An extract from Gary North’s Chapter 3: Property, in Christian Economics: Student’s Edition
Point one of the biblical covenant is God’s transcendence, yet also His presence. This is the issue of God’s sovereignty. It asks: “Who’s in charge here?” How does this apply to property?
The biblical concept of holiness has to do with ethics. It is a matter of ethical purity. Grammatically, holiness is based on the Hebrew word, qadash. It means to set apart or to consecrate. The English word used in the King James Version of the Bible, “hallowed,” refers to this consecration. Theologically, to be holy is to be set apart by God in terms of ethical purity.
The original setting apart was God’s setting apart of Himself. He is different from the creation. There is a fundamental distinction between the Creator and the creature. This has to do with the very being of God, but it also has to do with the ethical purity of God. He is the ethical standard. His commitment to purity is absolute. Jesus said: “Be perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Another word related to purity is “sanctification.” It also means to be set apart. We speak of someone or something as being sanctified. This is related to the English word, “saint.” We speak of someone as a saint because of the person’s ethical purity. We regard that person as being different from the rest of us. We set apart that person in our own minds. We think to ourselves: “This person is special.” Theologically, we are to begin with God as our model. God is uniquely holy. His holiness makes Him special. There is an English word, “sacrosanct.” It is a combination of “sacred” and “sanctification.” God is uniquely sacrosanct.
The biblical doctrine of creation leads to a conclusion: the universe is personal. We can call this cosmic personalism. The God of creation providentially upholds the entire universe. But because this God is uniquely holy, the universe itself is governed by the ethical standards that God has identified as required for personal holiness. The universe is both personal and ethical.
We do not think of the supposed two trillion galaxies, each with its hundred billion stars, as being related to ethics, but they are. They were created by God and are at all times providentially administered by God. This God is transcendent. He is above the creation. He is fundamentally different from the creation. He is the source of the creation. He has delegated to mankind the administration of the earth and any other place in the universe where men may eventually travel, either before or after the final judgment. God’s dominion is inherently and inescapably ethical.
Every social science is at bottom ethical. Secular scientists usually deny this. They believe that the scientific principles that govern their area of study are ethically neutral. They search for causes and effects in history, and they insist that these causes and effects are governed by impersonal laws that have no connection to ethics. In other words, they deny the existence of ethical cause and effect that is transcendent to man in his institutions. Social scientists and historians acknowledge that particular views of ethical cause and effect do have effects in history. But they insist that these views were invented by individuals, and these theories have no connection to any transcendent source of social order. This is the atheists’ view of society. It is dominant in academia. It is at war with the biblical worldview.
Point two of the biblical covenant is hierarchical authority. It asks: “To whom do I report?” How does this apply to property?
God’s covenant with mankind, which was made before either man or woman was created, is a covenant of service. Mankind is dependent on God. God upholds mankind and man’s environment by means of providence. God created mankind in order to serve Him as His corporate agent in extending the kingdom of God across the face of the earth. Man is a legal agent. Man is also an economic agent. God holds individuals and institutions responsible for the administration of the assets He has delegated to them, including their own lives.
This system of service to God mandates service to the creation. Men represent God to the creation, and they also represent the creation to God. What mankind does as God’s agent influences what happens in the general creation. When men rebelled against God in the garden, the world came under negative sanctions. This was taught explicitly by the apostle Paul in the eighth chapter of the epistle to the Romans.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Romans 8:18–22).
Men are to serve as stewards over the creation. But this is only part of the story. Covenant-keeping people are also to serve as stewards in their relationship with others in God’s church. Jesus was explicit about this.
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25–28).
This principle of service is fundamental to a correct Christian understanding of the free market economy. In order to prosper in a free market, producers must serve the desires of customers. Producers dare not lord it over customers. Customers, because they have money, lord it over producers. Money is the most marketable commodity. Everybody would like more money, but at zero additional cost, of course. This is the basis of consumer authority in the free market.
If someone wants success, he must learn to serve. This is fundamental to the free market social order, and it is fundamental in nonprofit institutions. This is a matter of ethics. God built this into the social order from the beginning. There is an ethical cause-and-effect system that is inherent in the human condition. It did not come from man. It came from God.