Christianity, and in particular the faith propagated by my own church, the Church of England, is viewed by many as a warm, cosy blanket into which we retreat from the harsher realities of the world. It’s easy to see why people view it as such: the Anglican church is, to many, a comforting English tradition, fitting in with afternoon cricket games, boarding school and afternoon tea. I often make jokes about church really being about tea, biscuits, and gossip. I made one such joke to someone the other day, and was met with the response: ‘Really? Isn’t it about…you know…revolution?’
I make no secret of my ardent socialism. I believe that a socialist world would be a far better world than the one we currently live in, and I believe it’s an ideal to which we should strive in order to secure happiness, harmony and equality. For a long time I had a great deal of animosity towards the church because I saw it as an institution whose main job was to uphold a conservative status quo, not to encourage and enact an overturning of deeply engrained injustices in the world. In one of my first conversations with a now good friend, he told me he believed that one couldn’t be a Christian without being a socialist; my immediate response was to balk at the suggestion that Jesus and the Bible had anything pertinent to say about justice or equality. Being nice and kind to other people, sure, but not serious, grass roots social action. A few years later, and having actually read the Bible, I’m now quite happy to entirely retract my previous sentiments and agree with my friend.
The New Testament in particular presents us with several undeniable instances of communal living being the ideal towards which all Christians should strive, and I want to focus on a couple of those in this post. It’s tempting to also sift through scripture to find some passages promising condemnation of the rich and the greedy, but I want to focus less on the negative and more on the positive: rather than discussing what we shouldn’t do, I want to explore what the Bible tells us we should do once we dedicate our lives to Jesus.
John is probably my favourite Gospel, but Luke runs a close second. While John expresses the beautiful and the sublime to be found in the story of Jesus and in the profession of faith, Luke is rather more straightforward, giving us some excellent practical theology. 3:10-11 is a lovely example of Luke’s blunt and direct narrative: John the Baptist, instructing people in ways to prepare themselves for the coming of the Christ, tells the crowds who have come to be baptised by him: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (NRSV). There is nothing ambiguous or figurative here: this is a direct command. In order to prepare ourselves to love and follow Jesus, it is a moral imperative that we share what we have, that we abandon any greed which we are harbouring. This passage encourages a certain level of discomfort, as it demands that we who have much absolutely must give what we have to those who have little.
Given that Acts is traditionally attributed to St Luke, it’s no surprise that we seem this theme of sharing and of communal living in both texts. The Book of Acts presents a beautiful view of communal living at one of the most important points in the New Testament. After the Holy Spirit has descended on the people at Pentecost, and they begin to truly understand the significance of what happened at the crucifixion:
“Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:43-47, NRSV)
This is one of my favourite verses in the entire Bible – like the aforementioned passage from Luke 3, it’s so easy to overlook, but in it rests the most beautiful and perfect view of living in harmony with the world. It’s reminiscent of the peaceful living presented in Psalm 104, and reminds me of the ‘fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ in the words of the Grace. It reminds us that we are all one body in Christ, and reinforces the need for us to live together, to live communally as that one body, all striving towards peace and harmony in God’s creation to better glorify His name. I have an ESV Study Bible which has a very fun bit of commentary on this passage of Acts: “Though some people have referred to this situation as “early communism”, this is clearly not the case…”. I’m sorry, ESV editors, but it absolutely is the case, and it is the most perfect model we have of living a Christlike and Christ-centred life.