By Johnnie Moore
I believe, like the singer Bono, that the solution to poverty throughout the world is Free Enterprise. Often, Christianity allows its enemies to define early Christianity – even the Lord Jesus – as socialists or communists. Would Jesus be what we call today a ‘socialist’ or ‘capitalist.’ (Let’s leave aside ‘communalism’ and ‘corporatism,’ for now also).
It would not surprise me if Jesus recruited his disciple Matthew, Capernaum’s chief tax collector, just to get one more taxman off the street.
After all, any honest interpretation of Scripture should reject today’s popular notion that Jesus promoted a system of massive wealth redistribution that makes the government God. That’s “socialism,” not Christianity.
It does surprise me, then, when liberal politicians don the caps of rookie theologians, and argue that Jesus would not be in favor of capitalism.
Liberals go on tirades against inoffensive manger scenes set up at Christmas time, make an all-out war against any religious symbolism in public schools and deny that America was founded upon Judeo-Christian values—despite those values being etched in marble all over Washington.
But, when they want to justify the redistribution of wealth…then, they name-drop their buddy, Jesus.
These revisionist “theologians” are not reading the Bible Christians have read for centuries. Maybe they should make reading the Gospels one of their New Year’s resolutions.
When they do, they’ll discover several “troublesome” things.
First, Jesus encouraged his followers to exclusively practice voluntary, personal charity. At no point—either in Jesus’ ministry or in the ministry of the early church—were Christians forced to surrender their money so that elders might distribute it to others. On the contrary, they were encouraged (even in Acts 4:32-35) to give voluntarily, and they did so.
Secondly, in two awfully capitalistic moments, Jesus once stated outright that
“a worker deserves his wages (Luke 10:7),”
and delivered an entire parable praising the profitable, investment strategy of some workers while condemning the single man who didn’t make a profit as “wicked and lazy.” Jesus even says, when the servant returns with no profit,
“you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. (Matthew 25:14-27)”
Jesus liked bankers.
Thirdly, Jesus didn’t see the government as the answer to society’s greatest moral and social ills. In fact, up until the very end of his life, he fought against his own disciples who were imagining a revolution that would end in Jesus being set up as an earthly king. He once said,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight… (John 18:36)”
Jesus’ first followers also had a similar view of the role of money and of government. In fact, almost immediately we find other examples of property rights, the apostles condemning people who expected to eat without working, and proclaiming that Christians should give willingly, not out of coercion.
Jesus, for sure, believed that the government had an important (and limited) role in society, and that’s why he said,
“render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”
(notice he didn’t say “render unto Caesar what is yours”). Jesus also believed in and taught the most generous kind of lifestyle.
But, in so doing, he diminished the importance of the “public sector” and emphasized the role of the “private sector.” He believed that it was the role of God’s children to take care of those who were also God’s children who were struggling through life. He taught the primacy of personal charity.
Modern research backs Jesus up on this. Studies have shown time and again that the vast expansion of government always “crowds out” personal charity (there was, for instance, a 30% decline in charitable church activity in the immediate aftermath of the New Deal), and private charities are far more efficient and effective than public programs.
So, when big-government liberals use Jesus’s name to make government our de facto God-on-earth, they are, in effect, creating systems that make it more difficult for regular people to give more help to others.
Suffice it to say, if Jesus dropped in on our 21st Century like he did in the first, chances are he wouldn’t be a card-carrying socialist.
To the contrary: Jesus was, is and would be a capitalist.
Johnnie Moore is a Professor of Religion and Vice President at the nearly 100,000-student, Liberty University.