If you spend much time on social media, you've probably seen at least a few persons calling out Christians for being so conservative, "especially for a people who follow a Christ who was all for the redistribution of wealth" (among other things). The argument - usually from those on the left and usually from those outside of the church - is that Jesus was a socialist, so His people should be, too.
Because, you know, everything has always been about politics and economics.
First, we should note that most of the time, these persons are citing principles espoused by Paul, not Jesus. Jesus spoke about giving freely, about not being stingy, about helping others with what you have been given. Paul spoke more about how giving was a communal activity, how it was meant to help the poor among us, and that sort of thing. So the notion of socialism, if it can be tied to the New Testament, probably ties more closely to Paul than to Jesus.
The question, then, is whether socialism should be tied to New Testament Christianity at all.
To answer this question, we first have to define our terms. Socialism is an economic system, not a political one; its political counterpart is Communism, although there is still some difference between the two. Socialism, as an economic system, depends upon the 'equal' distribution of wealth. That is, everyone should be given a relatively secure amount of financing in order to be able to provide for their needs, regardless of their contribution to work for it. Under socialism in its purest form, the garbage man makes the same amount of money as the neurosurgeon.
Here, too, is a point where those arguing this point want to make a tie-in to Christianity. This is the story of the many parts of the body, right? Every part of the body has its function, and we would not be who we are without any single one of them. So the guy who changes the light bulbs in the church or the girl who teaches the children or the pastor who preaches from the pulpit are all exactly equal. Under this theory, they say, we should not pay our pastors at all, for they are just part of our body like any other part of our body and deserve no special treatment (i.e. a salary). Isn't this socialism? they ask. Doesn't this prove what Jesus had in mind?
Again, Paul. Not Jesus. But I digress.
And certainly, there is wisdom given to us that those who have more should give freely to those who have less so that no one within our body is in need. And isn't that socialism? Doesn't that prove that that's what Jesus wants?
Again, not Jesus. A lot of this is in Acts. So, Luke. But again, I digress.
You can start to see, though, the argument that is shaping up. If Christians are called to care for one another, even financially, and to make sure that the poor among them are provided for out of the wealth of the rich among them and if Christians are called to not honor one person over another, regardless of social status or economic status or education or ability or whatever, then, these persons say, Christians are called to be socialist and therefore, they should start voting as such. (That is the end goal, isn't it? To convince Christians to be voting a certain way. Christians remain one of the largest voting demographics in American culture, so this is vitally important to those who care so much about politics.)
That's the argument, and for those who have only a surface reading of Scripture, it sounds pretty convincing. But...it shouldn't be. Because the way this argument has been shaped by those using it is a far cry from the way that Jesus (or Paul or Luke) have actually presented it in our Scriptures. It's a far cry from what God actually requires of us and the way He has actually called us to live in community with one another (and even with the world).
Was Jesus a socialist? No. Was Paul a socialist? No. Was Luke a socialist? No. Have Christians been called to socialism? No. And this week, we're going to break this down further and look at why not, while building a more robust definition of Christian community along the way.