Is God a Socialist in the New Testament?

We know the first Christians were, of course, Jews. So they held the values we have discussed founded in the Jewish culture that are more capitalistic in nature. In the New Testament we also see these values reflected.

In Acts we read how the new believers living in Jerusalem sold their possessions and then gave the proceeds to help other believers. Based on this account, some people have said that we should all sell everything we own and have everything in common. Some even say that God is a socialist in the New Testament. A closer reading of this passage shows us something different. The early believers did sell their possessions:

and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Acts 2:45

It says that they “began” selling…so apparently they did not sell everything. If they would have sold all their houses, they could have not met from house to house as the next verse says:

Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread [a]from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and [c]sincerity of heart, Acts 2:46

These early believers had a high degree of love and a social value, which motivated them to care for each other. What we see is their love for God and each other was a higher value than the accumulation of material goods. But we must note that these early believers were still living the Old Testament taught principles of accumulating wealth, including houses for themselves, and possibly extra houses to sell. It would appear they were financially prosperous enough to sell properties, use the proceeds however they wanted and not go hungry.

Now I want to quote directly from Harold Eberle. “It is important to understand the historical setting in which those first century believers were living. During those first few years many Christians were driven out of Jerusalem due to tremendous persecution. Worse yet, Jerusalem was completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, so all of the believers were going to lose their properties anyway. A modern capitalist will point out that God inspired those Christians to sell these homes right before the market collapsed (or they would have lost them anyway – BS note).

The fact that the early Christians sold their possessions does not tell us they were socialists. To the contrary, they were capitalists motivated by love and led by the Spirit of God.”

Source

Compassionate Capitalism – A Judeo-Christian Value by Harold Eberle, 2010, Worldcast Publishing. Pg. 35-36

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The Biblical Principles of Capitalism Must be Blended with Social Values

As we reviewed the Old Testament teaching in previous blogs, we find that God mentored the Hebrew people to be prosperous. As Christians today we value this heritage given to them and we can claim it as our own. The Hebrews were mentored by God to have a prosperous way of thinking or I would say a prosperous soul; and this way of thinking developed the principles of capitalism, although they had to be blended with social values.

In the way of review, according to Harold Eberle’s book Compassionate Capitalism – A Judeo Christian Value, all of the following were included:

  • The belief in One God
  • Sense of identity of being created in God’s image
  • Personal responsibility to manage themselves and the earth
  • Individual Freedom
  • Ownership of land and personal property
  • The Fear of God
  • Resting one day a week
  • Strong family relationships
  • Enjoying the fruit of one’s labor
  • Giving tithes and offerings
  • Care for the orphans, widows and the poor
  • Making and keeping covenants (agreements)
  • Time is linear, society is advancing
  • Planning for the future.
  • Leaving an inheritance for your descendants
  • Frugality and saving
  • Different people get different rewards depending on their effort and wisdom
  • Developing a sense of capital separate from themselves

As Harold Eberle says, “Jewish culture was filled with thoughts of submitting to God by giving tithes and offerings, along with caring for one’s family and compassion for the poor. There was an expectation that people could not live selfishly accumulating wealth with no regard for the people around them. They were allowed and expected to prosper according to their own labors, but they had to be a contributing member of their own community.”

This builds a platform to study what the New Testament says about economics and finance.

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A Shortage of Sand in the Sahara?

Economist Milton Friedman once said that, if you put the government in charge of the Sahara desert, there will eventually be a shortage of sand. No wonder that, after 14 years of socialist government, Venezuela — the country with the world’s largest oil reserves — is currently importing gasoline. This fact highlights Venezuela’s painful descent into chaos, as the economy crumbles and the nation’s social fabric unravels. There is even talk now of a civil war.

Venezuela is a prime example the failure of the socialist model, between 1999, when Hugo Chavez took over as President, and 2016, average per capita income in Venezuela rose by 2 percent. In the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, it rose by 41 percent over this same period.

The Venezuela government reacted to skyrocketing inflation by following the typical socialist script: it imposed price controls and has been raiding businesses it accuses of hoarding. As a result, there are widespread shortages of food and medicines. Under control of its socialist government, Venezuela currently has an infant mortality rate well above that of war-torn Syria. Mothers in childbirth die of infection or minor labor complications because doctors lack antibiotics or even soap to clean surgical tools and operating tables.

For another example consider Robert Mugabe, Chavez’s erstwhile friend and the President of Zimbabwe, who has been in charge of his unfortunate country since 1980. Since then, Africa’s income per person rose by 48 percent. In Zimbabwe, a socialist dictatorship, it has declined by 25 percent.

The great achievements of society have not come from government bureaus. Einstein did not construct his theory under the order of a government leader. Henry Ford did not revolutionize the automobile industry that way. The only cases where the masses have escaped poverty is where they have embraced capitalism and largely free trade. Where are the masses the worst off? Where capitalism is not practiced! The record of history is crystal clear. There is no alternative way to lift people out of poverty. It is the productive activities that are released by a free enterprise system.

Upcoming….more Bible teaching on economics, why it takes VW twice as many workers to build a car as Toyota, and a look at the Scandinavian socialist countries.

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The Economic Failure of Socialism

The poster child of economic failure for socialism and communism (state mandated socialism) was the Soviet Union. With its highly centralized government and economy, the USSR survived for 69 years until its collapse in 1991. Free markets were abolished; the state owned the businesses and a central planning committee planned the economy. Consider this, bakers were arrested for making brownies, because their job was designated as only baking bread. I kid you not. If you had an apple tree in your front yard, it was illegal to pick those apples because they belonged to the state. I think you get the picture.

While oil prices were high and oil could be sold, the Soviet Union appeared to have a strong economy and could maintain its focus on increasing its military power. But when oil prices fell towards the end of the 1980s, the USSR found itself forced to borrow from Western banks. Its sluggish economic system and dependency on the West also weakened the control that it had over countries under the USSR’s control and eventually led to its demise. A situation similar to what Venezuela is experiencing today.

A brief comparison between the Soviet Union at its collapse and the US at that time reflects the weakness of socialism as compared with free market capitalism; which we believe to be a more Biblical economic system:

  • At the point of its collapse the Soviet Union found itself with a standard of living that was 1/3 of that in the United States.
  • Because consumers were not served, the soviet diet was not good; resulting in a male life expectancy seven years less than the United States.
  • The infant mortality rate was twice of that in the US.
  • One in 20 people in the Soviet Union had a car in 1970 vs. more than one out of two in the United States.

The environment was sacrificed on the alter of state control as well. The Aral Sea used to be the fourth largest lake in the world. The whole lake, over 23,000 square miles of water, in some places 100 feet deep, evaporated into thin air. Why? Soviet planners wanted to turn Central Asia into the world’s largest producer of cotton so they diverted the two rivers that fed the Aral Sea for irrigation for the Soviet cotton industry. The scale of the Aral Sea disaster only became apparent in the 1980’s. It is one of the world’s most startling ecological calamities – the story of how Soviet planners soaked up an entire sea to build a cotton industry. Everything served the state.

Of course this is only an economic comparison that does not reference the millions who were brutally killed by Lenin, Stalin and his followers.

 

How Socialism Destroyed VenezuelaJuan Carlos Hidalgo, Cato Institute, Feb. 25, 2014

Waiting for the Sea; Rustam Qobil, BBC News, 25 February 2015

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Why Does Socialism Tend to Attract Dictators?

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro brushed aside international condemnation and installed a powerful new assembly on Friday that critics say will crush the last traces of democracy. The assembly, made up of government loyalists including his wife and son, will have powers to override other government institutions as it rewrites the constitution. Opponents worry the assembly, whose election on Sunday was widely seen as fraudulent, will wipe out dissent and create a dictatorship. To make matters worse, two prominent opposition politicians, who were already under house arrest, were jailed.

But why is it that socialism attracts dictators? Chavez, Castro, Stalin…even Hitler. Yes…the Nazis were a socialist political party before Hitler joined. The German National Socialist Party attracted Hitler with his evil intentions. These German socialists believed that the individual existed for the purpose of the state, not the other way around, as we would understand to be a more Biblical perspective of government. Chavez stated he was concerned about the Venezuelan people, but his actions showed otherwise. Forbes magazine estimated Chavez’s net worth to be $500 million at the time of his death. How about Castro? Forbes estimated his net worth to be $900 million at his death. Even Italian dictator Mussolini was a socialist. His father read Karl Marx’s Das Capital to him as a child.

Briefly stated…socialism minimizes the importance of individuals and private property. Here is how socialism often leads to dictatorial control:

  • It starts with growing state interference in the economy.
  • This leads to massive inefficiencies and long lines outside empty shops.
  • Economic central planning inherently limits economic freedom, as there can be no agreement on a single plan in a society of free thinkers.
  • The centralization of economic decision-making has to be accomplished by centralization of political power in the hands of a small elite.
  • A state of perpetual economic crisis then leads to calls for more planning. When, in the end, the failure of central planning becomes undeniable, totalitarian regimes tend to silence the dissenters as history has demonstrated—sometimes through mass murder.

Even a casual observer can see this progression in Venezuela. Unfortunately, socialism refuses to go away. Wannabe socialists are thus destined to learn not from history, but from their own mistakes. In the meantime, as in Venezuela, ordinary people suffer.

Sources:

Venezuela Seats Powerful Assembly Many Say Is a Fraud; by Anatoly Kurmanaev, Ryan Dube, WSJ, August 4, 2017.

Venezuela Reminds Us That Socialism Frequently Leads to Dictatorship; Marian Tupy, Reason.com-Free Minds and Free Markets, April 4, 2017

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Venezuela is Starving

Once Latin America’s richest country, Venezuela can no longer feed its people. Today, Venezuelans rummage through garbage dumps for food, an uncommon sight just a year ago. People in the countryside pick farms clean at night, stealing everything from fruits hanging on trees to pumpkins on the ground, adding to the misery of farmers hurt by shortages of seed and fertilizer. Looters target food stores. Families padlock their refrigerators. Literally…three out of four Venezuelans said they had lost an average of 19 pounds last year, according to the National Poll of Living Conditions, an annual study by social scientists.

Why the misery? The answer is simple. Socialism.

How did once prosperous Venezuela get here? Venezuela turned to socialism in 1998 when Hugo Chavez was elected president. The following year Chavez passed laws redistributing land and wealth, which he followed in 2005 with a land reform decree that would eliminate larger estates to the benefit of the poor in rural areas. In 2007 the government took control of important oil projects and kicked out two U.S. oil companies, furthering Chavez’s nationalization plans. Nationalization continued with the Bank of Venezuela and household fuels distributors and petrol stations.

The agricultural companies the government has taken over, including milk factories and distributors of fertilizer and feed, are closed or barely operating, according to economists and farm groups. “The system is created so you can’t win,” said Alberto Cudemus, who heads the national association of pig farmers. “The government thinks its survival is in communism, not in us, not with production. And that’s where they’re wrong.” The scarcity index produced by Venezuela’s central bank reached 28 per cent in January, meaning that one out of four basic products is out of stock at any given time. Sadly, thanks to socialist government driven inflation, toilet paper is now more valuable than paper money.

By the time of Chavez’s death in 2013, inflation had grown to 50%. Towards the end of 2014, the country entered into a recession. Present-day Venezuela is facing a tragic, humanitarian crisis and Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s hand-picked socialist successor is continuing this tragic tradition. The heavily centralized state-run system inherited from Chavez is what is driving Maduro’s country to ruin. Ominously, Maduro has called for an election this week-end with only hand picked candidates on the ballet to re-write the Venezuelan constitution to give him more power.

So why are dictators attracted to socialism and communism? We will examine that in my next blog.

Sources

Venezuela Is Starving; Juan Forero, Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2017

Venezuela’s Failed Socialist Experiment; Ivana Iacob, Forbes Magazine, July 24, 2016

How Socialism Destroyed VenezuelaJuan Carlos Hidalgo, Cato Institute, Feb. 25, 2014

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ServiceMaster

I love to read Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s book Thou Shalt Prosper because I love his take on the Judeo Christian worldview and its alignment with Biblical economic principles. Here he talks about Service Master Corporation (pg.81).

“ServiceMaster Corporation in Illinois was founded by an evangelical Baptist, Marion E. Wade, in 1947. Its primary mission was always “to honor God in all we do.” Wade asserted that running a profitable business was not inconsistent with serving the Lord. He spelled out his notion of using the Bible as a guide to business in a book that for decades was given to every new manager. Yet in spite of and many would say because of its linking of God and profits, ServiceMaster quickly grew into a $6 billion Fortune 500 company that did well by doing good on everything from Merry Maids house cleaning to Terminix pest control and TruGreen lawn care. Early in 2000, ServiceMaster opened its web site on which customers could select, purchase, and schedule any of ServiceMaster’s services directly.

“During 2001, ServiceMaster brought in its first chief executive officer (CEO) from outside the evangelical fold. Nonetheless, new CEO Jonathan Ward was rightfully reluctant to modify the corporate culture that had worked so well for so long in this service-oriented company with its fleet of 23,000 vehicles. For instance, he retained the custom of calling corporate meetings to order by quoting from the biblical book of Isaiah. That may seem irrelevant to modern business, but this company schedules thousands of visits to customers’ homes. If ever a company needed to radiate a message of true commitment to service, this is that company. Even the company’s motto is “We Serve”; and this, coupled with its unabashed embrace of Christianity with its own tradition of service, has certainly played a role in its success. ServiceMaster’s very name proclaims its eagerness to serve.

I hope it continues to prosper because it serves as a useful reminder that to truly excel at service, some form of inner belief is necessary. If you cannot wrap yourself around the notion that other humans are worthy of your committed service and that you are not diminished but are instead elevated by providing that service, you will never really excel at what you do.”

Rabbi Lapin says it all. When we help to serve and lift others, then we ourselves are lifted…and the economic side of that is OK and Biblical as well. Governments would like to think they create jobs, but tell that to the over 23,000 employees of Service Master who are experiencing prosperity and raising their standards of living. As Steve Forbes is fond of quoting from Proverbs 4:7, “With all thy getting, get understanding”.

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