I attended a university that holds to a Christian worldview.
During one of my classes my professor said one of my least favorite statements: “Jesus was a socialist.” He then pulled out the classic things Jesus has said that are used to back this statement up. Included on the list were things like Christ telling us that it’s harder for the rich to get to heaven than it is for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle and similar verses from the Gospels.
My professor and I went back and forth on this throughout the entire semester. Is he right? Was Jesus truly a socialist? Did the Savior of the world hold beliefs similar to that of Karl Marx? My answer is firmly no.
To begin, we must have an understanding of what socialism really is.
The Merriam-Webster definition of socialism is:
noun so·cial·ism \ˈsō-shə-ˌli-zəm\ a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies
It is important to note that the so-called ‘democratic socialism’ advocated by Bernie Sanders and company just doesn’t exist; go ahead and Google it. The definition of democratic socialism is a longer version of the definition of socialism.
A brief survey of the history of socialism in the world shows it to be bloody and unsuccessful. Although there are earlier roots, socialism really started to come onto the scene during the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, and was made popular through the ideas of Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto (communism is the end result of the logical progression of socialism). The Soviet Union is one of the biggest faces of socialism in the past, carrying blood soaked names such as Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin.
In the modern United States, socialism has become trendy for a large chunk of the Millennial generation and more; they advocate that the rich are too rich, the poor are too poor, and that taxation and government equalization are the correct cures. However, socialism in reality is a brutal equalizer that sinks everyone to the same level of taxation, poverty, and need. North Korea and Venezuela are classic examples of the horrors of socialism carried out.
So, was Jesus a socialist? There are a multitude of reasons why the answer is a resounding ‘no’, but we will cover the most basic three.
The basic definition of socialism rules out the possibility of Jesus being a socialist
Looking back upon my earlier definition of socialism from Merriam-Webster, it touches upon the fact that socialism is government controlled means of production and wealth. Jesus did not come to take sides; he came to take over. He never gave instructions on how a modern day government was supposed to economically carry itself – his financial and monetary instructions were to his followers, the Church at large. The very definition of socialism excludes Jesus.
Jesus made caring for the poor a task given to the Church, not the government
Matthew 25:40 says, “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.’”
Jesus takes caring for the least very seriously; it’s so important to him that he told us that whatever we do for them, we’re really doing for him. He calls his followers to see to making sure the least are cared for.
Note: Jesus did NOT hand this task over to the government. He didn’t ask all of society. He told us that if we love him and if we follow him, we need to care for the least. Jesus wasn’t advocating for the government to take over this task – he wasn’t even asking all of culture to give of their belongings and money and care for the poor. He put the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of his people, letting us know that if we want to be his hands and feet, we’ll take care of the least. In today’s modern age, personal and community responsibility for social welfare runs absolutely contradictory to the socialist view of government run welfare.
Jesus condemned the love of wealth, not wealth in and of itself
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Later on in the New Testament, 1 Timothy 6:6-10 states,
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Jesus didn’t speak about the wealth itself; his focus was on your heart. When he told the rich young man to go and sell everything he had, Jesus was looking straight at his heart with the knowledge that the young man was putting his money before his Savior and was not content with his current financial situation. Those who advocate for Christian socialism are actually quite legalistic; they claim that Jesus was putting restrictions on how much wealth a person could have.
I personally think that if we are to truly follow Christ, we will not hold on to our money, but freely give it whenever and however possible. However, Jesus’ instructions on money were simply geared toward keeping his followers from becoming idolaters or putting the money before their Savior. In Luke 16:9, Jesus says, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” He’s not concerned with the sum of the money you have-he’s concerned with your heart toward it and how you’re putting it to use.
The points that disprove the Christian socialist theory could stretch on for pages, and would include case studies of all attempted pursuits of socialism within countries that led to moral degradation and the suffering of the people. Socialism is an economic system that is utterly ineffective and morally reprehensible. If Jesus was a political conqueror, he would not have advocated for such a fallible system; however, Jesus did not come to take political-economic sides, but to take over.
Reinterpreting the words of Jesus and the New Testament in an attempt to support a system responsible for the deaths of millions is indefensible. Those who are followers of Christ and capitalists alike must stand up and speak both Biblical and historical truth when this argument comes up in conversation. When the facts are looked at, one thing is clear: Jesus was NOT a socialist.