I have written many times that free markets depend on free men, and free men are not to be had apart from the gospel. Another way of putting this is that men who are slaves to sin will not be able to create or sustain any kind of significant liberty anywhere else. Freedom from sin is the central freedom, and this depends on slavery to Christ (Rom. 6:20,22). When we are enslaved to Christ, we are as a consequence liberated from ever-increasing iniquity, and this in turn works outward into every other aspect of our lives (1 Cor. 7:22-23). When this spiritual freedom has permeated throughout the rest of our lives (and throughout our cultural life as a people), we should not readily submit again to a yoke of slavery (Gal. 5:1). If we find ourselves slipping back into slavery, it is our duty to resist it — but we must resist it biblically. Is the pressure coming from outside, from those who hate liberty because they despise the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 3:17), and is it being applied to those who really are walking in the Spirit? If so, then stand fast — resist straight up. But there is another possibility. Is it coming from inside, from a gross spiritual declension, such that the people of God have backslidden into a spiritual slough, one that makes civic and political liberty impossible to sustain? If that is the case, then the way out is repentance, reformation, and revival. If the enemies are internal, then fighting externally won’t help.
In other words, someone is approaching you with economic chains that he wants to shackle you with. The basic question is this: is he walking up to a free man in order to get the fight of his life? Or is he walking up to someone who has already sold his heart for some spiritual trinkets — is he walking up simply to amen what you have already done? If it is the latter, then all the yelling in the world won’t help. Cry out to the Founders, to the Markets, to Capitalism, to all the idols of the Right. Shout louder. Cut yourself with knives. Dance in a tight, little circle and pray for fire to fall on the congressional elections of 2010.
But spiritual liberty, referred to above in Gal. 5:1, is not an airy fairy freedom. It is real freedom, and it leads inexorably to every other kind of genuine liberty. The fruit of real forgiveness is manifold, and it includes the freedom to buy apples and pears in an unregulated market. It includes the freedom to offer a job to someone at a wage agreeable both to you and to him. It includes the freedom to keep what you earn, not feeling pressure to hide it from the tax man. It includes the freedom to live where you please, buy what you please, drive what you please, and sell what you please. This is not unrestricted — God’s law restricts it. But it is a freedom that ought not be restricted by mortal men who want to be as God.
God has given us moral direction in economic affairs. The law of God applies to financial transactions, of course. It most certainly does — stealing is a financial transaction, and God prohibits it. But the law of God (which is our liberty) governs our economic life in a particular way. If God has told me not to do something, then I may not do it. But if He has not given any direction, if He has said nothing about it, then I am at complete liberty to do that thing, and others do not have the right to take away what God has given.
But men are sinners and frequently do what they do not have the right to do. As a practical matter, it is possible that I have chained myself to a set of personal sins that make it impossible for me to resist the power-hungry grabbers of the state, and which make it impossible for me to answer the fellow-travelers of and apologists for those grabbers within the Church. In my judgment, the prevalent economic confusions within the Church argue for a conditions of deep spiritual declension indeed. When economic nonsense begins to make sense to us, something else is seriously wrong.
Take this memorable phrase from Bunyan: “It came burning hot into my mind, whatever he said and however he flattered, when he got me to his house, he would sell me for a slave.” We live in a time when the flatterers from outside are being given an audience inside, and the economic confusions within the Church are rampant. To resist these confusions is not an accommodation to the spirit of the Enlightenment. I don’t oppose inflation because I belong to the Austrian or Chicago school of economics — I oppose it because Isaiah the prophet lamented similar confusions in his day (Is. 1:22). Does anybody want to seriously maintain that everybody thought dishonestly diluting the wine with water was okay until Adam Smith? If an atheist from the Austrian school says that we should have honest weights and measures, and a professing Christian from the Muddle school thinks that we shouldn’t be confined to those categories, what should we do? To the law and the testimony, all of which was settled in canonical order long before the first unbeliever with some horse sense arrived (Lev. 19:35; Dt. 25:15; Prov. 20:10). My objection is to those Christians who want their theological confusion to cover for their economic confusion, and who want their declared good intentions to serve as an all-purpose fix-it card. But what they are actually failing at is doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God (Mic. 6:8). How can you do justly when you are jacking the little guy around? How can you love mercy when devouring widows’ houses? How can you walk humbly before God when you have assumed authority over trillions of economic transactions?
I wrote before that trusting the markets was simply another way of trusting God. This is what I mean. Compare the markets to driving on the highway, and the basic traffic regulations (like “drive on the right”) are the laws that God has given us concerning our financial lives. Don’t steal. Fulfill your contracts. Don’t defraud. As long as someone is driving on the right, and is not careening down the road at ninety, it is absolutely none of my business where he is going, and what snacks he might be eating on the way.
The economic control freaks don’t want to agree on a few basic rules for the game; they want to determine the outcome of the game, and every move by every player during the course of the game. They are, in short, aspiring to deity, something which in another era would have excited more opposition from Christians than it has now.