Christians and Society: Communism
Christianity was established during the days of the Roman Empire with the claim that God had made Jesus of Nazareth Lord and King, declaring Him the Son of God through His resurrection (Acts 2:36, 17:6-9, Romans 1:4). All Christians, therefore, recognized they were part of the great spiritual and trans-national Kingdom of God in Christ over whom Jesus rules as Lord (Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:13, Revelation 1:12-20). Meanwhile they still lived within the Roman Empire, obeyed civil authority whenever possible, and strove to live by their faith while existing in Greco-Roman culture (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, 1 Peter 2:11-15). The Roman Empire has come and gone as have many other successive states, powers, societies, and cultures, yet Christians continue to strive to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven while existing within their societies and cultures on earth (Philippians 3:20-21, Colossians 3:1-11).
Ever since the middle of the nineteenth century many people have hoped to establish or live in a society ordered according to the principles of communism. “Communism” is a term that can mean many different things depending on one’s scope and reference. In the broadest sense of the term “communism” refers to a society in which all things are held in common (from the Latin communis, “common, universal”). In the middle of the nineteenth century the term became associated with the political and economic philosophy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who claimed that society was presently ordered into two classes, the “proletariat” (the working class) and the “bourgeoisie” (the middle and upper classes). They claimed that the class struggle between the groups would eventually lead to the victory of the proletariat who would then abolish money and class distinctions, the reason for government, and thus lead to the ultimate “communist” society where all things are held in common. Such is also called Marxism. In the twentieth century communism became associated with the Comintern of the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, a totalitarian government run by one party, highlighting certain elements of Marxist thought while dispensing with others. When most people think of communism they still have in mind the government and socio-economic systems of the former Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, China, and Vietnam.
What should a Christian’s attitude be toward a communist society?
In the New Testament we do not see a particular socio-economic theory specifically commended; Christians may live under many different types of governments and in many different socio-economic systems and are called to remain faithful in such environments (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, 1 Peter 2:11-15). In terms of the culture of the local church the New Testament provides an example of “communism” in the most general sense in Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37, in which all Christians had everything in common and had no need among them. While such a culture has Apostolic commendation it was not imposed on all Christians: we read of Christians who had greater wealth than others (e.g. Romans 16:1) and of Christians of different classes assembling with each other without the expectation that everything would be held in common (but to be sensitive so as to not allow class distinctions to divide the Body; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). The Bible is full of exhortations to care for the poor and to provide justice for the widow and orphan and excoriates those who accumulate wealth by oppression and to the hurt of his fellow man (e.g. Psalm 10:1-10, Isaiah 1:10-17, Amos 4:1-3, 5:24, Matthew 25:31-46, James 1:27, 5:1-6). God is very concerned for the welfare of the poor and dispossessed.
Nevertheless, in practice, communist societies have proven impractical and quite hostile to Christians and the Christian faith. Humans are sinful and seek their own advantage (Romans 3:11-23); government is established for a reason and has its purpose (Romans 13:1-7). No society has been able to practice pure communism, for some will labor diligently and others will not, and there is no mechanism by which to censure those who are not diligent in their effort (contrary to 2 Thessalonians 3:10). All remaining “Communist” societies have either accommodated with capitalistic market forces (China, Vietnam) or have been impoverished and ever more firmly under dictatorial rule (Cuba, North Korea). Meanwhile, communism in modern practice took Marx’s dictum that “religion is the opiate of the masses” (a condensed version of a quote in Marx, “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, February 1844). To Marx religion, especially Christianity, was escapist, a means by which the bourgeoisie controlled and manipulated the proletariat to accept their lot in life. Communist societies attempted to do away with religion and those who maintained adherence to them. The Soviet Union sent many professing Christians to the gulag and before the executioners; to this day Christianity is not fully legal in any Communist society and Christians continue to be persecuted for their faith in them.
Therefore a Christian cannot fully affirm allegiance to the Kingdom of God in Christ while identifying as a full Marxist or Communist since Marx and those who later claimed his mantle were atheists and hostile toward God in Christ. Nevertheless many Christians continue to live in communist countries and societies; they do well to seek to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus, working in their jobs as to the Lord, promoting the Gospel, ready to suffer persecution from the authorities if need be to uphold God’s work in the Kingdom of His Son (Ephesians 6:5-9, 1 Peter 1:3-9, 4:1-19). All Christians do well to pray for these saints so that God may strengthen them (1 Peter 5:8-9). Let us ever affirm Christ, remain rooted in Him, and maintain our allegiance to His Kingdom!
Ethan R. Longhenry