*Gasp* They Were Communists!

Indeed, it’s true. I’m not sure how some of our conservative friends explain this wonderful uplifting section of Acts.

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”.  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)”.  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?

Aren’t they?

Amen.

 

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. chasingthemanna
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 11:00:51

    One wonders: did you stumble upon my post from last night before, or after today’s offering?? Just curious..there’s that ugly pride again! 😉 ANYWAY. I have approx. 8.3 minutes to get out the door but believe me when I say I’m excited to read this post in it’s entirety when I return to my laptop. I have a feeling our perspectives are similar. 🙂 Good to see someone else talking about this passage.

    Reply

  2. Sherry
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 11:08:05

    No I surely didn’t. I just popped it up in my zemanta link producer and thought your title sounded interesting. I stopped by your blog to read it and found your take on life infectious. We are moving to NM in a few weeks so this blog will be temporarily on hiatus unfortunately, unless the motels we stay in have internet access, then perhaps I can get a post in here or there until we find a house to buy and get settled again. Blessings to you.

    Reply

  3. Tim
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 14:30:59

    Of course, knowing me so well, you know that this post brings a great big smile to my face, Sherry. The bald truth of it is that the Early Church’s first impulse was shared sacrifice for common good–a classless community committed to everyone’s needs first and then one’s personal comforts. It was a tough sell then and even harder now that we’ve got capitalist values somehow twisted up in gospel rhetoric.

    But there is that awful moment in Acts when Ananais and Sapphira decide not to go all in, not to share everything they possess, and lie to themselves and the disciples about their greedy intentions. Their selfishness is revealed and they’re dragged out by their heels. It’s melodramatic, yes, but the lesson stands: putting our wants before others’ needs is a dangerous thing–a deadly thing–and the Church as whole needs to take stock and repent of its errant ways.

    Consumerist Christians and self-serving saints have no part in the true community of faith. Your reminder of this couldn’t be more needed or timely.

    Many blessings (and happy birthday!),
    Tim

    Reply

    • Sherry
      Apr 16, 2012 @ 14:49:32

      Tim, I have to laugh because someone wrote about his suggesting that it was really just Ananias and Sapphira’s lying that was the issue, that they could have kept all their property and no one would have said a thing. I don’t think that is at all what Paul was driving at do you? I think it was their placing of their own self-interest ahead of the community that so angered Paul. That is exactly the opposite of what Jesus was trying to convey. The church as you say needs to take stock of it’s own house regarding this, as it seems as of late that there has been much of the putting of church interest before the interest of the flock.

      Reply

  4. Jan Hilton
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 21:51:04

    Happy Birthday!

    Whenever I think of communism, I am reminded of my philosophy teacher saying that it is the form of thinking that Christians identify with–but not enough, as you so eloquently state above.

    Reply

  5. tsc444
    Apr 16, 2012 @ 01:06:31

    Very powerful word, couldn’t agree more!

    Reply

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    All the time follow your heart.

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