I discussed previously the idea that Christianity offers an entirely different way of approaching money. We as Christians are not simply to adopt a prevailing world system which we think comes closest to what is right; we are to live out the kingdom of God by the power of the Spirit in the midst of the world. That being said I have stepped back from these posts because I realized I would need to address capitalism and socialism individually.
The hard question is which to address first. I have friends in both camps and would rather not alienate either one before completing the argument–I would much rather offend everyone simultaneously. But that is impossible. So, I will address socialism first and briefly because there are far fewer Christians in my circle deluded by socialism than by capitalism.
Before moving further I wish to note that I am addressing the ideals of socialism and capitalism. All too often this debate goes nowhere because the socialists hold up their own most noble ideals and greatest (albeit unrealized) possibilities in contrast to the worst actual instances of inhumane abuses under capitalism. In response the capitalists hold up some mythical Reagan era capitalist utopia in contrast to the worst evils of Stalinist Russia. I have no interest in trading such blows. Rather, I want to take the most noble ideals of each groups and show how they fall short of the glory of God. As the Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann says, “It is not the immorality or the crimes of man that reveal him as a fallen being; it is his ‘positive ideal’–religious or secular–and his satisfaction with this ideal” (For the Life of the World 100).
Still, before delving too deeply into the ideals of the world socialist movement, I would like to lay aside a very basic misconception of many socialist leaning Christians. Looking at the early chapters of Acts, some have thought that Christianity was a socialist movement. There was that amazing period when they had all things in common. However, this was not a prescribed way of life or an ongoing reality.
The early church was known for generosity, even by her enemies. That generosity expressed as a communal life in a Jewish church awaiting the immediate return of Christ to establish his kingdom had to take different forms as persecutions intensified and gentiles were brought into the fold and the church spread out across the world. Furthermore, even at the very height of the communal period we find the principle that the giving and sharing was entirely voluntary. When Ananias is struck dead over his withheld money, we find it quite clear that the issue was not the unwillingness to give everything, but the deceptive effort to falsely gain a great reputation. Ownership is not denied or criticized. Peter says plainly of the property, “did it not remain your own?”