Judd W. Patton, Ph.D. (Biography) Bellevue University Online
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Economics and the Bible: A Response to Patton

by
David Morsey, President
California Institute of Theological & Social Sciences
(Published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies – Volume III, 1991)

     Judd W. Patton offers two major premises in his system of “Christian” economics: (1) God’s attitude toward economics is set forth in the Bible and is, hence, revelational; and (2) Economics as outlined in the Scripture is a system based on moral practices. In the former premise, we ought to base economics on the revealed will of God. In the latter premise, the system of economics ought to be based on moral principles, as taught by the Bible. Since Christ had very little to say about economics, most of the discussion of economic matters has to do with Old Testament practices.

     Without examining the individual texts in detail, they can all be classified under the heading of “special instructions to the nation of Israel.” The nation of Israel was a highly specialized national entity whose whole existence was based upon the fact that it was a “peculiar” people, that is a people who were exclusively the agents of God as oracles in the world:

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a    peculiar  [segullah—special possession] treasure unto me above all people: for all theearth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.  These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel (Exodus 19:5,6).

     In that respect, the Israelites were much like the Moslem people who regard their state affairs as one and the same with their religious beliefs. The Islamic state is governed by the Koran. There is no distinction between the secular or political and religious life. The Islamic state is possible because all members of the Islamic state are Moslem (or assumed to be).

     In keeping with its special position with God, Israel functioned as a theocracy.  From its first inception at the time of the Exodus, to the establishing of a king (contrary to God’s will), it was governed by God through judges and prophets. Hence, it was based upon the Ten Commandments.  No effort was made to teach the Goyim - the nations around it - to live by its own particular precepts. To have imposed these principles upon the surrounding nations would have been tantamount to imposing the laws of one’s own particular household upon others.  Hence, Old Testament Scripture advanced in support of “Christian” economics is a misapplication.

Old Testament texts, along with dietary and ceremonial laws, are all relevant in terms of God’s special relationship to His chosen people. The economic principles of the people of God, especially with regard to their wilderness trek and early development of Canaan, were designed specifically for those circumstances.  Even the tithe was a form of worship by a religious community, and not a universal appeal to give away a tenth of one’s income: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10). There were no promises to the world at large that God would reward their charities.

The effort to use the teachings of Jesus to support a system of Christian political economy would be flawed in the same manner. Jesus was in a transitional period.  On the one hand, He was an integral part of Israel. On the other hand, He was preparing the way for a new process of faith based upon the coming of His Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of individuals. As far as the nation of Israel was concerned, the Spirit of God ministered to them collectively, saw to their salvation and protection, and prepared them for a new Covenant that was to come:

Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.  A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them (Ezekiel 36: 25-27).

As the name implies, the New Testament was the fulfillment of the promise of a new Covenant with a new and universal family of God. This Covenant was introduced on the day of Pentecost, as recounted in the Book of Acts:

This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.  And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh: and you’re sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:17, 21).

This Covenant was based not upon a legal relationship to God, but rather on a personal process of the energizing power of the Holy Spirit. Peter, the spokesman for the message of Pentecost, recalled in his second epistle (II Peter 1:4) that we are “partakers of the Divine Nature.” And, Paul spoke to the Ephesians of the “surpassing majesty of His power in us who believe according to the energy of the might of His strength, with which He energized Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (Eph 1:19, author’s translation).

The parables that Jesus spoke need to be seen in the light of their message to Israel, and not to the Gentile world.  Thus, the parable of the talents, often quoted in terms of Christian economics, had a much deeper meaning. The talents were monetary units and were only symbolic. They were analogous to the trust that God had given to Israel to proclaim the message of God as His oracles to the world. The attempt to deduce the details of some economic process misses the point. The essence of the supposed application to economics is seen in Matthew 25:16: “Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.” Far from advocating such a procedure, Jesus was merely using the analogy of common business practice to remind the people of Israel that they had been given a responsibility of sharing the truth God with the world and that they should go about the task assiduously.

Those who failed to use their talents were not merely scolded for not following the principles of Christian economics, but were remanded to outer darkness. This was not simply because they were indigent, but because they had failed to fulfill God’s purpose on the earth. This was Jesus’ main concern when He came.  Many of His chosen people had ignored their heritage from God. Instead of being a blessing to the world, they were failing, while their leaders misled the population with religious pomp. There were, however, many faithful ones who were identified in each of the parables in one way or another, as in the example of those who had used their talents well. But this had nothing to do with the proper use of economics. It had to do with the fulfillment of God’s spiritual purpose on the earth. It is singular that all passages used to support a system of Christian economics are those applied to Israel, and not to the Gentile world.

The truth is that Christianity as outlined in the New Testament is not a religious system at all, but a process of identification with God through Christ in the presence of His Holy Spirit within:

But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3: 4-6).

The focus here is obviously not on the material world at all. In fact, many of the Lord’s servants suffered immensely in this world and were in no way examples of prosperity.  Theoretically, they should have been the leaders in the application of the principles of Christian economics, and consequently examples of prosperity. The reverse seemed to be true. The measure of prosperity was often in an inverse ratio to the measure of spirituality. Jesus enjoined: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth” (Matthew 6:19).  He also said: “The son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).  And Paul related to the faithful, “Let your prevailing pattern of thought be on things above and not upon things on the earth, for you are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2).

Paul himself was a primary example of this. To the Corinthians he confided that, “Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place” (I Corinthians 4:11). We humans are but ionized particles in the vastness of space. The presence of the energy of Christ within us is what gives us the capacity to transcend the human capsule and relate to God in the Spirit realm, quite beyond our own minds. Life on earth is important, but secondary.  Many of God’s greatest saints have gone through this life in poverty and sacrifice. They are certainly not examples of any thesis that following the principles of Christian economics will give the Lord’s people prosperity on the earth. Perhaps one of the reasons God allows evil on the earth is to provide motivation to seek a footing in the spiritual Kingdom of God rather then the transient realm of the flesh.

Apart from the inappropriateness of applying an earthly system to a spiritual process, the thesis is impractical as well. The only way a system of Christian political economy could be made to work is by classifying the whole nation as “Christian.” This, of course, is far from reality. If Christianity were merely a system of moral codes, who would be obliged to follow it but those who are identified with Christ? And, if Christianity be a matter of the Spirit, can it be reduced merely to morality.

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