Christian Communism??? – Acts 2:47-47

The title to tonight’s message is “Christian Communism.”

If I wanted to, I could preach the entire sermon with just three words: “There AIN’T none.”

Those who read these verses and try to say that they teach communism know nothing about either Christianity or Communism.

I know a little about Bible Christianity and I know a little less about Communism,

But what I do know about both tells me that they are basically incompatible.

This evening we have our 26th message thus far in this series, and I expect to finish chapter 2 right here.

If you are worrying about it,

You might like to know that we’ll probably move a little more quickly from now on,

But not too much more quickly.

Tonight we tie up some of the loose ends and close the chapter.

Let’s think about selling, giving and receiving.

First there is the SELLING.

“And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods.”

The believers were TOGETHER.

It is kind of strange what unthinking and half-thinking people sometimes say.

For example one commentary told me that the three thousand members of the Jerusalem church were now living together as some sort of Christian community.

The first thing that I pictured reading that was a 70’s style commune filled with Jesus’ Freaks.

I pictured the men wearing long hair, the ladies wearing long dresses & the kids wearing nothing at all.

Nope!

Then I pictured a kind of Christian fraternity. Nope!

Then there was another half suggestion that the brethren were living together like monks in a monastery.

Nope once again!

There was no possible way that this many people could be living together at that time.

Given several years and lots of brain-washing, I suppose that they could have built a compound and lived like the waco Branch Davidians.

But this is not what Acts 2:44 is telling us.

John Gill is quite correct when he says that they were together in the sense of agreement.

Sure they gathered together as often as possible, both in private homes, as well as in the temple.

And yes, they shared as much of their worldly goods as they possibly could,

But they couldn’t share their actual lives – their days, their nights, their lives.

No, they were living together in agreement that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

And they were in agreement that salvation is by grace through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

They were in agreement on the importance of Christian fellowship and church membership.

They were together in their expectation of the Day of the Lord.

In other words, they were growing closer and closer in the doctrines of Christ.

“And [they] sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need, and had all things common.”

They sold their possessions in the sense of landed property;

They sold their homes and their farms.

And they sold their moveable goods as well.

What is the first rule of Bible interpretation after we have determined the meaning of the words?

The first rule of interpretation is: “The Bible is to be taken literally, unless it cannot be taken literally.”

In other words, we must read the Word of God with both our minds and our faith engaged.

Did the disciples sell all their clothes and wait for the church to provide them with uniforms to wear? No.

Did they sell their pots and pans and dinnerware? Unlikely.

Did they dispose of all their personal items and cease to exist as individuals and individual families?

I can’t picture that, so I am forced to interpret this verse to say that they willingly got rid of those things that were superfluous to their daily needs.

There were people within the church who had property and material that they could sell, so they did.

They had garage sales and got rid of their second cart and donkey, the kids old toys, and grandma’s dresser that had been collecting dust down in the basement.

They began to divest themselves of things that were not necessary for their day to day lives.

And the money that these things brought, they gave to the church – or to others within the church.

They began to see that a “man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

Did all the new believers participate in this mass sell-a-thon?

I can’t say for sure, but the scripture does seem to say that.

After the selling came the GIVING.

“And all that believed were together, and had all things common;

And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”

Why do I say that this has nothing to do with 20th century communism?

First, what they were doing was not commanded or legislated by anyone: Christ or His Apostles.

In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord Jesus said quite a bit about personal property.

He spoke about its dangers, and about its value in comparison to eternal things.

But never did He command the liquidation of personal property

And never did He receive the personal property of His disciples.

What we see in this chapter was completely voluntary.

Actual communism has never been voluntary.

Even if some idealists tried to practice voluntary communism it would never last or spread.

In Acts 2 there was no church or governmental agency regulating this business.

And, what began as a blessing soon became a problem.

Secondly, what we see here was not a social matter, but rather a spiritual one.

The saints were not selling and giving in order to abolish unjust social strata, to eliminate poverty or to elevate the masses.

The wealthy were giving up their possessions because they felt that they didn’t need them,

But there were other saints who did need them and so they shared that wealth.

Third, what we read here, and what we see abused in chapter 5, we never see again in the scripture.

This was a phenomenon in the church in Jerusalem but not in Ephesus or Thessalonica.

It was a localized thing and not universal.

Fourth, there isn’t the hint of communal ownership of this property.

The disciples were not selling or donating their property to the church, creating a huge landlord or corporate innkeeper.

They were liquidating assets and giving that money either to the church to be used as the leadership thought prudent,

Or they were giving it directly to other brethren whom they saw to be in need.

Fifth, there is no reason to think that this was a permanent pattern.

After chapter 5 and Ananias and Sapphira, there was no more talk about it.

It could very well be that those two people highlighted a problem which died out quickly thereafter.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised that with a little reflection we could come up with other reasons that this wasn’t modern communism.

But let me add one more thing: it wasn’t a mistake either.

I don’t fault that church or charge them with anything unscriptural or sinful.

I don’t doubt that those people felt led of the Lord to do what they did.

And the fact remains that there is room and reason for much more of the same sort of thing today.

There are still people in need and most of us still have more things than we really need to have.

But I have to wonder: besides what was in their hearts, what was in their minds?

I don’t read that the Lord sent an angel to the twelve Apostles,

Telling them to order the members of the church to start house-cleaning.

I don’t think that there were simultaneous visions from God scattered among the membership.

So I have to ask myself, what it would it take FOR ME to behave in such an extreme fashion?

In addition to the needs of some of my fellow church members, I could come up with only one thing:

For me to sell all that I have and to give it away, I’d have to be convinced that the Lord Jesus was going to return to pick me and my family up in the very, very near future.

We have a very obvious advantage over the saints in Acts 2:

We have 2,000 years of subsequent history.

And during those two millennia, we have been patiently waiting for the return of Christ and the commencement of the Day of the Lord.

But those people were living at the edge of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Without a doubt the Apostles were extremely excited about the Lord’s imminent return.

They were as expectant of that coming as we are and perhaps even a bit more so.

Undoubtedly their exuberance and anticipation rubbed off on the new believers as they came along.

“What need do we have of a new computer if the Lord is going to come tonight?

Why should I buy a new car when this one will last another year and the Lord will come before then anyway?

Let’s give that money to our neighbor so that he can have a good meal this afternoon.”

It is my contention that the church in Jerusalem lived in circumstances which made them unique.

No church since that day had the same incentive to sell their possessions and goods and part them to all as every man had need.

I can’t say that I understand everything about their selling and giving, but let’s move on.

What about their RECEIVING?

“And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”

From the morning of that special Pentecost and extending over the next few weeks and months, the church was growing by leaps and bounds.

In fact, the church was receiving new members daily.

As I’ve meditated on this verse for a couple of weeks, I think that I’ve detected at least two major errors hung around its neck.

First is the temptation to make this church something imaginary and adding something mysterious.

This is the first use of the word “ecclesia” here in the Book of Acts.

And as elsewhere in the Bible, the church is an “assembly” because that is the meaning of the word.

There is no mystical church, made of all believers everywhere,

Because that would be contrary to the meaning of the word “assembly.”

An assembly that can’t assemble is an anomaly and a contradiction.

The church to which this verse refers was the one that the Lord assembled there in Jerusalem.

And the additions to the church were not by way of Spirit baptism.

Other than two cases, the first of which was at Pentecost, there is no such thing as Spirit baptism.

What was happening here was that people were being saved by the grace of God,

Then the Apostles were baptizing them in water as a testimony of their new lives in Christ,

And they were subsequently becoming members of the only church in the world at that time.

How was it that the Lord was adding to the church?

I think that I just told you.

The Lord was saving people, and then convicting them of their responsibility and need to be baptized and to continue steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine, fellowship and prayer.

Jesus said, “I will build my church,” and that is exactly what we see occurring here in this verse.

There is nothing mysterious or super-supernatural about it.

A second potential problem with this verse is the temptation to change it.

A great many of even the most conservative commentaries want to change the language of this verse to read: “And the Lord added to the church daily such people as were being saved.”

Now, I am not the least bit afraid to turn to the Greek language to help clarify my faulty use of English.

And I have to admit that I like that changed language; it definitely fits into my theology.

But I don’t know of anyone qualified to change what the Bible clearly says;

Expand perhaps, but change no.

On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with the way that the King James translates this verse:

“And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”

I know that to some people that means that being added to the church is a part of the process which ultimately means salvation.

But the Bible is clear that church membership is not a part of that process.

In fact there isn’t any process.

Sinners are saved by grace, or they are not saved at all.

And here is another part of my theology:

There is a sense in which salvation comes in segments:

There is a sense in which we were saved in eternity past according to the decree of God.

There is a sense in which we are saved at the time that we repent and believe.

And there is a sense in which we will ultimately be saved, when we are glorified and brought into the eternal presence of our Saviour.

Why might not this verse be talking about that ultimate conclusion of salvation?

“And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”

Furthermore, I believe in the perseverance of the saints.

I don’t believe that if a person “asks Jesus to come into his heart” that makes him a Christian.

I don’t believe that a person can “believe in Jesus” and without repentance become a child of God.

I don’t believe that a person can stink with sin and be a saint of God without being convicted for it.

And I don’t believe that true saints serve God for a while and then return to their idols.

When God saves souls, they become new creatures and they remain Christians for the rest of their lives.

As a result, I have my doubts about the salvation of the professing Christian who refuses to be added to the Lord’s local church or who doesn’t want to remain a member of the Lord’s church.

Yes, the Lord does “add to the church daily such as should be saved.”

I hope that you can see these three things here in this scripture:

I hope that you can see the selling, giving and the receiving of those church members.

I wish that we saw more of all three around here.