In the vast literature dealing with the rise of Christianity, we find many different accounts of how this small sect of Jewish messianists arose, spread, and eventually took over the Roman Empire. However, most of these histories focus on Christianity as a group defined by a set of beliefs, or a group dedicated to the adoration of the person of Jesus Christ. While it is true that Christianity, as it arose, was certainly those things, it was also a group with its own socio-economic ideology and set of practices.
In modern times it may not even seem like an issue if a Christian can or cannot serve in the military, clearly Christians today and for many centuries do, so what would the issue be? On the other hand, anyone who has honestly read the gospels must recognize that the issue of violence is at the very least problematic in Jesus’s teachings. One would simply have to point to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38–47) or the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:27–31), or his teaching on the one taking the sword dying by the sword (Matthew 26:52), to recognize that Jesus tended to reject violence.
Probably the most famous parable by Jesus is the parable of the speck in your brother’s eye as opposed to the beam in your eye. Often this parable is taken to simply be about not being a hypocrite and not being personally judgmental against other individuals. However, this saying was not only used by Jesus and the early Christians, it was also a saying within rabbinic Judaism—seeing how they used it can shed some light on what Jesus meant with it. The saying is recorded the sermon on the plain in Luke 6:41–42: Continue reading →
I would argue that the best summation of Christian ethics is found in the sermon on the plain in Luke 6:20–49. What I love about the sermon on the plain is just how radical it seems on the surface, it seems almost impossible; however, when you think about what it’s saying, and think about it deeply—it makes sense. Probably my favorite example of this is found in Luke 6:34–35 (NRSV): Continue reading →
The early Christian Communities practiced communism, here’s how we know.
When I wrote the book All Things in Common, The Economic Practices of the Early Christians some people suggested I drop my use of the term ”communism” from the text; their reasoning was sound: the term communism has many negative connotations. When most people hear the world “communism”, they think of one of two things: totalitarian regimes such as Stalinist Russia or Maoist China, or some far off utopia where the entire world lives without any property whatsoever or any state. The actual classical meaning of the word, the meaning that actually represents something in reality, is basically nothing more than any social-relationship or structure where the principle of “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” is the primary moral framework of the social relationship or structure. Instead of replacing the term with something else, I went through the trouble of breaking down what communism actually means and contrasting it with other principles of social-relationships like hierarchy or exchange. The reason I stuck with the term “communism” was simple: that term is simply the most fitting term for the economic practices of the early Christians that differentiated them from the larger Roman world; the more I studied the issue the more I became convinced of that.