All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
Yesterday, me and my friend Frida arrived in Kettering, England, to visit one of my favourite churches, the Jesus Army. As I’ve pointed out several times before, the Jesus Army is one of the very few examples of when the Jesus hippies of the 70’s organized themselves in their own church instead of joining existing churches, and this has made them able to sustain the radicality, fire and passion for God that characterised the Jesus revival. What is most noticable is that the Jesus Army practices community of goods just like the apostolic New Testament church, something that unfortunately has become very rare among Protestant Christians.
You see, cessationism is sadly not just a doctrine of the margins within the Protestant movement, but a key factor in how both Luther and Calvin viewed Scripture. While claiming that they based their theology on Scripture alone, they deliberately ignored large parts of the Bible that didn’t fit with their theology. Cessationism is generally defined as the idea that miraculous gifts have ceased with the apostles, but within Protestantism we also teach that the community of goods we read about in Acts 2 and 4 ceased with the apostles.
With cessationism, you basically are your own god who make your own bible. Jack Deere, a former cessationist, writes in Surprised by the Power of the Spirit how he didn’t like fasting very much, so he claimed that fasting has ceased with the apostles as well. After all, there are not so many people fasting in the later books of the New Testament. But the problem is of course that the Bible never says that anything – miracles, community, fasting or whatever – would cease with the apostles, and so cessationism is just a way for Christians who claim to be Bible-believing to have a reason not to believe in all of the Bible.
The Jesus Army, however, believes in all of the Bible and are doers of the Word as well. In their communities – there are over 50 of them – people share everything they have. If you want to join a community, you firstly get to know the people, partake in their activities and build relationships, and when you’re ready your house, car and everything you have, give the money to the church and move in. The community house we’re now staying in as guests is called Holy Treasure, and it’s an amazing place to be in!
Huw Lewis, who’s both leading the Kettering congregation and is one of five national, apostolic leaders of the whole movement, explained to us how the community houses developed within the Jesus Army, or the Jesus Fellowship Church as its formal name is, as a consequence of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the Jesus revival in the 70’s. Saved British hippies simply didn’t want to stop being in God’s presence, and so they became church 24/7, living together in worship and love. The communities didn’t have community of goods from the start, but the movement’s founder Noel Stanton, who had been a baptist pastor before the outpouring began, emphasized the importance of the Biblical economic equality. And so eventually all communities had the system of a common purse, and it had been the case ever since.
I hope to get more details about how everything works practically, how the communities have dealt with different scenarios and what advices and tips they have for other Christian groups that want to build something similar. Huw told us with a smile that they’ve basically done every mistake you could think of, and learned a lot the hard way. I’m just so grateful that there is at least one Protestant church in Europe that really tries to look like the church of Acts, and I’m so excited about what the Lord wants to teach me during the two weeks I’m here. For my goal is simple: I want to start a Jesus Army in Sweden.