UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE: Scripture Does Not Endorse ‘Collectivism’

In my last post, I shared my discovery of the fact that — contrary to what I had always believed — Scripture does not support the idea of individualism.  For those of us raised in the West, this might be difficult to accept, but it is true.  Most of us don’t see it because we’ve been taught to read the Scriptures through Western eyes.  I know this is why I missed it.  The truth is, Scripture supports a communal or corporate perspective.  At first look, this could lead many to believe that this is ‘proof’ that Scripture actually teaches ‘collectivism.’  However, as I was struggling to understand just what to make of the revelation about Scripture’s communal perspective, I discovered that it doesn’t advocate for a collectivist position, either — at least, not as we understand collectivism today.  In fact, it condemns it.

I may need to start by defining the way I am using words in this series of posts.  When I say ‘communal,’ I am referring to a way of life that stresses the importance of small groups.  It could be a family, or a small village or town, or even a small sub-set of the population within a village or town.  However one thinks of a tight-knit group of people that draws its identity from strong common bonds that serve to tie them together, this is how I am using the term, ‘communal.’  When I say ‘corporate,’ I am referring to a community being treated as though it were a single person or entity.  In this case, it does not necessarily have to mean a small group or community.  We could refer to an entire nation corporately, as Scripture often does with Israel, or when it refers to all those who believe in Christ as ‘The Body of Christ.’  So, when I say ‘corporate,’ I am referring to a group being treated as though it were one person, with one body.   However, when I refer to ‘collectivism,’ I mean a group that is treated as though it were one body, but isn’t.

At first glance, this may seem to be a difference without distinction, but there is a distinction. In my mind, the difference between treating a group ‘corporately‘ and treating them as a ‘collective‘ has to do with the will of that group.  If a group is corporate, it should be assumed that the group is a close association of people who share a fairly homogeneous set of interests — like a family.  Thus, a ‘corporate‘ body will seem  (or is supposed to) act as though it is of one mind and one will.  It does not have to be forced or coerced into doing anything.  Whereas the ‘collective‘ is often constituted of many different communities that do not share the same ideology or agenda.  In many cases, the collective is not even a voluntary association, it is an artificially constructed group created by forcing its members together and then treating them as though they were of one mind and will.  For this reason, the collective has to be maintained and directed by force.  Otherwise, the many different groups within it would naturally splinter into their own communities.  \ For me, this is the key distinction: a ‘corporate‘ body associates willingly, and acts in unison of its own free will — as if it were of one mind.  Whereas the ‘collective‘ is seldom — if ever — a voluntary association.  It is usually an artificial creation that lacks a will of its own and, therefore, has to be forced to act coherently.

Now, back to Scripture.  The Bible clearly states that believers are a corporate entity:

1 Corinthians 12:27 Amplified Bible (AMP)

27 Now you [collectively] are Christ’s body, and individually [you are] members of it [each with his own special purpose and function].

The Apostle, Paul, uses this language a lot: referring to the believers as parts of Christ’s Body.  This is the perfect example of what I mean when I say the Bible advocates a ‘corporate.’ way of dealing with the world.  But this is not ‘collectivism’ — at least not as the West understands the term today.  Many people think the Bible advocates the modern idea of collectivism (i.e. socialism/Communism), and they have even cited the Book of Acts to support this claim: specifically, this passage:

Acts 4:32-37 Amplified Bible (AMP)

Sharing among Believers

32 Now the company of believers was of one heart and soul, and not one [of them] claimed that anything belonging to him was [exclusively] his own, but everything was common property and for the use of all. 33 And with great ability and power the apostles were continuously testifying to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace [God’s remarkable lovingkindness and favor and goodwill] rested richly upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, because those who were owners of land or houses were selling them, and bringing the proceeds of the sales 35 and placing the money down at the apostles’ feet. Then it was distributed to each as anyone had need.

Granted, upon first read, this certainly does seem to endorse the modern concept of socialism, if not Communism.  However, as with most things, the people who find socialism/communism in this passage can only do so because they read these words and stopped.  Had they read the very next set of passages, they would have found this:

Acts 5:1-6 Amplified Bible (AMP)

Fate of Ananias and Sapphira

Now a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s full knowledge [and complicity] he kept back some of the proceeds, bringing only a [a]portion of it, and set it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and [secretly] keep back for yourself some of the proceeds [from the sale] of the land? As long as it remained [unsold], did it not remain your own [to do with as you pleased]? And after it was sold, was the money not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this act [of hypocrisy and deceit] in your heart? You have not [simply] lied to people, but to God.” And hearing these words, Ananias fell down suddenly and died; and great fear and awe gripped those who heard of it. And the young men [in the congregation] got up and wrapped up the body, and carried it out and buried it.

Notice how Peter indicates that both the property and the money from the sale of the property belonged to Ananias?  And that Ananias was not condemned for keeping part of what rightfully belonged to him, but for lying to God, the Holy Spirit, and the Body of Christ?  This would mean that the notion of private property is not against God or God’s Law.  But then, that should not surprise anyone who has read the bible, since it was God, Himself, who allotted ownership of land as private property according to family (another case of the ‘communal’ agenda in Scripture).  And God’s Commandments acknowledge the right to private ownership of more tangible property, such as food, clothing and livestock (the wealth of that time).  Furthermore, the Scriptures command that people share with those in need, but that they do so willingly!  There is no Scriptural punishment stipulated for those who refuse to give to the needy — not in this life, anyway.  Which means there is no sword, or force, in Scripture, which is why I use the terms ‘communal’ and ‘corporate.’

However, there is a reference to the modern idea of ‘collectivism:’ where people are forced to act as directed.  In fact, this idea of collectivism is condemned by none other than Jesus: God in human form:

Matthew 26:52 Amplified Bible (AMP)

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back in its place; for all those who habitually draw the sword will die by the sword.

Now, admittedly, the context here is Peter trying to defend Jesus from being arrested by people who sought to kill Him.  Even then, knowing what was going to happen, Jesus told Peter to put his sword away.  This is because Jesus knew God’s plan and was — of His own free will — acting as One with God (‘corporatism’).  But this is what makes the  principle in Christ’s words, ‘those who live by the sword, die by the sword,’ is also applicable to the ‘collective:’ the connection to free will and force.

In short, ‘live by/die by‘ is a way of saying those who use force will eventually have force used against them.  So how does this apply to — let alone condemn — the collective?  Simple.  Remember, the collective is formed by an act of force (by being lumped together with dissimilar groups) and is then forced to act as directed.  In both cases, their is no agreement within the collective, nor is the collective the product of free will.  It is a creation of force that is maintained by force and directed by force.  In other words, it is the product of the sword (i.e. force).  But how does this mean Jesus condemned the collective when he was talking to Peter about actually using a sword?

First, we have to know the Gospels.  At no time in any of the four Gospels does Jesus ever force anyone to accept Him or His teachings.  Jesus is constantly urging people to accept His invitations, but He never directs anyone to force people to accept Him.  In fact, Jesus teaches that those who reject Him are to be left alone.  No one who follows Christ is under any command to use force against anyone who rejects Christ!  Jesus didn’t even want Peter to use force to defend His life!  So, what should we expect Jesus would think of those who use force to form, maintain and direct the collective?  If force is condemned by Jesus in matters as grave as trying to bring people to eternal salvation, then it must certainly be condemned in matters of forcing people to act against there will in all ways (which is exactly how the collective works).  Spiritually, the collective is just a man or small group of people trying to prove they are god(s) by creating their own version of heaven on earth.  This is why we can be confident that Scripture (not to mention Jesus) condemns the modern notion of the collective (i.e. Socialism/Communism).

Now, the reader is free to disagree with me.  I have no doubt many will, and that’s fine.  But this is how I currently understand the teachings in Scripture.  My understanding is coherent and consistent, two of the most important indicators that one is at least close to a proper understanding of God’s Word.  However, if anyone disagrees with me, I am certainly not going to try to force them to accept my argument.  As I just explained, Jesus sort of frowns on people who try to force their will on others.  So, one last time: my understanding of the communal/corporate nature of Scripture and the Scriptural condemnation of the collective do not create any conflicts in God’s Word. At the same time, Scripture does not condemn individualism.  In fact, if one considers the promises connected to the New Covenant in Jeremiah, there is good reason to believe that God’s Word anticipates the Western world and its individualistic nature.  This is why I have said that I think I see a sort of ‘middle ground’ in Scripture: a clear preference for the communal/corporate position, but an allowance for individualism at the same time.  Personally, I think this ‘middle ground’ is the key to human liberty in this life.  Our founders understood it, but, as with many other aspects of cultural bias, it was so deeply ingrained in them that they just assumed it would always be a given.  For this reason, they did not leave any insurance policy to help us maintain this middle ground and, as we continue to stray from it, we continue to lose our liberty.

 

 

8 thoughts on “UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE: Scripture Does Not Endorse ‘Collectivism’

  1. So the Founders, who were much more learned in scripture than I am, included the corporatism or the communal aspect, in the right to individual liberty, with the requirement for personal responsibility. Personal responsibility precludes the state of mind to give willingly to the group or body one belongs to.

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    1. Pretty much, yes. Because they came out of the influences of the Great Awakening, they naturally walked this middle ground. Not sure they even realized it. I’ll explain in the next post 🙂

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  2. The Founders certainly were not into post-modern ideas of individualism. Self-actualization, anything goes, total licentiousness which is even being promoted in today’s churches was not their idea of individual liberty. Jesus worked and so did all of the Apostles. They did not promote “helping” anyone other than members of the Christian community and did not promote the idea of making oneself a burden on others. William Perkins wrote “Treatise of the Vocations,” a shorter version of which can be read online in modern English. It’s about how Christian men in particular are to live, and the Founders wouldn’t have had a problem with it. Both Protestants in Europe and here in America set up ways to help poor people without Communism. Many groups like the Oneida Community tried the communal thing and failed, and there are the Ana-Baptists… So, I think you are on to something.

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    1. Rebecca,

      I think I sense a bit of ‘push-back’ from you here. I might be wrong. In fact, I hope I am. And if I am wrong, forgive me. But, if you are still questioning me, I beg you to be patient with me just one post longer.

      First, PLEASE read what the two brothers have tried to show those of us in the West in their book, “Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes.” They are correct about a great deal of their advice, and it really helped me understand how I have miss-read subtle aspects of God’s Word. I think, if you read the book, you will also find that you are constructing a definition of individualism that does not fit what the books describes, or how I am using the term. I am not talking about ‘post-modernism’ — especially since it is actually an extreme form of collectivism 😉

      You say the founders were not individualists. I ask you if you understand how I am using the term? If the founders were not individual-centered, why did they give INDIVIDUAL rights to INDIVIDUALS? In Scripture, rights are often given to the family, community or nation, not the individual (unless we’re talking about the king, but then, in Biblical times, the king WAS the nation, so…). The founders furthered the pioneering spirit of self-reliance. This is the ‘rugged individual’ over the Biblical notion of community. But this is to be expected, because the West comes out of the Greco-Roman tradition, not that of the Middle Eastern notion of the community.

      Now, that said, please be patient with me. I have another post to write in this series, and I hope it will help you see that I am NOT attacking the founders. They actually walked the ‘middle ground’ I have mentioned, they just didn’t make conscious note of it in their historic records. I hope to demonstrate this fact in my next post. Until I write it, I just want to assure you; I am NO enemy to the founders. But neither am I a die-hard ally. They were men and women, as are we all, and as such, they made mistakes, as do we all. My goal is not to focus on their ideas, but on God’s ways — especially since the founders sought God’s way to guide them. So, please, if you think I am attacking the founders, bear with me for one last post on this subject.

      B3A 🙂

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      1. I’m happy to read what you are writing, but you do hear a little push back from me. I collect old textbooks and books written about the Founders and the government of the US written at least a hundred years ago. The country was based on Biblical ideals, including Christian liberty. Even books written by the federal government back then admit this. We Americans were different than the French on this. So, it isn’t right to generalize what “Western Eyes” see as wrong. People like John Dewey have been working to get rid of Christian ideals of liberty since before the founding.
        We have had philosophy, AKA non-religious influences, and religious influences all along. Today, we are getting only the non-religious views in society, and the writers you have sited, are only getting these views as well. From listening to some pastors and their seminary experiences, it is a wonder any of them come out being Christian. The Founders were for individual rights and responsibilities, and they got that out of the Bible. The Bible says YOU have to believe and YOU have to quit sinning and YOU have the obligation to obey the 10 Commandments, YOU are to be concerned for your neighbors learning about Christ and no one else. This is in contrast to the RCC belief of a person getting to heaven through the RCC- forget the Bible.
        Now, I’ve also studied how people operated on a daily basis in the country, and they were highly cooperative and helpful without being “communal” or in any way communistic. The government even got involved and helped. Here’s one Example: We won British lands by fighting the revolution, and the government used that land to pay off war debts, and to get the country going, and to help start schools by selling it to capitalists for them to resell it at a profit (or not) to people who could only afford a smaller slice of the pie.
        As far as rugged individualists, I’ve heard that term, but really have no idea what it means, since all of the people who helped build this country were very family oriented and/or reliant on others for materials. I’m thinking of the frontiersmen, who appeared to be out there all alone, but who were not alone, unless they were hermits. There may have been a few like some character out of a novel written by the atheist Ayn Rand running businesses for completely selfish reasons, but the records show something different.
        As I said above, I’m happy about what you’ve written and I enjoy being able to comment on it. I’m looking forward to what you write next. We don’t have to agree.

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      2. Rebecca,

        I love detailed and well thought out replies like this one. So, thank you 🙂

        Next, we are not so far appart as you seem to sense. I hope my next post (which I hope to write tonight) will show you this. HOWEVER, I do think you have a Western view of how you see the nation. That is not a criticism. I still have it, as well. But Scripture does not! And when I stumbled across this fact (and it is a fact), it surprised me a great deal, as I had always believed otherwise.

        Again, we agree: the founders did draw from Scripture in designing our system (Madison and Franklin said so, just to name 2 of the founders). But where we in the West read “you” in the second person singular (to us, we think Scripture means to speak to us, directly — as individuals), this is unsupportable in the full context of many passages of Scripture. In a great many of those cases, their are clear indications that we should be reading “you” as third person plural (meaning it applies to everyone listening, as a body). SO far as salvation is concerned, this is not necessarily a problem. But where society is concerned, it is a H-U-G-E problem.

        Now, I’ll say it again: you already sense the same thing I hope to explain next: that the founders walked a middle ground: individualistic, but still with a sense of communal responsibility to each other. We’ve lost that part of the equation, which is why we are in societal decline. At least, this is all how I have come to see and understand this issue.

        I will pray the Lord helps me explain what He has shown in so it will be easily understood. I’ll do my best to post this third of three posts before I go to bed tonight. Until then, stay safe 🙂

        B3A

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      3. Of course I have a Western view of the Bible and there is nothing wrong with that. And, the Bible speaks in metaphors, parables, to groups and individuals, but the way to heaven is one person at a time. And, all sorts of people smarter than the two who wrote the book you are critiquing, have made commentaries on the Bible, and the majority are Westerners because the schools have been in the West! If you would like to know about the past writers on Christianity here are three websites you can easily find on the net: Monergism Books, A Puritan’s Mind and Puritan Publications, and Grace Gems! The Puritans are credited with supplying the moral underpinnings of the US. Also, consider this, in order to go to Yale, at the time of Cotton Mather, a fourteen year old boy had to read Latin and ancient Greek well enough to stand in front of a board and read passages out of Latin and Greek books and explain to the board what they had just read. And the reason they did that was because they were going to a serious religious school. When people like B. Franklin stated they were uneducated, they generally meant they did not have this kind of a classical education, including languages. No one today gets that kind of education, period, so I would like to see footnotes/citations in your book as to examples of how Westerners don’t understand the Bible. And we do have many pastors today who understand the Bible as well. This isn’t about you, but about two individuals who seem to think they know more than the founders of the modern world. I’m looking forward to your next post. Right now I’m reading a book “A History of the English Puritans,” by W. Carlos Martyn, published by the American tract society in 1867. It is 496 pages long and has footnotes. So you can see why I might find this subject interesting.

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