrepreneurism, and it also provides for more political freedom in a society. However, due to sin, capitalism is distorted for personal gain, and when this happens there are problems that arise in an economy based upon capitalism.
In fact, one of the biggest complaints of capitalism is that it favors only the highest class of individuals in the economy. Because of this the poor are unable to live a satisfactory and fulfilled life. In essence, as the rich become richer the poor become poorer. This is actually an issue of greed. The economic principles of capitalism is not the problem, greed is the real problem. Some critics of capitalism say that it promotes greed, and that the very foundation of capitalism is greed. However, that is not true at all. The foundation of capitalism is based upon the desire to privately own property and to provide goods and services for individuals for a particular fee. This is all done without the interference of the government. If greed were minimized in the lives of all people, based upon the principles of Christianity, the economy would be drastically more successful for every person, especially the poor and middle class. An economy based upon socialism, where the government would have absolute control of the entire economic system, would surely mean destruction of new ideas and inventions that would otherwise improve the lives of all people.
Jesus spoke about money more times in the Bible than any other topic. Because of this, I think that we should devote more time to understanding how to create wealth and use it in a way that glorifies God and helps other people. One of the examples that many Christians like to use to criticize capitalism and wealth is the time when Jesus spoke to the rich man. The rich man asked Jesus what he must do to follow God. Jesus told him that he must give all that he had in order to truly follow after God. The rich man had a large amount of wealth and refused to give it up to follow God. Jesus said that it is harder for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than being able to go to heaven. Does this story suggest that Jesus wants every person to give away all that they have? Also if you have wealth is that evil? I do not believe so for the answer to either question. Jesus said that the love of money is the root of all evil not money itself. Money is a tool that God can use just like anything else. Jesus told the rich man to give away all that he had because the rich man trusted in his wealth instead of trusting in God. If we have faith in God that He can meet our needs, having a high net worth is not the issue. God can use that money to be a blessing to a large amount of people compared to if you were a poor individual with a smaller amount of money. It also means that you do not rely on poverty of others in order to achieve the wealth. It is only acquired by providing a good or service for a particular fee in the most biblical and ethical way possible.
Capitalism is not a system that relies on the continued poverty of others in order to facilitate the growth of a free market. Imagine a socialistic system where all workers are paid the same. There is no competition and no incentive to achieve success and to strive to become better. Some critics say that the socialistic system would be better, but what they do not understand is that once government controls the economy there is no competition at all. What this means is that mediocrity becomes the center of the economy. There is no growth of the economy because there is no incentive for people to work. However, in a capitalistic system if corporations paid their employees more based upon their character, work-ethic, and skill level it would decrease the amount of people in poverty and increase the growth of the middle class. As a result of our sinful human nature greed begins to take center stage in a capitalistic system. Because of greed there are very high net worth individuals who want to keep their wealth with themselves. If we had more high net worth individuals who were Christians we would be able to positively impact the world in a way that has never been seen before.
The real issue due to our sinful nature is greed. Greed is an issue of the heart, and it is a very serious human condition. The issue then becomes not targeting the money of the high net worth individuals but by teaching them and providing incentives so that we can create free-enterprise systems that lift the poor people at least into the middle class. God has given us the marketplace as one of the most powerful tools that we can use in this sinful world to impact the lives of all people in the fallen world. We can use the skills and talents that God has given us in the most effective way by using them in an economic system that has God at its foundation and uses capitalism to create a free-enterprise economy. The solution is not to create a socialistic economy but to change the hearts and mind of every person in our society. A Biblical capitalistic economy is the best solution to the financial issues that our economy faces. I think it is very important to understand that the current system that we have right now is not capitalism. It is a perversion of it, and it more closely aligns with socialism than capitalism. So what can the average person do? What can the Christians do?
There are some Christians who want to take away the money from high net worth individuals, or at the very least heavily tax them, but why not become a high net worth individual yourself and use your corporation to positively influence society? The corporation can be used to pay their employees fairly and provide them and their families with very good benefits, and at the same time witness and share the gospel with them. Is that not what Jesus calls us to do? Jesus calls us to be a witness and share the gospel to all people in our society. Some Christians are high net worth individuals and they are having a very positive impact on society and at the same time sharing the gospel with people. For example, Chik-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and Forever 21 are just a few of the companies that were started by Christians who still witness to unbelievers on a daily basis. They also take very good care of their employees and their customers. This is further evidence that shows that Christians can still follow God and also own their own company that positively impacts the lives of all people and share the gospel with them. A good book to read that goes into great detail about being a Christian and acting out Biblical principles in the marketplace is called Anointed for Business by Ed Silvoso.
God does not want anyone to live in poverty, and as Christians we have the ability to help them in the best way possible. This is accomplished by pointing them to the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus Christ. AND, more importantly teaching them to live a holy life after they enter into a relationship with him. In Christianity today we focus so much on converting people to be in a relationship with Jesus Christ, but we do almost nothing to educate how to live a holy life after they make the decision to follow Jesus. This needs to change. One of the ways that we live a holy life is to be good stewards of what God has given to us, and that includes our finances. Money only becomes an issue if we rely on our own power to make money rather than relying on God to meet every one of our needs. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come so that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” What does abundantly mean? It means far more than enough. God wants to bless us in all ways, including finances, as long as we live a holy life and follow the principles outlined in scripture. By doing this, I believe that we can truly make disciples of all nations and baptize all people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as outlined in Matthew 28:19.