Sermonette: Was the Early Church Socialist or Communist?
David C. Grabbe
Given 13-Feb-21; 17 minutes
Many in nominal Christianity believe that the people of the early church adopted a collectivist (socialist) economic system. Acts 2:44-45, the proof-text they claim supports this view, does not in fact argue that the early church was socialist in the classical Marxist understanding of the term. Marxist socialism is confiscatory in nature in that it provides a rationale for an elite to forcefully coerce the people to give up their property in order to facilitate the state's redistribution of private wealth. However, the Scriptures nowhere indicate that the apostles required converts to give up their property as a precondition for church membership. Rather, the selling of property reflects the groundswell of the members' conviction, inspired by their prophetic vision (the gospel), that the old economic, government and religious systems were doomed and would soon become defunct. They were in widespread agreement that the current circumstances provided no incentive for them to maintain property in a world experiencing drastic change. This view led them to voluntarily liquidate fixed assets in support of the group. History proves their perspective to be correct, as the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple—in fact the entire Jewish state—in 70 AD. The narrative of Ananias and Saphira reinforces the member's right to control their own property. Christ's teaching, recorded in Luke 22:24-27, indicates that collectivist thought emanates from gentile values of grasping for power, wherein leaders claim to help "the common man," serving as "benefactors," while in fact exercising power over them.