A Radical Social Experiment

Ever consider living in a commune? For those old enough to either have lived through the 60s or 70s or to have heard stories about that time, a commune may not have a very positive meaning. But a commune is simply where people live together and share for the benefit of the community. Now some of the communes of the 60s and 70s took that sharing beyond what was acceptable in God’s sight (after all, they weren’t concerned about Him at all). But the commune isn’t a new concept. We find it throughout history. And we find it throughout Biblical history. After all, think about the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. Surely there was a strong sense of community and hopefully there was support one for another. If not, I know where I can point definitively in Scripture to a place where we’ll find a commune:

And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. – Acts 4:32-35, NASB

“Common property,” “one heart and soul,” and “distributed to each as any had need,” certainly tell us that the first Christians were communal in outlook. They took care of each other. It wasn’t about all the stuff I have and all the stuff you have. It was about meeting the needs of each other. There really wasn’t much choice. They were a new “cult” of Judaism and they weren’t looked on too kindly by the Jews. You had folks who had journeyed to Jerusalem for the Passover, came to accept Christ, and stayed to learn from the Apostles as they taught. The text indicates that there was not a needy person among them. That didn’t last, but when a problem cropped up, it was taken care of:

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
– Acts 6:1-7, NASB

When there was a food distribution problem, the Apostles delegated responsibility to seven others. Notice that they chose men who were “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom.” They wanted to make sure the job was done right. And what was the impact? The number of disciples continued to increase. Note who were numbered among those disciples: “a great many of the priests.” Now there were a large number of priests, thousands, in fact. So many that they had a rotation system in place. But the fact of the matter is that among those coming to Christ were some of the religious establishment. It wasn’t just about the downtrodden. It was about a multitude of people from all walks of life.

Think about the implications for us. Too often today we’re isolated from one another. There is no concept of communal living within the local church. Even within our own congregations, needs can go unseen and unmet. Imagine if we re-engaged in at least part of the social experiment started by those who followed Christ immediately after His death and resurrection. Imagine if we made our best efforts to share with each other in order to meet the needs of every member of the Body of Christ. Would our churches begin to sprout with new life? Would the Word get better preached and better honored? Would those who are not of the faith see the difference in us and check it out? I would think so. It would require a total transformation of our mindset and our living, though. It would be really hard on a lot of folks, myself included. But it’s the example set in Acts and an example cited often throughout the rest of the New Testament. It’s not about personal stuff. It’s about helping one another. Even if we must sacrifice to do so.

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