With all the talk these days of income inequality, medicare for all, and alleged gender wage gaps, it makes me wonder if the Bible addresses any such things. I believe it does, at least tangentially. The proposed solution to the aforementioned things (real things or not) is always the same- wealth redistribution. I don’t normally balk at that when I hear people argue for such things. I sort of expect it anymore. But it’s different when I hear Christians cite the Bible as an argument for Socialism, wealth redistribution, etc. I think it’s an ill informed argument.
The abstract here is essentially this: The Bible gave us Individual Liberties, Free Market Capitalism, a Constitutional Republic, and Freedom of Conscience. Meanwhile, Direct Democracy and Wealth Redistribution are Biblically indefensible and ultimately destructive. The Bible, particularly portions describing the early church, in no substantive way supports Socialism or Communism.
In scripture, Christians within the local church are often taught to love and serve one another, give to help each other, and even at times those outside the local church setting, but was the early New Testament church Socialistic because they had “all things common”? (Acts 2:44; 4:32)
I have in recent years been intrigued by the words “Collectivism” and “Individualism” as they pertain to God’s people. These words are of course not in the Bible. They are instead typically used in political thought to describe the underpinnings of such systems as Socialism, Marxism, Communism, as well as Free Market Capitalism, and a Constitutional Republic. The three former things being examples of Collectivism and the two latter things being examples of Individualism.
The question is sometimes posed as to which of the two base systems does the Bible support, if any. I’m no Political Science expert, nor would I claim to be a Biblical Scholar, but I believe there is a reasonable answer. However, we must note that there are examples of both in scripture. Truthfully, I feel in over my head on this one because of the complexity of it all. People more intelligent than I am have written many thick volumes on these things, so I’m not re-inventing the wheel here. What I want to draw out are simple observations from the Bible pertaining to these often hotly debated ideas about government. We need logical reason for the politics we affirm, but as Christians, I do believe we need Biblical support also. You’ll find both logic and scripture to be two sides of the same coin.
We’ll look at Collectivism in part one.
1) Collectivism (Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-35; 1 Corinthians 12:14, 18-20, 27; 2 Corinthians 8:12-14; Hebrews 13:16, et. al)
Collectivism asserts that the needs of the collective group take precedence over each individual in the group. It seems that this system (really any system) requires a moral people in order make a society ultimately flourish under it. Our Founders knew this. One of them actually cites Jeremiah 17:9 as the reason for this.
“To expect self-denial from men when they have a majority in their favor, and consequently power to gratify themselves, is to disbelieve all history and universal experience – it is to disbelieve revelation and the Word of God, which informs us ‘the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” - John Adams
Since people are inherently selfish and deceptive (think Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5), people under a Collectivist system end up making sacrifices to benefit the group, typically by force (legal or physical) by whoever sits at the top and decides what is good for the group. Several ideologies are built on this framework - Socialism, Marxism, Communism, etc. Ultimately, individual liberties can be stripped away by force for the sake of the group.
As far as I can tell, the verses that exemplify Collectivism (Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-35; 1 Corinthians 12:14, 18-20, 27; 2 Corinthians 8:12-14; Hebrews 13:16, et. al) do not require the individuals to sacrifice. It was voluntary in the sense that the early church did not impose this giving behavior. They gave willingly. The fact that this Biblical benevolence was voluntary makes todays’ proposed Collectivist ideas like Democratic Socialism look nothing like the Collectivism in the Bible. It’s a completely different thing. Thus the New Testament church was not an example of Socialism or Communism, the former being voluntary and the latter two being coercive.
Even in the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, they died, not because they didn’t give all of the price of their property, but rather because they lied and claimed that what they voluntarily gave was the whole amount. This was not some sort of tax or dues they failed to pay and subsequently they were put to death over not paying it.
The point is that New Testament Collectivism seems to be voluntary Collectivism. The Collectivism that gives rise to Socialism, Marxism, and so on, is involuntary and oppressive to some. Individual liberties of some get removed to benefit the rest. The danger of this is that while these systems often begin with the distribution of wealth in mind (in the name of income inequality), this ideology grows like a cancer into the realm of ideas. Eventually (or concurrently), ideas simply become another currency to be controlled for the sake of the group. And you’re in big trouble if the group ever wants you to stop talking.
This is one reason why Collectivism pairs so well with Direct Democracy which is essentially rule by the majority. Or, at least it pairs well at the beginning. A majority-rule society with Collectivist ideas eventually just eats itself. Because Jeremiah 17:9 is a correct assessment of humanity, and majorities don’t deny self, then you simply have a government constantly driven by ever-changing whims. The tiniest and most inane matters soon become matters of legislation all the way to the point where the group would change your very conscience if they could. It’s insane.
Bible Collectivism should not be equivocated with that of Socialism and Communism.
“Remember, democracy never lasts long.It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” -John Adams
“Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths” - James Madison
“The experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived”. - John Quincy Adams
In part two, I hope to take a look at Individualism in light of the Bible and see if it holds up. I’ll also provide Biblical support for small government, and give a possible “macrocosm” reason why the Bible does not jive with the the idea of a nation with open boarders.