Christianity has to deal with a lot of misconceptions. From the idea that Christianity was created by Paul to the idea that Jesus was a cynic, owing to its prestige and power and the desecration of almost everything due to modernist secularism, Christianity has been the butt of many a dumb joke. None has been more perennial or foul than the suggestion that Christian teachings are socialist. Promoters of this idea are old and varied, with the old Utopians and later Social Gospel ministers being the main advocates. With the recent surge in progressive “Christianity” such claims regarding the ethical nature of Christianity have similarly surged.
Is Heaven Communist?
One claim in particular that is put forth is that common descriptions of Heaven are communistic, therefore betraying a supposed “hypocrisy” in theologically conservative (typically evangelical) Christians who denigrate worldly communism. Such people see Heaven as portrayed in classless, moneyless, propertyless, and purportedly communistic terms.
If this is how Heaven, the very abode of God and the place were we will all be whisked away to upon the eschaton, is depicted as, what makes attempts to institute such a society here on Earth bad? The conservative evangelical is clearly, then, just a worldly ideologue promoting his rugged individualist capitalism only because he is an American first, Christian second. Is such a portrayal actually reminiscent of what life in Heaven will be like?
What should be a dead give away that such descriptions are wrong is that they are based on “common descriptions.” Common descriptions of many important doctrines tend to be misled by centuries of tradition, disconnected from their 1st century Jewish provenance.
Without digressing into an in-depth sermon on eschatology and the New Creation (for that see here) I will simply sum up what Revelation tells us: we will not be floating around as glorified Caspers, but rather we will be walking around as glorified humans. The New Earth is described as a physical place and its inhabitants too will have physical bodies.
Indeed, Christ in His resurrected body was physical, which served as a sign of what we would gain (1 Cor. 15). His disciples could touch Him, eat with Him, and speak with Him. The Jewish concept of resurrection had nothing incorporeal in mind; Isaiah 26:19, for example, states, “Your dead shall live; their corpses shall rise.” The corpses, the physical bodies, of the righteous dead will rise, not their spirits or ghosts.
This was the hope of the early Church, that death would be defeated and reversed by God at the eschaton, that “the sea [will give] up the dead that [are] in it, and Death and Hades [will give] up the dead that [are] in them” (Rev. 20:13).
Does restoring Eden mean re-writing economic laws?
God did not say about the New Creation that, “I am making new everything!” but rather, “I am making everything new!” God will be restoring; namely, He will be restoring Eden (cf. Rev. 21-22). That being the case, note that Eden was physical.
Note that Eden was considered perfect; God didn’t create things imperfectly in Eden, everything was how it was supposed to be (“very good” – Gen. 1:31), and the fact that Adam and Eve sinned reflected on their free will and not any imperfect aspect of Eden (God Himself has free will, and God is perfect). The most important thing to note about Eden is that Adam had to work, he had to “cultivate it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Work was not part of the Curse, but rather toiling was (Gen. 3:17).
If there is work, and if there is a need for planting crops, that means that there will some measure of scarcity, because clearly if resources just sprouted out of thin air for Adam there’d be no reason for him to work (he’d just lay around and have ex nihilo grapes fed to him like an ancient Greek aristocrat). If there is scarcity and human actors, all the laws of economics follow. There will, then, be economic activity in the New Earth, direct and indirect voluntary exchange.
What this means is that we can conclude the New Earth will not be moneyless, because various economic laws (namely the double coincidence of wants) will necessitate a medium of exchange for value to ease transactions (even if all economic actors were glorified and morally perfect that doesn’t mean that they will want to barter salt for beef all the time). Money and prices (based on property) are also essential for economic calculation, which is an essential part of economic activity (which we know will occur in the New Earth, given scarcity and human action). The image that is being developed is not a very communistic one indeed.
Heavenly defense of property rights?
That God will defend our right to property we need only look at the presence of property rights from the Old to New Testaments, from Abraham homesteading water wells to one of the Ten Commandments being “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” to Jesus’ parable that asserts that we are permitted to do what we want with our own property. The common assertion that Acts 2 and 4 teach socialism is trumped by Peter’s words in Acts 5 that make it clear that the sharing of possessions was voluntary. When Christians held everything in common, selling their possessions and sharing the proceeds, all they were doing is just that, sharing.
It was an incredibly radical and selfless sharing, so radical that it is understandable why Christian communists have been confused (although communists are usually quick to correct people that communism isn’t merely sharing, yet that’s what they do here). God’s kingdom is a voluntary covenant, and there is no coercion apparent in it. Furthermore, the very grammar of this passage implies this, containing imperfect verb tenses, indicating that the selling was a periodic action, arising on a case-by-case basis (the use of the Greek aorist would’ve indicated once-for-all actions).
So, the New Earth will have labor, money, and property. What about classes and hierarchies? That there will be classes is beyond a doubt. I don’t merely believe this because of statements that there will be a “greatest” and a “least,” or that the Church has a hierarchical structure (pastor, elders, deacons), or that the heavenly host has classes (cherubim, seraphim, angels/messengers, archangels, etc.), but on something more fundamental: humans naturally organize into classes.
As Murray Rothbard put it, “Egalitarianism [is] a revolt against Nature.” Our own natural proficiencies or deficiencies, things as simple as our height or our weight, and numerous other factors contribute toward a natural inequality. There is also, inevitably, a special group of people in any particular skill-based group that rises above the rest due to natural talent. It is not hinted, ever, in the scriptures that such aspects of human nature are part of our fallen selves. All that scripture demands with regard to our abilities is that we use them to others benefit.
Not a haven for communism
Therefore, the New Earth (what we’re actually speaking about when we talk about “Heaven”) is not at all a haven for the communist mantra. The picture of it painted by the scriptures do not align with notions of a Marxist utopia. The New Earth will be a physical place with physical laws, and the descriptions provided of it are clearly that of a reality which will operate similar to ours.
The New Earth will be a place of moral perfection and restoration, which does not crowd out economic laws. Class, money, property, labor, all will exist there under the dominion of the kingdom of God (not a cosmic workers’ co-op). Communism and the sins that empower similar tyrannical ideologies will be tossed into the Lake of Fire, where their evils will be annihilated and not threaten us any longer. On neither side of paradise, then, does the communist have a truth claim on Christianity.