A Defense of Biblical Common Purse Living.

In our desire to live out the Word of God to the fullest, many of the members of MPCC live together in “common purse,” modeled (to the best of our ability) on the first church in Jerusalem, found in the Acts 2 and 4. This has been a wonderful blessing to us who live it, but, as you can imagine, it has also been the pretext for a whole host of problems from those who find fault with this way of life, especially in the age of the internet, slander, gossip, and misinformation are without restraint and permanently “Google-able” forever.

With that being said, for our brothers and sisters in Christ who take the Scripture seriously as the Word of God, we’d like to offer this essay as a brief, biblical explanation and defense of this practice–particularly since it is so uncommon in the modern worldwide Church.

This life is not a popularity contest, and we have no illusions that the majority of people will reject this way of life entirely. However, for our family in Christ, we hope this essay will give you something to think about and prayerfully consider before the Lord.

One of the most beautiful features of the earliest followers of the Lord Jesus was their love for one another. In fact, through Christ they loved each other so much that “all the believers were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). Because of this very practical expression of love and unity there was “not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34).  This was in a time when Israel was under great oppression from the Roman occupiers, with poverty and corruption running rampant. What an amazing testimony of the sincerity of their faith and love for God! As the Lord Jesus Himself said, “The world will know you are my disciples if you love one another.”

While this kind of “common purse” life is not mandated for believers by Scripture, it certainly enjoys very favorable treatment and should be recognized and honored as the lifestyle of the very first Christian church fellowship in Jerusalem.

However, in modern times, particularly in the West, the practice of common purse has fallen into severe disfavor. Even among Bible-believing Christians, it is often looked at with suspicion and even disdain. This is not entirely surprising, as the practice has been tarnished in the twentieth-century from two directions; the first of these is secular communism and the second being a burst of religious cults.

As for communism, the aggressively atheistic movement sought to force people into a Utopian-collective, killing all who refused to surrender their wealth and possessions for the “good” of mankind. In regards to religious cults, some “Christian” and others not, there were a slew of insulated, compound-dwelling, apocalyptic “prophets” who gathered people around themselves and amassed fortunes off of gullible and vulnerable people. Worst still, that many of these groups not only had financial malfeasance but also were rife with child and sexual abuse on horrific scales. These two twentieth-century developments have left a stain on anything even coming close to a common purse lifestyle.

On the other hand, the consumerism, materialism and individualism of Western culture has infiltrated much of the Church, making practices like common purse culturally repugnant on an instinctive level, even for those who claim to accept the authority of Scripture–sola scriptura. Therefore, the horrific abuses of communism and religious cults can provide justifications for easy dismissals of the Scriptural narrative’s potential challenges.

But, as the old maxim goes, “misuse does not justify disuse.” As followers of Jesus Christ, we are not to pass judgment on things based on our cultural outlook, or on the practices of others (good or bad), but based on the Word of God found in the Scriptures. What Scripture commands, we are to obey. What Scripture denounces, we are to denounce. What Scripture honors, we are to honor.

With this we come back to the Scriptural view of common purse. As stated earlier, common purse is not mandated for all followers of Christ— that seems very clear from the biblical texts. But if you read the accounts of its practice in the book of Acts, it will be clear that it is certainly honored in the Word of God. The biblical author highlights it twice, in Acts 2 and 4, and he does this in very favorable words:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
(Acts 2:42-47)
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving 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 owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.
(Acts 4:32-37)
It was not just the practice itself that was being honored, but the fact that it sprung from the willing and loving hearts of the disciples. It was not just an economic system, but a display of the love of Christ that was filling and overflowing in and through the lives of the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. We see from the sacred text that Luke highlights the unity of heart and soul that these first Christians had with one another, and that their common life flowed from this love.

In light of this, what God’s Word honors should never be dishonored by those who follow Christ. While we are free to live this lifestyle or not, we must be very careful not to sit as judges of others who freely choose to live in this way for the Lord. Sadly, these things must be said because there are many who dismiss, and even slander, the few believers in the West who adopt this way of life. Their dismissal and slander are based on cultural opinions and potential problems.

Of course, a common purse can be abused by sinful men and women, but pastors are abusing authority, tithes and offerings are being misused, and various scandals plague churches and ministries across the world every day. As believers, we stand against such abuse and sin, and we try to walk in integrity and truth. Yet we do not call for the abolishment of ministry, or of tithes, offerings and local churches, even though there is abuse. Neither should we do so with less common Christian practices, such as common purse.

For believers who freely choose it, a common purse lifestyle can be a challenging yet very blessed way of expressing their faith in Christ. When lived out with love and integrity, it provides a wonderful opportunity to express unity with other believers, care for the needy, and a total surrender of worldly goods for the sake of the gospel and the kingdom of God. Like the widow with her two copper coins, it is a method of giving all one has in devotion to the Lord. Is common purse the only method of expressing these things? Of course not. But it is a method! And one that was modeled for us by the apostles in Jerusalem and set down in holy Scripture.

While common purse living is not mandated by Scripture, there are several commands and teachings from our Lord Jesus about money and possessions that are, in large measure, ignored by the Church-at-large in the West.  These Scriptural commands are universally obligatory for all followers of Jesus Christ because they come from Him and are passed on to us by His chosen Apostle and set down by God’s Spirit in Scripture. Here, I will quote just a few for your consideration:
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” 
(Luke 12:22-34)
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
(Matthew 6:24)
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
(Luke 14:25-33)
These teachings and commands of Jesus are often either ignored in the West, or spiritualized to the point of being inapplicable to our lives. And yet, as the Lord himself asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46 (ESV).

For the majority of Christians, even if they do not choose to live in a common purse expression of faith, they must still live in such a way that expresses these commands in their lives. They must wrestle with how they will “sell their possessions and give to the needy,” and “renounce all they have.” These are the very words of our Lord to us, and while a common purse fellowship is one way to express these things, the question for others is, “How do you express these commands in your life?”

The title of this essay is A Defense of Biblical Common Purse Living, so I apologize if the writing here has been a bit, well, defensive. The truth of the matter is that people, even Christians, feel a sense of liberty to sit in judgement on that which is different or uncommon. Sadly, I have seen men and women who love the Lord Jesus and have given their life to serve Him and others maligned and slandered simply because they have chosen to live a lifestyle that is countercultural, but honored in the Word of God. My concern also is for the believers who engage in this wrong kind of judgement. As the Word of God tells us:
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;  give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” 
(Luke 6:37-38)
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? 
(James 4:11-12)
It is my sincere prayer that this essay will encourage God’s people to view common purse-living through the lens of Scripture, not through cultural assumptions or hostile attitudes. Of course, any Christian fellowship that embarks to live such a lifestyle must labor to be above reproach in the way they live. They must seek to keep Jesus Christ and His Word at the center of all they do, and to honor God in integrity and faithfulness. May God the Father help them to do so by the Holy Spirit. Amen.