“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4)
Nationalized healthcare? College debt forgiveness? Fair housing? Increasing the minimum wage? Inflation? Interest rate subsidies? Tax shelter for corporations and the wealthy? The honest Christian considers the Biblical balance in life, involvement in the community, politics, policy, and giving, so let us do so over the next few days.
Some propose a biblical mandate for capitalism, while others view Scripture as on the side of socialism. Capitalism is an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained by private individuals or corporations, and socialism is an economic system in which the ownership and control is by the community as a whole. Advocates of capitalism seem to dominate American evangelical thought; advocates of socialism dominate evangelical thought in most of the rest of the world. Yet there are those in America also who advocate a socialistic approach to economics.
The system which creates and sustains much of the hunger, under-development, unemployment, and other social ills in the world today is capitalism. Capitalism is by its very nature a system which promotes individualism, competition, and profit-making with little or no regard for social costs. It puts profits and private gain before social services and human needs. As such, it is an unjust system which should be replaced.
The Bible has a great deal more to say to the capitalist about how his behavior must be modified than it does to the socialist. But since an economic system cannot be imposed without political sanctions, and since human beings are radically self-oriented, thus subverting any economic system, I conclude that neither system has a biblical mandate for imposition. Either will founder on the shoals of human nature.
Therefore, the Christian in either system should work toward change to bring it increasingly into conformity with the great biblical principles of justice and mercy. If freedom can be combined with these far more basic concepts, all the better. Perhaps, in a fallen society, the freedom won through the painful balancing of the rights of one group against those of another is the only hope for some measure of justice.
“In fact, neither theology nor Scripture gives us any criteria for evaluating one system against another. Since no economic mechanism corresponds to Christian truth, if we wish to choose we will have to do so for purely natural reasons, knowing that our choice will in no way express our Christian faith.”
The advocate of a free market economic system emphasizes freedom and the right to private property, while those who promote a controlled market economy for the welfare of all citizens emphasize justice, fairness, and equality. Capitalism is for freedom, socialism is for equality; neither economic freedom nor equality is very pronounced in Scripture. True, “freedom” is important in Scripture, but the freedom advocated, especially in the New Testament, is primarily spiritual and only minimally political. Economic freedom to make unlimited amounts of money is not presented in Scripture at all; the only economic freedom addressed is freedom from poverty and oppression. Legislation can make citizens free to accumulate, but freedom to do so does not make it happen. “Economic freedom” can mean freedom to get (capitalism) or freedom to subsist (socialism). Since freedom to get always works to the advantage of the smart, ruthless, or economically powerful, it is only proper that the biblical emphasis should be on protecting the weak and less fortunate.
Whose freedom is more violated, a wealthy person prohibited from becoming more wealthy (or compelled to become less wealthy) or a poor person who is trapped in poverty? Who is in greater bondage, the one who has and is prohibited from getting more, or the one who has not and is prohibited by his circumstances from getting at all? On which kind of freedom does the Bible lay emphasis?
Since Scripture is strong on setting free those oppressed economically, the crucial question becomes whether the right of private property in Scripture is the right to unlimited accumulation and possession. The law of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) clearly presents strict limitations to permanent accumulation on the part of the strong at the expense of the weak or unfortunate. The concept of taxation also clearly sets limits. So it would seem impossible, on biblical grounds, to make the right of private property an unlimited right.
Though it is difficult to prove from Scripture that civil government must guarantee the right to accumulate unlimited wealth, it is replete with strong teaching on the obligation of a society to protect and provide for the poor.
We cannot ignore this question. How do you personally provide for the poor? When is enough enough for the wealthy? Therefore, the Christian in either system should work toward change to bring it increasingly into conformity with the great biblical principles of justice and mercy. If freedom can be combined with these far more basic concepts, all the better. Perhaps, in a fallen society, the freedom won through the painful balancing of the rights of one group against those of another is the only hope for some measure of justice.
 Quarterly of the Christian Legal Society, spring 1981, 6–7.
 Jacques Ellul, The Ethics of Freedom, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 371ff.
 IBE (2014), 466.