The Church once again finds herself in a philosophical landscape that is incompatible with Her Doctrines, the way forward, is perhaps the way ancient.
Jonathan David Faulkner
Last week I posted the following on the Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner Facebook Page: Upon investigation of all the evidence it would seem that Christianity is incompatible with both Marxism which denies the radical unity of Christ by dividing groups into class and western, capitalistic radical individualism which denies the radical unity of Christ by asserting the idolatry of the individual. Neither consider biblical teachings of the New Humanity (Eph 2:11-22, Galatians 3:28-29) And adherence to either deny the teachings of Jesus as they are applied in the Gospels, book of Acts and the Epistles. It would seem the only favorable source for Christianity in responding to the present crisis is only the Word of God. Read in such a way that we the human let the text stand over us as an authority, rather than read our fallen human ideas back into the text. Once again Christians should find themselves in the middle, a radical third way to the options put before us by the World. A way that brings life, rather than destruction, which is all the ways of the world, marred by their total depravity, can bring.
I wrote earlier this year that Jesus was neither a Socialist (as portrayed by many on the left) or any other of our modern philosophies which we read back into the ancient world. Philip Schaff is correct that: “Christianity, awakening in a certain historical reality, did not seek to destroy the culture, but infuse it with its transformative power, to make it the best version of itself.” What this means is that while Christianity interacts with the philosophies of whatever culture it finds itself in, its goal is ultimately to transform that culture and its philosophies into what God intended them to be. It should remove the sinful aspects of the culture in favor of its own recreative power, but it does not destroy. Christianity also comes with its own philosophies and moral teachings that are greater than anything man made because they are not man made, they are God’s own teachings and philosophies. One of two things has happened philosophically that have led to distortions of Christian Teaching over the millennia, either Christians have borrowed the world’s philosophies and tried to syncretize them, such as is the case with Gnosticism and Christianity, a Syncretism still very much alive today in Evangelicalism. Or secular philosophies have taken certain teachings or Jesus and of Christianity and syncretized them to their own philosophy. Whether it was intentional or not, is beside the point, most western philosophy, including the moral philosophies of Atheism has been heavily influenced by Christianity. As I have quoted before: “Western Culture swims in the soup Christianity created.” So while there are aspects of both Marxism and Individualistic Capitalism that reflect Christian teachings, neither are compatible and when put with Christianity are distortions of Biblical truth, not reflections of it.
For example, it is true that the Early Christians believed in a form of redistribution based on their concern for others within the strong group, family dynamic and the broader community they were a part of. However, Historians note that this was voluntary and meant to be done out of the Joy that came knowing Jesus Christ as Lord. In the OT the redistribution was even encoded into the law, but in the NT Christians are encouraged to give out of the joy of Christ and concern for their neighbor and they did, generously. The finances of the Church should still, today, reflect the values of God and go towards care for the poor and needy, as they did in the ancient Church. (The pastor should also be paid for their services, but that is a different matter). The younger generation will give to Churches where money is being used for these purposes. Individualistic Capitalism rightly glorifies the dignity of an individual’s work, as Paul does in 1st Thessalonians. Those who can work, should work and work for the glory of God. The early church had a well-developed “Theology of Work” that was accompanied by a “Workplace Theology” which prompted them to be well known for their moral and upstanding business practices. However, when a convert could no longer work in their field, as was the case with many theater actors who were converted, the Church would provide for them until they were ready to pursue a new profession. Both ideas made their way into separate modern philosophies, whether the creators of the separate ideas knew their origins to be biblical or not.
It is unfortunate, as I said, these are either distortions of Christianity or borrow from Christianity. But both stand in opposition to the actual teachings of Jesus and the life put before the Body to live as one Body. They both ignore the reality of the new humanity that is formed in Christ, one that is radically different from either philosophy. Marxism is dependent on splitting people between classes and pitting them against one another. According to Marx history is the repetition of the Proletariat rising and overthrowing the Bourgeoisie ruling class. The wealth of the ruling class is then redistributed to all. This is commonly called Socialism but is also known in its more sinister form as “Communism.” When this has happened, for instance during the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the role of oppressor merely changed hands, the previously oppressed rise to become the oppressor. This is portrayed extremely well in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” It is true that redistribution can be done and is done in a way where this is not the case, such as many democracies in Europe which are hybrids between Capitalism and Socialism (commonly called Democratic Socialism) but these countries are not truly Marxist or truly capitalistic, rather try to take the best of the two and mix them. The Body of Christ is a strong group, such as what Marxism tries to create, but it is one group, not divided into many. More on that in a second.
Individualistic Capitalism, while it does rightly elevate the value of individual work, also places the primacy of the individual and the individuals work to the point of idolatry. That is, the self and what the self accomplishes takes precedence over all else and the self is divorced from the group to which the person belongs to the point of isolation. This is what we commonly call a “weak group” society and it is the exception in the world and in History, rather than the rule. The consequences of this, especially in the late stages we find ourselves in today, is that people feel increasingly disconnected and isolated. A phenomenon we are seeing explode with COVID-19, but which was already on the rise as Cell and other Digital Technology increased throughout the early 2000’s to today. Games like “The Sims” and Social Media Platforms have only served to create a false sense of community while they really lead to further isolation and depression. When someone is reduced to their job, disconnected from the groups that support them, the result is dehumanizing and the work which once brought dignity because it was just one part of the individual’s sense of self, leaves the person wondering if there is anything else to life. Work is a dignifying thing, there is no way to deny that, but a person’s profession is only one part of them. Christianity encourages work as part of the peaceful and quiet life, but Paul is never reduced to a “mere tentmaker.” Instead he is identified by his associations with his strong group or groups, A Jew, part of the Sanhedrin, then An Apostle, A Christian, A Roman Citizen. He is always identified as part of his group before he talked about what he did.
Society has made it seem like the Church desperately needs to chose between these two ideologies, but in reality if we settle for either, or even some syncretism of both, we are falling far short of what Scripture actually gives us to live out and the example to which we are to aspire. Christ has come to make an entirely new humanity that transcends the old one, not to reinforce social and class divisions as Marxism does, but to eliminate them altogether. While work is still important to Christianity, the worker is not reduced to their work, rather their work is one aspect of their life, it is also how they contribute to the transcendent new humanity, through their work they are engaged in active evangelism to reach others. They also contribute to making sure the group can take care of those unable to work or who need time to figure out a new profession. The model of Biblical reconciliation given us in Christ Jesus is one that eliminates the categories of oppressed and oppressor but also values someone based on their being In Christ and made in God’s image, rather than their profession or what they contribute. Redistribution that is done comes through the Church Leaders out of Joy and Gratitude for what Christ has accomplished on their behalf. It is not meant to be forced or demanded but should be done when possible. By doing this Acts even tells us that no one among them had any need, a fulfillment of Deuteronomy 15 (Acts 4:33). Individuals are thus to be viewed as human beings made in the image of God with that Image fully activated and renewed in Christ (or potentially so). Individuals have autonomy, but also need to be recognized as part of the larger group. Christian (Little Christ) should be the first identity that all over identities are subsumed under or subordinate too. I am a Christian before I am a Pastor, I am a Christian before I am a Father, I am a Christian before I am a Police Officer. But this does not erase cultural distinctives, but meshes them, transforms them. A Christian who is Black is still Black and brings their culture, transformed in Christ because God created it, to the table which God has set before us. There is to be, in the body of Christ, Unity in Diversity. Christians are every skin color, (almost) every profession, making up the whole of God’s created humanity.
It seems obvious that both ideologies have zeroed in on two different aspects of Christian Teaching and either knowingly or unknowingly, both scheme to form the perfect humanity either through Utopia (impossible) or total autonomy (also impossible). The New Humanity however requires us to hold in tension the individual and the group. The New Humanity is meant to be a strong group made up of individuals who are caring for each other not out of obligation but out of gratitude for what Christ has done. The New Humanity is meant to be both Salt, a preserving agent in the ancient world, and light to the world. That is, the New Humanity preserves the world and seasons the world, preparing it and curing it for Christ’s return but is also to be a beacon for all the world to see on how to live. This is a radical third way that does not diminish humanity to classes or to individuals, but which draws us up into something completely different, divine Union with Christ and with one another in which all the hostilities of this world, personal and corporate, are destroyed by the death of Christ on the Cross (Ephesians 2:11-22, Galatians 3:27-29). Christianity is not mere moralism, it is something new, as John Williamson Nevin tells us when speaking of the Incarnation: “A New principle of light and life.” Man is now in relationship with God the Father through God the Son. Nothing like this has ever been since the time of the fall and nothing like this ever will be again until the end of all things and that union is once again renewed and perfect at the end of all things. To diminish Christianity, to make it less than it is, denies the work of Christ and makes a mockery of his sacrifice. It is blaspheme against God to take away from Christianity, to make it less than what God has designed it to be, a New Humanity, meant to resemble what God intended Humanity to be in the Garden.
The judgment we heap upon ourselves by embracing anything less than what the Bible teaches us will be swift and fierce. Forget what the world may do to us in calling our bluff, those who think they are Christians but have no relationship with Christ and who actually live the opposite of what He has put before them to live are calling judgment and eternal damnation down on their heads. (Matthew 7:22, 23, Romans 2:1-11 1 John 1:1-11 and so on).
Lord, Heal your Church, call your people back to you. Amen.
Hellerman, Joseph. 2009. When the Church Was a Family . Nashville : B&H Publishing .
John Williamson Nevin, Philip Schaff, Daniel Gans, William B. Evans, W. Bradford Littlejohn . 2014. The Incarnate Word: Selected Writings on Christology . Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .
Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “The Church .” In One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, John Nevin’s Writings on Ecclesiology (1844-1849) Tome One: The Mercersburg Theology Study Series Colum Five, by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 144-159. Eugene : WFPF and Stock .
Philip Schaff, . 1964. “The Principle of Protestantism .” In The Lancaster Theology Series on the Mercersburg Theology V: VI , by J.W. Nevin, Ed Bard Thompson Philip Schaff, 48-219. Philidelphia : United Church Press.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.