Christian communism

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Christian communism is a theological view that the teachings of Jesus Christ compel Christians to support religious communism as the ideal social system. Although there is no universal agreement on the exact dates when communistic ideas and practices in Christianity began, many Christian communists claim 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.[1] As such, many advocates of Christian communism argue that it was taught by Jesus and practiced by the apostles themselves.[2] Some historians confirm its existence.[3][4][5][6][7]

There are those who view that the early Christian Church such as that one described in the Acts of the Apostles was an early form of communism and religious socialism. The view is that communism was just Christianity in practice and Jesus as the first communist.[8] This link was highlighted in one of Karl Marx's early writings which stated that "[a]s Christ is the intermediary unto whom man unburdens all his divinity, all his religious bonds, so the state is the mediator unto which he transfers all his Godlessness, all his human liberty".[8] Furthermore, Thomas Müntzer led a large Anabaptist communist movement during the German Peasants' War which Friedrich Engels analysed in The Peasant War in Germany. The Marxist ethos that aims for unity reflects the Christian universalist teaching that humankind is one and that there is only one god who does not discriminate among people.[9]

The Hutterites believed in strict adherence to biblical principles, "church discipline" and practiced a form of communism. The Hutterites "established in their communities a rigorous system of Ordnungen, which were codes of rules and regulations that governed all aspects of life and ensured a unified perspective. As an economic system, Christian communism was attractive to many of the peasants who supported social revolution in sixteenth century central Europe" such as the German Peasants' War and "Friedrich Engels thus came to view Anabaptists as proto-Communists".[10]


Christian communism was based on the concept of koinonia, which means common or shared life, it was not an economic doctrine but an expression of agape love.[11] It was the voluntary sharing of goods amongst the community.[12] Acts 4:35 records that in the early church in Jerusalem "[n]o one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but shared everything in common." which likely was a means for the early christians to survive after the destruction of Jerusalem[13] although the pattern would later disappear from church history except within monasticism.

Christian socialism was one of the founding threads of the British Labour Party and is claimed to begin with the uprising of Wat Tyler and John Ball in the 14th century CE.[14]

In Christian Europe, communists were believed to have adopted atheism. In Protestant England, communism was too close to the Roman Catholic communion rite, hence socialist was the preferred term.[15] Friedrich Engels argued that in 1848, when The Communist Manifesto was published, socialism was respectable in Europe while communism was not. The teachings of Jesus were frequently described as socialist, especially by Christian socialists.[16] The Owenites in England and the Fourierists in France were considered respectable socialists while working-class movements that "proclaimed the necessity of total social change" denoted themselves communists. This branch of socialism produced the communist work of Étienne Cabet in France and Wilhelm Weitling in Germany.[17]

In the 16th century, English writer Thomas More, who is venerated in the Catholic Church as Saint Thomas More, portrayed a society based on common ownership of property in his treatise Utopia, whose leaders administered it through the application of reason.[18] Several groupings in the English Civil War supported this idea, but especially the Diggers, who espoused clear communistic yet agrarian ideals.[19][20][21] Oliver Cromwell and the Grandees' attitude to these groups was at best ambivalent and often hostile.[22]

Criticism of the idea of private property continued into the Enlightenment era of the 18th century through such thinkers as the deeply religious Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Raised a Calvinist, Rousseau was influenced by the Jansenist movement within the Roman Catholic Church. The Jansenist movement originated from the most orthodox Roman Catholic bishops who tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century to stop secularization and Protestantism. One of the main Jansenist aims was democratizing to stop the aristocratic corruption at the top of the Church hierarchy.[23] The participants of the Taiping Rebellion, who founded the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, a syncretic Christian-Shenic theocratic kingdom, are viewed by the Communist Party of China as proto-communists.[24] Soong Ching-ling was a Methodist who held the highest positions in the Communist People's Republic of China.


The Masses, 1917 political cartoon by the socialist cartoonist Art Young

Christian communists typically regard biblical texts in Acts 2 and 4 as evidence that the first Christians lived in a communist society.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. ... 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. ... 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.[25]

— Acts 2:44–45, Acts 4:32–35

Montero offers anthropological evidence that the practices recounted in Acts 4:32–35 were historical and were practiced widely and taken seriously during at least the first two centuries of Christianity.[26] Other biblical evidence of anti-capitalistic belief systems include Matthew 6:24: "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."[27] The slogan "Each according to his abilities" has biblical origins too. Acts 11:29 states: "Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea." The phrase "To each according to his needs" also has a biblical basis in Acts 4:35, stating "to the emissaries to distribute to each according to his need". Preaching by Thomas Wharton Collens describes biblical sources supporting a common-property society.[28][page needed][29][page needed]

Christian communism does not depend merely on the principles of the early apostles. In fact, Christian communists claim that anti-capitalist ideals are deeply rooted in the Christian faith. While modern capitalism had not yet formed in the time of Christ, his message was overwhelmingly against the love of money (greed) and in support of the poor. Christian communists see the principles of Christ as staunchly anti-capitalist in nature. Since "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10), it seems natural for Christians to oppose a social system founded—as Christian communists claim—entirely on the love of money. In fact, Christian opposition to the emergence of such a system largely delayed capitalist development and capitalism did not gather popular support until John Calvin endorsed capitalist practice from a religious perspective.[30]

Reception and controversy[edit]

Jesus as a revolutionary

Among Christian communists, historical materialism is utilized 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 beatific teachings of Jesus".[citation needed]

Both Christian communism and liberation theology stress orthopraxis over orthodoxy. A narrative of the nature of contemporary social struggles is developed via materialist analysis utilizing historiographic concepts developed by Karl Marx. A concrete example are the Paraguayan Sin Tierra (i.e. landless) movement,[31] 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.[32][33] For Camilo Torres, the founder of the Colombian guerrilla group ELN,[34][35][36] 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.[37]

The democratic socialist[38] social gospel advocate[39] Martin Luther King Jr. made an assertion that "no Christian can be a communist". He claimed that "basic philosophy of Christianity is unalterably opposed to the basic philosophy of communism", citing what he saw as rampant secularism and materialism in communism as proof that communism "leaves out God". He further claimed that "for the communist there is no divine government or no absolute moral order, there are no fixed, immutable principles." Nevertheless, King acknowledged that "although communism can never be accepted by a Christian, it emphasizes many essential truths that must forever challenge us as Christians." He adds:

Communism in society is a classless society. Along with this goes a strong attempt to eliminate racial prejudice. Communism seeks to transcend the superficialities of race and color, and you are able to join the Communist Party whatever the color of your skin or the quality of your blood, the quality of blood in your veins...

No one can deny that we need to be concerned about social justice...Karl Marx arouses our conscience at this point... So with this passionate concern for social justice, Christians are bound to be in accord. Such concern is implicit in the Christian doctrine of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Christians are always to begin with a bias in favor of a movement which protests against unfair treatment of the poor, but surely Christianity itself is such a protest. The Communist Manifesto might express a concern for the poor and the oppressed, but it expresses no greater concern than the manifesto of Jesus, which opens with the words: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captive, recovering the sight of the blind; to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord..."

We won’t have to worry...[about] communism...It can never be defeated with ammunition. It can never be defeated with missiles... The only way that we can defeat communism is to get a better idea, and we have it in our democracy... We have it in our Christianity.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Montero, Roman. "The Sources of Early Christian Communism". Church Life Journal. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  2. ^ Kautsky, Karl (1953) [1908]. "IV.II. The Christian Idea of the Messiah. Jesus as a Rebel.". Foundations of Christianity. Russell and Russell. Christianity was the expression of class conflict in Antiquity.
  3. ^ Lansford, Tom (2007). "History of Communism". Communism. Political Systems of the World. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 24–25. ISBN 9780761426288. Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  4. ^ Guthrie, Donald (1992) [1975]. "3. Early Problems. 15. Early Christian Communism". The Apostles. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-310-25421-8.
  5. ^ Renan, Ernest (1869). "VIII. First Persecution. Death of Stephen. Destruction of the First Church of Jerusalem". Origins of Christianity. II. The Apostles. New York: Carleton. p. 122.
  6. ^ Boer, Roland (2009). "Conclusion: What If? Calvin and the Spirit of Revolution. Bible". Political Grace. The Revolutionary Theology of John Calvin. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-664-23393-8.
  7. ^ Ellicott, Charles John; Plumptre, Edward Hayes (1910). "III. The Church in Jerusalem. I. Christian Communism". The Acts of the Apostles. London: Cassell.
  8. ^ a b Houlden, Leslie; Minard, Antone (2015). Jesus in History, Legend, Scripture, and Tradition: A World Encyclopedia: A World Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 357. ISBN 9781610698047.
  9. ^ Halfin, Igal (2000). From Darkness to Light: Class, Consciousness, and Salvation in Revolutionary Russia. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 46. ISBN 0822957043.
  10. ^ Janzen, Rod; Stanton, Max (2010). The Hutterites in North America (illustrated ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 17. ISBN 9780801899256.
  11. ^ Reginald Horace Fuller; Daniel Westberg (2006). Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Liturgical Press. pp. 81–. ISBN 978-0-8146-2792-1.
  12. ^ Albion Winegar Tourgée (15 April 2010). Undaunted Radical: The Selected Writings and Speeches of Albion W. Tourgée. LSU Press. pp. 146–. ISBN 978-0-8071-3754-3.
  13. ^ Frank K. Flinn (2007). Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Infobase Publishing. pp. 173–. ISBN 978-0-8160-7565-2.
  14. ^ "Labour revives faith in Christian Socialism". 21 May 1994.
  15. ^ Williams, Raymond (1976). Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Fontana. ISBN 978-0-00-633479-8.
  16. ^ The Gospels, by Terry Eagleton, 2007
  17. ^ Engels, Frederick, Preface to the 1888 English Edition of the Communist Manifesto, p. 202. Penguin (2002).
  18. ^ J. C. Davis (28 July 1983). Utopia and the Ideal Society: A Study of English Utopian Writing 1516–1700. Cambridge University Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-521-27551-4.
  19. ^ Campbell, Heather M, ed. (2009). The Britannica Guide to Political Science and Social Movements That Changed the Modern World. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 127–129. ISBN 978-1-61530-062-4.
  20. ^ E.g. "That we may work in righteousness, and lay the Foundation of making the Earth a Common Treasury for All, both Rich and Poor, That every one that is born in the Land, may be fed by the Earth his Mother that brought him forth, according to the Reason that rules in the Creation. Not Inclosing any part into any particular hand, but all as one man, working together, and feeding together as Sons of one Father, members of one Family; not one Lording over another, but all looking upon each other, as equals in the Creation;" in The True Levellers Standard A D V A N C E D: or, The State of Community opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men
  21. ^ Peter Stearns; Cissie Fairchilds; Adele Lindenmeyr; Mary Jo Maynes; Roy Porter; Pamela radcliff; Guido Ruggiero, eds. (2001). Encyclopedia of European Social History: From 1350 to 2000 - Volume 3. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 290. ISBN 0-684-80577-4.
  22. ^ Eduard Bernstein (1930). Cromwell and Communism. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  23. ^ Daniel Roche (1993). La France des Lumières.
  24. ^ Little, Daniel (17 May 2009). "Marx and the Taipings". China Beat Archive. University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Retrieved 5 August 2020. "Mao and the Chinese Communists largely represented the Taiping rebellion as a proto-communist uprising."
  25. ^ "Acts204:32-35 NRSV - - Bible Gateway". Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  26. ^ Montero, Roman A. (2017). All Things in Common: The Economic Practices of the Early Christians. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 5. ISBN 9781532607929. Retrieved 24 January 2019. I am going to argue that the accounts found in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37 describe historical economic practices found within the early Christian community; practices that were taken very seriously, which were widespread over different Christian communities around the Roman world, and which lasted for at least well into the second century. I am also going to argue that these economic practices were grounded in both Jewish and Christian theology and had precedent in Jewish tradition and practice; as well as the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
  27. ^ "Matthew 63A24 NIV - - Bible Gateway". Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  28. ^ Miranda, José Porfirio (1981). Comunismo en la Biblia. Colección mínima (in Spanish). 79 (3 ed.). Mexico, D.F.: Siglo veintiuno editores (published 1988). ISBN 9789682314865. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  29. ^ Miranda, Jose Porfirio (2004). Communism in the Bible. Translated by Barr, Robert R. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 9781592444687. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  30. ^ Osakue, Dawn. "Calvinist Ethics and the Rise of Capitalism". After turning the convert into a capitalist, the Calvinist doctrine of predetermination then made him comfortable with the uneven distribution of wealth. [...] Weber's central thesis on the relationship between Calvinist ethics and the rise of capitalism is that the former directly led to, and sustained the growth of the latter. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  31. ^ "MCP (Movimiento Campesino Paraguayo)". Archived from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  32. ^ Sutherland, Donald R. "The Religion of Gerrard Winstanley and Digger Communism". Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  33. ^ "Rexroth". Diggers. 26 November 2011. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  34. ^ "Bienvenido/a a nuestra página Web – Ejército de Liberación Nacional". 26 May 2008. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  35. ^ "Colombia rebel groups Farc and ELN agree 'to unite'". BBC News. 17 December 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  36. ^ McDermott, Jeremy (5 November 2009). "Colombia's ELN rebels show new vigour". BBC News. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  37. ^ "Camilo Torres Restrepo 1929–1966". Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  38. ^ Sturm, Douglas. "Martin Luther King Jr. as Democratic Socialist." The Journal of Religious Ethics, 18, no. 2 (1990): 79–105. Retrieved March 12, 2021.
  39. ^
  40. ^ "Can A Christian Be a Communist?" Sermon Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Retrieved 12 March 2021. Archived.


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