And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
- Acts 2:42-47
Many progressive evangelicals cite Acts 2 as a proof-text to support their claim that capitalism isn’t in the Bible and that we shouldn’t oppose socialism… I mean, the early church did it, right? So it can’t be THAT bad…
Well, except that they didn’t… but we’ll get to that in a second.
The first point that we can point out is the obvious fact that this was not a government enforced socialistic program. This was not even an elder enforced socialistic program within the confines of the local church. This was a voluntary providing for the needs around them, as needed.
The second point, following this line of thinking, is that just because something is DEscribed does not mean that it is PREscribed. Now, I’m not saying that they were wrong for selling their possessions and providing for the needs around them, but it is an important distinction that this is not written as a command for how to do church. For example, Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 that “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” There is a certain level of personal responsibility that we are to take to provide for ourselves and our family, and we shouldn’t just stop working and live in a commune.
The third point, piggybacking off of the last point, is that we find out that this was not a sustainable model. While this was a voluntary form of socialism, if you’d like to call it that, it still is not sustainable. Somebody has to work in order to provide for those relying on said person. If everyone stops working, sells all their possessions and shares with everybody, those resources will only last so long. This is what happened to the church in Jerusalem. This is a point that the progressive evangelicals don’t mention.
Now, remember, the early church in Jerusalem clearly had plenty of resources and were able to care for their own for a while. But then, all of a sudden, the Apostle Paul was having to go to other churches to ask them to provide financial resources to support the Jerusalem church. Socialism may work for an extremely short period of time… as long as the resources don’t run out. However, if no one is being a capitalist, the resources will run out, as they evidently did in the early church in Jerusalem.
In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Paul requested that the Corinthian church “put something aside and store it up” to give to the Jerusalem church. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul makes another request for the Corinthian church to send a gift to help support the struggling Jerusalem church financially. Even in Romans 15:25-26, we saw Paul mention that he was “going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.”
Why would the other churches need to provide support for the Jerusalem church, unless they ran out of funds after selling their possessions to meet the needs of their brethren? So the next time someone mentions the early church in Acts as a proof-text for socialism, remind them that the Bible shows us that it was not sustainable, they ran out of resources and then needed to be bailed out by other churches.
Socialism doesn’t work. The Bible says so.