Christianity 201

December 5, 2014

The Church in Acts 2 Lived in Community but not Communally

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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Although he has appeared at C201 in various footnotes, this is the first time we’ve run anything by John MacArthur. I thought this topic was important because many of us were aware of and perhaps even influenced by a number of “Jesus People” communities which  in the 1970s such as The Highway Missionary Society or Jesus People USA, and many more of you may be aware of the teachings of people belonging to what is often called The New Monasticism, such as Shane Claiborne or Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

While the book of Acts serves as a great model for this type of community living, MacArthur argues that each family had its own dwelling unit, though I wonder if a truer picture of life for the First Century church lies somewhere in the middle? I also know that if our sons were moving to another city, we would be looking for exactly this type of living situation. Not every single person wants to have their own place, make their own meals, and thereby live alone, especially if you’ve experienced the dormitory style experience at a Christian camp or Christian college. For that and other reasons, I think MacArthur’s words speak more to the married couple, or couple married with children.

This appeared a few days ago on The Thirsty Theologian, the blog of David Kjos who I strongly recommend to you. Click the title below to read at source, and then click around the site for other good articles.

Not Communist

Contrary to what many believe, the New Testament church was not a commune.

Many people misunderstand [Acts 2:44–47]. “They had everything in com­mon” does not mean these people lived in a commune. Remember, at Pentecost, Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims who came for the feast. During religious feasts, as many as a million people would come to Jerusalem. They obviously needed housing and food, and there weren’t enough inns to accommodate everyone. So it was customary for believers to open their homes and allow people to live with them. Suddenly, at Pentecost on this particular year, hundreds of these people embraced Christ and then began to win their friends and families to Him. Surely many of them remained in Jerusalem to sit under the apostles’ teaching.

The financial pressures on these people and their hosts must have been tremendous. In addition, there were many poor people in Jerusalem. And some believers’ income may have been cut off when they testified of their faith in Christ. To deal with all this, all believers were willing to share what they had.

This was not a commune. People did not drop out of society, quit their jobs, pool their money, and live in a common building or camp. Acts 2 describes what they were doing:

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. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (vv. 44–47)

This was a spiritual community, not a cloister. Christians still owned their own houses—they continued “breaking bread in their homes” (v. 46). That is, they broke bread, or had communion, in private homes. “Selling” and “distributing” in verse 45 are perfect-tense verbs. That suggests that the selling and sharing were going on all the time. There was no one point when the community of believers sold all they had and pooled their funds. A continuous process was going on whereby people who had resources were sharing them with believers who did not. They did not live in a com­munal shelter or put up barracks to accommodate everyone. That would have undermined the God-ordained priority of the family unit, which God designed to be independent and to function as the building block of soci­ety and the means of passing truth and righteousness from generation to generation.

People were selling their possessions—their land holdings and their portable goods—and sharing the proceeds when they knew others had needs. Paul commanded giving in this same spirit. He urged the Corinthians to be generous in giving to the needs of the saints in Macedonia—“your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abun­dance may supply your need, that there may be fairness” (2 Cor. 8:14). Is that any different from what we do today? Not if our churches are healthy. Christians who see a brother or sister in need should have a natural desire to supply the need (cf. 1 John 3:17). That’s what these early Christians were doing. Those who sold possessions did so completely voluntarily. This becomes a crucial point when we examine the sin of Ananias and Sapphira.

—John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 66–67.

For further reading, this 2013 article at Together for the Gospel

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