"The riches and goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as some Anabaptists do falsely boast Not withstanding, every man ought of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability."
Scripture references: Acts 2:44-45, 4:32; Exodus 22; 1 Corinthians 16:2, 1 Corinthians 9:7; I John 3:17; Philemon; I Timothy 6:17-19; Matthew 6:1; Luke 2:33; Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:16.
There has been no alteration in this Article since it was first drawn up in 1553, but no Article is more timely than if it had been planned and written for the very hour in which we now live.
It was primarily drawn up to refute the claims of certain Anabaptists who held to the idea of a common community of goods for all believers. In fact these Anabaptists pushed their ideas to the extent that they made the community to include a community of wives and the destruction of all family life. This is contrary to all teaching of Scripture.
The Article divides itself into two distinct subjects:
1. The Community of Goods
2. The Duty of Christians to Share with Those Less Fortunate.
We will first look at the subject of 'The Community of Goods."
A. The Community of Goods
"The riches and goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as some groups do falsely boast."
No doubt this confusion and misunderstanding developed out of certain passages which have often been cited in proof of the assertion that Communism proper was the system that originally prevailed in the Apostolic Church. and from them it had been concluded that the same system ought to be practiced now, and that consequently the possession of private property by an individual is contrary to the spirit of Christianity.
The passages misinterpreted are Acts 2:44-45; 'All that believed were together. and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need," and Acts 4:32; 'And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them said that ought of the things which he possessed was his own: but they had all things common.
All Scripture must be interpreted in the light of all other Scriptures. These verses standing alone would deny the right to private ownership of property and also deny individual stewardship and individual responsibility. We know that this is not in accordance with the Word of God.
God does not deal with man on a collective but an individual basis. Salvation is an individual responsibility. "Every man must give an account of himself before God." (Romans 14:12). Deuteronomy 24:16, Job 19:4, Proverbs 9:12, Jeremiah 31:30 and Ezekiel 18:20 would certainly support the belief in individual responsibility and individual stewardship before God.
These verses have been taken out of their context. Mary, the mother of John Mark, still retained her home (Acts 12:12) which proves that the right to private property was not superceded. Then Peter, in speaking to Ananias in Acts 5:4 asks the question, "While it remained (concerning the property which he and his wife had sold) was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" Certainly these very questions proved the right of individual ownership of private property and that there was no general community of ownership.
From generation to generation schemes have been devised to redistribute wealth. The present one is "The Great Society." They all have failed and will fail until we are a part of the "Perfect Society" which can only be accomplished under perfect conditions with a Perfect Ruler, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
The Evangelical Methodist Church stands opposed to any system that would deprive men of the right, title and possession of personal property. What prompted the early Christians in
Jerusalem for a short period of time to "have all things in common we do not know. However, the motivation was one of absolute Christian love and not by compulsion from any individual in the total Christian community there. Some one expressed the difference between Communism and Christianity this way, "Communism says, 'Lets share what you have, and Christianity says, "Lets share what I have."
The Ten Commandments are based upon individual ownership of property and individual responsibility concerning it. Dr. Carl Mclntire in his book, 'Author of Liberty" states these tacts so clearly. He says, "This law stands as the foundation and the sum total of Gods economy for man. It is the most individualistic charter that has ever been written. It is the eternal 'bill or rights. It guarantees individualism. With it the individual is protected and preserved; without it the individual is crushed in numerous forms of tyranny. It repudiates and deposes any notions of collectivism, communism, and the totalitarian state. This law is perfect. It reveals the perfect nature of God. It is the reflection of His own moral nature. For this reason it will never be repealed: not until God changes-and that is impossible! It is spiritual. It plumbs the depths of men s spiritual being, his understanding, his will, his affections, and all other powers and faculties of mans soul--It is the standard by which God is to judge every man.
The Ten Commandments are individualistic and not collective. Each commandment is addressed in the singular, "Thou." All men are addressed individually and personally. Gods way of dealing with society is to deal with each and every man individually and separately. The collective schemes ignore the individual. He is submerged in the group. He becomes only a number, a statistic. Only when man retains his individual responsibility can he retain his human freedom. Mclntire in his book states, "Those who seek to destroy our free society draw a distinction between human rights and property rights. This is one of their favorite theme songs, for it sounds noble as though life were being valued above property. We all value our life more than our property, but our property is one of the most essential. The enemies of freedom want to mislead people by making them think that, in the name of human rights, we must change our social system based on individual rights to property" The ninth commandment establishes and protects the individual as to his character, as "Thou shalt not steal" protects his property and "Thou shalt not commit adultery protects the sacredness of his home.
The Ten Commandments are not collectivistic or Communistic but individualistic to the extreme. They are the only basis for true freedom for every individual. Only a society built upon them can truly be free to worship and honor God. Here we can see why socialism and communism are so bent on removing every thought of God and the Bible from our society. They must first go before they can carry out their schemes of tyranny and oppression.
B. The Duty of Alms Giving
But as Christians we do have a responsibility to share that which God has blessed us with, with those who are in need.
Our money is an extension of our personality. With it we can make possible those things which we would do if we were more than one person. John Wesley reduced Christian economics
to a very simple creed, stated in three simple statements: "Earn all you can--Save all you can--Give all you can.
No Christian should need to be commanded to give to those in Need. The very fruit of the Spirit is "Love" and "Love" is always giving as He who is "Love" is always giving.
Our Lord in His sermon on the mount does not command us to give-to share. He takes for granted that we will give because we are what we are in Him. We are to distribute willingly.
John says that our willingness to give and to share is one proof of our salvation and our refusal to do so is proof that we are not saved at all. We read in I John 3:17, "But whoso hath this worlds goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him."
Communism, socialism and all other forms of collectivism are truly at swordpoints with Evangelical Methodism. Our desires are towards human welfare and a better society for all men everywhere, but it will not come through legislation or technological, political or economic revolution but only though a heart transformed by and filled with the love of Christ.
The redemption of human society is not dependent on the devices of men, no matter what title given, but on men, themselves, through whom the love and power of God flows, willing to see that through them, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," is becoming a reality.