More thoughtful Christians often ask, "what political or economic system is more Christian"? Less thoughtful Christians (in the West at least) often assume that democracy and/or capitalism is inherently more Christian. Too often this is simply an assumption, meaning it is an idea they hold without having critically analyzed it or feel analysis is not needed because they think it is obviously true. But as Christians we must be supremely concerned with truth because we worship and follow the One who claims to be THE Truth (Jn 14:6).
This topic is exceedingly relevant today in 2017 because the political scene in
the United States is one of upheaval and tension largely between two schools of
political and economic thought. One school of thought is capitalism coupled
with the belief that a smaller, less involved central government is
most desirable. The other school of thought is socialism coupled with a
belief that a larger, more involved central government is most desirable.
The differences couldn't be more plain and profound between these schools of
thought. While it is absolutely true that a Christian's (and therefore the
Church's) primary concern should be the glory of God as seen in the face of
Christ (2Cor 4:5-6) AND it is absolutely true that much damage has been done to
the cause of Christ in America because too many Christians have forgotten this core
concern and become much too focused on politics, it is also true that
Christians must take their citizenship seriously (Rom 13:1-7). One way we
glorify God is through our humble obedience to His word and His word clearly
calls us to a stewardship of His earthly creation. One element of that creation
is "the governing authorities". So we must take politics and
questions such as capitalism vs socialism seriously but always remember it is
That said, what is the right answer? Is capitalism and democracy (vis a vi
the United States) "more Christian" than socialism expressed through
a large, controlling central government? Before we can answer that we need to
establish some definitions - what is "capitalism" and what is
"socialism"? While we could get very nuanced and embark on many pages
simply to articulate a definition for each it will be more productive to give a
commonly accepted, concise definition for each. The American Heritage
dictionary does a good, fairly even handed job in providing such definitions.
Here are the definitions as contained in the American Heritage Dictionary of
the English Language online version:
Capitalism: "An economic system in which the means of production and
distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is
proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free
1. Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means
of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized
government that often plans and controls the economy.
2. The stage in Marxist-Leninist theory intermediate between capitalism and
communism, in which collective ownership of the economy under the dictatorship
of the proletariat has not yet been successfully achieved.
Since the definition for socialism references communism it is helpful to
include that definition as well:
1. A theoretical economic system characterized by the collective ownership of
property and by the organization of labor for the common advantage of all
2. A system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and
a single, often authoritarian party holds power, claiming to make progress
toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the
3. The Marxist-Leninist version of Communist doctrine that advocates the
overthrow of capitalism by the revolution of the proletariat.
Again, we could go on and on giving more detailed and refined definitions
especially in regard to how these theories have been expressed in particular
historical contexts. But these are reasonably accurate and helpful definitions
of the various terms. So which system is more Christian? Let's examine the
definitions and then establish a biblical principle to guide us to our
First, notice the key elements of each definition. For Capitalism we notice the
term "privately" which could be also stated "individually"
as in individual person (citizen). The definition mentions, "or
corporately" in regards to ownership but private individuals or group of
individuals comprise the corporation. The point here is one of private
ownership NOT government or collective ownership. Thus the rewards of economic
production are returned to the individuals proportionate to their level of
investment of time, energy, money etc. The economic rewards (wealth or profit)
is not returned to a central government representing the entire collective of
people to then be distributed back on an "equal" basis. The theory
states that if "Bob Smith" works harder, invests more time, energy,
money and more risk, he will get more reward than John Doe who chose not to
work as hard or risk as much. In capitalism the emphasis is clearly on private
ownership therefore on the individual. The individual or private citizen is
primary over the state or collective (central government) in a fundamental way.
This is why capitalism is typically coupled with a political system such as
democracy or a representative republic as in the United States because such
political systems also emphasize individual rights and liberties over and above
the state or central government.
As for Socialism (and we will consider Communism together with Socialism)
notice the terms, "collectively" and "centralized
government". These terms indicate the emphasis of socialism and communism.
The essence of socialism is the collective ownership of all means for producing
and distributing goods. The idea is that it is best for everyone if private or
individual ownership is given up in favor of a collective or communal
ownership. Of course there must be some mechanism for overseeing the collective
ownership, production and distribution back out to the people so a strong
central government must be in place. In a socialistic and communistic
environment a strong centralized government owns everything and allocates back
to the citizenry the goods and services deemed appropriate. This is why
socialism is typically coupled with dictatorships or very strong, authoritarian
central governments often referred to as "the state". In this system
"the state" takes precedence over the individual and all things
belong to the state and not to the individual. The state is the highest virtue
and claims ownership of all goods and services to the point that children are
even considered owned by the state as a "resource" for the common
good of the state.
Now to answer our original question, what system is more Christian - socialism
and its attending political manifestations or capitalism and its attending
manifestations? I believe the biblical answer is that capitalism and its
attending political manifestations are inherently more Christian...if by that
we mean that it inherently creates an environment in which Christianity is more
appreciated and supported and its character is more consistent with Christian
principles but we do NOT mean that it is specially ordained of God. But such a
conclusion must be defended and substantiated by scripture.
The primary biblical defense for the above conclusion (that capitalism and its
attending political systems is inherently more Christian) derives from the
fundamental creation theology that humans are created in the image of God and
are commissioned by God to be His stewards of the earth (Gen 1:26-30). This in
fact is the foundational principle that we see worked out in the founding
documents of the United States of America. The assertion that all men (people)
are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights
derives from the fundamental truth that God creates each human in His image.
Therefore, the individual person is precious and immensely valuable. He or she
is immensely valuable NOT because of personal economic or social standing, NOT
because of potential for productivity, NOT because the state deems him or her
so, but strictly BECAUSE he or she reflects the glory of God. God is the
greatest treasure and mankind is the greatest element of creation reflecting
the glory of that treasure. Therefore, the individual must be esteemed,
respected, protected and supported - thus the inalienable rights flow from the
fact that we are His image bearers therefore flowing from God Himself. These
rights are NOT given by the state therefore cannot be taken away by the state.
The implications of this truth are profound and provide the defense for the
assertion that capitalism and its attending political systems is more
Christian. The generalization can be stated like this: any economic and
political system that esteems, protects, and supports the individual and
his/her free pursuit of fulfilling God's stewardship mandate (Gen 1:28-30) is
to be preferred. The Founding Fathers of the United States referred to it as a
"more perfect union". It was their desire and endeavor to strive for
that more perfect union based on the foundational truth that we are all created
by God in His image and therefore have rights that cannot be denied by the
state to pursue our "happiness" (18th century language
indicating our meaningful stewardship of life). Economic freedom is critical to
that pursuit and essential to the realization of a more perfect union.
Political freedom is also essential. The two work hand in hand and that's why
capitalism is typically attended by a form of political government that
encourages freedom for the individual. Inherently (and this is validated by
history) socialism leads to the suppression and repression of the individual
and his/her rights to the free pursuit of earthly stewardship.
America chose capitalism and a constitutional form of a representative republic
in order to secure the "more perfect union" as the environment in and
through which our God-given call to glorify Him could be expressed. I believe,
based on the reasons above, this American system is a "more perfect"
union to that end and therefore "more Christian". No, it is not
perfect. No, our form of government is not specially anointed by God.
And no, the Church should NOT throw its focus and resources at political
solutions to our national and social ills. BUT, we should recognize the truth.
There is a difference between capitalism and socialism, between a
constitutional republic and communism with its attending authoritative central
government. From a Christian perspective one is certainly better than the
other. Capitalism and our representative government is to be preferred over
socialism so we can more freely and completely reflect the glory of our Lord.
If we lose our economic system and our representative government we will have
lost something valuable. However, (and this is MASSIVELY important) we will
NEVER lose the power and ability to glorify our great God and savior Jesus
Christ. The Church is built on the rock of that confession and the gates of
hell cannot prevail or stand against it (Mat 16:18). No matter the form of
government or economic system the Church has one primary mission and the
infinite power to complete it - Glorify Him! (Eph 1:5-6)
Nevertheless, be informed, pursue the truth, speak and vote in support of what
is inherently more Christian.