Christianity or Communism

Dan Brasprnnickx, one of our volunteers at Emmaus Center, did a teaching today on the Didache.  Without getting into the specifics of the Teaching, suffice it to say it was written as a teaching by the Twelve Apostles for the Church in matters of the Christian faith.

The Church was in formation. The canonized Holy Scriptures had not been written nor identified (The Didache was not included in them); even St. Paul had not written any of his Epistles. So, the Didache gives us a tiny glimpse of what mattered to the Apostles and the Early Church. We know that Christians were living an entirely different life than we do today.  We know from the Acts of the Apostles that the Church held everything in common. There was no individual ownership of anything.  There was a strong sense of community. And the use of material things was  based entirely upon need.

While in discussion today about the Didache, one of our guys pointed out, “it sounds like communism.” It does indeed sound like a theistic form of communism. But how much different was this view of the “material world” back then than it is today. And how far away from this practice has the Church gotten as it embraces the American Dream? We all “own” things and for the most part, cling pretty close to them. (I love my Droid mobile phone. I love my truck. I love….love, love, things and I think *I* own them!)

I’m not suggesting the American Dream is something to be scoffed. I am a product of that, having worked hard my entire life to realize what I have today.  But here are some questions I pose:

  • Why do you suppose we have drifted so far away from what the Early Church practiced?
  • Is there a place for the American Dream within the Church today and if so, what is its place?
  • Is the Early Church form of life an outdated mode for Christians today?
  • Is there any place in the Church today for a community life outside of monasticism?
  • If we sense the goodness of the life in the Early Church, how can we move toward such a concept?  If not in its entirety, then how can we move closer?
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10 Responses to Christianity or Communism

  1. My friends: Remember the sheep and the goats, Jesus himself taught us that the most important part of our life he will consider when the day comes for forming the Kingdom is how we cared for one another. I think the “communism” of the early church was intentional and in his image. I don’t propose that the world be made over in a socialist model, but as Christians we want to hold close to our heart that how we serve the least of our brothers and sister is how Jesus will ascertain our service to him. The master also taught that it will be easier to put a camel through the eye of a needle then for a rich man to see heaven. We all comfort the rich man in our pews by assuring him that he is, in essence, the camel – such a good man! It is possible to be spiritual and rich, but is it possible to be Christian and rich? Getting rich is about working hard and making wealth grow through investment and building a business. All that treasure piled up, with hungry men and women passing the bank it is stored in.

    • It is my sense that much of the Church today has replaced the Gospel with a Christian spin on the American Dream. I neither scoff at a strong work ethic nor deprive anyone from building a successful business. Where I think we have failed as Christians today, is to either believe that “I picked myself up by the bootstraps so everyone else should” (the Right) or “The government should take care of all of the needs of the poor.” (the Left). Because the Church has failed to fulfill her obligation of taking care of the “widows and orphans,” we find them today, in this country, either in great need or completely dependent upon the government or both! When the Church returns to its God-given purpose, it will restore its mission and become a force that will regain its rightful place here on earth.

  2. John S says:

    No offense to anyone, but only in absurd America could an inane issue such as this even be raised. Projecting paranoid McCarthyism back to the early Christians..laughable at best.

    • John, Dorothy Day, Co-founder of the Catholic Worker once said (or at least some say she said this): “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.” There is indeed an ignorance and paranoia about this topic. Thanks for reading and posting your thoughts.

  3. Deacon Greg says:

    I believe we have drifted so far away from the Early Church, especially in the developed nations of the world, because we are no longer persecuted. The Early Church and its followers were in a life and death struggle for their survival and the survival of the new Christian teachings. It seems logical to think that the various political and religious factions of the time would have had a relatively easy time eliminating, or at the very least minimizing, Christ’s followers and Christian believers if they had not come together as a community. I think it is important to think about the principle foundation of this Early Church community. It wasn’t based on power, it wasn’t based on military might, and it wasn’t based on everyone liking each other. It was based on the only principle that we can never forget as expressed in 1 Jn 5:1 “Beloved: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by Him.” Theirs was a community not borne for the need to create self improvement, self gratification, or self promotion. It was created for the fact that they were in trouble and as children of God, begotten of the same Father, they were naturally drawn together as a Family (community) of God.
    Why have we drifted away from these early practices? I believe that technology has played a major role in separating us from the feeling that we must come together a community. We live in a world of instantaneous gratification and self preservation. Technology itself is not the problem, it is how we have used technology to create distractions in our life’s that can separate us from community and isolate us to self. We purchase food without ever talking to or knowing the farmer who provides it. We complain when the store doesn’t have what we want, or that its too expensive. It is because of our ‘self’ nature that separates us from the ability to form a community where sharing is done not because it is required for membership, but because it is the true nature of God that we help and respect each other. If you are in need of a meal I’ll give you mine. If we both need to eat because we need to work in the field than you give me back some of the food I just gave you and we share. I don’t hold back a portion for myself, because I know that you will share back to me what I’ll need.
    I believe that there is no place for “Any Dream” within the Church today. If we want to try and follow the true Christian community of the Early Church do we call that the “Christian Dream”? If we want to be true to our Father than we have to give up all of our attachments to the Kingdom of the World. It is not bad to have things if I allow them to be a benefit of the community. It does the community no good if I have a library of books and I don’t share them with others. If I really want to live in a community of fellow Christians than I must give up the worldly desires I have for “my” belongings. If a Christian brother or sister needs to use my vehicle than I should be able to freely let them use it without being resentful. If the American Dream means that I’ve got mine now you get yours; then there is no place for that in the community of the Church.
    Yes, I believe that there is a sense of goodness; maybe better expressed as Godness, in the community of the Early Church. The Lord has given us the plan we need to follow. We need to get out of our own way and get out of our ‘self’. When I’m no longer worried about myself, my stuff, the distractions of my life, etc, can I release the hold I have on ‘my stuff’ and see the needs of community. A community not based on ‘I’ wanting something instead seeing what the needs of the community is.

  4. I too am a product of the ‘work ethic’ and the idea that self-sufficiency is the ideal, self-motivation, self-responsibility, self-discipline, etc. And that working in this way leads to independence and freedom in life. While I suppose this is true, literally speaking, it does not build community unless I am working for a larger purpose than myself, God and the people I serve. I think that is what separates the “communal” of communism from that of community, a larger purpose than simply sharing common is the desire for conversion through community life that characterizes a Christian community.

    It is outmoded for our life today, I think not, but I see the motivation being different. For the communist community the goal was about sharing resources and effort according to need and capacity… it was all in the literal realm of shared things. For the Christian community the goal was also about that kind of sharing, with the motivation being the conversion more and more into the likeness of Christ and with the model of Jesus going before us demonstrating what perfect obedience and sacrifice for a community of believers, looked like. For the Christian community it is not about sharing things, it is about sharing divinity with Christ.

    The work ethic is universally productive and positively beneficial. However rather than things held in common as the real meaning, it is like the Eucharist… the things represent a sacrificial relationship just as does the Eucharist, it is not about the loaf of bread.

    Wherever we are gathered with this as central to our purpose, the Christian community today is the only place where such a Spirit-led kind of mutuality and life in common CAN form and grow. In day to day life, what does it take to live as a member of a communal Christian life… the Didache, with its practical teaching about baptism, inclusion, Eucharist, community and forgiveness of human imperfection in living out this life, provides the spirit and model for life today. The work ethic is the core of an inner-directed desire to share in ownership and responsibility for contribution of gifts to the whole. Or so it seems to me…

    • Trish, you said, “For the Christian community it is not about sharing things, it is about sharing divinity with Christ.” What an incredible thought! Let’s develop this concept….sense it’s Spirit-driven.

      • Barbara says:

        Amma Trish,
        I love this idea of community living in Christ! It sounds wonderful… Is it attainable for us? Is this “living” in community with each other literally? Our community does seem to be coming together well at Emmaus Center, with some setbacks but moving forward. God knows I love this!!!!!!

  5. Barbara says:

    Without having read the Didache, I can only respond to what we discussed at the bible study. I think that drifting away from the “original” Early Church practices is a lot like the raising of children. The church is the Mother, and the people are the children, and as they grow and move away to different areas, climates, languages, etc. some of the things that Mother told us or taught us either lose significance or they are just forgotten. Maybe for instance if you needed green tea to say a prayer and you moved to a place with no green tea, perhaps the prayer would lose its power for that person, and so they stop saying it and don’t teach it to their children. There just went only a small piece of the practice or teaching but if enough of them lose there way….

    The concept of Early Church form of life (living in community) is still a good idea. A lot of thought and careful consideration of the people involved in the community would have to be done. If everyone is not of like mind and prepared to share and be humble with each other it will not work. I think in some ways it could work, but in other ways there could be problems. What do you do when people work and have a paycheck? Do they “share” the all of their earnings? Is there any privacy in a community life? There cannot be a person in charge so all decisions would have to made by a majority of the community. If there can be no one to make large decisions, or be in charge so to speak, not to rule the people of the community but to manage the community I think it would chaotic. In today’s society I don’t think anyone could live this kind of life outside of Monasticism. Even there they have the Abbott or Prioress in charge.

    I do sense the goodness of community, I love the concept. I would move towards it with careful consideration. A step at a time with clergy and then slowly with church members as they were recognized as being capable of living a community lifestyle. Research, and prayer would be two of the big factors toward getting closer to living it.

    Blessings, and love to you all,

    • Barb, I think you understand more about this topic than you give yourself credit for knowing. In a Benedictine community there is a balance of prayer, work and study. Everyone participates in these three things; they are not optional. There is, as you point out an abbot or prioress who leads the group and to whom everyone is accountable. And it is that accountability that I think makes it work. I think the biggest challenge in community life, where provision is based upon need is that there will always be some who have a weak work ethic. St. Paul struggled with that with the Church in Thessalonika, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Monastics, for the most part, don’t struggle with this problem too long….you don’t eat if you don’t work and ultimately, if the problem persists, the call to a monastic way of life is put in question.

      Today, I think, living in community is a calling. Some are called and some are not. It can be both wonderful and downright hard.

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