Toward a Trinitarian Understanding of the Free Market

1in_god_we_trustThe concept of the Trinity is foundational to the Christian life. This fundamental doctrine teaches that there are not three gods but one God in three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Each person of the Godhead is equally, eternally, and fully God. There is unity among the three persons of the Godhead; they are “equal in every divine perfection” yet “execute distinct but harmonious offices in the great work of redemption.”

All human relationships reflect the Trinity. Because God created us in His image, we are relational beings. We were created to live in community. Although some types of social relationships are more intimate and lasting than others, all relationships are interpersonal and require at least some cooperation and interdependence. Furthermore, just as there are different roles among the persons of the Trinity, there are also roles within every social relationship.

Theologians often point to God’s design for the family as one example of this phenomenon. Familial relationships are characterized by interdependence, cooperation, and mutual service. The husband is called to lovingly exercise headship over the family, following the pattern of Christ and the church. Conversely, the wife joyfully submits herself to her husband’s proper exercise of authority, and children submit to their parents. Thus, the biblical pattern for family exemplifies the interdependence and interpersonal cooperation of the Trinity.

This Trinitarian pattern also applies to our relationships in the marketplace. Consider the relationship between employer and employee. Employers are called to lovingly and righteously exercise authority over their employees, and their employees are called to submit joyfully, so long as the employer isn’t directing the employee to engage in unholy or illegal behavior. In doing this, the employer and the employee glorify God by imitating the Father’s proper exercise of authority and the Son’s joyful submission as well as through acting righteously toward each other.

Even economic exchange between strangers reflects the Trinity and glorifies God. “Society under the market economy means a state of affairs in which everybody serves his fellow citizen and is served by them in return,” wrote the famed economist Ludwig von Mises.

This axiom is obvious to those who have studied the market economy. The businessman serves his customers by producing the goods and services they desire, and the customers compensate the businessman for those goods. The employee serves his employer by providing his labor, and the employer returns the favor by remunerating the employee for his work.

Through its division and specialization of labor, the market drives every person to rely on everyone else to supply his needs. No one person is self-sufficient. By fostering interdependence and interpersonal cooperation, the relational nature of economic exchange reflects the relational nature of the Trinity. Accordingly, the free market bears the mark of its Creator.

The nineteenth-century Christian philosopher and economist Frederic Bastiat affirmed this truth:

“We should be compelled to contemplate the Divine plan that governs society… And see how, by means of social [economic] laws, and because men exchange among themselves their labors and their products, a harmonious tie attaches the different classes of society one to the other! It is therefore certain that the final result of the efforts of each class is the common good of all.”

Adam Smith, renowned by historians as the father of modern economics, famously wrote that market participants “are led by an invisible hand… without intending it, without knowing it,” to “advance the interest of society.” Even when they are merely seeking their own benefit, market participants are led by the mechanisms of profit and loss to use their productive energies to meet the needs of others. Christians recognize that this invisible hand must be God, who uses the laws of economics that He created to guide market participants into the service of others.

In the free market, this mutual service through economic exchange is voluntary. No party is forced to supply the needs of the other. Instead, profit and loss direct individuals into the service of their fellow men. Assuming the absence of force and fraud, the people and companies who earn the greatest profit are those who best serve the needs of their customers. Christianity understands this and therefore affirms that profit is morally good.

In Matthew 25:35-36, Jesus commands His disciples to attend to the needs of others. Can it not be said that this is accomplished through the mechanisms of the market, at least in part? Do food workers not feed the hungry? Do pipe workers not help supply water to the thirsty? Do retail workers not help to clothe the naked? Do doctors and nurses not attend to needs of the sick?

This explains why the Christian Reformers believed that all work is sacred and provides an opportunity to glorify God. All work, even the most mundane, is a high calling. God uses our work and economic exchange to provide for ourselves and others. Through the process of voluntary market exchange, we glorify God by reflecting the Trinity’s interdependence and interpersonal cooperation in our own lives.


This post was published by Baptists for Liberty.


 

Is the Idea of a Christian Nation Heretical?

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Highlighting our nation’s Christian heritage, “In God We Trust” is inscribed on the wall behind the Speaker’s chair in the U.S. Capitol Building House Chamber.

Is it wrong for Christians to celebrate a nation’s godly heritage?

The answer is yes, at least according to an editorial published today in the Washington Post.

In his opinion piece, multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens asserts that Christians engage in “heresy” when they “declare the United States a Christian nation.”

As a matter of historical fact, the United States was indeed founded as a Christian nation.

From our nation’s earliest beginnings, Americans recognized God’s authority and sought to recreate society in accordance with His design. The Pilgrims and Puritans who first disembarked on American shores understood themselves to be “New Israelites” settling a “New Israel,” and later generations of American colonists explicitly expressed in government documents their belief that their communities were in covenant with God.

Our corporate reliance on God and affirmation of His truth was also evident throughout the American War for Independence. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, John Adams affirmed that “the general principles on which the [founding] fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.”

The revered Declaration of Independence, our first act as an independent nation, contains four references to God, extolling His role as humanity’s Creator, the Author of natural law and divine revelation, the Supreme Judge of the Universe, and the sovereign and providential disposer of people, nations, and history.

Even the Supreme Court formally declared America to be a Christian nation, legally and historically speaking, in Holy Trinity Church v. U.S. (1892).

Sufjan Stevens’ argument is predicated on his implied belief that it is wrong for Christians to celebrate a nation’s faithfulness to God, His natural and revealed law, and His Gospel. “You cannot pledge allegiance to a nation state and its flag and the name of God,” he writes, “for God has no political boundary.”

It goes without saying that God has no political boundary. Jesus was not crucified as a substitutional, atoning sacrifice and resurrected from the dead to give salvation to only one nation or people – He died for all people, of all races and ethnicities (Galatians 3:28). No individual should put faith in their nationality as the basis for their salvation.

However, George Washington would have disagreed with Stevens as to whether it is heretical for Christians to celebrate their nation’s godly heritage and give thanks for all that God has done for them. In his 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation, our first president wrote, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.”

President Washington’s sentiment comports with biblical truth: “The nations who forget God shall be turned into Hell” (Psalm 9:17). Thankfully, our nation was built on the firm foundation of the Judeo-Christian worldview. As a Christian, I pray that we recommit ourselves to that firm foundation. After all, although the Psalmist tells us that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12), he also warns, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3).

Ironically, while Sufjan Stevens’ editorial accuses others of heresy, he flirts with heresy himself.

First, Stevens denies that Christians should be loyal and patriotic citizens, contradicting the Bible’s teachings (Jeremiah 29:7, Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17, Titus 3:1-2) and thousands of years of Christian tradition. If the Apostle Paul claimed his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:22-29), why shouldn’t Christians all the more happily claim their American citizenship?

Second, by writing that Jesus “acknowledged [government] as a necessary evil,” Stevens mischaracterizes Matthew 22:21. The Bible and Christian tradition tell us that government isn’t a necessary evil. Instead, government is part of God’s design for ordering human life in a fallen world. Lest we forget, God created the nations of the world (Acts 17:26). When acting within their legitimately delegated sphere of influence, government officials are “God’s servants” for the good of their citizens (Romans 13:4).

Our nation was founded on the revealed truth of the Judeo-Christian Almighty God. Not only should Christians rejoice, but we should also recognize and assume the additional responsibility that accompanies the blessings and favor God has shown our nation by walking in obedience and working for justice in society and the world.

The Bible and Income Inequality

300px-day_3_occupy_wall_street_2011_shankbone_5During the 2016 presidential campaign, Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders built his platform on the promise of reducing economic inequality. He repeatedly proclaimed his belief that “the issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time.”

While “income inequality” is a favorite rallying cry for socialists everywhere, the Bible doesn’t denounce wealth or material possessions, nor does it indicate that economic inequality is somehow morally wrong.

Many of the Bible’s great men came from considerable wealth. Instead of condemning these men for their affluence, the Bible seems to laud their riches. For example, Abraham “was very rich in livestock, silver, and in gold” (Genesis 13:2, NKJV). Similarly, King Solomon’s treasures were unequaled. After Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge to rule over Israel rightly, God promised to give him “riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings have had who were before you, nor shall any after you have the like” (2 Chronicles 1:12, NKJV). Likewise, before the devastating events of Job’s namesake book unfolded, he was more prosperous than anyone else in the East. Furthermore, God doubled Job’s wealth after his period of tribulation (Job 42:12).

We can use our resources and property for many moral purposes. These moral purposes include providing for our family’s needs (1 Timothy 5:8), investing and saving for the future (Ecclesiastes 11:2; Proverbs 21:20), voluntarily giving to those in need (Hebrews 13:16; Proverbs 21:13), and providing for the work of the church (Proverbs 3:9; Philippians 4:15-18). But it is also morally good for us to use our material possessions for our own enjoyment, offering thanksgiving to God for all He has provided. Paul tells us as much, writing that God “gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Yet many people criticize those who live in abundance as if it is morally wrong to have more material things than others.

The Parables of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27) and the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) serve as relevant biblical case studies. In these parables, a master who is leaving town gives talents or minas (denominations of money) to each of his servants, telling them to “engage in business until I return.” When the master returns, he finds that two of his servants invested his money and made a profit, but one of his servants unwisely refused to invest his money and failed to make a return. The servant who made the greatest return on investment is given the greatest reward, whereas the servant who declined to invest his money has his property taken from him. Through the means of divine providence and the laws of economics, God acts the same as the master in the parable. God has given larger tasks to some people that require many resources, and He has also given smaller tasks to others that need fewer resources. Our responsibility is to be faithful stewards of the resources and opportunities God has given us, trusting in His sovereignty without envying those who have been given more.

What causes inequality? Assuming there is no fraud or theft, inequality results from only three things:

First, inequality often results from some people working more hours than others. King Solomon affirmed this truth: “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread” (Proverbs 12:11, ESV). Conversely, those who work fewer hours live in less abundance since laziness leads to poverty (Proverbs 6:10-12). Unsurprisingly, a study by the Brookings Institution found that the poverty rate would decrease by 42% if all poor families had one full-time worker earning the same hourly rate he or she makes now.

Second, inequality arises when one person is more productive, and uses resources more efficiently, than another. The person who can produce 50 units per hour will receive a bigger reward than the person who can produce only ten units per hour. Like the servant in the Parable of the Talents who doubled his master’s money through prudent investing and being more productive than the others, those who exhibit greater industry receive a larger reward.

Third, inequality develops when one person produces goods or services that are more highly valued. Engineering and medicine pay more than many other vocations because there is greater demand for engineering and medical services. Using another example, Tony Award-winning actors get paid more money than those working in local musical theaters because society is willing to pay more to watch them perform.

Economic inequality reflects God’s design for the world. Not only has God unequally distributed aptitudes, abilities, and opportunities to men, but he has also structured the laws of economics to reward those who produce goods and services that are highly valued by others, as well as those who use their resources productively and efficiently.

This inequality also provides us with many opportunities to glorify God. Those who have been entrusted with “one talent” can glorify God by faithfully stewarding the resources He has given them, relying upon God’s provision without complaining or envying others who have more. On the other hand, those who have been entrusted with “ten talents” can glorify God by using their resources to build wealth, give generously to the church and the poor, and offer thanksgiving to God for the blessings He has provided.

Contrary to the arguments of Bernie Sanders and others, wealth and income inequality is not “the great moral issue of our time.” Economic inequality reflects God’s design for society, not a moral aberration needing to be eradicated.


This article was originally published by Baptists for Liberty.

Election Day.

No matter who wins the elections tonight, I will wake up tomorrow morning recommitted to continue fighting for economic liberty, religious liberty, and true justice. In season and out of season, I will keep sharing what the Bible says about the pertinent civil and social matters being debated in the public square. 

Ronald Reagan once reminded us that freedom is never more than one generation from extinction. We may be on the leading edge of dark times for our nation. But as the Apostle Paul tells us, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:9). 

God has given Americans a birthright of liberty. I, for one, will not squander the blessings of Divine Providence or the heritage of my forefathers. I ask that you join me and past generations, who were willing to sacrifice their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, to defend what is true, right, and good. 

And after we have fulfilled our duty to God and our country, we can rest easy at night, knowing that our ultimate citizenship is in Heaven and that we serve the sovereign King of Kings whose Kingdom won’t be shaken.

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated” (Thomas Paine, The Crisis).

Separation of Church and State and Public Schools: Police Dispatched to Stop First Grader from Reading Bible Verses During School Lunch

dsc00009Officials at a public elementary school in Palmdale, California, dispatched a deputy sheriff after a first grader shared Bible verses with his friends at lunch.

Like many other loving mothers, Christina Zavala would send her seven-year-old son, Caleb, notes in his school lunch bag that included Bible stories. At the urging of his friends, Caleb soon began sharing the stories with them at lunch.

One of Caleb’s classmates excitedly shared one of the stories with their teacher, who then “informed Christina that [Caleb] could no longer read or share Bible verses or stories at lunch. Her note said, ‘Please tell your son that there is a separation of church and state,’” according to Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty nonprofit organization that is representing the family.

Ms. Zavala correctly informed the teacher that her son had a constitutional right to talk about his faith with his classmates during lunchtime. After Caleb’s mom continued sending the notes in his lunches, the teacher again publicly reprimanded him, causing him to leave school in tears.

Caleb was then told that he would have to wait until after school to share the Bible verses and stories with his friends, but shortly thereafter, the school again changed its policy, telling him that he could not share the notes while on school property. Caleb complied with the school’s demands.

Later in the day, a deputy sheriff, called by someone working for the school district, arrived at the Zavala family home, “demanding that [Caleb’s] note-sharing cease altogether because ‘someone might be offended,’” according to Liberty Counsel.

Yes, you read that right – the elementary school was so concerned about one of its students sharing Bible stories and Scripture with his classmates that it called the police.

“You have ignorance of the law, hostility toward Christianity, and a gross abuse of police power,” Roger Gannam, a lawyer with Liberty Counsel, said in an interview with Fox News.

Separation of Church and State

Does the First Amendment require schools to prohibit students from talking about the Bible or sharing their faith at school? Of course not.

One of the most commonly misunderstood principles of the American founding is the meaning of the phrase “separation of church and state.” Modern secularists falsely contend that separation of church and state – which appears nowhere in the Constitution – prohibits public schools from teaching Christian principles as truth in the classroom, bars legislators from appealing to religious principles in debates about public policy, disallows city council sessions and high school graduations from opening with prayer, and forbids schools and courthouses from displaying the Ten Commandments.

These assertions are incompatible with the vision and intent of those who framed our Constitution.

The First Amendment to the Constitution states, in part, that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Not only does the First Amendment preclude the establishment of a particular denomination, but it also prevents the government from interfering with a person’s free exercise of their religion – which includes the right of a first grader to share Bible stories with his classmates at school.

What about the establishment clause? A report adopted by the U.S. Senate in 1853 defined “established religion.” For a religious denomination to be considered established, Congress must fund it through the national treasury, give special political rights to its members, and compel nonmembers to attend services and participate in its sacraments through compulsory attendance laws.

Obviously, none of the scenarios previously given rise to the standard of Congress establishing a particular religion or denomination – and the First Amendment in no way implies that a school has the authority to prohibit a first grader from talking about the Bible with his friends at lunch.

The Founders’ Vision for Public Education

Our current system of public education would be unrecognizable to the founding fathers who conceived the First Amendment. It is indisputable that they believed that public schools should teach the general principles of Christianity, including the Bible.

In a letter to his cousin John Adams, Samuel Adams wrote that the foremost purpose of education was

“Inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity and universal philanthropy, and, in subordination to these great principles, the love of their country; of instructing them in the art of self-government, without which they never can act a wise part in the government of societies, great or small; in short, of leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system…”

Fisher Ames, one of the primary authors of the First Amendment, lamented that the proliferation of textbooks in the classroom diverted precious education time away from the Bible:

“It has been the custom of late years to put a number of little books into the hands of children… Why then, if these books for children must be retained (as they will be), should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book?”

Similarly, Benjamin Rush, a prominent founding father commonly referred to by historians as the Father of Public Schools Under the Constitution, wrote in his essay, “A Defense of the Use of the Bible as a School Book,” that the Bible “should be read in our schools in preference to all other books.”

The U.S. Supreme Court once affirmed that public schools had a responsibility to teach the Bible and the general principles of the Christian religion. Chief Justice Joseph Story, writing the unanimous opinion for the Court in Vidal v. Girard’s Executors (1844), declared,

“Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament, without note or comment, be read and taught as Divine Revelation in the [school] – its general precepts expounded… and its glorious principles of morality inculcated? Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?”

The founding fathers would be aghast if they could see a public school calling law enforcement because a first grader shared Bible stories with his friends over lunch. They would likely be equally concerned that the school cited “separation of church and state” as the basis for its actions.

If only our founders could see us now.

This post was originally written for the Family Policy Institute of Washington: http://www.fpiw.org/blog/2016/08/02/police-called-to-stop-7-year-old-boy-from-reading-bible-verses-at-public-school/.