Although capitalism can be abused and abusive, it is the economic system most conducive to freedom, most in accord with human nature, and most closely related to the Bible. The unfettered laissez-faire concept of Adam Smith led to the free-booting robber barons of the nineteenth century. The story of the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, and other monopolistic capitalists, who built up the industrial base of our nation but who did so at the expense of their competitors, is not a pretty one.
However, the basis of free enterprise is very biblical. We read in the Old Testament that the millennial time, everyone will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree on his own property (see Micah 4:4). There we have an idealized concept of the private ownership of property.
In the early days of our country, the Massachusetts Bay Colony attempted a primitive form of socialism. Land was owned jointly, everyone was to work together, and then the produce was to be divided to each according to his need. This experiment failed miserably. The people began to starve to death because there was not enough incentive to work. It was only after the land was divided into acre plots and given to individual families that the people began to prosper. That was because they were now working for enlightened self-interest and giving to one another out of their increase.
God has given each human being a healthy personal self-interest. Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19). This is something we all can relate to. There are few so altruistic that they will give up all they have produced for the good of other people. A person may love others as well as he loves himself, but he will not love them to the exclusion of himself.
Communism, on the other hand, demands that everyone work for the state; that everyone be controlled by the state; and that the means of production be in the hands of the state. There should be no profit motive, because Communists say the profit motive is evil.
But the profit motive is not evil; it is a creative force. It is based on self-interest, to be sure, but from this has come technology, creativity, the tremendous explosion of the scientific method, and other things that have made our world a better place in which to live. The profit motive has also produced tremendous social initiatives that have provided millions of dollars to help the poor, to care for the sick and needy, and to build hospitals, schools, and charitable institutions.
Yes, unbridled capitalism must be restrained, or people will get too much money and too much power and will use it to oppress others. But at the same time, government must allow people the freedom to create, to own property, and to develop the potential God has placed within them.
And the Bible contains a solution to the problem of excess accumulation of wealth and power. It is the year of Jubilee (see Leviticus 25:8-17, 27:17-24). Under Old Testament law, every fifty years there was a cancellation of all debts. All the slaves were set free, and those who were in economic bondage also were set free. All the money was redistributed and the means of production was placed back in the hands of the original families. Personal property and city land that had been accumulated could be kept, but wealth resting on debt was canceled.
Free enterprise is much closer to the biblical model than any other form of economic system. But wealth contains great spiritual danger. Just as the coercive utopianism of Communist materialism is not of God, neither is a capitalist materialism–based on the amassing of riches of personal gain, with disregard for the afflicted and the needy–right.
Just remember that Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). If money becomes your god, you cannot serve Jesus Christ. Gain is not godliness. A man’s life does not consist of the abundance of things he possesses (see Luke 12:15). The rich man was called a “fool” for not being rich toward God (see Luke 12:20). A rich young ruler was told to sell all he had and give it to the poor (see Luke 18:18-23). Jesus told His disciples that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (see Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25). The apostle Paul taught that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil (see I Timothy 6:10). The apostle James pronounced woe upon rich men who oppressed their workers (see James 5:1-4). In short, economic freedom and the private ownership of property are the biblical model. But wealth contains great spiritual danger; and no system based on materialism, in whole or in large part, can claim to be Christian.