Role of the political authorities in the economy

Introduction

Political ideas often develop into ideologies, or "isms", such as capitalism, liberalism, socialism or communism. The economy is often at the centre of these "isms", including questions of individual vs. common ownership, markets vs. state driven economy etc. The illusion that a perfect economic system can be created has always been around. However, no human system will entirely root out evil, sin and greed. Every political economy and ideology therefore needs to be approached with the necessary care and pragmatism. The Bible can guide our thinking and reflection on specific political choices. 

 

1. The legitimacy of political authority

Read: Romans 13:1-7, Eph. 6:10-13, Mt. 22:15-22, Rev. 13:1-8

Optional: Jeremiah 29:7, 1 Peter 2:13-14

 

Questions for discussion: 

  • Why should Christians submit to (pagan) secular authority? 
  • Is there an apparent contradiction between the messages of the readings in this respect?
  • How might modern political authorities legitimize themselves? Do you see a contradiction with the Biblical message?
  • Is there a limit and end to political authority on earth? 

 

2. Wise leadership

Read: Deut 17:14-17, 1 Sam 12:1-5, Romans 13:1-7 (as above)

Optional: 1 Sam 8:11-18, Num 16:15

 

Questions for discussion: 

  • What are key characteristics of a good political leader according to the passages read?
  • What are main temptations that leaders face? Has anything changed in this respect?

 

3. Guaranteeing property rights

Read: Exodus 20:15-17, Micah 4:4, Psalm 24:1, Lev. 25:23

Optional: Acts 4:32-5:6

 

Questions for discussion: 

  • The Bible establishes private property as legitimate but what kind of limits to private property does the selection of readings imply? Do you think this is recognized by modern societies?

 

4. Prosperity and enjoying fruit of one's labour

Read: Genesis 1, Prov. 10:3-4, 2 Thess. 3:10, Deut 8:11-14

 

Questions for discussion: 

  • Why do you think God has such a high view of work and productive capacity of human beings? (Genesis 1). 
  • Under which conditions do other people (e,g. government) have the right to claim parts of this fruit?

 

5. Tithes and taxes

Read: Lev 27:30, 1 Sam. 8:11-18, Rom 13:6

Optional: Mt 17:24-27 and Mt 22:15-22

 

Questions for discussion: 

  • What is the main difference between OT tithes and modern taxes? Are they comparable in any way? 
  • The OT tithe was usually 10%, and as a result some argue that translated to today, this should mean that government is only allowed to tax its citizens at 10%. What would be points speaking for and against such a suggestion?
  • The readings in Matthew provide two different occasions where Jesus speaks of taxes in different ways. What can we learn from this as regards his attitude towards taxes?

 

6. Solidarity with the poor

Read: 2 Corinthians 8:13-14, Deut 23:19-20, Luke 6:34-35

 

Questions for discussion: 

  • What kind of responsibility comes with ownership and riches?
  • Discuss the reasons why it is unrealistic in social exchanges that we lend "without expecting anything back" (Lk 6:35)? What was Jesus talking about here?

 

7. Equality in the economy

Read: Lev 25:8-12, 23-24, Matthew 20:1-16, Acts 2:44-47

 

Questions for discussion: 

  • What kind of equality does the selection of readings describe? 
  • Do you think the Year of the Jubilee described in Leviticus 25 could function in a modern economy in a fallen world? Even in the absence of applying the law literally, which underlying principles could be transferred to the modern day?
  • The reading from Acts describes a situation in the early church where believers voluntarily shared everything they had. Could this realistically be applied in your church? Why would it be unlikely to work in a wider environment e.g. your whole country? 

 

8. Finally, based on what you have read and discussed, to conclude...

If you were in charge...

  • What if anything would you change in your country's economic system?
  • Would you copy elements of principles/ rules/policies you found in the Bible? If yes, which ones? If none, why not?

 

Even if you were not nor ever will be "in charge"...

  • Very few of us actually become high level political leaders. It is important however to be clear that all of us are however called to political responsibility on some level, sometimes very basic things: e.g. when we sign citizen's initiatives, when we insist on paying VAT taxes on cash payments etc.  
  • Finally, some of us might be pondering formal political involvement also as a form of Christian vocation. How can we identify, encourage and best support these people?

 

Conclusion

You may have recognized from the variety of readings and the diversity of contexts that the Bible is not a social policy manual. However, this does not mean the Bible is useless for economic policy. There are "relative endorsements" in the Bible that are very valuable as they reflect a good social/economic order that is pleasing in God's sight. 

The answer to what kind of economic policies should be implemented involves some absolute principles, but also degrees of freedom that can differ according to "public choice". While totalitarian extremes (communism, anarchy) should be avoided, there are many possible outcomes along a continuum of government-market balance. The outcome can be a social market economy such as Germany or Nordic countries, or a more purely private enterprise oriented market economy such as New Zealand or the US.

The general conclusion from the Biblical evidence is that free markets are good, but these are prone to failure as a result of human sin. The same is true for the state. This is the reason why we should not centralize economic control in the hands of the few, but distribute economic power to the many. A free market economy distributes power to multitudes of workers, inventors, investors, and consumers. A government can be used to correct undesirable outcomes in this. 

 

Points for prayer

- Pray for a renewed sense of God's purpose for your economic decision-making, your investment, consumption, and especially your giving to the poor and God's work.

- Pray for wisdom for the leaders in your country (+ EU, IMF etc), specifically the ones making important economic decisions (government ministers, central bankers etc.)

[Arrtu Makipaa, 2015]

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