It all started with a quote I recently read, attributed to comedian Stephen Colbert:
If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus is just as selfish as we are or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition … and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.
This got me thinking. Conservative Christians are usually branded by liberals as heartless unfeeling misers, unwilling to help the poor and needy due to pure selfishness. They say we should be more like Jesus and legislate more funding for welfare and other entitlement programs.
Now it always amuses me when people with no apparent interest in Jesus as a Messiah will try to pigeonhole Him into supporting their own socialist agenda in the name of “compassion.” But the question here is whether or not Jesus would approve of entitlement programs.
Progressives like to claim Jesus was a socialist. They say welfare is morally equivalent to the teachings of Jesus, who urged us to have compassion on the poor and destitute. Liberals, from their position of lofty superiority, say we “must have no personal wealth beyond our needs.” And to show their solidarity with Jesus, these self-same liberals spend their entire lives working for government-funded nonprofit associations and laboring to pass legislation to help special-interest groups. Surely Jesus would agree.
To prove their point, they cherry-pick various Bible verses to support their logic. But of course the devil can cite Scripture to his own purpose. So what do liberals believe constitutes loving the poor and serving the needy?
Progressives long for a utopian society of complete equality, a land of neither rich nor poor. Human nature being what it is, such a utopia can only be accomplished and maintained through centralized economic management and forced income redistribution. Thus, what progressives ultimately want is communism. But the historical track record of communist societies isn’t too good when it comes to charity and mercy. Communism has killed 100 million people in the last century. Trust me, 100 million dead people is not compassionate.
And that’s why conservatives oppose entitlement programs … because they lead to socialism. First, welfare creates a dependent class of voters who are guaranteed to vote for more entitlements. Second, entitlements don’t help the poor. Indeed, they cause poverty, not cure it. The proof is in the pudding. If the trillions of dollars we’ve so far spent on entitlements cured poverty, we would have no poor people in this country. None.
So the question remains, was Jesus a socialist?
Jesus did not come to influence the government leaders of the day. Rather, he came to offer salvation and guidelines to the individual. We – not the government – have the responsibility to care for the poor and destitute. Jesus’ message was not one of forcible seizure of individual wealth and unchecked redistribution of that wealth. It was a message of personal charity and compassion.
But liberals don’t see it that way. They look at Acts 4 and conclude that because the early Christians adopted a communal lifestyle, then communism is the biblical ideal. But this entirely misses the point. The early Christians voluntarily engaged in communal living as an endurance mechanism against prosecution. It was not forced by government mandates; in fact, it was a survival tactic against a hostile government bent on their destruction. Savvy?
Christianity teaches that charity is up to the individual. Christians are obligated by their love for God and their neighbors to care for the poor and widowed. But it is very, very clear that we are not to feed the able-bodied who will not work. Socialism, however, forces those who do work to feed those who will not. Not cannot, but will not.
Jesus’ whole ministry was about personal responsibility. We are responsible for our behavior, our attitude, our charity, our mercy and our love. We are judged by our personal thoughts, attitudes and behaviors. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). There is no “collective” salvation. It’s all done on a person-by-person basis.
People who argue that Jesus was a socialist have absolutely no ability to distinguish between individual charity, and “charity” forced upon people at the point of a gun.
Social justice, one of the buzzwords of the progressives, is not the same as caring for the poor. Forced redistribution of wealth is not charitable. It’s easy to get the government to do your “charitable” work for you. It’s much more difficult to be charitable on your own, even though we are biblically instructed to do so time and time again. Government programs of theft and entitlement do not make someone compassionate. Compassion is donating one’s own time, money and resources – not taking someone else’s possessions for that purpose.
Those who advocate the theory that Jesus was a socialist point to the rich man who was instructed to sell everything he owned and give his money to the poor, and then to follow Jesus (Matthew 19:21-24). The man went away crestfallen because he loved his wealth more than God. Jesus said, “It is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Progressives read this and then somehow make the extraordinary leap of logic that the government must seize and redistribute all wealth (while conveniently ignoring the “follow me” part).
Of course, Jesus was talking to an individual and suggesting an individual course of action. He didn’t tell the rich man to pass a government program to take everyone’s money and give it to the poor. He didn’t hold a gun to the rich man’s head and tell him “donate or die.”
Jesus was not Robin Hood. He never advocated stealing from the rich to give to the poor. He merely told the rich they should give to the poor in order to build up their treasure in heaven.
I’ll conclude with a challenge provided in an excellent essay by Pastor Kenny Burchard: “If you can find any evidence that Jesus taught confiscatory taxation as the primary means for caring for the poor, providing housing, food, and medical care for all who want or need it, I would like to have your verses.” [Italics in original.]
Now dig deep and help the poor out of your own pocketbook, then follow Him. That’s what Jesus wants.