Are Jesus’ teachings about love and goodwill toward fellow man proof that He taught socialist principles?
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If Jesus returned today, which form of government would He choose?
Democracy? Would He “get out the vote,” give “power to the people,” or lead a popular uprising?
Communism? Would Christ redistribute wealth and bar social classes, leading a commune that shares everything?
Perhaps a monarchy? Would He rule as a king and take supreme authority?
Or would He be a dictator—reigning with an iron fist and subduing all peoples under a harsh rule?
What about socialism? Would He implement vast social reform programs to feed the hungry and provide shelter for the homeless?
Millions of people believe the latter—that Jesus would enact socialist policies because of His teachings about love and good will toward one’s neighbor. But what specifically did Jesus teach during His earthly ministry? Was it really an early form of socialism?
To many, Christ’s teachings seem to fit socialism. First is love toward fellow man. Matthew 19 includes an account of a young man asking Jesus what he must do to receive eternal life. His answer (in italics) could be interpreted as being a socialist principle: “…if you will enter into life, keep the commandments. He said unto Him, Which? Jesus said…You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (vs. 17-19).
Jesus also instructed, “If you will be perfect, go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me” (vs. 21).
Loving one’s neighbor and giving to the poor certainly fit within a socialist model. Think of programs such as Medicare and Social Security, which provide healthcare and financial stability to the elderly and those in need. Next think of labor unions fighting to bring fair wages and to rein in corrupt capitalists. This looks like caring for the poor and needy.
Throughout His ministry, Christ emphasized the importance of helping people. He continually healed the sick and at least twice (miraculously) provided food for the masses (Matt. 14:15-21, 15:32-38). Jesus stated that He had “compassion on the multitude, because they continue with Me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way” (15:32).
In Matthew 10:42, Jesus said that those who simply give a drink of cold water to a child will not lose their reward: “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily [truly] I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”
Public assistance programs appear to line up with this instruction to give a child a cup of water. But do the above scriptures prove that Christ was the first socialist?
Socialism is one of the most common forms of government today. Every country and territory on Earth has been affected by it in some way. Its principles have been enacted in Europe, Canada, Venezuela and the United States, as well as many other regions of the world.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “socialism” as “a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies…(1) any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, (2) a system of society or group living in which there is no private property...”
Socialism’s mortal enemy is capitalist greed, which Jesus seemed to decry. Notice: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).
Socialist ideology can be summarized by the idea that the government should care for those in need (youth, elderly, the sick, the unemployed). Think government housing, unemployment benefits, food stamps, welfare, among other social programs. Socialism appeals to the desire to help others through Christian “charity” or love. Most people inherently want to help others. Where they differ is in how this help should be given—through good works or through the government administering social welfare programs.
Such a system is not without its critics. With all its good intentions, it has not brought the utopian society that its proponents have promised. It has not eliminated corruption, poverty or disease, but has instead often led to bankrupt countries.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously stated in an interview on the television program This Week: “I would much prefer to bring them [socialists] down as soon as possible. I think they’ve made the biggest financial mess that any government’s ever made in this country for a very long time, and Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money. It’s quite a characteristic of them” (emphasis added).
Some, as Thatcher did, preach against socialism, believing it should be relegated to the scrapheap of history as a failed experiment. Others sing its praises, devoting their life’s work to it. Still others proclaim that it has just never been implemented in the right way.
Love it or hate it, socialism has existed for hundreds of years and continues today. But do its principles of the government caring for and providing for others fit what Christ taught? On the surface, the answer seems an obvious “yes.”
But to get to the heart of the matter, we must examine the religious justification for socialist principles—the “social gospel.”
Supposedly one part Christ’s teachings, one part socialism, the social gospel movement is woven throughout Western society in ways most do not realize. Its founders worked to spread God’s kingdom on Earth through social reforms, and preached that churches should make people’s lives better by reforming institutions. Since the mid-1800s, professing Christians, religious leaders, and politicians have invested vast amounts of time and energy attempting to spread the kingdom of God through this movement.
Encyclopaedia Britannica defines the social gospel as “a religious social-reform movement that was prominent from about 1870 to 1920, especially among liberal Protestant groups dedicated to the betterment of industrialized society through application of the biblical principles of charity and justice…Labour reforms—including abolition of child labour, a shorter workweek, a living wage, and factory regulation—constituted the Social Gospel’s most prominent concerns. During the 1930s many of these ideals were realized through the rise of organized labour and the legislation of the New Deal.”
Widespread corruption, poverty and injustice throughout the Western world led these religious figures to take on a number of issues: public health measures, women’s suffrage, prohibition, anti-poverty measures, pollution, drug addiction, political corruption, the civil rights movement, gun control, and settlement houses.
In an article titled “History of the Social Gospel,” PBS outlined the origins of the movement: “…in the late 19th century…the Protestant church began tackling social reform in what has become known as ‘social Christianity,’ or sometimes ‘Christian socialism,’ which was later adapted into the more moderate ‘Social Gospel.’
“The movement was a response to the rapid urbanization, industrialization, and mass immigration of the late 1800s. Protestant clergymen became interested in securing social justice for the poor…”
Promoting social gospel ideals was religion’s best effort to make the world better. In fact, its proponents believed that the movement would bring about a golden age for mankind.
Walter Rauschenbusch, a leading writer and advocate of the social gospel in the 19th century, formed a group with other religious leaders called the Brotherhood of the Kingdom. In his book Christianity and the Social Crisis, Rauschenbusch wrote of his heartfelt desire to turn society around: “Will the twentieth century mark for the future historian the real adolescence of humanity, the great emancipation from barbarism and from the paralysis of injustice, and the beginning of a progress in the intellectual, social, and moral life of mankind to which all past history has no parallel?
“It will depend almost wholly on the moral forces which the Christian nations can bring to the fighting line against wrong, and the fighting energy of those moral forces will again depend on the degree to which they are inspired by religious faith and enthusiasm.”
In the eyes of social gospel advocates, the mission of churches was to fix the governments and institutions of this world. Their goal was to spread God’s kingdom on Earth. To them, humanity’s fate depended on it.
The PBS article put it this way: “The core of Christian progressivism was ‘work in this world to establish a Kingdom of God with social justice for all.’”
The social gospel movement was plagued by a number of problems that eventually weakened it. First, it was not unified. There were many different and competing approaches to the issues it took on.
PBS revealed this about the success of the movement (emphasis added): “The results of the movement were mixed. Although it helped liberalize organized religion and inspired many political and social reformers to look at reform in moral terms, the Social Gospel failed to win over many urban immigrants, and offered few long-term solutions to urban problems.”
“However, the work of the progressive social reformers was not in vain. Organized social concern and many of the reforms it inspired have remained intact through the twentieth century and continue today, evident…in current social welfare programs.”
The Canadian Encyclopedia characterized it this way: “In turn, its hopes and accomplishments were compromised by economic decline, the secularizing of social work and the backlash against prohibition, while labour and agrarian factional strife undermined the basis of radical Social Gospel action.”
Although the goals of these reformers were not always met, their work lives on in the form of “social justice.” Today’s “social justice” is yesterday’s “social gospel.” Same principle, different name.
A number of current American politicians have spiritual advisors that promote programs against economic inequality and social injustice. Such efforts are thought to provide a positive direction for the nation.
Pope Francis also promotes “social justice” and made this clear during a visit to a Rio de Janeiro slum: “Pope Francis met with poor persons living in the Varginha favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro. Here was his moving message to them, which praised those who work for ‘social justice’ and ‘solidarity’ and decried ‘economic inequalities.’ The Pope said, ‘To all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity! No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!’” (America, The National Catholic Review magazine).
In addition, a number of Protestant denominations still carry the “social gospel” torch today.
While many powerful and influential religious and political leaders support the social gospel, its results have been mixed at best—and detrimental at worst.
Author Frederick Nymeyer, writing in 1971 in his book Social Action, Hundred Nineteen, condemned the social gospel as leading people away from Christ’s true gospel. He also highlighted that the movement has failed to bring the kind of social change it promised.
Nymeyer stated: “The Social Gospel may be the most crucial of all problems besetting Christian churches at this time, for when a Christian’s ethical certitudes are revealed to be defective, as it always turns out to be in the Social Gospel, then he ends up abandoning confidence in valid, Biblical faith. In practice what happens is that when Social Gospel action fails to produce valid results, the person promoting such programs does not abandon the Social Gospel and return to the true Gospel, but plunges deeper into further Social Gospel actions with progressively more frustrating results.”
Interestingly, the author wrote about abandoning the social gospel and returning to Jesus’ true Gospel.
Yet Christ’s true gospel has been widely misunderstood for centuries. The social gospel is just one of many different versions that has been created. For instance, some professing Christians believe in the “gospel of salvation” or the “gospel of grace.” Others proclaim a “gospel of miracles” or the “gospel of faith.” There are also those who preach a “gospel of foods” or one about “healing.”
But all these forms of the gospel miss the true message Jesus brought. Over the years, Christ’s teaching was perverted and covered up by false teachers. Galatians 1:6-9 shows that as early as the apostle Paul’s time, the gospel was already being twisted.
When Jesus began His ministry, He plainly stated what His gospel was about. Notice Mark 1: “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel” (vs. 14-15).
Jesus did not come preaching the social gospel, or a gospel about social justice. He preached the gospel of the kingdom of God! His Church is supposed to preach about this coming kingdom—not attempt to bring it about on human steam.
The social gospel is NOT Christ’s gospel! It is a manmade perversion of Christ’s message created in the 19th century—over 1,800 years after Christ lived. Just this one passage in Mark 1 makes this clear. (To learn more about Christ’s true gospel, read our booklet Which Is the True Gospel?)
To better understand Christ’s true gospel, one must examine what exactly is the kingdom of God. Much unnecessary confusion has existed about this subject. Yet the kingdom of God was the foundation of Christ’s teachings. Time and again, He preached about it.
Breaking down the word “kingdom” makes it clear. It is an Old English word that can also mean “government.” The word “gospel” is also an Old English word. It means “glad tidings” or “good news.” So the gospel of the kingdom of God can also be thought of as the good news of the government of God.
Multiple passages throughout the Bible show that God will establish His kingdom—a world-ruling supergovernment—on Earth at Jesus Christ’s Second Coming. The purpose and mission of Christ’s First Coming was to announce the arrival of this one world government.
Notice this prophecy from Revelation: “And the seventh angel sounded [at Christ’s Return]; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms [governments] of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever” (11:15).
Understand that once God sets up His kingdom, all other forms of government will be abolished. Then recognize that God’s kingdom is obviously not here yet. This can be seen just by watching the news, which is filled with violence, corruption, crime, pain and misery.
Jesus made clear that He did not support this world’s institutions. When on trial before Pilate, He stated, “My kingdom [government] is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight…but now is My kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36).
This means Jesus did not advocate or support any of the governments created by this world. Christ did not believe that the governments of men should be fixed since He knew the only solution to man’s problems was the kingdom of God.
Christ stated in John 8:23: “I am not of this world.” He also explained that His “servants,” true Christians, do not fight for this world. They stay out of its politics and wars, knowing the truth about God’s coming solution. Christians are not to spread the kingdom, but are to pray for its arrival (Matt. 6:10) and work to qualify to be part of it (vs. 33).
Once Christ returns, man will no longer be allowed to rule himself. We have already seen that those who try to reform the institutions of this world ultimately fail. The reason the social gospel movement faded away, and why today’s social justice will also be unsuccessful, is because reform in the hands of men never works. Due to the corruption of human nature, any success is short-lived.
The prophet Daniel confirms that God’s kingdom will not be left to men: “…the God of heaven [shall] set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (2:44).
Christ will be a just, divine ruler—bringing true justice, equity, fairness and prosperity to all peoples.
If true Christians are not to fix this world, should they simply sit around and wait for God’s kingdom to arrive? Should they not in the meantime actively try to “win souls for Christ” or to “bring the kingdom”? What about giving food and money to the poor?
Christ did command His servants to “occupy [work] till I come” (Luke 19:13), but most do not realize what He told them to do.
First, understand exactly what Jesus told His servants to give to the poor. Outlining a list of the fruits of His ministry, He said, “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt. 11:5).
Christ told His servants to give the poor the gospel! But not the social gospel—the real gospel. And this is what God’s Church gives to the poor—exactly what Christ told them to give.
Jesus reiterated this in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor…”
Next, recognize that God works through His Church, not political institutions. Christ built one true Church (Matt. 16:18) and gave it two simple commissions.
The First Commission involves preaching the gospel and is found in Matthew 28:19-20. Christ instructed His disciples: “Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them…Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…”
Matthew 24:14 reveals that Christ’s Church was foretold to be preaching the gospel in a powerful way at the end of the age—our time now.
The Second Commission involves caring for those whom God calls out of this world. Read the account in John 21:15-17 where Christ tells Peter three times to “feed My sheep.”
Since its inception, the true Church has been busy carrying out these two commissions. On top of this, Christians have the personal task of overcoming their human nature and striving to qualify for God’s kingdom.
Ignoring Christ’s instructions, social gospel advocates focus on reforming institutions and spreading a kingdom that is not here yet. However well-meaning, this is NOT what Christ said to do!
Christians do not allow the teachings of Karl Marx, socialist preachers or anyone else to confuse the plain teachings of Christ.
If Jesus promoted the world’s form of socialism, He would have made this clear in His teachings. The word “gospel” is referenced 100 times in the Bible. Not once did Christ ever mention a “social” gospel. Nor did He support enacting “social justice” or “income equality” or the wholesale “redistribution of wealth.”
This said, Christ does care about all mankind. God’s government will bring the peace and prosperity that humanity has unsuccessfully tried to bring about for 6,000 years.
Finally, what will God’s kingdom be like? In some ways, certain principles of socialism match God’s form of government and will be applied in a just way worldwide.
In God’s kingdom, actual social justice will be a reality. Everyone will receive an opportunity to work and earn fair wages. A global “social security” program will be enacted to care for orphans, widows, the elderly and those who cannot help themselves. All peoples will pay a certain set portion into this program to ensure everyone is provided for (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12-13). However, this system will be nothing like anything that has been devised by the governments of men. It will actually work—and no one will be allowed to misuse the funds!
Family will also play a much greater role in God’s coming kingdom. Instead of people relying on the government to care for them as they age—while their family does not help—sons and daughters will be taught to be responsible for elderly parents or grandparents.
Ultimately, love—outgoing concern for others—will be the law of the land (Mark 12:29-31).
People’s needs will be taken care of when circumstances require it. Recall the miracle of the fish and loaves (Matt. 14:15-21). There is no evidence, however, that this miracle involved a long-term “handout” program to provide people free or discounted food for the rest of their lives.
God’s government will not build social welfare programs, but will instead create an environment—free from corruption and greed—for people to earn a living. But all will work to support themselves.
In the Old Testament, God implemented principles to provide for those in need. One example of this can be seen in Leviticus 19:9-10. Farmers were to leave the corners of their fields for the poor to “glean.” People still had to reap these crops themselves. In other words, they had to work for their food. The apostle Paul confirmed this principle in the New Testament when he was inspired to write, “This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (II Thes. 3:10).
These were laws in the physical nation of Israel and Jesus Christ will certainly apply similar principles within His coming kingdom!
The unsustainable and ineffective systems of socialist, democratic and communist governments will be replaced by God’s righteous, divine government.
Our booklet What Is the Kingdom of God? answers these and other questions one might have about God’s coming supergovernment. In addition our book Tomorrow’s Wonderful World – An Inside View! brings the good news of the awesome future that awaits all mankind. Request your free copies of these informative materials today.