Why I Think Jesus Was a Socialist

Core Values of Socialism

In light of the values of Jesus, let's reflect on the core values of Socialism:

  • Community
  • Social equality
  • Need
  • Common ownership


Socialists believe the idea that “no man is an Island.” Socialists favour co-operation to competition and collectivism over individualism working towards the outcome of building community as opposed to creating further isolation and conflict. Building a community was exactly what Jesus set about doing when he called his disciples, and that was their mandate when he had gone.  But what kind of community was Jesus intent on building?  It was primarily a community of love.  That might sound a bit John Lennon for some of us but it was his focus.  He spent much of his teaching focused on how we can love God and how we can love other people and what that all looks like.  What has struck me about today's Church 2000 years later is that we seem to have lost our way - we've forgotten about what Jesus described as the Greatest Commandment in Matthew 22:36-40.  The Greatest Commandment.  Not a "good thing to do" - not even a "great thing to do" but The Greatest Commandment.  That's big.  That's "pay attention to this."  That's "make this everything you're about" kinda stuff.  But I think we've got sidetracked.  Another thing that has really stood out to me about Jesus is found in his very final prayer in Gethsemene right before he was to be arrested and put to death on the Cross.  You'd expect Jesus to seriously prioritise his prayers, right?  Pray for the absolute essentials - knowing he had little time...  Of everything he could have prayed for, something he focused on was the unity of all believers "so that the world will believe that You sent me" he said.

John 17:20-23 ("The Voice" Bible Version)
20I am not
asking solely for their benefit; this prayer
is also for all the believers who will follow
them and hear them speak. 21Father, may
they all be one as You are in Me and I am in
You; may they be in Us, for by this unity the
world will believe that You sent Me.
22All the glory You have given to Me,
I pass on to them. May that glory unify
them and make them one as We are one, 23I
in them and You in Me, that they may be
refined so that all will know that You sent
Me, and You love them in the same way

You love Me.

Yep, Jesus the Socialist believed in community and unity and love amongst that community.  No wonder he had long hair - or did he?

Social Equality

What is also central to a Socialist’s point of view is social equality. Unlike the Liberals, Socialists believe that it is not enough that people are considered morally equal – but that socially, there should be equal outcomes and not just equal opportunities. 

I don't think we think too much about the significance of Jesus' associations these days, but Jesus spent all of his time with the marginalized of society:  the poor, the uneducated -  those rejected and stigmatized by the majority of society and especially the religious people of his day.  Prostitutes, Samaritans, women, children, people with disabilities, the "untouchable" - in a time when these people had no power, no voice, no status - and he did this in preference to spending time with the religious leaders of his day.  He was hated for it - crucified for it.  It was radical, shocking and offensive and crossed social barriers all over the place.  His treatment of the people he chose to spend his time with communicated a social equality that was fundamental to his ministry.  Even his best friends had trouble with it when they vied to be Jesus' favourite or tried to shoo away the children from his presence.

Need & Common Ownership

To achieve social equality, Socialists believe that material benefits should be distributed based on need rather than merit or work. While modern Socialists have moved away from the notion of common ownership, “the Socialist’s goal is either the eradication of economic and social inequalities or their substantial reduction.”

The very first church in Acts were radical - virtually communist!  Everyone gave of all their possessions including owned land and it was distributed amongst all the people so that no one was in need (Acts 4:34).  All the way through the New Testament, local house churches were encouraged to care for the widows, the poor, the orphans and to share what they had with them to make sure that no one was without. Again, material possessions and basic necessities were distributed on the basis of need not on the basis of merit - ownership, inheritance or even hard work. 

I haven't heard any sermon from any pulpit suggesting that we live in a similar economic fashion to this first church.  The whole book is radical to be honest - not only economically but the miracles and signs and wonders were just in the extreme.  It seems for most evangelical churches their response to the example of the first church in the book of Acts is to either pursue the signs and wonders of the time or to treat it as a nice story that has very few practical applications to today's church.  I suspect that this approach the early church had in terms of equal distribution according to need so that no one would be without is far more significant  than we have imagined and I believe the 21st century western church has gone a long way away from the values its founded upon.

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