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Do You Study Biblical Economics from a “Whole Bible?”

dennis peacockeby Dennis Peacocke

We Christians are a strange lot. Frequently, we say we believe one thing but live out our lives quite differently. While hypocrisy is one thing, “spiritual blind-spots” are another. Problematic as hypocrisy is, it is not my concern in this article; rather, I am concerned with our “blind spots.” A blind spot is an area of speech, action, or thinking that we have and practice which we simply don’t see or acknowledge. All of us have them and so do virtually all human organizations, and certainly all Christian denominations. Since a number of the articles in this issue of Business Reform magazine deal with business practices and the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament, I couldn’t resist sharing on the issue of a “whole Bible.” I have taught on this frequently over the years in numerous settings and seminars.

Firstly, many Christians are not really clear on how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament in terms of its mandated application to “New Testament Christians.” Indeed, that is at the very heart of the issue of how the Ten Commandments relate to Christian business practices today. To attempt to enumerate the commandments’ required effect on current business practices is putting the cart before the horse. The first question really is, “Does the Old Testament apply to anything today other than as a source of the history of Israel; God’s dealings in ancient Middle-Eastern culture; prophecies concerning Jesus and their fulfillment; and great sermon lessons and comforting Psalms?” Having traversed the Body of Christ for years, I can assure you that this critical issue of how the Old Testament is relevant for us today in general, and the question concerning the role of both the Ten Commandments and biblical law in particular, is a widely problematic issue in many areas of the church.

Virtually all Christians say that they believe in the Bible; God’s Word; or the “Scriptures.” Obviously, those who are theologically inclined, as we all should be in at least a comprehensive sense, will want to further refine those beliefs about God’s Word into categories of “inerrancy” and the like. Most believers would not be familiar with such distinctives unless their pastors or an admired teacher or friend would explain to them why those kind of issues are genuinely important. The long and the short of what I am saying here is this: many believers have no clear theological connection between Old and New Testaments in terms of comprehensive relevancy and current applicability. This is especially true if they begin to try and sort out how Christians relate to biblical law; the issues of grace and works salvifically; how biblical law relates to non-believers and the world-system’s culture, etc., etc.

Since this brief article is not intended to be a comprehensive discussion of these vital issues let me simply say this, from a “fifty-thousand foot view,” the Old Testament deals with the origins of man; Israel; the foundations of biblical culture (the Laws); Israel’s prophetic history; the Prophets and their judgments in God in their own contemporary times, as well as the prophecies of Christ and the future. The New Testament is about Christ and His ministry; early church history; the revelation of the church; prophetic letters of encouragement; and the Pauline epistles of church doctrine and practice. Among the most important points I can make is simply this, the early church was studying the Old Testament as the only scriptures that tradition had certified. There was no “New Testament” until the fourth century. For nearly four centuries, the early church was building its life and practices, both personally and culturally, on the Old Testament scriptures, and whatever fragments or portions a particular church had of the “New Testament” epistles. What does that suggest to us about how Christian business people in the foundation-laying stages of the church may have related to the Ten Commandments? Obviously, most of them would have applied them to their lives and practices since they were viewed as divine revelation and still binding upon them. That being said, let’s face the issue head on.

Is the Word of God a Binding Standard for All Men?

Most of the church world has quietly and ignorantly slipped into agreement with surrounding society, believing that the Bible and its commandments are only applicable to Christians. This leaves the unsaved living politically, economically, and morally outside of the standards of scripture. The church has let society off the biblical hook and tacitly agreed that the ordering of humanity is a political issue rather than a spiritual issue and, therefore, falls outside of the standards of God’s Word. Freed from the restraint of God’s standards, the increasing moral insanity, cruelty, and dehumanization that surrounds us is a testimony of what occurs when the secular world is released by the church to set standards for running society apart from and hostile to God’s Word. Separated from the plumbline of God’s Word, untended by the church, the people of the world are increasingly pulled apart as they are drawn into the world foreseen by the English poet, W. B. Yeats:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
the falcon cannot hear the Falconer;
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold…”

How did Jesus answer the question regarding the universal application of God’s Word upon all men? Let us hear God’s Word:
• “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of God’s mouth.” Matt. 4:4 (Notice Christ said “man” is under God’s Word, not just “Christians.”)
• “Go and disciple all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.” Matt. 28:18-20.
• “…the fact is that the law of God is not made for the righteous man but for those who are lawless and rebellious…for those who do things contrary to biblical teaching.” 1 Tim. 1:9-10

What think ye of the Bible? All men will be driven by the conflict to answer this question. God’s answer, given to Isaiah over twenty-five centuries ago, will again ring out in twentieth century streets:

“A voice says, ‘Call out.’ Then he answered, ‘What shall I call out?’
…surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades
but the Word of our God stands forever.” Isa. 40:6-8

As scripture clearly teaches, God’s Word is absolute reality for all men and the church is to press scripture’s claims upon all men. The Word of God is an absolute standard of reality and revelation for all men, and the God of the Bible judges and holds all men, and nations accountable to His Word. The church—as God’s earthly representative—has no option but to champion God’s Word in every sphere of human endeavor. By example, persuasion, and competitive contrast in the marketplace of ideas, the ordering of society must properly be seen as a “spiritual” issue and not an issue which Christians can avoid. Caring for man is neither “dirty,” because it is political, nor does it fall outside of the concern of the “soul winners.” To the growing army of us who see with increasing clarity the implications of this issue, our motto is fast becoming: “The whole Bible for the whole man and all that he is and does.”

Souls and nations perish when God’s Word is not applied to them by God’s people. A church that loves God and loves people must follow Jesus’ example by giving itself to confront the world, heal it, and if necessary, die for it. Increasingly, numbers of Christian leaders, whatever their eschatological views, are coming to realize and act on the truth that “discipling nations” in the Great Commission requires a Christian witness and activity in every sphere of human life.

While God’s Word cannot be crammed down people’s throats, neither can it be left within the four walls of the church or compartmentalized within the skull of the modern Christian. Christians will be hard-pressed to think through the implications and applications of scripture to the whole of everyday life, but they must. The day is coming upon us when those entering the voting booth will have major decisions to make: Are the candidates and issues upon which Christians are about to cast a vote, issues that the Republicans and Democrats have framed, or are they issues for which God’s Word has set the standard? Christians are going to have to think and vote like Christians.
Does anyone actually imagine that secular society will gladly embrace this focused energy by the church as it enters the dialogue and formation of public policy based on God’s Word? Does anyone actually believe that well-intentioned Christians, who believe the church’s job is only to save souls, will peacefully receive the notion that Christians are to directly confront society as salt and light in the setting of the political consensus? Even a quick addressing of these questions readily yields the obvious: One massive conflict is coming.

Who Owns the Earth?

Does the devil own the earth? Is the current rebellious world order the legitimate ruler of this planet? Are there in fact two legitimate co-existing kingdoms, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan? Did, in fact, Jesus’ blood and atonement once again place the title deed for this planet into His pierced hands and give Him “all authority and power on earth” like He said He had? These are but a few of the gale force winds about to blow over the battlefield of ideas and theology within the church.

What does the Word of God say?
• “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” Psa. 24:1
• “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for Thou wilt judge the peoples with uprightness, and guide the nations on the earth.” Psa. 67:4
• “Arise, O God, judge the earth, for it is Thou who dost possess all the nations.” Psa. 82:8
• “All authority in heaven and earth is given to me, go you therefore.” Matt. 28:18-19
• “God brought about in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and powers and dominion…and He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things…” Eph. 1:20-22
• “He is the head over all rule and authority…He disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” Col. 1:10-15

Cross-Centered Theology

Ultimate spiritual warfare against God is to convince His people that the victory of Christ at the cross was partial or incomplete, able to save souls but unable to restore full authority of God’s earth once again under the hand of His Son. Much of the church currently believes—albeit unwittingly—that Jesus’ cross was only a partial victory and that His claims of total power and ownership of the earth a full two thousand years ago were either deluded or only partially true. Theology or eschatology that does not begin at Christ’s cross and resurrection, but in the book of Daniel or Revelation, always produces relatively powerless Christians. It is the cross, as Paul said, that is the center and power of our gospel.
If, in fact, Jesus wasn’t brain damaged when He said he had been given full power and authority over earth—not in the future, but 2,000 years ago—then a church that teaches or acts as if Satan is today’s legitimate or current owner of the planet and the nations, is undermining the victory of Christ’s cross. If the earth is indeed the Lord’s, then the current world order over which Satan rules is an illegitimate squatter, falsely assuming power and authority that is no longer his.

Much of the church today acts as if the world order is properly ordained to run the affairs of men, that it is a parallel kingdom running properly alongside the Kingdom of God. This being the case, Christians’ primary job is to go on “raiding parties” over into the world system, stealing its captives and bringing them “over to our side.” God’s Word, however, recognizes no such fairytale, and legitimizes no such rebel kingdom to properly co-exist alongside the Kingdom of His Son. Christ Himself tells us that He is going to build a church that will do a ninety-degree turn and attack the rebel kingdom holding mankind prisoner behind its hellish gates!

The early church, the apostles, and the disciples knew nothing about a “legitimate” rebellious world order with which Christians are to politely co-exist. Instead they attacked the earth’s pretender, “turning the world upside down” as they asserted, “There is another king, one Jesus” who is King of kings (geo-political authority) and Lord of lords. Nobody went to the lions in Rome or was beheaded by the authorities for preaching Jesus, the “nice guy Savior.” Make no mistake, the world order will not politely tolerate a challenge to its rulership of this planet by “another King” (Jesus) or by His subjects. This is the stuff of which social revolution is made.
As is predictable, the children of this world are wiser than the church for they understand that there is no peace between “the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent .” There is only war and Jesus already won at the cross! The stench of the serpent’s carcass, however, has cast a deceptive shroud upon the battlefield, blurring Christians’ vision of what Christ already did here and thereby leaving them confused over the issue of who owns the earth.

Whether it is restrictive zoning laws that increasingly limit believers from worshiping with others in their own houses or restricting the location and size of their church buildings, or whether it is well intentioned believers denouncing, with bulging veins, other believers moving out to press the political implications of the victory of Christ’s cross among the nations, the battle from without and within is on for sure.
Perhaps the question should be reframed. “Who owns the earth,” is already a settled issue to growing numbers of us for whom Satan’s fog has lifted. The real question is perhaps, “Who wants the earth?” And that question forces the issue of who is willing to accept the work and responsibility of loving and caring for its people. “Who indeed?” asks the still small voice of the Holy Spirit residing in the center of the storm.
Jesus gave us a very clear picture of how to destroy someone else’s goals and property: You bind up the strong man guarding those goods. Does Father own the earth? Yes. Does Christ own the nations? Yes. Did Christ die and redeem all men? Yes. Are all of these creations property of God and His “things”? Yes. And who is His “strong man” here on earth to guard them? Ten thousand times obvious, the answer is His church! His church is to act as His earthly real estate agent, guarding Christ’s goods, confronting the usurper pharaoh and demanding that His people be released to worship and serve their Creator. So how has pharaoh attempted to spoil Christ’s goods? By binding the church with doctrines and notions which have caused us to focus on heavenly rocking chairs, harps—rescuing souls from a massive rebellious order to which we have treasonously handed over the management of Father’s planet!

Had the church fought and bled and lost Father’s ground, bloody inch by bloody inch, it would be one thing. No, instead, we gave it away, unwilling to shoulder our stewardship or our management responsibilities. Instead, we focused our attention on Christians’ personal peace and our own personal futures. But hear me clearly: A new generation of Christians is gathering that will take Father’s Word and the blood-stained title deed to the earth, held in Christ’s hands, and snap those ropes of deception so that Christ’s rightful property is yielded to Him! How much of the planet will come under Christ’s standards before He comes back is largely speculative and to some degree irrelevant. The point is, as Christ’s earthly stewards, we are “occupying until He comes.”

The Servant Church

Many will use words like “dominion” or “reconstruction” or even “Kingdom of God” to carry the content of these truths. Some will need to be reminded of the sobering truth that rulership or leadership belongs to those who are willing to serve. Jesus, as our model, clearly taught that those who lead must lead by caring, not coercion:

And there arose also a dispute among them as to which of
them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The
kings of the gentiles lord it over them; and those who have
authority over them are called benefactors. But not so
with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as
the youngest, and the leader as the servant.” Luke 22:24-25

Simply stated, the rebellious world order is in direct competition with Christ’s church as to which one of them can best serve people’s needs and free them. The world system seemingly knows this while most of the church does not. Our “raiding parties,” as important as they have been evangelistically, have left the larger matters undone. We have not successfully cared for the nations or the people, and therefore the political governments of the earth have made it their job to do so—to our shame. It is the church that should be setting society’s agenda morally, educationally, and economically. It is the church that should be leading the way in challenging political tyranny and providing solutions to poverty, housing, racism, and capital creation. It is the church which should be on bended knee, towel in hand, not political governments!

So How Should the Ten Commandments Currently Apply to Business Practices?

If the whole Word of God applies to all men, though Christ’s work on the cross frees believers from seeking salvation by obeying the law as an act of works, and Christ owns the earth now and expects us to disciple its nations, then the question is unequivocally answered. Our real question becomes, how do we apply the spirit of the law in a New Testament context as hermeneutically affirmed by the Holy Spirit? As Paul succinctly pointed out, “…the letter of the law kills, but the spirit brings life.”

Our task in the marketplace is the same as the task of every believer in whatever ministry within the culture God has called them to fulfill. Bring God’s Word to bear upon it so as to fulfill Christ’s prayer for believers; “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

By Dennis Peacocke. This article originally appeared in the January 2004 edition of Business Reform Magazine.