Socialism: to some it’s a dirty word; to others it’s the cure for many of society’s ills. One problem when talking about socialism is the complexity of its definition. I like how it is defined in Wikipedia.
Socialism is a social and economic system characterized by social ownership and/or social control of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy, as well as a political theory and movement that aims at the establishment of such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to cooperative enterprises, common ownership, state ownership (achieved by nationalization), citizen ownership of equity, or any combination of these. There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them.
This avoids defining socialism in a narrow way. There are different forms of socialism, and they can be applied in different ways. We have socialism in the United States. And the early church had socialism.
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
It’s clear that the early church practiced a form of socialism. They gathered all of their resources together and distributed everything according to each person's need. We gather some of our resources through taxes and distribute them to others who have need. One area we have strong disagreement about is healthcare. Most developed countries have some form of socialized healthcare; resources from all are gathered and everyone’s needs are met regardless of their position in society. While it is more socialist than some in this country think we should be, it does not go as far as the early church. Should we be more or less like the early church?
Some have told me that there is a difference between the early church and the US because in the early church people voluntarily gave up ownership. Once the community made a covenant, abiding by that covenant was not optional. The consequences to Ananias and Sapphire demonstrate this. When we accept the privileges and benefits of being part of a society we enter into a covenant and take on mutual responsibilities. We all receive benefits from being part of our society. To what degree and in what areas should we be responsible to others in our society? Jesus had an interesting answer that is so important it is in three of the four Gospels. Here is the version in the Gospel of Matthew.
Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
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