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
5 Now a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 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. 3 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? 4 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.” 5 And hearing these words, Ananias fell down suddenly and died; and great fear and awe gripped those who heard of it. 6 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.