Just A Thought - Christians Are Communists
2017 provided us with a host of anniversaries - many connected with the first World War 2014-18. Included there was the 100th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele. remembered for its unremitting bleakness and apocalyptic mud, the battle began on 31 July 1917. By the time the conflict had ended in November of the same year, there were more than 500,000 Allied and German casualties.
Another notable event from that terrible war was the US entry into the conflict. This marked a decisive turning point.
2017also marks 500 years since the beginning of a hugh and tumultuous change in the religious make-up of Europe. On 31 October Martin Luther published his 95 Theses condemning what he saw as the corruption of the Catholic Church. This Theses was quickly reprinted and shared across the continent, triggering a seismic shift in European religion with a lasting conflict.
Other anniversaries in 2017 included the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen; the 150th anniversary of the publication of Karl Marx's 'Das Kapital' (volume 1) and 100th anniversary of the "Balfour Declaration, which stated British support for the ''establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people".
One of the biggest anniversaries was the 100th annivery of the Russian Revolution. Heralding the collapse of the 300-year-old Romanov royal dynasty, a bitter civil war and rise of communism, the revolution had, and continues to have, a profound impact on the course of world history. It was this mention of communism that triggered me to recall that that system was there, in a different, though similar, form from the first days of the young Christian church and their way of being community. Christians were communists.
Luke the evangelist writes in his "Acts of the Apostles" - Acts 4: 32-36.......
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common....There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the Apostles' feet, and it was distributed to any as had need.
There you have it. The early Christians:
Lived communally; rejected private property.
held everything in common, pooling all their resources
Distributed resources 'from each according to ability to each according to need'.
As a result, they eliminated poverty from their midst.
Note the operative words: they divided their property "among all according to each one's needs". Those are the words of the Bible, not of Marx or Engels. That formula comes from the Acts of the Apostles. They have nothing to do with atheistic communism. They have everything to do with faith.
They have everything to do with Jesus who himself was a communist. He is the one who said, 'Every one of you who does not renounce all that she/ he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14: 3) It was Jesus, not Marx,who placed concern for those in need as the final criterion for judging the final authenticity of one's life. He said, "I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink....imprisoned and you came to see me'. Everything, Jesus insists, depends on recognising his presence in the poor and oppressed, and responding accordingly.
Of course it is often pointed out that the Christian experiment in communism was short-lived Jesus' followers soon backed off from their early idealism. That observation is supposed to invalidate their communistic lifestyle as impossibly utopian and therefore no longer applicable as the Christians' guiding star.
But the same argument would be applied to the Ten Commandments in general or to the Sermon on the Mount. In our day - and in the course of their histories - all of those statements of ideals have only sporadically been lived out in practice. Does that mean that we should throw them out? Should we persecute those espousing the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount?. Surely we would not make that argument.
Others anxious to distance themselves from those communistic ideals of early Christianity, would point out that the communal lifestyle adopted by Jesus' first followers was voluntary and not imposed from above. People who use that argument point to the passage in the Acts of the Apostles - the one involving Ananias and Saphira. They were the couple who sold their property, but kept some of it back for themselves.
Referring to their property, Peter said to Ananias: "Was it not still yours if you kept it, and once you sold it was it not yours to dispose of?" What was not optional was not selling their property - Christianity's indispensable condition. What was optional was the choice to become disciples of Christ. Choosing the later option required practicing communism - and under pain of death!
As for economic systems imposed from above - can you name one that isn't? How many of us have really chosen to live in a capitalist system? Not me. And that is because to make an informed choice, one must know the alternative. However many of our families, schools, churches and civic organisations, our films and novels and news programs conspire together to vilify alternatives and keep them hidden.
Also powerful governments/ empires and their military arm have made sure that experiments in alternatives fail or are portrayed as failures lest their 'bad example' undermine capitalist claims to be the only viable system.
And church leaders - who should know better - quickly jump on the anti-communist band wagon and then present Jesus as a champion of a system he would despise. Church people speak and act as if Luke's passage from Acts had read:
Now the whole group of those who believed lived in fierce competition with one another and they made sure that the rights of private property were respected. They expelled from their midst anyone who practiced communalism. As a consequence, God brought great prosperity to some. many however found themselves in need. The Christians responded with 'tough love', demanding that the lazy either work or starve. many of the unfit, especially the children,the elderly and those who cared for them did in fact starve. Others raised themselves by their own bootstraps, and became stronger. In this way, the industrious increased their land holdings and banked the profits. The rich got richer and the poor, poorer. Of course, all of this was seen as God's will and a positive response to the teachings of Jesus".
When are we going to stop this bastardisation of Jesus' message and mission?
First begin with the truth that Jesus was a communist, as were his first followers.