It started with Mr Phillips posting under the title Socialism is Evil.
Mr Robertson responded with Is Socialism Satanic? – Why has the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals gone all Political?
This has continued with two more posts on theweeflea (here and here), a response from Rick Phillips – Capitalism Is Not the Gospel – which elicited a further response from David Robertson – Help! I’ve been Rickrolled – Responses to my Socialist/Capitalist Articles.
My intention here is not to comment in detail on these various articles, but rather to air a thought bubbling in my subconscious for a while, that has been crystallised by this debate. Two points:
- Firstly, the postulation that aspects of socialist theory (if we ignore the atheistic side given to it by Marx) to a certain extent chime in harmony with biblical teaching and aligns with the way we (or I anyway) often picture the New Testament church.
- Secondly, a question – why does the conservative, evangelical church tend to lean towards those promoting a capitalist agenda?
Regarding the first point, what do I mean? In the book of Acts we read concerning the church at Jerusalem:
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
It would appear that the church was a community so united in the Spirit that they functioned as a family, holding possessions in common and providing for each other as each had need. Is not this a form of socialism? If not pure socialism – maybe communalism is a better word – it certainly leans in that direction. Or, maybe it could be better stated that socialism draws on Biblical reaching for some of its ideas!
This system of freely sharing possessions in order that each in the church might be provided for seems to take to its logical conclusion the Biblical teaching that hoarding personal material possessions is pointless and that seeking after wealth above all other things is idolatry and ‘the root of all evil’. Christians rather should be putting God first, others second and themselves last. On a tangential but linked point, it is interesting that throughout history, very often (although of course not exclusively) those who have sought to help others and to bring about social reforms have been Christians or motivated by Biblical principles.
Coming onto the second point, the conservative evangelical church does tend towards capitalism, despite that fact that it has many, many serious flaws. Why should this be?
A major reason is that capitalist economics has always tended be associated with right-of-centre or conservative political ideology, which in turn has tended to promote moral conservatism. The opposite is true of socialist economic policy, which has usually be associated with left wing politics and, certainly over the last few decades, this has embraced increasingly liberal moral and social views (and indeed militant secularism). Conservative (with a small ‘c’) Christians, have always seen the great threat to stable society posed by liberal morality (family breakdown etc.) and have reacted against it, often perhaps without noticing that the underlying principles of left-of-centre politics are more compassionate and aligned with biblical teaching. For example, the unions and labour movements were founded out of a desire to see atrocious conditions in the mines and factories improved and, (as Saints and Sceptics writes) found support amongst evangelical Christians.
Equally, in focusing on the morally conservative politics that have often gone hand in hand with capitalist economic policy, it is easy to ignore the great problems that capitalism brings, making the poor poorer, the rich richer and concentrating power in the hands of an elite few who are only concerned about themselves – think of Jesus’s teaching about the rich fool.
It is also important to note that in 21st century politics, whilst those on the right may have more sympathy with morally conservative ideals, most across the political spectrum have embraced the prevailing hedonistic, it’s my life and my body, anything goes, worldview.
I’ve suggested positives of socialist theory and negatives of capitalism. To be fair, this is not to say that socialist theory does not have major problems or capitalism benefits.
Very often socialist ideology ends up making it more profitable to live off the state, encouraging sloth, laziness, dependence and an entitlement culture. The Labour party over the last few decades has massively increased the size of the welfare state and it has now become politically unacceptable (whatever ones allegiance) to seek to trim this behemoth – although Ian Duncan Smith has tried. It must also not be forgotten that socialist policy when applied has repeatedly turned into communism and the history of the 20th century teaches us enough about that never to want to see it repeated.
On to capitalism, whilst it has many problems, it does promote enterprise, hard work and personal responsibility, which are surely encouraged in the Bible.
Can we draw any conclusions?
I suppose, simply put, no form of social or economic theory will work if it does not fully embrace Biblical teaching. A society based on the Ten Commandments and the New Testament exhortation to love God and our neighbour, in that order, would actually pull commendable aspects from both system under consideration. it is an undeniable fact that only living perfectly in accordance with God’s rules will give us a perfect society, something that is sadly impossible in the post-fall world. Any form of political ideology or economic system is a part of that fallen world and so will by definition be flawed. Some may be better than others, but that is a decision to be taken by individuals, before God as guided by him and his Word.
David Robertson’s is correct in concluding that as Christians, we are just that, followers of Christ, followers of God’s teaching given in His word the Bible. He writes,
I am not here to defend socialism. I am not a socialist. And I am not a capitalist. I am a Christian. I don’t trust any system. And I think that socialism without Christ is as bad as capitalism without Christ. I am here to challenge ignorance and to plead with my American brothers and sisters to STOP identifying Christianity with your own politics/culture/economics. You are causing the rest of the church a great deal of harm.
Perhaps this is something parts of the church in Britain should think about too? We are not automatically aligned at conversion with any political or economic ideology. In the hands of evil men, socialism is evil, in the hands of evil men, capitalism is also evil. It is therefore dangerous for the Church to become political.
So, should we bury our heads in the sand, hide behind our closed church doors and avoid the ballot box? Certainly not. As I have written before, Christians can be a great force for good, and should actively engage with the political process seeking to influence decisions taken by those that rule us. We should also pray for those in authority as Paul instructs us in his letter to Timothy,
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
The reason; that we may live quite lives and that we may be able to evangelise, so that lost souls come to know the Lord Jesus as their saviour.
This is the important message. Neither David Cameron, Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Corbyn can save people. Nor can Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Or Brexit or the EU for that matter. Being a capitalist or a socialist will not do any of us any eternal good. Only being a Christian has lasting value. And, only widespread revival can make the world a better place, because only this will enable society to come back to God and to live according to the ways he commands, which, in his love and wisdom was ordered for our good.