Susan Brooks Thistlewaithe is the former president of Chicago Theological Seminary. She wrote a column last year as a refutation to Glenn Beck’s negative commentary on “social justice”.
The apostles’ way of holding what they had in common is more like democratic socialism than it is like the Soviet collectivist model, heaven knows. But a literal reading of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament does not admit of any other interpretation than that the early church was working out of a proto-socialist model.
She, of course, quotes Acts 4:32-35.
“Now 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. And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.”
The common conservative defense against this passage being applicable to modern society is to take it in context. The early church was involved in a massive task of teaching the thousands of new converts to learn Christianity more deeply and thus this temporary setup was needed for that unique purpose. This is a reasonable answer, but not complete in my opinion.
However, the problem with the rationalizations that Thistlewaithe has committed are from more fundamental theological errors. Firstly, as I have mentioned before, it quickly gets ridiculous when assuming exhortations by Jesus should have the force of law. More importantly, though, she seems to have a poor concept of love. Love, can not be the result of moral compulsion. To say that I love brussel sprouts because I ought to eat better, is both a contradiction and a lie. Love is not an obligation, it is a desire.
Whether by the barrel of a gun, the force of tax law, or by moral manipulation, Socialism is a system of coercion. Coercion can not produce love. She admits that the coercion is less than the violent Soviet collectivist model, but tries to match it to the heavily taxed democratic socialism of, say, Denmark. But taxation is still a tool of force and coercion. Even a morally minded minister who guilts his parishioners into giving up their private property is using coercion and eschewing love.
The true cause of this situation is God’s love and grace. “Great grace was upon them all.” Because they had so much love they gave up their possession for further the kingdom. It was not by law or coercion, but their total absence. We see love alone. We see the early Christians practicing Anarchy in its perfect form.