Community Baptist Church

Community Baptist Church September 10, 2017


I don’t see the problem, necessarily. It is true that few Baptist churches – and perhaps no Baptist churches in our time – are “Communist Churches.” But the meme seems to assume that they could not be, as though there were inherently something unthinkable about the idea. And while that may be true of Marxist/Leninist Communism, which had a distinctly anti-religious bent to it, the Communist Manifesto itself mentions other already-existing forms of communism, among with are Christian varieties. What the Book of Acts describes in the New Testament may or may not ever have been implemented in actual fact. And whether or not it was, that doesn’t make its paradigm of people selling their belonging and sharing the proceeds in common a model that should actually be followed. After all, Paul in his letters refers to a collection he is taking up from Gentile churches for the poor in Jerusalem. And so if they were following the way of life depicted in Acts – often referred to as a variety of “love communism” – then it was not working out well for them economically.

Ancient economies were fundamentally different from modern post-industrial ones in a wide variety of ways. We cannot borrow from them – or from their proposed solutions to injustices resulting from them – and expect them to transfer directly to our own context.

But it is not just appropriate, but typical of how Christians have made use of the Bible down the ages, for the church to seek principles in the pages of the Bible that can be applied in new and creative ways in a new context. And there is nothing whatsoever implausible that a form of “communism” could be one of them. Sharing what we have, working collectively as a community for the common good, and other things that are at the heart of that term are also core Christian principles.

And so the Community Baptist Church should feel comfortable opening the doors to their vans – and might even want to consider keeping them open.

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  • If there are some actual events reflected in Acts, I tend to wonder if the earliest Church followed this sell-all-you-have proscription in the hopes of an apocalyptic world-shaking event that never came.

    • Erp

      Well there was the destruction of the second temple in 70CE though by then the Jerusalem community had almost certainly dispersed.

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      I think that was a very real phenomenon in a lot of those early communities, but I’d tend to think they were prepping for the destruction of Jerusalem, which did happen, but probably not as soon as they were thinking.

      • I doubt they would have given away all they possessed in expectation of the destruction of Jerusalem, but rather in expectation of the apocolyptic return of Christ, “when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him” separating the sheep from the goats, and saying to the faithful, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

        That’s the apocalyptic expectation that never took place.

        • Phil Ledgerwood

          But they didn’t give it away. They sold everything and pooled their money (that eventually ran out, it seems, considering the other churches had to take up a collection for them). The idea that they would need wealth or wealthy friends to see them through their period of tribulation is something that Jesus instructed them as well, such as in Luke 16:9.

          “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves with mammon, so that when it is gone, you may be welcomed into dwellings of the ages.”

          In fact, the parable you quoted, at least in Matthew, follows a parable about Jesus’ followers increasing their money in preparation for the day of judgement. I would also hold that the parable about the sheep and the goats is also a parable about the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem. I think the upcoming war with Rome dominated Jesus’ landscape and is largely the referent for his teachings about judgement, salvation, and the kingdom that would be established in its aftermath.

          • Well, as I said in the first comment, any of this speculation assumes that the the cited verses in the gospels and acts reflect the actual statements of Jesus and acts of his disciples. That’s not an assumption that I take for granted.

            But granting it for a moment, you think the parable of the manager who swindles his employer to curry favor with his debtors, was a literal instruction for his disciples? They should bribe their employers’ business debtors by cheating their employers out of the money owed them?

            That sounds like a scheme worthy of Donald Trump.

            It’s also not clear how what follows the destruction of the Jerusalem temple resembles in any way the parting of the sheep and goats. Unless you mean the eventual establishment of the Holy Roman Catholic Church (the sheep?), with it’s penchant for persecuting nonchristians and those considered heretics (the goats, perhaps?).

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I also don’t take that assumption for granted, but we’re trying to understand the actions of the early church. Your hypothesis is that they expected the end of the world and never saw it. My hypothesis is that they expected the end of the world as they knew it and did see it. The only data we have for our hypotheses is what’s in the Bible. Even if Jesus did not say many of the things that are in the Gospels, they certainly reflect the beliefs of the early church at the time the Gospels were written and are important to understanding their perspective.

            The parable that precedes the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew is a parable about investing talents.

            The parable you mentioned precedes Jesus comment about making friends via money. It’s certainly not a literal instruction, as it’s a parable. But Jesus says the point of the story is that the people of the world deal with this age more shrewdly than citizens of the kingdom. The manager cuts the debtors a deal so that, when calamity befalls him, he’ll have friends who can take care of him. What’s more, the rich man -approves-.

            Whether or not we think this is good economics, Jesus tells us what the point of the parable is, then exhorts his disciples to make friends with money so that they’ll survive, and even unjust managers know how to make that work. It’s not the first parable where Jesus uses an unjust person to stand in for the good people. In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable about an unjust judge who is a stand-in for God. The idea, once again, is that even evil people work this way. A similar point is made in Matthew 7, “If your fathers, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in Heaven…?”

            The parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew portrays the destinies that await two groups of people – those who took care of Jesus’ followers, and those who refused to. When Jesus brings recompense, the so-called righteous who persecuted or at least ignored the plight of oppressed Israel are cast out of the kingdom and destroyed, while those who took care of them, even if they did not do it for the sake of Jesus, receive the reward of the righteous. Which is precisely what Jesus says will happen back in Matthew 10.

            Jesus, as presented in the Gospels, foresees the upcoming war with Rome where the existing power structure in Judea will be shattered by a foreign power, but the people who believe him and do what he says will survive it. Like the prophets before him, he often expresses this destruction at the hands of another army in apocalyptic and cosmological language. This is partially how he finds himself at odds with the existing power structure – both religious and political – but finds an active following among the poor and oppressed.

            What I think you and I would agree on, at least partially, is that the time frame didn’t work to the advantage of the Jerusalem church or any of them, really. We find Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica urging them not to create huge upheavals in their life and continue to work, etc. Jesus foresaw a calamity, but he clearly did not know when it was going to happen, just soon enough that some of the people who heard him would still be alive when it happened. Some early communities behaved as though it would happen tomorrow, while others took a slightly longer term view of things. I’m sure disappointment was a factor as well.

            If it turns out that the Gospels are primarily putting words back into Jesus’ mouth, in my opinion, that’s even MORE reason to assume a primary referent of the destruction of Jerusalem.

          • Yes, it’s a bit like the apocalyptic prophecy of Daniel 7 in which the first beast is Babylon, the second beast is Media, the third beast is Persia, and the fourth beast is Greece. The time of the fourth beast will soon be over and:

            “the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.”

            As most scholars believe this is an “after the fact” prophecy written by someone who already knew the history of Hebrew bondage under Babylon, Media, and Persia, and currently living under the rule of Greece. The first part of the prophecy (like the destruction of Jerusalem in the Matthew prophecy) is “primarily putting words back into”, in this case, Daniel’s “mouth”.

            The part of the prophecy that fails to come true in both cases is the final part: In Daniel, an everlasting kingdom in which all the dominions of the earth serve the people of the Most High; and in Matthew, the “eternal punishment” for the goats and “eternal life” for the sheep.

            The prophecies reflect current painful events (written from the perspective of a past prophet) with the added promise of a glorious reward. I’m sure the pooled money was intended to last until the delivery of “eternal life”, which was expected so soon that the Thessalonians, for example, worried that those who died too soon would miss out on getting caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I think we mostly agree. On this facet, I’m not sure “eternal life” or, literally, life of the ages, has the connotations in the ancient world that it does for us on this side of Greco-Roman philosophical considerations.

            For instance, when we read Isaiah 65’s description of the idyllic world of the “new heavens and new earth,” people live out long, full lives, but still die. People still bear children and have generations, etc. I think that back of all the hyperbolic and cosmological language of Jewish apocalypse is a more gritty, realistic understanding that is just portrayed by these bombastic images to get across how much different and better life will be.

            I can’t prove that, necessarily, because there’s not a great way to know how people would have interpreted such Scriptures, Jesus, or what later authors said Jesus said, but I’m inclined to think that their interpretations of such language were more historically realistic than our own when we read such language. I think it makes the New Testament more cogent. For instance, if the early faith communities were expecting the literal end of the world, what possible interpretation could Jesus’ parable about the unjust manager have?

          • Oh I would not stop at merely differentiating our point of view from that of “the ancient world”. The ancient world itself experienced paradigmatic changes between the writings we now accept in single bible. The connotations of 1st century Christian texts are far removed from those found in more ancient Hebrew prophetic texts. But it’s fairly clear that the writers had clear past and present events in mind for the beasts in Daniel and the destruction of the temple in Matthew, while their predictions of glorious futures were projections which did not come true, even with milder interpretations of an age of prosperity and the subjugation of enemies.

            As for the parable of the unjust steward, you’re taking it far more literally than one would take other parables. Did Jesus really preach that his disciples should prepare early for all their wedding feasts, or search their houses up and down for lost coins? These are analogies for deeper truths.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I’m not saying Jesus is preaching that his disciples should undercut the debts of their masters, either. But it seems to me the “deeper truth” Jesus is expressing in that parable is that disciples should establish good relationships with people so that they’ll be taken care of when calamity strikes so that they will survive it.

            If Jesus is talking about the literal end of the world, what do you think the parable is teaching?

          • What is a central theme in Jesus’ teaching?

            Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

            Or as Don Henley says, “I think it’s about forgiveness”.

            On another point, I’m not so sure that the early Christians saw promises of an apocalyptic resurrection as a time when they “live out long, full lives, but still die”. That was probably true for Trito-Isaiah, but between the time of that writing and the writing of the gospels, the Jews had developed an entire resurrection eschatology that didn’t exist for the early prophets. The Sadduccees were the doubters of this eschatology, and, in Matthew, Jesus answers them with a description of the resurrection:

            Matthew 22: 29-30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.”

            And as I’ve already pointed out, the Thessalonians were specifically worried about their dead, and Paul reassures them that the dead will rise first. This does not sound at all like living out long full lives but still dying.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            A central theme in Jesus’ teaching is that the kingdom of God had begun to arrive, and now was the time for the lost sheep of Israel to repent and live lives of faithfulness to be this kingdom as well as survive an imminent judgement that God was bringing on Judea that the kingdom might last into the ages. Part of this involves forgiving others so that God will also forgive them, relieving them of the curse of the Law and restoring their fortunes promised in the Old Testament.

            So, when Jesus explains the point of the parable and says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when it fails, they may receive you into an everlasting home,” your contention is that the most likely meaning of this is that Jesus is teaching that the unjust people of the world are better at forgiveness than his followers, and he’s instructing his disciples to forgive people. That’s a possible reading, I guess. It doesn’t seem likely to me.

            I agree that Second Temple Judaism probably did not share Isaiah’s vision in a concrete way, although it certainly informed their theology. I just used that as an example that we as modern readers have a tendency to read the biblical writings as though they are primarily concerned with spiritual matters, the afterlife, and the end of the world, and I don’t think the texts cogently support that nor rabbinic interpretation. Cf. Rashi on Isaiah 65:17 –

            “The princes above shall be renewed, and the princes of Israel shall be the upper princes and the princes of the heathens (the nations [Parshandatha]) will be lower, and so on the earth. ([K’li Paz reads:] The princes above shall be renewed, to raise up the humble and to humble the high ones, and so on the earth.) And some say that there will actually be new heavens, and that is correct, for Scripture proves it (infra 66: 22): “For as the new heavens, etc.””

            We see here that the idea of an actual new heavens is A) not a unanimous view, and B) an afterthought. The focus of the rabbinic commentary here is on the restoration of Israel’s rulers over the rulers of the pagan, Gentile nations.

            I have generally found this focus to be consistent.

          • Well, I can certainly grant that theologians argue about the exact interpretation for the parable, simple because of the oddity of Jesus appearing to promote dishonesty and “dishonest wealth”. It’s a very odd parable; if you accept the “explanation” that you quoted above, then Jesus is talking about the use of unrighteous wealth or dishonest mammon, whichever translation you prefer – not simply making friends with money, but making friends with dirty money.

            Whatever we might be missing about first century eschatology with our 21st century eyes, what is clear is that the passage from Matthew 22, the 1st Thessalonian epistle, and many other passages describe, in no uncertain terms, a resurrection of the dead. Life after death. Second temple Judaism was divided on the issue of a general resurrection of the dead. Jesus as depicted in the gospels, clearly teaches a resurrection of the dead.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Agreed, but that doesn’t help us decide if the early church in Jerusalem sold their goods and pooled their money because they were expecting the world to end and themselves raised from the dead.

          • Well, the problem is that we only have the late text of Acts suggesting to us that they pooled their money. Hard to say if that’s true of early Christians, or just a late legendary embellishment meant to encourage church benevolence.

            So if the notion that they pooled their money was speculative, trying to understand their motivations for possibly having done so is even more speculative. We can only suggest possible motivating factors for a practice that may or may not have occurred.

            Motivating factor or not, their apocalyptic expectations of a general resurrection of the dead (and the living being caught up in the clouds with Christ) in their lifetimes did not pan out.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            If that was their expectation, that the end of the world and the general resurrection of the dead was imminent, then it did not work out. I’m not convinced that’s what they were expecting as the imminent thing that was about to happen to them, though.

          • I don’t have to be convinced. I just have to read clearly in some of the earliest dated New Testament texts that exist:

            1 Corinthians 15:51-52
            Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

            1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
            But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Well, we are talking about what readings are the most convincing. We’re not trying to discover the boiling point of water, right? This is history and hermeneutics and, in both fields, we’re trying to determine what seems the most probable – the most cogent and most consistent. Otherwise, you and I could just list out our Bible verses and that would be the end of the discussion.

            Your 1 Corinthians 15 passage, I would maintain, is best understood in light of 1 Corinthians 15. There are certainly portions of 1 Corinthians 15 that, taken on their own, look like Paul is talking about the end of the world and a general resurrection of all humanity. I don’t think that’s an intrinsically implausible way to read it.

            However, as we read through the entire chapter, Paul is presenting a picture of Jesus being the first to die and rise from the dead of a group of people who are like him who will also die and rise from the dead.

            Paul presents a sequence starting in verse 20 that, even though everyone will rise from the dead, things will happen in a certain order – first Jesus as the first fruits, then “those who belong to Jesus at his coming” and “then comes the rest,” which features events such as Jesus stepping down as king because, eventually through the reign of Jesus, death itself will be destroyed (which probably fits the general resurrection at the end of time).

            The idea that Paul has in mind believers at that time and not the general resurrection at the end of the world when all will be judged also seems indicated by 47-50 – the segment immediately before the passage you quoted, where Paul talks about the people’s bodies being transformed so that they can inherit the kingdom – the one Jesus will rule until the day death is destroyed.

            It seems to me that Paul is expecting an imminent return of Jesus that will return the ones who belong to him from the dead in some transformed way that is not like our regular bodies so that they might inherit the kingdom. This kingdom will last for some time while Jesus subjugates the enemies of the people of God, ending with death itself.

            This exact theological idea is portrayed in Revelation 20, where Satan is bound and the faithful martyrs rise from the dead and rule with Jesus for a “thousand years,” at the end of which Satan is loosed and finally defeated, and there is a general resurrection of the dead in 20:12ff. It appears the expectation was there would be a group of the faithful martyred by the Beast who rise from the dead before the final judgement and reign from heaven with Jesus for some indefinitely long period of time. This, to me, is commensurate with the entirety of the scheme in 1 Cor. 15.

            1 Thess. 4 is even more direct in this vein, as Paul actually calls the Thessalonian believers the “firstfruits” and highlights their suffering and persecution just like Jesus’ in the preceding chapters. The idea seems to be that they are suffering as Jesus did and will be saved as Jesus was via a resurrection, but this does not necessarily entail the final resurrection at the end of time.

            If you’re interested in further scholarship on these passages, I might refer to you for starters to Perriman’s examination of the 1 Thess. 4 passage and Paul’s view of an imminent parousia:

          • Actually, the “boiling point of water” is a great analogy for variable readings. The boiling point of water is completely variable depending on atmospheric pressure. We’re just used to the reading at sea level on earth.

            One limitation, for example, on my enlisting of 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians, is that those letters certainly represent some Christians of the time, but not necessarily all Christians of the time.

            The reading you give of these passages is interesting, though I question relating them so literally to an apocalyptic passage in John’s revelation. But even if 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians describe an imminent return of Jesus, a resurrection of only Christian martyrs, a bodily transformation of those who inherit the kingdom – that is still a description of an imminent event quite different from the actual history we know following the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            The way you and I would cast it, yes, but if you’re a first century believer, you might see it differently depending on your expectations and/or your interpretation after the fact. For example, if a believer was expecting Jesus to physically show up and martyrs to come out of their graves and start walking around, then yes, I assume they would be disappointed or die in their unmet hopes, because clearly that did not happen.

            But if they assumed that the invasion of Rome -was- the arrival of Jesus in judgement even though he was not physically present, and the martyrs were raised to some kind of heavenly existence a la Enoch or Jesus in his ascension, then it would be quite possible to identify the siege of Jerusalem as that event, and some early church fathers do exactly that. Even Josephus is prone to include some supernatural (and coincidentally natural) phenomena in his discussion of that siege that sort of fits the case. Those might be Christian interpolations but, if so, that just further demonstrates the commonality of the view that the siege was an apocalypse.

          • I’m not arguing that the destruction of Jerusalem isn’t part of the apocalyptic prophecy. It’s quite a literal part of the prophecy, most likely composed after the fact (Vāticinium ex ēventū), and far more literal than what you’re proposing for the later part of the prophecy.

            And of course, by the time the extant Church fathers were writing, their theology had to account for the fact that no literal return of Jesus or resurrection of the dead had yet occurred. And all the original Christians had been dead for centuries by the time Christianity became the religion of Rome.

            Are you differentiating the resurrection of the dead Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15 from the resurrection he describes in 1 Thessalonians 4? Because in the Thessalonians description, the dead and the living are together fro the return of Jesus. You suggested earlier that first Corinthians described “people’s bodies being transformed so that they can inherit the kingdom”. Are you talking about heaven? A kingdom on earth?

            Seeing the century following the destruction of Israel as a triumphant return and rule of Jesus is a stretch requiring heavy apologetics (something the church fathers were adept at).

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Oh, totally agree about the church fathers’ interpretations being a commentary in retrospect, but I’d say that about all prophecy in the Bible.

            I think the part that gets tricky when we’re looking at all the NT passages that have an eschatological thrust is that Jesus was primarily focused on the fortunes of Judea, and the apostles broaden their horizons to the Empire. One thing the apostles are consistent on is that, whatever happens, comes first to the Jews and then to the nations (e.g. Rom. 2:9-10), but the apocalyptic expectations are, as they have always been in the biblical writings, pretty open-ended affairs suited for prophetic imagination and fitting a variety of situations on the other side.

            The other thing that complicates the picture is that even though the expectation is that the earth and history are the appropriate avenues for eschatological expectation, there is also a recognition that, back of the earthly events is a spiritual, “heavenly,” divine animus. This is probably most greatly demonstrated in Jewish apocalyptic literature, and the best extended example we have in the Bible is the book of Revelation. Stuff is going on “in heaven” that is sort of the secret story and machinations behind what people are experiencing in events on earth. It’s this splicing that I think accounts for the ambiguities in expectations regarding the resurrection of the saints.

            Parsing through that is not easy, and even the early church displays (like in most things) a solid diversity of opinion ranging all the way from liturgies that thank God for having accomplished the second coming of Christ to writers expecting that Jesus would descend in the year 1000 AD to rule the world from Jerusalem for a thousand year period. As part of the great points you brought up, yet another point is that many of the early church fathers didn’t have a Jewish context for interpreting the biblical writings, but rather a Greco-Roman philosophical one. They were not steeped in Old Testament prophetic or apocalyptic literature and were just trying to make sense of the texts for their context.

            For me, the overall pattern all the way back to the Old Testament and Jewish literature goes something like this:

            1 – Prophecy describes some world-changing event described in language that is hyperbolic and often cosmologic.
            2 – Historical event comes to pass in a manner that, while it may have great impact and ramifications for the nations on the scene, happens in a fairly pedestrian way that basically looks like some nation just doing their thing without any kind of special, divine force manipulating them, aiding them miraculously, or causing stars to fall out of the sky.
            3 – In this way, the prophecy serves as a theological commentary moreso than a detailed prediction.

            I think this pattern continues into the New Testament and the early church, but the further we get away from Jewish readers and writers, the more obscure this becomes and the more the expectation is that events will unfold more or less exactly as imagined.

            So, to your point, we were originally talking about those early, predominantly Jewish believers in Jerusalem. Would the church in Thessalonica have the same expectations? I don’t know. I could see it going the other way.

          • I think you’ve got your pattern in the wrong order:

            1 – Historical events occur, not supernatural events, but not pedestrian events either. Nations defeating Israel, Judah or both, usually barbarically, then taking citizens into slavery, threatening worship practices, and turning the defeated nation into a vassal territory.
            2 – Prophecy describes these past and present events in language that is hyperbolic and often cosmologic. The “prophecy” is given weight by assigning it to a past prophet, such as Daniel or Jesus, thus making it appear that they are foretold futures. The forged prophecy then offers promises of a great deliverance and a parallel great defeat of enemies.
            3 – The promised deliverance and defeat fails to come to fruition, so theologians invent interpretations to explain the fulfillment of prophecy in spiritual terms rather than physical terms (though the earlier parts of the prophecies, the descriptions of past and current violent defeats by oppressive enemies, were certainly not spiritual).

            But despite these later apologetic interpretations, I seriously doubt the Thessalonians expected something other than the return of Jesus in their lifetimes, joining their dead loved ones in the clouds.

  • Ursula L

    For “Communist Baptists” the closest I can think of are Hutterites, which come from the same radical Anabaptist roots as the Amish and Mennonites.