One hypothesis to explain the reason behind the act of sharing possessions equally among the early church:
By Aubrey AJ Moeketsi
Perhaps one of the signal achievement of the early church was their ability to master the art of bringing everybody to the same level on a social strata, no one had more possessions than the other among them for they “had all things in common” (source: Acts 4:32). this more than anything else, served to create a strong social cohesion among early believers for people were on equal footing with no one more privileged than other.
the question then becomes, if the early church did it, why isn’t the 21 century church following in their footsteps, more pressing to this is the question of intent & motive; why did they opted for this approach. what really motivated them to sell even their houses, was it only a matter of addressing social inequalities in church or was there another reason behind?
Against this backdrop, i propose to present my hypothesis to try and explain the reason behind this act, trying to unravel the mystery as to why the early church did what they did and to attempt to answer the burning question; “should it be done in the today” , if so how can it be achieved.
*i just want to put a disclaimer out there that these are just my thoughts on the matter, I do not purport to present new dogma, i do not claim to possess the ultimate perspective, i stand corrected*
The state of the early church:
The early church was a very progressive movement. At no point where they ever stagnant, in a short space of time they had moved from 12 membership church to close to five thousand (5000) members (source: Acts 4:4). under the new testament, its the book of Acts that gives us a clear picture of the worldview of the early church. We get to learn about their conduct, believe systems and ideologies. We primarily learn about their achievements along the way, as well as setbacks they encountered. above everything else, the church in Acts serves as a blueprint for us to follow today.
Members of the early church took a decision to sell their earthy possessions for a noble cause, “to distribute the money equally to anyone who had need…” (source: Acts 4: 35). if you had land, you sold it to meet the needs of those who may be in want among you. this of cause was a very gallant act on the part of the church as “there were no needy persons among them..” The mandate was clear, let’s all be equal. if anything we need to commend and celebrate the early church for this act of generosity. with the state the church is in today, i feel that perhaps we need to consider adopting the same stance and apply this to the church today in an attempt to try and curb this colossal social inequality that exist among brethren today.
They were not coerced;
“No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they owned…” (Source: Acts 4: 32)
There is empirical evidence from scripture to support the view that the believers were not coerced into giving. It needs to clearly stated that this was not done because it was an order from the Apostles, there was no council that convened and decided that this should be law. The people at will decided to sell their possessions to help meet the needs in church. Even those in leadership did so too, a figure by the name of Joseph, an Apostle, sold his own field and brought the money at the feet of the Apostles. There is no documented proof to state that this was a binding law that forced the early church to comply. This becomes more evident when peter was pronouncing judgment on both Ananias and his wife Sapphira (source: Acts 5:4).
What really motivated this act?
I discovered that there were two primary reasons why they did it;
No.1 brotherly love
So strong was the brotherly love among them that they didn’t want to look different one from the other. It is recorded that they all were in one mind and heart (source: 4:32). This connotes the fact that the act of giving was a corporate decision ignited by brotherly love. This act made a huge impact around the community where they were staying. It won them the love and respect of the people in broader community, and the Lord “added to their number daily those who were being saved”
No. 2 the impending demise of the world
the early church held a strong view that Jesus was to come soon, they literally expected him to return during their life time. when the people received the message and believed, they saw no need to keep holding on to their earthly possessions for Jesus was to come anytime, and so the early church embraced this belief that Lord was to appear any minute and they therefore shared everything they owned equally and waited for the Lord to appear.
if you read (Acts 4:34), many of them even sold their houses. whenever people sell their habitations, that’s normally when they are relocating, or have found something better. the believers sold their houses and stayed in one place, expecting the lord to return. I’m of a position that this belief, above everything else was the primary reason why they corporately decided to sell their earthly possessions.
The logic was basically as follows; If Jesus is coming any minute from now, why go to University, why open a business, why get married and start a family, why own property.
At one point, the Lord had to inspire persecution against the church so as to move them from Jerusalem to other parts of the world, for though Jesus was coming, the gospel was still “to be preached to every creature, “and not only just the house of Israel. If the persecution didn’t take place, we most probably wouldn’t have received the gospel today.
Why not today:
The early church did it, so why don’t we follow suit and do likewise.
Let me tell you why this isn’t a good idea, and why we shouldn’t do it today. I do not believe that the church today has to sell its possessions in order to meet the needs in the house of the lord. I certainly do not support the logic that we have to sell our business and properties in an effort to help curb necessities in the body of Christ. Shouldn’t we look after the needy? Of cause we should, this is one of the greatest marks of Christianity. The issue is not to desist from helping the needy, but the approach we choose to adopt in the process. If helping the needy is the goal, then I believe that today there are much better avenues of going about it without having to loose properties. I will engage some of these avenues in my next blog. The wisdom of scripture holds; “if you have two coats/garments, give one to your brother” (Source; Luke 3:11).the Lord is saying; you don’t have to sell all your coats to help meet the needs of your brother, give him an extra one.
Perhaps a more critical question to ask is; if we adopt the same stance as the early church and sell everything we own in order to meet current needs in church, what happens when all the proceeds from items sold are depleted? More so, should the LORD tarry his coming yet again, what will become of us after we have sold everything we owned and are left with nothing but each other in a secluded Area. Let me attempt to answer that for you. The first thing that will happen is that the people will become disillusioned with the leadership; the leaders will be blamed for the loss, and when that happens, one or two things will follow. If lawsuits do are not instated, the people will take matters into their own hands and stone the leadership for misleading them. So, let’s take care of the needy among us, but let’s adopt better approaches in the process.
The church today:
“Occupy till I come…” (Luke 19:13)
At one point, both Baptists and Pentecostals actually held a view that the pursuit of education was worldly, and those who pursued it were full of the world and they needed to repent. The church believed that all you ever needed was nothing but the bible. Over time, that view evaporated from the church and more saints today have come to understand the significance of paring education plus Christ in order to be effective in the work of the kingdom.
I’m glad that today believers have also embraced the mandate from the lord that we ought to occupy till he comes. The lord says to us, in my absence, “Occupy till I come…”.The word occupy speaks of; inhibiting, to lodge, to dwell, to conquer, to subjugate.
The antonym thereof is to vacate. In other words, whilst away, the lord expects the church to “occupy till he comes”. Don’t vacate but conquer and subjugate, dwell on earth and occupy till I come back to get you. Be ready for my return, keep your garments clean, anticipate my arrival at all times. Don’t let the cares of this world lead you astray, but in the meantime take territory, occupy, rule till I come.
My position is simple; “let’s not Vacate but Occupy…”