Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Were the Early Christians Socialists?

As someone who places tremendous value on the liberty we have in Christ Jesus, I am always troubled when I hear it said that the believers in the book of Acts were socialists. This claim is based primarily on the following passage: "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need" (Acts 2: 44-45).

At first glance, the verse appears strikingly similar to a slogan popularized by Karl Marx, who wrote the Communist Manifesto and was one of history's biggest proponents of socialism: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." But there is a vast difference between the socialism propagated by Marx and the type of communal living practiced by the Early Church. As noted by Anthony Randazzo, director of Fiscal Studies at the Reason Foundation, "[the believers'] 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" ("Was the Early Church Socialist?", http://www.crosswalk...ntary/11584245/).

Under socialism as envisioned by Karl Marx, there is no free will. The 10 Planks of the Communist Manifesto are completely antithetical to the liberty that believers have in Christ. Among other things, the Manifesto calls for the abolition of private property and all rights of inheritance, as well as the confiscation of property belonging to emigrants and dissidents. It also calls for a progressive, graduated income tax, which essentially punishes those in society who are the most productive.

In contrast, no New Testament writer ever called for the confiscation of private property by the state; neither is there any verse in Scripture seeking to abolish the right of parents to pass on an inheritance to their children. When it comes to taxation, the Bible never calls for a graduated income tax and even warns against choosing rulers who would burden the people with oppressive taxation (see 1 Samuel 8:15).

In his masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky writes, ". . . socialism is not merely the labor question, but it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism today. It is the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to Heaven from earth but to set up Heaven on earth."