It is tough to tell the difference between socialism and Christian service. It shouldn’t be, but it is. On the surface many of the programs implemented by governments to help the poor are aligned with the biblical directives about the poor. This compounded with a view that any time a government utilizes one person’s money to help another you are heading down the slippery slope into communism creates the battleground in which we find ourselves today. I live in what some Americans call a socialist country, Canada. It is interesting because most of the rest of the world would say we are capitalist. Within our country we have those who would say we are on our way to being fully socialist and possibly communist while others would say our country favours the rich and holds down the poor. As they argue over what we are and what others are, those calling themselves Christians end up trying to create a faith that fits either capitalism or socialism neither of which are defining ideologies of a follower of Christ.
Satan is at work.
His tactic of mixing worldly constructs into Christian living so that they appear to be biblical truth, has caused us to take sides rather than serve. I have heard Bible verses used to support both a socialistic and capitalistic approach to living. Each side takes their stand seriously, insisting they have biblical imperatives that support their point of view. Here is the problem. The Bible does not address the actions of a government but rather it addresses the actions of those who follow Christ. There are rare instances in which the Bible talks about the government: Jesus addresses taxes Matthew 22:15-22 and Paul addresses our response to the rules of governments Romans 13:1-3 but for the most part anything that addresses the way we must live is about the individual not the laws of the land. There are no verses in the Bible that point toward Christians supporting socialism or capitalism and yet somehow Satan convinces us to fight for our preferred form of governance as if God Himself decreed it in His word.
At first glance Christianity is socialistic.
Although many of the people reading this blog live in what would be considered capitalist countries (even Canadians with our government run healthcare), the biggest threat to the collective of Christ followers and individual Christ followers is the idea that Christianity is a socialist faith. Just like I pointed out in my last blog Capitalism Contaminates Christian Culture Creating Congregational Confusion we often adopt worldly approaches to the way we live out our faith. While it takes some finagling to make Christianity appear capitalist, it takes very little work to make Christianity socialist. Jesus addressed the plight of those who were less fortunate by assigning responsibility for them to those who follow Him:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV)
Don’t be fooled by appearance.
Jesus is not commanding the governments of the world to carry out His calling but rather those who follow Him. It is the duty of the Christ follower to act in a way that, when practiced by government, is socialist. It is not, however, socialist when an individual Christ follower or collective of Christ followers choose to live out the calling of our Saviour. Socialism is the government taking from one group that it deems too wealthy and giving it to a group that it deems not wealthy enough. Christianity is not the redistribution of wealth by law or by force but rather passionate and compassionate people of faith giving out of obedience to God and love for others.
There is a challenge that arises from living this out.
We need to do it! I must admit, I like the balance my country has struck between capitalism and providing assistance through our universal healthcare and as needed welfare systems. This is not a sales pitch but rather an admission that the government can play a role and still allow for people to pursue their dreams. Here is where it gets challenging. In countries like mine the Christian community often does not present the gospel through living out the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:35-40 because the government does it for them. In countries that lean more toward what many would call a purer form of capitalism, Christians often feel that everyone can make it, that everyone should be able to pull up their bootstraps and pay their own way. A God helps those who help themselves approach often becomes the motto of the church and the basis of its outreach. Both approaches are flawed.
Christians and by extension the church must be different.
We do not redistribute wealth but rather we redistribute grace. By stepping in when people are lacking we are living a metaphor for what Christ did for us at the cross. It may look like socialism but the outcome is not a level playing field but rather the introduction of level ground at the foot of the cross through which the treasures of heaven that defy the economic ideologies of mankind can be realized.