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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. Some independent historians confirm it.
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. 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". 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.
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".
Christian communism was the early form of socialism and pre-Marxist communism. The teachings of Jesus are frequently described as socialist, especially by Christian socialists, including Christian communists. Acts 4:35 records that in the early church in Jerusalem "[n]o one claimed that any of their possessions was their own", 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.
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. Friedrich Engels argued that in 1848, when The Communist Manifesto was published, socialism was respectable in Europe while communism was not. 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.
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. Several groupings in the English Civil War supported this idea, but especially the Diggers, who espoused clear communistic yet agrarian ideals. Oliver Cromwell and the Grandees' attitude to these groups was at best ambivalent and often hostile.
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. 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.
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.— 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. 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." 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.[page needed][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.
According to theologians such as Leonardo Boff, the Latin American branch of Christian communist liberation theology is rooted in the concept that "prudence is the understanding of situations of radical crisis". 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".
Christian communist liberation theology is not about evangelization per se, but rather about developing an orthopraxis (ethical action, i.e. the condition of coming to the light by doing the works of God) that aims to reconcile the "beatific ethics" of Jesus as espoused 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 utilizing historiographic concepts developed by Karl Marx. A concrete example are the Paraguayan Sin Tierra (i.e. 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 grop ELN, 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.
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- Terry Eagleton
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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.
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