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.
26 thoughts on “Jumping from Bridges”
Very good article! I often wonder about that. I do realize from attempting to discuss this, that most Christians are not comfortable talking about it.
LOL My Mom was so famous for quoting the bridge thingie!
American Christians don’t want to be martyrs, no matter how righteous the cause. We feel that if we keep a veneer of Christianese, others won’t ask too much of us.
This church did it…with good and bad results.
I still say you can’t have all things in common without revival first. Just like sermons on giving: God loves a cheerful giver. If you want people to give more, focus more on cheering them up, not as much on giving.
See my reply to Mike Jacobs below…
How does Paul’s comment about ‘if a person won’t work then they won’t eat’ tie in here? Does ‘Give a man a fish, teach a man to fish’ though clearly not scriptural come into play here as well? Won’t some take advantage of those who will give without asking for anything in return? Great discussion Dan!
Lazy people don’t get a pass, but at the same time, church leaders should use wisdom.
“Freely you have received, freely give” is what the Lord said. I don’t see too many strings on that.
I recently had a discussion about communal living with another brother. Actually, your recent posts on equipping the saints prompted the discussion, as one of the great benefits to this lifestyle would be the ability to have the entire Christian community becomming grounded in their core beleifs with this kind of environment. There were several of these types of communities in the 19th century that not only survived, but thrived here in America such as the Shakers and Zoarites (I’m not saying that I would agree with either of their theologies, however). There is also another modern group that currently pracitces a Christian communal lifestyle in the western U.S. and Canada named the Hutterites.
This may be an idea that starts to gain momentum as the church begins to have it’s rights and freedoms trampled upon and/or stolen from them. It could be that the only place one could feel the freedom and safety to worship as they please would be in their own commune. The one great downside to this lifestyle is that evangelism to the outside usually becomes non-existant. I just don’t see the Amish or Mennonites winning people to the Lord and bringing them into their community (although the Shakers and Zoarites did). Then again, the mainstream church of today isn’t doing so hot on evangelsism either.
I think we can have most of the best parts of communal living while maintaining freedom from falling into the commune mentality. My wife and I have advocated that a half dozen Christian families buy up a plot of land and build separate houses on the land along with a common building for getting together. They can pool an agreed upon portion of their money (but not all) and use it to weather bad times. They can also agree to limit the amount of duplicate items they purchase so that each family is freed to use the money they save as part of the pool.
I have an expensive tractor. So do all my neighbors. Why? Especially when none of us uses the tractor more than once a week or so. I had to work harder to afford that tractor. Why? Why duplicate items and end up working harder?
I could go into greater detail on this, but I’m having some trouble with my commenting interface on the blog, so I need to troubleshoot that…
Why? Usually because we distrust the neighbors. The neighbors won’t take care of your tractor (or return it to you) if you lend it to them. While a large tractor is hard to hide, think hand tools and the lawnmower. Plus your neighbor may run your tractor harder than you would, straining the engine, and leave dirt on it that you would wash off after a usage. This is an issue that played directly into the lives of my friends:
A married couple with child needed a place to live. So my friends, my spiritual grandmother and her husband, took them in. But this couple would not take care of anything. Two stories I remember: They spilt something on my grandmother’s nice wood floor and left it. It was an obvious stain, but my grandmother had to clean it up. The couple also would use my grandmother’s china and her good silverware (real silver), but never wash the dishes. My grandmother had to wash the dishes.
There was more to it than that, but those are the two stories I remember her telling me.
Finally, she and her husband found another friend who would take them in. They could live in this other friend’s guest house. But they would leave the AC and heat turned on full blast with the windows open while they were gone. The hostess was paying the freight on the utilities because the couple did not have enough money to pay for the extra bills.
My grandmother lamented that this couple, both Christians, and the wife was a teacher at a private Christian school, were on the verge of homelessness because they would not take of anything, even other people’s stuff.
This also leads me to think, sure, if you want to share all things in common like the early church, that is a great goal. But it must be birthed in revival and kept in line by apostolic counsel, like how Peter and the apostles had to appoint waiters of tables, and there will have to be Ananias and Sapphira moments. This couple surely could have used a scare from the Holy Spirit.
The corollary to their having all things in common is that “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own” (Acts 4:32).
Perhaps the reason we get so upset when people treat our things that way is because we’re still thinking of them as our things?
Yes, my grandmother and her friend may have thought of these things as their own, but the couple needed to look at these things, whether they belonged to my grandmother or her friend, or to God, with a heart of stewardship, which they were not doing.
I once heard a preacher (who owned a BMW car AND a BMW motorbike) denouncing the early church’s practice of giving by saying it probably caused the need for other churches to raise money to support the Jerusalem church in following years.
This was in a message about tithing. The clear implication of his sermon was not only should everyone tithe – but those with more could be satisfied with giving only 10% of their income. Giving anymore could potentially lead them into financial problems.
I have always found the common church emphasis on tithing to be a burden to the poor and a benefit to the rich. The latter can WELL afford to give a mere 10% of a huge income, while the former can be left to struggle with the little that remains of their low income.
I suggest that the struggle of the poor would be significantly decreased if the example of the early church was followed. Their giving was to those in need and NOT to church business and building costs.
I learned a few years ago that I should not judge anyone based on things they own. None of us knows where these things come from. For instance, I know a very humble pastor who drove new Cadillacs all the time. Turns out he had car dealer in his congregation who thought God had told him that he should provide the pastor his transportation. The pastor balked at first, but the man insisted. So the pastor always drove a nice car that was given him free by this dealer.
As to the tithing issue, I agree. It’s Law and not Grace. It’s OT, not NT.
I once polled readers here on this issue, especially as it pertained to giving money and tithing, and while I did not get many public admissions, dozens of people emailed me to tell me that they had been giving for years and had not really seen the earthly return that church leaders often trumpet.
I believe fully that the tithe is actually a limitation that proceeds from a hard heart. We like our stuff, and 10 percent is easy and doesn’t require us to be led of God. But Acts 2 & 4 are not easy and do require us to be led by the Spirit, as they would force us to rethink the entire way we live. We Americans don’t want to go that direction, though.
1Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
2Cor: 9 6-7
6Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver
Tithing is an old Testament mandate, Paul never taught to tithe, but rather to give what you feel compelled in your heart to give. It’s amazing that this is still being taught when we are no longer under the law. The law also commanded us to stone to death rebellious children, do we have rock piles in our church parking lots to uphold this portion of the law?
What follows in the first passage you quoted is that the money Paul was collecting was NOT for the local church, which people who quote this passage in support of tithing fail to note. The verses that follow clearly say it is intended to support those in Jerusalem, who were coming under increasing persecution. Nor does it state what people were to give. Paul clearly stays away from tithing wording.
I believe that tithing actually limits everything a church can do or be. It was intended as a way to keep the priesthood fed. God clearly says that what He receives from the OT tithe is intended for the priesthood. The priesthood now is you and I, which is why the model changed from tithing to be what it is in Acts 2 & 4!
I didn’t read the comment thread, so forgive me if my comment replicates others, or has already been addressed. I wanted to quickly get my thoughts down after reading the post so I wouldn’t forget (old age is a drag! 😉 )
About the Church in Jerusalem’s common holding:
That pattern was neither replicated in any other place the church was planted, nor is there record of it being used in Jerusalem past the initial period of establishment. Why? #1, Jerusalem was a pilgrammage city, and the first inflood of converts were people from out of town. They tarried past normal visitation and had no means of support. The common holding (it seems to me) kept them artificially from heading back to productive labors in their hometowns. My reading is that it took persecution to get them all scattered again (as Jesus had instructed). #2, the common holding was not an instruction of the Holy Spirit and therefore not doctrine of the church of the First-Born. It’s not in any of the epistles.
To help someone in misfortune, or those who are weak and in chronic or long term need should be part of church life, to be socialist should never be.
I learned a few years ago that I should not judge anyone based on things they own.”
I agree Dan.
In the case I mentioned the speaker was introduced to the congregation with a specific reference to his ownership of the BMWs.
Regarding tithing I seriously began to re-evaluate my church’s teaching on the subject when I was falling deeper into financial difficulty. I was the sole “bread winner” with a wife and child, on an income that was well below the recognised average salary. I was a regular tither.
One day I realised that a single person on exactly the same salary as me would have exactly the same tithe “obligation” but did not have the same family responsibilities.
Something didn’t add up.
At the same time most of the money being collected by the church was being transferred to the denominational head office and the rest was going towards administration costs at a local level and was not being directed to those in need.
While many churches still promote tithing, how many even teach the TRUTH about tithing under the old covenant? How many teach about the tithe that was intended to finance a huge party (see Deut 14) and the law even suggested that part of that money could be spent on “strong drink”. I’ve never heard that preached in church when the regular “tithing” sermon is preached.
I guess I can’t relate to this very well. In theory I understand where you’re coming from. But in practice my church does this stuff. Do we do it perfectly? Of course not. But then neither did the early church. Where there are people sin is soon to follow.
That said, I hear stories all the time of people living sacrificially at my church. Some of them are outrageously shocking (in a Jesus-kind-of-way). I’m sure I don’t go tot he only church that lives that way.
Have you ever had a room-mate? A really bad room-mate? I have, and she was supposedly a lovely christian girl, a school teacher, we both went to the same church we were friends. This was supposed to be a great way for us to save money. It was a horrible disaster! . I hesitated to get married because I could only imagine how it would be to live with someone I couldn’t get away from. I’ll just have to miss out on the blessings of communal living. The thought makes me break out in a cold sweat.
Ha, yeah, I like to joke that I won’t join an “intentional community” because I’m afraid the leader will kick me out of bed at 4 AM so I can learn the value of prayer; give away my bowl of organic breakfast gruel to an able-bodied homeless man so I can learn the value of fasting; make me work all day for no pay so I can learn the value of labor and charity; and when I finally protest, he says to me, “I intended to do that.”
slw said there is nothing that suggests this model was replicated anywhere else in the epistles. I agree, technically speaking.
What Acts 2, 4 shows us is a view inside a church, versus 2 Cor. 8 showing us a view from church to church. (But note that Paul says this is his advice and a test, not a command.)
But in 2 Cor. 8 Paul does reference Exodus 16:18, which tells of a similar model for Israel in the desert to that of acts.
It seems in all these instances there is a common theme — Giving and sharing so that others needs are met. Seems pretty simple and consistent with other scripture or the gospel message.
Dan, I would suggest what you are positing seems more extreme than what the bible is actually saying. Or that you are proof-texting to support an extreme point of view on the church which is not reasonable to the whole of scripture.
I also think the problem in modern churches is the lack of need sharing. For one its very humbling. A pride killer. YEAH! But the other thing is that the logistics of many churches does not induce community and intimacy among congregates. Sharing needs becomes an act of desperation in most cases and usually to a small few in a small group. Ratio of supply to need are reduced in those situations. They are localized in other words.
Only in severe cases or people who are close to church staff get special mention during the “announcements” when the whole body is present on a Sunday morning.
But I feel very confident that given the chance to know peoples needs, we would seek to meet them should we have the supply. I’m certain that in the many real personal christian relationships we have, we do this.
This post was about more than the Acts 2 & 4 citations, but that seems to be what everyone wants to talk about.
I don’t think I’m prooftexting when the Scriptures mention that scenario more than once. Even if one says that the practice of it was unique, the truth of “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own” is totally in line with the entire NT and the concept of being dead to the world, both legally and spiritually. If as Paul says that we are not our own, then it’s easy to see why the early Church could say what it did.
Personally, I don’t see how that can be taken any other way. It seems to me, like I said a few weeks ago in another post, that one of the biggest problem with our churches today are too many people who never died. What we see in Acts 2 & 4 are an early group of believers who understood that idea of “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God,” which is a concept that seems foreign to all too many American Christians. That zombie-like undead self wallows in self-centeredness and “Mine!” and explains why the Church here actually does so little and has such a paltry influence on society.
A very good response, your points are well-taken. Even if our living in not communal it should be dead to self.
The fact that people need to qualify the bejeezus out of the Acts 2 scenario(btw, I have never heard anyone suggest that sharing possessions in this way is required Biblically…just that we shouldn’t do it cause it’s communist or something) is a testimony to people’s fear and to their love of possessions. the same goes for the rich young man text, in which rank terror of losing their stuff drives people to immediately say things like “now, now, don’t go thinking Jesus meant this literally…”
I’m kind of tired of it, honestly.
Living communally is not that hard, people. It really isn’t. Nor is it some wild, barbaric, legalism-prone thing that threatens to bring USofA and all it stands for under Soviet domination. Nor is it contrary to the Bible. Nor is it commnaded in the Bible. However, considering your possessions and your life and all that you have under the sun to be worthless next to knowing Jesus is thoroughly Biblical. People whose priorities reflect that don’t find it all that big of a leap to introduce *some* kind of shared living scenario into their lives, either to free up resources to do Jesus-y things or to plain ol’ make life easier.
After all, we’re not necessarily designed to be constantly functioning on all cylinders merely to buy and maintain a bunch of individually owned stuff. Some of us are gettin’ tired, here!