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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Jesus, Socialist?

The Free Dictionary gives these as the first two definitions of socialism:

1. Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.
2. The stage in Marxist-Leninist theory intermediate between capitalism and communism, in which collective ownership of the economy under the dictatorship of the proletariat has not yet been successfully achieved.
The Wikipedia says much the same thing about socialism.

Recently, President Obama has been called a Socialist. Quadrilateral Thoughts says that calling someone a Socialist when they really aren't is "labelism," a good term, and one which describes a phenomenon that is all too common. (The post is about other labels, too, not just socialism.)

It is sometimes said that the early church practiced socialism, or communism. See Acts 4:32. Was this socialism? Very close, or really socialism, if you allow that there was some central church government (which isn't clear, at least to me -- maybe there was, and maybe there wasn't). I have heard, and even taught, that this is not binding on Christians today, because Acts 4 is describing a special circumstance, when many new Christians, who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover, become converted, and stayed on, were away from their normal means of making a living, in Galilee, or in other countries which were several days travel from Judea. At any rate, I don't practice Acts 4:32 fully, and neither does my church, or my denomination, nor am I aware of any congregation that does. And many conservative Christians are strongly opposed to socialism, or anything even close to it.

Acts 4:32 is apparently the fulfillment of Luke 12:33 (I have linked to the Blueletter Bible. Scroll down to see verse 33, which is shown in more than one translation, so as to present as clear a picture of the meaning as possible.) I confess that, in spite of reading the Bible many times, I hadn't paid attention to that verse, which says, in the ESV:
33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (See here for information on quoting the ESV.) I have often heard sermons on verse 34, and the last part of verse 33, but I don't recall one on the first part of verse 33. Why not? Perhaps because of the objections, valid or not, by conservative Christians to socialism. Perhaps because I, or the churches I've been in, just don't want to do this. Perhaps because someone preached on it and I didn't want to listen. Have I followed Christ's commands here, as fully as I should have? I'm not sure.

What do you think? Thanks for any comments.

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Addendum, April 9, 2010


As Weekend Fisher points out in a comment, Peter seems to have kept his boat and fishing equipment. It occurred to me, after writing this, that some members of the early church kept their homes, because Paul or Peter stayed in them, or a new church began meeting in them. So either Christ wasn't demanding that all of us sell all of our possessions and give the result to charity, or the early church didn't follow His commandment.


Nonetheless, I'm afraid that I, and most Christians, take having things too seriously, and Christ's command to help the poor not seriously enough.

4 comments:

Weekend Fisher said...

I think it's a struggle for everyone, just like loving our enemies.

There is a small conversation taking place in my congregation on that topic. Some people are nudging ... & I hope it goes through ... that we do a church garage sale with 100% of proceeds going to the poor. So that everyone will have at least had the experience of selling their possessions and giving to the poor.

I think the trick is to get started.

Take care & God bless
WF

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Weekend Fisher. Our church, and we ourselves, have done some of that sort of thing, but I think perhaps Jesus meant all of our possessions, or at least more than we were just going to get rid of anyway.

Weekend Fisher said...

He probably did. Meantime, we have to start somewhere; I guess the trick is starting and still realizing "it's just a start."

Peter & the crew seem to have kept their boats ... transportation & means of livelihood. But I don't picture them with a lot of ... things.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks again, Weekend Fisher.

It occurred to me, after writing the post, that there were some in the early church who kept their homes, such as Simon the Tanner, Mnason, Dorcas/Tabitha, and Lydia.

And, as you say, Peter must have kept his boat and nets.