All Things in Common

Gonzales again (Faith and Wealth, p. 81-82), this time on the frequent claim that the common life of the Jerusalem Church in Acts 2 and 4 resulted in poverty, so that Paul had to constantly conduct financial collections to help them. Typically this is seen as an economically irresponsible move, creating poverty over the long term for the church, done only because Jesus warned the saints in Jerusalem to be ready to flee its destruction (this is the approach, for example, of Gary North, Sacrifice and Dominion, pp. 12, 15-17).

Gonzales points out that Acts itself says the poverty of the church was the result of a great famine that arose there (Acts 11:27-30). It was because of this disaster, and not because of economic irresponsibility on the part of the Christians there, that Paul raises funds to help them. It wasn’t as if this were a failed “communistic experiment.” Acts even tells us that living in this way worked: “There was not a needy person among them,” (Acts 4:34).

I would add that it seems to be frequently assumed by evangelical commentators that Paul’s request for aid to the other churches is somehow an indictment of the practice of the Jerusalem Church, as if the practice of radical sharing and mutual economic koinonia ought to have resulted in total economic independence and self-sufficiency. But this presupposes a neo-capitalist view of the world, the foundation of which is wealth accumulation and the pursuit of self-interest. Paul’s point in seeking aid is not to say, “These guys have failed in their experiment but we’ve still got to help them out.” Rather, Paul’s collection assumes the responsibility of all the churches to this sort of lifestyle, that just as individuals in Jerusalem sold property and gave so that none among them would have need, so too Church communities are to practice the same principle, so that congregations with much would practice economic koinonia with congregations that have little, supplying their lack, that there might be equality for all (2 Cor. 8:13-15). Then Paul quotes from the gathering of manna in the wilderness, where hoarding was forbidden and Israel gathered only what they needed, trusting in God to provide for tomorrow. This practice is what Paul says the churches are to practice with one another. His request for aid to Jerusalem demonstrates that this was to be a practice for the Church as a universal body, not that the Jerusalem church was foolish for having tried it.

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