Monday, November 23, 2009

The Church in Jerusalem...Socialism?

The Apostles and the converts to Christianity were truly on fire for God as "when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness." The Book of Acts 4:32-35 says "the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common...There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need."

Wow...they were...Socialists!

This used to bother me. I'm a devout Capitalist, and a believer in things like Popular Sovereignty, Republicanism, Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances, and Civil Liberties. I believe in personal liberties, equality, and the basic idea that you can achieve anything you are willing to work for.

Then I started considering why the early church was this way. First they did not know how long Christ would be away from the earth, and many wanted to sit around and wait for his return. Second, it makes sense as far as spreading the Good News to have the devout followers in one place, working together to extend the blessings of God's promise to everyone. Many missions were undertaken to spread Christianity thoughout not only Israel, but to the various ends of the Roman Empire. Of course these were originally meant only for Jewish converts, but that would soon change.

So this communal living arrangement worked for the early Church in Jerusalem, but ultimately it failed. Why? Some waited around and did not want to work. Bickering between the various Jewish-Christian groups (particularly the Hellenistic and Jerusalem Jews) caused schisms, and then the growth of various heresies over the next three hundred or so years of history.

It is also worth noting that the Essenes movement (prior to Christ) also believed in Communal living and that the end times were here, and this may have played a part in the early development of the Church in Jerusalem.

In fact is was expected that those in the commune give everything to the Church. One story is told in Acts 5 about Ananias and his wife Sapphira. Apparently they sold a piece of property, gave some of the money to the Church, but told everyone they had given all. Peter was very grave about this saying that Ananias had not just lied to the apostles, but to God. Ananias and his wife then died on the spot for putting the Spirit of the Lord to the test. Why did this happen?

This is one of those passages that gives me pause. It doesn't seem to jive with everything else that had happened from the birth of Christ to the formation of the Church in Jerusalem. The only thing I can think of is that this happened so God could show the people that this Church was real, the Holy Spirit was real, and they were not just playing at creating something new. The passage goes on to state that a "great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things." The word fear is not a true translation of the ancient Hebrew/Aramaic as I understand it. It does mean fear, but it also means respect and honor. I wonder if the tale of Ananias and his wife was really a "course correction" for the early church?

More to come...

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