The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common.
With great power the apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need. (Acts 4: 32-35)
It doesn’t get more Marxist than that. Imagine, being of “one heart and mind”. Imagine there being “no needy person among them”.ย Imagine everything distributed “to each according to need”.
It is a beautiful model of how we should be. Sure, we can agree that room should be made for those who wish, because of their own personality, to work with greater effort. Sure, we can give them a bigger house, or a car with more accessories. That is, as long as there is “no needy person among (us)”.ย For we should be of “one heart and mind” that no one should desire or receive the yacht of their dreams while one person lives in squalor.
How did we get so far afield? How did that model fail almost as soon as it was instituted?
Perhaps it was because it functioned within a small environment, among a subset of a larger community. Perhaps it was because it had at its base a sufficiently large wealthy group who could sustain the poor within their ranks. Perhaps it was because they were not yet actively engaged in surviving persecution. Any number of reasons might be advanced, and surely it was a composite of many that led to the end of the “to each according to need” philosophy.
We can see that this was true in Paul’s efforts to raise money for the “church in Jerusalem”, and surely throughout his letters we find efforts being made to raise funds to support various fledgling communities of faith throughout the Empire.
But there was something more, that is clear from the Gospel reading in John. By the time John wrote his Gospel, the church is under much more stress. Persecution is a real thing. And what to do about it no doubt engendered much discussion and difference of opinion. John speaks to this church which is in some disarray and under threat. He tells them this story about Thomas.
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Jn 20: 19)
This is the state of the community–locked behind doors, fearful. Jesus appears, and as someone pointed out to me, his first words are PEACE. “Peace be with you” he says. These are people he knew, people he lived with, ate and slept with, prayed with. And the first word he says is peace. Can this mean that already the squabbling and arguing was afoot? I suspect so.
One has but to look at the history of the church down through the ages to realize that we are a contentious lot. We have managed to divide ourselves into tens of thousands of various sects, each claiming that it has the true, original, and correct interpretation of the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ. When Jesus returns to us again, more than likely the first word from his mouth will be peace.
I have no clue how conservative Christians explain the communism of the early church, or why at least it’s point: there was no needy person among them, isn’t upheld as the overriding standard. Should we not all, as Christians, demand that nothing less than this be the true state of affairs in our land before we talk of free markets and punishing people for being successful?
How do we get to prosperity gospels and such when millions of our brothers and sisters still live in squalor? How do we enjoy our cappuchinos when babies cry from hunger? How do we shrink in horror when government tries to step into the gap between the enormously wealthy and the terribly poor and provide minimum assistance? How dare we claim that this is the province of church–to take care of the poor.
How dare we use this language, when it is our province and when we have failed to do so. For 2,000 years we have tried, but we have failed. How dare we vilify the governments around the world who choose to step into that gap and fill it? They are only doing what the early church actually did aren’t they?
- The Second Sunday of Easter, Year B: April 15, 2012 (prayerbookguide.wordpress.com)
- Sunday (April 15): “We have seen the Lord.” (shechina.wordpress.com)
- 4/15/2012 Believe! (richbrownforewords.wordpress.com)
- The Acts Project Explained. (theactsproject.wordpress.com)
- Our Modern-Day Pharisees (truthandvalue.wordpress.com)