Post Author: Bill Pratt
In the most recent edition of the Christian Research Journal, Jay W. Richards addressed this topic. The verses that have led some to make the claim that the early church was communist are Acts 4:32-35. But is that the correct interpretation of these verses? If so, is communism the ideal for the church?
Richards argues against this view, giving several reasons. First, Richards notes that modern communism, based on the writings of Marx, is about class warfare and the evil of private property. According to Richards, “There’s none of this class warfare stuff in the early church in Jerusalem, nor is private property treated as immoral. These Christians are selling their possessions and sharing freely and spontaneously.”
Second, communism is associated with state control of resources, but the state is not involved in the early church. “No Roman centurions are showing up with soldiers. No government is confiscating property and collectivizing industry. No one is being coerced.” Again, the early church was sharing their property voluntarily, with no state involvement at all.
Third, the communal life described in Acts 4:32-35 is never prescribed for all churches everywhere. Richards explains, “What Acts is describing is an unusual moment in the life of the early church, when the church was still very small. Remember this is the beginning of the church in Jerusalem.” In addition, we know that other early churches had different arrangements. Take, for example, the Thessalonians. Paul addresses the situation in their local church when he warns them, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Paul’s words hardly exemplify the ideals of communism.
Richards concludes, “The take-home lesson should be clear: neither the book of Acts nor historical experience commends communism. In fact, full-bodied communism is alien to the Christian worldview and had little to do with the arrangement of early Christians in Jerusalem.”
To read the complete article, you need to be a subscriber to the Christian Research Journal, which happens to be one of my favorite magazines. If you are interested at all in Christian apologetics, it is a must-read.