Acts 4:32: Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
Devotion: Congregationalism is not a political ideology like communism, socialism, capitalism, or cultism. The early church’s practice of autonomous communities who governed themselves in unity (of one heart and soul) was not a counter social agenda, but a basic faith practice that reflected their experience in Jesus Christ. The Christian Triune God lives in eternal fellowship as the Three-in-One. God the Father, Son, and Spirit give and reciprocate self-giving love which bears witness to their unity and harmony. The Father unconditionally loves the Son through the Holy Spirit with the confidence this love will be freely returned to Him. It is not commanded but complementary.
The multitude of believers modeled this congregational pattern after the life of God. The congregations were communal, not because of a governing authority that confiscated personal property for the community or made membership conditioned on financial contributions. Individual believers surrendered their possessions to the community because they trusted the reciprocating character of the common good. Having experienced a radical reforming relationship with the Risen Son through the unifying Spirit, the first Christians shared their goods with their friends in need. This was social action at its best – local, charitable, and missional!
It’s undeniable that early Christians reaped the benefits of commerce having sold their private possessions they amassed through trade and inheritance. The act of charity reflected a measure of maturity – even if this type of communal living was practiced in Jerusalem only for a time. Christians were able and willing to give because of the witness of God in Jesus Christ.
I have witnessed the power of congregational charity (i.e., love): a widow, living on a limited income, received support to replace her roof before winter; a church leader received hearing aids so he could continue his ministry with the mentally and physically challenged; the single mother received help with food; community members received utility, rent and medical assistance; an unemployed man received inconspicuous financial help; the underemployed wife received extra food; and so on. All of these acts of charity were completed confidentially and compassionately. These acts of charity were practiced without a mandate or memorandum.
The greatest challenge to our society is isolated individualism. People can become indifferent when they are no longer connected to a community of care. The answer to the overwhelming greed of capitalism and entitlement of socialism is not policy or politics but voluntary Christian communities practicing charity (self-giving love for the common good). The solution to society’s problems is, once again, individuals modeling their attitude, behavior, and character after our Triune God.
Prayer: God our Father, Son and Spirit, you have set before us the perfect pattern of our lives in your communal love. Grant to us the riches of heaven for the good of all of your creatures. For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Prayer Exercise: “Anointing for Healing,” page 150, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown. All rights reserved.