Monday, March 11, 2013

Socialism in the NT... or More continuity!

Socialism in the Church = biblically required generosity for the needy
     Faithful readers of the blog (all 2 of you!) will remember that in our jaunt through the last third of Leviticus, we ran into an interesting principle that was the driving force to several commands:  the idea that while money and other financial assets were private property, they were gifts of God to be used for the betterment and support of the needy, not to be spent on the latest chariot with rims and 12" subwoofers (or however big they are).  The uncomfortable truth is that this economic model might be closer to socialism than capitalism;  I know when I stopped to consider the possibility that God might not be a capitalist through and through, I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that I'm a Christian first and an American second.  Whatever benefits our traditional capitalist structure has (and there are many), they do not trump God's revealed will for His people.
     But I know what you're thinking... "But that's the Old Testament!  And even more disqualifying, it's the Law for the nation of Israel!  We're not under Law, but grace!"  So buckle up for what Paul says and expects for New Covenant believers in Gentile churches:
"For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness, your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.  As it is written, "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack." (2 Cor 8:13-15)
     So let's take it by the numbers and just go through the passage slowly, trying to get off the formula of those weaned conservative capitalist theory and just think like Christians...
     Sometimes the best way to describe something is to start with the disclaimers, to say right off what you're not saying;  after describing the exemplary Macedonians and acknowledging the intent of the Corinthians in the past, Paul reestablishes why we have any possessions at all (the grace of Jesus Christ) and then shoots down one huge misunderstanding of Christian charity/obligation:  that the "redistribution of wealth" (to use a conservative pariah!) is meant to pave the way for Jewish indulgence, while the rest of the Church finances this gravy train of greed.  No, no... the Jewish believers were starving to death under the boot-heel of persecution, and desperately needed help.  The Corinthians lived in a relatively prosperous region, and had more than enough.  This is why Paul deals with Macedonia first:  it's assumed that they didn't have enough, that they were just scraping by, but they were so moved and driven by Christian love they begged and pleaded Paul to take their gift to Judea (8:4). 
     So just like the O.T. covenant community of Israel, God often blesses us with more than we need, not to spend it upon our lusts, but to enable us to be channels of grace to other believers first, and then society at large.  "Fairness" (vs. 14 in the ESV) can be a dangerous word:  usually when kids use it, it means "I get what I want, and you get what I don't want"!  But Paul's meaning is clear:  abundance given to the Body of Christ is to meet the needs of the Body of Christ, wherever that local Body may be.  According to the symbolism in his Mosaic quote, God created the molecular structure of manna to train Israel to generosity:  if they tried to store it, it went bad and was useless (Ex 16:18-20).  So there was every reason to share the excess they gathered, and no reason to keep it.  The narratives in the O.T. usually have didactic ("educational") value for us, as lessons for life (1 Cor 10:6), and Paul says manna is no exception. 
     But whatever God has established, man can corrupt.  There are two not-so-subtle dangers with socialism on a national level that arise from an secularization of what we see in the first century church:  the first is a confusion of church and state.  Just because God has established socialist principles in His church does not mean that He demands them of the state, or even that socialism is the divine ideal for society;  we mustn't forget that the Church is largely filled with people who have been radically transformed by God's Spirit to obey Him and strive toward holiness (the exception being the goats who think themselves, or want to be thought of as sheep), while human society, i.e. the state, is largely filled with depraved, selfish sinners to need no encouragement to exploit, oppress and abuse their fellow man (the exception being the Christians sprinkled as salt throughout society).  Our forefathers were wise enough to structure our government not on wide-eyed utopian idealism, but revealed truth from God about human nature;  and so we have all the freedom sanctification through the Spirit could wish for ("against such there is no law" Gal 5:23) and all the restraint that depraved criminals need.
Socialism in society  = recipe for disaster

     The second is much more insidious, and has already greatly shaped the American consciousness:  a replacement of the church by the state.  Around the turn of the 20th century, socialism was becoming much more acceptable politically, and like most cultural trends, bad theology was developed to blend/mimic the ideals that Marx and others propagated into Christianity.  You might not have heard of "the universal fatherhood of God" or "the universal brotherhood of man", but I know you've heard somebody promoting gay marriage, women's rights or decrying discrimination of any kind say "We're all God's children!"  This fatal misunderstanding of the dividing line between the world and church (namely, that there isn't any!) creates a false church (all of humanity) with a false gospel ("We just need to love each other...") and a false Messiah (whatever political leader has the power to enforce this "utopia" on the rest of us).  So when self-centered people, radically corrupted by sin, don't love each other, the only solution is to make them:  you take their property, money and freedom, and entrust them to the state to dole out.  Oh darn, I forgot... the state is run by self-centered people, and they just use all that stuff for their own benefit and/or cementing themselves in power. 
     The church is Christ's, and He will build it (Eph 5:23, Matt 16:18).  The world is (temporarily) the devil's, and he will do everything God permits him to use it as a weapon against the church  (1 Jn 5:19, Eph 6:12).  If we properly understand the difference between them, and the value/extent/danger of collectivist principles for the people of God, we will "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ..." (2 Cor 10:5).

Photos courtesy of mira66, simonella_virus, xoclate

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