Socialism. I can almost see your eyes glazing over. Fight the urge. You may think the topic is unimportant; will it change the price of my next latté, you may ask? Does it really matter what kind of government we have? Give me a moment and I will show you why the concept of socialism is profoundly important to you.
Depending on your worldview, socialism conjures up different ideas. For some it is the idea of a utopian society in which no need exists, satisfied through the communal effort of all. For others, it is a dangerous philosophy of governing society bent on handicapping the growth of the individual person. There are some people who do not have a clue what socialism means, and frankly, do not see the relevance of having a national discussion about it. In Christian circles, the ignorance and indifference about Socialism are staggering.
I am indebted to Ludwig von Mises’ seminal work for a concise definition of socialism. Although there are various forms of socialism, von Mises defines socialism in its simplest form as, “a policy which aims at constructing a society in which the means of production are socialized…” Integral to the definition are the catch phrases: economic and social justice, fairness, equality, full employment and redistribution of wealth. Private property does not exist in the purest form of Socialism.
In contrast, capitalism is the means of production arising from private property. Let me try to explain briefly. If I owned a cow (private property), I could sell the milk, have the cow bred, or butcher the cow to sell the meat as I determine. I hold the right to decide the use of my cow, understanding that the profit derived is mine to utilize as I wish. When the cow is collectively owned by the community or nation (socialism), the decision on how the cow is to be used is made by the recognized leader of the state, and the profits are distributed to the community as the leader determines. The decision is removed from the individual and placed into the hands of the State to decide as it wills.
Is private property a biblical teaching? Amidst the blazing fire and blaring trumpet at Mount Sinai God gave a witness to his divine character by inscribing on tables of stone Ten Commandments. Of the Ten Commandments two deal directly with private property and two loosely address the subject. The two commandments, that of stealing and coveting my neighbor’s house, wife, servants and cattle, cannot be legitimate prohibitions without the reality of private property. I cannot steal when everyone owns all property. To desire strongly my neighbor’s possessions is to state they first belong to my neighbor.
The socialist cites the early church as an example socialism. They assume the scenario that every believer sold his or her property and laid the money at the apostles’ feet. Therefore all private property was liquidated and the revenue given to the leaders to distribute as they willed. It is also assumed that it was mandated by the leaders to coerce all believers to participate. But is that true?
Since Pentecost believers had skyrocketed, and many had remained in Jerusalem longer than planned. With their money quickly running out, the everyday practical needs of the new believers increased. Seeing the need, many of the believers out of a heart of generosity willingly sold their property and shared with those in need.
We know it was a voluntary action and not coerced by the leaders; Ananias and Sapphira are examples. They sold a piece of property and brought only a part of the proceeds to the apostles, but lied, stating that they gave the full sum of the proceeds. Peter asked Ananias two important questions, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” In other words, we did not ask you to sell your property; you did it voluntarily, and the benefit from the profit was for you to determine.
The right of private property as guaranteed in the Constitution and taught in the Bible is progressively being attacked. Whether it is property, businesses or income, those preaching socialism want to confiscate private property in the name of fairness and distribute to all equally. The state has not officially established socialism in America. Yet, by intrusive, liberty-choking actions the state burdens private property owners with regulations on what they can do with their property. In effect, the state determines what property owners can do with their property. That, in itself, is a form of socialism.
Mark Hudson has been pastor of Medical Lake Community Church since 2001. Before that he served as a missionary in Germany, where he spent a decade planting churches.
Cool post! Well written. My first thoughts are that the Bible is about who God is, what a human being is, and about humanity’s relationship to God, and really doesn’t espouse any particular form of government.
Dave, on Facebook, said, “It is important to remember that private property, as we understand it now, is a result of Lockean thinking; to read it into the Scriptures is anachronistic at best. I am currently working on a paper in which I explore Aquinas’s discussion of property rights in Summa Theologiae, II-II Q. 66. What is interesting is his belief that external goods exist so that all people (and not only a few) can have their needs met. He contends that the principles by which some goods are entrusted to some and some to others is acceptable but only for conventional and arbitrary reasons: Namely, that things tend to be better maintained when entrusted to the care of one. However, in Art. 7 he makes very clear that in times of need all property is common property (and thus theft is, strictly speaking, impossible and, moreover, morally justifiable if committed out of stress of need). This is so precisely because material goods exist so that people’s needs can be met. In places in dire economic circumstances, writers like Julio Silva Solar have used Aquinas’s arguments to justify communitarian socialism (contrasted against state socialism) in Latin America.”
Thank you for a great first post. My Biblical understanding says that private property is a blessing from God and Christians should view their possessions not as ownership but stewardship. Different from both those who think socialistic or capitalistic. From here we lean Paul’s secret of having a lot and having little. Wit Jesus we have it all.
Biblical understanding seems to stand different from the other two as God is factored in. Using your cow example, the cow is a gift from God and so my activities with the cow should be in the abiding of Christ’s love. The treatment of cow, the selling the milk, breeding and butchering of the cow come under the love of God and fellow man. We are told to not be naked capitalistic in our fields, to be motivated by naked profit, like the Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises seemed to want, by let the poor glean after the first harvest. Socialism wants the group to own; Capitalism wants the individuals to own, and Christians know neither is true.
We Christians look not to Marx, or to Hayek, but Jesus, who supplant both Capitalism and Socialism.
Other than a theocracy, in which Yahweh reigns and man is individually responsible to Him, the Bible does not espouse any one form of government. Try this. You have been given the responsibility to govern a population. How would you determine the form of government to use? Anarchy is not an option. If you are a Christian, which biblical principles would you use to form the government?
Mark thank you for your response. I have trouble with thinking about form of government that Christians should take. Jesus strongly rejected governmental authority, even when offered. He would not be earthy king. The church history has been filled with disasters when the church tried to gain worldly power. I think Christians have to influence policy as we are called to work for the welfare of city (or nation) we live. Working for the welfare is different from wanting to be king.
Now this is not anarchy. I believe in democracy, but if I found myself in a dictatorship, I would not cease to Christian or a follower of Christ. Yet, to go after power and make government more Christian seems to me to be dangerous, whether that power was having a Christian King or Christian congress. Jesus rejected that power for the power of the cross that transcends governments. This of course, does not stop for us advocating for the the end of abortions or asking the wealthy to pay more in taxes. I think Luther is right about the two worlds and we must be about doing the work of the Kingdom and tread careful about worldly power.
How about the principle from Luke 10:27:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
So I guess there would need to be a dialog as to what government structure would glorify God and result in the best welfare for each individual. I would want to have an open and honest discussion among republicans, democrats, independents, and any other viewpoints to get a wide variety of opinions. Each of us has the experiences and opinions God has given us, but none of us can see all of God or understand Him fully.
To add to the above, my thinking would be that God is more glorified and we love our neighbor better by seeking out and working to understand opposing viewpoints than in trying to force through our own viewpoints. This is what results in the best form of government.
A very well thought out article. I’m a pretty simple black and while thinking individual and I have to chew on things awhile before coming to a conclusion.
When I look at Luke 10:27 my first thought and question is what is this about. Only reported by Luke and probably one of the most misunderstood passages in the Gospels.
And what I come up with is this a bottom line is a classic example of ‘self-righteousness being exposed. Is this a simply a lesson in charity and concern for those less fortunate than we are or how selfish people can gain eternal life?
I may not totally understand socialism and I see some issues with socialism being at odds and biblical. I see these things to be a problem with socialism and biblical principles.
The State would own everything and we would not have the right to own anything.
Under a socialistic system we would reward laziness yet the Bible teaches we are to work (prov 6:6-8)
Under a socialistic state would we even need a church or would the state become the church?