Community of Goods
Community of Goods
(1.) From the fact "that the early Christians 'had all things common' (Ac 2:44), some have supposed that to renounce all property, and to share one's goods with fellow-Christians, is the perpetual duty of Christians. But it is to be observed that no precept is given in Scripture to this effect; we have only the fact recorded that the early disciples were indifferent to property, unselfish, and 'willing to communicate.' And, if history is to be our help in this matter, it seems never to have been a part of Church discipline that goods should be common. It is usually supposed that the renunciation of private property, and the system of community of goods, was, for a time at least, adopted by the whole of the infant Church of Jerusalem. That the system, if ever so adopted, was soon discontinued, is perfectly evident. Those 'who were rich in this world' were exhorted to be 'ready to give, and glad to distribute,' which implies both that there were rich men in the churches, and that they were not required to sell all that they had, and cease to possess property, which would have left them, for the future, nothing to give. And the same may be learned from all that we read about the collections made in Greece for the poor Christians of Judaea, and from many other circumstances in the sacred history.
(2.) "But it has been contended that even in the infancy of the Church of Jerusalem, the community of goods was in reality confined to those engaged in the ministry, including the female catechists, or deaconesses, who were called 'widows.' Just at first, this description may have included all the believers; that is, those who were the first to embrace the Gospel may all have been employed in some department of the ministry. That Ananias and Sapphira thus offered themselves for the ministry is (doubtless) both a correct supposition, and one which will make the whole of the transaction recorded in Acts 5 intelligible" (Eden, Churchman's Dictionary, s.v.). This view is taken by Hinds, Early Christianity (pt. 2, ch.
2), who refers to Eusebius (lib. 3, c. 137) for confirmation of the suggestion.
(3.) Mosheim treats the subject largely in his treatise De Vera Natura Communionis bonorum in eccl. Hierosol. (Dies. ad Eccl. Hist. pertin. vol. i), and seeks to show that the passages in Ac 2:44; Ac 4:32, imply a communion merely of the use, not the possession of property, and that only for a temporary purpose. But the more likely view is that the infant Church of Jerusalem "went so far in the ardor of their first love as to abolish the external distinction of rich and poor," perhaps as "a prophetic anticipation of the state of things in the perfected kingdom of God." The offering was entirely voluntary, and not the fruit of any command. On the contrary, the N.T. abounds in precepts for the right use of property, implying its separate and proper possession. See Hinds (l. c.); Schaff, Apost. Ch. Hist. § 114; Killen, Ancient Church, p. 52; Neander, Planting and Training (Bohn's ed.), 1:253; 2:64.