Thursday, December 03, 2009

All things in common

There are few passages in Scripture that make red-blooded American conservative Christians more twitchy than Acts 2: 44-45 and the companion passage Acts 4: 32-35:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2: 44-45)

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4: 32-35)


That….that is un-American! That sounds kind of Obamaish to me! Them early apostles were commie pinkos! I don't see this as a form of communism, given that the assembly of the church and the giving was all done voluntarily rather than under compulsion. It does raise a question for us, even today where many of us, even those of us of modest means, live lives of extravagance unimaginable by the New Testament church and many of our brothers around the world, of how we reconcile our lifestyle as the church with what we see in Acts. We can be awfully selective about what parts of Scripture we apply literally. People will die on the hill of Sunday morning church services but spend a lot of time looking at their shoes when it comes to passages like the ones above. We insist on a traditional model for deacons and assume that they are spoken on in Acts 6 but what about the daily distribution to the widows that is at the heart of Acts 6: 1-6?

The bigger question is: How do we live what we see in the Scriptures in our Christian lives ? This was a question I asked in a previous post: The Church and the New Testament model and while I think many of us agree on the principle, I am not sure we are as willing to look deeply into ourselves and see what we find because deep down we know we aren’t going to like it. If the New Testament example and command is authoritative for the church today as well as in the first century, how do we live that out?

I don’t think that putting a couple of bucks in the offering plate really is getting it done. I don’t think gathering with other Christians (that we agree with in doctrine and practice of course) a couple of hours a week is fulfilling the Christian life that God saw fit to record for us in Scripture (and did so undoubtedly for a purpose) is getting it done either. I am pretty sure that my lifestyle is not one that really is reflective of Scripture. We are getting much better at family devotional time. My wife covers her head. We are pretty faithful at gathering with the saints. We do a small amount of evangelization. We occasionally have other believers in our home. We educate our children at home in a Christ centered curriculum. Most of the time though, in our home and at work, we look an awful lot like the world and if you are a Christian and are honest with yourself, you probably do to. What is the lifestyle that Paul commended to his readers?

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thess 4: 9-12)

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thess 3:10-12)

Yikes. Quiet and humble lives. Those are just a couple of the many Scriptures that extol the virtue of humble, quiet living. Are we as a family living this way? We own four or five TVs, more than a half dozen computers. We find so many ways that are banal and petty to fill our day. For all intents and purposes, outside of a few things we do that are more or less culturally acceptable expressions of being Christians, we live our lives in a way that is virtually indistinguishable from our pagan neighbors and in truth that is true for almost every Christian I know. The life of a Christian in the Bible is portrayed as a radical discipleship, a counter-cultural life and yet Christians (esp. in my home) embrace the world with both arms. We were talking about the Puritans and John Calvin yesterday and how prodigious their writings are. It seems incomprehensible to us but if you don’t fill your day with internet news, video games, Facebook, blogging and a million other things you have a lot more time for prayer, writing and meditating on the Word. When I read about people like the Hutterites (a group that has fascinated me for some time) and compare how they live with how most Christians live, I have a hard time making the case that, in spite of some flaws, they are not living a more faithful Christian life that most western Evangelicals. When the world looks at us, do they see disciples of Jesus Christ or do they see religious Americans? When you get the answer to that question, what do you do about it?

My spirit is deeply troubled this morning.



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5 comments:

April said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, Arthur, especially when confronted with all the Christmas consumerism--and that includes the Family Christian Store catalog I got the other day. But that's another issue entirely... :o)

We (Randy and I) certainly live in extravagance compared to most of the world, but not compared to most of America. What has been really odd is to experience the reactions from our fellow Christians to some of our beliefs, which are quite scriptural. I'm not just talking infant baptism here...I'm talking about things like submitting to my husband, living within our means, not wanting to do Santa when we have kids. I could get all up in arms and say that these people just don't care about scripture, but the thing is, I don't think it has occurred to most of them that those things are in there. We Americans have our pet verses (John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11, etc.), and we can certainly find the ones about homosexuality, etc. But we (myself included) do not know our bibles. I find it humbling, and often heartbreaking, to come across a passage like the ones you've referenced today, and realize, "Wow--I never knew the bible said that. Why aren't we living like this?"

Sorry to ramble. But thank you for sharing this today. It's always a good thing to be humbled.

Steve and Paula said...

Mmmmm, I have also been intrigued by the hutterites way of life.
At the same time, they have some beliefs that are not Biblical.
There are two groups that broke away from the Hutterites, and formed new communities for this very reason.
The only major thing we do not agree with is the non resistence statement.

http://thecommonlife.com/home

The worse things become here, the more inviting it would seem to live the way these people do.

The fellowship we are in, has some aspects of all things in common, even though many of us live a full hour away from the meeting place.
Paula

Steve and Paula said...

April,
SO true!
Gifts at Christmas are such a sham.
Everyone seems to forget, or not know, the true meaning behind the gifts the magi offered the infant Christ.

We are going to take the route of caring, rather then gifting this year, for sure.
Homemade food, firewood, etc.
I do not want any commercial entity profiting from our pockets in the name of Christmas any more.
Paula

Arthur Sido said...

Paula,

I hear what you are saying. As I look at the folks at Rocky Cape and in another group (http://www.churchcommunities.org/), I find myself yearning for that sort of community with other believers. Not a couple of hours a week, if we can spare it, but one where our lives are interwoven with the brethren.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be great if the church operated as a whole. Like a man and wife are to become one and Jesus prayed that we would be one?
I don't think this is a teaching neccessarily of community property tho, it is interesting. You cannot give or sell anything if you do not own it. Many early jewish believers were kicked out of the synagog(spelling) and were not alowed to buy, sell or trade..they needed another community to do business with. They had those outside the jewish community but as the christian community grew..they had each other. They had no church buildings. They met in each others homes.They shared meals. Clothes. Work. They sold things to help others. They even collected money when they heard about other believers in other areas that were going through hard times. Yes, we need to live like this. Today, in the body of Christ, it seems the "foot" despises the "hand". Or everyone wants to be chief and no one wants to serve. We need the Holy Spirit more than ever.