Pioneering after Pentecost
Many believers get a message of community from the conditions and behaviors they observe in the Early Church after Pentecost. That is not the message that dominates the landscape of the Ecclesia. The message that dominates the landscape screams pioneering.
For example, the response of giving that is interpreted as communal is actually better understood as pioneering. It is not socialism or communism. It is not a special message against capitalism. It is not a response to need but to expansion.
“And the believing group had one heart and soul, and no one said that his possessions were his own; but all was common to them.”
The concept of “common good” is then extrapolated into several cultural and economic models all of which represent strategies for what will produce it. In short, the idea that the Bible teaches socialism, the evil of personal property rights, or is anti-capitalism in some way simply isn’t true on any count. In fact, the opposite is true.
To understand the response of the Early Church both as recorded here and in chapter four, and in the subsequent response to the drought and desperate need in Judea that would come later and trigger offerings from all the distant Ecclesia, we need to understand the pioneering spirit of the Early Church. When we cease to understand that spirit and begin to set the history into our present modern condition and mindset, forcing that history into whatever cultural and economic mindset we adopt, we cease to read the story from Luke’s point of view and fail to have the heart of Jesus for the kingdom.
May I remind you that the Wesleyan revival produced the greatest economic expansion of modern history? Wesley said, “Make all you can” as a basis for his understanding of kingdom. Having this first step makes it sensible to say, “Save all you can” as well as “Give all you can.”
Put it this way, at no point does Jesus, the apostles, the Bible, or those who have a pioneering spirit say that people shouldn’t own property, get wealth, function from a position of financial strength, or feel guilty about prospering. More poor people have a problem with the love of money than rich ones. The term for this condition is “covetousness” and that is idolatry. Entitlement thinking leads to idolatry, the snare of hell that entraps people into thinking that “some of that should be mine” even thought they have no right to it: they create a “right” to it by a very convoluted way of thinking in which “everyone has the same right to stuff.” Pretty odd thinking that always leads to an elite and powerful group who is supposed to be making sure that everyone gets their fair share – that is, communism or socialism, that instead always guarantees that no one gets much of anything except the elite group.
This is not the only aspect of pioneering I wish to point out, but it is an initial window into the contrasting viewpoints of the Ecclesia with or without a pioneering spirit.
Without a pioneering spirit, the Ecclesia deteriorates into a weakened condition. People come to see the Ecclesia as a community of believers accumulated together to guarantee the mediocrity of sameness for its own sake. “We are one” comes to mean “we are equally mediocre spiritually” and we’re pretty happy about it. The leader, now usually referred to as ‘pastor,’ is hired to maintain this comfort level and mediocrity while ensuring that the ‘community’ properly provides stuff for every member who joins up.
Thus, the church becomes the center of a social network providing good childcare, food for the poor, entertainment for the young and old, opportunity for relationships both economic and social in nature, and a great way for people with some shared ideas and beliefs to live in a subculture of faith. Or, better put, everything except what Jesus designed and defined ekklesia to be!
Without a pioneering spirit, the Ecclesia loses its design and definition distinctives.
Most of the modern discussion about “panta koina,” all in common, attempts to fit the words into a definition of church that isn’t consistent with the word in Jesus’ mouth. So, the discussion by Roman Catholics, Sojourners, and other religious and liberal organizations becomes a discussion of people who have something giving it to people who don’t have the same thing. It is a discussion of ideals that removes ideals from the discussion: the Greek contrast of common and ideal ironically applied. We destroy the ideal in order to enshrine the common.
This is a spiritual syndrome. It ignores the deeper, more important spiritual conditions that made the Early Church what it was and motivated them to say and do what they said and did. Community for the sake of sameness is the opposite of “in league” with one another to fulfill a kingdom assignment; the modern view lands us on the opposite shoreline of the lake.