Ed. Note: This post has been adapted from its original form. Read the full paper here.
We’re further exploring whether the generosity exhibited by the early Christians in Acts 2-5 teaches socialism.
As we have seen, this early sharing was voluntary. It was without coercion. It did not necessitate that believers give up their rights to their private property.
Certainly, this early sharing was noble. It indicates a generosity of spirit. It is a beautiful example of love.
While this type of generous giving is a permanent norm, the particular situation in Acts 2-5 is a temporary response to a particular need. We don’t see a recurrence of this scenario throughout the rest of Acts. We don’t see it in Paul’s letters, or the rest of the New Testament.
So what was going on here?
Pentecost had just happened. People of many nations were in attendance. Thus, the necessity of speaking in tongues.
Should these new believers immediately return to their homes in other parts of Israel or elsewhere? Would they not want to continue in the apostles’ teaching, worship, fellowship, and prayers (Acts 2:42-46)? But then how could these visitors provide for themselves? How would they have enough to eat and a place to stay for an extended period?
The answers is that those who had, gave to those who had not.
Eventually, most of these new believers returned home. There was no longer this extraordinary need for food and shelter. However, the attitude of “what’s mine is yours if you need it” continued:
- Widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. Seven men were appointed to oversee that process (Acts 6).
- The disciples led famine relief efforts (Acts 11:27-30).
- There was always a concern that the needs of the poor be met (Galatians 2:10).
- There were many wealthy people who gave generously, though they had not given everything away: Dorcas (Acts 9:36), Cornelius (Acts 10:1), Lydia (Acts 16: 14-15), Jason (Acts 17:5-9), and many others.
The spirit of Acts 2-5 remained. However, there was no push to abolish private property. There was no establishment of socialism in any form.
There was a concern for equitable distribution of goods to the poor. In II Corinthians 8:13-15, the Greek word isotes means equitable or fair. This concern did not result in an egalitarian communism.
In any case, the communal sharing – while retaining some private property – in Acts 2-5 was not the practice of the early church in the rest of Acts or the New Testament.
But even if you think that the model of Acts 2-5 was socialist – which it was not – you have to go still further to prove your point. You have to show that this early example constitutes a mandatory command. As we’ll see next week, there is a fundamental problem with this contention.
What do you think? Is the consistent generosity of the early church an example of socialism? Leave your comments here.