“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and
soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but
everything they owned was held in common. 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 owned lands or houses sold them and
brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’
feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a
Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the
name Barnabus (which means ‘son of encouragement’). He sold a
field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the
apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4:32–37)
Biblical scholars are skeptical about the depth of communitarian sharing experienced in the early church. Some suggest that Barnabus is named as an exemplary exception rather than as the normative example. In their view, Luke is portraying an idyllic community in these verses; the more likely reality is the flawed community hinted at by the account of Ananias and Sapphira, which directly follows in Acts 5.
I tend to be a skeptic myself. The fact is that I don’t sufficiently trust the power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives and to create authentic community. And so I was deservedly blown away by what I experienced a few years ago when I traveled to Tanzania on sabbatical with several members of the congregation that I serve. We arrived, blurry-eyed, at Kilimanjaro airport on a Saturday evening. Early the next morning a Land Rover took us, still blurry-eyed and also disoriented, about a mile and a half up the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro to worship at Lole Lutheran Parish. The cinder block sanctuary was packed with people, as it always is. Some of the congregants had walked miles to get to church, as they do every Sunday.
By U.S. standards, these Tanzanians are desperately poor. And yet the offering plates were filled with paper bills and coins. At the end of the worship service, a brass band (enthusiastic but of questionable quality)