“I think that you could define [Jesus] as a Utopian communist, where people would work together to solve our problems,” Modine told The Christian Post. I’m all for working together to solve our problems. But that’s not Communism. Communism is forcing people to work for the goals of the State, and the State is a bunch of elites who claim they know what’s best for all of us. In the end, it’s these leaders who get the utopian spoils while the masses suffer.
Modine offers this simplistic reading of the Gospel accounts:
“According to the Bible, Jesus and his followers chose to own nothing, and shared their belongings. There were no needy people among them. Those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales, put it at the Apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. By this definition, Jesus and his followers were communists.”
The key word is “chose.” Being able to choose is not communism. In fact, Jesus’ disciples did not take a vow of poverty. Peter still owned a home in Capernaum (Matt. 8:14–17; Mark 1:29–31; Luke 4:38), and when he thought Jesus’ death ended it all for him, he returned to his family’s fishing business (John 21:1–14). Paul made his living as a tentmaker (Acts 18:1–3). Unlike Communists who covet what others have, Paul word with his own hands and used some of what he earned to help others (20:33–35). This can’t be done in a Communist system (Phil. 4:14–16). The list of attempts at failed Communist systems is a long one.1
Modine jumps outside the gospels and tries to make his case by an appeal to the actions of the early followers of Jesus in the book of Acts (2:44–45 and 4:32–37). R.J. Rushdoony puts the events in their proper historical context:
“The ‘communism’ of the early church, in Acts, was not economic in any sense, and should not be considered as an economic experiment. The church took seriously our Lord’s prophecy concerning the coming fall of Jerusalem (Matthew 24). They knew that they were living in a doomed city and country. The logical step of faith was to make liquid their assets for ready flight. Some who made liquid their assets dedicated their funds in part or whole to the church, for the evangelization of Judea before its destruction [Luke 21:20–24].
“The relief money collected by Paul was not collected because an economic experiment had failed at Jerusalem and Judea. Men there continued in their vocations, simply living in rented properties, since their assets had been made liquid. The problem was a severe drought which had struck the entire area [Acts 11:28], creating a serious economic crisis and extreme shortages of food [Rom. 15:25–26; 1 Cor. 16:1–3]. This is a matter of historical record. Outside help was needed by virtually all in Judea, and the Christians were no exceptions. Thus, ‘communism’ had nothing to do with it, and did not exist in the early church. Because the Christians were prepared for ready flight by our Lord’s words, and by reason of having divested themselves of properties, none lost their lives in the fateful war with Rome, A.D. 66–70.”2
There would not have been the ability to help their fellow Christians who were suffering from the effects of famine (Acts 11:28) if Communism was operating since there wouldn’t have been any money to give. There wouldn’t have been any property to make available to those in need.
There was no government intervention, no command to sell everything, no directive for the people to give up all their possessions. In fact, Peter makes it clear that at every point in the sale of the property it was theirs to do with as they decided: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? . . . (Acts 5:4).
No one is stopping Modine from selling all his possessions and living the communal life. Will it happen? Don’t bet on it. He’s like the early John Lennon who imagined “no possessions” and left an estate of around $200 million.
Modine says that his short film isn’t really about Communism but cooperation. The only way people can cooperate is if they’re free. People don’t cooperate in communist countries. You can’t cooperate if you don’t have anything to cooperate with. Capitalism is the great cooperative system.
- See Gary North, Puritan Economic Experiments. [↩]
- From a personal letter written by R. J. Rushdoony sent to John R. Richardson and cited in Christian Economics: The Christian Message to the Market Place (Houston: St. Thomas Press, 1966), 60. [↩]