Keith asks via email:

Do you think that if the church really returned to the way of the early church where they had all things in common, then social security would be dead because we (a large portion of the population) could with confidence bow out of the nanny state?

I think it might be possible, but not particularly probable or even necessary. For one thing, I do not believe we are really called to live in the same way the early church did – at least not economically – and I doubt that people would really accept that way of being because of the clear advantages toward operating more generally within the broader marketplace that exists today. Additionally, social security is already unnecessary, and it should just be eliminated altogether. Nobody in my generation (millennials) has any expectation of getting anything out of social security, and thus those of us with half a brain look to other means of providing for ourselves through production – either by building capital or by becoming more entrepreneurial.

In my estimation, it would be better to encourage each other to be productive in the marketplace, generating wealth that benefits everyone by creatively solving problems of value in the marketplace. When we voluntarily interact in peaceful ways, everybody wins.

Dr. Norman Horn

Norman founded LibertarianChristians.com and the Libertarian Christian Institute, and currently serves as its President and Editor-in-Chief. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology. He currently is a Postdoctoral researcher in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Thanks, Norman, for yet another great post on a magnificent website. If anyone asks me for a libertarian website to recommend, this, along with AntiWar.com, Mises.org, LewRockwell.com, and FFF.org would be in my top 10.

    Great site, and great post! I will be reading this continually!

  • Christiana Horn

    The Bible clearly endorses private ownership of property in Acts 4, as well as other places. Also, history tells us that the Pilgrims tried the “all things in common” model in their disastrous first 2 years of their colony, and found it was a huge mistake. The situation in Acts 2 was unique. Many of the new Christians had come to Jerusalem planning on a short visit, but then the death and resurrection of Christ turned their world upside down. They chose to stay and learn more about Jesus, but since there was not a way for most of them to follow their professions, there was an almost immediate need. Those verses are, in my opinion, not considered to be normative for the church, except in the sense that the church body should help to take care of its own in unusual or emergency situations.

  • August

    What is being described in Acts is a group of people doing a lot of buying and selling in order to be able to live together. Unfortunately, when modern people read ‘all things in common’ the connotations in their head are more likely to come from Marx or some kindergarten version thereof that they got in public school. Christians should be doing what was being done in Acts, but it requires a fundamental rejection of the modern state that most Christians (at least in America) don’t seem to have reached yet. No Christian should do the Marxist thing.

  • GrayCat

    God Himself broke up that commune with the martyrdom of Stephen.

    By doing what they were doing, although with apparent motives of giving and love, there were factions created that took offense at what they thought was deliberate slights, and who were envious of the treatment they thought others were getting but they were not. People who came to depend on the wealth, property, and servitude of others — a redistributionist welfare state.

    Two people were killed by the Holy Spirit because they lied about giving the total gains of the sale of their property to the commune.

    The Holy Spirit said through Peter that the property was THEIRS, to do with as they wished. He didn’t declare it anyone else’s. The sin was the lie.

    The commune were disobeying Christ, who had told the disciples directly to go out into the world to preach and teach His Good News.

    Pursuing the “blasphemers” is how Saul became Paul, who really did go out into the world in obedience to his Lord.

    And nothing else is ever recorded in the New Testament about such communes anywhere else again.

    And in fact Paul instructed that those who do not work to earn their bread should not have any.

  • August

    GreyCat,

    People need a place to live, to organize, so that they can go out into the world. They were not disobeying. They were also not being a commune, at least not in the way we modern folk interpret that. They built up Christian enclaves, and in some cases you can still find these places (and often there are still Christians there- Eastern Orthodox folk who we in the West tend to not notice). St. Paul’s epistles are addressed to these communities.

  • GrayCat

    So instantly Stephen was martyred they were all finally prepared to go out into the world, and would have if he had not been? After being there for . . . how long? And doing what? Where do you find indications of their intentions before Stephen’s martyrdom? So Saul became Paul . . . why?

    What exactly do the pertinent Scriptures say regarding this period, especially as to the reason they left Jerusalem?

    What is a commune?

  • August

    I don’t understand how you put these things together. Stephen was martyred, but it didn’t have anything to do with the intentions of the community. Nor do I think their intentions need to be recorded, and I generally assume they were doing what the Lord wanted them to. And Saul became Paul largely because God wanted Him to, and he agreed. There doesn’t need to be some great disobedience elsewhere.

    I don’t know that there are ‘pertinent’ scriptures, because I don’t know that there is anything ‘pertinent’ here. It is you who say there is widespread disobedience- this is not mentioned in scripture. By 70A.D. the Romans made it pretty uncomfortable to be in Jerusalem, though I suppose the Jews were not being very hospitable before that time. I’m pretty sure the Jerusalem Christians would have viewed continuing to witness to the people of Jerusalem as part of spreading the gospel. Meanwhile, Christians were developing communities elsewhere, and they were very similar to the one in Jerusalem.

    I use the word commune in the modern sense- the hippie/communist sort of mentality where ‘living in common’ apparently means no private property.

  • GrayCat

    Wasn’t it when Stephen was martyred that the Jerusalem community dispersed? Acts 8:1-4

    Saul became Paul because he agreed to? Without Jesus Christ Almighty God knocking him off his horse and blinding him first? Acts 9:1-19

    The title of the article is, “Should we hold all things in common?” Isn’t that what the Jerusalem community was also doing? Isn’t that why the Holy Spirit did what He did to Ananias and Sapphira, because they were lying about what they were giving the community but holding back something — and the Holy Spirit plainly said it was theirs in the first place? Evidently the prevailing perception of the people was that private property should be made communal? Acts 4:32-37; 5:1-11

    There really isn’t any difference between the meanings of modern communes and ancient communes, except the qualifier many today put on it as something strange and new and hedonistic — “hippie” and [Marxist] communist, is there?

    Christians should be giving, but of themselves and their own private property. They have the right to choose how much and what to give, personally. It’s not godly or Christian in this world to “hold all things in common.” It is Christian — and according to Paul, incumbent on Christians — to provide for one’s own family — which means to own private property and to earn one’s bread and means of keeping and providing. After looking out for one’s family, then cheerfully choose to give to others what you want to. God leaves the choice up to the individual; it is not coerced, and not to be by anyone else, by any means, coerced or placed under duress or obligation.

    It is not Christian to presume on anyone else for anything, which is what was going on in that Jerusalem commune and causing trouble and factions among the believers.

    That’s all I mean to point out.

    Blessings and peace.

  • August

    There is an ancient way of life, a peasant culture, known throughout that land. Now, the early Christians were doing something unique- leaving their own families and tribes, and coming to live together. It isn’t just that they wanted to- they had to. Their relatives who rejected Jesus would reject them.
    The communist/hippie stuff is a modern viewpoint pushed upon is by progressive teachers. They don’t just try to push the envelope here and now, they like to confuse our history and traditions as well, so when we try to go back, we never actually know what to go back to.
    You are imputing disobedience to the first generation- people who knew the Lord personally, and you are doing this because you are trying to fight a lie- a modern lie. There is no mention of disobedience. You keep pointing to events as if they prove disobedience, but they do not. In fact the Lord said there would be persecutions.
    If the first generation couldn’t be obedient, what hope is there for any of us? This is a sad way to fight the lie, because essentially, you’ve just reject the power of the Holy Spirit to act with them, much less us. If they really were disobedient then, there is no hope for us now.

  • August

    You can look up Kenneth Bailey. Here’s an amazon link to one of his books- http://www.amazon.com/Poet-Peasant-Through-Eyes-Literary-Cultural/dp/0802819478

    It isn’t necessarily apropos to this particular subject, but it’ll get you started in realizing how different things were to the people then, and how we interpret things badly because of our lack of knowledge.

  • GrayCat

    I agree with you that modern interpretations of ancient customs can often be wrong.

    I prefer to go by the facts as recorded in Scripture. Do you think it’s plausible that the Jerusalem community was largely made up of the people Peter preached to in Acts 2?

    They were in Jerusalem for the celebration of the festival of Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks. Those who believed Peter’s and the other Apostles’ preaching stayed on, correct?

    And the Apostles and disciples, after the coming of the Holy Spirit on the assemblage in the upper room on the first day of Pentecost, instead of going out into the world in obedience to Jesus’ command they should after the Holy Spirit came on them (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8), stayed in Jerusalem.

    And Peter — always being Peter — was always impatient, impetuous, prejudiced, legalistic, and didn’t really “hear” Christ, often. It took the martyrdom of Stephen to get him out of Jerusalem, and a lot of persistent persuading by the Holy Spirit to convince him to share Christ with the Gentile, Cornelius. That was considerably after Pentecost (Acts 10). And his prejudices and legalism often brought him into conflict with Paul, who reprimanded him for his disobedience to the Lord publicly. Long after Pentecost.

    Yet Peter does learn from his mistakes, and in the end, writes that Paul’s letters are holy scriptures and to be heeded.

    While the Holy Spirit is always with us, as promised by Christ, that doesn’t mean Christians are incapable of sin, incapable of disobedience, after their salvation. That’s the whole point of the New Testament.

    It only means that learning to obey Him in all things is usually a life-long learning project. Otherwise, the New Testament wouldn’t have needed to be written.

  • August

    You are not going by the facts recorded in scripture. You are using them as a frame on which to hang your suppositions. The facts do not support suggesting that the Jerusalem Christians were disobedient. There are individual cases of disobedience, but nothing indicating the Holy Spirit was against the formation of a community there. If you paid attention to the timeline you imply, you’d notice there’d be no reason for Paul to go to Jerusalem, for there’d be no Christians there by then.

  • GrayCat

    It would be helpful if you would give the specific Scripture references you’re referring to.

    I’m taking a chance here in understanding you to mean when Paul returned to Jerusalem some years after his conversion, with a mission to get a clarification from “the apostles and elders” in Jerusalem on Jewishness versus grace (Acts 15:1-35)?

    If so, are you claiming that the same type of Christian community as the one that God broke up and dispersed after Stephen’s martyrdom existed then in Jerusalem? What Scripture can you cite to support that contention?

    I agree there was a body of Christians there, but not the same type of association as at Pentecost.

    Nowhere else in the New Testament are such communities as described in the first five chapters of Acts cited again. According to Paul, Christians assembled for worship and communion in each others’ homes/properties. There’s no hint that “they had all things in common.” Paul even reprimands those who were freeloading on others.

    And certain congregations took up collections of goods and food to send to congregations in need; people donated out of their own property, not abdicating their own right to own property. They made the choice to share and give what was theirs to keep because they owned it.

    Paul writes about giving to support pastors — through gift offerings — free will offerings — freely, cheerfully given, not tithes — as employers paying worthy employees, as farmers feeding the oxen treading out the grain. And always according to the value of the service as judged by each individual.

    Everyone is exhorted to help others in need as they can, but no one is expected to relinquish and renounce his own property, though that is certainly anybody’s choice as well — as long as that does not put them on the dole to others, expecting others to care for them and meet their needs. Which is what had happened in the Pentecostal Jerusalem commune, and which was causing dissensions and factions — complaining, impatience, envy, jealousies, assertions of entitlement.

    Paul sternly warns that those who do not work do not get to eat.

    I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be contentious. But “holding all things in common” is not God’s will, nor was the original Pentecostal Jerusalem commune. Else that would have been the pattern throughout the Middle East, at least among Christian communities, to this day. And it’s not, and it never has been since Stephen’s martyrdom.

    Even in the New Jerusalem, in Revelation 21-22, the image is of each believer having a separate “room” in the Holy City. While all are “one” in their adoration and worship of Jesus Christ Almighty God, the point is each individual remains individual. None is blended or amalgamated; each has his own robes, his own room, his own place, his own space, his own name in the Book of Life, and that Christ gives him secretly, his own rewards, his own crowns, his own individual self. The only thing each holds in common with the rest is his salvation and membership in the Body of the Bride.

    Even all the unrepentant sinners are judged individually, as are Satan and his minions. The only thing each holds in common with the rest is his sinfulness and final damnation.

    Private property begins with self. God creates each individual separately, in His image, because He loves them. Christ came to save each individual, not cities, not towns, not governments, not nations. As each individual chooses, or not.

    There’s a difference between choosing to share what is yours by the God-given right of self and ownership, and presuming that no one owns anything, that the group is above the individual “because” those in the group are similar to each other — in this case, saved.

    That is sin, presumption, disobedience. It violates everything God is — after all, as Creator and King, HE owns EVERYTHING because HE created everything. HE OWNS. Everything is HIS PROPERTY.

    He gives EACH of His human creatures that exact same right: to own his SELF, and the right and ability to justly acquire the things to sustain and prosper his life: property. No other human being has a right to usurp any other human being’s rights to life, freedom, and property. We are created in His image.

    The sin and disobedience is presuming that anyone has a right to another or his property, to God and His sovereignty. “Holding all things in common” is that disobedience and presumption.

    In so many ways, salvation is claiming and reasserting one’s individuality, realizing one’s own true value in God’s eyes.

    Christ could die on the cross only because He alone chose to. As an individual, He alone could do that precious thing. To save all who would individually, freely choose to be saved, to accept His salvation.

    There are many good books written to help understand New Testament times. Have you read Paul Barnett’s Behind the Scenes of the New Testament? You might, in addition to Bailey.

    Thank you for this interesting exchange. Blessings, and peace.

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