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Part 1 in a series on Acts 2-5

Ed. Note: This post has been adapted from its original form. Read the full paper here.

Here at IFWE, we’re working to help people integrate their faith with their work and economic thinking. Part of our mission includes exploring the implications of our faith for how we participate in our economic systems. We desire a system that promotes human creativity, purpose, and freedom.

There has been recent buzz about what appears to some to be the more socialistic aspects of Christianity. The Huffington Post and the Washington Post’s On Faith blog have both published op-eds touting progressive sounding Scriptures.

In one recent op-ed, Gregory Paul claims Jesus was a socialist, citing Acts 2-5 as evidence. Paul is not the first commentator to argue Acts 2-5 teaches socialism.

Acts 2-5 presents a beautiful picture of Christian community. But does it mandate socialism for believers? What can be said to such a claim?

There is an alternative argument to such statements. This alternative argues that the Bible’s central principles are consistent with a market economy, commonly called capitalism. Furthermore, the Bible’s central principles also contradict a centrally-planned economy, often referred to as socialism.

Let’s begin by defining capitalism and socialism. Both are economic systems. They make different claims over how resources should and can be rationed. More importantly, both claim they are best poised to promote human flourishing.

Capitalism is an economic system which largely allows markets to allocate scarce resources through prices, property rights, and profit/loss signals.

Socialism is a system under which the government owns the means of production. The government uses coercive taxation and wealth distribution to allocate resources. The government also makes decisions over property, prices, and production.

Incidentally, communism is a progression from socialism. It is both a political and economic system which would abolish private property and give to individuals based on need.

So what about this claim that Acts 2-5 teaches socialism or communism? First, let’s look at what the passages say.

Acts 2:44-45 says that immediately following Pentecost,

All those who believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as any might have need.

In Acts 4:32-35, it says of the early congregation that,

Not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them…For there was not one needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

It sounds like the language of socialism is here, so how could anyone argue otherwise? However, such a superficial reading may miss that which a closer look at the text reveals.

In the coming days we’ll explore some key points of these texts:

  • The early believers did not sell all their possessions.
  • The early Christians’ sharing was totally voluntary.
  • This was not a permanent practice, but a temporary measure.
  • It cannot be shown that the practices in Acts 2-5 are a mandatory prescription for later Christians.
What do you think? Does Acts 2-5 teach socialism? Leave your comments here
Dr. Art Lindsley

About Dr. Art Lindsley

Art Lindsley, Ph.D. is Vice President of Theological Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. An esteemed author and teacher, Dr. Lindsley received his B.S. in Chemistry from Seattle Pacific University, an M.Div. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. Read More...

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  • JW

    Acts teaches the believers of Christ how to act, and interact, in faith. It does not promote socialism because it is not a call for how a government should conduct itself, but how people should. Voluntary, with a heart of love – vs – forced by a ruling authority

  • Tim

    I think it’s important to note that many of the believers in that first group were “out-of-towner” (as they list their points of origin in chapter 2) that probably did not bring provisions for an extended stay necessitated by their need to learn from the Apostles the doctrines they would later take home. The early Church, therefore, is practicing basic hospitality.

    • Bighoss

      That analysis makes a lot of sense and has often and persuasively been used to discredit any notion that the practices in those early days of the church at Jerusalem constitute anything like a mandate for socialism

  • Missdoe

    What JW said is important.

    First, 2 Timothy 2:15 is brought to mind. The Word is truth, but it must be “rightly divided.” Extracting one or two comments from the Bible without context of who, and how, and why doesn’t provide clarity and understanding any more than tearing a chapter out of ANY book and reading it would result total comprehension of a subject.

    In Acts 2:40 “All who believed were together and had all things in common…” In verse 46 “they continued daily in one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house they ate food with gladness …” They were BELIEVERS in Christ together in community. They took care of each other, not the world at large. When you love someone, and they you, reciprocity is practiced of sharing and caring. It is within the context of the relationship, first with Christ and then with others that ones perfects love.

    By contrast, Socialism is imposed. There is no spirit of love, caring or “commonality” as in “one accord.” It is a materialistic system not a spiritual practice.

    Socialism provides no added reward for those who hard work and are frugality and it places no penalty on shirkers, spendthrifts, or opportunists. By taking from producers in order to placate non-producers government punishes those who strive to make the world a better place for those they love, thereby rewarding those who may not even care about the world today, tomorrow, or ever.

  • truefaith

    No it does not teach socialism. Scripture does not support any man’s concept of government to be answer for salvation and peace. If it teachs the opposite. All governmental concepts have the same effect they make God meanless which in turn make them meanless. Acts 2-43-45 scriptures support how christains should fellowship to other christains. To live by the letter of those scriptures would not bring you slalvation because to follow Jesus one must believe there is not an answer in this flesh body therefore any government. Jesus behavior gives example after example our true livies do not begin until we step inot our spiritual bodies and the only government is a monarchy with God as the supreme king. We support our government because it is framed on biblicial principles and democratic ideas and democratic ideas are not new. They existed when Jesus walked the earth and if they where the answer I am sure God would have worked them into scripture. Acts 2 43-45 will eventual lead you Jesus commanding us to give up all world goods and then follow him and for us that means focusing on life after the death of these bodies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lautensack Matthew Bascanni Lautensack

    Voluntary Socialism is socialism, and there is nothing wrong with socialism insofar as it it voluntary, since we are for all intents and purposes socialists within our own home. Both a new born baby and a working father are given according to their needs and give according to their ability.

  • http://stillwaterswalking.blogspot.com/ Megan

    If anything the support for both suggests that God sees neither as inherently more holy than the other. Both sides should stop claiming that their economic system is ordained by God.