Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 4

I have taught through Acts 2 on a number of occasions and every time I turn my attention to its final verses which describes the communal relationship of the first Christians in Jerusalem, I am inevitably asked if this passage really teaches socialism? Before answering that question, let us look at Acts 2:41-47:
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Progressive and socialist-leaning Christians consider this to be one of their main passages defending their political and economic position. Anymore the exegete must answer the obvious question this passage raises. Being that every Christian had everything in common sounds, at least in our modern ears, as socialism on a microscopic level.

In their book Seeking the City, Chad Brand and Tom Pratt argue otherwise. I offer their argument below admittedly combing and abbreviating some of their points.

First, there is no other record either in the remainder of Acts or in the Epistles (including the Apocalypse) of such a communal situation. The Apostles do not preach it, exhort the churches to adopt it, nor does Luke describe any other local church practicing it. The authors add, We think it is exemplary only in the sense that communal-type sharing on a spontaneous basis in the presence of God's special blessings has a long history in Christian circles and is good. It is repeatable in this limited way and for special times and circumstances but it cannot be made into a goal for some form of true spirituality or radical Christianity (193).

Secondly, there is every reason to question whether it was wise to allow such a situation to become an ongoing practice and, further whether it did in fact assume such a role (193). Their point here is to note who these first Christians were. Those who were from around the Roman world were to return to their homes, after a period of assimilation to the new "people of God," and preach Christ (193). The Great Commission was about going out not about staying in.

[W]e offer this extrabiblical observation. Every attempt, christian and otherwise, to impose such a vision - Christian utopian socialism - on any community by teaching or psychological manipulation or by outright coercion has been a failure. The only movement that remains in our time that could claim some form of success is Roman Catholic monasticism, which is certainly not duplicative of the Jerusalem situation and problematic, to say the least, for Protestant Christians. (194)
This third point is rather obvious but rarely mentioned. Socialism has never worked.

I will add two other points. First, we must be careful in reading first century Scripture through the lens of the twentieth and twenty-first century. Luke is not writing a modernist manifesto. It is farce to turn to Acts 2 with the purpose of developing a political theology. Luke is not concerned with socialism, communism, or Christian Utopianism. Those words were nowhere near his radar or concern.

Secondly, socialism, especially on a grand scale, is impossible because of the human heart. Luke utilizes this one event to highlight the work of the Spirit in the church. The problem with progressives and socialists is it misinterprets the heart. Original sin and radical depravity make statism impossible.

There are other points worth making here, but the above will suffice. Bottom line: Acts 2:41ff serves as a poor defense for socialism.

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Preface

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 3

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 3
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 4 

For more:
"Flourishing Faith" by Chad Brand: A Review
Brand on Coveting and Classwarfare
The Secular vs the Sacred: Brand on the Influence of Luther
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