The Early Church Was Not Socialist

Written by Bill Thomas on February 26, 2020

With the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Democrat presidential primary, socialism is being discussed a lot. Sanders is, in case you’ve missed it, a self-described “Democrat-Socialist.” Bernie’s view of “socialism” includes Universal Health Care, the Green New Deal, “free” public college tuition and student loan debt forgiveness, “free” childcare and pre-K, opposition to pro-life judges, support for Planned Parenthood, a major overhaul of the criminal justice system which lays a lot of blame on law enforcement, elimination and limitation of 2nd Amendment rights, and a promotion of open borders and restricting ICE.

These policies will be vetted by the American people. Most reading here will join me in noting the absurdity of Crazy Bernie’s policies. What has bothered me lately has been the attempt by some who have tried to justify socialism by arguing the early church practiced it. That is simply just not true.

Some have cited progressive Catholic Gregory Paul’s essay that asserts the early church practiced socialism. He writes, “But to understand just how non-capitalistic Christianity is supposed to be we turn to the first chapter after the gospels, Acts, which describes the events of the early church. Chapters 2 and 4 state that all ‘the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. . . . No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. . . . There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.’” 

Gregory Paul and all who would claim the early church conducted socialism are simply wrong. Socialism, by definition, is “ any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

Note that the ownership and administration of the means of production in a socialist system are held by a collective or the government. They control production, sale, and distribution. Socialism denies the right of private capital.

This isn’t how the early church functioned.  Each individual still controlled his own property and wealth. While it is true that they sold what they had and gave to those who had need, notice that they weren’t compelled to do it.  Acts 4:36-37 says,  “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

Barnabas sold a field he owned. He chose to do it.  He received the money and chose to bring it to the apostles. He was not mandated to do it. He wasn’t forced to sell and give the money. He wanted to do it.

In Acts 5 we find the story of Ananias and Sapphira who also sold a piece of land. It was their choice. They, though, kept part of the money and only brought part, acting as if they’d brought it all. Peter rebukes them and they pay a high price for their lie. Notice, though, what he tells Ananias in Acts 5:4, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” Notice he told him the money was at his disposal. There was no requirement to give.

The early church had no connection with socialism or any kind of socialist program. Why is this important?

Because of Crazy Bernie, socialism is back in the news. 51% of young people in 2018 had a positive view of socialism. Progressive Christianity is rearing its head in the United States and trying to exert influence and promote socialist ideas. We must stand strong. Jesus Christ and his church have nothing in common with socialist policies or theories; not in the past and not now.


Bill Thomas
Bill Thomas lives in Washington, Missouri and is a professor at St. Louis Christian College. He's also on staff at First Christian Church in Washington, Missouri. He's authored two novellas, From the Ashes and The Sixty-First Minute published by White Feather Press of MI and three Bible studies, Surrounded by Grace, The Critical Questions and More and The Road to Victory published by CSS Publishing of OH.