The following article was written by John Livingston, a deacon at Midway Presbyterian Church where my wife and I attend. For the record, our church has been open since April of 2020. One of the requirements of “the Lord’s bond-servant” is that he must handle “accurately the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) and be “able to teach” (2:24). To teach, a teacher must know God’s Word and know how to apply it. Timothy had known “the sacred writings from childhood” (3:15). The same should be true of every deacon and elder. In fact, it should be true of all of us.
What follows was included at the end of a Deacon’s Report and titled “Does the Bible Speak to Modern Issues?” Indeed it does, as John makes clear.
A long, long time ago, the prophet Isaiah came before the people of Israel and spake thusly: “Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water” (Is. 1:22).
Some people may wonder if the Bible, as old as it is, speaks to the issues we face in our modern world. This one verse is proof positive that it does. That’s because there’s nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9). And, more importantly, God made all things, and more than anything else Christianity is an ethical religion that draws a boundary between right and wrong. It starts with the one true God. The Children’s Catechism that our kids learn in Sunday school asks, “Are there more gods than one?”
The answer we speak back is simple: “There is only one true God.” To paraphrase Jesus, “You are either with me, or you are against me.” Of course, he put it much more eloquently than that: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Mat. 6:24).
Another phrase I am fond of that describes this situation well is this one: there is no neutrality. “Neutrality” as we are taught to think of it in most areas of life is a myth. That’s because most of our actions are either honoring to God through obedience to His commandments, or else they are dishonoring to Him through our disobedience to His commandments.
Christian Economics in One Lesson
The ultimate form of causation in human history is ethical: right vs. wrong. Modern economists do not share this view. In fact, it goes beyond this. They openly reject it. They proclaim economic analysis as value-free—this is self-deception. It is a variation of an ancient temptation: “Hath God said?” Yes, He has. ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ There are negative sanctions attached to this commandment. These negative sanctions are both inherent in the economy and imposed by God on the economy. Our attention to this principle, especially in regard to intervention by the State, determines long-term economic growth or decline. It is time for Christians to be better-equipped for paying such attention.Buy Now
THE PARALLELISM IN THE COMMANDMENTS
If you were to divide the 10 Commandments into two sets of five and set them side-by-side, you would notice some striking parallels.
Consider commandments two (no idol worship) and seven (no adultery). Many times in the Bible God condemns idolatry as spiritual adultery: “You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore” (Ez. 16:17). Making and worshipping idols is like cheating on God.
Consider the 8th commandment: thou shalt not steal. At the center of each set of five commandments, the third commandment and the eighth, you’ll see both involve theft: do not “steal” God’s name (third commandment), and do not steal man’s property (eighth). God places a boundary around His name, and the “property” inside that boundary is off limits except in certain legitimate circumstances. Similarly, He has placed a boundary around our personal property, and the civil government is supposed to defend that boundary by prosecuting thieves who try to take it from us.
In the garden of Eden, God placed a boundary around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: no stealing. Stealing God’s personal property is known as the crime of sacrilege. Adam and Eve committed sacrilege, and for it, they and all creation were cursed. (This is why it is exceptionally bad to steal from the offering plate. You do not want to steal God’s personal property!)
Christianity is a religion of boundaries. Many things are simply common, meaning they are not inherently good or evil, only what we make of them. Like money. Money is not inherently bad—it is not the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10)—because it can be put to good uses or evil uses. But some things are inherently bad: boundary violations.
One of the most memorable moments to me in the TV movie Lonesome Dove, a Western about retired Texas Rangers who want to launch a cattle drive to Montana, is when Gus tells his old friend Jake, “Sorry, Jake, but you crossed the line.” Jake had participated in a heinous murder. He did not try to stop it, even though, as an old Texas Ranger himself, he knew better. As a result, he met judgment at the hands of his old friend Gus and was hanged.
Jake committed the ultimate boundary violation in this life: a capital crime. It cost him his life.
When we Presbyterians say the Lord’s prayer, we ask “Forgive us our debts.” When Methodists say the same prayer, however, they say “Forgive us our trespasses.” (I know, because I was raised as a Methodist.) But these are equivalent phrases because “crossing the (boundary) line” incurs a moral debt that we become responsible for. As the Apostle John wrote, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), and only God can forgive our sins, something that is possible because our debt was paid by the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf.
When we violate God’s commandments, we cross the line, trespass onto restricted property, and become slapped with a debt that must be paid.
When Isaiah talked about silver becoming dross and wine that was mixed with water, he was talking about a boundary violation: theft. These are violations of the 8th Commandment. And what Isaiah was describing by these two illustrations is known today as “inflation.”
ISAIAH’S MESSAGE ON INFLATION
Isaiah’s message was simple: inflation is theft, and therefore it is immoral. People think of “inflation” as rising prices, but the reality is that rising prices are the effect of inflation. Inflation occurs when someone tampers with (increases) the money supply.
It is easy to understand when we think back to the old days when gold coins were used as money. You are familiar with a traditional gold bar. A standard 400-ounce gold bar is worth about $700,000 at today’s prices. But what if you could sell something that looked just like a gold bar, but which only cost you a few thousand dollars to make?
For example, the metal tungsten weighs the same as gold, but it is 400 times cheaper or more. A tungsten brick, coated with 1/16-inch of gold, could be passed off as the real deal and net the counterfeiter quite a profit. It would weigh the same as a solid gold brick, pass the chemical test, would sound the same when you tapped it, and might even pass an x-ray scan.
By selling this convincing counterfeit, the seller would be giving you a lot more money than it’s worth because he thinks he’s buying more gold than he is.
We inherently understand the crime in this act. You know that counterfeiting is wrong; if you counterfeit a few hundred-dollar bills and use them to successfully buy goods or services, then you are stealing. The government treats counterfeiting seriously.
In the old days, when they wanted more money than their taxes were bringing in, kings could shave off a little bit of gold from every coin that flowed through the treasury. A one-ounce gold coin might enter the castle weighing one ounce, and it would leave weighing a little less but valued on its face exactly the same. If the king shaved off a lot, he may fill the hole with some cheap base metal—which Isaiah called “dross.”
This way, the king could raise extra money to spend on his projects without visibly raising taxes. The king could melt down the shavings into new gold coins and spend that money into circulation. Eventually, however, the merchants become wise to the drop in actual value of the gold coins. Using their scales, they discover that the new money contains less gold than the old.
So, to compensate, they raise prices.
The source of the inflation was the king who first debased the gold coins. He was stealing from his subjects by dishonestly passing off the shaved coins as equal in value to unshaved coins. Such a king is committing fraud to get more for less through deception.
Last year saw a record-breaking $3 trillion in stimulus that the Federal government launched after the coronavirus pandemic caused governors all over the country to shut down the economies in their states. Now, news reports are circulating about “rising inflation expectations.”
The central bank of the United States was given control over the money supply by Congress in 1913. Question: Is the money supply like a rubber band that stretches and contracts?
Banking advocates thought so, arguing that banking panics were the result of “inelastic” money which was too heavily concentrated in a small number of banks. As a result, we needed to create an “elastic” currency that could be expanded or contracted in response to market conditions. (You can read all about it in a paper published by the St. Louis branch of the Federal Reserve here.)
The way the control of the money supply and managing its elastic properties is described makes the whole ordeal sound rather scientific and boring. You get the impression the central bankers are simply pushing and pulling on levers to keep the economy moving safely between the lines, ideally at a rate of moderate growth that is somewhere between the calamity of depression on the left and inflationary boom on the right.
They might describe this kind of intervention as an act of neutral management intended for our protection and well-being—kind of like how the law of gravity operates in a neutral and unbiased way, it always pulls objects towards the center of the planet.
But as a Christian who understands the 8th Commandment—do not steal—you realize that this is not true. Inflating the money supply is not simply a boring, neutral act of economic management. Modern inflation mechanics are sophisticated, for sure. It’s all mostly digital and takes place with the stroke of some keys or at the click of a mouse. But at its heart, it’s just like the king who shaves off a little gold from every coin.
Inflation is an invisible tax. John Maynard Keynes gained his prominent place in economic history because he came before governments during the Great Depression and told them that the solution to the depression was that they needed to spend more money—music to their ears!
But he was also eloquent when he wanted to be. He understood the truth of inflation. In 1919, when he was a younger man, he very clearly wrote: “Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens…The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.”
The prophet Isaiah was able to diagnose it.
But more importantly, Isaiah explained something else: the inflation being carried out by the leaders of ancient Israel was not the main problem. Rather, it was a symptom of the real problem: a rejection of God’s word in the hearts of the people. Enough people came to believe that it was okay to steal a little bit from your neighbor. As a result, it became a national economic policy.
Theft is not neutral because it violates the ethical boundaries God has drawn within His creation. Therefore, when the central banks create digital money out of nothing to buy anything, they are not acting out a neutral policy of economic management. Instead, they are stealing, silently siphoning wealth from one group of people to the benefit of a different group of people.
In 2020, the central bank of the United States (the Federal Reserve) created enough digital money to buy over $2 trillion in government Treasury bonds in response to the pandemic. This was an act of inflation.
By now, you should also recognize that it was an act of theft. This is why Christians should think differently than the rest of the world. We have God’s laws and commandments. We can truly see the difference between right and wrong. This is a blessing. To quote the Psalmist:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1–3, ESV)
If you would like to help or volunteer in some way, then please also feel free to contact any of us. We welcome the God-given talents and a desire to serve that our members are blessed with, and we want to be able to help you fulfill your calling where possible.
Culture 101: Christ is King Over All
Culture 101 is a much-needed primer on how to live out the Christian worldview. Jesus said to ‘do business’ until He returns, and that means living and working in the world. Christians are sometimes given the idea that only ‘spiritual’ pursuits are worthy of the true Christian, but this is a misguided view. The truly spiritual Christian will have great impact in all areas of life, including business, entertainment, and art.Buy Now