Was the Early Church Socialist?

Was the Early Church Socialist?

With the world's recent economic turmoil, a significant shift backwards to a more "socio-paternalist market theory" is being seen. Translation: governments are more actively trying to control the economy. Many have accepted the increased role of government as socially just: the poor are hurting, and the taxpayers must help.

Isn't that what Jesus would do, help the poor? In this case, our WWJD bracelets are not the place to turn; rather, we should look to the early church's example in the Bible.

The growing economic trend is "spreading the wealth " to benefit all in society. Whenever taxpayer money is given to a particular group of people, it constitutes a distribution of wealth: collecting from some, giving to others. Whether in the form of welfare or Medicare, the government has been redistributing income for a while, but it's increasing at a rapid rate.

First, it's critical we understand that "profit" is not evil. Money is not evil, nor is its wrong to want to make a lot of money. The Bible clearly states it is just the "love of money" that is sinful, and that God expects us to be wise stewards of the resources he has given us and increase our wealth (consider the parable of the talents, Luke 19:12).

One of the chief dangers of redistributive philosophy is that it destroys the incentive to create wealth. The more the government taxes "the wealthy" the less likely they are to try and increase their wealth. After all, why work hard only to have the fruits of our labor taken and given to those who haven't worked. In the parable of the talents Jesus did exactly the opposite, taking the wicked servant's talent and giving it to the servant who had increased his master's wealth tenfold (note that he didn't even give it to the servants who only had two or five).

When Jesus was with "the rich" he never told them they had to give to the poor. Instead, he said all believers have the responsibility to care for the needy (Matthew 25:31). And Psalms and Proverbs note that it is good to give of God's resources that we are stewards over (Psalms 41:1, Proverbs 19:17). However, never is there a command to follow some strict procedure. And that is because Jesus wants our hearts, not just blind obedience to a set of rules.

When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, he emphasized that the Old Testament rules do not exist as a measurable standard. Rather, they are supposed to shape our heart's attitude. And when Jesus was with Zacchaeus, he didn't tell the tax collector to give half of what he owned away. Seeing the love of Christ, Zacchaeus did this of his own accord. God wanted Zacchaeus' heart, not his money.

If we are to give to the poor, and provide for those down on their luck, it must come as a willful act of the heart. That's where free will comes into play, and why forcible redistribution of wealth is the government interfering in the sphere of the church. Consider the example of the first century believers.

The first century church gave of what they had so that no one was in need (Acts 2:44). But the difference between this and socialism is that their actions flowed from their own free will. Believers were free to sell as much or as little of their belongings to participate in the community as they wished. We see this in Acts 5:4 when Peter tells Ananias that he was free to use his wealth however he chose. The land was at his own disposal.

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was lying about the money they gave to the church. Their heart was not right. It was the heart of Cain that was condemned for giving to God from his excess, while Able gave his best. Their hearts in giving were different. There is no set Biblical law that says give "this much" to the poor; instead Jesus left us with open-ended commands: be generous, be compassionate, be merciful. Those aren't check boxes or 11 percent of our income for Medicare.

So when the government comes along and says they are going to increase our taxes in order to give more money to homeowners struggling to make mortgage payments, how should the Christian respond? Many of these homeowners borrowed more money than they could pay back or bought a bigger home than they could afford. We shouldn't support government charity to resolve their irresponsibility, but rather support the mercy and charity of the church.

Here's the problem: the church is not in a position to help these people, or even the "truly innocent" people caught up in this fiscal storm. We have let the government take our role in society of helping the needing. The "War on Poverty" and social programs coming out of the New Deal have stripped away the church's responsibility and we have let the government take this from us.

Only when the Christian community, even in association with secular charity organizations, is able to show they have the capacity and drive to help the poor, unemployed, widows, orphans, and anyone else in need, will the government be able to step out of the societal sphere that belongs to the church. That can only happen when the church realizes the danger of government-obligated redistribution of wealth, and remembers the lessons of Jesus - that he wants our hearts.

 


Anthony Randazzo is Director of Fiscal Studies at the Reason Foundation, a think-tank based in Washington, D.C. He attends Grace D.C. Church.

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