When I was a kid, I lived in a cul-de-sac in north Denton (“Idiot’s Hill”) where all of the neighbors were (and still are) very close friends. The matriarchs of the neighborhood determined that we would have a neighborhood garage sale – getting more traffic and sales if we all went together.
Once all the junk was set out and priced in the various driveways, I watched my mom purchase the neighbor’s kitchen table chairs. The neighbor from the other side of the street bought our kitchen table chairs. It continued throughout the day. I don’t know if any junk ever actually left the neighborhood – or if anyone made any money. For the rest of my childhood, every time I’d go to a neighbor’s house I’d run into our old stuff.
The philosophical world is a lot like my old neighborhood. Every few decades we have a rummage sale and get rid of our old junk…and then after a while, the junk shows up again like a bad penny! “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).”
Believe it or not, despite its track record of failure around the world, socialism is back. First there was Bernie, now Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both extremely popular among millennials. In fact, according to a Reason-Rupe survey, 53% of 18-29 year old Americans have a favorable opinion of socialism (25% over 55). But only 16% could define the concept accurately. [Source: TheFederalist.com]
Some may be after free stuff, but many probably have altruistic, though naïve, motives. They want to help the poor and downtrodden, and they’re told by politicians that this is the way to do it. I spoke with a young man just this week who told me that was the appeal to him. But as the survey indicates, that’s not an accurate definition. In its simplest definition, socialism is government or community ownership and regulation of the means of production.
We’re also told that the first church was a socialist enterprise and that a true “Bible-believing Christian” must support socialist government structures. [Source: DentonRC.com]
I will let Walter Williams deal with the fallacies of socialism as an economically viable system. Let’s talk about the theology behind it. Winston Churchill once said:
“There are two places only where socialism will work; in heaven where it is not needed, and in hell where they already have it.”
Humans have a sin nature. We’re inherently bad (in a theological sense). Oh, we can be redeemed by Jesus and can do noble things, but we can’t be trusted to do the right thing all the time. And what is true for each of us as individuals is exponentially true with governments and bureaucracies – a great collection of sinners with dubious motives.
Politicians’ greed for power and other peoples’ money is the engine that drives socialism. And trusting the government with ownership of the means of production is not wise. Karl Marx considered socialism a transitional state between capitalism and communism. The aphorism has stuck because it’s true: give an inch and they’ll take a mile.
But what about the church? It is true, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (Acts 2:44-45).” These sales and donations were free-will, non-compulsory offerings. Luke gives two examples in Barnabas and Ananias (Acts 4-5) who voluntarily sold property and gave the proceeds to the church to distribute to the needy. The church did not confiscate this land. And, significantly, when Ananias gave his gift, he lied about the sale price. Peter replied: “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God (Acts 5:4).”
You won’t find a clearer statement on private property ownership in the New Testament. By the way, private property is an important biblical concept. When the Jews left slavery in Egypt and could finally own things, it was a big deal.
Christians brought with them to the church their property, their talents, their income and sacrificially gave these in generous support of one another (and the widows and orphans). Not because they were forced. Jesus’ love had changed them to be loving people themselves…and the church was their spiritual family. You take care of family.
That the church wasn’t socialist is clear from the biblical record…and the socialism being offered today is certainly not biblical, often very unbiblical, and completely secular. Still, that hasn’t stopped the church from experimenting. From monasteries to Mennonites it’s been tried, but never with great success.
Christian socialism has the same problem as secular: the sin nature of humans. We are fallible. We’re susceptible to pride and greed and a desire for power just like everyone else. Even in the “ideal,” first church, we see lying and corruption.
If we want to help the poor, the orphan, the widow, the church is glad to help. We’ve been at it for 2,000 years. You can join us. But we won’t tax you or take your property to do it. We’ll do it because we’re compelled by the love of Christ. Americans, too, are a generous people by and large. In 2017 Americans gave $410 Billion to charities. We don’t need the government to force us or take our property to do it.
When Americans see a need, we roll up our sleeves and get to work. If the government will stay out of the way, we’ll do it like Americans always have…and we’ll do it better.