Many people have misinterpreted the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Acts of the Apostles in order to promote a view that the government should be the conductor of redistribution of wealth. Political figures have donned the mantra of “Christian Socialist” – from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
These misinformed persons often use the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37 in defense of socialism. A synopsis: A Jewish traveler is robbed and beaten and left by the road. A priest and Levite, supposedly the most righteous of the citizenry, walk by the traveler but do not stop to help. While a Samaritan, who is despised by the Jews and not a citizen, does stop and helps the man. The Samaritan even takes the wounded traveler to an inn and pays for his housing and medical care.
Jesus’ summary of the parable is that the best neighbor is he who demonstrates mercy instead of merely appearing righteous. Jesus commanded, “Go and do the same.” Social progressives take this as a mandate that the state should be the primary entity to “show mercy” in the form of taxation and social entitlements.
This is a dreadful application of Luke 10. It removes the parable from the entire context of the Bible’s teachings and subverts a command meant for individuals by incorrectly projecting it to governments. In doing so, this creates a form of government that is vastly inferior to free market capitalism.
God does, in fact, ordain and establish governments. According to Romans 13:1-7, we are to subject ourselves to the governing authorities. America’s Founding Fathers took that another step by establishing American government as one “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” This sets up a whole new discussion of the uniqueness of the American Experiment and the circular submission of Americans with their government (a good topic for future postings).
Simply, God ordains governments for the suppression of evil. In Genesis 9:5-6, the initial post-diluvian government was to be established upon capital punishment in order to suppress evil. This was the extent of the affirmative directive from God. It must be stressed ever so strongly, that the Bible never commands or mandates anything further for human government than to suppress evil. Thus it is wrong to assert that God ordains active redistribution of wealth in a government.
Jesus commanded us in Luke 10:37 to take our personal abilities, talents and possessions and use them in showing mercy to other individuals. Jesus demonstrated this by taking His own abilities and talents (which were considerable since He was God on earth) and used them to show mercy to other individuals.
Jesus never projected this command to any government. To take this command and extrapolate it to government is simply not in the text. Let me repeat, the Bible makes no mandate whatsoever for a government to take the position of redistributors of wealth.
“But does not Romans 13:7 order us to pay taxes?” one may ask. Yes! But these taxes are for the government’s duty to restrain evil. No mandate for taxes for entitlement programs was ever given.
Neither did Jesus compel or force His followers to give their wealth away. Giving was to be voluntary and done cheerfully from the heart. Those who gave with bad motives would lose their heavenly reward or, at worst, be struck down (Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-9).
But did not the early Church of Jerusalem in Acts 4:32-36 sell all their goods and “distributed to each as anyone had need”? Yes, they did do this. But we must note again that their participation in this community was voluntary (Acts 5:4).
This same communal Church of Jerusalem, incidentally, was unable to withstand the worldwide famine that occurred during the Roman Emperor Claudius’ reign. In fact, Christians in other cities, amidst the same famine, had to provide a “stimulus package” to the communal Jerusalem church (Acts 11:27-30). This is not to assert that communal living was the absolute cause of the Jerusalem Church’s fiscal shortfall. It is merely to say that their socialist structure was found to be insufficient in times of natural disaster.
This emphasizes the second point, that socialist forms of government are vastly inferior to free market capitalism. Communism has never lifted the average standard of living of any society. There are no examples of this happening ever in history. Communism has only brought a population down to a lower average level.
The first American attempt at communism was also a failure. The Pilgrims had a “common stock” contract upon their arrival in the new world. We are very familiar with the suffering they endured. After one year of misery, and several years of floundering, Governor Bradford initiated an ownership economy and the colony began to prosper.
The reason why communism does not work is that is goes against the very way God designed the human heart. Since we were made in the image of God, His attributes of creativity and achievement (in the economic form of labor and entrepreneurship) are integral parts of our nature. The impetus and reward of such entrepreneurship is enjoying its rewards – or enjoying the fruit of one’s labor.
Ecclesiastes 5:19 … For every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.
Psalms 128:2 When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, You will be happy and it will be well with you.
Under the conditions of fruitfulness from private enterprise, citizens begin to give. Americans give more than all other nations combined. And of all Americans, Christian conservatives give the most.
25 The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, For his hands refuse to work;
26 All day long he is craving, While the righteous gives and does not hold back.
There are many reasons why people endorse socialism. Though some seem justified, none are good:
- Their entrepreneurial spirit has been crushed.
- They lack the confidence or knowledge to venture.
- They are fearful of lack of provision.
- They have lost assets to greedy people.
- They are slothful and don’t want to work.
- They are greedy and want things for free.
- They want to have power by controlling other people.
Christianity effectively addresses each one of these afflictions and presents proven remedies for each … without endorsing socialism.
Yes, misinformed persons may endorse socialism, but let them not blame Jesus for it.