It is always a fascinating exercise when, in studying Biblical scripture, you discover how relevant ancient texts are to humanity’s 21 century sensibilities. Of course for me, when reading scripture, I am seeking to deepen my relationship with GOD and discern the practical ways in which I can serve The Lord each day. This often leads to insight that is not only beneficial for me personally, but, in my calling as an ordained minister of the Gospel, is also beneficial for my community, church, and the society I am a part of.
Acts 2:42-47 tells us,
“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. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (NKJV).
This comes after Pentecost, which is the event where the Holy Spirit descended upon the believers in Jesus the Christ and filled them. They were able to speak in other languages, so that people from all over were able to understand their every word. This is what Jesus had promised to his disciples in Acts 1:8, who, in that verse, still didn’t quite seem to understand what their role would be once Jesus fully departed from them.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” Acts 1:8 (NLT).
Peter, who was one of Jesus’ disciples then steps up. He assures those gathered that this is no hoax or drunken party. He proceeds to preach a powerful message that resulted in the baptism of about 3,000 people that joined the early church that day.
In verses 42-47 of chapter two, we get a glimpse of how the early church operated. Beginning at verse 44, it truly becomes fascinating. Verses 44-47 are so important because they help us 21st century folk, especially those who reside in the United States and the West in general, understand a completely different paradigm of human existence.
In the United States specifically, we have a capitalist system. I used the word specifically for the U.S. because the economic system is almost a quasi-deity for the vast majority of the country. The system has been exported worldwide, however, and in the globalized age, is the dominant economic system with social, cultural, political, and spiritual implications.
The propaganda associated with capitalism claims that it is a system that supports freedom and democracy. Anyone can make something of themselves in a capitalist system no matter where you started from. It’s about free enterprise and entrepreneurship. You can make as much (money) as you want, accumulate (valuables) as much you want, how you want, and when you want.
Frankly, this is untrue. Capitalism breeds vast economic inequality. It emphasizes excess and greed. And, this economic system literally commodifies everything. I mean it. Everything. We have private prisons that corporations invest in. The stocks rise and profit margins rise by keeping the cells (or human cages) filled to capacity. This is the reason that most of the world’s incarcerated population is in the U.S., but this is a much larger conversation for another time. Finally, just like the United States and “New World,” capitalism was founded on the genocide of the Native/Indigenous peoples of the Americas and the enslavement of African people. Although it has roots in systems practiced beforehand, it’s current iteration was rotten from start.
Exploitation of free labor, enslaved African people, propelled the success of capitalism. This exploitation of labor translated to exploiatation of poor people and those who were marginalized and disinherited by society. The wealthy and powerful only become more wealthy and powerful at the expense of everyone else’s “upward mobility” that is, once again, a rhetorical staple of capitalism.
Furthermore, one of the more detrimental aspects of capitalism is the loss of community that it reinforces. It is about “I,” and how much I can get and consume. Lost to this system is the “us” dynamic. The emphasis on communal success is erased in favor of the excess of the individual.
It will take a greater coalition and years and years of hard, scary, and dangerous work to rid ourselves of capitalism (a system that the powerful and wealthy will not want to relinquish). More and more this is being recognized and worked towards, even if mostly on the fringes. In the meantime, we have options that we can exercise.
In Acts 2:44-47, we find a critique of the capitalist system. It is not simply a critique, however, but an introduction to a new paradigm of human relation. It critiques and offers a better way forward. This is critical for all of us as Christians to pay close attention to, because we can become wrapped up in greed, the love of money, and upholding injustice/inequality, which is counter to the ministry of Jesus. But even those who are not Christian or of any faith affiliation should give attention to this short passage of scripture.
I believe for those of us who are African American, there is much for us to learn from this, which is also hiding in plain sight within our history. Much like, the early Christian Community/Church, that we learn about in scripture and in historical accounts of the time, African Americans have been and are an oppressed and marginalized group in the United States. We are not cleansing ourselves of capitalism overnight, but one thing that we can return to is “cooperative community economics.”
We have examples of this in history with the Black community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma during the early 1900s. It became known as Black Wall Street, before the 1921 riot/destruction by a white mob. Other Black Wall Streets existed throughout the United States at the same time, with several receiving similar fates.
These Black communities didn’t quite do what Acts 2:44-45 said specifically, but they certainly pulled their resources together, supported one another’s businesses, and lifted one another up in a society determined to keep them in a permanent state of destitution, exploitation, and dependence.
What this burgeoning Christian Community did in the face of the Roman Empire and corrupt Religious Institutions of the day was radical/revolutionary! What the Greenwood community and others like them were doing in the face of the United States system of racial and economic injustice was radical/revolutionary!
Cooperative Community Economics is a pathway forward for African Americans. Investing our resources in one another is radical (which ultimately means returning to the roots) and revolutionary. Restoring the “us” of community is radical and revolutionary.
Acts 2:44-47 shows us an ancient community that did just that, and they grew a movement and community (of course through their faith and devotion to Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit) that changed the entire world and continues to show us a better way forward.
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