In Acts 2:44-45 we read, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common, and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need.” In 4:32 of the same book, we find that “the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common.”
Sounds suspiciously like communism, doesn’t it? In fact, some communist- or socialist-leaning Christians quote these verses to “prove” that the early Church practiced a form of communism.
But that’s not the case. Here’s why.
The early Church didn’t force or command people to sell their possessions.
We often read in Scripture and early Christian literature of people voluntarily selling their possessions to the poor. We don’t read about the Church forcing them to do so. We don’t find Sts. Peter or Paul making the abdication of ownership a condition to receive baptism or any of the other sacraments, although it may have been advised as a form of penance.
By contrast, communism is a state-run regime that forcibly takes away everyone’s possessions. Ironically, this is sometimes done in the name of materialistic atheism.
The difference here is between voluntary charity and the force of the state.
The early Church didn’t condemn private property.
Not only did the early Church not force people to sell their possessions, it didn’t even condemn private property in principle. Instead, early Church leaders reminded their followers that all things ultimately belong to God and as such we should freely share what we have with others.
The first Christians simply weren’t interested in an earthly utopia.
All communist regimes are ultimately centered on creating a paradise on earth — at least that’s what the communist leaders want the masses to think. Communism puts so much focus on this utopia that it ends up justifying the most horrific atrocities to bring it about.
By contrast, the early Church was far more focused on helping Christians get to heaven. Not that it didn’t try to ease the plight of the suffering on earth. We know very well that the Church has always been one of the most effective charitable organizations in history. But that charity is meant to share Christ’s love with the suffering, not create heaven on earth.
While it’s true that our consumerist culture often leaves out the poor and oppressed, communism is not going to solve that problem. Rather, we need to tone down our constant desire for things and increase our charity, so that all may have a share in the gifts of God.