Guthrie's Gospel

Economic justice from a Christian perspective

Category: Old Testament

The economics of the Didache

The Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is a pious work that gives a glimpse into the minds of some of the earliest Christians. The Didache probably originates in the latter half of the first century or the early part of the second century. While we certainly can’t accord it the same authority that we grant Scripture, we can use it to see how early Christian understood the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles. With that in mind, let us look at how the writer or writers of the Didache understood the proper economic relationships Christians should cultivate.

The text begins by laying out a Way of Life and a Way of Death, echoing Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 21:8, and Matthew 7:13-14. The Didache defines the way of life as Christ’s twofold commandment:

The Way of Life is this: Thou shalt love first the Lord thy Creator and secondly they neighbour as thyself; and thou shalt do nothing to any man that thou wouldst not wish to be done to thyself.

This Way of Life has clear echos of Christ’s teachings in Mark 12:28-31, Matthew 22:35-40, and Luke 10:25-38. The Way of Life also reflects Old Testament readings, including Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18, and Tobit 4:15. The Didache expands upon exactly what it would mean to live according to the Way of Life like so:

Give to everyone that asks, without looking for any repayment, for it is the Father’s pleasure that we should share His gracious bounty with all men. A giver who gives freely, as the commandment directs, is blessed; no fault can be found with him. But woe to the taker; for though he cannot be blamed for taking if he was in need, yet if he was not, an account will be required of him as to why he took it, and for what purpose, and he will be taken into custody and examined about his action, and he will not get out until he has paid the last penny. The old saying is in point here:  “Let your alms grow damp with sweat in your hand, until you know who it is you are giving them to.”

The teaching here is clear: as Christians we should share whatever extra we have with everyone in need because this is what God wants us to do (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6-9, Matthew 6:19-21, Luke 3:11, 1 John 3:17-18, James 2:15-17, Hebrews 13:16, Tobit 4:7-11, Tobit 4:16, Deuteronomy 15:7-11) . However, Christians should also not con people into giving when the receiver is not in need. The sort of avarice that seeks money even when one lives in comfort is condemned. The condemnation of greed is reconfirmed in more general terms when the Didache states “You are not to be avaricious or extortionate” which accords with St. Paul’s teaching that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

The Didache also tells its readers:

Do not be like those who reach out to take, but draw back when the time comes for giving. If the labour of your hands has been productive, your giving will be a ransom for sins. Give without hesitating and without grumbling, and you will see Whose generosity will requite you. Never turn away the needy; share all your possessions with your brother, and do not claim that anything is your own (cf. Acts 2:44-45). If you and he are joint participators in things immortal, how much more so in things mortal?

Again, the understanding of Christ’s gospel is clear. We are to give to all who need unconditionally and not to view what we possess as our own property. All of Creation is a gift from God, but we are like sojourners passing through this world. What we may have gathered in it is no credit to us, but to God. This is what He taught the Israelites in Deuteronomy 15:1-18 when he declares that every seventh year all debts are to be canceled and all Hebrew slaves freed, in Deuteronomy 24:19-22 when he commanded that those who farm leave some of their crops in the field because it belong not to those who toiled, but to those who could not provide for themselves, and in Leviticus where the Lord declares the Jubilee Year in which slaves are freed and property is returned to its previous owners because “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine and you reside in My land as foreigners and strangers” (Leviticus 25:23). While there may be room for Christians to possess property in private, there is no room in Christianity for private property in the modern sense. All we have comes from the Lord and belongs to our neighbors.

The Didache professes an economic stance that reflects the consistent message of both the Old and New Testaments. God’s people are to be generous and selfless. We are to seek economic relationships with one another that emphasize giving rather than receiving, that places the common good above personal profits. We should avoid, as much as possible, participating in or promoting economic systems that exploit the poor, and we should reject the notion of private property. That is the economy of the Way of Life.

In contrast to the Way of Life, which is characterized by generosity, humility, and selflessness, the Didache declares that the Way of Death is characterized by self-will and avarice, among many other sins, and is walked by those

who persecute good men, hold truth in abhorrence, and love falsehood; who do not know of the rewards of righteousness, nor adhere to what is good, nor to just judgement; who lie awake planning wickedness rather than well-doing. Gentleness and patience are beyond their conception; they care for nothing good or useful, and are bent only on their own advantage, without pity for the poor or feeling for the distressed. Knowledge of their Creator is not in them; they make away with their infants and deface God’s image; they turn away the needy and oppress the afflicted; they aid and abet the rich but arbitrarily condemn the poor; they are utterly and altogether sunk into inequity.

Those who lack charity and generosity are soundly condemned. Those who ignore the plight of the poor and suffering, but who aid the rich and seek their own material benefit are “altogether sunk into inequity” and do not know God, no matter how much they might profess Him with their lips (cf. Luke 6:46-49). Every day we can see those who walk the Way of Death in America. They cut funding for food stamps and welfare. They seek to evict the homeless from their cities rather than helping to provide them with basic necessities. They pass beggars on the street and give them nothing because they think to themselves, “They’ll only spend it on drugs or booze.” They lay in bed plotting their next corporate merger or how much the next round of layoffs will line the pockets of their stock holders. These are the Godless and the condemned. Let us not choose their way, but the way of Christ, the Way of Life.

 

The Example of Tobit

The Old Testament Book of Tobit is an often overlooked part of Christian scriptures. In part, the neglect of Tobit can be explained by the Protestant rejection of significant sections of the Christian Old Testament, which included Tobit, despite the fact that Tobit and these other books were widely accepted as holy scripture by the early Church and are still part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scriptures. While one may be a good Christian without ever having read Tobit, if we ignore Tobit, we lose a wonderful example of how to live a righteous life in the eyes of God, a life we Christians would do well to emulate.

Tobit takes place during the Assyrian exile, a time of hardship and persecution for the Israelites who had been taken from their homeland. The Israelites were forced to live among pagans, and according to Tobit, many chose to live and worship as the pagans did, but Tobit remained true to God and did not neglect his duty to care for others (Tobit 1:10-11). In Tobit 1:16-17 it is written:

In the days of Shalmaneser, I did much almsgiving to my brothers. I would give my bread to the hungry and my clothing to the naked. If I saw anyone of my people dead, cast outside the wall of Nineveh, I would bury him.

Tobit did not allow his hardships to harden is heart. In fact, he was so compassionate that he was willing to make himself ritually unclean to bury his kinsmen who had been executed by the Assyrians and left to rot and be devoured by animals outside the walls of Nineveh. More than risking ritual uncleanliness, Tobit was breaking the law by burying executed Israelites and eventually had to flee for his own life while his possessions were confiscated (Tobit 1:18-20).

Tobit eventually returned to his home when the threat of his execution had been lifted. His family prepared a large feast in celebration, and when Tobit saw how much good food there was, he sent his son into town to find a poor person to share in their bounty (Tobit 2:1-2). Even after having hid for weeks in a cave, Tobit’s heart never turned from God or his neighbors. When he saw his own abundance he knew it could supply the need of another (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:14). But before he could find a fellow Israelite in need, Tobit’s son ran back to the house to tell his father that a man laid murdered in the street (Tobit 2:3). Without even touching his food, Tobit removed the body from the market place and buried it that night, even as his neighbors warned that the Assyrians might again seek to execute him for such an act (Tobit 2:4-8). Tobit is willing to sacrifice his life to do what is right even for those who, because they are dead, cannot possibly thank him or repay his selflessness.

Later, Tobit admonishes his son with this advice:

My son, remember the Lord our God all your days and do not desire to sin or to disobey His commandments. Do righteousness all the days of your life, and do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing. For if you walk in the truth, you will be successful in your works. Do almsgiving, do not let your eye be envious (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6-9). Do not turn your face away from any poor man, so the face of God will not be turned away from you (cf. Matthew 25:41-46). Do almsgiving based on the quantity of your possessions. If you possess only a few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. You are storing up a good treasure for yourself in the day of necessity (cf. Matthew 6:19-21). For almsgiving delivers us from death and prevents us from entering into the darkness. Indeed almsgiving is a good gift for all who do it before the Most High (cf. Hebrews 13:16).

Do not keep overnight the wages of any man who works for you, bu pay him immediately (cf. Deuteronomy 24:15). If you serve God, He will pay you. Give heed to yourself, my son, in all your works, and be disciplined in all your conduct. What you yourself hate, do not do to anyone (cf. Mark 12:31)…From your bread, give to him who is hungry and from your clothing, give to the naked (cf. Luke 3:11, 1 John 3:17-18, and James 2:15-17). If you have more than you need, do almsgiving, and do not let your eye envy the almsgiving when you do it.

(Tobit 4:5-11,14-15a,16)

We can see in the example of Tobit’s actions and his advice to his son a radical faith and righteousness. Tobit lived out his love for his neighbor even when he risked losing his life. In times of bounty and hardship alike he kept his heart focused on God and sought always to help those around him. He preached to his son the radical charity and almsgiving that is so characteristic of the New Testament. If Tobit could be so righteous even without the example of the Incarnate Christ, shouldn’t we strive to be even more so?

The Tea Party and Ayn Rand versus Jesus Christ

This video imagines what a false Jesus would preach today if he were to stand on the National Mall and espouse the values of tea party Repbulicans and then contrasts those teachings with that of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The video is entertaining and manages to draw a clear line between Christianity and the tea party movement. However, it only tangentially alludes to the root of this difference when false-Jesus calls Ayn Rand his prophet. Herein, I will endeavor to make clear the foundational importance of Ayn Rand to tea party ideology and the contradictions between her philosophy, Objectivism, and authentic Christianity, which many of Rand’s admires still claim to confess.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is inextricably linked to the ideology of the tea party movement, and much of the contemporary Republican Party and many conservative political organizations. Paul Ryan, a professed Catholic, claimed Ayn Rand was the reason he got involved in public service and has said that:

“I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are…It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged…It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding principles are…there is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works.” (Audio available here)

Ron Paul, a professed Baptist, said Ayn Rand had a lot of influence on him.  His son Rand Paul, a Presbyterian, calls himself a “a big fan of Ayn Rand.”  Ted Cruz, a professed Baptist, read from Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged during his filibuster against Obamacare. Marco Rubio, a Catholic (or maybe a Baptist), read Atlas Shrugged twice during his first term in office. Ron Johnson, a Lutheran, called Atlas Shrugged his “foundational book.” Michelle Malkin, a professed Catholic, hyped the links between the tea party and Ayn Rand. Rush Limbaugh, a Methodist, is fond of talking about Rand. Many tea party groups promoted the 2011 movie Atlas Shrugged, based on Rand’s most famous novel. The Heritage Foundation hosted a special screening of Atlas Shrugged. FreedomWorks claimed it helped bring the movie to the big screen. Even where these groups draw their ideas from sources other than Rand, they usually manage to find thinkers who largely reinforce a worldview espoused by Ayn Rand and her disciples.

Some of the tea party’s canonized saints, like St. Ronald Reagan the Great, a member of the Disciples of Christ and later the Presbyterian traditions, and St. Barry Goldwater the Forerunner, an Episcopalian, have expressed appreciation for Ayn Rand. Even some more “establishment” Republicans have voiced their appreciation of Rand.

But what is the trouble with Christians drawing on the ideas of Ayn Rand? Surely many Christians have drawn on philosophies outside of Christianity to clarify their faith. While that might be the case, there are two major problems with any attempt to marry the philosophy of Ayn Rand with Christianity. The first is that Rand’s ideas fundamentally contradict the teaching of Christ, his apostles, and the prophets. Jesus taught us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27,35; Matthew 5:44). Ayn Rand said: “I regard compassion as proper only toward those who are innocent victims, but not toward those who are morally guilty” and that “You love those who deserve it.”

Another area where Rand diverges from Christ is on the issue of charity. Charity and giving are central to the Christian faith. Moses taught the importance of charity (Deuteronomy 14:22,28-29, 15:7-11, & 24:19-22). Christ commanded that we “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42) and St. John the Baptist proclaimed “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11). St. Paul also taught the importance of giving (Hebrews 13:16) and Isaiah declared that aiding those in need was the form of worship God desired (Isaiah 58:6-7). Furthermore, Amos condemned those who ignored or exploited the poor (Amos 2:6-8) as did Christ in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31 ) and when He warned of His judgement to come (Matthew 25:31-46), St. John also condemns those who are uncharitable (1 John 3:17–18). But Rand told Playboy that:

My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

Rand also differs with Christianity on the issue of wealth. St. Paul taught us the desire for wealth is evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10) as did Christ in his parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). St. James condemned the wealthy (James 5:1-6) as did Amos (Amos 6:1,4-7) as did Christ when he told his disciples  about how difficult it would be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23-24),  and when he declared “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:20). Rand wrote in Atlas Shrugged:

So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

Christians are called to love all people and to do good for others even if it means suffering or death for oneself. Christ taught his disciples “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13). St. Paul teaches “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Ayn Rand calls altruism and self-sacrifice “evil,” “immoral,” and “cannibalism”:

The second problem is that Ayn Rand was a vitriolic atheist. She openly hated Christianity and religion. In her novel Anthem Rand proclaimed that people should worship themselves: “And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I.'” She told the pornographic magazine Playboy that she believed faith was a “negation of reason” that was “very detrimental to human life.” In a television interview, she declared she was “against God” and calling religion a psychological weakness:

And Rand’s atheism isn’t some quirky side note of her philosophy; atheism is the corner stone of her philosophy; atheism is the root from which her philosophy grows. Rand once condemned the National Review as “the worst and most dangerous magazine in America” for daring to try and link capitalism and Christianity. Ayn idolized human reason and human wisdom as the wellspring of her philosophy. Rand goes so far as to specifically disparage Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross:

According to the Christian mythology, [Christ] died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the non-ideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors.

To preach the gospel of Ayn Rand while proclaiming oneself a Christian is an act of heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy. It is an open rebellion against God. Those who do so are false prophets, the wolves in sheep’s clothing Christ warned about and we know them by their evil fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). The dark, twisted, greed-driven philosophy of Ayn Rand can never be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus Christ, not even if we ignore her atheism. As Christ our Lord taught “You cannot serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). We must either choose Christ or Rand. Let us pray that those who have fallen into the blasphemies of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy will repent and return to the Lord in both word and deed. Let us pray that those in the Republican Party and in conservative organizations across our nation publicly repudiate Rand’s philosophy and work to expunge her demonic teachings from their political goals and political works.

For more on how Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is antithetical to Christianity, check these out:

Christians Must Choose: Ayn Rand or Jesus

Ayn Rand Versus Christianity

Chuck Colson’s Two-Minute Warning: Atlas Shrugged and So Should You:

Christianity versus Objectivism

You Can’t Reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus

Satanism and Objectivism

Ayn Rand’s Wikiquote page

Music Monday: A Good Name

“A Good Name” by Shad

“I’ve got a good name, my first name came from slave in
Babylon…
In no time got promoted to the king’s right hand,
But no hype man, had to take the right stand.
When the king made a statue of gold he told the whole nation
That they had to bow down to it.
That, or get tossed in the furnace,
Shad and his boys said “Boss, you can burn us.”
We can’t serve this statue, it’s worthless.
The king was mad but Shadrach wasn’t nervous.
It must have been some strange phenomenon,
They walked straight through the fire, Chaka Khan.
Saved by faith stronger than flame,
If I’m half as great then I honour my name.
I’ve got a good name.”

On Faith and Works

St. Peter of Damascus once wrote:

The fathers … kept the commandments; their successors wrote them down; but we have placed their books on the shelves. And even if we want to read them, we do not have the application to understand what is said and to put it into practice; we read them either as something incidental, or because we think that by reading them we are doing something great, thus growing full of pride. We do not realize that we incur greater condemnation if we do not put into practice what we read … And we should remember what the Lord says about the servant who knew his master’s will but failed to carry it out (cf. Lk. 12:47).

St. Peter of Damascus (The Philokalia Vol. 3 edited by Palmer, Sherrard and Ware; Faber and Faber pg. 169)

Quoted from: Milk & Honey.

St. Peter makes clear the centrality of actions, of works in the Christian life. Too often our emphasis seems to be on personal, spiritual salvation, on faith and prayer. All these things are good and necessary in a Christian life, but we must not make idols of them or emphasize them so much that we forgot that Christ preached a religion of doing for the salvation of all Creation, not just for you or me.

St. Peter reminds us that it is easy to abstract what was written long ago in the Bible and in other pious works into mere words which we do not live out. We read. We declare our faith. But we do nothing. And that is the problem because our faith cannot and does not exist separate from our works. When we read the word of God, but do not do it, we become like the servant who does not do his Master’s will and heap condemnation upon ourselves. One who believes as a Christian must necessarily act as a Christian or deny Christ’s teachings. We all, of course, fall short (I most of all), but it is important to acknowledge that we must try to live by deeds of faith, to fulfill Christ’s commandments to act with love and mercy toward others. St. James the Just taught “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17) and our Lord Jesus Christ Himself tells us in Matthew 25:31-46 that we will be judged by Him for the things we do to others in this life, in this world.

Now, all this is not to say that Christianity is a mere set of actions, that one can curse God with each breath so long as they are charitable and kind. Good works may be done without faith, but faith cannot exist without manifesting itself in good works. This is what St. John the Theologian teaches when he writes, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18). When we have faith in the Lord, God abides in us, but when we do not act according to our faith, God does not abide in us. Faith is not merely hearing the word of God, it is doing the word of God, for as Christ Himself declared to his disciples in Luke 6:47-49, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.” When we do not enact Christ’s teachings through actions, we build our hope for salvation on a foundation of sand.

Good works are the manifestation of faith and are an inseparable part of faith. Faith without works is not merely dead, it cannot exist. If we love Christ, we must feed His sheep (John 21:16) and offer up the fast to God that He asked of us through his holy prophet Isaiah:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
(Isaiah 58:6-7)

God and Evil, Isaiah 45:7

In my attempts to better understand the teachings of the Lord, I often seek out scriptural commentaries. One that I’ve enjoyed for many years is Search the Scriptures by Presvytera and Dr. Jeannie Constantinou on Ancient Faith Radio. Dr. Constantinou is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church and a Biblical scholar. Unfortunately, I often fall behind on her podcasts because either I get distracted by other concerns or she takes a long break between recordings and I forget to check to see when she releases new material.

I recently began making my way through a backlog of Search the Scripture episodes I’d missed and found her discussion of Isaiah 45:7, “ I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” to be particularly insightful. In it, using commentary from early theologians including St. John Chrysostom, Origen, and St. Basil the Great, she explains how God is not the source of evil in the world despite passages like Isaiah 45:7 and others that seem to declare God to be evil. It’s very worth a listen if you have about 45 minutes to spare while driving, doing chores, or sitting in quiet contemplation.

Give Isaiah 45:7 a listen, and if you like it, Dr. Constantinou has many more episodes to enlighten your understanding of God’s word.

Here is a direct link to the audio file of the podcast.