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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 perspective.

This page is one of a series examining the role and function of discipleship within the Family.

 

Communal Living

Acts 2:44-45

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.

NKJV

 

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.

Within Family 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 not.

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.

Full-time Family 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 2

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).

Verses 42-47 describe the general attitude present among these early believers, in fact so early that they were not yet called ‘Christians’.

Acts 2:42-47

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.

NASU

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.

The believers 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 4

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.

Acts 4:19-20

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.”

NIV

Upon their 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.

Acts 4:29-30

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 Jesus.”

NASU

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

The believers 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 them. NASU

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 purpose.

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.

Acts 4:34-35

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 need.

NASU

 

Acts 5

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.

Peter rebuked Ananias’ deceit, whereupon Ananias literally dropped dead at his feet.

Acts 5:3-6

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.

NASU

Three hours later, Ananias’ wife arrived, presumably looking for her husband. Peter caught her in the same lie and rebuked her, whereupon she also died (Acts 5:7-11).

 

All things in common

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 irrelevant.

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

Regarding 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 lacked…

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.

Acts 11:27-30

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.

NASU

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 continued.

 

Applying Acts

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.

 

Why does the Family insist on communal living?

Family policy strongly recommends that full time members live communally, which by default disparages those who do not. There are a number of reasons for this policy:

  1. Family 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.
  2. As Family members live according to the pattern described in Acts, they may expect similar miracles and spiritual guidance.
  3. Communal living is economically efficient.
  4. Communal living creates a pool of readily available workers for each project as it arises.
  5. 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.
  6. Communal living enables an on-going sample of unity and love, which in turn can attract potential recruits.

Clearly, the 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 practices.

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 result.

Further, 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 asks it.

Similarly, the 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 former members.

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.

Finally, unity 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.

Further, the 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.

 

On giving

One further 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 organisational self-centeredness.

 

On ‘Christian communism’

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.

Ray Stedman, The Young Church

 

Conclusion

Family members 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.

Within the Family, communal living is practised primarily for economic and logistic reasons, and for the purpose of reinforcement of Family doctrine on a peer level.

Communal living is not a requirement for Christian discipleship.

 

 

 

 

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