Acts 4:32: Christian Commonality Ends Where Compulsion Begins UPDATED

Acts 4:32: Christian Commonality Ends Where Compulsion Begins UPDATED April 9, 2013

I love today’s reading from Acts, which gives us a beautiful snapshot of the early church:

The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common.
With great power the Apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the Apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.
— Acts 4:32-35

This is one of those verses, though, that some people love, and some hate, for precisely the same reason: they think it is an example of socialism and its effects. Both are mistaken, though, if they miss the important factor of free will, which is exemplified in these lines.

Historically, those who live the simplified and shared life and invite others to do so, for love of God, bring about the Kingdom; they create heaven on earth and humanity is enlarged. Within that same history, those who try to force the communal ideal through law and compulsion bring about the gulag; they create hell on earth and humanity is demeaned.

Voluntarily entered into, this sort of “social ideal” (which flourishes in monasticism) brings great freedom. Involuntarily, it enslaves. The thin line between both results is free will — a human movement prompted by the Holy Spirit and responded to with love, cannot fail. Absent that Spirit, and a freely-entered-into “yes”, it is something else, entirely; it belongs to the author of “no.”

Pope Francis on building a community of love, and what tears it down:

“…the early Christians. They had “new life”, which was expressed in their living with one heart and one soul. They had, he said, “that unity, that unanimity, that harmony of feeling of love, mutual love …”. A dimension that needs to be rediscovered. He noted that today, for example, the aspect of “meekness in the community,” is a somewhat ‘forgotten virtue’. Meekness is stigmatized, it has “many enemies”, the first of which is gossip.”

That’s so brilliant. Gossip and stigma is where we begin to throw people away. The rest follows.

Some wisdom from Will Duquette:

The second idol is collectivism: the notion that all social problems—poverty, addiction, violence, racism, what have you—are systemic, and the key to fixing them is to fix society. The Good of All thus becomes the thing to worship; but “All” is an abstraction. There is no “All”, concretely speaking, but only all of us individuals, and worship of the “All” leads in turn to worship of the State, which is the only entity big enough to conceivably “fix” society as a whole.

Jesus says no; the problem isn’t Society, but rather Our Sins; that’s the systemic problem.

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