They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.Acts 2:42-47
Now let’s ponder the following questions in the context of highlighted segments above:
- What was it these early cell groups / church people were feeling?
- How many of them were there? (There is a difference between a cell of 12 and a gathering of 120)
- Is this prescriptive of a church or a cell group? What is the difference?
- Is there a difference between “being together” and “having fellowship”?
- What is the meaning of “had all things in common” / began selling their possessions / sharing with anyone in need?
- Is this like Communism?
- What is the difference between “property” and “possessions”?
- Are you seriously suggesting I should sell my house and give the money to the church?
- Is the secret to seeing this kind of thing happen these days, being in church everyday?
- Should we have communal meals every day?
- Should we have communion more than once a month? Like every day?
I have been asked a few times over the years if this description at the end of Acts 2 describes Communism. I would state categorically, NO. Communism is a Socio-Political system which seeks to eliminate private ownership in favour of collective ownership. The ideal is to lower the excesses of the rich and raise the poverty of the poor to create an egalitarian middle class, where everyone has access to all they need. In the words of our Bible text above, the aim is everyone sharing their wealth and possessions in order to avoid anyone lacking what they truly need. It is a very noble goal but how to achieve it is the problem. The problem is finding the system whereby this can be achieved and where human sin doesn’t frustrate the goal being reached. The basic question is how do you control and facilitate this happening? The basic idea behind Communism was the State (Govt.) would be the means to control the process. We all know what happened under Communism. Private ownership was replaced with Oligarchies. An oligarchyis a form of government in which the political power effectively rests with a small segment of society. Typically the people who have the most wealth, military strength, ruthlessness, influence or power, take control. The word “oligarchy” comes from the Greek word [olígos]which means “few,” and [archo]which means “to rule”. The excesses of Capitalism that the Communist theorists so opposed were simply replaced by a small political elitist group who took control of the money and power. That wasn’t the answer.
Does Capitalism fare any better?
Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to$110 trillion. (That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.)The bottom half of the world’s population owns the equivalent of the richest 85 people in the world.
Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries based on the data available between 1980 and 2012. In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post- financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.
I think deep down, all human beings would like to see the ideal situation in which true resource sharing takes place. Of course we all want that when we feel we don’t have our share. But when we have more than our share it is hard to convince us that we ought to share our surplus with those who are in need. The challenge is how to achieve equality when human desires and the sin tendency are present. An added interesting aspect of all of this theory is that I can be open to this notion of sharing when I am together with my family and friends or with those I know. But as the group of sharers grows larger and the pool of resources diminishes, I am less likely to trust those I don’t know or those whose motivation Imistrust.Therein lies the difficulty of organising the ideal community-based sharing. When the sharing is forced or strictly organised, the willingness to give decreases. Yet the Biblical principle is that God loves a cheerful giver – the ideal is that we would GIVE freely, willingly and without thought of what we might get back in return. Not keeping a record of the money given. To not give in that way, results in us developing a system to ensure that what was given out is held in some form of accountability, thus ensuring that the system is in balance and there is no abuse of the system. In other words, one becomes either a banker or a money lender. In short, we need a financial system to CONTROL the money or wealth. That is what we have in Capitalism:- lending rates, interest paid, penalties for non-payment; and no such thing as “free trade”, interest free loans or waiving debts. Everyone is out to maximise their share of the available wealth. That’s how Capitalism works.
Neither Communism nor Capitalism is what is being described here. Luke gives us an account that is truly amazing. Take time to ponder again this passage. How did the early church achieve it? What lies at the heart of this passage that makes it possible? Especially in the light of the numbers being larger than a normal family grouping or a cell group. What is the key to this being practically possible rather than an ideal that is impossible to achieve? How was it that this rather large body of people succeeded in making this new approach work? I think we would agree that it would be the kind of church we would all like to join. But how did it work? Would we be able to play our part in this church? Ask yourself some deep questions. Could you have functioned within this first church? What do you think it would require for you to take your part in “this system”? Go back to the first set of questions I suggested to you. Ponder those questions anew as you consider how you might have fitted into this church. Come up with some new questions you would like to ask in the context of this passage and what is described therein.
Feel free to interact with me on this matter and fire your questions at me. I will share the most astute questions with all of you in the next Gem. What would it take for you to fit into this church and enable this system to work? We will explore this “ideal situation” in the next series of Gems. Just how many Gems, will depend on your questions and interaction. I find this description fascinating, but maybe you aren’t so taken with it and are willing to just let it pass without comment. Allow me to put forward a provocative idea and suggest that maybe you don’t like to ponder this passage deeply because you suspect it may require you to make some significant changes to your “modus operandi”. The ball is in your court.
The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.Winston Churchill
Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wicked of men will do the most wicked of things for the greatest good of everyone.John Maynard Keynes
The forces of a capitalist society, if left unchecked, tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.Jawaharlal Nehru
Under Capitalism man exploits man. Under Communism it’s just the opposite.John Galbraith
When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.Helder Camara
Communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff.Frank Zappa
The things you own end up owning you.Ian Vail