The Church began at Jerusalem when God poured out the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples on the day of Pentecost. One hundred twenty followers exploded to several thousand in one day (Acts 1:15; 2:41). The core group was mostly from Galilee (Acts 1:11) and did not have residences in Jerusalem. A smaller number of followers who were Jerusalem residents provided temporary living quarters (Acts 1:13) for their Galilean friends, but all of that changed on that Pentecost.
Suddenly, a flood of Hellenistic Jews from surrounding nations and Roman provinces (Acts 2:5) were drawn to the small group. It was from among these that the three thousand added came (Acts 2:41). This unusual situation immediately brought about a new need: living conditions for a large group of aliens; consequently, a community of shared resources arose (Acts 2:44-45). Those with homes opened them for others (Acts 2:46).
Days went by (Acts 2:46; 3:1), perhaps weeks, we don’t know how many, but the situation of a growing cluster of people in Jerusalem without residences as well as the community of sharing to meet their needs continued (Acts 4:4, 32-37).
At that time an unusual event in the history of the early church in Jerusalem gives insight about the financial system in place. Two residents who owned property sold it with intention to donate to the need but also to deceitfully hold back part for themselves. The outcome was their deaths, not for withholding money but for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-10). Plainly, the property and the proceeds of the sale were theirs; they could have donated as they pleased, but misrepresenting the truth was unacceptable (v.4).
The group of Christ-followers in Jerusalem was practicing a system of sharing resources through centralized administration of donations for the welfare of all in need. Because the gifts were voluntarily given the system was not socialistic, but for much of the same reason, it was not capitalistic.
The circumstances that precipitated the sharing of belongings and resources did not persist. Eventually, tourists and pilgrims left Jerusalem to return to their homelands. In the meantime, increasingly more permanent residents of Jerusalem joined the church (Acts 6:7). Ultimately, persecution scattered the burgeoning group into areas of Judea and neighboring provinces (Acts 8:1). When the figurative dust of the scattering settled, the church members resided in the nearby provinces of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Acts 9:31). From there, the church spread beyond those provinces into Syria and southern Asia Minor (Acts 11:19). Afterward, as Luke chronicled in the book of Acts, churches sprouted throughout Asia Minor and into Europe (Acts 20:1-6; 28:13-14).
Although most church members resided in their homelands where they received the Gospel and owned their own property, the sharing of resources with people in need continued (Acts 11:27-29). After several decades, the church in Jerusalem numbered in the thousands (Acts 21:17, 20). Many of these members were poor and benefitted from the sharing of resources from wealthier non-Jewish provinces (Rom. 15:25-26). This brief survey of early church history found in the book of Acts is enough to demonstrate that the church did not confine itself to economic principles based on either capitalism or socialism.
As made clear in previous Blog posts about the New Testament, Israel, and the book of Genesis, there is no God-ordained economic system for humanity that fits into the confines of these ‘isms. Instead, the Bible tells and teaches of a system that is based on the grace of God, generously providing for humanity and encouraging humans –through the Law of love – to participate with each other in relations based upon trust in God, freedom of individuals and governments, personal responsibility, caring for each other, and generous sharing of wealth with those in need. The Church is to teach and apply this Biblical guidance as illumination to a dark world driven by lust, envy, greed, egotism, and injustice. The ‘isms do not provide this light. They are merely human implementations of administrations that cater to both good and evil characteristics. May the truth help us to discern between the imperfect and corrupt ways of man verses the good ways of God.