The only history we have of earliest Christianity is found in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts opens with Jesus’ ascension and concludes with Paul’s arrival in Rome. The book ends up being mostly about Paul, but several chapters are devoted to the first followers and their life in Jerusalem.
In those opening chapters we learn that the first Christians lived in a sort of commune. They sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to the Apostles. The money functioned as a sort of community fund and was dispersed to take care of those in need.
The question we want to ask ourselves is why did they do this? What would motivate people to sell land and possessions and give it to the poor?
Part of the reason is that early Christians believed that Jesus would return in their lifetime. It’s a little easier to sell and give away what you own if you are convinced that you are not going to need it.
But the main reason, as should be obvious, is the teaching of Jesus. Jesus was constantly talking about the poor. In his opening sermon he announced that he had been anointed to “preach good news to the poor.” He also told them that he had come to inaugurate the Jubilee.
Found in the book of Leviticus, the Jubilee called for the cancellation of all debts, and the restoration of all lands to their original owners every 50 years. The Jubilee was a way to help those who had slipped into poverty and landlessness not to be stuck there generation after generation.
We don’t know for sure that the Jubilee was ever actually practiced in Israel, but it’s in the Book and Jesus called them on it.
Jesus went on to say, “Blessed are the poor,” and even suggested that the way we treat “the least of these” would determine what score we get on life’s final exam. In fact, he told a rich young ruler once that if he wanted to be a follower he would have to sell all he had give the money to the poor.
So, it seems fairly obvious that the early church was simply trying to live out the vision that Jesus himself had preached.
Today, not so much. Recently Andrew Paquin was fired from Colorado Christian University for saying what Jesus said. Paquin taught global studies at CCU and at the end of the spring semester he was fired.
William Armstrong, president of the university, stated that Paquin’s instruction was too radical and undermined the University’s commitment to capitalism.
Armstrong made his point about capitalism emphatic in an interview with Rocky Mountain News. He said, “I don’t think there is another system that is more consistent with Christianity.”
Christianity and capitalism? Really?
And on the last day, the Lord will gather all the people of the earth together and will say to them: “I had capital, but you didn’t invest it. I had dividends, but you didn’t collect them. I had offshore tax shelters, but you didn’t use them. I had profits, but you didn’t maximize them.
“Depart from me all you who failed to make the acquisition of money the purpose of your life. I never knew you.”
What were those early Christians thinking?
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).