Communism is an economic system where the means of production are owned by society and the governing body is tasked with distributing the wealth to all so that each person presumably receives equally or in accordance with their needs. This means that all property and businesses are owned by the government and not private citizens. This economic system is intended to eliminate inequality between rich (the "bourgeoisie") and poor (the "proletariat"). As an ideology, it is highly influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx and also related to the socialist movement.
In theory some of the ideas of communism appear to be compatible with the Bible. However, in practice, communism has been shown to lead to very negative outcomes. Rather than a gap between rich and poor, a gap is created between those with power and those without. Generally a governing body without much public accountability takes control, corruption ensues, and the population at large suffers. Even assuming a case where the governing body were not corrupt, when an equal outcome is guaranteed, the impetus for innovation or hard work is removed, and with it the positive results of those traits. Rather than truly help the poor, communism has a tendency to make all equally impoverished.
Some point to the fact that it seems the apostles lived in a society where the wealth was pooled and distributed among believers (Acts 2:44–45; Acts 4:32–35) to support communism. There have been numerous Christian communities since that practiced a sort of communism based on these passages on the practices of the early church. However, the type of so-called communism we see in the Bible is not about government control of the wealth of the population, nor was it forced giving. Rather, the apostles were a community of believers in which individuals freely gave of their own possessions for the benefit of others. This was about cheerful giving and support of the poor, not about government ownership of all things.
We see this clearly when we read the relevant passages in Acts. "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts" (Acts 2:44–46). Later it also says, "Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need" (Acts 4:32, 34–35).
The early church was in fact distributing wealth among the congregation, but the first and biggest difference between the early church and communism is that the people were giving out of their freedom, not under compulsion. These Christians' generosity is remarkable because they didn't have to give as they did; they did it because they wanted to out of love for those in need. In Acts 5 Peter tells Ananias that his land was his own and was at his disposal. He wasn't forced to sell it or to give the proceeds to the church (Acts 5:4). Christians are encouraged in the Bible to "give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). No one is changed by giving what is required of them. Our hearts are made like Christ's when giving is a sacrifice we do out of love for others. Without cheerful giving out of love and compassion for others, our giving is nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3).
Another distinct difference between biblical giving and communism is that the people were able to give only because they owned their means of wealth (Acts 4:34). They were able to give large gifts because they sold their land, but with communism no one would be able to choose to do this. They also had the ability to sell whatever they wanted to give the proceeds to the poor, indicating that they were able to own their own business. If no one owned property and if no one could sell their goods as they pleased, then no one could give freely and generously. The government would decide the distribution of wealth, rather than people being able to generously care for the needs of those around them.
The Bible warns against the love of money (Hebrews 13:5–6; 1 Timothy 6:10), but it does not despise material wealth altogether, nor did the early church. When the people received their gifts, they did so gladly, giving thanks to the Lord for His provision. When we see money as neither something to worship nor something to condemn, we are able to use it as a tool for good. In order for them to give much, first they had to own much. While capitalism is certainly not a perfect system, it has been shown to increase individual wealth. Of course, for the increase of individual wealth to be helpful to a society at large, the people need to be diligent in their work (Proverbs 10:4) and generous in their giving (1 Timothy 6:18). When we truly love God and others, we will want to use the resources with which God has entrusted us for the benefit of those in need. James 2:14–17 and 1 John 3:17–18 address this. First John 3:18 says, "Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth."
These people described in Acts were devoted to biblical teaching and fellowship; they were in awe of the character of God; they went to the temple daily to receive the Word; and they invited other people into their homes to minister to them (Acts 2:42–47). This was not Marxist capitalism or socialist capitalism based on government ownership and control. Rather, this was genuine Christian fellowship, based on love for God and obedience to His Word. Their relationship with God was the purpose of their existence. They did not treasure their careers, their ambitions, their time, or their recreation more than the Lord and the mission of the gospel. They knew that wealth would never satisfy them (Ecclesiastes 5:10). These people had healthy walks with the Lord that changed their naturally greedy and selfish hearts to ones that wanted to give.
When we truly put Christ first in the way we live our lives, we will not be able to hoard our resources because we will understand that those things are a gift from God to be used to build His kingdom, and not our own (Haggai 2:8). Rather than look to a government system like communism to redistribute wealth and force economic equality, we should aim to share the gospel that transforms lives. Only when hearts are changed by Christ will true grace, mercy, and justice be prevalent.
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