We’ve now taken the train home to Sweden after an incredible Jesus Army week in the UK. One of the last things I got to do was to organize a little round table with Huw and Mike who both have lived in Christian community for almost 40 years, I brought up seven arguments against community of goods that I often hear when I discuss the topic, and asked them to counter them. You can enjoy it in the video above, and below are the seven arguments along with a brief summary of what we said:
1. There’s no command to have everything in common
Yes, the process of having everything in common – and thus eliminating poverty – starts with people selling what they have according to Acts 2:45 and 4:34. And to sell everything one has is exactly what Jesus commanded not just one rich ruler to do (Mt 19:21), but all His disciples to do (Lk 12:33)
2. Community was practised because the Jerusalem church was persecuted
They started to practise it before persecution, and the reason given was not that they excepted persecution but that they loved each other and didn’t want anyone to be poor. Besides, since “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12), ought we not to live a life like that today?
3. Community was practised because the apostles errantly thought that Jesus would come back in their lifetime
Again, there is no reference in the Bible to any other reason for community of goods other than that the early Christians loved each other and didn’t want anyone to be in need. They also clearly wanted to follow the commands of Jesus, including the one in Lk 12:33. Besides, shouldn’t we have even more reason to expect Jesus’ soon return now 2000 years later?
4. Community was an economic disaster that forced Paul to collect money for the Jerusalem church 30 years later
There is no evidence in the Scriptures that the poverty wave that struck the Jerusalem church in the 50’s was caused by its community of goods. Alternate explanations such as famine, drought, migration or simply high conversion rate among the poor are just as plausible. Furthermore, community does not decrease capital, it just distributes it fairly.
5. Jerusalem was the only church that practised community and no other church thought it was a good idea
With the same logic, we could argue that only Jerusalem and Corinth partook in the Lord’s supper while other churches didn’t. Absense of clear descriptions of other churches practising community of goods doesn’t necesarily mean that they didn’t do it, it could also mean that it was taken for granted. Early Christian witness outside of the New Testament – such as the Didache and Justin Martyr’s Apology – show that community of goods was indeed practised in many churches outside of Jerusalem during the coming 200 years.
6. Jerusalem didn’t practise community of goods – they tried but didn’t succeed
This argument is based on the grammatical construction of the word “sold” in Acts 2:45, which in Greek is epipraskon. It expresses an ongoing act, suggesting that the selling of possessions was a continuous practice. Some have then argued that the early Christians never actually managed to sell everything, they just tried, but that is very far-fetched; the grammatical form could just as easily imply that this was continuous because new people joined the church every day. Acts 4:34-37 rather suggests, with the example of Barnabas, that community was established among many of the believers in Jerusalem.
7. Jerusalem didn’t practise community for very long, because in Acts 12:12, we see that individual disciples possessed houses
Having a common purse doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone lives in the same house – for example, over 400 people share a common purse in the Jesus Army, but these are spread out across Britain in over 40 different community houses. In Jerusalem’s case over 5000 seem to have had everything in common, since Luke insists that “all” participated in this, and few houses could accommodate that many people. Thus, it is not strange that they still had several houses – easily distinguished by naming who lived there – while still having everything in common.
What do you think about these arguments and our responses? Feel free to share in the commen section below!