All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
It is easy to see how someone could easily conclude such from this passage. Similarly, could one not also conclude that Jesus was for socialism when he told the young rich man, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Matt 19:21)? This is a serious question in lieu of the current election that is just days away. Many Christians in America are a priori Republican and actually go as far as to say that one can not be both a Democrat and a Christian. This position (in my view) is very misguided.
By some accounts, the Democratic nominee is a socialist, which has been deemed bad by many Christians and non-Christians alike. But, if one takes Jesus' words and Luke's (from Acts) seriously, he may be left to conclude that if a candidate is promoting socialism, he is the vote Christians should cast their ballot towards. There are a few passages, off the top of my head, that others might refer to to throw a wrench into these arguments.
Most notably would be Jesus' depiction of the Kingdom in Matthew 25:15a, in which he describes the kingdom as a place that is more capitalistic than socialistic. Moreover, it is God himself that distributes capitalistically. Jesus says, "To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability." Apparently, the "Master," who would indisputably be God in this parable, distributes the talents unequally because some are apparently capable of handling more than others (cf. "each according to his ability").
What is also striking about this description of the kingdom is how the Master handles the servants' management of the talents entrusted to them when he returns. To the first two, who invested their talents and consequently doubled the amount, the Master says, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness" (v. 23). It cannot be overemphasized that the reason the first two were asked to "share in [their] master's happiness," and were praised with, "well done good and faithful servant," was because they had taken responsibility for what they had been given and proactively did something with it. Only as a result did they receive the praise. God expects his servants to be faithful with the gifts and talents he has entrusted them with. This is responsibility, a word hardly whispered in socialist ideology.
Rather than personal responsibility, it is government responsibility one should lean on within socialism. The government is responsible to provide the health care, the food budget, the electric bill, and so on and so forth. Maybe it's stretching, but from the parable, it seems that Jesus is telling us that what God has entrusted to us, we are to be "faithful" with, thus acting responsibly, so as to increase what we have--be it a gift, a talent, money, or what have you. It should not escape the reader that the servant who just hid what he had, did nothing with it, was called wicked and lazy. Apparently, God views negligence of the gifts he's given to his servants as wickedness. Not only so, but he does the exact opposite of socialism, he takes from the one who had little and gave it to the one who had the most! So how does Matthew 25 square with Matthew 19 and Acts 2? Either Scripture contradicts itself--both teaching socialism and capitalism--or there is a third option. Could it be both?
In a recent conversation with a friend, he revealed that he is both a Christian and a Democrat. More specifically, he is an Obama supporter. A strange idea to some, but it is true, there is never a time when we can expressly label any one party, person, or position as "Christian". Bible believing Christians can (and do) fall on both sides of the issue, contrary to popular belief. Nonetheless, we disagreed. As we delved further into the discussion, his reasons for supporting Obama were as follows: (1) he'll bring the troops home; (2) he'll bring change that is needed in Washington; and (3) he will "take care of the poor." The only issue we'll address here is the third point.
After some probing of questions about the third point, it became clear that his worldview shared many characteristics with postmodernism. In particular, what was coming out was his belief that we are all just products of our social construct, that one has no choice in what socioeconomic plain he is born into, and therefore, becomes bound to his social construct, unable to break free. The problem with such a stance is that even one instance in which someone breaks out of his social construct disproves the entire argument. Therefore, we spoke about one of my friends and his twin brother who both were born into poverty, destined to end up in jail, or at the very least, be on the streets their whole lives selling drugs (apparently victims of statistics). However, they broke free ... both of them. Therefore, apparently, it is possible for it to happen!
Fundamentally, our philosophies were at odds. My emphasis is on personal responsibility and his is on victimization. People are just victims (or recipients) of their social construct. They have no choice. Their decisions don't determine their destinies. Their environments do. This is what is sometimes referred to, understandably, as environmental determinism. His final argument centered around saying, "Who's going to take care of the poor and help them meet the bills? Some people are working 40+ hours a week and they still aren't able to meet all of the financial demands. Are we just supposed to say, 'Tough!'?" Therefore, in his view, the government, proposed by Obama, was to step in, take from "the richest Americans" (a figure, by the way that has dropped from $250,000, to $200,000, down to $150,000 in the last two weeks) and redistribute their hard earned money to people who just have no choice in their money making abilities. It sounds a lot like a famous philosopher, "From each according to his ability; to each according to his need." So is this the philosophy advocated by Jesus in Matthew 19, by Luke in Acts 2, and yet contradicted by Jesus later in Matthew 25? I propose, no.
Acts 2 advocates socialism only in a very limited sense. First, a fundamental difference between socialism and the portrait of the early Church in Acts 2 is that socialism doesn't allow the individual to determine whether or not he puts in or takes out, the government just takes what it deems necessary. In Acts 2, the people chose to sell everything they owned and give to each as he had need. The power still lied in the people's hands, not in the government's. Acts 2 does not say that the Roman government came in and made them sell everything they own so that they could consolidate it and redistribute it to everyone as they had need. Second, socialism and the portrait of the early church are fundamentally different because it was the body of Christ that was taking care of one another, and later the poor (Gal 2:10). Taking care of the poor has always been the duty of kingdom people (Isa 1:16-17; 58:6-7; Matthew 25:41-42, 45), not government. So why in the world do some Christians want to give away their right to choose to help the poor? The world is never transformed from the outside in but always from the inside out. The kingdom is an inside-out, upside-down kingdom.
So what of Matthew 19 and it's parallel passages in Luke and Mark? Well, it's quite simple really. When Jesus tells the rich man to sell everything he owns and give it to the poor, it wasn't an instance in which Jesus was prescribing what every follower thereafter must do. Rather, he told this man to do this because it was his wealth that he valued above all else in the world. Jesus, knowing this, challenged him in the most profound way to surrender everything to God, and in so doing, he would save his life (cf. Matt 16:24-26).
Neither Acts 2 nor Matthew 19 support a view that says that Christians must be socialists. Quite the contrary. They actually put the burden (responsibility) of taking care of one another and the poor on us as kingdom people. It has never been God's plan to transform the world through government. It should actually motivate Christians, especially those who support Obama, to harness the responsibility of taking care of the poor rather than abdicating that responsibility to the government.