One of the commonly posited notions is that the early disciples were socialists: group authority, sharing everything, trading MP3s on Nazareth’s Napster. But can we fit this contemporary political tag onto a first-century system?
I think that perhaps for the first time in history, we can. Wired’s most recent magazine has an article on the Web 2.0 and collaborative online ventures as “The New Socialism.” One of the interesting points that Kevin Kelly makes is that socialism is usually defined as a tension between individual autonomy and the authority of the state. More authority? Socialism. More autonomy? Free market. Give and take, zero-sum trades, very little in-between.
Emerging from the web these days is “The New Socialism,” which, according to Kelly, is decentralized public coordination to solve problems and create things that neither pure communism nor pure capitalism can:
The largely unarticulated but intuitively understood goal of communitarian technology is this: to maximize both individual autonomy and the power of people working together. (Wired, June 2009, 120)
This articulation of socialism resonates with the biblical notion of socialism in Acts 2, Acts 4 and even echoes back to Exodus 16. Gone are the antiquainted notions of socialism as centralized authority and controlled information and resources channels, replaced by distributed authority and open transparency. And wasn’t that what the Apostles were doing? Distributed authority among them all? Open transparency that replaced the rigidly controlled temple system?
These days we call the US government socialist, and I don’t think that definition fits with the Apostles. But this new socialism, I think, finally describes accurately what the original Apostles considered to be the best way for the creative experience and expression of the Spirit to emerge.