The gold of individual Christianity vs the base metal of Christian Socialism

Answering viewers' comments and questions on Christian socialism

 

Video transcript:

RICHARD
This is the video where we answer some of the comments and questions that came up over the course of the series we did on Christian socialism. But first off, I want to introduce Doreen who’s going to be joining me for the next few videos.

DOREEN
Thanks! In the next series (not this video) we’ll be talking about technology and how it fits into a communitarian vision of radical Christian discipleship. Is technological progress a distraction from what “ought” to concern us – is it merely “improved means to unimproved ends” to quote Thoreau?

RICHARD
So that’s the next series but first to the questions and comments on Christian socialism. Okay I guess not unexpectedly, we got quite a bit of feedback on the series we did on Christian socialism. 

DOREEN
Some folks were “appalled” that Christianity was equated in any way with socialism. Other viewers had milder disagreement with one or other of the points that were made and one kind person commented “Christian communism sounds lit, but a last I am an atheist.” 

RICHARD
A last indeed. Now to the questions. Number one: “When I read Acts 2 I don’t get the idea that they sold everything they had and lived together in one place but that they sold all their excess belongings... what they owned that was above and beyond what they needed. Verse 45 does not say “They sold ALL of their property and possessions and became homeless and penniless.” Verse 46 says that “they broke bread in their homes...” which indicates to me that they had homes.”

Doreen?

DOREEN
Ok let me just say I don’t in any way think the first believers set up communities that looked outwardly like the kind we’re part of. I do think that Acts 2 and 4 describe a new kind of society that came into being when people accepted Jesus’ teachings and wanted to live them out. The people who did this did not become homeless and hungry; the church took care of them as it explicitly says in Acts 4, “There were no needy persons among them.” 

RICHARD
What the account in Acts does point to is an attitude of total surrender and self–giving. We read in Acts 2:4, “All the believers were together and had everything in common”. No one was compelled to give everything. They were impelled by the working of the Spirit. 

DOREEN
The questioner goes on:

“It is possible that they did indeed sell everything they had and lived together communally, but this is not what is specifically stated. Acts 4:32 says “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” It is interesting that they still use the word “possessions” ... and mention everything they “had” ... which infers possession. I believe that everything I have possession of belongs to God... not me... but that He has entrusted it to me and I must steward it wisely.”

RICHARD
Ok I’m familiar with this notion of stewardship – and we should be good stewards of resources – but in this context it kind of reads to me that the individual Christian still wants some agency over what happens to stuff in his or her possession. In the familiar story of the rich young man who wanted to be perfect, the advice he was given was not to be a better manager of his riches, but rather to sell everything, give to the poor, and then join with the others who had been called out by Jesus (told to “drop their nets”) and follow him. That’s what these first believers did (according to Acts) and similarly we on the Bruderhof have come to feel that the only position consistent with Jesus’ call is to give up everything and follow him. 

DOREEN
Next question: “Can voluntary communitarianism really be called socialism? Isn’t socialism the state controlling property and industry? You are private individuals living together. That is simply cooperation.”

You’re right that the way we live is not socialism. Socialism is a political and economic theory. That said, the demands of socialism or the socialist ethic – meaning economic and racial justice, protest against the class system and elitism – correspond to the type of life Jesus called his disciples to. So it’s the best or most recognizable name for the way we live. Of course, there’s a lot within socialistic movements that is contrary to a Christian life but that doesn’t mean there isn’t good as well, which is why we talk about Christian socialism. 

RICHARD
Next one: “Both the eighth (You shall not steal) and the tenth (You shall not covet) commandments presuppose private property. How does a Christian justify a position (Communism) which denies private property; therefore, the fundamental expression of God’s character, revealed in His Law?”

That’s a great question. A Christian should neither steal nor covet. Renouncing private property is a great way to never break those commandments.

DOREEN
Next question: “Christianity isn’t compatible with Capitalism? Though the two created the greatest country in the history of the world and the only country that has been able to help every other country in the world and has done so willingly with a Christian heart. You are either ignorant, brainwashed or blatantly lying.”

I won’t argue that the ideals the United States was founded on (including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, equality under the law etc.) have allowed our communities a place to flourish along with many other people and groups. But right now, it’s a mixed bag at best. Also, I’m not in any way a scholar of economics, but capitalism as we understand it today emerged in the seventeenth century and isn’t the right term to describe what was going on in the Roman empire and is a concept that would have been foreign to the first Christians. 

RICHARD
Here’s another comment: “Sad to see Christians rejecting the teachings of Jesus in favor of the teachings of men that support a political / economic philosophy that is deeply rooted in atheism. Read Matthew 25:14-30.”

That’s the parable of the talents.

“That is the exact OPPOSITE of socialism. Jesus describes a capitalist exchange of money. Capitalism at its very essence. The man owned the capital, not the community or government. The exchanges of money were one hundred percent private exchanges and capitalistic returns on investment. Not socialistic distribution or confiscation. “What Jesus taught is that the redistribution of wealth is to be entirely voluntary, motivated by personal generosity and compassion and directed to the worthy poor. There’s no hint in Christianity of any kind of support for the involuntary transfer of wealth through government coercion– that’s a quote from Bryan Fischer.”

I one hundred percent agree with you there by the way.

“Even the theologian and preacher Charles Spurgeon was against it as well, saying that socialism is anti–Christian. He even stated “I would not have you exchange the gold of individual Christianity for the base metal of Christian Socialism.”

DOREEN
Thoughtful response but I think misses the point. Jesus’ teachings are very demanding. To be his follower requires giving up everything. You have to deny yourself and follow him. Of course, following him is voluntary. Everyone’s given a free choice. But you can’t claim to be his follower and ignore his teachings. And many of his teachings have to do with renouncing the god Mammon. And with much respect to Charles Spurgeon I think “individual Christianity” is inadequate. Of course, a personal encounter with Jesus and being born anew from the old life is foundational but it can’t stop there. Jesus calls people out of the old way to a new way of life in the here and now, where the ethic of his coming kingdom is lived out.

RICHARD
So that’s all the questions we have time for. By the way if you want a Catholic perspective on this topic you could check out a podcast on Spotify – The Go Oat and the Big Dog Show –  in particular episode three “Neither was there any among that lacked.” Just putting that out there.

Well that’s all for this series. Make sure to subscribe to see what comes next!