I’m in the midst of The Great Adventure Bible Study class with Jeff Cavins, focused on The Acts of the Apostles. A few weeks ago, we studied chapter 5, and I was particularly struck with the last section, in which it talks about the early church:
“No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had . . . There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales, and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” – Acts 5:32-35, NIV
This idea of “distributing to anyone as he had need” is important to me. Living in a nation of so much wealth, I struggle with how to best serve all those who fall through the cracks, all those who can’t make enough to reliably pay for electricity or their children’s school supplies or food. And I admit, this is a major motivating factor for why I tend to vote Democrat, because of their emphasis on social services that I like to believe can help close the gap between the rich and the poor. My boyfriend disagrees and calls this sort of solution “stealing from the rich to give to the poor” (because of Democrats’ tendency to tax the wealthy more heavily for services that benefit the poor most), and feels that this “stealing” is wrong regardless of the reason why.
So as I read this passage in Acts, what struck me most was that everyone’s needs were met through voluntary actions on the part of the early disciples. Many people still feel that charity and voluntary giving should be how we “care for those in need.” And I don’t disagree with this — but the truth is that I don’t think enough people WILL give voluntarily to meet all that need. I know that, when left to my own devices, I don’t monetarily support even a fraction of all the groups and causes I care about helping. So perhaps I want to “pass the buck” to the government on this one, so I don’t have to think of myself as personally responsible for helping and supporting my fellow human beings.
It’s a hard pill to swallow when I realize that I favor coerced giving (taxes) precisely because I am one of “those” who doesn’t easily or often give this money voluntarily. If we were all to give voluntarily of our resources — time, money, talent — would we truly eradicate need in our communities? In a culture that’s fixated on individual rights and ownership, I have trouble even imagining what such a community of voluntary giving where all needs were met would look like.
With all these thoughts and questions spinning in my head, I was eager to see what Jeff and the other participants of the Bible study would make of this passage. But despite the fact that Jeff can spend 20 minutes or so on one passage, this one was skimmed over with barely a mention. Is this because the series is being taught in a culture that is so uncomfortable with the thought of giving up our “right” to personal possessions? Because even those of us who want to follow Christ know that we cling to our material possessions, and don’t want to give up that stranglehold? And how will we ever, ever be able to imagine a world like that in which the early Apostles began building the Church, if we’re afraid to even talk about it?