There is the seed of an idea in the modern Church that socialist systems of government may be advocated in the Bible. Proponents might point vaguely to concepts like “the brotherhood of man” or might even site specific Bible stories such as the Samaritan who helped a man who had been attacked by robbers. They might site the passage in Acts describing how early Christian visitors to Jerusalem “shared all things in common”. Certainly Christians are noted for their love of people and generosity toward the poor, but is this socialism?
I think not. The Christian generosity described in the New Testament is personal, communal, and voluntary rather than the compulsory, corporate, and coercive system of socialist government. Simply put, Christianity is rooted in individuality. The Gospel calls for each individual to make a decision to follow Christ as Lord and for the individual to become a member of the “cloud of witnesses” proclaiming the Gospel to future generations.
This message of individual autonomy begins in the Old Testament. Consider the warning given to advocates of man’s rule in 1 Samuel 8. The people of Israel demanded of the prophet Samuel that they have a king like the other nations. Now admittedly, in those days they didn’t consider man’s rule to be socialism, but what they were demanding was a strong central authority to ensure their defense and prosperity. In that sense, kings and commissars are the same. God speaks to Samuel to describe central rule like this:
“This will be the procedure of the one who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves.”
“You yourselves will become his servants.” In other words, the powerful leader you wanted to protect you will become your oppressor.
This theme of skepticism about human lordship continues in the New Testament, even in regard to church government. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:3, “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.” Peter understood how power corrupts and advised the Elders of the church not to rule, but to lead. Jesus’ words were recorded in Matthew 20:25-26 saying, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them. It shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”
The United States Constitution powerfully advocates this servant-leader concept of government through its provisions for elected officials who serve the people for a specific term of years. Our leaders are selected from among the people to serve the people’s interests and protect their individual liberty. The government wasn’t created to control you, regulate your work, or tell you how to live.
By contrast, socialism is a top-down system of managing the affairs of people. Although its intent may be to care for your needs, there is no system of restraint to prevent officials from becoming rulers. Deanna Walton, a contributor to our podcast (The Key: Christian Ideas and Activism), asked the question, “What is the morality of the Left.” First and foremost, they are atheists. But furthermore, because they have no trust in the providential nature of God or salvation through Christ, they are collectivists. Their hope is that humankind will unite to save themselves.
Karl Marx attempted to apply scientific principles to human society, and the unpredictability of individuals was problematical to a scientific thinker. Instead, he focused on group identity and class struggle as the defining elements in human history. From that Marxist root, the sociopolitical left sees classes of people instead of individuals. The left creates coalitions of dissatisfied groups…racial minorities, feminists, homosexuals, labor unions, and others.
So strong is their sense of group identity that they expect individual rights to defer to the collective. Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley commented July 2019, “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice.” In other words, speech is only free if it aligns with an individual’s group. Independent speech upsets the expectations of the social scientists and leftist theorists.
Many of my Christian friends say we should not be involved with politics because it is ungodly, but I say it is spiritual. It is a conflict between atheism and Biblical Christianity and many lives hang in the balance. Furthermore, we have received our orders. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” is our calling. Politics is not about electing the next President, but transforming the hearts of people.
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