Acts 4:32 is very specific. The early community of Christ-followers lived communally.
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.Acts 4:32-35
In the United States today a lot of us find this hard to grasp, in part because the worldly culture around us tells us in almost every possible way that “success” in life means having more and nicer stuff, and that having little or nothing to one’s name is a sign of failure.
Even the idea that many of us have of giving to the less fortunate is derived from the concept of noblesse oblige, a French term that literally translates as, “nobility obligates,” but more generally means that the more you have, the greater your responsibility to “help” those “less fortunate” than yourself.
The thing is, that’s not what Jesus taught.
41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”Mark 12:41-44
Reading Jesus’s teachings, and biblical accounts of how the apostles and early believers lived reminds me more of Karl Marx (“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”) than of noblesse oblige.
So do I think Jesus was some kind of a Marxist or a Socialist? Of course not. For one thing, socialism and Marxism were social and economic theories, not faith-based community practices, and they were developed long after Jesus walked the Earth.
For another thing, many communities have organized themselves much as the first Christ-followers did, including some of the early European settlements in North America.
In 1639, still on board the ship in which they’d crossed the Atlantic, one group of English settlers made the following pact with one another, now known as the Guilford Covenant – the founding document of Guilford, CT:
We whose names are here underwritten, intending by God’s gracious permission to plant ourselves in New England, and if it may be, in the southerly part about Quinnipiack, do faithfully promise each, for ourselves and our families and those that belong to us, that we will, the Lord assisting us, sit down and join ourselves together in one entire plantation, and be helpful each to the other in any common work, according to every man’s ability, and as need shall require, and we promise not to desert or leave each other or the plantation, but with the consent of the rest, or the greater part of the company who have entered into this engagement. As to our gathering together in a church way and the choice of officers and members to be joined in that way, we do refer ourselves, until such time as it please God to settle us in our plantation. In witness whereof we subscribe our names, this first of June 1639.GuilfordCovenant.jpg
Even most families organize themselves this way. It would be an unusual family indeed in which family members didn’t expect to contribute to family life according to their abilities and receive from the family according to their needs.
So what’s my point here?
I’m not sure I have one. I’m mostly just thinking out loud, thinking about “giving” and about the differences between “giving” and “sharing.” I wonder if we “give” rather than “share” because we’re under the influence of worldly economic systems rather than because it’s how Jesus wants us to live.
What are your thoughts about this?