Benjamin Corey, a former fundamentalist Christian who is now a progressive Christian finishing his PhD in theology at Fuller Seminary, has a blog post about the many differences between early Christian communities and the modern church. The differences are rather wide, especially this one:
Here’s 5 of the major reasons why I think many American Christians probably would not have liked the first ones:
1. The first Christians rejected personal ownership of property and engaged in a redistribution of wealth.
Americanized Christians often fight to make sure our taxes are lower, fight to repeal healthcare for poor people, and throw a fit over a small portion of our income going to provide foodstamps. While touting “voluntary” and “private” charity as the way to go, we give on average 2-3% of our income to the church or charities– not nearly enough to actually address the needy in any meaningful way. But what about the early Christians?
Well, the first Christians were quite different. In the book of Acts (the book that tells the story of original Christianity) tells us that “all the believers were together and held everything in common, selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44-45). We’re further told that there were no poor among them, because those who had land or property sold it so that this wealth could be “redistributed” to the needy (Acts 4:35). While on one hand communal property and redistribution of wealth was voluntary, scripture tells us that “all” of the believers in the church did this– meaning that it wasn’t exactly voluntary but a condition of being accepted into the group.
If Americanized Christians were to see how the first Christians lived, it would be denounced as some sort of communist cult being led by folks who distorted the Gospel.
How many megapreachers do we have who are multimillionaires in this country? A Joel Osteen or Pat Robertson would have been considered a heretic among the early Christians. And this one seems particularly prescient for much of American Christianity:
4. The first Christians weren’t patriotic.
Flag-waving Fourth of July type services?
Not in the early church. The first Christians weren’t patriotic at all. This was in part because they were oppressed by a brutal empire, but also in part because they saw themselves not as citizens of an earthly realm but citizens of heaven whose allegiance and loyalty were for God’s Kingdom instead of an earthly nation. These first Christians were caught up into the invitation to build God’s Kingdom, and would be utterly dumfounded as to why anyone would get caught up into patriotic nationalism– something early Christians would believe to be idolatry.
A 2nd century Christian once said, “This world and the next are two enemies…. We cannot therefore be the friends of both.” This attitude would have made patriotic nationalism impossible, because they had no attachment to earthly nation states– realizing instead that Christians are called to live as people completely different than the rest of the world.
Many of today’s Christians would consider the first Christians “ungrateful” but conversely, the first Christians would consider those of today to be idolaters with mixed up priorities.
One could easily note how dramatically Christianity has evolved in just the last few centuries as it has mixed with Enlightenment ideals. I’ve noted before how the position of institutional Christianity has changed in regard to church and state, slavery, women’s rights and civil rights. Those allegedly eternal truths of Christianity change significantly over time, but few Christians are aware of it or would acknowledge it.