Elements that would form the basis of Christian socialism are found in the Old and New Testaments.
Old Testament had divided perspectives on the issue of poverty. One part of the Jewish tradition held that poverty was judgement of God upon the wicked while viewing prosperity as a reward for the good, stating that "The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want" (Prov. 13:25).
However, there are other sections that instruct generosity to the "have nots" of society. The Torah instructs followers to treat neighbours equally and to be generous to have nots, such as stating:
You shall not oppress your neighbour...but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord
He [the Lord your God] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt
When you reap in your harvest in the field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it...When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again...When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this
Amos emphasizes the need for "justice" and "righteousness" that is described as conduct that emphasizes love for those who are poor and to oppose oppression and injustice towards the poor. The prophet Isaiah (759–694 B.C.) to whom is attributed the first thirty-nine chapters of the Book of Isaiah ("Proto-Isaiah"), followed upon Amos' themes of justice and righteousness involving the poor as necessary for followers of God, denouncing those who do not do these things, stating:
Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood...cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow
He who loves gold will not be justified, and he who pursues money will be led astray by it. Many have come to ruin because of gold, and their destruction has met them face to face. It is a stumbling block to those who are devoted to it, and every fool will be taken captive by it
In the New Testament, Jesus in Matthew 25:31–46 identifies himself with the hungry, the poor, the sick, and the prisoners. Matthew 25:31–46 is a major component of Christianity and is considered the cornerstone of Christian socialism. Another key statement in the New Testament that is an important component of Christian socialism is Luke 10:25–37 that follows the statement "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" with the question "And who is my neighbour?", and in the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus gives the revolutionary response that the neighbour includes anyone in need, even people we might be expected to shun. (The Samaritans were considered a heretical sect by Jews and neither would usually deal with the other.)
"Jesus Expels the Moneylenders from the Temple" by Giovanni Paolo Pannini
In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus says, "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied" (Luke 6:20, 21).
Christian socialists note that James the Just, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth, in the Epistle of James criticizes the rich intensely and in strong language:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up for treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you have kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter
During the New Testament period and beyond there is evidence that many Christian communities practiced forms of sharing, redistribution and communism.
Church Fathers age
Basil of Caesarea (c. 330–379), the Father of the Eastern monks who became Bishop of Caesarea, established a complex around the church and monastery that included hostels, almshouses, and hospitals for infectious diseases. During the great famine of 368, Basil denounced against profiteers and the indifferent rich. Basil wrote the sermon on The Rich Fool in which he states:
Who is the covetous man? One for whom plenty is not enough. Who is the defrauder? One who takes away what belongs to everyone. And are not you covetous, are you not a defrauder, when you keep for private use what you were given for distribution? When some one strips a man of his clothes we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not—should not he be given the same name? The bread in your hoard belongs to the hungry; the cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute. All you might help and do not—to all these you are doing wrong
John Chrysostom declared his reasons for his attitude towards the rich and position of attitude towards wealth by saying:
I am often reproached for continually attacking the rich. Yes, because the rich are continually attacking the poor. But those I attack are not the rich as such, only those who misuse their wealth. I point out constantly that those I accuse are not the rich, but the rapacious; wealth is one thing, covetousness another. Learn to distinguish.
19th century to present
A variety of socialist perspectives emerged in 19th century Britain, beginning with John Ruskin.
The influential Victorian art critic John Ruskin expounded theories about social justice in Unto This Last (1860). In it, he stated four goals that might be called "socialist" although Ruskin did not use the term.
"training schools for youth, established at government cost"
in connection with these school, the government should establish "manufactories and workshops, for the production and sale of every necessary of life"
all unemployed people should be "set to work" or trained for work if needed or forced to work if necessary
"for the old and destitute, comfort and home should be provided"
Ruskin was not "an authentic Socialist in any of its various nineteenth-century meanings." His only real contact with the Christian Socialists came through the Working Men's College. However, he influenced later socialist thinking, especially William Morris.
Episcopal Church Socialist League and the Church League for Industrial Democracy
Founded in 1911 by Vida Dutton Scudder, herself influenced by the Fabian Society, the Episcopal Church Socialist League and its successor the Church League for Industrial Democracy sought to ally Christian doctrine with the plight of the working class as a part of the larger social gospel movement that was taking hold of many urban churches across the United States in the early 20th century.
The Christian Church exists for the sole purpose of saving the human race. So far she has failed, but I think that Socialism shows her how she may succeed. It insists that men cannot be made right until the material conditions be made right. Although man cannot live by bread alone, he must have bread. Therefore, the Church must destroy a system of society which inevitably creates and perpetuates unequal and unfair conditions of life. These unequal and unfair conditions have been created by competition. Therefore competition must cease and cooperation take its place.
The political movement of Christian democracy espouses some values of Christian socialism, for example "economic justice" and "social welfare." It opposes an "individualist worldview" and it approves state intervention in the economy in defence of "human dignity." On the other hand, because of its "close association with Roman Catholicism", Christian democracy differs from Christian socialism by its emphasis on "traditional church and family values," by its defence of "private property," and by its opposition to "excessive intervention of the state."
Christian democratic parties (under various names) were formed in Europe and Latin America after World War II. Some became "a major political force."
Christian socialists draw parallels between what some have characterized as the egalitarian and anti-establishment message of Jesus, who—according to the Gospel—spoke against the religious authorities of his time, and the egalitarian, anti-establishment, and sometimes anti-clerical message of most contemporary socialisms.
It has been shown that utopian socialist ideas continued, after 1848, in new religious movements such as Spiritualism or Occultism. They were often marked by a heterodox Christian identity and a decidedly anti-materialist attitude.