Jesus, the Apostles, and most of the other members of the early Christian Church were not politicians. Their worldview and aims transcended government and politics and aimed at something more meaningful and everlasting. But today, religion is often the basis for decisions in the political arena. The Bible is grounds for political platforms and social commentary.
If we were to create a political platform on what is actually in the New Testament, what would it resemble? Here are a few Bible verses that are instrumental in answering this question, along with the context from which they are taken.
- Matthew 19:16-21. Jesus is speaking to the multitudes in Judaea. One of them comes forth to Jesus to ask what he must do to have eternal life.
16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. 18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
- Matthew 19:24. A young man with great possessions turns away from Jesus after being told he must sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor in order to have eternal life (see above). Jesus then says the following to his disciples.
24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
- Acts 2:42-45. The Holy Spirit causes the devout men of Jerusalem to speak in tongues. Peter stands up with the disciples to explain to the multitudes how this has come to happen. The multitudes ask Peter what they must do. Peter tells them to repent and be baptized, and 3000 people do so.
42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
- Acts 4:32-37. A multitude of believers are assembled together, and after praying are filled with the Holy Spirit.
32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. 36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, 37 Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
- Luke 6:24. Jesus is giving the Sermon on the Plain. After saying how the poor, the hungry, and those reproached for their belief in Jesus are blessed, he says the following.
24 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
- Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus is talking about Judgment Day, when the Son of Man returns in Glory, and compares the judgment on those who gave to the destitute and those who did not.
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
- Luke 14:13-14. Jesus is presenting a parable to the Pharisees.
13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: 14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
- James 2:15-16. James makes the point that faith, like charity, is meaningless without works.
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
- Luke 1:49-53. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is glorifying the name of God.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 50And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
- Matthew 21:12-13. Jesus enters the temple of God in Jerusalem.
12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
The New Testament describes a religion of equal sharing and helping those in need, a religion that should be in full support of socialism. So why do we find Christians supportive of capitalism? Why has Christianity become associated with the Republican party, a party that favors the upper middle class and wealthy?
I took the question to Google, to see how this question is resolved. Here are some of my favorite responses.
The Story of: The Eye of the Needle
The “eye of the needle” mentioned in the Bible, was one of the many gates providing passage through Jerusalem’s massive walls. The “Needle Gate” was used when the city’s main gates were closed at night. It was designed for security so that enemies could not simply ride into the city. The gate was so small, that a rich man would have to unload his camel and then with great effort, lead his camel through –a slow & difficult process. Jesus likened the process to entering heaven: we must come to God stripped of all our importance –a seemingly impossible task until we realize with God, all things are possible.
Rich Christians-An Oxymoron?
I think Jesus was trying to correct these beliefs concerning the spiritual state of the rich. I think he was pointing out that the rich were no more likely to go to heaven than anyone else, and that they might even be less likely than others to go to heaven because their riches might distract them from seeking the kingdom of heaven.
When/How/Why did Christianity become pro-Capitalist?
Capitalism does not equal wealth. Capitalism equals freedom with money. It is completely Biblical, so I doubt it is anything new.
Stop viewing the government as your own personal charity. It isn’t.
All of the above answers, however, are flawed. First, while the non-literal interpretation, “We must come to God stripped of all our importance” is a convenient way to avoid the message, it falls flat because it has no basis in reality. There is no evidence to suggest that the supposed “Needle Gate” ever existed. Second, while it’s fun to argue semantics and say, “The rich were no more likely to go to heaven than anyone else,” the message of this verse is that it’s impossible, not unlikely, for the rich to go to heaven. Don’t believe me? Push a camel through the eye of a needle first, then we’ll talk. And third, freedom with money is not biblical at all. The above verses demonstrate appropriate and inappropriate uses of money, putting significant restraints on this so-called “freedom with money”.
If capitalism is biblical and socialism is anti-biblical, then why would the early Christian religion distance itself from materialism? A Brief History of Christianity and Capitalism suggests that the early Christian religion did indeed distance itself from materialism:
The early Christians took these sayings very seriously. The first century Didache said, “Do not claim that anything is your own.” Around the year 200, Clement of Alexandria said, “All possessions are by nature unrighteous; when one possesses them for personal advantage and does not bring them into the common stock for those in need.” Basil the Great, about 400 A.D., said “That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat in your closet, to the naked.” St. Augustine said, “Business is in itself an evil.” Jerome, who disagreed with Augustine on many things, did not on this. He said, “A man who is a merchant can seldom if ever please God.” St. John Chrysostom put it this way, “How did you become rich? Can you show the acquisition just? It cannot be. The root and origin of it must have been injustice.”
For 1500 years, the church banned charging interest. The reason Jews got such a bad reputation as bankers and merchants was that they were engaging in practices forbidden to Christians. (The irony is that all the Biblical passages against interest are in the Hebrew scriptures, not the New Testament. For some reason, the Christians took them more seriously than the Jews, at least for a while.)
In 1635, a Boston merchant was convicted of greed because he sold goods at a 6% markup — 2% higher than allowed by law. The charges against him were brought by the elders of the church, who said he had defamed God’s name. But the fact that he was allowed to make any profit at all was a change brought about largely by the Protestant reformation.
Apparently, the early Christian religion was not biblical! Of course, this might not pose a theological problem for some Protestants, who to varying degrees feel that the Christian religion was not biblical until the Protestant Reformation (more accurately, that at some point after its founding, Christianity digressed from being a biblical religion, and that the Protestant Reformation recovered its biblical nature). But this is at least consistent with capitalism and Christianity becoming a match made in heaven because of Calvinism, as postulated by Max Weber:
Lecture 3: The Protestant Reformation
Calvin also introduced his concept of the “calling.” Some men and women seemed ill-fitted for life on earth. They were avaricious, slothful, amoral. However, there were others who seemed to work happily in their lifetime, accomplishing much and in the right spirit. In other words, they had been “called” to do a certain thing here on earth.
Of course, we wake up early, work at your calling, are thrifty, sober and abstain from frivolity, there is an unintended consequence. That consequence was the acquisition of wealth. So, while Calvin did not invent free enterprise, nor did he invent capitalism, or the desire for wealth, he did rationalize that desire by arguing that certain men are imbued with the spirit of acquisition, the correct spirit. That spirit has often been called the Protestant Work Ethic. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904), the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) asked why it is that the world’s most wealthy men were of Protestant origin. His answer was that it was these men who were also Calvinists, men who had internalized the religious code set down first by Calvin and then by the Puritans of 17th century England. In other words, the ethic says to work hard, save what you have made, and reinvest any profit in order to increase wealth. That is capitalism in a nutshell. Calvin does not invent this idea, he simply rationalizes it by ascribing a certain spirit or calling to certain men of his own age, all of whom just happened to be Calvinists. Of course, such a scheme could and did lead to tension, conflict and anxiety. How much of a calling was a good thing? When did one know when enough was enough? Anxiety and its sister guilt, then, seemed to become one of the guiding principles of Calvinism.
The principle of working hard is a good principle. But this isn’t an attitude that need be restricted to capitalists, nor is there any reason to assume socialists wouldn’t share it. No matter what your job is, who your employer is, and under which economic system you live, diligence is a virtue. One of my own spiritual principles is to do a good job on a project, regardless of reward or recognition, just for the sake of doing a good job. A litmus test of your character is to think to yourself – “Would I still work hard, even if my efforts weren’t rewarded or recognized?” The Bible wants your answer to this question to be “yes”.
Opposition to Socialism
You would think that Christianity should at least be receptive to socialism, given the biblical support for it. But what we find is that socialism is considered anti-biblical, anti-God, by many Christians.
Socialism: The Anti-Christian Utopian Revolution
The secular socialist’s believe in the utopian man, the masters of the universe. Utopian man is the perfected man, or the god man. Educated from childhood to believe in the evolution of man from savage beast to enlightened being, socialists believe in the social engineering of the humanistic god man…. The socialist revolutionary also looks to the State, in our case the federal government, rather than God as its source for education, food, labor and leadership.
It’s interesting that Clark (above), in referring to socialists pejoratively as “revolutionary”, forgets that the Founding Fathers were quite literally revolutionaries. And in claiming that “the socialist revolutionary” looks to the State “as its source for education, food, labor and leadership”, he forgets that capitalists in the United States take these very things for granted from their government. The government of the United States provides public education, allots agricultural subsidies, accounts for 8% of the jobs in the United States, creates policy to lower unemployment, protects the rights and safety of workers, and leads the country. I guess Clark believes the United States is a socialist utopia that should be abolished? This is probably how the American Revolutionaries must have appeared to the entrenched nobility of Europe back in 1776.
But addressing the spirit of Clark’s post. Whether or not there’s a god or an afterlife, humans should be good stewards of this world, and should try to make it a better place to live. Pursuing this goal does not mean that you are playing God or hate God, any more than the Founding Fathers were playing God or hated God when they engaged in their own violent act of social reform.
Why socialism is anti-God
Jesus spoke a parable to His disciples about a master who had three servants and had entrusted them with his business while he was away. Now of course when Jesus told a parable He was speaking of spiritual matters but spoke of things in everyday life so men would understand.
Who was rewarded? The one who produced the most “capital” or the wicked lazy servant who did little or nothing?
So today’s standards of taxing the rich and taking from those who produce more and giving to those who do little or nothing so everyone is “equal” is absolutely wrong.
Ron (above) errs grossly on the side of literalism here, by taking what is emphatically a parable about spiritual rewards and assuming it is nothing more than a speech to potential investors. Not only does he kill the verse with literalism, but he then applies a liberal helping of literalism on top of that in order to invent a new context for the parable.
Socialism is Evil:
I don’t know that it is Russia destroying us, but it is at least socialism that is destroying the United States. Socialism is an evil in this world. It seeks to deprive us of our God-given rights and it has been infiltrating our society little by little for over 100 years.
Despite the tinfoil hat attitude of Matt (above), there is no such socialist conspiracy. Socialism and secularism are entirely different subjects, and Matt should be thankful every day that he lives in America that he has secularism to protect his freedom of religion. I’m not sure how Matt feels socialism is infiltrating our society (he only says that “it walks around the United States as a wolf in lamb’s clothing parading itself as social justice when in actuality it is government wanting to control every aspect of people’s lives”), but it is government intervention that keeps our water drinkable, our houses safe from fires, our workplaces safe, our children healthy, our air breathable…. the list goes on and on.
But the main argument I’ve heard against socialism is that God doesn’t want people to be forced to help others by the government; God wants them to do so willingly. The problem with this argument is as follows. First, the Bible clearly wants believers to help others, though of course it also wants believers to want to help others. And second, it is judgmental and unfair to assume that those whom we help are lazy (with an unemployment rate just shy of 10% just a couple years ago, can you really claim that 1 out of 10 Americans were just too lazy to work?). The people who want to help others should consider the government as helping them do what they already want to do. Christians who don’t want to help others are not acting in accordance with their own religion, and non-Christians who don’t want to help others have no interest in serving God anyway.
So who is left right?
The bottom line is that there isn’t a black and white answer. The Bible doesn’t hate socialism; in many cases, it actively encourages socialism and discourages capitalism. And socialists don’t hate God, nor are they any lazier than capitalists. Economy doesn’t make the person. Diligence is a virtue no matter who you are or where you live.