Q: Many in our country feel we are becoming more and more like a socialized state. Does the Bible indicate there is anything wrong with socialism?”
A: The word “socialism” may conjure up a host of meanings. We see countries where socialism is or has been at work for many years, and different pictures of the life of the populace lodge in our minds. Some of the countries are socialistic in virtually all segments of society, while others implement it partially.
If one defines socialism only as a type of government where ownership of property is by means of the community at large, without addressing the moral passivity common to many socialized countries, Scripture cannot be used to forbid offhand this political system. Whether a capitalistic democracy, a monarchy, an oligarchy, or a socialized “big government,” God’s Word exhorts Christians to acknowledge the existing form of government as legitimately established in the eyes of God. The words from Romans 13 are familiar: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (verse 1).
The early Christians practiced a form of what some would call “ideal communism.” Within the community of believers living in Jerusalem (not applying to the general population of the city), we are told “no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had,” (Acts 4:32). The next chapter sadly informs us, however, that even in this “idealistic” setting of Christians problems developed, as typified by Ananias and Sapphira.
Although God’s Word does not elevate a capitalistic state over a socialistic one, it clearly upholds the right of people to own and hold property when allowed by the civil authorities. Even the impetus for the Seventh Commandment points to this. The work ethic is also underscored, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). The Apostle Paul also wrote similar words to Titus: “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14). In a country where we are allowed a voice by vote in how our government is shaped, Christians have to take issue with any who insist socialism is a more “Christian and moral” system than a capitalistic society because of “caring and sharing.” Working under capitalism, a Christian can still follow well the injunction to “have something to share with those in need” (Eph. 4:28).
As opposed to those of the Reformed tradition who have tried to follow Calvin’s Geneva experiment in setting up a Bible-run secular government, we Lutherans maintain a distinction between the kingdom of Christ (ruled by God’s Word) and the kingdom of politics (ruled by reason and natural knowledge of the law). For further reading on this matter, we suggest the, Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XVI.