The title is sarcastic, of course. The church grew dramatically even with this not-so-seeker-sensitive approach where God kills Ananias and Sapphira on the spot for lying to the Holy Spirit. It is unfortunate that mainline, “seeker-sensitive” and “emergent” churches didn’t study it more carefully before watering down their doctrine so badly. When leaders feel that they must twist or ignore the word of God to advance the kingdom it is evidence of weak or non-existent faith.
The Believers Share Their Possessions
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Ananias and Sapphira
5 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9 Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
In the midst of the explosive church growth we read this cautionary tale. Some people read it as the early Christians being communistic, but that isn’t the point at all. As always, we must read carefully and in context.
The passage describes the general behavior of believers but it doesn’t say God commanded this (“No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.”).
Peter didn’t say that Ananias and Sapphira were obligated to donate anything at all: “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”
The sin wasn’t in not giving enough, it was lying to God. This was a serious thing, especially when the church was forming. They needed purity and honesty, just like we do today. Just because we are in the age of grace doesn’t mean that God doesn’t take sin seriously.
Satan was defeated at the cross in an ultimate sense, but he was and is still active in tempting Christians and non-Christians.
Despite this event, the church continued to grow. Consider how lax church discipline is in the U.S. today. I’m not wishing for judgments like those again Ananias and Sapphira, but the lack of discipline has let all kinds of false teachers in the church and corrupted our witness.
Again, this passage was not a Biblical command to be property-less. Saying your possessions aren’t your own doesn’t mean anyone can come take them. It is recognizing that ultimately they all come from God. We aren’t giving him anything He didn’t give us in the first place.
Other passages round out the New Testament guidance on giving, notably 2 Corinthians 9:6-7:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
We don’t need deception to spread the Gospel. We need the truth. We should share it as ambassadors, but we should share it without apology. If you distort the message to appeal to spiritually dead people, then don’t be surprised when your church gets off track.