Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Economics

When you think of the early church what do you think of?

Many Christians sight the church as recorded in the book of Acts as a kind of model for the way a community of believers should function. But, they almost always read it through a different lens, placing emphasis on some parts and completely ignoring others.

Often the text that is sighted reads:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayerEveryone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles....

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. -
Act 2:42-34, 46-47

The last line is usually held up as a standard and the rest of the text is picked apart and broken down as a how to manual.

Some read that they broke bread and ate together simply as communion.
Others say it was a meal and place emphasis on the fact that they shared it in homes.
Most point out that they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching but, have trouble agreeing on exactly what was being or should be taught.
Some believe miracles and signs MUST accompany every sanctified gathering.
Others believe these signs and wonders stopped happening long ago.

And while many of these may be important points they are not a full reading. They miss something important. The verses most over looked and least often sighted read:
All the believers were together and had everything in common.Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Act 2:44-45

Now these words appear right smack dab in the middle of the first and second set of text we looked at. But they are not quoted on church websites, or listed in most doctrinal statements.


I believe it is because it make us uncomfortable.

In our have it your way culture it is almost a sin to say you have to share. The prevailing attitude is "I have worked hard for what I have and no one is going to take it from me."

A bit later in the story this idea of sharing of possessions is affirmed.:
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. -
Act 4:31-35

The early Church took this idea of sharing of resources seriously.
So did the monastic communities that sprung up a few hundred years latter.
So did the Celtic Christian communities that sprung up after them.
And the early Anabaptists, and the catholic worker movement, and Mother Teresa's Missionaries of charity, and the new monastic movement today.
They all read this text and took it seriously.

So why don't we?

There is a story of an elderly Rabbi who is known for communing with God. One day his disciple says "Rabbi I have a question, Why does God allow all the poverty, war, and human suffering in the world to exist?"
The Rabbi says "You know I have often wanted to ask God about that."
"Then why don't you ask him then?' responded his disciple
Looking at the ground the Rabbi responds "Because I'm scared."
"Rabbi Why are you scared?" asks the disciple.
"Because I'm scared he will ask me the same question."