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Social justice program of the early church

I have been wondering why our churches are finding it difficult to borrow the template of the early church's social welfare program and practice it in today's churches.

Oscar Amaechina
Courtesy of Oscar Amaechina

That none was in lack among the worshipers in the Jerusalem church in Acts chapter 4 sounds unbelievable but it was a reality. There was an account of believers selling what they had to contribute to the social welfare program of the church. Barnabas sold his land and gave the proceed to the church and all they gathered were shared to every man according to his need. When the success of this program was evaluated, it was observed that there was no needy worshiper among them. 

A clear look at why the early church was able to successfully execute this program reveals that the foundation of their Christian faith was built on suffering, sacrifice, self denying and cross carrying.  Immediately when the church was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost, they were baptized with persecution.  It was out of necessity that the worshipers congregate in the nearest proximity and in one accord.

I also observed that the messages preached by this church helped them to a large extent to be willing to sacrificially donate what they had to be shared by all. The focus of their message was Christ and Him crucified.  The messages they preached pricked the hearts of the listeners and everyone was willing to seek God through acts of Christian kindness. They understood the concept of Kingdom seeking and were ready to suffer and make sacrifices to access the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). They were willing to deny themselves of luxury to ensure that the other brethren had the basic supplies of life.

It is obvious that the sermons that the the early Christians heard that motivated them to practice radical communitarianism are completely different from the messages that make today's Christians continue to pile up wealth for themselves and families. With great power, the apostles preached the resurrection of Christ and believers were convicted to sell their possessions for the common welfare of all members of the church.  Why are we not practicing theocratic welfarism in our church administration? Why have the church and the Christians become so capitalistic and materialistic?

"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" (Acts 4:32-35 ESV).

Divisions and denominationalism in Christianity have not allowed us to adhere and operate one accord system as seen in the early church.  Even Nigerian churches that are under high  persecution have refused to come together as one. Until we pull down the walls of partition within our various churches and denominations, apostolic templates will continue to be a mirage. Selfless living was a watch word in the early church and that was why no one could lay claims on his properties. Our inability to deal with self is responsible for lack of workable social justice system in the church today. We live for ourselves and family and are not ready to share with others who are not related to us. This is an error that must be corrected if we  desire to do the right things.

The early Christians dropped their donations at the feet of the Apostles and the Apostles made sure that the proceeds were judiciously distributed. None of the Apostles embezzled it; they did not share the proceeds among themselves.  Neither did Peter, who was the senior pastor, take a large chunk for himself.  The only complaint was from the Grecian members who pointed out that their widows were short-changed in the distribution of the daily rations. The Apostles immediately resolved the dispute by appointing seven men of honest report to take care of the table. The Apostles decided to focus on spiritual administration and addressed the injustice meted on the Grecian Christians by giving them a sense of equality and belongingness.

Most pastors in Nigeria are like demigods and attract worship for themselves and the poor worshipers run after them to pick the crumbs that fall from the master's table. If there is any place where people should have equal opportunity for political, economic and social rights, the church should be the place as exemplified by the early church.

In a ministers' conference in Nigeria, I emphatically told the ministers that until we go back to the Acts of the Apostles and borrow the template of social justice program of the church, there shall come a day when poor worshipers will radically and riotously demand equitable distribution of the accumulated wealth of the churches that are at present in the hand of a few. I predicted that there shall come a day when the hypnotisms and hallucinations programmed against vulnerable worshipers will expire and they will make revolutionary demand for a return of all the funds that were fraudulently obtained from them by pastors. If we fail to go back to the Acts of the Apostles and learn how the early church administered the offering and donations of the church, these predictions are inevitable. Only time alone will tell!

Oscar Amaechina is the president of Afri-Mission and Evangelism Network, Abuja, Nigeria. His calling is to take the gospel to where no one has neither preached nor heard about Jesus. He is the author of the book Mystery Of The Cross Revealed.  

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