How should a Christian view socialism?While there are many arguments for and against socialism based on its economic and political impact on society, Christians must also consider whether or not it aligns with God's will for humankind. Both advocates for and opponents against socialism have referenced the Bible to support their position. Does the Bible support or oppose socialism? Let's take a closer look at socialism under a biblical microscope to find out.
Karl Marx, the founder of socialism, believed that economics was the principal factor controlling human identity. According to his philosophy, throughout history the rich had used their wealth to oppress the poor in order to get what they wanted. Capitalism, in his opinion, was a vessel that continued to fuel this oppression. For Marx, the ideal society would be one in which everyone collectively owned everything and wealth was redistributed based on need.
There are two main components of socialism: collective ownership and redistribution of goods. Under this system everyone must give their possessions, whether it be money, land, or resources, to the government. A governing body then decides how to best redistribute everything in order to meet the basic needs of all society members.
Advocates of socialism say that the Bible supports this system for three main reasons. First, God commands us to care for the poor and the needy (Deuteronomy 15:7–8; Matthew 25:31–46). Second, in the Old Testament the Israelites tithed one tenth of their wealth each year in order to provide for the Levites and priests (Numbers 18:21). Finally, and this is the argument most often used, in the book of Acts the disciples and new believers sold their possessions and shared everything they had with each other (Acts 2:44–45; 4:32). However, each of these arguments is based on proof texting in which Scripture has been interpreted out of context.
God does instruct us to care for the poor and needy. At the same time, though, God does not approve of laziness or irresponsibility (Proverbs 13:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). On the contrary, He encourages us to work hard and be good stewards of what He has given us (Proverbs 12:24; 14:23; Luke 12:42–46). We reap what we sow. Jesus gave an example of this in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30). A master gave one servant five talents, one servant two talents, and one servant one talent. The servants with five and two talents went and worked until they doubled their number of talents, but the one with one talent buried it in the ground. He did nothing with what he had so the master took the talent away from him and gave it to someone else.
While some forms of socialism do reward hard workers, it does not change the circumstances of the lazy. It provides them with enough to live comfortably so that they do not desire to make themselves better. God makes it clear that, "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).
God does tell His people to tithe, but they do it out of obedience to Him rather than being forced by the government. God wants us to have the freedom to choose and give voluntarily out of a willing and cheerful heart (2 Corinthians 9:7). In addition, the tithe was originally set apart for the Levites and priests who worked in the temple. These people worked diligently to make sure the nation of Israel was honoring God and atoning for their sin. Today people give their tithe to their church, missionaries, or good causes. The money supports those working in ministry who do not make a profit, but still are contributing to society.
Keep in mind that the Old Testament tithe was essentially like a tax system for the nation of Israel, and that it was only a portion of income. There was not general common ownership. Rather, individuals contributed a portion of their income to provide for those who served the nation as a whole. Christians financially support workers of the gospel out of obedience to Christ; this is not the same thing as the Old Testament tithe. Rather, it is based on an understanding that all we possess is God's and that He has called us to support the work of ministry. From a societal perspective, it is certainly within the rights of the government to collect taxes from its citizens to pay for governmental services. But, again, these taxes are a portion of the income, not a communal ownership. Also note that the efficacy of any taxation system and governmental service will depend on those governing. We cannot expect that a system made up of sinful humans will result in utopia.
The story in the book of Acts was a singular and temporary event. After Jesus' death hundreds of people accepted Christ as their Savior. Many of them chose to stay in Jerusalem and learn His teaching from His disciples. There was a great need to provide for these visitors so various people sold land and possessions to help provide for them to stay for a while. Then the people returned to their communities and the disciples began traveling and sharing the message of Christ outside of Jerusalem. Nowhere else in Scripture do God's people do this on a community level.
Some people misquote Jesus saying, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Matthew 19:21). Jesus is not saying this as a general rule of thumb for believers. Instead, He is telling a young rich man to do this because the man values his material belongings above God. Other people misinterpret the passage where Ananias and Sapphira are killed by God after they sold their property and gave a portion of the proceeds to the disciples saying that they were killed because they did not sell all their possessions (Acts 5). However, Scripture makes it clear that they were killed for lying because they said they had given all of the proceeds. If they had given only part of the proceeds and not lied about it, they would have been fine.
Finally, socialism is dangerous because it suggests that both the downfall and salvation of humanity is rooted in the production and distribution of material wealth. As Christians we believe instead that our downfall is sin and our salvation comes from God alone, received by faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8–10). Economics is not the biggest problem and government is not the final solution. Our sin is the problem and it can only be atoned for by Jesus Christ. Jesus will one day return to earth and establish His kingdom. In the meantime, we can put our faith in Him, receive forgiveness, and submit to His transformative work in our hearts. Part of the transformation He brings is giving us hearts that have compassion on the poor and needy. Believers are to care for one another and any who have needs; we are to do so in love and truth. Most importantly, we are to share with all people the good news of salvation.
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