Did the early church practice socialism?

Voluntary charity not forced giving

The apostle Luke reports in the book of Acts, “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44.45). The early church was founded on sacrifice, sympathy and self-denial. However, this concept was not in any way a form of socialism simply because it was not enforced by the church but was rather based solely on the free willing contributions of the members (Acts 5:4).

Sharing in the Jewish economy

In Jewish culture, it is not uncommon for the community to share resources, especially during the annual feasts. During these times, the and friends who were living in Jerusalem provided for the visitors . But what took place at the era of the apostolic church was of a special nature due to the persecution that afflicted the believers. Therefore the members of the church shared what they had as the need presented itself.  Thus, the Spirit of God was revealed in charity and love (2 Corinthians 13).
Jesus and the disciples practiced this same concept. For they had a “bag” in which they collected donations for the support of their work and ministry  (John 12:6; 13:29). The disciples had left their daily occupations and became full time workers going from on place to another preaching the word of God. They therefore withdrew from the money bag to pay for their expenses.

Special needs in the early church

Because of the severe afflictions it endured (Acts 11:27–30; Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1–3), the church at Jerusalem became repeatedly dependent upon the generosity of the Gentile churches (Acts 11:29). The new converts sold their possessions not as a duty but as special occasions of distress called for expenses to help those in need. Help was provided based upon the degree of need. The early believers were prepared for organized aid (Acts 6:1–6).

Discretion in giving

But the early church used thoughtful discrimination in giving. The leaders distinguished between those who were really needy and those who were not. Paul taught, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). And he also instructed that families should care for their own and not place a burden on the church: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8, 16).
The new converts shared their resources as they all looked forward to the soon coming of the Lord (Acts 1:11). The act of sharing was a literal fulfillment of Jesus’ command to “sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys” (Luke 12:33).
In His service,
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