A Marxist Early Church? Examining the Differences Between Communism and Christian Love
When I first heard about communism in a high school politics class, my reaction was, “What a great idea!” I had to keep learning in order to see how wrong I was. One reason this ideology seemed appealing was its claim that it levels the playing field. The oppressed become equal with their oppressors. All classes merge into one, and it’s Utopia.
It’s an idealistic vision, and it’s one reason some people associate the early Church with a form of “proto-Communism.” But a closer look shows the comparison is hard to credit.
Who was Karl Marx and What is Communism?
Let’s start with where it came from, because “the roots” are always connected to “the fruits.” Communism grew out of the haunted life of Karl Marx (1813-1881), a German philosopher whose life seemed to be shadowed by something dark. Several of his children died before reaching adulthood, he had extremely poor hygiene, he was often covered in painful boils and he could barely keep a job.
Marx lived on the generosity of his friend Friedrich Engels. Ironically, Engels got his money from the same capitalist factories that Marx came to criticize.
Marx was also known for his infatuation with the prince of darkness himself. In many of his writings he openly expressed admiration for Satan. People around him sensed he was troubled. Even his own father-in-law, worried that the “demon” that pestered Marx would kill his own daughter.
Marx was a strict materialist, in the philosophical sense that is believing reality is purely material, with no supernatural side to it. He denounced objective morals, and he called religion “the opiate of the people.”
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In 1848 he and Friedrich Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto. It was the length of a pamphlet, but it was violent, calling for the “forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” Capitalism was the enemy, and a “classless” society was the answer. It launched a new view on reality, by which communists to come would justify massively violent revolutions. Marx’s atheism was an integral factor in it, and such godlessness has never strayed from the heart of communism.
Russia was the first nation to pursue the Manifesto’s goals wholesale. Estimates vary, but somewhere between 20 and 60 million people were killed there as a direct result. Other countries followed suit: China, Cambodia, North Korea, Yugoslavia, and more. Since Marx’s time, communists have slaughtered more than 100 million people, more than double the deaths from World War I and World War II combined.
So for all its surface appeal, Communism has proved to be the darkest form of government the world has witnessed, a natural result of trying to create a perfect world without God. The 19th-century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky saw it coming, and said “the problem of communism is not an economic problem. The problem of Communism is the problem of atheism.”
Proto-Communism or Fearless Love?
The difference between the early church and communism should be clear. But many still say it’s a modern version of Acts 2:44-47:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Take that out of context and you might think that looks like communism. Everyone “had everything in common,” and “sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Is there any difference? Yes. It’s the difference between willingness and coercion, and between love and fear.
Communism forces people to give up their private property, whereas the early disciples willingly shared their possessions out of love. Those who refuse to cooperate with communism today have often been punished, and many millions have been killed. The early disciples, in contrast, were so filled with love, they willingly gave their possessions to meet each other’s needs. No force or threats were needed.
Real Communism resembles extortion more than Christianity. Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon sheer force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him.”
The Utopia Marx envisioned cannot be coerced. Jesus certainly doesn’t work that way. Instead He inspires people to surrender themselves to Himself as the Source of all goodness, the same Source that Marx so foolishly sought to banish from the world.
The Bible does say that in Christ, “classes” of various sorts are eliminated: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Again, though, this unity cannot be manufactured. It is a supernatural gift of God’s grace in Christ. Only a spiritual (not violent) revolution can truly free people from prejudice and abuse.
The Cross and the Sickle
Communism appeals to the hurting. Marx himself was said to have been bullied by the imperialists of his day. This likely played a significant factor in the philosophy he built. Critical theorists follow in his footsteps, envisioning the world in terms of oppressor and oppressed.
Today’s liberals subscribe to this mentality, perhaps feeling oppressed by society, perhaps hoping to build power upon it just as Stalin, Mao, and Kim have done. Whatever the motivation, it will do no good. The Bible absolutely does not advocate Marxist ideas, but it calls us to love our neighbors who do. They’ve bought into the ideology of a very darkened man, but the freedom they seek is only found in Christ.
Angelos Kyriakides loves to write about current events, apologetics, spiritual healing and theology. He holds an M.A. In Theological Studies from Regent College and currently serves as a Youth and Young Adult Pastor in Southern Ontario, Canada. He is also blessed with a loving family in his wife and two children.