Shouldn’t all Christians be socialists?

A brother of mine recently wrote the following by way of advocating the position that “all Christians ought to be socialists”:

Acts 2:44-45 “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need’

Acts 4;32b, 34-35 “..neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

That’s all well and good, but that only applies to Christians, not society in general. The reason that works with Christians is that we are endowed with the Holy Spirit as a guide and restraint so that we aren’t governed by our evil desires which tend toward excess.

Notice the terms; “everything in common”, no posessions were personal, distributed to everyone as they had need.

Is this more like capitalism or what critics would call “socialism”?

PS…. it is biblical!

Here’s my response:

Most people forget that it was Christianity that actually gave birth to capitalism1 because, while it is not perfect, it does the best of any economic system out there to be fair when it comes to the unequal distribution of goods and services that exist and it also does the best job of restraining people’s natural desires to hoard wealth since one of the basic tenets of capitalism is to reinvest into one’s business.

Capitalism also tends to value social programs to a degree, it is a misnomer to think that capitalism is inherently opposed to a concern “for the good of the people”.

The problem we have is when we try to take an amoral system (amoral meaning neither good nor bad) and start attaching moral significance to it.

At the end of the day, an economic system is neither good nor bad but can be considered wise or not based on whether it sustains and helps prosper the people in it.

Socialism is not concerned with the production of wealth but rather the distribution thereof while capitalism is more concerned with the production of wealth. In the end, capitalism is in a much better place to provide hope for lifting people and nations out of poverty than socialism is.

A good case-in-point is the amount of resources capitalistic nations like the US (barely) are able to bring to bear in crisis situations like the present one in Haiti.

Also, for an excellent and concise definition of capitalism I feel the need to include the following definition borrowed shamelessly from Rodney Stark’s book Victory of Reason:

Capitalism is an economic system wherein privately owned, relatively well organized, and stable firms pursue complex commercial activities within a relatively free (unregulated) market, taking a systematic, long-term approach to investing and reinvesting wealth (directly or indirectly) in productive activities involving a hired workforce, and guided by anticipated and actual returns.

  1. Two excellent books on this subject are Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark and The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber and Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem by Jay Richards []
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6 responses to “Shouldn’t all Christians be socialists?

  1. I'd add that an important basis of any economic and governmental system that Christians in particular ought to consider is the freedom it allows the individual to make their own choices about how they live their lives. A system that allows greater freedom also allows the true character of the individual to show more than a system that forcibly and unvoluntarily redistributes wealth.

    Before God we ought to be able to say, after confirmation of our salvation by our names being found in the Book of Life, that we of our own free will lived our lives voluntarily and by personal choice (I'm kinda harping on that) in such a way that brought glory to Him. Saying the government made me do it somehow has less impact,

    This was one point of my most recent article "Why Conservative, Christian?"

  2. "relatively free (unregulated) market, taking a systematic, long-term approach to investing and reinvesting wealth (directly or indirectly) in productive activities . . . "

    How'd that work out for Goldman Sachs, Lehman Bros, Merrill Lynch, Enron? (I guess if you're an exec at one of those, life is pretty good for you: fail at investing, get a huge bonus.)

    • Corruption and greed are never a capitalistic principals simply because they are setup to fail in the long-run. In Stark's book he makes a point of citing nations that had large amounts of wealth and describing how they were not capitalistic because they didn't re-invest their wealth into their business (which includes their workers) and they tended to consume (or attempt to consume) all their profits (which makes long-term investing impossible).

      Capitalism isn't perfect, but at least it does have built-in controls to guard against corruption and oppression. The problem is that we, as a free market of consumers, have largely abdicated our responsibility to government officials who are easily bought.

      • You have too much faith in human nature: given it's tendency to self-interest and self-preservation, capitalism, socialism, and most other forms of economic and political governance will tend towards corruption and oppression, without proper independent oversight and regulation.

        There are shining examples of socialistic-leaning governments doing quite well in northern Europe through this depression, without sacrificing individual freedom and initiative, just as there are of capitalistic economies doing well. I think the key to successful government is not the economic model used, but the representative democracy behind it.

        I also think that any amount of non-ideological research will show that plenty of capitalism existed before Jesus lived on earth, as did democracy. Tying the life of Jesus to any one political or economic system is a huge stretch of the imagination, and would probably go against the spirit of what he taught.

  3. Did this brother say "christians ought to be socialists" or that the quoted scriptures show common posessions and redistribution of property so "there was no needy among them" is closer to socialism than capitalism?

    It is easy to demonize with terms of fear like "liberal" or "socialist" until you see the ministry of the church did not look like the Christian coalition!

    • That depends, was the redistribution voluntary or coerced? Since God himself established the notion of private property I fail to see how redistribution, which is wholly different than voluntarily selling one's possessions (which, itself connotates a notion of private property) in order to serve others, is in any way a Biblical concept.

      BTW: Missed you last Sunday. Hope you are doing alright 🙂

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