Makestraightpaths.com examines the teachings of the religious
group variously known as “the Family,” “The Family International,” the “Children
of God,” or the “Family of Love,” and evaluates these teachings from a Christian
This page is one of a
series examining the role and function of discipleship within the
44 Now all who
believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their
possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Acts 4:32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of
one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he
possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.
Introduction − how Acts 2:44-45 is understood in the Family
In the Family,
Acts 2:44-45 is seen as a very important passage giving biblical
instructions that relate to key social and financial principles. The
founder taught that the book of Acts is the ‘blueprint for the church’
exemplifying the way an ideal Christian church should live. In other
words, according to the Family, the principles and actions described in
the book of Acts are actually instructions for all Christians. The early
church is supposed to be the pattern for how all Christians should live.
In general, it is
true that the book of Acts contains a great many principles that should
indeed be followed by all Christians. For example, Acts depicts
Christians as being constantly filled with the Holy Spirit, moved by a
passion to preach the Gospel and willing to endure hardship and
persecution for their Lord’s sake. On the other hand, it is debatable
whether every detail is recorded that all Christians might imitate them.
For example, if Christians were imprisoned for their witness, should
they pray for miraculous intervention (Acts 12), refuse to escape (Acts
16), escape with the help of the brethren (Acts 9) or appeal to the
judicial system (Acts 25)? Obviously, the point is that Christians
should follow the Lord at all times, regardless of the circumstances.
This is precisely the lesson of Acts, not that Christians should
artificially duplicate everything that happened in the first century.
teaching, some of the principles exemplified in Acts are adhered to, and
others are not. For example, witnessing is promoted but baptism is not.
The Bible itself is accepted but doctrinal unity with other Christians
is not. Those believers who left their secular employment to preach the
Gospel are upheld as examples, while those who retained their jobs are
The Family points
to Acts 2:44-45 and to Acts 4:32 as indications that the early
Christians lived communally, sharing all personal possessions. These
scriptures are then used as justification for their mandatory policy of
communal living for full-time members.
members are strongly encouraged to live with each other. Within each
communal ‘home’ finances are shared, as are various responsibilities,
possessions and decisions regarding the home’s direction. When someone
decides to join the Family as a full-time member, he or she is expected
to give all their possessions and assets to the home he or she joins,
and to live communally from that time onwards.
This page does
not discuss the extent to which Acts should be taken as the ‘blueprint
for the church.’ Rather, it is an attempt to find the meaning, extent,
purpose and application of the ‘communal living’ passages.
The Acts of
the Holy Spirit
In some ways, it
is a misnomer to call the book of Acts the ‘Acts of the Apostles.’
Although the book gives many details of what many of the apostles did,
the book is primarily the story of how God continued His work on earth,
beginning with the ascension of Christ into heaven. The main character
in Acts is neither Peter nor Paul, but the Holy Spirit Himself. Acts
records what the Holy Spirit did through the apostles, and the various
human reactions to God’s work.
So, Acts chapter
two records the coming of the Holy Spirit, the anointing of the Holy
Spirit upon Peter to preach, and how the people reacted when they saw
God in action. Acts 3 tells the story of the healing of the lame man: it
was not that Peter suddenly decided to do a miracle; rather he was so
full of the Holy Spirit and so aware of the continuing presence of Jesus
Christ that he could do nothing else. Peter was the human agent God used
to heal the man, preach the sermon and make the converts. Acts 4 shows
the Pharisees’ reaction to the presence of the Holy Spirit, as well as
the disciples’ reactions to being involved when God was moving.
God was moving in
a mighty way and it was all the disciples could do to keep up with it.
Acts chapter two
begins with the events that occurred on the day of Pentecost. The Holy
Spirit fell on the disciples (vs.1-4), a crowd gathered to seeing what
was happening (vs.5-13), Peter delivered his first sermon (vs.14-40) and
about 3,000 people became believers (vs.41).
describe the general attitude present among these early believers, in
fact so early that they were not yet called ‘Christians’.
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.
It was an
exciting time. The Holy Spirit had manifested Himself in an
unmistakeable way, thousands of people were becoming believers, everyone
knew that God was moving among them. How did they react? They flocked to
the apostles, hanging on their every word. They clung together in
fellowship, they ate together and prayed together.
were awed by the powerful presence of God (vs.43); they knew God was
visiting them. They were filled with awe (NASU), fear (RSV), reverential
awe (NET). Overwhelmed by the power of God, thrilled to be part of what
God was doing, the believers rejoiced. Nothing else was important to
them. They just had to be together. Worldly possessions no longer
mattered. They learned, they preached, they praised God for all He was
doing among them.
More and more
people became believers as God spread His Spirit over the city. It was
God at work, and the people knew it.
Acts chapter four
opens with the arrest of Peter and John. Thousands more had come to the
Lord following the healing of the lame man in chapter three. Peter made
it clear that it had been the power of Jesus Christ that had healed the
lame man; it was not Peter who had done it.
Acts 4:10 then know this, you and all the people of
Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you
crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before
you healed. NIV
Peter was so
aware of the power and presence of God that he could not help himself.
God was moving, and when God wanted to use Peter to heal a lame man,
Peter complied. The priests ordered Peter to stop speaking about Jesus,
but their command was completely unimportant to Peter. He knew God was
in him, and he couldn’t help but obey.
19 But Peter and John
replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to
obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we
have seen and heard.”
release, Peter and John returned to their brethren, and repeated the
priests’ command, but again this order was treated with contempt. The
believers were caught up in the movement of God, and nothing else
mattered. They praised God together, and prayed that He would continue
using them for His purposes.
29 “And now, Lord,
take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak
Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal,
and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant
Their prayer was
answered instantly, both with a confirmation of the presence of God and
with the continued anointing on their preaching.
Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place where they
had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy
Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. NASU
were so filled with the Holy Spirit, so glad at being chosen by God, so
in awe at the power of God that everything else faded into
insignificance. The things they had, whether money, possessions, houses
or land suddenly became so unimportant that a spirit of sharing
impregnated the disciples.
Acts 4:32 And the congregation of those who believed were
of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything
belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to
God was in
action, so everything else was immaterial and irrelevant, including
personal possessions, threats from the priests, and differences of
opinions. God filled them with His power so that He could accomplish His
Acts 4:33 And with great power the apostles were giving
testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was
upon them all. NASU
During this time
of great power and witness, no one lacked, as people spontaneously gave
of what they had to take care of each other’s needs.
34 For there was not
a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses
would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at
the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had
Acts chapter five
begins with the tragic story of Ananias and Sapphira. Perhaps this
couple saw the praise given to Barnabas when he gave the money he’d
earned from the sale of a plot of land to the apostles (Acts 4:36-37).
Perhaps they wanted to be accepted by the believers. At any rate, they
decided to lie to the Apostles about the amount of money they’d made
from selling something they had.
Ananias’ deceit, whereupon Ananias literally dropped dead at his feet.
3 But Peter said,
“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and
to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 “While it remained unsold,
did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your
control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You
have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias
fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard
of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him
out, they buried him.
later, Ananias’ wife arrived, presumably looking for her husband. Peter
caught her in the same lie and rebuked her, whereupon she also died
What do these
stories tell us about the early church having ‘all things in common?’
First, and most
importantly, God was moving in a mighty way. Everything that happened in
these early days was either the direct working of the Holy Spirit or it
was people’s reaction to what the Holy Spirit had done. The book of Acts
is the story of how God initiated the church, not a list of rules and
regulations. When examining a passage in Acts, the first question should
always be “What was God doing here?” Only after that question has been
answered, one should ask further questions: How did the believers react?
Why did they react that way? What was their motivation? What principles
were involved? How should modern Christians react to those same
principles? Failure to reflect on those questions often results in
little more than selective imitation of certain practices, motivated by
reasons completely foreign to the book of Acts.
The first point,
therefore, is that following the day of Pentecost, God poured out the
Holy Spirit in a mighty way. Thousands upon thousands of people were
converted, miracles were common, persecution was fierce and no one was
unaffected. People either rejoiced in awe or exploded in fury. They were
either swept along with the power of God, vainly attempted to stifle it,
or feebly tried to imitate it. They were blessed or cursed. God was in
action, so manifest that the likes had not been seen before!
The next point is
that the power of the Holy Spirit was so strong upon the believers that
nothing else mattered to them. They cared nothing for the threats of the
authorities, persecution or personal discomfort. They did not care about
their own personal possessions. Such things just didn’t matter. To be
caught up in such a mighty movement of God was all-important. Who cared
whether they were rich or poor? God had chosen them, forgiven them,
revealed His Messiah to them, given them of Himself. All else was
Next, the sharing
of possessions and money was a spontaneous response to the working of
the Holy Spirit in the believers’ hearts. It was the Holy Spirit Himself
who moved the disciples to sell their houses or land, as He laid it on
their hearts individually. The Holy Spirit moved Barnabas to sell some
land, someone else to sell a house, someone else to sell some property.
It was directed by God.
In fact, the
apostles’ messages that we can read in Acts have nothing to do with
communal living or sharing all things.
The apostles preached Christ crucified, they preached repentance for
forgiveness of sin. They preached that Jesus was the Christ. Their
message did not concern believers selling their houses or living
communally. The apostles were willing to act as distributors, dispersing
money as it came in, but they did not teach that such giving was
required. If at any time they did speak on the subject, their words are
not recorded in the Bible, and therefore speculation as to what they
would have said is pointless.
All giving was
purely voluntary. Peter’s words to Ananias makes it clear that there was
no obligation involved:
Acts 5:4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And
after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you
think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” NIV
communal living, the Bible does not actually say whether or not the
believers moved into each other’s houses, in a communal lifestyle. It
simply says they “were together.” Perhaps some lived together, others
met together, worshipped together, preached together, ate together and
learned of God together. Later on in the book of Acts there are
occasional references to believers’ houses (Acts 12:12), so it seems
that some believers did not sell their houses or property. The Bible
also does not say for how long it lasted. There are no further
references to this practice after Acts chapter four.
It is also
worthwhile to note that social customs of the first century world were
very different from those in modern western nations. Extended families
usually lived together, people knew they could stay with relatives when
travelling, there was a far greater sense of community than currently
exists in today’s modern materialistic society. So, while a communal
lifestyle in the twenty-first century is somewhat of an oddity, in the
first century it would not have appeared strange. The outstanding
feature in the Early Church was not the sharing of dwellings but the
outgoing love for others as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
No one that
Acts 4:34 says
that “there was not a needy person among them” due to distribution of
the proceeds of the sale of houses and land. Now, as stated above, we
don’t know how long this arrangement continued. However, by the end of
the eleventh chapter, there were certainly many needy believers, many
who lacked. In fact the church in Judea had become so impoverished due
to a worldwide famine that the Christians in Antioch took a collection
to help them.
27 Now at this time
some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named
Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would
certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in
the reign of Claudius. 29 And in the proportion that any of the
disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for
the relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30 And this they did,
sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.
This would not be
the only time the Christians in Judea required financial assistance (Rom
15:26). The point is that although there were no needy believers
immediately following Pentecost, this was not a condition that
As Acts is
primarily the story of God’s actions, one should not begin by searching
through the book for examples of what the disciples did in order that we
might imitate them. To be sure, they did many things worthy of
imitation, but such an approach centres on the people involved rather
than on the purpose and spirit of God.
If Acts was
merely the story of how the apostles began the Christian church, then we
should probably strive to model our church organisation on their church
organisation, our decisions on their decisions, our rules on their
rules. If, however, Acts is the story of the movement of the Holy Spirit
on earth, then it is of utmost importance that we determine what the
Holy Spirit is doing now. In fact, if we genuinely wish to imitate the
early disciples’ behaviour, that is exactly what they did: they followed
the Holy Spirit, they went where He went and they did as they were
instructed by God.
It was not as if
the disciples’ obedience brought down the Holy Spirit, but rather that
God first sent His Spirit to initiate the work of God, and the disciples
followed obeying God’s leading. God was leading, not man.
the Family insist on communal living?
strongly recommends that full time members live communally, which by
default disparages those who do not. There are a number of reasons for
members are taught that the Early Church lived communally, that the
Early Church serves as a blueprint for true Christian churches, and
therefore that living communally is obedience to God’s plan as
outlined in the book of Acts.
- As Family
members live according to the pattern described in Acts, they may
expect similar miracles and spiritual guidance.
living is economically efficient.
living creates a pool of readily available workers for each project
as it arises.
- When Family
members live together, they are able to encourage each other to
believe and practise Family doctrine. It makes it harder to get away
with infractions of the rules.
living enables an on-going sample of unity and love, which in turn
can attract potential recruits.
first reason manipulates somewhat the biblical account. The book of Acts
does not state whether or not the first Christians lived communally, nor
how long the giving and sharing mentioned in Acts 2:44-45 continued. The
actions were spontaneous and voluntary. They were not mandated by rules
nor obligatory for joining the Christian church. Further, obedience to
the book of Acts means actively participating in the things that the
Holy Spirit initiates, not selective imitation of certain first century
The second reason
mistakenly assumes that if one were to copy what the Early Church did,
the same result would be achieved. This is putting the cart before the
horse. The disciples in Acts were moved by the Holy Spirit; it was the
Holy Spirit who initiated and inspired all that they did. The
conversions, miracles and love were the results of the Holy Spirit.
Family policy, however, attempts to by-pass the cause and legislate the
Family cannot reasonably claim to follow the pattern laid out in Acts
while they reject many of the teachings of Acts. For example, the Family
does not preach a Gospel of repentance, they do not promote water
baptism, and they do not reject sexual immorality, all of which are
indispensable to the accounts in Acts.
The third reason
is purely a financial one. As such, it belongs to the realm of business,
not spirituality. In other words, as the Bible does not mandate pooling
finances, no Christian should ever feel obligated to do so. There is
nothing inherently right or wrong about such a financial decision. The
leadership of the Family may choose to require the pooling of finances
as a condition of membership, but they may not imply that it is God who
fourth reason is neither inherently right or wrong. It relates to
logistical organisation, for convenience’ sake. As the military could
not function effectively without all its operational soldiers living
together, so Family homes contain a labour pool both for daily work as
well as for special projects. The only thing ‘wrong’ about it would be
the assertion that it is God who requires it.
The fifth reason
has to do with mutual encouragement, a sort of peer-based values
reinforcement. At best, it provides a safeguard against personal
weaknesses. At worst, it can destroy individuality, encourage
manipulation by corrupt leadership, and it leaves the Family open to
charges of brainwashing. The point here is not that the Family consists
of dictatorial brainwashers, but that the communal lifestyle of the
Family offers no safeguard against potentially serious misuse of power.
While it does not lie within the purpose of this website to document
such abuse of trust, it should be noted that numerous allegations of
misconduct have been levelled against the Family, in particular by
While it is
indisputable that God intended Christian fellowship to be a source of
strength and comfort, it is also true that a Christian whose faith
depends upon his brothers and sisters is a very weak Christian. If
someone cannot keep him or herself from disobeying the Lord when he or
she is alone, it is questionable whether that person’s faith is at all
genuine. Faith is a gift from God, not a product of fellowship or
communal living. To put it bluntly, if your faith dies when you are not
surrounded by your brothers and sisters, then you probably have no real
faith at all.
and love means nothing without obedience to the Lord. It is the position
of Make Straight Paths that there are numerous Family practices
that are either non-biblical or actually anti-biblical. There have been
numerous examples of communes run by all kinds of groups, including the
Catholic church, hippies, Jewish kibbutzim and the like. Mutual
co-operation does not in itself demonstrate Christian truth.
purpose of our witness is not to draw any people to ourselves, but to
the Lord. A witness that extols the virtue of a particular church is
likely to be a shallow witness, with converts loyal to the church
instead of to the Lord.
concern regarding the Family’s policy of having all things in common has
to do with the exclusivity surrounding the Family. The spirit of
generosity documented in the early chapters of Acts was not confined to
small localised groups, but rather extended to any believer as he or she
had need. The Family’s communal lifestyle, however, is almost entirely
confined to the Family itself. The policy of having ‘all things in
common’ applies only to other full-time Family members. This tends to
negate much of the Christian witness that could be achieved through
sharing, and implies that the policy derives from little more than
A lot of
nonsense has been written about that passage [Acts 2:44-45]. There have
been those who said that the early Christians gave up their “capitalism”
and became “communists,” sold everything they had and put it all into
one pot, and divided it up among themselves. But that is not what this
passage says at all. They retained their right to private property. They
bought and sold as they had before. This is not a new government or a
new economic system. All this is saying is that they established a
common fund, from which the needy among them were helped. To do it, some
of them sold some property and gave up some of the things they owned in
order to have an adequate fund. And that is Christianity in action,
always -- to be concerned about the needy.
should be very careful before claiming that their communal lifestyle is
mandated by the passages in the book of Acts. In fact, it may be that
through the imposition of communal living as a condition of full-time
membership the Family has actually prevented the voluntary expression of
generosity as inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Bible contains accounts
in which attempts to imitate the fruits of the Spirit resulted in
disaster, which should be considered carefully by all members. It is
unclear whether the Early Church did or did not live communally, and it
is also unclear how long the sharing of ‘having all things common’
lasted. There is certainly nothing recorded in the Bible to indicate
that the Apostles required such a lifestyle.
Family, communal living is practised primarily for economic and logistic
reasons, and for the purpose of reinforcement of Family doctrine on a
is not a requirement for Christian discipleship.
© 2007 Make Straight Paths