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Originally posted at Jesus Army’s Forward Blog.
Most people seem to think that the Christian church was born on Pentecost day in Jerusalem, as described in the book of Acts. Ten days after Jesus had risen to Heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out on over a hundred disciples and they started to speak new languages (Acts 2:1-4). After Peter had powerfully preached the Gospel, 3,000 were saved and baptised and suddenly there was a church in Jerusalem, in which everyone had everything in common, miracles abounded and people were converted daily (Acts 2:42-47).
But if this was the birth of the church, what should we call the community Jesus had with his disciples in the Gospels? Was it some sort of preparation for the real stuff, a “church pre-school”? Admittedly, it isn’t spelt out to be a church in the Scriptures, but what else could it be?
Think about it, what’s the difference between the discipleship community in the Gospels and the church of Acts? The discipleship community also preached the gospel (Matt 11:1), healed the sick (Luke 10:9) and shared money (John 13:29). They baptised new believers (John 4:2), worshipped together (Mark 14:26) and shared the bread and wine (Mark 14:22-24). (more…)
An interview with me originally published at the website of Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice.
Micael, can you explain to me your living arrangement, both in domestic terms and economic terms?
Holy Treasure is part of something called New Creation Christian Community (NCCC) which in turn is part of the Jesus Fellowship Church, or Jesus Army. NCCC is at the core of Jesus Army, basically every local congregation is based around a community house, and almost a quarter of all church members live in community.
I work at one of the church’s businesses called Goodness Foods with video making. All my wages are sent to the bank account of Holy Treasure, the “common purse”, which then provides me with all the food, clothing and transport I need.
I’ve been arguing for years that churches today need to look like they did in New Testament times – Jesus-centred, fully charismatic, publicly evangelistic, home based, and practising community of goods. Now churches like this are very rare as you probably have noted yourself. Even among Pentecostals and charismatics it is rare that the church publicly evangelise, they usually have church buildings and they almost never have community of goods.
Isn’t this a clear indication that I’m simply mistaken on what qualifies as a Biblical church? Not necessarily. Arguments for what a Biblical church should look like should always be based on the Bible, not popular opinion. If Christians who don’t practice community can’t defend their position biblically, it doesn’t matter how many they are.
In fact, whatever one thinks that a Biblical church looks like one has to admit that there have been historical periods where very few have been part of such a church. The Catholic and Orthodox dominance for over a thousand years would be such a period for us protestants. And even modern Catholics rarely agree with previous Catholic opposition to freedom of religion and endorsement of torture and crusades. (more…)
Article written for New Creation Christian Community, Jesus Army’s community organisation.
I’ve never viewed Pentecost as a mistake.
The first time I read the remarkable account in Acts 2 of how the Holy Spirit filled Jesus’ disciples with miraculous power so that they could speak other languages; how Peter’s passionate sermon resulted in 3,000 receiving Jesus; how all the disciples then had everything in common so that nobody had to be poor – I knew that this was good. In fact, it was awesome. Luke’s point isn’t that this is a tragic event that shouldn’t be repeated, he’s describing the best church ever!
I realised that a lot of miracles are better than a few miracles, that a lot of saved people are better than a few saved people, and that no economic inequality is better than existing economic inequality. I realised that if I were to claim that we don’t “need to” make our churches look like Jerusalem, I would in fact be arguing that our churches don’t need to be as good as they should.
It would be like saying that a fire extinguisher doesn’t need to extinguish fire, or that a surgeon doesn’t need to save the lives of the patients he or she is caring for. (more…)
I can’t remember what kind of Google search or hyperlink that first led me to the website of Jesus Army almost seven years ago, but I remember how thrilled I was to finally encounter an evangelical, charismatic church that has complete community of goods. The closest resemblance to such an apostolic church that I had previously discovered was in a dusty, old book in my father’s home library called In His Footsteps. I was so excited as I earnestly turned the pages and read about this amazing church in the middle of nowhere which took Jesus seriously, had everything in common and led countless people to the Lord. Then I came to the last page which revealed that it was all fiction.
But the Jesus Army was real! I sent them an email, asking to come and visit them in Northamptonshire for a few days in April 2010. I was interested in the Training Year they offer and wanted to get a feeling about what New Creation community life was like. It was amazing; as I’ve previously shared I was baptised in the Holy Spirit during that trip, and I was so encouraged to see that community of goods is not just possible in the western world today – it’s very effective!
Without giving any convinced promises I told the Jesus saints that I wanted to do a training year (or rather, six months) in 2011. But after some time I told them I wasn’t going. I was feeling too young, insecure and inexperienced to take such a step. God was good and let me experience some amazing things in Sweden during that time. But I now know that of course I would have enjoyed and benefited a lot from a Jesus Army training year back then. I’m not luring myself into believing that whatever my life ends up like is what God wanted all along. He wants me and everybody else to share our possessions from the day we are saved. But even as we fail God can lead us onward, never forsaking us but faithfully caring for us.
In debates with Christian nationalists and “migration critics” there’s one Bible verse that keeps popping up all the time: Acts 17:26. Many use it as a proof text for why our nations shouldn’t receive refugees and for why we should be nationalists and patriots, celebrating our own country.
As I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog post, my first book in Swedish has just been published! It’s about why Christians should welcome refugees and it has already stirred a lot of controversy among the Christian xenophobic community. Most of those who disagree with us point to Acts 17:26 as the reason for why Christians should be critical to migration. One guy even e-mailed me, providing a link which he said contains “evidence” for why I’m wrong. I clicked it and found a blog post which simply was an angry rant based on one single Bible verse: Acts 17:26.
So let’s take a look at this Bible verse and see if it really says what nationalists want it to say. I actually made a video about Acts 17:26 several months ago as I was in the midst of writing the book. I found the video on my hardrive and published it on YouTube earlier today, so you can both listen to and read my explanation to what the verse is saying. Here it is: (more…)
Whenever I point out that our churches should be more Biblical and look like the apostolic church in Jerusalem that we read about in the first 12 chapters of the book of Acts, many fellow church leaders argue that there are many equally good models that we can form our congregations after, or that church structure really doesn’t matter much and so we shouldn’t discuss that too much. Allow me to disagree:
In this video I show that church structure does matter a lot, taking the example of Jerusalem and how it seemingly shaped the apostle James’ theology, and I question whether churches with different structures than the Jerusalem church really share the same fruit: conversions every day, nobody living in poverty and an abundance of signs and wonders.
Extremely few Protestants live in a community of goods similar to that of the apostolic church in Acts 2 and 4. In fact, most Protestant denominations don’t have any single community connected to them. Just like charismatic, supernatural gifts used to be a rarity within Protestantism due to cessationism, something that has drastically changed over the last century, so is having everything in common. Both miraculous power and community life are biblical practices that many Christians simply don’t want, and both charismatic cessationism and economic cessationism have been defended and strengthened by forms of academic theology which quite frankly use very bad arguments.
Mennonite scholar Reta Halteman Finger wrote an excellent paper back in 2004 called ”Cultural attitudes in western Christianity toward the community of goods in Acts 2 and 4” (Mennonite quarterly review, vol. 78, no. 2). It’s a baffling read. An obvious mistake from Catholic and Orthodox theologians during pre-Reformation times was to equate the apostolic community of goods in Acts with the community of goods in the monastic movement, even though the latter is only available for celibates.
When Luther and Calvin protested in the 16th century, they rejected the monastic movement and thereby community of goods. Both argued that the only lesson we should learn from Acts 2 and 4 is that we should give a little gift sometimes to a poor person, not that we should have everything in common with them. They criticized Anabaptists for wanting to live apostolically; Luther argued that it is impossible to do what the apostles did for modern believers. The Hutterites proved him wrong, having lived in total community for over 400 years.
As liberal theology and the historical-critical method in biblical scholarship sprung up during the 19th and 20th century, Protestant academics such as Eduard Zeller, Ernst Hanchen, Hans Conzelman and Luke T. Johnson questioned the historicity of Luke’s account in Acts 2 and 4. Their main argument for this was that community of goods in their eyes is extreme and difficult, therefore the author of Acts must be making it up. Haenschen for example argued that only celibates can manage to live in community, suggesting that Hutterites don’t exist. (more…)
How was Christian community of goods practically organized in the time of the Bible and how should it be organized today?
There are many myths and misconceptions about the apostolic church in Jerusalem and its community of goods. I’ve encountered people who think that all the disciples became homeless and unemployed as “those who owned land or houses sold them” (Acts 4:34), so that community of goods was more about having nothing in common rather than everything in common. In reality, however, they bought new houses after the resources were redistributed equally (8:3). Likewise, they probably bought new land and/or got other sources of income than agriculture.
The reason for doing this was most likely the fact that some people lived in quite luxurious homes while others were living in poor homes or even on the street. Selling everything and collecting the money in one pile under the oversight of the apostles made it possible for the church to provide a descent living for everybody, so that “there were no needy persons among them.” (4:34).
Now, we must remember that in the time of the New Testament there were no bank accounts. Everyone got paid in cash when they received their salary. This meant that even after the initial Great Selling of Everything, Christians in Jerusalem would receive their income individually (and most women, children and disabled people would not have any income at all). (more…)
The Bruderhof is a radical, Anabaptist Christian movement that has practiced community of goods since the 1920’s. Founded in Germany, it had to flee Hitler going to Paraguay, the US and England, although new communities around the world are emerging. Their website and YouTube channel is packed with inspiration and teaching on community of goods, and I found this article by Charles E. Moore to be a brilliant apology of why all Christians should have everything in common. Here’s an excerpt:
Peter does not tell Ananias that he could have come into the Christian community without renouncing the private ownership of his goods. How could he, when Luke wrote that “not a single one said anything was his own” (Acts 4:32) and that “whoever possessed fields or houses sold them,” and that “all the faithful together had everything in common” (Acts 2:44), and so on? Didn’t Jesus say to the crowds, “Every one of you who does not renounce all he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Ananias’ sin was that he pretended be a Christian via a counterfeit renunciation. This is why his sin was dealt with so severely. The entire thrust of both Luke and Acts is that those who follow Jesus freely give up everything.
Read the rest of the article here.
New wine requires new wineskins. I sense a radicality and a passion to follow Jesus in Europe today among the Christian youth. Many are inspired by Jesus first and foremost, but also histocial radicals like Francis and Clair of Assisi as well as modern like Heidi Baker and Shane Claiborne. With the increasing awareness of the suffering and misery the Western affluent lifestyle brings, with both environmental and social consequences, there is a longing to live more simple and equal, as in the apostolic age:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
Community of goods is a necessity. We need it to eradicate poverty and promote simplicity. And that in turn is what is needed to combat the secularism and individualism that is destroying the church spiritually. Jesus said that the “deceitfulness of wealth” will choke the word of God (Mt 13:22), and that is exatly what we see in rich countries. There is already an awareness of this, what is needed now is community houses. I talk about this here:
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? (more…)
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Ps 133:1) We’ve now visited around seven different community houses here at the Jesus Army, and it’s so beautiful to see the mixture of different people. Everybody believe in Jesus of course, but apart from that there is great diversity when it comes to age, ethnicity, social background, employment and civil status. Everyone are welcome to join the community, as long as they are committed and serious about it.
This is obviously very Biblical as the apostolic community in Jerusalem that we read about in the book if Acts literally included all the believers: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)
In the Jesus Army’s New Creation Christian Communities, you meet all sorts of people. Yesterday and today we’ve spoken to former drug addicts who have been saved and joined the common purse, as well as academics, nurses and teachers. We’ve spoken to 90-year-olds and people in their 20’s, as well as to parents with kids under the age of five. Everyone are welcome to sell everything and join the community of goods, even those who hardly have anything and mostly bring their debts to the common purse! And there is a strong, tangible brotherhood in the church that is quite unique in our individualist society.
France has once again been subject to an attack which the president has dubbed “terrorist”. A man has been decapitated and the aggressor has been said to wave a black Islamic State flag. Meanwhile, over 40 people have been killed in bombings at a hotel in Tunisia and a mosque in Kuwait. Some believe that the attacks have been coordinated.
The threat of violent extremism shouldn’t be diminished. The Islamic State has an ideology very similar to Nazism – a belief that they’re superior and have the right to kill people who don’t look like and believe like them. Much like the 21-year old boy who went into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week and killed nine people because of the colour of their skin. He wasn’t labeled a terrorist that quickly as the guy in France was – instead we got to see childhood pictures of him and speculations about his mental state.
It is ridiculous how common this media logic is: dark-skinned aggressors are politically motivated terrorists, while light-skinned aggressors are confused lone-wolves with mental problems. Even Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is not very often described as a terrorist, although it has been stated in court that he isn’t a psychopath but had a xenophobic ideology as the basis of his crime.
Speaking of xenophobia, Europeans who lean towards those ideas will most surely use the recent attack in France as an argument for deporting more Muslims to countries like Syria and Iraq, where there is war and terror fully operating. Now, that’s a horrible solution to the problem. The attacks in Tunisia and Kuwait today are illustrative: most victims from Islamic terrorism live in the middle east. Most of the Islamic State’s victims are Muslims! “Solving” Islamic terrorism with deportations is like “Solving” the holocaust and world war two with deporting every Nazi and Jew to Germany. It only gets worse if you do that.
So what is the solution then? Let’s look at the Bible. Did you know that one of Christianity’s greatest missionaries was a terrorist? His name was Saul.
To share everything is commanded in Scripture and eradicates poverty better than anything else.
Last week I was attending one of the bigger Christian conferences here in Sweden called Torp, where I was speaking on the topic of how to combine miracles, evangelism and social justice. I pointed to the fact that Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 does not just include signs and wonders but also community of goods, i.e. having all possessions in common so that nobody is rich and nobody is poor (Acts 2:44-45). I argued that if we want to resurrect the spiritual power and evangelism of the Biblical Pentecost we ought also want to resurrect community of goods. I developed my thoughts on community of goods and how it relates to Jesus’ command to sell everything one has in this MennoNerd video:
These thoughts were new and radical to several of those who were listening. Some were curious, others sceptical. One pastor in particular raised two objections. Firstly, he said, community of goods cannot be equated with using Spiritual gifts or doing evangelism because there is no command saying “practise community of goods”, just a description of how the early Christians did so. Secondly, the pastor thought that the Swedish evangelical church was already very generous when it comes to giving alms to the poor, so he saw no need of preaching community of goods as something we should resurrect in evangelicalism.
My direct response to his first question repeated what I had been saying in the lecture, and that I briefly talk about in the video above, namely that community of goods is the practical application of Jesus’ command to sell everything one has and give the money to the poor – which he gives not just to one rich young ruler (Mk 10:21) but to all his disciples (Lk 12:33). Jesus himself practised community of goods with his disciples (Jn 13:29), and he told them to teach their new disciples to do everything he had commanded them to do (Mt 28:20). To sell everything one has doesn’t mean to live completely without possessions, for then the early Christians would have been nudists, instead we see how the community of goods in the book of Acts is described as being the consequence of the early Christians selling everything they have (Acts 4:32-35).