Did Jesus Teach Socialism?July 31, 2009
“Enough for everyone – accomplished by the mandate, dictate, and confiscatory taxation by a local, state, or federal governments.”
by Pastor Kenny Burchard email me
Taking His name in vain
It is fairly typical for people to claim that an idea or practice is valid by claiming that Jesus either taught the idea, or modeled the practice himself. Actress Jane Fonda is often quoted as saying, “Jesus was a socialist,” and that idea is often used by groups who are advocating social change (especially when trying to pique the conscience of the average Christian who may be seen as being against the issue at hand).
The current discussion in our culture seems to center around our shared approach to caring for the poor, providing free homes, food, and health care to those who can’t afford it, and generally ensuring that the needs of the marginalized, impoverished, or less fortunate among us are taken care of by… us.
It’s not hard to find teaching in the New Testament – especially in the words of Jesus – about caring for the poor. In fact, many of the miracles performed by Jesus were mass feedings and healings. He seemed to care deeply about human plight, sickness, hunger, and the suffering that people endure in this life.
The casual reader of the four Gospels would certainly come away understanding that Jesus was an advocate of the disenfranchized, a friend of sinners, and someone who rolled up his sleves to meet real needs.
He was not just a preacher. His message was inseparable from innumerable demonstrations of love, mercy, provision, and care for hurting people. But… was this tied to the same values espoused by socialism? Was Jesus a socialist, or is socialism based on the teachings of Jesus?
What do you mean, “Socialism?”
Here are a couple of definitions from Dictionary.com -
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.
In socialism, the “community” owns everything. There is no “mine,” there is only “ours,” and the leaders of the “us” control, disseminate, disburse, and (as you’ve heard it characterized) “redistribute” the wealth that is created by the collective.
Government-Based Socialism (The Man in the Middle)
With respect to socialism on a government level, the kings, princes, governors, presidents, etc. see themselves as the party responsible for ensuring that no one is either too rich or too poor. If one is very very rich, he would be seen as an evil person who is hoarding what others need.
The government is the great equalizer who confiscates his wealth through taxation, and redistributes it to those who are in need based on the government’s definition of “those in need.”
Once the taxes are forcibly extracted from the weatlthy person, he is not given any say in what is done with the funds that are taken from him. That descion is made by the “leaders” who know (they believe) better than the rich man how his wealth should be re-distributed. Whether he likes it or not, his wealth may be used to pay for things that he feels are morally objectionable.
Vote for me, and I’ll get his money and give it to you…
In this model, the government is the hero, and the rich man is the villain. The government’s aid of the poor by “confiscatory taxation” is seen as an act of good by both the government who confiscates, and the recipients of the wealthy man’s confiscated wealth.
It would be very difficult – given a chance to choose (vote) to ever get the recipients of this redistributed wealth to choose a leader who did not continue and even expand this practice. After all, it is how many in the community eat, get their medicine, have housing, or even have a job.
Leaders who embrace this practice would be able to gather incredible support by demonizing those who have more, and promising to go after it and give it to those who have more needs.
Another dynamic that is possible in this system is to characterize those who disagree with it as “unloving” or “racists” or “hypocrites” or even “fake Christians.” Since funds are confiscated under the auspices of “caring for the poor and needy” – those who resist the government as the middle-man in the meeting of needs are characterized as unloving, uncaring, and only concerned about enriching themselves. The rich are demonized, and the government is celebrated as the societal “Robin Hood” who takes from the evil rich, and gives back to the poor.
What happens to wealth-generation in this model?
There are two basic outcomes when this model of economics is employed.
First, the incentive to generate wealth is literally obliterated because of (1) the fear that the government will come in and confiscate it, which causes entrepreneureal retreat; and (2) the idea that working hard is unnecessary among those who are recipients of entitlements. They get their check, their house, and their medical care even if they don’t work a single day.
Why generate wealth just to have it taken away and redistributed at someone elses whim or discretion? And why look for ways to better yourself when the government is taking care of the essentials for you already?
Second, dishonesty becomes rampant. Bribes, black-markets, and a host of other immoral fiscal practices become pervasive. This happens for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that when an outside force (government) is telling you how much money you can have – and you need more, you begin to look for other ways to either get more, or hide the excess funds that would otherwise be taken by the government.
Did Jesus advocate this as the way to administer care?
The original question is, “Did Jesus teach that the believer’s responsibility to care for the poor should be mediated (administrated) by the government?”
Is there anything in the words of Jesus that looks like, “The way to care for the poor is for the government to confiscate wealth through taxes which are redistributed to the needy among you”?
Socialism teaches that the government controls the wealth by confiscating it through mandatory taxes, which are re-distributed to meet what the government believes are the needs of the people (feeding the poor, etc). The question is then – Was Jesus a socialist?
To say that Jesus fed the poor, healed the sick, and promoted charity, generosity, and botherly love is a no brainer. What is NOT obvious is that Jesus was a socialist. Attaching the practice of socialism to the teachings of Jesus cannot be found in the New Testament.
Even the early church handled benevolence needs from within the believing community. There is no evidence that they took offerings which were handed over to a civil governments for redistribution to those in need. They handled it as a congregational practice based on free-will giving (not compulsory or confiscatory taxation).
If you can find any evidence that Jesus taught confiscatory taxation as the primary means for caring for the poor, providing housing, food, and medical care for all who want or need it, I would like to have your verses.
If you’d like to read Part 2 (in which I present Jesus talking like a socialist) – I encourage you to read that one here. In that post I present a mock-dialogue between Jesus and his disciples where Jesus is presenting his initial framework for taking over the Roman government with a socialist revolution, and his plan to set up a huge, well-paid bureaucracy to feed the poor (with the money that’s left over after they pay themselves, of course). Click here to read that one.
Food for thought…
The Oasis Foursquare Church, Hanford, CA