In order to best explain what Scripture teaches about free markets and regulation, I would like to draw a theological parallel, which should prove instructive.
The healthiest Christians are what I call biblicists. That is to say, they rely on the Bible as their standard for all of faith and practice. To the right of a biblicist is a libertinist who takes liberty with scriptural commands reasoning that Jesus died for all our sins anyway, so then why not take liberties with biblical guidelines? You’ll be forgiven in the end, so why not live the way you want? To the left of the biblicist is the legalist. This person adds to the standards of Scripture and enforces them on others as the supposed true litmus test for spirituality.
Related to our Economic and Government series, in a parallel sense, the healthiest economies are characterized by free market enterprise. In an economic sense, we should all strive to be free marketers. Similar to the theological continuum above, to their right are economic libertarians and to their left are communists.
I think this is a good analogy for best understanding the role of government pertaining to societal economics. Read on and allow me to further unpack what the Bible says about free markets.
“Biblical libertinism” is descriptive of a believer who is characterized by a disregard of God’s ordinances in Scripture, such as the Ten Commandments. They deem their human freedom of choice as their ultimate authority, not God’s commands. The apostle Paul, however, foresaw such faulty behavioral conclusions from so free a salvation when he penned Romans 6:1–2:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”
Paul trumps such thinking with another theological truth: the believer is dead to sin once he has accepted Jesus into his heart. Biblical libertinism then is a meritless concept.
In a parallel sense, the error of economic libertarianism is similar in nature; it is best summarized, I think, by Dr. Wayne Grudem:
Therefore I differ with “Libertarian” views of government that make human freedom of choice their ultimate standard of good rather than obedience to God’s moral principles of the Bible, and fail to adequately recognize that governments should do “good” for people [Romans 13:4], not merely protect their freedom.
Do you see the parallel in such thinking? Biblical libertinism and economic libertarianism share in common the higher authority of man over and above biblical revelation. Both share a common belief that their personal liberty is the highest concern.
On the other side of the continuum in my analogy are the spiritual legalists and the economic communists who both superimpose their extrabiblical ideas on others. Both live on Mount Superior, and it is difficult to get through their gate at the bottom of the hill. Theirs is a standard for individual and corporate behavior that not only robs the joy of living, but it doesn’t work! One need only visit a legalistic church or a communist country to know what I mean.1
Void of such extremes are the spiritual biblicists and the economic free marketers. Both view God’s principles as revealed in the Bible as the highest concern and final adjudicator.
All that to say this: neither economic libertarianism nor economic communism are governmental systems that are substantiated by Scripture.
What follows is a theological construct underscoring the fact that Scripture upholds the idea of free market enterprise.
II. EXAMINING LIBERTARIANISM
Economic libertarianism stands on the premise that personal liberties are the highest objective that government should be about achieving and protecting. In this world view (or better, this way of thinking), gaining and maintaining personal freedom is deemed a more important purpose and objective for civil government than is maintaining biblical principles in a country. It is what government should be all about trying to create and maintain.
The free marketer believes that civil government should be about pursuing more than just personal freedom. Most every society today agrees that some governmental regulations are needed to protect citizens and create a thriving economy. For instance, courts punish fraud and injustice among businesses. Certain agencies need to create and enforce health and safety standards. Government needs to make sure weights and measures are accurate. These governmental responsibilities go above and beyond protecting and maintaining personal freedom. Societies today see a need for government to maintain roads and provide services such as fire and police departments and city planners. And if governments do not provide a trustworthy currency, economic trade becomes much more difficult. It is hard to imagine a culture thriving without some level of government, and, in fact, God did ordain the institution of civil government as is evidenced in 1 Samuel 12 and Romans 13! Economic libertarians must keep that in mind as they reason out their political and economic ideology: Does God know best, or do the libertarians? Is total freedom and the autonomy of man the highest good, or is obedience to God and exalting His glory? In the above examples, civil government is performing what God designed it to accomplish in a fallen world: To be “a minister of God to you for good” (Romans 13:4) and for the “punishment of evildoers” (1 Peter 2:14).
III. EXAMINING COMMUNISM
As we have seen in previous studies, government ownership of property is not its primary God-intended purpose. I have previously built a strong exegetical case for that in this series.
Further, the use of the government for the personal enrichment of the government itself, or a leader in government or his family, runs contrary to what Scripture teaches regarding God’s revealed purposes for this institution of His. In 1 Samuel 12:3–4, Israel’s leader, Samuel, said to the nation of Israel at the end of his service:
“‘Here I am; bear witness against me before the Lord and His anointed. Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? I will restore it to you.’ They said, ‘You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.’”
This passage serves to foreshadow what the New Testament (NT) shouts: the institution is to serve the good of the people versus a judge, king, emperor, or president. Again, Romans 13:4 definitively states of government:
“For it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”
Part 3 of this series, Resource Development, showed that government exists primarily to serve the people, quell evil, and create justice. Communist forms of government are patently unbiblical because they go way beyond this biblical definition and limitations. Given that premise, let us now underscore from Scripture the abnormality of government owning property.
IV. GOVERNMENT SHOULD ENCOURAGE INDIVIDUALS TO DEVELOP PRIVATELY OWNED RESOURCES
Governments should not only foster and encourage, but also incentivize citizenry to create economic growth for themselves. To do so is to enrich, diversify, and stabilize a nation and its civil administration! The more prosperous individuals there are in a nation, the greater the economic basis (through taxation) for the government.
On its face, Romans 13:4 does not take a lot of explaining to be properly understood. It says government exists, in part, for [your] good. That is to say it is to serve its citizenry—to do good for them. (I always think of this passage when a witness who is being inordinately badgered in a house or senate committee by a member, reminds the member that they work for the taxpayers! Government leaders are in office to serve the citizenry, not rule over them.) This scriptural idea is appropriately woven into the contract of our constitution, wherein our exegetically sensitive, biblically informed Christian forefathers wrote that our government exists to “promote the general welfare” of the nation. The historic way in which our government has served its people for good is through identifying the worth of and incentivizing the unique contribution of each of the other four God-ordained institutions, which was discussed at length in part 2 of this series. Each provides a unique contribution to the nation that the others in terms of efficiency and yield cannot.
In that economic communism has no biblical basis, it does not yield pragmatic success. One needed only to have visited both East and West Germany when the wall was in place to experience the stark difference in economic outcome: the same people at the same time with the same natural resources—one controlled by a free market ideology and the other by communist principles. Another example in economic ideological contrast—a present-day example, in fact—is provided by North and South Korea. The same people, the same environment and resources, the same starting point, but one has possessed a free market economy and the other has not. The result? One is dark and the other is light in ways more so than comparing a nighttime satellite photo.2 The point of this Bible study is well made by these illustrations: government, if only for motives to better itself, should encourage individuals to develop privately-owned resources!
V. PROHIBITIONS OF GOVERNMENTAL SELF-AGGRANDIZEMENT
By way of review:
The fundamental purpose of government is to serve the people, not profit from them.
It needs to be stated often that America has been on a wonderful mission for many years to promote democratic governance and free market capitalism to the nations of the world. This has been a biblically based mission that has brought prosperity to millions. Why? Scripture is replete with warnings about political leaders misusing their governmental position both in an institutional and individual sense. Scripture throughout the Old Testament continually warns about the propensity for governmental authorities to abuse their positions of power. One of many ways the Bible speaks specifically to this is via the denunciation of bribery. The many passages on bribery that follow serve to illustrate the deplorability of those who take advantage of their position—in contrast to serving the citizenry. Genocide, or murdering one’s citizenry in order to maintain power, would be another. The reason I single out the sin of bribery amongst political leaders (often simply called corruption) is that this is too often the reason free market capitalism fails in some countries.
Bribery (Shochad) is possible with people who have some sort of power and authority that they can wield over others. Scriptures on bribery are always related to someone who is being tempted to misuse their authority. Notice the many passages that condemn this misuse of power.
A. 1 SAMUEL 8:11–17
“He said, ‘This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants.’”
In the first related passage cited in this study, Samuel wanted to make sure he did not personally abuse his institutional authority. This passage records Samuel speaking further to Israel by way of contrast. In the Scripture above, he goes on to warn Israel that (unlike him), the tendency of institutional leaders will be to abuse their authority.
The natural proclivity of government is to expand itself beyond what God has called it to achieve and to misuse its power. This is an aspect of man’s fallen nature and why a representational form of government “by the people and for the people” is the best form of government. (Even so, no governmental system is perfect in a fallen world as is illustrated by America’s woeful inability to slash its deficit spending with a representational form of government.) It is also why in the sense of church institutions I like denominations and congregational rule: both serve to check the pastor who could very well attain too much power and run with it (cf. 1 Peter 5:1–5 in this regard).
The point is that in a fallen world there always needs to be checks in every God-ordained institution on what otherwise amounts to runaway autonomous power. Here are several passages relative to bribery that speak to one of the means by which political leaders use autonomous power. This specific case is how bribery leads to the destruction of free markets:
B. DEUTERONOMY 16:19
“You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.”
C. PSALM 26:10
“In whose hands is a wicked scheme, and whose right hand is full of bribes.”
D. PROVERBS 15:27
“He who profits illicitly troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will live.”
E. EZEKIEL 22:12
“‘In you they have taken bribes to shed blood; you have taken interest and profits, and you have injured your neighbors for gain by oppression, and you have forgotten Me,’ declares the Lord God.”
F. HABAKKUK 1:2–4
“How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted.”
All of the aforementioned passages underscore misuse of government for personal advancement rather than service of the people. May this sin never be counted against you because the sin of bribery is hugely damaging to free market economics! Russia and Ukraine have served as good examples. Their efforts to replace communism with free market capitalism have been greatly stymied by a carryover culture that tolerates bribery.
VI. TWO EXAMPLES OF GOVERNMENTAL SELF-AGGRANDIZEMENT
To underscore the point being made that governments should promote free markets, versus government existing to serve the leader(s), is Omar Bongo.
A. OMAR BONGO, GABON
Here is the first example of an aberrant use of government. Bongo ruled the country of Gabon in Africa for forty-one years. In his obituary published June 9, 2009, The Telegraph of London reported that Bongo “considered everything inside [Gabon] to be his personal property … shamelessly looting the country’s oil wealth … and elevated corruption to a method of government.” The Telegraph reported:
“[He] “owned 33 properties in Paris and Nice … these discoveries were probably only the tip of the iceberg; Bongo’s fortune certainly ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars and may have reached the billions.”3
Bongo serves as a colorful antonym to government’s purpose for existence:
God does not intend for government to be the vehicle for a leader’s gain, rather, it is to house the people’s free market!
As we have seen already, Scripture is clear that leaders are to serve the people, and that a leader who uses his position for personal gain is corrupt. Underscoring this concept is Proverbs 16:12:
“It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness.”
B. JOE BIDEN, U.S.A.
A second illustration of what appears to be self-aggrandizement, using one’s office for personal gain, existed very recently right here in the U.S. It involved former Vice President Joe Biden. The New York Times and The Washington Post are among many news sources that reported the story. The following is an excerpt from an investigative piece written by award-winning investigative reporter John Solomon, published on April 2, 2019, by The Hill:4
“Two years after leaving office, Joe Biden couldn’t resist the temptation last year to brag to an audience of foreign policy specialists about the time as vice president that he strong-armed Ukraine into firing its top prosecutor. In his own words, with video cameras rolling, Biden described how he threatened Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in March 2016 that the Obama administration would pull $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees, sending the former Soviet republic toward insolvency, if it didn’t immediately fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin.”
The story quoted Biden, whose remarks had been previously video recorded at a meeting of U.S. foreign policy specialist. The story said Biden told Poroshenko:
“‘You’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours … ‘If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a —-, he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time, Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations event, insisting that President Obama was in on the threat.”
Solomon’s story reported that the prosecutor who was fired was “leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings that employed Biden’s younger son, Hunter, as a board member,” and that “U.S. banking records show Hunter Biden’s American-based firm, Rosemont Seneca Partners LLC, received regular transfers into one of its accounts—usually more than $166,000 a month—from Burisma from spring 2014 through fall 2015, during a period when Vice President Biden was the main U.S. official dealing with Ukraine and its tense relations with Russia.”
Solomon reported: “Before he was fired as general prosecutor, [Shokin] had made ‘specific plans’ for the investigation that ‘included interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.’”
The Bible warns that government leaders will be tempted to use their power for their own good rather than viewing their appointment by God as one to serve others. They fall to the temptations often afforded them, to use their position and power for self-aggrandizement.
Free market capitalism is God’s blueprint for growing a nation’s economy. Both libertarianism and communism are riddled with pragmatic problems caused by their theological and ideological contradictions. These systems don’t come close to achieving for a society what biblical free market enterprise does! This is why ventures such as Solyndra, The Affordable Health Care Act, or the U.S. Postal Service will never be able to provide goods and services that are competitive with those provided by free market capitalism. The failures of men in office that are represented by these illustrations are predictable given what Scripture says are God’s intended purposes and limitations to His institution of government.
Closely parallel to being a spiritual biblicist and not a libertinist nor a legalist, there exists an economic tension between the extremes of libertarianism and communism that a nation must maintain in order to best facilitate economic prosperity. Living in the balance between those two extremes is biblically based free market capitalism. What we have gleaned from the Word in this study, reveals that God desires governments in a fallen world to enact, support, and maintain free market capitalism.
Next week in part 5, we look at the issues of debt, money, and inflation. cm
1 Note that modern-day China is an economic hybrid of a communist dictatorship that allows free market enterprise among is citizenry. This is an attempt by a totalitarian regime, a rigid ruling class, to create prosperity for those whom they maintain the ultimate control over. It is nothing more than a communistic government attempting to placate their citizens by offering them a carrot. At the end of the day, China remains a communist nation, if not totally that, in an economic sense.
2 Pastor Perry Gauthier, who has been CM’s Ministry Leader to the Nebraska Legislature for twelve years, posed this question as he launched his Good God, Give Us Good Government Bible series in January 2019: “What is the difference between North Korea and South Korea from an aerial photograph at night? North Korea is black as coal and twice as cold—it’s dead. South Korea, where freedom and faith are honored, lights up like a Christmas tree—it moves with light and life. The difference is government.”
3 The Telegraph, London, England, Obituary, Omar Bongo, June 8, 2009, Politics section.
4 The Hill, John Solomon, Joe Biden’s 2020 Ukrainian nightmare: A closed probe is revived, April 1, 2019.