The CONGREGATION

Acts 4:32-37

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. And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 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, and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need. And Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means, Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Is this some early attempt at socialism or even, communism? Despite the claims from a dogmatic dispensationalist, it was not. I wish that this prominent pastor, who is also a dogmatic dispensationalist, who is on the record as saying that it was, would read this missive, because I am sure that I could change his mind. How long will I question the dogmatic dispensationalists? So long as they continue to have radio programs promoting the promise of a pre-tribulational rapture, I will counter with contextual considerations. Their’s is not the only view that has hope for Israel and gentiles alike. But their’s is the only view that has hope sans Jesus’ blood. I know what you are thinking but that’s why I call it dogmatic, it’s an argument for an absolute truth, in their eyes, that crumbles under it’s own weight. Nevertheless, not all dispensationalist fight tooth and nail over some of these dogmatic principles. It may surprise you to know that the majority of my monthly giving, which  is not enough, goes to a ministry that holds to a dispensational interpretation of the Bible. There is a huge difference between holding to dispensational beliefs and doing nothing but promoting dispensationalist dogma.

Back to the radio program which does little else but promote dispensationalist dogma. Nevertheless, they are as against socialism as I am. However, it was said by the guest pastor, referring to today’s text, that “‘they had ‘all things in common,’ which sounded really sweet there, in the book of Acts. That church wound up imploding, financially and Paul, on his missionary journeys took up collections to send to the suffering believers, in Jerusalem, who had gone bankrupt. We forget about that. It’s a departure from Scripture. Listen, how are we going to support missionary ventures, and to reach the homeless, and help people in need, if the church is not viable, healthy, vibrant, and working with it’s own hands to reach out and bless other people with?”

I am in complete agreement with this pastor and most pastors are as well, concerning socialism–socialism stinks, it really doesn’t even sound good, especially to those of us who work hard for a living. Socialism is what caused my pastor friend and his family to flee from their country. Not because he couldn’t bear the burden of socialism, but because he dared question authority. Before the guest pastor, on this radio program, spoke about the early church in Jerusalem, he said that the Bible tells us to work with our hands and that, it also tells us that if we don’t work, we shouldn’t eat. He is absolutely right, Paul wrote that to the Thessalonians. The vast majority of what he said, I agreed with–except for one thing.

The early church in Jerusalem was not a socialist experiment, the proof is, as always found in the context. Notice; “For there was not a needy person among them.” This is absolute, undeniable proof that they were not socialist. Surely we all see this. Perhaps that’s a bit tongue and cheek, but the universal false-promise of socialism is the eradication of wealth and poverty. Nevertheless in every, single, solitary situation and society, there are always those in need, except for the early congregation. It’s in the context. Notice the context of what the guest pastor said: “Listen, how are we going to support missionary ventures, and to reach the homeless, and help people in need, if the church is not viable, healthy, vibrant, and working with it’s own hands to reach out and bless other people with?” The context of Acts says that no one was in need in the early congregation. The context doesn’t say that no one worked. But the guest pastor, assuming facts not in evidence, asked how can they help those in need? See the conundrum? We will if we keep considering the context. That is, to whom did they give their superfluous money?

Notice; “all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 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, and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need.” Did Jesus forget to tell his apostles not to be socialists? The guest pastor’s stance is becoming increasingly dubious.

I don’t always consider what’s not in the context, but when I do, I make sure that it supports the context. Notice that the context doesn’t say that they quit their jobs or that they were lazy, unhealthy, unviable or lacked vibrance. Rather, it says that they sold things which they didn’t necessarily need, to give to those who were in need–that scares us. There are other details not found in the context, for instance, hymns, prayer, etc. do we believe that since they weren’t mentioned that they didn’t sing or pray? Notice also; how can this be a departure from Scripture, as this very prominent pastor proclaimed, if it is Scripture? Nowhere does Luke write about this in the negative. We don’t see the early congregation not working here, we don’t see them feeding off the collected money but rather the giving of the money–that was clearly Luke’s aspiration to his audience. But again, that scares us. If what the early congregation was doing was wrong, wouldn’t we expect Luke to point that out?

He doesn’t, but what he does do, is promote it as positive by giving us another, more specific example, of what was happening in the early congregation. “And Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means, Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Again, the money was given to the apostles, not corrupt politicians. This is not socialism. Let me give you a quote from one of our friends who lives in a certain communist country in the Caribbean. “The government pretends to pay me, so I pretend to work.” Socialism is not what people are promised it is, and what we see in the early church is certainly not socialism. Problem; whether capitalism, communism, socialism or serfdom, everyone wants their stuff–quote me on that. The early congregation was selfless, Luke makes this abundantly clear. They were not communists but a caring community of a close-knit, Christ-like, congregation. By the way, what was Jesus’ job? Didn’t the disciples leave their careers to follow him?

I think that maybe, somewhere, at sometime, I have said, context is king. What context immediately follows this context? Ananias and Saphira withhold some money when laying it at the apostles feet, and they are killed. Lord willing, we will discuss this in depth next time. They were not killed for withholding their money but for lying about it. Nevertheless, we see the pattern continue in the context. I am afraid that the guest prominent pastor, is letting his dogma steer the ship. To him, this has to be a failed attempt at socialism, because his dogma dictates it.

Remember that he said, “That church wound up imploding, financially and Paul, on his missionary journeys took up collections to send to the suffering believers, in Jerusalem, who had gone bankrupt. We forget about that. It’s a departure from Scripture.” But is that the real story, or is it what his dogma demands? Did the caring congregation suffer decay because of its socialism or does the context of Acts tell us something completely different? This prominent pastor suggests that we forget about the early congregation suffering in Acts, as I am writing about the the early congregation of Acts, it’s not a coincidence, at least not to me. How can we forget if we are delving deeply into the book of Acts?

Therefore the question is, did the early congregation implode because of their socialism, as the prominent pastor claims, or by another factor? I wonder if the answer is found in the context (he asked not only sarcastically but rhetorically)? Or is the answer found in dispensationalist dogma? Honestly, as a prominent pastor, he should know this, that is, he should know better. Nevertheless, it doesn’t fit his dispensationalist dogma–it doesn’t fit his narrative. Yet it is fundamental and we all should know why the early congregation imploded financially, because it is clear in the context of Acts. Literally, and I mean literally, it was due to “tribulation,” tribulation of which, Jesus promised. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with this prominent pastor against socialism but fight him tooth and nail about his dispensationalist dogma.

Consider the context and the sublime string; Jesus, to his disciples, who are now the apostles, alone, said, “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved.”

This was beginning to happen in the context of Acts. Luke doesn’t say that the early congregation in Jerusalem imploded financially because they didn’t work, he says that they imploded financially because of “tribulation.” They couldn’t work, buy or sell because they had the true mark of the lord on their hands and face. Not lengthening  their tassels or broadening their phylacteries, they were persecuted by those that did, because of their faith in Jesus.

Luke, not a prominent pastor nor Russell P, writes; “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution (literally; tribulation) that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. And the news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.”

But wait a minute, the prominent pastor asked, “Listen, how are we going to support missionary ventures, and to reach the homeless, and help people in need, if the church is not viable, healthy, vibrant, and working with it’s own hands to reach out and bless other people with?” The context claims that the early congregation in Jerusalem sent Barnabas, the one who sold his property. But the bigger concern is the persecution or, tribulation that has happened to the early congregation in Jerusalem.

Jesus warned his disciples that tribulation would come, and increase exponentially. This is the very beginning of birth pangs. Jesus is birthing his church. There are, and wouldn’t need to be birth pangs for a rapture. Birth pangs are a precursor to, and a sign of, birth. Rapture would be the end of the church, not the beginning. “But Russell P, the rapture is the birth of us always being with the Lord.” That makes little sense considering the context of the Bible. The pre-tribulational rapture is disjointed at best. Let’s look at what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, since it is the premier passage concerning a pre-tribulational rapture.

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”

The word Paul uses for “meet,” transliterated from the Greek is “apantesin.” It means, a reception, at least it does in the two other times it was used in the New Testament. And as luck would have it, one of those times is found in the context of Acts. The Christians in Rome went out to “meet” Paul before Paul entered into Rome. That is the same focus in 1 Thessalonians 4. Those dead and alive, meet Christ in the air to escort him to the new earth, not the other way around. The dogmatic dispensationalists argue that Jesus is preparing a place in heaven for the church to wait out the tribulation after the rapture. But then they return to earth, which is the 1000 year reign of Jesus. Question, why would we want to leave heaven to come back to earth, even if Jesus reigned? According to dispensationalist dogma, there will still be sin and death in the millenial kingdom. It makes no sense. It’s disjointed, but then again, this is what they claim, that Jesus didn’t find Israel ready for him, therefore he set up the parenthetical church, until such time as the readiness of Israel comes.

Now, the only other time the word “apantesin” is used in the New Testament, is in Matthew 25:6, the parable of the foolish five. The prudent five were ready with enough oil to go meet, or, have a reception, with the bridegroom. Then they were ushered into the wedding. Nevertheless, I don’t always consider what’s not in the context but when I do, I make sure that it is in agreement with the context. Notice that in 1 Thessalonians 4, nowhere does Paul write, and thus we will follow the Lord to heaven, wait for seven years, then return with him for a thousand years, then fight Satan with him in the battle of Armageddon, then get caught up to the air again as the earth is melted with intense heat, then return again to a new earth. There is finality in what Paul wrote.

If then, we can at least question dispensationalists dogma, we can clearly consider the context of Acts. Birth pangs were promised, persecution predicted and trials by tribulation were told. The early congregation in Jerusalem paints the picture of a beautiful congregation of believers being born. Is it perfect? Not quite, because it has no gentiles yet. Nevertheless, it is not socialism but a picture of what the church should look like. That is people caring more about others than themselves. The apostles are dead and gone but their teachings remain. I don’t expect to lay money at the feet of nonexistent apostles. I also don’t expect many signs and wonders, but I certainly wouldn’t rule miracles out. What we are intended to see–what Luke’s aspiration to his audience is–the loving and caring community of close-knit, Christ followers in this congregation. The ones who did eventually go bankrupt because of tribulation and not because they quit their jobs. This happened before and it happened again; history repeats itself.

The congregation didn’t have the parodied, ripped-off, counter, antitype, mark of the beast, but the Mark of the Lord. Remember, history repeats itself. John, who was present, gets the last words from Jesus, himself. “‘And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:’ The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death…’ [The second beast, not the first, comes] And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand, or on their forehead, and he provides that no one should be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.”

 

 

 

 

 

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