I was raised in capitalistic America. My first employment was entrepreneurial: I created a lawn mowing business in my neighborhood which made me relatively wealthy compared to other children my age. I mowed four or five lawns a week for $5 to $10 each when the minimum wage was below $2 per hour. My Dad supplied the family lawn equipment and gasoline which resulted in no business expenses. I pocketed all the lawn money, which funded my personal spending. My purchases funded other businesses which enhanced other capitalistic business. I was just a tiny piece of the largest capitalistic nation.
Does Christianity advocate a capitalistic, socialistic, or communistic economic system? My research shows that Jesus and then later, the Christian Church, supported no economic system. In an April 21, 2022 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, Jesus a Socialist? That’s a Myth: The early church was egalitarian, but it wasn’t committed to an economic system, Dr. Alexander William Salter, Assistant Professor of Economics at Texas Tech University, writes: “Knowing whether an economic system comports with Christianity requires careful study of the church’s social teachings, but church history matters too. Historical memory and interpretation are powerful forces for shaping contemporary beliefs. A socialist can be a good Christian, but the narrative of early church socialism is a myth.”
Why do people believe that the early Church, based on Jesus’ teachings, supported socialism? In Acts 4:32, it states that the early Christians shared goods: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” (NRSV) In Acts 4:34–35, individual property was sold so that those in need could be helped. This appears to support socialism, but it is egalitarian since these Christians worked in various private employments to make money but jointly decided to share their possessions. In the next few verses (Acts 5:1– 6), Ananias sold his property but gave only part of the proceeds to the apostles. His sin and punishment came from dishonesty to God, as Peter did not require him to sell it: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?” (Verse 4) Owning private property did not go against Jesus’ teachings. Dishonesty to God and community was a sin.
I wrote extensively in my book, Trading with God, about the Apostle Paul’s writings on work. Paul worked in a family business and supported work but did not advocate any economic system. Christianity is certainly concerned with justice, respect, and compassion. But capitalism, socialism, and communism can embrace Christian values with the right rules, regulations, and human behaviors. These same economic systems can also abuse workers and communities.
Dr. Ernst Troeltsch (1865–1923), a Lutheran theologian and professor of philosophy and civilization at the University of Berlin, published The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches: Volume I (Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1992). His writings parallels Dr. Salter’s WSJ opinion. “It is, therefore, clear that the rise of Christianity is a religious and not a social phenomenon. For although religion is interwoven with life as a whole, in development and dialectic it has an independent existence.” (page 43) Within the Christian Church, social distinctions and class were leveled, at least during religious gatherings. However, these distinctions remained when Christians returned to secular life.
Did early Christianity influence the State and economic systems? The answer is yes, but only marginally. “It seems to me, however, that in this respect the influence of Christianity was extraordinarily slight. The institutions and the intellectual culture rooted in the old ideas were too ancient, too independent, too radically remote, to be able to assimilate new impulses, while the Church, on the other hand, was still too much concerned with the next world, still too much agitated by the heat of conflict and victory, still inwardly too detached to be able to weave ideas of that kind into the inner structure of the State.” (page 145)
I believe that capitalism, with appropriate regulations, is the best economic system. Capitalism is not a perfect economic system as there is not yet any perfect economic system. Socialism works well in some cultures, like in Scandinavia. Christianity resides in all economic systems. “The message of Jesus is not a programme of social reform. It is rather the summons to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God. … Even the Kingdom of God itself is not (for its part at least) the new social order founded by God. It creates a new order upon earth, but it is an order which is not concerned with the State, with Society, or with the family at all.” (page 61)
Politicians and religious groups have (and will highly likely continue) to espouse that Scripture and the early Church advocated a certain economic system. These theories are false as the early Church wasn’t focused on economics, but God. Christianity points to God’s supreme rule, not humans or their various created systems. God does command that we love our neighbor. This can be done within any economic systems. Christians should concentrate on loving their neighbors within these economic systems.