by Providence Crowder
Wealth is Not Evil
The Bible indicated that certain believers had been entrusted with riches (Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon, Job, etc.) and others had lived in poverty. Although Christ encouraged the idea of community and admonished believers to care for the poor, He never guaranteed any man an income, poor or otherwise, nor did He rectify inequalities in material wealth (see the parable of the talents Matt. 25:14-30). In the book of Luke, a man from the crowd asked Christ to make his brother share his wealth with him. The man demanded, ‘“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?’ And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses’” (Lk. 12:13-14).
Jesus observed men’s attitudes towards money and possessions, and He addressed the very condition of their heart, which Scripture taught was deceitful and wicked (Jer. 17:9). Christ rebuked men, both rich and poor; those who would make money their idol, those who suffered greed, those who coveted, and those who would seek after riches instead of seeking the kingdom. Over and over again Jesus redirected mankind away from being consumed with material possessions and the accumulation of them, because serving God and serving possessions were incompatible. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24).
Community not Communism
Certainly some modern Christian communities have taken to modeling after the first century church in Jerusalem, where the believers were said to have given all of their possessions and they held all things in common (Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-35). This idea of a communal church in which no property was privately owned and all things were shared equally has had some appeal for modern believers. Yet, in the context of the early church, which suffered great persecution at the hands of the Roman government, community was all they had. Until the rule of fourth century Roman Emperor Constantine, Christianity was outlawed and Christians did not share in the wealth that is common for some Christians today. Christians held no positions of authority, they had no political power, and they did not live peacefully among other Roman citizens, and they could in no way look to their government for any type of assistance or help.
Because persecution was so severe in the land, these citizens voluntarily gave all they had for their common good, so that all of their brethren may both worship God AND eat. Consistent with the teachings in the Bible, they did what they wished with their own property. As in Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard, the landowner proclaimed, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own things? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matt. 20:15) These early Christians did not cling to material wealth or possessions but lived each moment not knowing if it would be their last.
The early church’s communal experience in Jerusalem ended as early as the first century with the scattering of the saints to other regions due to persecution (Acts 8:1). And despite persecution, Christians preached the gospel everywhere. They, like their Messiah, cared for the poor in spirit above all and in addressing the physical needs of a man, that man became more receptive to God’s message of salvation and redemption. Christians were generous in giving and they served the underprivileged while sharing God’s message of love and hope to the unsaved masses. Secular governments, on the other hand have robbed and oppressed in the name of righteousness, tyrants have abused their citizens in the name of goodwill; all under the guise of equality.
The Need for Evangelism
Many societies have felt the social and moral obligation to help those working poor who struggle to make ends meet and to provide for those who are unable to care for themselves; and rightfully so. Still, with more people on the welfare rolls than ever before and billions of dollars being pumped into impoverished communities all over the world, poverty remains. Resultantly, many Christian proponents of socialism have become, as Justo Gonzalez has asserted, “preoccupied with the existing social conditions” instead of focusing on Christian evangelism and discipleship. Were the needy to know the true and living God, they would recognize that their existing social conditions are temporal and that their happiness doesn’t persist in material wealth. Were the more fortunate to rightly know Him, their hearts and desires would be turned from self toward others, generosity would be instinctive, and they would take to the business of blessing other people. Were people to know God through His Son Jesus, serving one another would be an inherent virtue. However, because of the perpetual selfishness and wickedness of the ungodly, and because many in the church often fail to “remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10) in their clamor to erect buildings instead of building people, greed, vanity, and covetousness reign above charity.
In any nation, governments do not produce wealth but merely collect and redistribute it. In a constitutional republic such as America, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land; and under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the authority to collect taxes so that the government may properly function in its governing. As the Apostle Paul said, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing” (Rom. 13:1, 6). Taxes do serve their purpose and through paying them, taxpayers receive some product, good, or service from their government in exchange for their money; as well, the citizens who pay no taxes directly benefit from the public services that are provided at taxpayer expense. Yet concerning taxpayer subsidies to the poor, no such exchange exists. Giving in exchange for nothing in return is charity. Christian charity is voluntary; government charity is extortion. The term government charity is an oxymoron because the term implies choice. Outside of our biblical responsibility to those in our family and of our household, no person should be forced to pay for another person’s education, health care, or housing.
Joel McDurmon has noted that although, “God does require that we not let our poor neighbors languish,” the question remains, “Does He authorize the State to use force toward this end?” That answer is no. Government should not exercise force upon its citizens unless, as Charles G. Finney has warned, “It is demanded to promote the highest public good; it is the duty of government to inflict penalties when their infliction is demanded by the public interest.” But what if a man is poor and starving? Should the government then force its citizens to feed the poor? The biblical answer is no. The Bible proclaims, “People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house” (Prov. 6:30-31). And though most can empathize, stealing is wrong even in the worst instances of poverty. Like Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. proclaimed, “It is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends.” Government is not justified in stealing from one family to feed another.
Jay W. Richards said:
The government functions stem from our inalienable rights. We have a right to protect ourselves, for instance, so we can delegate that right to government. We don’t have the right to take the property of one person and give it to another. Therefore, we can’t rightfully delegate that function to the state. Delegated theft is still theft . . . Using the state to redistribute wealth from one citizen to another is different from general taxation for legitimate governmental functions, such as those enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. Rather than promoting the general welfare, redistribution schemes involve a group of citizens voting to have the government take property from others and give it to them. Rather than celebrating such schemes, Christians should be holding them to the light of moral scrutiny.
Stay tuned for Does the Bible Promote Socialism Part 3, “So How then Can Government Help?”