A couple weeks back, I spoke with a brother about the following passages in Acts depicting the economy of the early Church:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
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. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 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 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
When the Bible states an action twice performed by the saints, I would think it would carry some weight. But mt friend asked if this was the way God wanted the church to live, why are none practicing this economy? His conclusion: It must not be right to live with all things in common, ensuring that none go without, if no Christians live that way.
His answer is the converse of the old advice your mom and mine posited concerning people who jump off bridges. Just because they do doesn’t mean we should. Mom’s reasoning: The bridge-jumper was nuts—and wrong.
But in the case of the early Church, what if what they practiced was indeed nuts—but correct? What then does a lack of contemporary practice say about the modern American Church?
Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors.
Peter walked into the Gentile household.
Paul wrote that Jesus kept the Law so that we don’t have to.
Stephen, one of the brightest and best, waited tables.
And people in the early Church avoided saying “Mine!” but instead had all things in common so that none went without.
We have a description for that way of thinking and acting: iconoclastic. In the day, those actions above broke down idols.
Think of all the people in those examples as bridge-jumpers. Consider all the bystanders snickering. Now consider the Lord, who says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Something is wrong in our churches when we are content to sit on the railing and say to the guy next to us, “No, you jump first.” Get enough of that and no one jumps. We all either walk away to go rebalance our 401ks, or we sit on that railing inert, forever inviting someone else to take the martyr’s plunge.
In the case of the Acts passages I quoted, the Amish and the Mennonites make it work to some extent, as they see it as a terrible disgrace should someone within their community fall on hard times while others prosper. To them, it looks bad for the community, not simply the individual who failed. They fix the problem. So at least a few Christians attempt to live in genuine community as depicted in those two passages.
Beyond the issue of “socialism” (ooh, scary word to Christians today, isn’t it?) in the early Church, the practice of the faith suffers in this country in other ways because of our hesitance to be the first ones to jump when confronted with the harder words of the Bible. I think the vibe in our collective American unconscious that loves the self-made man also takes perverse pleasure in the potential for some major “splat-age” when a bridge jumper jumps. And should the end result be a genuine splat, we have no want of people in the Church like The Simpsons‘ Nelson Muntz, whose “ha ha!” and finger pointing delivers final judgment.
Why isn’t the American Church taking more risks? You and I don’t want to be martyrs. We don’t want people to point fingers at us and go “ha ha!” We want our safe existence.
So the status quo goes on and on. The light goes under a bushel basket because it’s just a little bit too scary. And the world looks at the American Church and shrugs.