We Are All Socialists Now?

Rev. Mark Braun

For years I thought the worst thing you can be called is “fundamentalist,” but that seems to have slipped to second place. Now the worst thing you can be called is a “socialist.”

Early this year, Newsweek magazine did just that. Its cover proclaimed, “We are all Socialists Now,” with the subheading, “The perils and promise of the new era of big government.” It was fear of big government – among other things – that brought out protesters this summer to criticize federal bailouts and oppose changes in health care.

Some people even believe socialism is endorsed by the Bible.

“Can a Christian be a socialist?” asked Angela Boatright-Spencer, writing in the Charlotte Episcopal Examiner. “In a word,” she answered, “yes.” Today, as in the past, there are “people whose Christian ideals lead them to see value in a socialist-ordered society.” She claimed that the origins of socialism go back as far as Moses, and that “early Christian communities also practiced the sharing of goods and labor, a simple form of socialism.”

She provided no Biblical support for her statement about Moses, but the reference to early Christian communities is more recognizable. Describing the early church in Jerusalem, St. Luke wrote: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to everyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44,45). Again: “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need” (Acts 4:34,35).

The passages may be familiar to you, but citation of them in support of socialism is probably not – and with good reason. Both accounts describe what “all the believers” did. This was not a government mandate, from each according to his ability to each according to his need. Luke pictured the generous, voluntary response of men and women grateful for the new life they had received from their Savior. They had repented and been baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). The Spirit of God had worked in them the conviction that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Paul Kretzmann in his Popular Commentary of the Bible explained: “They held all things in common, [but] they did not practice communism, [nor did they] abrogate the right of private property.” The willingness of the wealthy to share with those in need was “not the expression of fantastic and illusory socialistic theories or of an absolute communism, but a spontaneous manifestation of Christian love,” empowered by the resurrected Lord who “brought great grace upon them all.”

Kretzmann contrasted the attitude of the Jerusalem church with what he saw in 1920’s America: “There was none of the supercilious aloofness which now characterizes the intercourse of the rich with the poor.” Translation: “Absent was the patronizing and haughty detachment which so often occurs between rich and poor today.” We still see that: “I’ve got mine – tough for you!”

The web site Conservapedia (yes, that’s a real site!) quotes Winston Churchill: “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy. Its inherent virtue is the sharing of misery.” We are free to agree or disagree with his opinion.

What lives on for us is the example of the early church and the encouraging words of St. Paul – connected to Jesus, arising from thankful hearts: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). “None of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:7,8).

Rev. Mark Braun is a Professor of Theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and a member of the 2010 CLR Board of Directors


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