Sunday, April 16, 2017
Capitalism, the Bible, and Authentic Christianity
The New Face of Capitalism Compared to
Authentic Christianity and the Bible
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
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The capitalist, debt-based economic system that we find ourselves enslaved by for the last few decades – and even before that – has reared its ugly head yet again this past week. United Airlines had a paying passenger literally dragged off a plane, giving him a concussion, and broken nose and other cuts and bruises when he refused to give up his seat. The facts that he had prepaid his seat and that he was a doctor returning to work after a vacation who was expected to report at a preset time, made no difference to the 'security thugs' who treated that gentleman with callous disrespect and a total lack of regard for his personal safety. Our capitalist economic system, it turns out, has degenerated into a Mafiosi-style enforcement-at-all-costs roulette table that is tilted in favor of the house. Our economy is rigged against us, the government knows it and knows that we do too, and they don't care because they've turned the country into a police state to dampen the spirit of revolution. But, as president Kennedy famously said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolt inevitable”.
There is lots more to this than just politics and overzealous enforcement. The 'lots more' of which I write can only be found in the Bible. Whether one believes everything in the Bible or not, and even of one does not believe in it at all, the Scripture that I am about to quote fits the economic conditions of our time nearly perfectly. Allow me to quote from the first of three passages in Scripture that back up what I am writing or speaking about today. The first comes from the Book of Exodus, the 2nd book in the Old Testament, and I quote: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. If you lend money to one of you among my people who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear him, for I am compassionate.” (Exodus 22, verses 21-27)
The above quote is an outline from God about how we are to treat disadvantaged people. We all have a moral, spiritual and social responsibility to look after those less fortunate than ourselves. That's what this passage is all about, and it starts with foreigners. Do not, Moses wrote here, mistreat “aliens”. Today we call anyone who is known or suspected of being in our country illegally an 'illegal alien'. Instead of following the Bible as they should, many people vilify foreign nationals whether they are here legally or not. These people coming across our borders aren't an invading army, they're economic and 'drug war' refugees from southern Mexico, at least some of Central America, plus a few from South America and Cuba. God has warned us not to mistreat these people even if we don't like them being here. Those who do not do so are disobeying God whether they realize it or not.
“Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” All the banks that refinanced anyone who wanted it and that sold houses to people who couldn't afford it 10 or 15 years ago before the 2008 mortgage crisis – this is just one of many modern examples of this that would apply here. So called “upside down” car loans are another example, where a car or truck owner owes more on the vehicle than it's worth. These predatory loans are often sold to unsuspecting customers who don't know any better because no one ever took the time to show them how to navigate our predatory economic system we call 'capitalism'. Those who take advantage of these people will be punished most severely if they do not repent of their ways!
“If you lend money to one of you among my people who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.” Contrast that verse with today's world of “compound interest”, where greed is king of the hill and militarism is what enforces this institutionalized greed. Credit and debit cards are a fixture of life, and everything in our dying world of today is driven by the profit motive, flying in the face of Scripture and even the Lord himself! Ask yourself why the bottom 99% of Americans are buried under mountains of debt? Because the system is designed that way, that's why. So should no interest be charged on anything at all? Not necessarily, since businesses often operate with lines of credit, as do governments. They borrow from “moneylenders” as the Bible calls them. But to charge people interest for the roof over their head, or for the clothes they wear or the food they eat, is just plain wrong, according to this verse of Scripture.
“If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear him, for I am compassionate.” This can be translated into modern English as a short-term loan, such as pawning an item or two or taking out a “payday loan” as they are called, among other things. Another way to interpret this would be to declare it sinful and an offense to make anyone put up everything they own as collateral. This kind of thing happens all too frequently in a world where costs continue to race ahead of people's take-home pay. Here in the United States, 25% of our children go to bed hungry each night, and this is happening in what is allegedly the richest nation in history. This, ladies and gentlemen, is inexcusable! And now let me move on to the final part of this message and another quote from Scripture, this time from the New Testament.
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to everyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet in the Temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2, verses 44-47) How about that? Everyone who joined the early churches, which were held in people's houses rather than in large, imposing buildings such as we have today, pooled their resources! Meaning, the entirety of humankind has had the solution to poverty and hunger right in front of them while failing to see it! And why has this escaped us all for so many centuries? Because people don't read the Bible, nor do they regard the Word of God for the societal guidelines and the human owner's manual that it truly is.
OK, now let me give you another similar quote from the Book of Acts. “All the believers were of one heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles feet.” (Acts 4, verses 32-37)
So here we see the same thing we saw above – people pooling their resources and sharing their wealth and possessions! In the 20th century and before that, these kinds of organizations were called 'communes', 'cults' and worse, and were the target of much scorn and derision, as were the hippies that inhabited them. If we look at this from a political standpoint rather than an economic one, we would call those who practiced these things “communists” or “socialists” by today's standards. The least common denominator here is that no one cared about how much money they had or how much profit they made in their business transactions. Although it was evidently not a problem for a head of household to see to the needs of his or her family, anything over and above that went to the church to which they belonged. Why can't most people do this today? Greed, pure and simple. Everyone is so busy looking out for themselves that others who are in much more dire straights are being ignored. It is this very injustice that the Bible addresses, and it rightfully admonishes those who cause such circumstances to occur.
“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” Here's an example of how to tell whether the preaching or teaching of the Word is authentic or not. Is the power of God clearly present? Is that power Spiritual in nature rather than emotional? Is that power presented with grace, beauty and a peaceful spirit? If the answer to all 3 questions is 'yes', what you're hearing is not only authentic, it's coming straight from God, inspired by the Holy Spirit! There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” How many people – Christian or otherwise – would do this today? Chances are you're a homeowner or know someone who is. Would you, your parents or whomever seriously consider selling their house, farm, condo, etc. and giving all the money to a home-based church based on nothing more than what their friends and family had told them? It can be said with certainty that less than 1% of the population would actually do this based on the world in which we are all living. Now you have an idea of just how far off base capitalism is with respect to authentic, nonreligious Christianity!
“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles feet.” “Levite” means a priest in the Temple who leads worship, animal sacrifices, music, or any other function one can think of in a house of worship. Levitical priests worked for only room and board, they did not receive any payment for their services or duties. So this man Joseph, also called Barnabas (he is mentioned again in Acts chapters 9, 11, 13 and 14, plus Galatians and a couple other places) sold a field he presumably inherited since he had no money to buy it, and donated all the proceeds to the apostles. As before, nobody would do this in today's world to the best of my knowledge. Again, this goes to show us all how far off course capitalism and its byproduct – greed – has taken us. But it's not too late to start building a better world, and we can start by abiding by the Biblical precepts of which I have written today. So until next time, all your stuff is just that – stuff! It can be replaced, but a closer walk with Jesus through those green pastures and besides still waters, just like Psalm 23 says, is irreplaceable.