Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Is it unBiblical?

In a comment to my previous post on Church Ownership, Derek asks, “I grant you this: an "ownership model" is definitely "contrarian." But is it Biblical?” Derek’s question is similar to the challenge posed by Hammer in an earlier comment, when he wrote, ”Clearly, there are some in the church whose job can be to manage the "big pot".

I would never, ever, want to write or advocate anything that conflicted with the will of God or the word of God. I can’t even express how much it means to me to have Derek, Jennifer, Teresa, Hammer, Buz, Pete, and a few others who read what I write and compare my thoughts to what each of you know about the word of God. I don’t take different positions to be different, I just have a different way of looking at most issues. I pray often that my blog doesn’t become anything that would not be approved by God.

I try to stay away from broad generalizations. My opinions, views, and proposals are not for everyone. They are not even for most believers most of the time. I want to offer an alternative view and an alternative proposal to what everyone else is advocating. For the most part, I don’t see the point in advocating what the majority is advocating even if I agree with the majority.

If the Bible has a clear teaching on any matter, I would never advocate against what it teaches. If the Bible is not clear, I would still give the Bible the benefit of the doubt based on our best understanding of what it teaches. However, I will not automatically afirm traditions that are based on the Bible but not taught in the Bible. I don’t see where the big pot model is taught in Scripture.

I will address some of Jennifer’s and Derek’s concerns in a later post. But for now, I ask Derek and others, is anything I have advocated unBiblical?


Derek Simmons said...


In this blog you ask me and others "is anything I have advocated unBiblical?" Earlier you asked me if I had read all you had written leading up to this latest blog on"ownership." My answer to the earlier question is "YES." The answer to the current question is, for me, not as clear. I will venture out on this first leg of our discussion by answering, but tentatively, "yes."

Let me paste below what for me is the core of your multi-part prologue to the blog on "ownership" so that I may readily refer back to areas where I'm not a sure as you appear to be that your assertions are Biblical:

"The first key to the moral and functional success of capitalism is the fact that God created humans with the free will to make choices, and just as importantly, God punishes and rewards individuals based on the choices each individual makes."

RESPONSE:While it is surely Biblical to say that God created humans with free will, I am not sure it is Biblical to say that my choices succeed or fail because God rewards some and punishes other choices I make; nor am I sure that when God does punish or reward human actions that He limits His rewards and punishments to individuals qua individuals as opposed to individuals as part of a group,eg. "a nation", "a tribe", a "people", a "culture", etc.
To the extent that your argument necessarily rests on all of your premises, it teeters if only one is weak or crumbles. Perhaps you can help me by using Bill Gates and Mother Teresa as two exemplars to flesh out your reward and punishment premise.

Communities of believers should be more of a reflection of God’s intentions than communities that are a mix of believers and non-believers or communities that are completely non-believers..... The socialism model that has proven to be an utter failure for governments around the world appears to be as equally pathetic in most Churches. The idea that believers can just throw money into a big pot and then let some wise Pastor or Elder Board decide the best way to allocate scarce contributions may be just as foolish as the idea to let a wise Dictator of a State government decide the best way to allocate scarce resources.

RESPONSE: I couldn't agree more that communities of believers should be more of a reflection of God’s intentions than any other kind of community. I just don't see what that has to do with socialism or capitalism.

I assume for the sake of my "YES" above that you are using "socialism" not in its British or German sense but in its "Red" sense. If that is the case then socialism is surely dead if indeed it ever really lived. But if you are using "socialism" as a synonym for the welfare state then we capitalists of the USA are really "social democrats" too, aren't we?

While I agree with you that as an economic system nothing has or will successfully compete with capitalism, I don't see that the "sharing" involved in the church can be truly analogized to "socialism."
The church has no power to tax--otherwise the coffers would overflow. The church doesn't own all the means of production--otherwise the pews would all starve. While the church can be called a "big pot" how is that any different than the "big pots" of D.C. or Sacramento? And haven't you already conceded that these are loci of capitalism?

"The ability to keep, trade, or give away, the proceeds of labor by individuals is the second key to the moral and functional success of capitalism. When the property rights that were given by God and affirmed in the commandment, “Thy shall not steal” are acknowledged and protected by law, everyone has the opportunity to trade their labor or something of value for something else of value."
Are taxes theft? Do not both socialist and capitalist societies tax? Is the tithe theft? Historically Jews were excluded from the group if they did not tithe? Is that free will? Indeed, does not the Old Covenant provide for free will offerings in addition to tithes? When I exercise my free will to tithe from my competitively gotten lawful gain, what of equal or greater value am I buying/getting/ receiving?

...but God did create humans with a competitive nature. Therefore, competition is the third key to the moral and functional success of capitalism.
I agree that humans are competitive. I don't agree that God created us that way. I think a sound Biblical argument can be made that competition is part of the fallen nature of man. Capitalism requires competition but it succeeds to the extent that there is a mutual restraint of self-interest. Where competition becomes predatory a capitalist society will act to stanch it out of self-preservation. While I think competition is unBiblical, I do think the system of capitalism better harnesses the fallen nature of man and his competitive drive than does socialism.

I will no longer participate in a big pot model of the Christian Church because the big pot model is a mess and it is not a model prescribed by God..... rarely, if ever, is tithing described as a big pot contribution where a committee decides how to spend the tithe..... Perhaps getting back to the principle of a designated tithe along with the principles of capitalism would improve contributions and the uses of contributions.
Are you a tax resister too? Why would you withhold from Christ what under duress you give to Caesar? The pews will give more to God when they believe more that all that they have is God's and that they are privileged by God to keep some for themselves. Today our fallen competitive nature seduces us into believing it is ours and God is blessed by what ever we choose to share with Him.

"Free will, ownership, and competition within the Christian Church would all help to make Christianity a better and more attractive alternative to other religions of the world in the same way each of these factors have made capitalism the most effective economic system in the world.

I have never known of a Church that did not use a socialistic model for financing Church expenses and Church activities.... People who believe in a Church will give generously. Most believers look for opportunities to give. However, every time the Church Leaders makes a decision that affects how contributions are spent, some of the contributors become less enthusiastic about supporting the vision of the Church. Ideally, others would become more enthusiastic, but it is always easier for those who are already giving to start giving less than it is to start giving more..... Getting rid of the big pot mentality will increase contributions, improve budgeting accuracy, and, most importantly, improve the effectiveness of spreading the Gospel and creating Disciples in our Churches."
RESPONSE: How does this follow? And even if it does, how does "success" as measured by capitalistic indicia translate into effectively spreading the Gospel or making of disciples of Christ.

Your Brother in Christ,

Jennifer said...

David, I do not believe you have ever advocated anything that is unbiblical.

Derek, you said:

While it is surely Biblical to say that God created humans with free will, I am not sure it is Biblical to say that my choices succeed or fail because God rewards some and punishes other choices I make; nor am I sure that when God does punish or reward human actions that He limits His rewards and punishments to individuals qua individuals as opposed to individuals as part of a group, eg. "a nation", "a tribe", a "people", a "culture", etc.

There are many scriptures that state each individual will be rewarded according to his or her own works. Here are two:

Psalm 18:20 The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.

Matthew 16:27 he will reward each person according to what he has done.

In regards to Bill Gates and Mother Theresa, the Bible never says our reward will be an earthly one, but rather a heavenly one.

You said:

While I agree with you that as an economic system nothing has or will successfully compete with capitalism, I don't see that the "sharing" involved in the church can be truly analogized to "socialism."

I remind you of Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-9:

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6"At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' 7"Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' 9" 'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”

And I direct you to Paul’s words in I Corinthians 9: 7-9:

“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

In both of these instances, the Bible makes it clear that each of us – as individuals – is responsible for providing for ourselves. It is not Biblical to expect the group to feed us and clothe us, even when that group is the church.

“Is the tithe theft?”

Of course not. The Bible commands us to give a tenth of our first fruits back to God. It does not command that the tithe be given to the church to be spent as a handful of church leaders see fit. If you know of verses in the Bible which command this, please point them out to me.

“I think a sound Biblical argument can be made that competition is part of the fallen nature of man.”

I implore you to make it, then, because I see nothing of the kind in the Bible. On the contrary, I do see scriptural evidence for benefits of competition:

I Corinthians 9:24 "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."

Derek Simmons said...


David is blessed to have such a quick and vigorous defender. But let me start my response to you with this observation: it seems you may be confusing analogy with identity.

You correctly note that the reward we are promised are not earthly rewards, yet all of the rewards David has chosen as exemplars of capitalism are earthly. David appears to be advocating capitalism as the more appropriate model because of its effectiveness in the "here and now", not the "hereafter." The "rewards" you cite from Scripture are not of the "name it and claim it" variety, but of the variety you correctly note as "heavenly."

With respect to your use of the Parable of the Ten Virgins, I would understand it as a lesson not in anti-socialism or in self-reliance, but rather a lesson in obedience.

Jennifer, you note that we are commanded to tithe to God, but not to the church. What is the church if not the Body of Christ on earth here and now? If the tithes we are commanded to give are not to be given to the church, to whom does God's Command direct us to give?

As for your choice of Paul's use of athletic competition to make your point, again I think this is a case of misunderstanding the difference between analogy and identity. In this analogy of Paul's we Christians are exhorted--as we are in many other places in Scripture--to prevail over the world and over the flesh through our reliance on and submission to Him.

Capitalism encourages--indeed requires--competition, yes; but the profit available in capitalism is gain not against the world or the flesh, but in and from them. Capitalisms gain is not solely material but it is surely always material. To the extent that competition can be found in the pages of Scripture I think our search would find it focuses on "winning" against Satan, in "beating" the powers of evil arrayed against us, not in prevailing in any economic sense over our brother or our neighbor.

Finally, Jennifer let me leave your challenge to me [regarding our competitive nature being part of The Fall and not Creation]here for the time being: I will take the time to flesh out my argument if you will first describe for me how we will manifest our "God-given" competitive nature in Heaven, or if you believe we won't, how the Bible teaches we will shed it as part of our Sanctification or eventual Glorification?

Your Brother in Christ,
Derek Simmons