In 1542, Peter Riedemann, a Silesian shoemaker imprisoned by Prince Philip of Hesse as a leader of the communal Anabaptists, wrote to his captor arguing that scripture and the ecumenical creeds require common ownership. From Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith:
All believers have fellowship in holy things, that is, in God. (1 John 1:1–3) He has given them all things in his Son, Christ Jesus. (Rom. 1:16–17) Just as Christ has nothing for himself, since all he has is for us, so too, no members of Christ’s body should possess any gift for themselves or for their own sake. Instead, all should be consecrated for the whole body, for all the members. (Phil. 2:1–8; 1 Cor. 12:12–27) This is so because Christ also did not bring his gifts for one individual or the other, but for everyone, for the whole body.
Community of goods applies to both spiritual and material gifts. All of God’s gifts, not only the spiritual but also the temporal, have been given so that they not be kept but be shared with each other. Therefore, the fellowship of believers should be visible not only in spiritual but also in temporal things. (Acts 2:42–47; 4:32–37) Paul says one person should not have an abundance while another suffers want; instead, there should be equality. (2 Cor. 8:7–15) This he shows by pointing to the law about manna. According to that rule, the one who gathered much had nothing extra, and the one who gathered little had no lack, since each was given the amount needed. (Exod. 16:16–18)
Furthermore, the Creation still testifies today that at the beginning God ordained that people should own nothing individually but should have all things in common with each other. (Gen. 1:26–29) However, by taking what they should have left, and by leaving what they should have taken, (Gen. 3:2–12) people have gained possession of things and have become more accustomed to accumulating things and hardened in doing so. Through such appropriating and collecting of created things, people have been led so far from God that they have forgotten the Creator. (Rom. 1:18–25) They have even raised up and honored as gods the created things which had been made subject to them. (Wisd. of Sol. 13:1–3; 15:14–19) That is still the case for those who depart from God’s order and forsake what God has ordained.
Now as has been said, however, created things which are too high for people to grasp and collect, such as the sun, the whole course of the heavens, day, air, and so forth, show that not only they, but also all other created things, were made common for all people. (Gen. 1:25–31) Because they are too great to be brought under human control, they have remained common, and humans have not possessed them. Otherwise, since people had become so evil through wrongful acquisitions, they would also have wrongfully taken possession of such things and made them their own. (Gen. 3:2–6; 2 Esd. 3:4–7; 7:12–15; Rom. 5:12–14)
It is therefore true that the rest is likewise not made by God for anyone’s private possession. This is shown in that people must forsake all other created things as well as the high things when they die, and carry nothing with them as their own. (1 Tim. 6:6–9) For this reason Christ counts all temporal things as alien to people’s true nature and says, “If you have not been faithful with other people’s property, who will entrust you with property of your own?” (Luke 16:9–13)
Because what is temporal is not ours but is alien to our true nature, the law commands that no one should covet someone else’s possessions, (Exod. 20:17; Deut. 5:21) that is, set his heart upon them or claim them as his own. (Luke 16:11–12) Therefore, whoever will adhere unwaveringly to Christ and follow him must give up acquiring things and holding property. (Matt. 10:37–39; Mark 8:34–38; Luke 9:23–26) Christ himself says, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Luke 14:33) Whoever is to be renewed into the likeness of God must abandon what leads away from God, that is, grasping and collecting material possessions. Otherwise, God’s likeness cannot be attained. (Eph. 4:20–32; Col. 3:1–11) That is why Christ says, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17) Christ also says, “Unless you overcome yourselves and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:1–4)
Whoever has become free from created things can then grasp what is true and divine. When the true and the divine become one’s treasure, the heart turns toward that treasure, emptying itself from everything else (Luke 12:33–40) and regarding nothing any longer as its own but as belonging to all God’s children. (Acts 2:44–45; 4:32–37) Therefore, we say that as all believers share spiritual gifts, (1 John 1:3) still more should they express this in material things and not covet or claim them for themselves, for they are not their own. (Luke 16:11–13) They will honor God, show that they partake in the fellowship of Christ, (1 Cor. 10:16) and be renewed into God’s likeness. (Eph. 4:22–24; Col. 3:1–10) The more a person is attached to property and claims ownership of things, the further away he is from the fellowship of Christ and from being in the image of God. (Gen. 1:25–27)
Whoever will adhere unwaveringly to Christ and follow him must give up acquiring things and holding property.
For this reason, when the church came into being, the Holy Spirit reestablished such community in a wonderful way. “No one said any of the things they possessed were their own, but they had all things in common.” (Acts 2:44–45; 4:32–37) This admonition by the Spirit is true for us even today. In the words of Paul, “Let each one look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.” In other words, “Let each one look not to what benefits yourself, but to what benefits many.” (Phil. 2:2–4) Where this is not the case, it is a blemish upon the church that should truly be corrected. Someone may say that this only applies to what took place in Jerusalem and therefore does not apply today. In reply, we say that even if it did only happen in Jerusalem, (Acts 2:38–45; 4:32–37) it does not follow that it should not happen now. The apostles and the churches were not at fault, but the opportunity, the right means, and the right time were lacking.
This, therefore, should never be a reason for us to hesitate. Instead, it should move us to greater and better effort, for the Lord now gives us both the time and the occasion. It was not the fault of either the apostles or the churches, as is shown by the ardent efforts of both. The apostles directed people to the church with great diligence and spared no pains to teach them true surrender, as all their epistles still prove today. (Phil. 2:1–11; Rom. 14:7–8)
The people, especially those from Macedonia, obeyed with all their hearts, as Paul bears witness, saying, “I want to tell you of the grace given to the churches in Macedonia. Their joy was most abundant since they had been confirmed through much suffering, and their poverty, though it was great indeed, overflowed as riches in simplicity. I can testify that they voluntarily gave according to their means and beyond their means. They begged us earnestly and insistently to allow them to share in the support of other believers. In this they exceeded our hopes, giving themselves first to the Lord and then also to us, by the will of God.” (2 Cor. 8:1–5)
On the basis of this, we can recognize that the churches favorably inclined their hearts to practice community and were willing and ready to do so, not only in spiritual but also in material things. They wished to follow Christ their Master, become like him, and be of one mind with him. (Phil. 2:5–8) He went before us in this way and commanded us to follow him. (Matt. 10:22–25; Luke 14:33)