What Part of "Thou Shalt Not Covet" Don't You Understand?

A Christian rebuttal to Jim Peron's essay "Wealth and the New Testament"
in the May, 1999, edition of Spintech.

Also, published at Ex-reprobate.com.

George Orwell once remarked that, "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." Time and again, while reading Jim Peron's essay, I was reminded of this quote. Mr. Peron's careless reading of the New Testament leads him to interpret it as an endorsement of socialism. In fact, had I not seen Mr. Peron's by-line in Reason and Liberty, I might have figured him for a contributor to The Nation. It this were the 1980s, I would have bet that the essay was ghostwritten by a liberal cleric who had just returned from Managua proclaiming, "I have seen the future and it works!" Mr. Peron states his case in such a way that I initially thought he was more interested in pandering to liberal Christians than in refuting the Bible.

Lest I be mistaken for resorting to the argumentum ad hominem, let us get on with an analysis of Mr. Peron's essay. His depiction of Jesus-As-Socialist ignores two of the most famous passages in the Bible. The first of these is in the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus proclaims, "Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-19)

The second such passage is when God hands down the Eighth ("You shall not steal.") and Tenth ("You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.") Commandments. (Exodus 20:15, 17)

The New Testament reiterates these two commandments several times. (Matthew 19:18, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20, Romans 13:9, Romans 7:7) With them, God puts His stamp of approval on private property. Indeed, God takes private property so seriously that, two of the six commandments devoted to our relationship with our fellow man deal with private property. So strong is our human desire to have what belongs to someone else that God did not wait very long to condemn envy, which is an thought, not an action. The Tenth Commandment is the only commandment specifically condemning a thought.

The New Testament never condemns inanimate things of this world. Rather, it cautions people in their attitudes toward them. I could analyze each of Mr. Peron's scriptural citations, but let me confine my remarks to a few of the more controversial passages.

In Matthew 13:22 and Mark 4:19, for instance, Mr. Peron confuses the deceitfulness of riches for riches themselves. People can put too much faith in material gain that they give secondary importance to God. Luke 16:11 rebukes those who are not trustworthy in handling worldly riches, rather than the riches themselves. Luke 16:12 implies that being trustworthy with someone else's property a prerequisite for being worthy of having one's own property.

Andrew Grove, CEO of Intel, once remarked that technology can be neither good nor bad anymore than steel can be good or bad. What matters is how people use it. The same goes for money and worldly possessions.

James 5 does not condemn riches either. Rather, it serves as a warning about the temporal nature of earthly gain and the folly inherent in our propensity to put our faith in such riches instead of Jesus.

But how about I Timothy 6:10? Is money not the root of all evil? Indeed not! It is our love of money which causes so much evil. Mr. Peron falls into the same trap as many liberals when he overlooks the fact that money is merely the object of evil desires.

The rich man in Luke 16:19-31 is not, as Mr. Peron would have us believe, condemned to Hell because of his riches, but because of his greed.

Does not a camel have a better chance of getting through the eye of a needle than a rich man has of getting into heaven? Well, let us look at what this verse does not say. It does not say anything about the chances of the poor of getting into heaven. It does not say that it is impossible for a rich man to get into heaven. Furthermore, when the disciples ask Jesus "Who then can be saved?", Jesus replies "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:24-26)

Mr. Peron further impales himself in his analysis of Revelation 3:17, which reads "You say 'I am rich: I have acquired wealth, and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." Here, God rebukes the church at Laodicea, which was financially wealthy, but spiritually wayward. Their affluence was of no interest to Him if their hearts were not with Him.

A few verses later, in Revelation 3:20, God says to the church at Laodicea, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with Me."

God is not going to enter our lives by force, but by invitation only. This is the common denominator behind the failure of all attempts, Christian or not, to bring about utopia. For every Lenin, Hitler, and Mao, who wanted to establish utopia without God, there have been numerous schemes to do this in the name of Jesus. Jesus had no grand scheme for society. The phrase "Christian social policy" is an oxymoron. Jesus had no plans for a New Deal, Great Society, Cultural Revolution, Five Year Plan, or Thousand Year Reich. Rather, the changes He brings to His followers occur from the inside out. When enough Christians get serious about their personal walk with God, more of the good things they say they want will happen, and less of the bad things they say they do not want will stop happening.

Jesus never forces anyone to follow Him. He tells us what we ought and ought not do. However, He never makes us walk in His ways. He never makes us love our neighbors. He never makes us restrain our appetites. This should be instructive to anyone who would want to invoke His name when implementing any kind of social engineering. Jesus had no plans for progressive taxation, racial quotas, gun control, or alcohol or drug prohibition.

In Matthew 15:8-9, He says, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men." We can pass all the Christian-sounding laws we want, and fill every public office with a Christian, but this is all for nought if our hearts are not right with God.

In those instances where a culture has been characterized by Christian charity, it was not because of socialist economic arrangements, but because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The communities of believers described in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37 are cases in point. Even though those on the Left are very fond of these Scriptures, they ignore the fact that anyone who participated in these communities did so voluntarily, not because of state fiat.

When Jesus instructs His followers to, "Love you neighbor as yourself," (Matthew 19:19, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27) He does not point a gun at anyone's head. Moreover, He does not give specific instructions on how to manifest such love. If anything, progressive taxation increases our resentment toward our neighbors. It runs contrary to II Corinthians 9:7, which states, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Mr. Peron would like us to think that socialism and communism are simply extensions of Christianity. This is nonsense. Jesus had no political program. His instruction to His followers to be light in a world of darkness, and salt in a world of decay (Matthew 5:13-14) was an instruction on how we should live regardless of our political circumstances.

Socialism and communism cannot possibly be forms of Christianity. Both deny property rights. Churchill once called socialism the "gospel of envy." Some of us have more than others and, to hear socialists tell it, the have nots are entitled to the fruits of the labor of the haves. If, as Mr. Peron would have us believe, the "socialist" New Testament condemns wealth, why does the survival of socialism require that there be some people with more than others, so we can steal from the former and give to the envious latter?

All forms of socialism ultimately seek to eradicate God or, at least, to minimize His importance. Who needs God, who may not manifest His promises for years, if at all, when Caesar will meet our needs now? Witness the persecution of Christians under so many communist regimes. This persecution happens because all the political power imaginable cannot stop Christians from their placing their primary loyalty with their true King. Totalitarians cannot stand this. Political power has an incredible ability to intoxicate those who wield it. Like sex and money, so many people can never have enough of it. The kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God are, in the words of Charles Colson, "kingdoms in conflict."

In Matthew 4:8-10, Satan, the prince of this world, tempts Jesus, offering Him "... all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus refuses this temptation, saying, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only." The Christian roots of the American Founding lay not in the utopian visions so fashionable among contemporary liberals and conservatives. Rather they lay in strictly limited government. Under such a regime, secular government is limited as strictly as possible, and Christians are free to follow God's call for their lives without fear of harassment, or civil or criminal punishment.

It has been said that there are only two belief systems in the world, Christianity and all the others. Christianity is the story of God reaching down to man. "All the others" involve man's feeble and futile attempts to impress God. Socialism, which is based on the idea of the perfectibility of man through the restructuring of his institutions, ultimately fails to impress God because, at some point, it inevitably attempts to write God out of the picture altogether. Also, socialism involves the theft by the envious wealth-takers of the private property of the wealth-makers.

So what about our Christian calling to be "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13-14)? In his new book Blinded by Might, Cal Thomas (1) says the following:

"...Christians like to use the salt metaphor as a rationalization for political involvement. They say that political activism is part of the "salting," or preserving process. But this is not entirely true, perhaps not even mainly true.

"Salt does it primary work when it is invisible, not when it's seen. Salt preserves, not while in a shaker, or in a box on a store shelf, but only when it penetrates the meat or other substance that would spoil without its application." (page 90)

Thomas contends that if Christians are to have a positive influence in society, they must likewise be patient and penetrate those institutions they wish to influence from the bottom up. This will not be easy. As Jesus told the apostles, He sends us out "like sheep among wolves." (Matthew 10:16) Moreover, He states that "all men will hate you because of me." (Matthew 10:22) He promises us anything but utopia.

Revelation 13 prophesies the rise of a the Antichrist (v.1) who "was given power to make war against the saints and conquer them" (v.7). It further prophesies that "All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast -- all whose names have not been written in the book of life.." (v.8) The Antichrist will be a political ruler, with almost unlimited authority. The Antichrist will receive his power from Satan, and will deceive many into thinking that his rise will be the actual return of Christ.

The real hope for Christians of peace on earth, and of the type of world which so many preachers and politicians have so futilely tried to establish prematurely, is prophesied in Isaiah 2:2-4, Micah 4:1-5, and Revelation 19-22. This is when Jesus really will return to establish His millennial Kingdom. Not until then will we have any guarantee of the world we long for. Jesus' return will happen in God's time, not ours.

It is sad not only that so many of us want to use the Bible for political purposes, and to use it as a basis for false promises. It is likewise very sad that so many people, like Mr. Peron, are turned away from God's Word because they are led to believe that it says so many nonsensical things which it does not actually say.

To be sure, many people believe ridiculous things about Scripture because of bias or ignorance. However, we Christians need to ask ourselves how much of a role we have had in propagating these ideas and, in turn, alienating people from Christ.

(1) Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999. Blinded by Might is coauthored by Pastor Ed Dobson of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (No relation to James Dobson of Focus on the Family) Thomas and Dobson were among the inner circle of the Reverend Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority in the early 1980s. Pastor Dobson has left the political wars altogether, and keeps things in his church apolitical. Thomas remains a conservative Republican, yet has in his columns in recent years expressed numerous doubts about the ability of government to make us more godly people. The book outlines the numerous lessons learned from their experience with the Moral Majority, as well as the futility of so much Christian political activism. (Back)

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