THE FORM OF SOCIAL CIRCLES IN THE EARLY CHURCH
The early Church dispelled any notion of materialism from its midst; it also sought to do away with any form of individualistic wealth that might have brought one’s spiritual walk to a mere crawl. An example of the early Christian form of economics within the ecclesial setting can be seen in the Acts of the Apostles, where,
“…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… 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, 34-35).
Back then, this practice of possessing all things in common with each other denied any believer to possess great wealth, as the property of all was considered to be commonly owned by the entire Church. If one had food, water, or clothing, he would willingly offer them to the Church. These would then be distributed among the believers, so that “there was not a needy person among them.”
The socialistic system described above may have originated from the apostles’ understanding of Jesus’ words as recorded in the gospel. Jesus taught that, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth,” (Matt. 6:24 NRSV emphasis added). Furthermore, the actions and work in themselves functioned in a communal way in the early Church, for “the disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea,” (Acts 11:29 NRSV emphasis added).
Paul forbade love of money because, according to him, it is “the root of all kinds of evils. On the contrary, some people, who are eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs,” (I Tim. 6:10 ESV). While in the modern consumer-driven culture which many Christians find themselves completely engulfed in makes this reading come across as counter-cultural, one must ask themselves which is more importance: money or salvation?
The early Church understood the latter to be infinitely more valuable than the former; in effect, the Church was entirely willing to share their possessions with their Christian brothers and sisters. But what a far-cry this form of brotherly love is from the modern churches of today! For example, two Christians will sit next to each other in a pew—one would have consumed three meals by noon and dresses himself in the finest clothing, and the other being that he hadn’t eaten in days and were garbed in old, unwashed clothes. In spite of this, they will attend the same church service, listen to the same preacher, sing the same hymns, although the rich man will return to his luxurious home and the poor man to his humble abode.
There is no mutual possession of all things in modern Christian circles; most will actually find any inquiry of their finances inappropriate. Which Christian man, sitting in the pews on a Sunday morning, would be willing to bring all of his belongings (the title to his car, his expensive watch, his cell phone, his food, etc.) to the feet of his pastor, and humbly request that it be distributed among the congregation to meet their needs, or sell what luxurious and unnecessary add-ons to his life in order to see his fellow man be brought up a notch?
This was the spirit of the early Church. The love which each Christian had for another person transcended his or her love and obsession with money and material objects to the point where each was willing to submit to the common ownership of his or her belongings. Such a social theory carries with it a stigma of communism in the modern world, and any suggestion that the early Christian persons practiced this form of anti-materialism might be met with immediate disagreement and defense for one’s lofty possessions.
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How do you exhibit in your own life the spirit of the early church?
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