Yesterday morning at church the theme was generosity. It wasn’t just about finances but this was one of the key themes. I knew it was coming up and I had been doing some more thinking about giving (probably helped by the fact that I was going to be interviewed in the service on the subject) and I found myself pondering Acts 2:44-45, which talks about the early believers having “everything in common” and selling “property and possessions” to give to those in need. We didn’t actually touch on that passage in the service but I thought I would put a few thoughts here.
I think the Christian church has a lot of generous people in it. It doesn’t have a monopoly in that area but there are lots of Christians who have giving as an ingrained habit. However, there are not so many who give away everything they have or go the whole hog in holdings in common. I don’t think we can take Acts 2 as suggesting there was no sense of ownership among any of the members of the early church but I think there was more than I have experienced. I wonder if they were helped partly by their general culture (no real social security system, certainly not from the State, so much more reliance on mutual help) and also by the high levels of persecution suffered. Certain experiences put life, death and what you can take from one to the other, into perspective and I think the early church had a lot of those experiences; definitely more than 21st century Britain where you can be a committed Christian and lead a relatively safe and culturally normal life.
I did a brief bit of web searching and found an article arguing against the idea that those early chapters of Acts mandate socialism. Apparently the Greek text uses lots of imperfect verbs so ‘giving’ wasn’t a once off gift of everything. Mind you, it was in The Washington Times and other articles linked to from the page included ‘best handguns under $500’ so I’m not entirely sympathetic to the editorial stance. It seemed a bit keen to justify the suggestion that God doesn’t tell us to be socialist at all and therefore must want us to be happy little capitalists, worshipping at the altar of the free market. Some of that was implied rather than directly quoted from the article but read it and see for yourself.
I feel that the answer lies somewhere between those extremes and probably more towards the end of unselfishly caring for others and recognising that, from a heavenly perspective, what we call gold is what the angels call ‘pavement’ and more suited to walk on than worship.