I’ve been asked to prepare half a side of A4 on “the Lutheran view of capitalism” for one of our denominational committees. It’s intended as one of a series of short statements setting out “the Lutheran view” on various topical issues.
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Would be interested to know what people think – though do bear in mind the context and limitations of the remit (he said, carefully 😉 )…
The Lutheran view of… capitalism
“Capitalism” is an umbrella term for a wide range of economic systems that have developed since the end of the middle ages, all of which have varying degrees of public and private-sector involvement in their economies.
The Bible is not an economics text book, and Lutherans (and other Christians) disagree over the extent to which Christians can or should support any given economic system. However, Lutherans (as with other Christian traditions) have had a profoundly ambivalent relationship with capitalism, and with money and wealth more generally – as would be expected from followers of the One who said “you cannot serve both God and Mammon”.
Luther condemned in characteristically strong terms the early capitalism that was developing in 16th century Germany, writing: “Daily the poor are defrauded. New burdens and high prices are imposed. Everyone misuses the market in his own willful, conceited, arrogant way, as if it were his right and privilege to sell his goods as dearly as he pleases without a word of criticism.” Elsewhere, he went even further: “Little thieves are put in the stocks, great thieves go flaunting in gold and silk.”
However, Luther was also critical of those (such as St Francis of Assisi) who had advocated the total renunciation of wealth by Christians. He asserted that “silver and gold … are good creatures of God” – the problem was their misuse, not their existence. “If God has given you wealth, give thanks to God, and see that you make right use of it”.
What does it mean to make “right use” of our wealth? Lutherans understand this in terms of vocation. This is our belief that the Christian life is one in which we use our abilities and wealth to serve our neighbours in the ordinary spheres of human existence in which we find ourselves: as husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, and as citizens (including, today, as voters).
For some, this service of neighbour through our vocations may include working to change aspects of the political or economic system that are unjust. For others, perhaps most, the priority will be serving our neighbour within whatever economic system we find ourselves living in.