Divine Institutions. Acts 4, Genesis 1:27-28
Acts chapter five talks about how the believers in the early church were handling their property. What they did was a matter of their own personal volition, as it is for any of us when it comes to giving. This is really an example of giving in the early church but it fits within a specific context and it is often distorted in numerous periodicals, speeches or political statements. And this is one of the key passages to try to support some kind of idea that Christianity and Jesus really supports some kind of socialism, some kind of communal property; and that couldn't be any further from the truth.
The Bible is not an economics textbook, history textbook, or a text book on science, but it reveals a lot of universal creation truths that God embedded in His creation. And God as the sovereign creator over all of His creation has revealed these principles to us and we can deduce them from His Word. The Bible presents us with a unified view of reality—it is God's view of reality. The Bible was written by over 40 different authors but they all present one consistent, unified viewpoint on everything that they touch. There are no contradictions within the Scripture. The Scripture gives us a framework for thinking, and again and again we have an emphasis in Scripture on thought. This applies to every area of life. Too often Christianity comes to things somewhat superficially, not so much in the historical development of Christianity and theology but in our contemporary times. We think of application in very narrow, personal ways. A lot of this has to do with the way our culture has changed over the last 100 years and how we look at that which we call religion or Christianity. It has become personal, private, subjective. It has become your opinion: what works for you is fine, but over here it may be a little bit different and so that is fine. But this destroys the whole concept of truth and any sense of absolute, so how can the word "true" in that kind of context even have any kind of meaning. This is the attack of our culture on Christianity today and it is only going to get worse, because as the percentage of unbelievers in the culture increases they gain great courage from being associated with others who are coming our of the closet, as it were, and their anti-Christianity, including a number of people who have always been in church of some kind just because it was the socially acceptable kind of thing, but they never were believers.
We have a struggle there because our culture was founded on Judeo-Christian absolutes, and the founding fathers and their generation understood these things and that they had a biblical source. They were the beneficiaries of a tremendous heritage of thought that was handed down to them via the English Puritans and Presbyterians. Because in the context of the bitter battles that took place between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, in England especially—to some degree on the Continent but more specifically in England and Amsterdam. They were trying to rebuild their culture from the bottom up, based on biblical truth, and so they thought profoundly and deeply about a lot of issues that today are usually not thought of as coming out of the Scriptures, including things like economics. Part of understanding this is going back to the whole topic of divine institutions—one of the most helpful tools when thinking about culture, thinking about what is going on in the world around us and how to analyze, especially when it comes to politics. The divine institutions are for everyone whether they are a believer or an unbeliever, and they were established by God for the purpose of giving stability and productivity to the human race and also for restraining the negative consequences of sin upon society. In the 1600s they (the Puritans especially) clearly understood these as divine institutions in the sense that we teach them.
The term "divine institutions" has been used by Christians to speak of certain absolute social structures that God embedded into the nature of human existence from the instant of creation. They were designed for the stability and support of the human race and its perpetuation, so it is for all human beings. This is something that was designed so that the human race can function.
Modern paganism views them as byproducts, as evolutionary developments, the result of trial and error procedure and that by learning about these things man was able to come together and somehow organize himself socially so that he could achieve things a little more effectively. Therefore within the human view point pagan framework these divine institutions are not seen as absolutes but they bare seen as being relative and that they can be tinkered with, changed at will, and that society itself can be experimented with and restructured according to the thinking of any culture and it won't destroy the culture. That thought can only be the result of the thinking that God is not in control and there aren't universal absolutes—everything is the product of time plus chance and man is truly the master of his destiny and his culture.
The way the world looks at these institutions is as human conventions. They become culturally accepted, cultural norms, but they are not true for ever culture, every person throughout all time and space. Whereas the Bible looks at them as institutions, as something that God establishes that has universal application and is, as it were, a universal social law.
There are five of these. The first is individual responsibility, the second is marriage, the third is family, the fourth is government or judicial authority, and the fifth has to do with nations. Human responsibility, marriage, and the family were all given prior to the fall. Therefore they are not given to the human race in relation to sin; they were something that provided in order to somehow control the new sinful direction of the human soul. They were given before sin ever came so that within the structure of these three the human race can take what God originally gave them and make it productive.
That idea of productivity is a core element within an understanding of economic system: that man is supposed to be productive. From the very beginning God designed man to be productive. This was built on three things: individual responsibility—each individual is responsible and accountable to God.
Each divine institution has an authority structure. Authority is embedded within the Godhead. God the Father is the authority and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit follow that authority. They are equal in essence but there is an authority structure because authority is necessary to get anything done, and it has nothing to do with equality. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal in terms of their essence or being but they are distinct in terms of their role or their function.
Second, we have marriage. Genesis 1:27 NASB "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." This shows that there is a corporate sense there related to marriage in fulfilling the creation mandate. He didn't give it to Adam and then separately give it to Eve. That is really important, that in a culture today that is so far removed from that that we have vast numbers of our culture and nation that are single, where everything is atomized to the individual. But that is not the structure that we see here; everything was grounded on this corporate union of marriage and then family. That didn't mean that there was not individual responsibility. Individual responsibility, each individual being responsible to God is then what makes the corporate union of marriage work. It takes two to make marriage work, two people who are positive to God, ideally within the Christian marriage; it only takes one who rejects divine absolutes to make the marriage a failure.
Third there is family, designed to promote productivity—advance civilization, from the very beginning.
Then there are two more that come into play. There is government which is established in the Noahic covenant. When God made the covenant with Noah this is the first time on record that He delegates judicial authority to the human race, saying that whenever man sheds man's blood then man should shed the blood of the criminal himself. So he established a judicial authority, a governing authority. But it is not nations yet. The national division doesn't come in until God divides the human race through the imposition of languages at the tower of Babel. So the fourth and fifth divine institutions are designed to restrain evil. When we talk about economics we learn a lot from the first three because that is designed to promote productivity and the advance of civilization.
Each divine institution has an authority structure. In the first divine institution the authority is God. In the second divine institution, marriage, the authority is the husband. In the third divine institution the authority is the parents. In the fourth divine institution of human government the authority is the executive, whatever that might be and in whatever form that might take—in a monarchy, the king; in an oligarchy it would be a group of the elite, etc., but there is some group or individual that is the ultimate authority within that nation. Then when we come to national entities the ultimate authority once again is God because each nation is accountable to God. Deuit6eronomy states that God has established the boundaries of the nations, and Paul reiterates that fact in Acts chapter seventeen.
But the key to really understanding economics is analyzing, drilling down on this idea of individual responsibility as it is laid out in Genesis chapters two and three. In chapter two God commands to Adam what he is responsible for, and chapter three shows what changes as a result of sin entering in to the human race.
There are three elements to individual responsibility. The first is spiritual or individual accountability. Each person is accountable to God. The second is labor or productivity. He is to responsibly serve God. The third has to do with private property. We have chosen to use the terminology "individual responsibility." Others have called it simply responsibility, volition, personal responsibility, responsible dominion, responsible labor. A number of different pastors have focused on different aspects within this so we can see by this listing of those different terms that all of these different elements are seen as part of what is communicated in Genesis chapter two. "Individual responsibility" gets at the main thrust. God gives tasks, responsibilities to Adam and Eve in the garden and they were to be held accountable for that together and individually. The main idea here is that we are responsible for the choices that we make and how we utilize the resources that God gives us.
That takes us back to the basic definition of economics. Remember it comes from the Greek word oikonomia [o)ikonomia]—house law literally, but it has to do with administration. Economics has to do with how we administer and manage the resources that we have. From that comes the idea of economics, and on the broader scale how groups of people, cultures, manage the resources they have in terms of raising food, what they do with the excess of produce that they have. All of these things relate to the management of resources. This whole idea goes back to Genesis 1:26, 27 and 2:15.
As Christians we have to start with the Bible. Part of the problem we will see is that most economic theories in human practice are starting with experience as opposed to starting with God. That doesn't mean that they don't end up with the same amount of truth. Some end up with more truth than others do, but we should remember that most of these human systems we talk about—whether it is capitalism, socialism, Marxism, or whether we are talking about different schools within capitalism—they all start with an analysis of what is happening in culture. They are not starting with the Word of God as the starting point. As Christians that is where we have to start.
Man was created in the image of God as a reflection of God—Genesis 1:26, 27. The word "image" has to do with the idea that man was a reflection of God's basic makeup, a finite representation of God so that he could have a relationship with God and was in turn to reflect God to that which he was set over.
We have to start with who God is. We know He exists as a Trinity. We want to bring in some ideas here that this is where we really start focusing on thinking about economics. We learn, although we don't always understand it as we learn it, that God is one in essence, yet three in person. We learn that what can be said of the Father can also be said of the Son. What can be said of the Son can also be said of the Holy Spirit. They are one in a unity that is comprised of three separate persons, and we can't quite grasp all that that means.
But there is a social dimension here. This dimension is missing in other systems of monotheism that we would call unitarian monotheism, because they have an eternal deity that is solitary, and there is no object for his love, and he is not love. This is seen in its worst case scenario with Allah in Islam because Allah has no one to love. So either he creates an object for his love—which means that he is dependent upon his creatures to show love—or he really isn't love. That is the reality in Islam because Allah is never said to be love. The word "love" is never applied to God in the Quran at all. In solitary monotheism the god is dependent on a creature in order to express that attribute. And if God is self-sufficient and independent then He is either a loving God that has a multiplicity of persons within His Godhead or He is not God because He would be dependent upon His creation.
So this brings into bear the social dimension of the Trinity. There is also an economic dimension to the Trinity. We probably never thought of using the term "economics" that way, but this is how God administers His plan. Remember, economics has to do with the management and administration of resources. So this is how God administers His plan. For example, the plan of salvation. God the Father is the architect of the plan of salvation, God the Son carries it out, and God the Holy Spirit is the one who reveals and applies the plan of salvation. They have distinctive roles. And in theological literature these will be described. The social aspect is often referred to as the ontological Trinity, but that is a tough word for a lot of people to process so we'll just call it the social dimension. This sounds theoretical but if we don't start here and build on this foundation then everything else really does begin to fall apart.
What we see here is that in God, in the creator, the supreme being who creates the heavens, the earth, the seas and all that is in them, the social dimension and the economic dimension are inseparable. We can't have social one way and economic another way. What is the application of that? How many times today do we hear somebody say, well I'm a social liberal but an economic conservative? You can't be that and really hold to a Trinitarian view of economics. If you hold to a Trinitarian view of economics, a Trinitarian view of reality, then your view of society and relationships has to be consistent with your view of the function and role and the operation of the Godhead. If you have them in conflict then you have a God who is conflicted and is inconsistent. All things have to hold together ultimately in a unity in the Godhead. Social issues and economic issues are not separable. You can't say you are going to follow this view on social views and this view on economic views. Ultimately they have to be consistent and they have to be built on the same foundation.
Another thing we know from observing the passages in Genesis 1:27, 28 is that God created man with a purpose. He gave him a role, a function, things to do. There are five commands in verse 28. "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." This isn't something that is said after the fall. And that is really important, because this has to do with man's mission to rule over all of the planet. He was to take domi9nion over all of the resources that God put on the planet. Adam and Eve as finite creatures could not ever do that. It would be impossible to fulfill the original creation mandate here by just two people. So they are told to fill the earth and subdue it. The idea here is that they were to have children and were to teach their children, and the human race was to serve under the authority of God and exercise dominion and develop the resources of the planet. This planet has gold, silver, petroleum, animals, trees and all kinds of natural resources that were untapped an undiscovered and unused. It was part of the responsibility of the human race to discover all of the qualities of these resources and then to exploit them in a positive sense—to use them.
Then in Genesis 2:15 God gave another command to the man (not to Eve) because he is the head of the team. God put the man in the garden to cultivate it. This is the Hebrew word which means to work and also to serve and to guard. There is a negative also. In Genesis 2:17 they are not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But in the process God gives another responsibility and that was to name all the animals. This begins the process of looking at the natural resources and understanding them. The first resource God directs Adam to is the animals, to name them. What is involved in that? (It is not all the animals at this point, the term use here would relate to the domestic animals that would populate the immediate garden) He has to start observing, and then makes conclusions and names them. Then God had to create a helper to help Adam in the task of managing these resources that God has set up, a helper in fulfilling the mandates to be fruitful, to multiply, fill the earth and subdue it and rule over it. That is the management idea. Together they are going to serve and guard in the garden.
So what we see here is individual accountability, labor, productivity, man is going to enjoy the rewards of his work, and there is private property—they are put in charge of a specific piece of real estate. Who owns the real estate? God owns the real estate. This is important because when we get over into Exodus and look at the Mosaic Law God is going to give the Israelites the land of Canaan, and this is going to be their promised land. When we read through the Mosaic Law we see that they do have an income tax, a set income tax, a flat-rate tax of ten per cent. There are three of them—not progressive though, it was to be equitable. What is the key word that we want for law? It should be just, or righteous. God defines righteousness in the pattern of His law. That law came from God; it is perfect and it can't be improved upon. That means that anything that changes that is not improved. So progressive taxation is a violation of the pattern that God established in the Law.
There are two types of taxes that we have to day that were not in the Mosaic Law. There was no inheritance tax. Why? Because God wants to people to be productive and to amass wealth generationally. We can't do that if there is a penalty for accumulating wealth called an inheritance tax. Secondly, there was no property tax. Property tax implies that the ultimate owner of the real estate is the state. But who owns the land? God does. So that sees man as a steward, man as a responsible manager who is given land that he is to do something with. In the Mosaic Law the state doesn't have the right to come in and tax that because the state doesn't own it, God does. But what happens in an autonomous state that has rejected the role of God in terms of the ownership of His creation is that the state comes is and says it really owns all of this land, you are just a tenant and are going to pay us X-number of dollars a year for property tax.
Now just because we live in a nation that has property taxes and that is not a genuinely, consistently biblical idea, it doesn't mean we don't pay our property taxes. We still render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. But we need to get rid of the property tax and the inheritance tax because these violate the principle of productivity. They hold us back and they just put more money in the hands of government so that what happens is that government takes over more and more arenas of responsibility that belong to the individual, the marriage or the family, and they are usurping control and bringing it under their own area because they want to control the resources or the money.
Labor, then, should be defined as responsible to service to God. God put man in the garden to serve God. Labor is responsibly serving God and it was a pleasurable and an enjoyable activity. And it provided opportunity for the creature to develop and expand through the use of his own initiative and creativity the resources that God had given him under God's authority.
What makes a person creative is that they are not restricted by boundaries. A person who is creative is not going to be bound by tradition or convention, or what has been done; he wants to find a new way to do it, a new way to express it. So there is something within the nature of creativity that is pushing some boundaries. The trouble in a fallen world is there are some boundaries you can't change. Observation: People who are extremely creative also have a very difficult time with authority, and they have a very difficult time with the authority of God, because part of this thing about being creative has something to do with pushing boundaries, doing something new, doing something in a different way, and not being able to recognize what boundaries can be crossed and what boundaries can't be crossed; and the divine institutions are boundaries that can't be crossed. A creative person wants to think outside the box, and that is great as long as the box isn't the creation ordinances of God and the moral absolutes of God.
So labor is responsible service and it is up to man to exploit (in a good sense), use or develop what God has provided in terms of raw material and then to explore all of its properties and qualities and to build and develop things with it. As he does that then the things that are developed have use and value to the culture.
Economics is the study of values: the value that a market imputes to a person's productivity. From the time of the garden there is an assignment of value to what people produce—at least, potentially. So questions need to be raised. Is value determined objectively or subjectively? If we read in Genesis chapter two we realize that on the surface of the earth there were places where gold and silver and precious metals could be found that have great value today. Is gold and silver are intrinsically valuable or is it that as a culture we just assign value. That is important because when we assign value to gold, what did we just do? We imputed value. That is the term. Doesn't this have something to do with the gospel here and imputation? It is interesting how all these things relate to one another. Returning to the question, is the value inherent in the thing itself? If you are stranded out on some plains with a lot of gold but not much food or water, what is more valuable, a ton of gold or a couple of gallons of water? It is relative. The value of the gold is going to be determined by what it can help you get; the value of the food and the water happen to have much greater value. So when we talk about value we need to think in terms of what makes something valuable.
How do we understand value?
1. God evaluated labor in Genesis chapter one and said it was good. He evaluated it; He assigned a value to His creation and said it was good. This doesn't mean that God said this was righteous. It isn't being used in a moral sense; it is being used in a functional sense. He had a blue print and a work order, and the work order said on day one you're going to do this. At the end of day one He did this, He accomplished the task, it was exactly what He wanted; it was good. At the end of the week God looked at everything, He had completed the entire project, and He said it was very good. In Genesis chapter two God said it was not good that man should be alone. If good is a moral term then the implication is that it is not moral for a man to be alone, not morally good for a man to be alone. There's a little problem with that. What God is saying is that it is not according to His plan for man to be alone.
2. The creation is good because God says it is good. He is the ultimate standard. The creation conforms to His standard and what He intended.
3. Therefore from Genesis chapter one God imputed value to His creation.
4. God created man in His image, and so man is going to do certain things in his life as an image bearer that reflects God's character and God's mission for Him.
5. Divine institution #1 states that man is responsible to God, therefore man does not operate independently of God but man is to operate dependently upon God. He is to think in terms of the categories and the structure that God has assigned him, but within those categories and structure there is room for development, for man to think in terms of the ability that God has given him.
6. Man is given certain tasks to perform—like naming the animals, classifying them and categorizing them—and so he begins to exercise his dominion over creation.
7. This assignment of value, then, begins to lay down the basic principles that govern our view of economics. How we assign value for the process of trade and exchange.
8. This relates to a fundamental question of economics which is, how do we assign values? Is it intrinsic, which would be objective? Or is it extrinsic, something that is relative to how it is used within a culture? The objective view of value is a theory that there is intrinsic value in gold or silver or diamonds. In the late 1870s economists developed a theory called the marginalist theory of value or the subjective view of value. That has to do with the idea that there is an imputation of value. One of the major proponents in the 20th century of a subjective view of value was Ludwig von Mises. What have we talked about? We have the Godhead, social structure and an economic structure. We can't separate them. God creates man puts them in the garden; they fail. What do we have as a result of failure? We have personal problems now; we have conflict. This develops throughout history and all of a sudden we have trade wars, terrorists, and all of these other things that relate to economics. So we have this brilliant statement by the founder of the Austrian School of Economics (Related to Christianity): "We may leave aside the genuine dogmas such as creation, incarnation, the Trinity, as they have no direct bearing on the problems of inter-human relations." Did you catch that? This is why the fundamental issue is, how do you know what you know? What is your ultimate view of reality? Here is a guy who is the founder of a school of economics, and this is not just picking on him. This is the flaw of human thought, the flaw of empiricism. He says forget the Trinity, forget the incarnation, forget that God is creator; that has no bearing on the problems of inter-human relations. That means you can't start with the Bible to get to truth, you can only start with empiricism. That is just a flawed methodology from the get-go but it is not unique to him. Now he came to a lot of really good decisions, as do others; but it is not because they are consistent with their foundation, it is because they happened to stumble on some creation truth and they stuck with it.
Value is assigned, but there are exceptions. This is why we have to stick with the Scriptures. For example, we take the Bible as a book and take Playboy Magazine as a book. In a decadent society or in certain sub-cultures within that society the Bible has no value in the market place, but there is great value placed on pornography. Which as intrinsic value? The Bible does because it is God's Word. The Scripture says it is more to be desired than gold. So some things have intrinsic value? But what are they? They are the things that relate to eternity, to the Godhead. That is where the ultimate value lies. So once again if we think in terms of economics we have to break it down in terms the the creator-creature distinction, the role of the creator and the role of the creature. Value is assigned by God, so that at the cross where the eternal second person of the Trinity pays the penalty for sin God imputes a value to that. That value, then in turn, gets imputed to every human being that trusts in Christ for salvation. That is an understanding of justification.