A key aspect of idolatry is that an often otherwise legitimate aspect of this world is made absolute. Very commonly, the state, which has a very limited but lawful status under God is made into an idol and becomes, in Hegel's terms, God walking on earth. This is idolatry. However, it is equally false to see the state as absolute evil and the source of sin. It is the heart of man which is the source of sin, and the state reflects our sins and our envious desires.
The same is true of wealth. It is not in and of itself good nor is it evil. It is man who makes wealth either a good or an evil. Wealth can be a blessing from God, and a means whereby we can bless others, or it can be a witness to our lust for power and a curse to others. Private wealth can capitalize a society, as it has in Christendom, or it can decapitalize a society, as in old India, where the vast wealth of the rajahs served only their pleasures.
Attempts therefore to think of wealth in isolation from God and His purposes lead us readily into idolatry. Wealth is made into an ultimate good or an ultimate evil, and the latter is becoming all too common in our day. For some churchmen, the ultimate evil is to be rich, especially a rich Christian in a hungry world. Some pastors actually declare that it is a sin for any man to be paid more than $20,000 a year, or, as another holds, more than $40,000 a year,which may be his way of saying it is a sin to make more than I do!
Wealth, like all things else, must be understood in terms of God's purposes. Any consideration apart from that is not faithful to Scripture. Again and again, the Bible speaks of God's concern for the poor, and we are told that the poor man is our brother, but it would be absurd to conclude that poverty is seen as a happy goal for man! Rather, we are told, if God's people are faithful to His law, "there shall be no poor among you: for the LORD shall greatly bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it: Only if thou carefully harken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all these commandments which I command thee this day" (Deut. 15:4-5). God thus designates the abolition of poverty as the goal of His law-word. To avoid the force of Deut. 15:4-5, all too many will cite Matthew 26:11, "For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always." All this means is that the Lord told the disciples that, during their lifetime, they would always have opportunities to minister to the poor, but not to His physical person and presence.
Over and over again, the Bible stresses the fact that the godly seed must inherit the wealth, and that God's purpose in time is that all the world's wealth pour into the Kingdom of God: "ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves" (Isa. 61:6). God's purpose is that wealth capitalize the godly, and through them, His Kingdom. This capitalization of the Kingdom of God means conversion, knowledge, technology, and godly progress in every area of life and thought.
The modern world, however, is deeply committed to decapitalization because of the reign of envy. Envy says, if I cannot be rich, let no other man be rich. Modern politics and economics is governed by envy, and envy cloaks itself in the name of the welfare of the poor.
The world is now seeing the economic consequences of decapitalization. Through taxation and inflation, men's assets have been watered down and decapitalized. We hear much talk about the wealth of the "big" corporations, and too little about their precarious existence. Martin D. Weiss, in The Great Money Panic (1981), points out that in 1973 General Motors and its subsidiaries had an interest cost of 36 cents of every dollar of net profits. In 1979, interest costs were 93 cents of every dollar of net profit. The cost of borrowed money was almost equal to the money earned. The situation since has grown worse. In varying degrees all of the 500 major corporations in the United States save one are in the same predicament. Probably the largest of all American corporations is General Motors. How "big" is it? The press, the university, the pulpit, and the media promote the idea of gigantism, as though our major corporations are rivals in size and wealth to the United States. However, as Michael Novak, in Toward a Theology of the Corporation (1981), has pointed out, "Running a multinational corporation in the Fortune 500 is, in most instances, about equivalent to running a major university." The smallest of the 500 has only 529 employees; the largest, General Motors, has no more than 14,000 employees in Michigan; add to this its over 200 units in over 177 congressional districts, and General Motors still does not equal in size and wealth of the University of California. The problem with the corporations has not been their size and power but their cowardice in the face of federal power and their too frequent compliance.
The corporations have been decapitalized by controls, taxation, and inflation, and the people also. As long as inflation and fiat money continue, this decapitalization will continue. Each succeeding presidency has furthered this decapitalization in the name of remedying it. To rob the people, every political scoundrel pleads a great concern for the poor and the needy while never giving to any need out of their own often considerable wealth.
The central guilt, however, belongs to the church. There is scarcely a seminary where liberation theology, a sentimental form of Marxism, is not taught. Catholic and Protestant seminaries and missionary agencies are too often cesspools of liberation theology.
The pulpit too is radically delinquent. Where do we hear sermons on Matthew 23:14, "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation." Our Lord here thunders out against an evil which was small compared to what is commonplace today, our confiscation by estate and inheritance taxes of the properties rightfully belonging to widows and orphans. It is easy, in such contemporary instances, to feel a rage against the Internal Revenue Service, but this is to miss the point. The I.R.S. is the agency of the voters' envy. Through Congress, we enact envy into law, and now that envy reaches into our pockets, we are angry. This is not to say that the I.R.S. is without guilt, but that the primary guilt rests with Congress and the people. The fact is that the majority of the people want out of envy to see their superiors hurt, even if it means their own hurt. A friend, while in a country in Europe, was discussing the confiscatory taxation of that nation and called attention to its destructiveness. His hosts defended the taxation, while agreeing as to its threat. Their reason? It's good to see the high and mighty humbled.
Octavio Paz, in The Labyinth of Solitude (1961) said, "Marx wrote that all radicalism is a form of humanism, since man is the root of both reason and society. Thus every revolution tries to create a world in which man, free at last from the trammels of the old regime, can express himself truly and fulfill his human condition. Man is a being who can realize himself, and be himself, only in a revolutionary society."
This revolutionary society is the goal of every humanistic state. Some hope to achieve it by violence, others by democratic change. In either case, the goal is the same, man as god or, more specifically, the humanistic state as god. Since one attribute of God is creation, the modern state seeks to create wealth, cradle to grave or womb to tomb security, and also to create money. Modern money, fiat, paper money is the result. It is state created money which is used to erode all traditional forms of wealth, and to place all wealth under the control of the state. We see today small family farms, in the same family for generations or from the colonial era, being sold because of taxes. This disaster is also taking place in Britain and elsewhere.
Godly wealth in Scripture is in terms of the faithful development of potentialities under God. God created the world, and He created the possibility of wealth through its natural resources, the earth's fertility, and the mind of man. Creation and all its ingredients are the handiwork of the triune God and none other. It is His law therefore which is the only true ground for godly wealth. The Lord condemns all trust in wealth as a form of humanism, as a kind of worship of the creation of our own hands rather than the Creator of all.
This, however, is the kind of wealth the modern state regards as alone acceptable, a state-created, humanistic wealth. Instead of being defined in terms of some God-given aspect of creation, gold, silver, land, or other assets, all wealth is to be reduced to state-created paper. Now the value of money is its liquidity which makes for its ready and easy use. When the modern hyper-taxing state creates a paper money inflation, it thereby requires every other form of wealth to be equally liquid. The family farm is no longer an inheritance from the past to the future generations; it is converted from a stable form of wealth to a highly unstable and liquid form by paper money, inflation and taxation. In the years of limited state power, the tax on a family farm in many areas was a few dollars at most. After World War II, many farmers were shocked when their taxes hit $25 and then $50; now they run into the thousands of dollars. At present, a growing number of American farmers are in serious trouble because of the combination of high taxes and debts they cannot repay. In the United States, every economic crisis has been preceded by a farm crisis.
Decapitalization is a world-wide fact today. In the Soviet Union, it is far gone, and not for the first time. In 1939, Stalin's Russia was bankrupt; by means of World War II, it recapitalized itself through an act of piracy approved by Roosevelt and Churchill. The Soviet Union was allowed to seize Central Europe, cannibalize East Germany and Poland, and more. Since then, the Soviet Union has been recapitalized annually by aid from the United States, and from American and European banks, These loans have been even more profitable than the seizure of Central Europe perhaps. However, both by its foreign and its domestic policies, the United States has been decapitalizing itself. A socialistic economy is a parasitic one: its continued life depends on the life of the host. Both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. are today parasites living off the American people. There is no future for the American people until they rid themselves of the parasites, which means a radical change of perspective with regard to the nature of civil government.
Unless we have freedom under God and in obedience to Him, our definition of wealth is born of hunger, not of bounty. One American, long a prisoner in the Soviet Union, saw wealth as one potato, and two potatoes as undreamed of wealth. A refugee couple from Cambodia celebrated their wedding anniversary in the Cambodian jungle with an unexpected and welcome gift in their hunger, a rat's skin shared with them, to boil into a broth. A decapitalized (and unfree) society redefines wealth in pathetic terms. To each according to his needs, Marx held, and the Marxists have reduced the level of needs 10 beggarly dimensions. They have redefined wealth to make it the legitimate possession of the state and none other.
Redefinition has occurred in many areas. Students are routinely taught that there is an economic distinction between consumption and investment. Franklin W. Ryan, and Dr. Elgin Groseclose, in his excellent America's Money Machine: The Story of the Federal Reserve System, show otherwise. (The family is called by them the greatest production enterprise in society, and yet we are today at war against the family.) If I feed myself and my family, I am investing in our future; if I use junk food, I am making a poor investment. Whatever money I spend on the family is either a good or bad investment or consumption. To indict the idea of consumption is absurd; there is good consumption and unsound consumption.
The point of it all is that we are seeing an assault on and an erosion of the Biblical doctrine of wealth and stewardship. In its place, the state as the new god wants to remake man and society, and it believes that it can also create wealth by legislation, taxation, redistribution, and controls. What the modern state is accomplishing instead is the erosion of true wealth, and morality as well. The modern state has become history's great devourer of widows' houses, while it talks piously of a love for the poor, and the church is largely silent in the face of this growing evil. The sure promise of God to all such is judgement, unless men separate themselves from these evil ones to the Lord, Who says to us today as Moses did when Israel worshipped the golden calf, "Who is on the LORD'S side? Let him come unto me" (Ex. 32:26). (March, 1982)
(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 143; "Wealth and the State", Chalcedon Position Paper No. 30)