On 10th April, 1848, a group of Christians who supported Chartism held a meeting in London. People who attended the meeting included Frederick Denison Maurice, Charles Kingsley and Thomas Hughes. The meeting was a response to the decision by the House of Commons to reject the recent Chartist Petition. The men, who became known as Christian Socialists, discussed how the Church could help to prevent revolution by tackling what they considered were the reasonable grievances of the working class.
Frederick Denison Maurice was acknowledged as the leader of the group and his book The Kingdom of Christ (1838) became the theological basis of Christian Socialism. In the book Maurice argued that politics and religion are inseparable and that the church should be involved in addressing social questions. Maurice rejected individualism, with its competition and selfishness, and suggested a socialist alternative to the economic principles of laissez faire. Christian Socialists promoted the cooperative ideas of Robert Owen and suggested profit sharing as a way of improving the status of the working classes and as a means of producing a just, Christian society.
Maurice's biographer, Bernard Reardon, has argued: "In 1850 Maurice publicly accepted the designation Christian socialist for his movement.... He disliked competition as fundamentally unchristian, and wished to see it, at the social level, replaced by co-operation, as expressive of Christian brotherhood... Maurice held Bible classes and addressed meetings attended by working men who, although his words carried less of social and political guidance than moral edification, were invariably impressed by the speaker. But the actual means by which the competitiveness of the prevailing economic system was to be mitigated was judged to be the creation of co-operative societies."
The Christian Socialists published two journals, Politics of the People (1848-1849) and The Christian Socialist (1850-51). The group also produced a series of pamphlets under the title Tracts on Christian Socialism. Other initiatives included a night school in Little Ormond Yard and helping to form eight Working Men's Associations. In 1850 Thomas Hughes, Edward Neale, Lloyd Jones, and other members of the group helped to establish the London Cooperative Store.
Disagreements between members resulted in the Christian Socialists being inactive between 1854 and the late 1870s. The 1880s saw a revival of the movement and by the end of the century a variety of Christian Socialist groups had been formed including the Socialist Quaker Society, the Roman Catholic Socialist Society, the Guild of St. Matthew, and the Christian Social Union.
Christian Socialists also dominated the leadership of the Independent Labour Party formed in 1893. This included James Keir Hardie, Philip Snowden, Ben Tillett, Tom Mann, Katharine Glasier, Margaret McMillan and Rachel McMillan.
On the outbreak of the First World War a large number of Christian Socialists joined the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF), an organisation formed by Clifford Allen and Fenner Brockway, that encouraged men to refuse war service. The NCF required its members to "refuse from conscientious motives to bear arms because they consider human life to be sacred."
Wilfred Wellock, a Christian Socialist, joined the Independent Labour Party. "As I moved about the country after 1920 it was next to impossible to secure a response to any kind of spiritual appeal... The only organisation that appeared to be advancing was the Independent Labour Party... The rapid march of the socialist movement in Britain at this time, with the Independent Labour party as its spearhead, owed its success to its essentially spiritual appeal. The ILP inherited the spiritual idealism of the early Christian Socialists and of the artist-poet-craftmanship school of William Morris... This was the only kind of socialism that appealed to me... I am a socialist, provided you give a spiritual interpretation to the term... I have only recently decided to enter practical politics since I have seen the possibility of making politics, through the introduction of spiritual considerations, a veritable means of social transformation."
In 1921 Wellock published Christian Communism. He argued that is " our business is to create a Christian Communist consciousness, and to let the revolution, or what there be, come out of that... We must concentrate upon the ideal, preach and teach it everywhere, proclaim it in the cities, in the churches, at the street corners - go into the highways and the hedges and compel the people to see life anew, and in the light of a finer ideal to re-create the world."
There was a revival of Christian Socialism after the outbreak of the Second World War. The writer, John Middleton Murry, argued for "socialist-communities, prepared for hardship and practised in brotherhood, might be the nucleus of a new Christian Society, much as the monasteries were during the dark ages."