The early church
Sergei and Ivan were two russian dogs who stood got to know each other very well indeed. Every day, they would stand line for two hours with a pawfull of rubles just to buy enough kibble for one day. During one particularly quiet moment, Ivan turned to Sergei and commented "I wonder when the communism starts."
"From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs." This is the motto of communism. It's not a bad idea, really. In fact, there's reasonable evidence that Marx lifted this phrase from the Torah, the famous commentary on the Jewish bible. Some of you will be surprised and some of you will not to hear me say that I am a big fan of communism. I think communism is great! The problem is that a secular human society is not capable of communism. The socio-economic-political systems in Cuba, China and the old Soviet Union are not communist, despite claims to the contrary. Oh, they may have started out aiming for that ideal, but avarice quickly ruins the party for everyone. Pun intended.
The church as it existed just after Pentecost was amazing. Persecution had not truly begun yet. The body was growing by thousands at a time. On top of that, it was like one big happy family. Literally. Everyone took care of everyone else. Those who had more took care of those who had less. It was not uncommon for someone who owned land to sell it and give the proceeds to the church to be used in feeding and taking care of the poorer members. THIS was true communism, and it worked. Why? Because these were the people of God. They were following God's way and treating their brothers and sisters with love. And by love, I mean both phileo and agape. That is they not only liked each other, but they did the best for one another reguardless of the cost to themselves. Societies like China and the Soviet Union have edged God out. For them, there must be no authority higher than the government. They have abandoned God's ways and love has been replaced by a sickly parody- loyalty to the state. And of course, because humans are materialistic and greedy, those placed in authority define themselves as the state and thus deserving of the best. They feed their faces while the common man toils away and goes hungry. This is not communism and it is far from what God intended.
So why did it work for the early church? It was because they had God at their head. They were enacting the will of one who neither wants nor needs to take riches from His people. Because they loved each other, they were able to take care of one another and keep everyone happy.
This is the model of the society that God is building. It exists in Heaven right now. For a brief moment in time, we were able to see a glimpse of it on Earth.
But Satan is always scheming. He doesn't want God in what he wants to claim as his world. What was obvious to his is that living Christians are still regular people, and as such are subject to corruption. It began with Ananias and Saphira, who wanted to get more without giving more. The two of them conspired to defraud God. They sold a piece of land which they owned and gave the church a fraction of the money. Now this was not wrong. This was not some kind of cult or oppressive regime which claimed "what's yours is ours and what's ours is the state's". The church did not gain ownership of its members assets. All sharing was voluntary. This couple was free to do whatever they wanted with the money. They had every right to keep some or all of it for themselves if they pleased. Their sin was that they lied about it. They were attempting to defraud God and gain a blessing for giving the entire amount. What a sad day. This was the first instance of corruption in the Christian church, and as a direct result, both Ananias and Saphira were killed. Not by the church, who had no taste for violence. They were destroyed by their creator.
It wasn't long afterward that persecution of the church began. As false teachers and apostles infiltrated within, violent jews and jealous idolaters attacked from without.
Let's take a look behind the scenes to discover why this was so.
The Holy Spirit is holy. Hence the title. He is God. As holy God, he cannot abide sin. Before Jesus' act of atonement on the cross, the Spirit would not stay with His people. He'd come in, do His business and leave. This meant that the transforming power of the Holy Spirit seldom happened in the old testament eras the way it did in the Early church. We are blessed to have have the story of how He changed twelve carnal, self-centered men and those around them into good, spiritually mature, loving people of God, transformed into the likeness of His spirit. In the olden days, it was easy for Satan to lead astray the nation which was supposed to be the people of God. For many, many years, Israel waffled between satan's ways and God's ways. It was only half a millenium before this that Israel had become so corrupt they'd been swept from the land for seventy years. Back then, the war between good and evil was fairly straightforward. But now something new was happening.
God was now building a new people out of those who previously were not a people. He was changing both jews and gentiles into His royal priesthood, His holy nation. Our spiritual forefathers of the early church were not ancient Israel. They had been transformed into "little Christs", and as such would be next to impossible to corrupt. Satan could not merely dangle a golden idol in front of their faces and turn them astray. Now, he knew, it was time to really open up some cans of worms.
Knowing that it was pretty much impossible to corrupt he church outright, satan began two new tactics. If He couldn't get to their souls, that left two other parts to attack. The most obvious choice was to attack their bodies by inducing hate in their neighbors. The second was to go after their minds by filling the air with so many lies that the truth would become obscured. It was Satan who introduced gnosticism into the church. It was his human helpers who taught that one could not be saved without a slavish adherence to the law.
Nevertheless, God's plan for history was proceding. One of the first things He did was to take one of the men who was attacking the church and transform him. The pharisee Saul, who had been unknowingly doing Satan's work while believing he was doing God a favor, was enlightened. God changed him, turning him into the apostle Paul and sending him out to preach the gospel to the gentiles, just as Peter was preaching it to the jews. Time and again, Paul and his companions were arrested, attacked, beaten and more. Yet in each instance, God used the attack to spread the gospel and increase His kingdom.
Thus, the New Testament era began.
What does all this teach us about God? For one thing, it disproves the belief of the deitsts that God does not get involved in the universe. If the Holy Spirit has been indwelling His people for two thousand years, He is most definitely involved in the universe, and in our lives. This tells us that He cares, both for the church as a whole and for each of us individually. If He didn't care for us as individuals, there would be no need to indwell each of us. He'd simply work through priests, prophets and popes. It also demonstrates that He cares about the world. His objective in the war against Satan isn't to defeat Satan. It's to save people's souls. He has raised us up as an army not for the purpose of blowing up infidels, but of spreading the good news that God loves them and that Jesus died so that they can be saved.
This brings me to this week's challenge, which is going to sound very familiar. My fellow Christians, we are in a war. Our goal here is not a military victory, but the expansion of God's kingom through the rescuing of lost souls. Our mission during the century or less that we are in this world is to spread the gospel and give as many as possible the opportunity to accept Jesus as savior and so be adopted into God's family. Satan will of course try to stop us, and he will use all the trickery he can to do so. It is vital, therefore that we remain vigilant and careful to follow God in all areas of life, lest we succumb to the tricks of the devil.
To any nonchristians who may be reading this message, my challenge is the same as it ever is. Know that Christ died to save you from your sins, and that He wants to transform you into an entirely different sort of person- one who reflects the very nature of God. That loving society found in the first church still exists. It is the kingdom of Heaven, and you, too can be a part of it, if you are only willing.
Today's reading: Acts 2:40-47
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.
45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.