by Kurt G. Jones
Synopsis: Some political systems allow the faith of Christ to thrive, while others seek to silence the message of truth. Yet, as Kurt reminds us, the gospel can spread under any system, and the Lord's kingdom is eternal.
The political landscape in America, and the western world today is littered with ideologies to solve the various real or perceived problems within society. There are those who clamor to solve gender inequality, poverty, and provide "social justice." There is a call on some political fronts to have a completely free market with no tariffs or trade agreements with other nations. Some seek to close the pay gap by proposing government restrictions to the market by seeking to enact greater taxes upon corporations, and those that are the wealthiest. Each of these and other theories that are postulated to solve political and social problems encompasses one or more "Isms" that could affect those who seek to worship the Lord "in spirit and truth."
These political and economic ideas are nothing new and have existed in some form since God ordained governments of men (Rom. 13:1-7). Ideals such as communism, socialism, capitalism, and fascism, are all approaches to governing the daily lives and economic activities of people. in These political systems have both merits and failings. The Bible gives instruction to Christians, and understanding some of these political theories may broaden the Christian's ability to be faithful to the Lord regardless of the political or economic system that may govern him.
First, it must be noted that a person may come to faith in the gospel under any political or economic regime. James notes, "if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (Jas. 1:5). Thus, while it may be easier under some political systems to become and remain a Christian. Those who seek to do the will of the Lord, and put their trust in him may do so under oppressive governments and free governments alike
As we notice these political ideas, we will consider the theory of capitalism. Dictionary.com defines capitalism as "an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth." In most countries where the ability to preach the gospel is largely unfettered, there are varying levels of capitalism with limited government involvement in trade and the market. Historically, freedom of trade is tied to a greater political philosophy of personal liberty. Capitalist societies seem to be more inclined to personal and religious freedom. In these nations, generally, there is little or no restriction for children of God practicing the faith and spreading the gospel.
However, capitalism's chief complaint is that the basic motivation and economic driver is greed. The Apostle Paul noted "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim. 6:10). Capitalism is also driven by the desire for "more" and for what someone else possesses. The Bible says much in the way of condemning covetousness even to the extent of calling it "idolatry." In writing to the Colossians, the inspired apostle wrote, "Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5). Thus, it is incumbent upon the faithful Christian to continually examine himself, and not to be driven by covetous and greed.
Socialism is defined by Dictionary.com as, "a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole." In the theory of socialism, the needs of the individual are met, by force of the collective. Socialism seeks to do away with the "greed" that drives capitalism, by compelling by threat or force, the collective to provide for the individual. Denominational scholar John Piper explained it like this, "Socialism borrows the compassionate aims of Christianity in meeting people's needs while rejecting the Christian expectation that this compassion not be coerced or forced" (Desiring God).
The appeal of socialism in "free" societies is that if the government were to take larger control of the means of production (through taxation, tariffs, embargos, etc.), more could be spent to alleviate the needs of those who are "less fortunate." This is often referred to as "social justice" in current political discourse. Children of God bear the responsibility to provide for the needs of those who are poor (Eph. 4:28; Jas. 1:27; etc.). Thus, the question is not, does a child of God bear a responsibility to provide for the needs of the poor, but rather, is it the job of the government, by threat of physical or political force to compel its citizens (including Christians) to provide for such needs? Biblically, Christians are given the free will and responsibility to obey the precepts of the gospel.
Also, as a general view of socialism in recent years, it is clear that as societies begin to embrace larger degrees of socialism they also begin to restrict personal freedoms such as the freedom of religion and speech. In many nations where there is a broadening of social programs and entitlements in order to bring about social justice, there are restrictions being place upon religious speech such as teaching the biblical view of sexuality, and divorce and remarriage. While this may merely be a correlation, and not necessarily the cause of the greater secularization of society, it is certainly worth our consideration.
Communism, like socialism, seeks to take the means of production out of the hands of the individual and give it entirely into the hands of the collective. Dictionary.com gives three definitions of the idea. The first is the definition of theory itself "a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state." In this idea, society is classless. There is no hierarchy but rather the collective has equal part to all property. In theory, this idea seems brilliant, yet only works this way if everyone is equally moral and has the same goals.
When discussing communism and its relation to the Bible, it is not uncommon for someone to reference Acts 2, noting that the church "had all things in common…" (v. 44) and thus this is offered as proof that the first church, and by extension the Lord, had endorsed communism. Yet the truth of this is the same for that of socialism. These Christians freely gave of what they had for the common good of their brethren. They were not compelled by threat or force to give. In Acts 5, we read of Ananias and Sapphira who sold a possession and lied about the proceeds. In the context the Holy Spirt said, "While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold was it not in your own control…" (v. 4). This passage, in its context, shows that each person had their own free will into providing for this common treasury.
However, communism, as seen in the last several years, is seen more clearly in the second definition provided: "A system of social organization in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party." This is seen in Communist China, Cuba, and the now defunct Soviet Union. It appears in these examples that the ideals of and equal collective turned into a power grab by the party with the most strength, who then in turn maintains that power through force. Traditionally, these governments have been openly hostile to the Bible, and the concept of Christianity, often punishing, imprisoning, or even killing those who profess faith in Christ.
Fascism, on its very face, would be hostile to the faith of the Bible. It is defined as, "a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism" (Dictionary.com). The most common examples of fascism would be in the first half of the 20th century with the rise of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. This regime was characterized by a complete rejection of any semblance of Christianity, and the depths of brutality that are largely unparalleled in modern society.
As earlier noted, while some of these forms of government offer more flexibility and liberty for the faith of Christ, one who truly seeks to serve the Lord can come to faith under any form of governmental system. Daniel remained faithful to the Lord in captivity to a government that did not respect the law of God. There were Christians in Caesar's household (Phil. 4:22). Some Christians, like Onesimus, were slaves. These governments are simply mechanisms to govern people, some with far better intents than others, yet they each are temporary.
However, biblical Christianity is distinct from any of these systems. It is a wholly spiritual kingdom wherein citizens willing submit themselves to Christ as savior and King, become his subjects and obey his will. In submitting to his will and become a Christian, "[The Lord] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." This kingdom is eternal and will never pass away.
Piper, John. "How Should Christians Think About Socialism?" Desiring God. https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/how-should-christians-think-about-socialism.
Author Bio: Kurt, and his wife, Amber, have three children. They live in Perryton, TX and are members of the Kentucky Ave. church of Christ in Pampa, TX. While Kurt preached full-time for several years, more recently he has been a Legislative Director for the Texas Legislature, the City Manager for the City of Darrouzett, TX and is now the Planning and Zoning Director for Seward County, KS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.