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Christian communism is a form of religious communism based on Christianity. It is a theological and political theory based upon the view that the teachings of Jesus Christ compel Christians to support communism as the ideal social system. Although there is no universal agreement on the exact date when Christian communism was founded, many Christian communists assert that evidence from the Bible suggests that the first Christians, including the Apostles, established their own small communist society in the years following Jesus' death and resurrection. As such, many advocates of Christian communism argue that it was taught by Jesus and practiced by the Apostles themselves.
Christian communism can be seen as a radical form of Christian socialism. Christian communists may or may not agree with various parts of Marxism. They generally do not agree with the antireligious views held by secular Marxists, but do agree with many of the economic and existential aspects of Marxist theory, such as the idea that capitalism exploits the working class by extracting surplus value from the workers in the form of profits and that wage-labor is a tool of human alienation that promotes arbitrary and unjust authority. Christian communism, like Marxism, also holds that capitalism encourages the negative aspects of human nature, supplanting values such as mercy, kindness, justice and compassion in favor of greed, selfishness and blind ambition.
Christian communists also share some of the political goals of Marxists, for example replacing capitalism with socialism, which should in turn be followed by communism at a later point in the future. However, Christian communists sometimes disagree with Marxists (and particularly with Leninists) on the way a socialist or communist society should be organized. In general, Christian communism evolved independently of Marxism, and most Christian communists share the conclusions but not the underlying premises of Marxist communists.
- 1 History
- 2 Christian communists
- 3 Biblical citations
- 4 Symbolism
- 5 Controversy
- 6 See also
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Christian Communists have adapted many of Karl Marx's social and economic ideologies to their system of communism.
Contemporary Christian communism
However, an independent Christian communist movement did re-emerge, in a rather unexpected place: Latin America. This was a separate development from the earlier European and North American movements. Latin American Christian communism is a strong trend within liberation theology, which is a specifically Christian movement concerned with social justice and equality that incorporates both communists and other socialists. Liberation theology is Catholic in origin, given that Roman Catholicism is the dominant Christian denomination in Latin America, but there have also been liberation theologians from many other denominations. Liberation theology experienced significant growth during the 1960s and 70s, and many liberation theologians (including bishops and other prominent clergymen) supported the Sandinista government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.
Some branches of Liberation theology later were condemned by the Catholic Church's magisterium, especially by the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith headed by then Cardinal Ratzinger (the former Pope Benedict XVI). This curbed further growth, though liberation theology retains significant support both among clergymen and the general population today.
Christian communists were also found among Christian missionaries in China, the most notable being James Gareth Endicott, who became supportive of the struggle of the Communist Party of China in the 1930s and 1940s.
Thomas J. Haggerty
Thomas J. Haggerty was a Catholic priest from New Mexico, USA, and one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Haggerty is credited with authoring the IWW Preamble, assisting in writing the Industrial Union Manifesto and drawing up the first chart of industrial organization. He became a Marxist before his ordination in 1892 and was later influenced by anarcho-syndicalism. Haggerty's formal association with the church ended when he was suspended by his archbishop for urging miners in Colorado to revolt during his tour of mining camps in 1903.
Ernst Bloch (1885–1977) was a German Marxist philosopher and atheist theologian. Although not a Christian himself, he is said to have "bridged the gap" between Christian communism and the Leninist branch of Marxism. One of Bloch's major works, the Principle of Hope, contains such declarations as: "Ubi Lenin, ibi Jerusalem" [Where Lenin is, there is Jerusalem] and "the Bolshevist fulfillment of Communism [is part of] the age-old fight for God."
Diane Drufenbrock is a Franciscan nun and Socialist Party USA member. She was the Vice-Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party USA in the United States presidential election, 1980. She works as a teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Camilo Torres Restrepo
Camilo Torres Restrepo was often considered to be a Christian Communist due to his attempts, as a priest, to reconcile Roman Catholicism with Marxism and the communist revolution. He was a key person for Liberation Theology, which was called Communist by both the Vatican and the US government.
Christian communists hold the Biblical verses in Acts 2 and 4 as evidence that the first Christians lived in a communist society. Thomas Wharton Collens' Preaching is a good description of biblical sources being used with the goal of a common-property society; Prof. José P. Miranda, ""Comunismo en la Biblia"" (1981), translated as, ""Communism in the Bible"" (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1982).
But, in addition, they also cite numerous other Biblical passages which, in their view, support the idea that communism is the most ethical social system and that it is inescapably constitutive of the kingdom of God on earth. The most often quoted of these Biblical citations are taken from the three synoptic Gospels, which describe the life and ministry of Jesus.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
One of Jesus' most famous remarks regarding the wealthy can be found in Matthew 19:16–24 (the same event is also described in Mark 10:17–25 and Luke 18:18–25, and the metaphor of a camel going through the eye of a needle is common to both Matthew and Luke).
16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said unto him, Why do you ask me about what is good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. 18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. 23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
From this Christian communists understand that the nature of the kingdom of God is such that to be able to enter it a rich man must cease to be rich. However, Jesus Christ goes on to say that what is impossible with men is not impossible with God, implying that the grace of God can save a rich man, for instance by enabling rich people to willingly surrender the riches which should otherwise exclude them from grace. See Matthew 19:25–26, Mark 10:26–27 and Luke 18:26–27. For example, Matthew 19:25–26 says:
25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" 26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
Jesus also described "money changers" (i.e. those engaged in currency exchange) as "thieves" and chased them out of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is described in Matthew 21:12–14, Mark 11:15, and John 2:14–16. The text in Matthew reads as follows:
12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. 14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.
Christian communists interpret this passage as not having a figurative meaning alluding to imagined weakness of piety of the Sadducees. According to the left-inclined reading, what Jesus is referring to is the overturning of the economic provisioning of the tribes of Israel in the Law of Moses. According to Exodus, The Levites are apportioned no land in Canaan from which to subsist, but are instead granted the sacrificed animals and grain from all the other tribes for consumption or sale after ritual slaughter and burning. Thus every tribe was assured economic security of living. In the Temple system by Jesus' day, senior priests had accumulated large land-holdings from the profits on sale of animals for sacrifice, which they farmed at profit using hired labour and slaves to produce animals for sale, and from profit on sale of Temple money with which to make those purchases. Thereby in effect the Levites had dispossessed the non-priestly of Judah of swathes of their alloted patrimony by making a threefold profit out of the sacrificial system, and were daily accumulating more of the patrimony given by God to others, in addition to their proper income.
The phrase "love thy neighbor", repeatedly spoken by Jesus, is rather well known. Christian communists point out that Jesus considered this to be the second most important of all moral obligations, after loving God. Thus, they argue, a Christian society should be based first and foremost on these two commandments, and it should uphold them even more than it upholds such things as family values. The relevant Biblical verses are Mark 12:28–31:
28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Finally, Jesus gave an account of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31–46, in which he identifies himself with the hungry, the poor and the sick, and states that good or evil done upon "the least of [God's] brethren" will be counted as good or evil done upon God himself. It is argued that Jesus is saying not only that individuals would be judged by their treatment of the needy but also that nations would be judged according to the characteristics of their societies. If that is the case, this would imply that political and economic systems were being heavily critiqued as well:
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory; 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 For I was hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in; 36 Naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.
In addition, communistic attitudes and implications can be found in Leviticus 25:35–38: "If one [...] becomes poor [...] help him [...] so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God [...] You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God." and Acts 4:32–35, "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had [...] there were no needy persons among them [...] the money [...] was distributed to anyone as he had need." As well as Acts 2:42–47, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching [...] to the breaking of bread [...] everyone was filled with awe [...] all the believers were together and had everything in common [...] they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they [...] ate together with glad and sincere hearts [...] " Most significantly, this is part of the Law of Moses, and as such is commandment rather than exhortation or airing of opinion. This fact bears heavily upon subsequent discussion of the question of compulsory or voluntary relinquishing of riches, either as a possible entry requirement to Christian grace or as a means of achieving divine intentions for human social order.
Christian Communist symbolism is basically the same as its secular cousin, although there have been unofficial symbols which accurately show the connection between Christianity and Communism.
Hammer, Sickle, and Cross – This symbol is the most identified with Christian Communism of all other symbols. It shows a standard Hammer and Sickle with a diagonal bar through the hammer's grip, thus forming a cross shape.
Red Ichthys – This symbol is gaining popularity, though is not as popular as the above symbol. It shows an Ichthys in the middle of a red flag, a symbol commonly used in Communism.
Red Chi-Rho – This symbol is basically identical to the Red Ichthys, however it has a Chi-Rho in a red field, rather than an Ichthys.
Communism or communalism
A number of Christians, of various political persuasions, object to the use of the word communism in the term "Christian communism" due to that word's association with the governments of nations such as the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, Vietnam, and North Korea, which are seen as neutral. Many of the policies adopted by the governments of those countries were inarguably un-Christian in character, including official state hostility towards religious institutions. As such, many Christians argue that the title of Christian communalism should be used, rather than Christian communism.
On the other hand, some Christian communists[who?] believe that it is necessary to employ the word communism in order to capture the essence of their position on economics. They point out the existence of significant communist opposition to the totalitarian "communist states" of the 20th century (including, for example, Trotskyism), and argue that, if they were to abandon the term communism, it would only serve to further obscure the history of that opposition. Thus, these Christian communists hold that the term 'Christian communism' is accurate and appropriate, as long as it is specified that they belong to the democratic, anti-Stalinist branch of communism.
Atheism and communism
Contemporary communism, including contemporary Christian communism, owes much to Marxist thought – particularly Marxist economics. Not all communists are in full agreement with Marxism, but it is difficult to find any communists today who do not agree at least with the Marxist critique of capitalism. Marxism, however, includes a complex array of views that cover several different fields of human knowledge, and one may easily distinguish between Marxist philosophy, Marxist sociology and Marxist economics. Marxist sociology and Marxist economics have no connection to religious issues and make no assertions about such things. Marxist philosophy, on the other hand, is famously atheistic, although some Marxist scholars, both Christian and non-Christian, have insisted that Marxist philosophy and the philosophy of Marx and Engels are significantly different from one another and that this difference needs recognition. Jose Porfirio Miranda, in particular, found Marx and Engels to be consistently opposed to deterministic materialism and broadly sympathetic towards Christianity and towards the text of the Bible, although disbelieving in a supernatural deity.
Classless society and slavery
Jesus mentions servants in parables, there is no record of Jesus coming into contact with a slave. Thus, Christian communists argue the listing of "enslavers" (variously translated as "kidnappers" or "slave traders") along with the ungodly in 1 Timothy 1:10 suggests that though the existing institution of slavery was tolerated as the status quo, the enslavement of people was condemned as a sinful practice. The lack of a scriptural condemnation of slavery by Jesus—who would have been familiar with the institution due to its use in ancient and contemporary societies—and a general scriptural support for class-based society, can be assigned Exodus 20:17, Exodus 21:20–21, 26–27, and Ephesians 6:5–9 as support. However the notion of a classless society of believers, equal in the eyes of God and the members of that community, is widespread across most forms of Christianity, at least as an aspiration.
Christian Leftists (and Christian Communists) in general, emphasize that a central aspect of the message of Jesus ("the good news"), focused on the liberation of the poor from captivity and oppression, thus in Luke 4:18–19: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." Christian Communists argue that this passage proves that Jesus was very much aware of the fact that oppression and bondage of the poor existed as a social reality in his times.
Communism, as such, implies not only the abolition of social classes and private property, but the state as well. Christian communists, like orthodox communists, do not wish to immediately abolish the state; rather, they seek to abate it gradually over a period of time. Nevertheless, the fact that they do support the eventual dissolution of government has drawn criticism from other Christians who attribute an intrinsic, hierarchical government to the kingdom of God. Most notably, Biblical prophecy in the Book of Isaiah 9:6–7 holds that the Second Coming of Jesus will result in the creation of a government by God on Earth:
6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (King James Version)
One Christian communist reply is that a government by God is fundamentally different from a government by human beings, and that they oppose the latter but not the former. Some Christian communists argue that the Second Coming will render all human politics irrelevant, and therefore their political goals – including the creation of a communist society and the abolition of government – only apply to the period of time left before the Second Coming. Others believe that the utopian society established by Jesus after the Second Coming will practice many, but not all, of the features of communism.
Establishing Christian communism
There is also the question of how a communist society should be actually achieved. While orthodox communists advocate a form of violent revolution, Christian communists almost universally insist on nonviolent means, such as passive resistance or winning elections. Regarding the issue of the nationalization of the means of production, which is seen by some Christians as theft, Christian communists argue that capitalism itself is a form of institutionalized theft in the manner that capitalist owners exploit their workers by not paying them the full value of their labor.
Not all Christian communists seek to achieve large-scale social change, however. Some believe that, rather than attempting to transform the politics and economics of an entire country, Christians should instead establish communism at a local or regional level only.
The Latin American branch of Christian Communist Liberation Theology, according to theologians such as Leonardo Boff; is rooted in the concept that "prudence is the understanding of situations of radical crisis". Among Christian Communists, Historical Materialism is utilised as a methodology of analysis to define the nature of the crisis in question as a product of political-economic dynamics and modalities derived from the workings of what is termed "the late capitalist/imperialist mode of production". According to this subset of Liberation Theology, the challenge for the Christian Communist is then to define what it means (in context of "a concrete analysis of the concrete social reality"), to affirm a "preferential option for the poor and oppressed" as Praxis (active theory), and as commanded by an ethics allegedly "rooted in the beatidic teachings of Jesus". Christian Communist Liberation Theology is not about evangelization per se, but rather about developing an Orthopraxis (ethical action; The condition of coming to the light by doing the works of God), that aims to reconcile the "Beatidic Ethics" of Jesus, as expoused in the Sermon on the Mount; with existing social struggles against what is termed "neo-colonialism" or "Late Capitalism". Both Christian Communism and Liberation Theology stress "orthopraxis" over "orthodoxy". A narrative of the nature of contemporary social struggles is developed via "materialist analysis" utilising historiographic concepts developed by Karl Marx. A concrete example are the Paraguayan Sin Tierra (landless) movement, who engage in direct land seizures and the establishment of socialized agricultural cooperative production in asentamientos. The contemporary Paraguayan Sin Tierra operate in a very similar manner as that of the reformation era Diggers. For Camilo Torres (the founder of the Colombian guerrilla group E.L.N.), developing this Orthopraxis meant celebrating the Catholic Eucharist only among those engaged in armed struggle against the army of the Colombian state, while fighting alongside them.
While some Christians interpret the Bible as advocating that the ideal form of society is communism, other Christians counter by maintaining that the establishment of a large-scale communist system would infringe on people's free will by denying them the freedom to make decisions for themselves. They assert that free will should never be infringed upon – except for cases where punishment is necessary in response to individuals disregarding the free will of other individuals – thereby allowing individuals to choose between good and evil for themselves and define their own destinies.
Christian communists, however, reply that this argument is inconsistent: if there should be no restrictions on the human exercise of free will, and if no one should be denied the freedom to sin, then all crimes, heinous or not, should be legalized. Indeed, any law restricts freedom to some degree, and some important sins – murder, theft, rape – are illegal in the vast majority of countries. Christian communists logically extend this argument in support of empowering a government or a community to control some aspects of society that are left uncontrolled in capitalism (e.g., most economic relations). Therefore, one important controversy between Christian communists and their Christian opponents lies in defining the extent and necessity of free will.
The idea of "free will" as a universal human right was virtually unknown in biblical times. Slavery was common then in that region of the world, even among the few more open and democratic societies that existed – e.g., the ancient Greeks. The concept of "free will", as we know it today, comes primarily from authors during the Renaissance and from philosophers during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe – in other words, not before the 16th century. Our modern notion of free will as virtuous in itself is not contained anywhere in the Bible. The moral code of Bible (both Old and New Testaments) teaches only that to be moral one must understand and obey "God's Will" (i.e., "Thy Will be done [...] "). The idea that it is more ethical for all individuals to have "free will" and freedom to choose their destiny in life, is a very modern notion. However, in the first chapters of Genesis in the Christian Bible describe the free choice given by God to Adam and Eve whether or not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Advocates of Latin American Liberation Theology object, in this last respect, that the cited objection is referent to a choice that was conditional and not inconsequential.
Martin Luther faced this issue – of free will, equality, and charity for all, versus obeying God's Will and that of religious and social hierarchies – during the German Peasants' War in Germany, 1524-1524. While he sympathized with the peasants' grievances, he was enraged at the widespread burning of convents, monasteries, bishops’ palaces, and libraries. In Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants (1525), he condemned the violence as the devil's work, called for the nobility to put down the rebels like mad dogs, and explained the Gospel's view on free will and the sharing of wealth:
Whosoever can, should smite, strangle, and stab, secretly or publicly, and should remember that there is nothing more poisonous, pernicious, and devilish than a rebellious man [...] the Gospel does not make goods common, except in the case of those who do of their own free will what the apostles and disciples did in Acts IV. They did not demand, as do our insane peasants in their raging, that the goods of others – of a Pilate and a Herod – should be common, but only their own goods. Our peasants, however, would have other men's goods common, and keep their own goods for themselves. Fine Christians these! I think there is not a devil left in hell; they have all gone into the peasants." Luther: Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants, Documents of Modern History.
Nearly all of the Biblical citations held up by Christian communists to support the idea that Jesus instituted a form of communism during His mortal ministry, are based on the idea that Christians are instructed to provide for the sick and the destitute. Although anti-communist Christians, such as the late anti-communist Christian writer, W. Cleon Skousen, do believe that Jesus encouraged all Christians to provide for the needy, their contention with Christian communists revolves around the idea that it was not compulsory for early Christians to share their goods but rather encouraged. The Christian Communist interpretation of "communion of goods" centers on the statement made by Jesus in Luke 14:33 "So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions".
One particularly prominent Biblical dispute is centered around the features of the social organization practiced by the early Christians. Skousen has asserted that the Biblical citations from Acts 2 and 4 (cited above) do not support the idea that early Christians practiced communism as it has been defined and practiced in recent history. Although anti-communist Christians do believe that Jesus encouraged all Christians to provide for the sick and the destitute, they also believe that it was not compulsory for ancient Christians to share their goods. They assert that Acts 2:42 states that those who "had all things in common" chose to do this because they were among those "that believed." Skousen also argues that Acts 4:32 implies that only those who "were of one heart and of one soul" had "all things common". Therefore, in the anti-communist view, a communistic lifestyle was an optional choice made by devout Christians; it was not a requirement. The general reply of Christian Communists to the question is that there is no explicit indication in the canon text that the practice of selling possessions and distributing them to the poor was optional; in context, they cite the account of the young man in the Gospel who asked Jesus what he should do to obtain eternal life, and Jesus replied to him to "keep the commandments", but when the young man pressed further, Christ told him: "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor" [Matthew 19:16–24].Furthermore; Christian communists respond to this by citing Acts 5:1–10, which they hold to be additional evidence that the Apostles and early Christians did not view communism as something optional:
1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, 2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. 5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. 6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. 7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. 8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. 9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. 10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. (King James Version)
Christian communists hold that this passage explicitly shows how communism – that is, the sharing of all wealth – was considered so central to early Christianity that Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead by God for keeping part of their wealth for themselves. Some Christian communists go further and use these verses as an endorsement of the view that society should be communistic even against the will of some of its members; and that refusing to share one's wealth can be regarded as a crime and punished as such.
On the other hand, some anti-communist Christians – such as W. Cleon Skousen, David Chilton, Dr. Gary North, Rev. R. J. Rushdoony – argue that Peter was not disturbed because Ananias and Sapphira were not faithfully practicing communism or because they failed to share all their wealth, but because they had lied to God (verses 3 and 4) and thereby "tempt[ed] the Spirit of the Lord" (verse 9). They would also note that Peter made it clear that the possession and money belonged to Annanias and Sapphira to do with as they wished, and so supported the notion of private property. Thus, anti-communist Christians do not see this event as one supporting the practice of compulsory communism, but as a warning against lying to God or believing that one can deceive him. The general objection of Christian Communists to Conservative Christian advocates of the "wealth gospel", is to object that Jesus created a disturbance at Herod's Temple by overturning the tables of the moneychangers who set up shop there, while claiming that they had made the Temple a "den of thieves".[Mk 11:17] This reference is commonly cited, not only by Christian Communists; but also by the Christian Socialist and Liberal Christian Churches, in context of critiques of modern age televangelist cults whom they allege "prey on the poor".
Anti-communist Christians also cite a variety of Biblical verses which portray Jesus as one who valued the ability to choose for one's self or to frame one's own destiny. In particular, in the Gospel of Matthew 26:39, as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, He pleaded:
39 O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (King James Version)
The Christian Communists object that Christian Conservatives contradict themselves in alleging, on the one hand, that Jesus valued the preeminence of free will, while on the other proposing a soteriological perspective premised upon the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as necessary for human salvation in the afterlife.
Anti-communist Christians assert that this verse plainly demonstrates that Jesus cherished the concept of free will. In this view, Jesus has willfully submitted his will to be subjected to the will of God (His Father). Thus if Jesus possessed free will and willfully chose to deny Himself, it is illogical that He would have endorsed any compulsory teachings that would not afford His followers the same right He possessed.
On a related note, anti-communist Christians hold that it was always important to Christians to share their wealth voluntarily, and that the communal property arrangement of the Apostles was an optional one. In this view, Peter would not have objected to Ananias and Sapphira keeping their wealth to themselves if they had proclaimed their desire to do so openly. To support this position, anti-communist Christians employ a Biblical reference found in 2 Corinthians 9:6–7, which states:
6 But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. 7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. (King James Version)
With this, anti-communist Christians argue that early Christians were urged to share their wealth with those who were in need, but they were not compelled to do so.
While noting that Jesus Christ never held any wealth, and that in fact He lived as a mendicant; many Christian Communists point out, in reply, the admonition of Jesus to the young man in Matthew 19:16–24: "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor".
The issue of forced sharing of wealth is by no means settled among Christian communists, however. Some agree with anti-communist Christians that all giving should be voluntary, and argue for voluntary Christian communes that one may enter or leave at will. Others believe that sharing one's wealth is a duty ordained by God, and should be enforced as such, but only among Christians; those who hold this view tend to argue for some sort of independent Christian state or community that would practice communism separate from any non-Christians. There are also those who hold that the entire issue of "forced sharing of wealth" rests upon the mistaken assumption that people have private wealth to start with in a communist system, and argue that people born under communism are not forced to share anything because they never had any private property in the first place. This leaves open the question of forced sharing among the first generation who establishes communism.
Finally, a fair amount of controversy between communist and anti-communist Christians is focused on the many economic parables told by Jesus – including the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14–30 (a "talent" was a form of money). The parable deals with a man who entrusted different sums of money to three different servants while he went on a journey. Upon his return, he discovered that the two servants with the larger sums of money had "multiplied" their wealth (it is not specified how), while the third servant simply kept the money he was given. The master blesses the first two and curses the third. W. Cleon Skousen has stated that aside from its spiritual message, this parable also resembles capitalism and entrepreneurship. He also points out that the master in the parable speaks favorably of the "money exchangers," telling the third servant that the least he could have done was to "put his money to the exchangers" so that the master would have been able to receive his "own" (investment) "with usury" (interest).
On the other hand, Christian leftists (not just communists) – such as John Cort – point out that this was a parable, and parables are by definition not intended to be taken at face value. Jesus begins the story, in Matthew 25:14, with the words "For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods." John Cort argues that this means the master in the story represents God, and the "money" represents his grace; it is "spiritual wealth". Thus the meaning of the parable would be that one should seek to grow in the Lord; to multiply one's treasures in heaven, not on Earth (in accordance with Matthew 6:19–24). Cort further argues that if one were to take parables at face value, one could just as easily use the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard at Matthew 20:1–14 (where all workers get the same amount of money even though some worked a lot longer than others) as support for the equal distribution of wealth. In response, anti-communist Christians point out that the price of labor in this parable was agreed upon with each laborer prior to the labor, the amount of labor performed is thus irrelevant; communism is therefore not related to this parable in any sense.
While the exact meaning of the parables taught by Jesus is open to interpretation, many Christians, of different varieties, typically interpret one particular parable in many different ways. Depending on the particular life circumstances of the individuals studying Jesus' parables, physical, spiritual, psychological, and emotional interpretations of the parables are commonly made. This is precisely the reason why Christians believe the Bible is God-inspired; because its teachings are believed to be universally applicable and can therefore be used to resolve any problem.
Additionally, anti-communist Christians sometimes argue that private property rights are a natural extension of Imago Dei. These arguments are structured around the Genesis account of creation and Old Testament moral law. They argue that individual sovereignty prohibits any forced or coerced sharing of property. David Gernhard of Liberty Advocates argues that "By creating man in His image, God gave every person control over their own faculties, and since individuals are not superior or inferior to one another, property rights independent of others are part of the order of creation." While Gernhard and others reject the idea of forced communism, their beliefs do not seem to contradict voluntary cooperation.
Christian Communists argue that the modern doctrine of private property rights as an extension of "Imago Dei"; appears to contradict Jesus Christ: Jesus chased money changers out of the Temple in Jerusalem, with complete disregard for the money changers property rights over the gold coins that Jesus spilled on the ground after he acted to overturn the tables in Matthew 21:12–14:
12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. 14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.
Many on the Christian Left (not only Christian Communists) additionally make the point that the modern notion of private property rights based on law, was developed in Western Europe and was unknown to the Native American tribes at the time of the Christian conquest; and that to equate property rights with God thus would tend to impart divine status to genocide and land theft. More fundamentally, Biblical sourcing for discerning the opinion of God about private property, and especially about inequality of property ownership must take into account Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15 and the vast array of verses throughout scripture which refer to those unenforced and habitually non-observed sections of the Law of Moses. According to these, private property is not sacrosanct or inviolable but is temporary, conditional and transient. Title is explicitly shown to be subordinate to family need, and subject to revocation and redistribution without appeal on a regular basis. In combination with the mandatory writing off of all financial debts and manumission of persons who have become indentured or enslaved through debt, the Jubilee dismantles concentration of wealth and money in private hands. Although individual possession remains and is restored to an original egalitarian starting point, the principle is laid down that property is not a mere commodity which can be traded and accumulated permanently. By implication, property does not belong to the property-owners at all, but to God. He commands that deeds to be removed from safes and returned to the cupboards of poor people routinely. This is the inheritance of the world by the meek, and the good news for the poor "for theirs is the kingdom of God". This is the sense in which Mary prophesied that the rich shall "be sent empty away". It is for this reason that every other economic parable of Jesus besides the parable of the talents explicitly offers an example of unconditional radical socio-economic redistribution. According to Christian communists, the economic parables of Jesus, which is most of them, are wrongly misinterpreted as allegorical of the doctrine of salvation by faith and instead were allegories for the enforcement of Leviticus 25, and explain the kingdom of God on earth as centrally featuring that Jubilee. They are gospel good news not as abstruse pointers to the intellectual "A-ha" of theological insight about grace, in which role they puzzle rather than excite, but instead they show the fantastic excitement and spectacular good news for the needy of the moment of total redistribution, which is both a redemption (of owed rights) and salvation from poverty, debt and slavery. For Christian communists, salvation means not only rescue from divine judgement and death, but also rescue from poverty, inequality and unjust conditions of real-life. Christian communists refuse to discount the copious scriptural evidence of divine concern for human living conditions, divine abhorrance at the fact that there are rich and poor, and divine condemnation of the behaviours, attitudes and processes by which economic inequality grows, including idolatry about private property. Christian communists find Marx's elaboration of the nature of money as being an idol, and of the nature of the process of capital accumulation as being idolatry, fully biblical.
Along with criticism from Christian anti-communists, secular socialists and/or communists are often opposed to Christian communism. The almost universal rejection of open revolution and class war by Christian communists is seen by some sectarian atheist communists as being contradictory to the central tenets of communism, or as being stereotypable as Utopian or even counter-revolutionary. Such sectarian differences are normal within the Left and have diminished over time with familiarity, creating the contemporary fruitfulness of leftwing Christian evangelism within the western Left. However anecdotal and subjective experiences of intraleft Christian evangelism may be, there is a long tradition of such waves including the Oklahoma tent 'Revivals For Socialism' of the 1920s, the launching of Catholic Worker in the 1930s and the Jesus People movement of the hippie era.
On the other hand, many advocates of Latin American Liberation Theology and Black Liberation Theology consider themselves inspired by the history of the Christian charitable and communal tradition, especially so as it concerns the period of the radical reformation, Christian communalism and non-conformism. Many inputs derived from the Christian Communist traditions find expression in the contemporary conceptualisations and elaborations of the Christian Left in general.
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