by Rob Lundberg
I usually do not get involved in the political issues but because of the temperature of our nation and around the world, I believe it is important to clarify what it means to have a biblical worldview in an ever changing world. Besides, Jesus spoke to not just religious issues of His but also delved in matters of politics as He addressed the religio-political groups of the Pharisees and Sadducees of that day.
Someone once said that there are a couple things you do not want to argue about. One is religion and the other is politics. However with the culture creeping into the church, there seems no better of a time to engage a matter that often challenges people when it comes to the church and the matter of socialism.
Was the early first century church socialistic and did it practice a form of socialism? This posting is going to address this question and provide a response that will lean to the negative.
Let me also say from the onset that this is a worldview question. We are often told that one cannot legislate morality. However when we go to the polls to vote for a candidate, we are picking a candidate that lines up with our moral choices, and not just our party or economic biases. Since every political candidate has a worldview, again let me state that 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 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 the church’s actions describe 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 a system where the government mandates activities or has control of key 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.” While I believe that a human being has intrinsic value and deserves justice, the justice under the banner of “social justice takes on a totally different meaning. Simply stated, these are buzzwords smuggling in a Marxist ideology.
And then there is another term that is emerging in the political and the theological arenas, It is the term, “progressive(s).” When we speak of progressivism, it is another word for “statism,” which is synonymous with the ideology popularly known as 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 those who lean more toward a socialistic ideal like to use, for claiming that the Early Church embraced a socialistic ideology. That passage is as follows:
“32 And 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. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For 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 35 and 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; bolded 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. 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.
The second problem references the subject of state policies, so mandated by socialists. There is no reference to assume a state policy. The selling and the giving, by the early saints, was a voluntary association of like-minded believers who willingly shared their goods. And the giving was to those who had a need, and not to people of power for control. 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. In order to make a case for socialism in the aforementioned passage, one would have to contend with other passages that support the previous two points and the context of the passage itself.
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 also 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.
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.
 We are seeing the rise of theological “progressives” which seem to reflect sociologically liberal ideals and support it with a liberal hermeneutic of Scripture. This is what appearing more and more a re-emergence of a “social gospel” rather than a saving gospel in Christ’s finished work alone.
There is definately a lot to find out about this topic. I like all of the points you’ve made.