Was the early church a Communist movement? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
In Acts 2, we read about the early church.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
There are a number of people that look at this and think that this sounds like something Communistic. Don’t they have everything in common? Don’t they sell all their possessions?
However, there are differences.
For one, if a group of people decide to come together and do this on their own without any force, that is not Communism. Communism is done with the government leading the way. Here, there is no central government that is leading the way for the people.
Second, they sold property and gave to those who had need. Not everyone was equal financially because some people had need and some didn’t. The text also says that they met in their homes. That means that some people had homes to meet in. We can also be sure that some things were not in common and understood not to be, such as they weren’t into wife sharing or something similar.
Third, as a Preterist, I contend there’s a reason these people were selling property in Jerusalem. They were sure Jesus was coming some time as He promised to judge the place and bring about destruction. Land values won’t really matter at that point.
Fourth, later on in the text, we see other people selling their land and giving it to the cause. As we see in Acts 4:
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Here, we see the same thing going on. People still have land and people are still selling it and goods are being distributed to people who have need. This is also something the people are entering into willingly.
In Acts 5, we have the chilling case of Ananias and Sapphira.
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Now this seems like a harsh punishment? Lying about money? What’s the big deal. This was a fledgling church movement and nothing was really done privately. People would find out what happened and if these two got away with it, everyone else could as well. Greed quickly comes into a church and tears it down. Not only that, these people were grabbing honor as if they had given everything when they had not.
Yet note that this is said to be their property. They could do with it what they wanted. They weren’t forced. When they sold it, the money was theirs. If they wanted to, they could have kept some of the money for themselves and just been honest with the apostles about it. Sure, it would have likely been seen as shameful behavior, but it would have been honest.
Next, in Acts 6, Greek widows say they are being overlooked when it comes to the distribution of food as Hebrew widows are getting more. Again, you have people in need and who are they really? They are the people in that society most likely to be unable to provide for themselves. Again, this is not exactly a commune.
Finally, this is the only place we see this happening in the New Testament. It doesn’t show up in any of the churches outside of here. As I contend, there’s a reason that it only happens in Jerusalem.
Now I don’t think Communism is an effective way to care for the poor and capitalism is far better, but that is another post. I could be hypothetically wrong on that and still right on the point about the early church. For now, those wanting to say Communism works better are not going to be benefitted by looking at the early church.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
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