“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave 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 owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (* Acts 4:32-35 – My source of the Revised Common Lectionary tells me, “During Eastertide a reading from Acts is often substituted for the lesson from the Hebrew Bible.”)
I have come to really dislike the descriptions of the practices the Early Church had concerning commonly held resources. Not that it was terrible, but that it was so wonderful. And so distant from where we are now. It makes the modern corporate Christian church look so bad. So petty and mean-spirited. How can we compete with that? It is like comparing modern-day gardens to the Garden of Eden; weed-filled scrawny plants compared to the perfection of spirit-filled fruits!
But just as the Garden of Eden did not last much beyond creation, so the communal nature of the Early Church did not last much beyond the first century. Perfection is no match for human frailty and fallibility, or greed and possessiveness. Beloved reader, I don’t mean to sound belittling or dismissive of the caring nature of the early church. But two thousand years plus down the road from the Early Church it is hard to preserve the glowing innocence and naivete of the early church. Who wouldn’t contribute everything to the common good if one thought Christ would return in one’s life time. Who needs possessions if eternal life is just one or two calendar pages away?
It is especially hard to read these sorts of passage when so much that is just plain petty and mean-spirited is being practiced in the name and for the sake of Christianity. But perhaps I have had said enough on this theme.
One of the questions that the early believers needed to answer for themselves was . . . now what? Christ had risen, instructed some, gifted some with the Holy Spirit, and then left for Heaven. They had a whole new set of instructions, and the promise of the Spirit if they felt lost. It is no wonder they banded together in a tight community.
The same question, it could be said, confronts us now beloved reader. We have journeyed through Lent and celebrated our way through Easter – now what? It is back to our theme of renewal and recommitment. But now we know why; because God gave Jesus to the world, and Jesus laid down his life for us. What we must do is pick up the example that Christ laid out for us, no matter how poorly it may seem to fit us at times. We will inevitably err on one side or the other of not living up to Christ’s example. But it does not mean we should give up. Let us travel on together, beloved reader, helping each other on the way and sharing what we have with one another. Selah!