Friday, September 14, 2018

A Communist-Socialist Church

The economic and societal philosophies of Communism and Socialism are ancient ideologies. They are not new experiments of the modern or industrial age. They have been tried, applied, touted, and trusted in many shapes and forms since the beginning of society and civilization itself.

I do not remember any description of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) until the Beatles recorded a song entitled "Back in the USSR." Of course I had to find out what that was all about. Turned out that it was what my Grandmother spoke of with fear in her voice as Russia. The Communists. Khrushchev and the angry people across the sea who were intent on destroying not just us, but the world.

Russia, I eventually learned, was only one of the countries (republics) that was aligned governmentally and politically in a block of nations behind an imaginary separating wall that I heard the newscaster call the Iron Curtain. Nikita Khrushchev was the First Secretary of the USSR during my childhood. I thought of him as the President of the Communists, the world leader who had promised to "bury us all."

I was given (or took) the impression in school that a German Philosopher named Karl Marx was the originator of what was popularly called Communism. But I have since learned that this is not correct. Marx had a great deal to say about communism (he wrote The Communist Manifesto, 1848) as an economic and social theory, but it was not a new or original idea at all.

Throughout human history members of society have bonded together as communities or communes for the purpose of sharing and commonality.

In the 1960's I mistakenly believed that the Flower Children (read hippies) of that time were the creators of the social construct that even they themselves described as communes.

They were not creators of the communal idea, but they were truly in search of an idealistic and Utopian social structure that suited their counter-cultural beliefs and desires.

At its very base - Communism purports to be an ideal about a gathered or assembled or organized group of people sharing property, possessions, and enterprises in common.

That is the idea and the ideal.

The organization that has most often been used as the skeletal structure of a communistic society is Socialism.

Where the words social and society and socialism seem to imply "people-based" or "people-driven" or "people-controlled" this has never been characteristic of historical examples of or experiments in Socialism.

It has been realized (over and over and over again through time) that if communal sharing is to be successful (beneficial, equitable) it has to be enforced (forced) by an authoritative figure or body. This structure or governing force is that aspect of the equation which is Socialism.

Anthropologists and sociologists debate and disagree, but it appears that though love, peace, unity, and generosity are wonderful human possibilities, it is contrary to human nature for those elements to spring from the human heart without external prompting, encouragement, or sometimes coercion!

Communism will not work without Socialism.

Said another way, people will not consistently and sufficiently share and contribute the necessities of life with each other unless they are compelled to do so.

The ideal of Utopia is that a group of people can exist in a state of harmony and plenty that is made possible by the goodness and generosity of its inhabitants and citizens.

Utopia is a fairy tale. A myth. A false hope, a false dream.

Utopia cannot exist, even under the most beneficent conditions.

Let me illustrate that point.

In the Bible in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 and verse 18, Jesus announced that His followers and disciples would be a part of a unique body that He called "My Church." 

The word that is here translated church is the Greek word ekklesia. (The Apostle Matthew probably wrote his Gospel in the Aramaic language, but it soon became popularly transposed into the Greek language. Most modern translations of the text are based upon those Greek manuscripts or the copies that followed them.)

Ekklesia:  Ek, is out (like our English word exit). Kaleo is the word for called or invited. The church was to be an organism or body composed of the followers of Jesus whom He had called out from the world.

The Gospel writer Luke recorded a chronicle of the beginnings of Jesus' Church in his book of the Bible that is entitled Acts.

The first church was composed of good-hearted, kind, generous, and loving people who had already committed their lives to embracing the example and teachings of Jesus. They were all Jewish people who had accepted that Jesus of Nazareth was the Anointed One from God (The Messiah - The Christ) Who had been promised in the holy scriptures of what later Christians would describe as the Old Testament. The Hebrew Bible.

Regardless of what kind of people these early church members had been, their belief in and relationship with Jesus had changed them. They were individually and collectively working diligently to become like Jesus.

Here is an example in Luke's record that describes what kind of people they were becoming in Christ:

Acts 2:42-47
42) They committed themselves to the Apostle's teaching and to a common friendship, having meals and praying together.
43) Observers witnessed in wonder at the many signs and wonders that were coming from the Apostles.
44)  All of the Believers were together and shared everything that they owned.
45) They even sold their properties and possessions so that they could help anyone who was needy.
46) They gathered together every day in the Courts of the Jewish Temple. They also gathered in each other's homes for meals where they ate with happy and sincere hearts.
47) They praised God and everyone around them looked favorably on them. Others were believing and being saved and so their number grew.

Everything described in the passage above sounds wonderful. It sounds like a description of the beginning of an idyllic Utopian society. Heaven on earth.

Everything that is good and wholesome about communal philosophy was adopted and practiced by the first Christian Church in Jerusalem. Communism.

You see, Communism as an idea and philosophy sounds beautiful. Generous, kind people giving and sharing - meeting needs and loving one another in the name of Jesus.

But this very body of believers would almost face extinction. Biblical history records that in only a few years it would become necessary for the Apostle Paul to travel all over the Mediterranean world to collect financial aid for the "poor saints at Jerusalem." Romans 15:26.  A great deal is made by Paul in other passages in his writings in the New Testament about this offering for the Church at Jerusalem. He was determined to gather as much as he could from as many to solve the problem of Christian poverty in the heart of Christendom.

Now, in the South, we sometimes say, "Poor Joe!" or "Poor Susan!" and we might be commenting about how unlucky or unfortunate Joe or Susan are, but in Romans 15:26 it is the financial condition of the members of the first Church that is referenced. They were broke - materially destitute. Poor.

Yes, the church had faced persecution and hardship, but the reason that the members were destitute is because of the communal system of social economics that they used as a foundational stone.

The social model that the first church adopted seemed to be ideal, but it was flawed. It seemed like a good idea, but from the very beginning the first followers of Jesus unintentionally departed from His clear teachings and instructions. The first church almost collapsed because its members depended upon an imperfect human economic philosophy instead of sound spiritual principles.

In the 5th chapter of the book of Acts we see an incident recorded that shows one of the underlying flaws in Communism. Two church members, a husband and wife named Ananias and Sapphira let their human nature get the best of them. They were arrogant and greedy.

Many church members, like a man named Barnabas, sold their land or possessions and gave the money away. Everyone who did something like that was thanked and praised. They were not seeking attention, but they got attention. 

Ananias and Sapphira thought how great it would be for everyone to notice them and laud attention upon them. But they didn't want to give up ALL of their wealth. So, they sold only a little of their land and TOLD everyone that they had sold it ALL.

Simon Peter called them out publicly on their lie to the church and the two members dropped dead on the spot!

There was no law or commandment that they HAD to give up their possessions or sell their land or give away their wealth, but they chose to make a show pretending that they DID. That was their sin.

The Bible does not say, but I have pastored people for long enough to know that if there were TWO liars and pretenders in the church, there were THREE, or FOUR! Because they are ALL humans.

Communism cannot work unless EVERYONE is honest and generous. Christians are probably some of the most honest and generous people that you will ever meet, but all of us sin. We fail. We intentionally deceive sometimes for nothing more than mere notice or attention.

Being Christ's Church is not about being perfect, it is about being saved again and again from our imperfections. We will grow, and improve, and continue to strive for perfection in Christ, but we will never achieve it. We will be endowed with Perfection only in Eternity.

Ananias and Sapphira did not die because they were not generous or kind, or because they failed in meeting their communal giving quota. They lied to the Holy Spirit of God, and on this occasion it cost them everything.

In the 6th chapter of the book of Acts another problem arose. Some of the members of the church were being neglected in the daily distribution of food and goods.

You see, according to the previous passage that I referred to (Acts 2:42-47) all of the members of the first church quit their jobs and their economic enterprises, and capitalistic endeavors to go to church every day!!

They were all so joyous in their faith and Christian commitment that they could always be found in the Temple Courts or going to each others houses for worship and fellowship. Daily.

Many of them believed that Jesus was going to return SOON. Today or tomorrow.

So, there was no need to work, spin, sell, plant, sow, harvest, or toil. 

Everybody sells their land and their homes and all of their possessions and just feast and fellowship until Jesus returns to take them away.

By the 6th chapter of Acts, things were beginning to get a little thin. Some of the people who had migrated into Jerusalem, joined the church, and decided to stay were not getting their fair share of the "daily distribution." Certain widows are described as Greeks, meaning that they were Jewish, but were not native to the area.

You see, free food or welfare of any kind will always draw people from far and wide. And soon there will be more people than food.

THIS is where Socialism is needed and required.

A body, a group, a structure or governmental organization is needed to INSURE that everyone is generous.

The church was being divided by the accusation of bigotry and racism and intentional neglect, so the Apostolic leadership put their heads together and created the Church Deacon (Minister) System.

They selected seven men from among the church members to be the Ministry Enforcers.

It worked for a while, but then the number of church members continued to grow, the amount of food continued to dwindle, and still everybody was doing church instead of working and providing.

When Jesus founded the Church he had no intention for it to be based upon Communism and Socialism.

Jesus' command and commission was not "Commune!" it was "Go!"

The Church is a body, a group, a gathering, but it is and must always be a living organism on the go. The Body of Christ was never intended to be measured by how many people "come to Church" but by how the Church is going to the "uttermost part of the Earth."

In the Great Commission of Jesus to the Church (Matthew 28:18-20) He commanded the members to develop a missional strategy that would enable them to take the Gospel message to every nation in the world. Making disciples.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus laid out the map for the strategy. Start in Jerusalem, then go to Judea, then Samaria, then to the rest of the world.

"If you sit around like a bunch of religious hippies on welfare, clapping hands and singing Kum Ba Ya, you will all starve to death and the whole world will go to Hell."

What saved the first Church from total dissolution?


God was not surprised by any of this. He knows his children. He allowed a great persecution to arise against the followers of Jesus. The first Christian martyr (Stephen, one of the men appointed to be a Deacon Enforcer) lost his life, and the Church broke up from its reverie and scattered to the four corners of the earth.

Everywhere the members of that scattered Church went they became the Church there. The plan was on track.

The Great Commission, the Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ cannot be fulfilled by attending services, gazing up in to the heavens for the return of Christ, and sharing sandwiches.

Communism and Socialism have never succeeded in building or growing ANYTHING. They have never worked wherever or whenever they have been tried, and they have been tried by some very good and well-intentioned people.

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