From John Elwood:
In the fourth century, St. Ambrose of Milan, the teacher of St. Augustine and bishop of the Roman emperor, challenged the imperial economic order:
“The world has been created for all, while you rich are trying to keep it for yourselves. Not merely the possession of the earth, but the very sky, air and the sea are claimed for the use of the rich few…. Not from your own do you bestow on the poor man, but you make return from what is his. For what has been given as common for the use of all, you appropriate for yourself alone. The earth belongs to all, not to the rich.”
The Christian church as a critic of concentrated private wealth? The earth, air and sea as “common” gifts given to all? Many American evangelicals will no doubt find this strange, as our gospel has become increasingly entangled with private market capitalism. But the Christian critique of concentrated private wealth continues to ring a clear note.
. . .
From Ambrose to Francis to the global evangelicals of the Lausanne Movement, free market fundamentalism encounters fierce criticism from the Christian gospel. But where does all this come from? Was it the Hebrew Law, or the prophets, or John the Baptist, or Jesus Christ? Well, yes – all of them. But nowhere is it clearer than in the societal and legal systems summed up in the fourth commandment carved into Moses’ stone tablets: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy….”
The Sabbath – that system of sevens which provided basic social rhythms to weeks, years and generations. On the seventh day everyone gets to rest, whether or not he or she can afford a day off (Exodus 20). On the Sabbath (seventh) Year, everyone’s debts get cancelled, no matter when borrowed; and if they have sold themselves into slavery, they are freed (Deuteronomy 15). And on the Jubilee (every seventh Sabbath Year), the land is restored to the original owners or their descendants (Leviticus 25).
The one time in history in which Christian and Jewish scriptures show God laying the foundation for his good society, he did it by allocating land equitably to families, and then restoring them periodically from debt, slavery, and homelessness. Private property, indeed – but used for the good of all.
You can read the whole article here.
More from GospelEncounter:
- Lesslie Newbigin on the gospel vs free market; and the Church’s responsibility
- Lesslie Newbigin on the idol of chance (or, the “Invisible Hand”)
- Michael Horton, “The prosperity gospel may be our nation’s new civil religion”