Communism or Compassion

By Dr. Rick Flanders

“But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?”

(Luke 10:29)

He was a lawyer looking for a loophole.  Perhaps he felt boxed in by the Master.  The questions “a certain lawyer” asked Jesus had brought an unwelcome response.  He had asked Him, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  The Lord answered by asking a question very appropriate for the consideration of a student of the law: “What is written in the law? how readest thou?”  When the man replied by referring to the two great commandments, to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind,” and to love your neighbor “as thyself,” Jesus said, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.”  Clearly the lawyer was stricken by that response, taken by the conviction that he could never keep such high standards.  And that is why he came up with the question, “And who is my neighbor?”  He was seeking a legal loophole.

In answer to this lawyer’s lawyer-like question, the Lord Jesus Christ told the immortal Parable of the Good Samaritan (read all of Luke 10:25-37).  The focus of this response was on the question, not of who should be the object of one’s love, but rather of what kind of love one should have in his own heart.  The issue is not, “Whom shall I consider my neighbor?” but rather, “What kind of neighbor am I?”  It was a perfect exposition of what the New Testament calls later the Royal Law (see James 2:8).

The Royal Law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” is not only the primary moral principle of scripture regarding man’s relation to man, but it is also a profoundly significant principle in American culture.  It was this law that generated the kind of thinking that gave us equal rights as citizens and liberties far beyond those that have been recognized in other countries.  It was the influence of the Bible, through the beliefs of many of the first settlers and also through the powerful effects of the Great Awakening that moved the founders to affirm the equality and liberty of “all men.”  It was also this Royal Law that was behind Lincoln’s argument that “If I would not be a slave, I would not own one,” which emancipated the slaves.  Perhaps the profound influence of this principle is the reason its meaning is still subtly debated even in the more secular times in which we live.  What is it to love one’s neighbor as oneself?

In the last presidential campaign (2008) a remark was made to the effect that capitalism is based on selfishness.  Americans have sometimes been persuaded to accept certain aspects of socialism on moral grounds, that we as a nation owe government aid to certain people in certain difficult situations.  Our economic system is often criticized from what appears to be higher moral ground because it does not seem to be based on loving our neighbors.  Some liberal churches actually teach that the free enterprise system is immoral.

The first church in the world seems to have practiced some kind of communism.  The Bible records that the members of the congregation at Jerusalem “had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44-45; see also Acts 4:32).  Was this communism, practiced on the principles of modern-day communism?

  1. The truth is that communism and socialism are fundamentally the same, or at least expressions of the same idea.  The modern philosophy of communism did not germinate in Russia, but rather in the West.  And political expressions of the communist philosophy often have taken the name “socialist.”  Communism has the idea of owning all property communally.  Socialism has the idea of controlling the economy socially rather than individually.  The dictionary defines socialism as “a political and economic theory that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”  The presuppositions of both theories are the same.  It is not really wrong to call socialism communistic, or to refer to communism as a kind of socialism.  But for Americans the deeper question must be, “Is socialism/communism right?”  Is it the ideal arrangement?  Does the Royal Law call for it?

There are several characters in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Which one represents the communist of our times?  Is he the Samaritan who sacrificed to help the wounded traveler?  Actually it is more likely that the communist would be the thief that “stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.”  The socialists/communists are the thieves, and their views amount to highway robbery.  A thief, like the communist, says, “What’s yours is mine, and I will take it.”  This is why socialism has decimated all the societies that have tried it long enough.  The twentieth century proved that socialism destroys economies and societies.  The great Soviet Union did not fall under nuclear attack; it collapsed under the weight of socialism.  This is what is happening to most of the countries of “free Europe” right now, and is likely to happen to us if we keep on traveling the socialistic path we have apparently chosen.  Socialism confiscates wealth either by direct pillaging, as the communists have done, or by oppressive taxation, as Western “liberals” practice it.  It is true that the motive is supposed to be redistributing wealth to the poor, but the poor are not the only beneficiaries of the collectivistic schemes.  The politicians who buy the votes (in democratic countries) or the favor (in dictatorships) of the people by giving them things also benefit greatly from supposedly imitating Robin Hood.  Without a doubt, the communists in the story are the thieves.

The priest who came by and saw the poor, broken man and ignored him is the pure capitalist.  The Levite who “came and looked on him” but did nothing to help him is the concerned capitalist.  Fundamentally they said and say, “What’s mine is mine, and I am going to keep it.”  Many Christians think that conservative politics and capitalist economics will meet the needs and solve the problems of the nation.  But they are wrong to think this.  Sound economic and libertarian principles are not enough.  Electing conservatives alone will not turn the country around.

The hero of the story, the Good Samaritan, “had compassion” on the wounded and robbed individual, went to him, bound up and medicated his injuries, and, at significant sacrifice to himself, took the man to a place where he could get help, and them paid for him to get the help.  His approach was, “What’s mine is mine, but I will use it to help meet the needs of the needy.”  The Samaritan’s charity was voluntary, and produced by love and compassion.  This was also true of the early church, and the cause behind their having all things common.  It was not communism; it was Christian compassion.  It was not mandated and forced confiscation.  It was willing generosity, prompted by the love of Christ in their hearts.

During the Second Great Awakening in America (1795-1845), the outpouring of compassionate love from the Christian community manifested itself in what history calls, “The Benevolence Empire.”  This network of thousands of Christian-based charitable and social-service organizations sought to meet the needs of the hurting in society, and achieved a great measure of success!  Historian Keith Hardman says, “The financial giving that supported such causes was enormous when we calculate the giving in terms of today’s [1983] currency.  By 1834 the annual income of the fourteen leading societies had risen to nearly 9 million dollars per year, or an equivalent of 135 million dollars in terms of today’s currency.  And this was for a nation with a total population of fourteen million.”  Some years, we understand, the intake of the charities exceeded the revenue collected by the federal government.  The needs of man were being met, not by socialistic government programs but by the compassion of Christian charity.  In those days, the voices of unbelievers cried out for the plight of the poor, just as they do today.  But, also as in our day, the non-Christians actually did very little to relieve the poor.  It was the revived Christians, transformed into their ancient counterparts by the awakening, which made the sacrifices to help those in need.  In 1855, the New York Observer commented that “Infidelity makes a great outcry about its philanthropy, but religion does the work.”

Socialism is going to destroy our country.  This is clear to almost any objective and informed observer.  But the path of destruction can be abandoned, and the problems averted to some degree if the government were to turn back to conservative principles.  The principles that underlie the capitalistic economic system are valid, as anyone who regards the Bible as the Word of God can discover.  The Ten Commandments support the concept of private property through the injunctions against stealing and coveting.  Clearly the God of the Bible has distributed property to individual people and to families, and supports their responsibility over these things with moral precepts.  In other parables, Jesus Christ vindicated the profit motive (read).  But the needs of hurting men will not be met by pure capitalism.  The injured traveler needs the Good Samaritan.  The problems of our country and of our world will not be solved apart from a widespread revival of New Testament Christianity.

There is something we can do to help the hurting around us.  It isn’t pushing for new government programs, and it isn’t electing conservatives to office.  What Christians need to do is begin seeking the face of God in earnest for the revival we need.  We will help the cause of truth by voting for proven principles on election day, but we will not address the heart of the real need until we return to Bible religion, the kind that springs from a heart transformed by the love of God.  Revival preaching and fervent prayers will do more to save America than anything else.

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