Monday, October 26, 2015

Is Biblical Christianity Compatible with Socialism?

I usually don't mettle on political issues unless there is something that has to do with impacting the Christian church. The last time I did something relevant to politics and culture was at the beginning of the second term of the current President's administration.

This upcoming election season has sparked a question, that raises another question. This question has  been raised over the last few decades in various circles. The question is, "Is Christianity compatible with socialism?" or "Are socialism and Christianity similar in their outworkings?

This is a worldview question. We have seen the decisions that have been made that are in direct conflict with the biblical worldview.  Since every political candidate has a worldview, I want to address this issue from a worldview perspective. What I hope to defend in this posting is that socialism, as a political economic theory, is contra-biblical. In other words, it is in total contradiction to the biblical worldview.

Where does this idea come from?

Some have wrestled with the idea of the early church's compassion and distribution of personal wealth and belongings as being a reflection of socialism. We see this in the earliest biblical accounts (Acts 4:32-35), where the believers, after the ascension of Jesus Christ, are described as a compassionate and generous community. Some have even contended that it describes a "proto-socialistic" economic system. But is this true? Allow me to define some terms for us.

Defining our terms.

When I am using the term "socialism" in this posting, I am referring to government mandated activities or government control of assets. When I refer to the ideology of Marxism, I am using this term to refer to the power of the state to take money from some groups of citizens and give it to other groups.  We have heard the terms thrown around, like "the redistribution of wealth" or "social justice." These are buzzwords smuggling in a Marxist ideology.

And then there is the term, "progressive(s)." When we speak of progressivism, it is another word for statism, which are synonymous for liberalism. Liberalism is a broader term that encompasses statism and progressivism.  

Was the Early Church Socialistic?  No!

A few moments ago, I referenced the passage that many like to use to make the claim that the Early Church was socialistic. That passage is as follows:

"32And the congregation (not the bourgeoisie or common people) of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and abundant grace was upon them all. 34For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them (not enforced by state authority) and bring the proceeds of the sales 35and lay them at the apostles' (not the politburo's) feet, and would be distributed (not as a means of redistribution of wealth) to each as any had need." (Act 4:32-35 NASB; parenthetical insertions mine)

As you can tell from my parenthetical comments there are a few problems with a socialistic interpretation of this passage.  Let me summarize three for us here.

The first problem is that this passage would not make a good description of socialism as it would be interpreted by modern day socialists, like that of the self-proclaimed Socialist of the likes of Bernie Sanders (VT). Many contemporary socialistic interpretations include state managed means of production and the mandated redistribution of goods. Many are also pushing for limited private ownership. As we can see none of these attributes of socialism are evident in the passage above.

There is a second problem with reference to the subject of state policies, so mandated by socialists.  There is no reference to assume a state policy. The selling and the giving was a voluntary association of like-minded believers who willing shared their goods. One would have to really grasp at the ghost of Karl Marx to apply the practice a small community to the prescriptive policies of a governmental structure.  

Lastly, there are other passages in Scripture that describe other Christian communities and their practices. This was a localized event and experience of a small community of believers located in the hub where Christianity began, Jerusalem. Christians can own homes (Acts 10:5-6; Romans 16:3-5) and own businesses within understanding the will of God (James 4:13-15). Christians can have the freedom to do with their money as they wish (Acts 5:4). Christians are invited to give as the Lord leads, even generously and sacrificially, but we are not commanded to hand over our money (2 Corinthians 8:1-8). Christians are commanded to avoid unjustly gained wealth, and self-indulgence (James 5:1-5).

As Christians, we are commanded to care for our own families rather than turn to the church for help (1 Timothy 5:8, 16).  We are also warned against idleness and urged to take care of ourselves, others (1 Thessalonians 5:6-13; Matthew 25:31-46; James 2:14-17) and orphans and widows (James 1:27).

The passage in Acts 4 most likely describes an isolated situation.  There does not seem to be any indications in other Scripture passages or even later writings from the Church Fathers that what we see replicated in any other Christian community.  
Conclusion.

As we can see from the passage in question, one has to reach into a socialistic ideology in order to support the claim that socialism and Christianity are compatible.  They are far from compatibility, and a proper interpretation of Acts 4:32-35 makes this perfectly clear. 

In a future posting, I hope to paint for you a clearer picture of the ugly wreckage that can be and has been wrought from socialistic governments. As Bible-believing Christians, it is vitally important as never before to understand and live out our biblical worldview.

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