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Q&A session – Common Purse

by Micah Landers

I have been spending a great deal of time lately talking to the Lord and pondering the concept of provision. Our family recently moved to Oklahoma City from Cincinnati, effectively leaving behind most of our close connections, both in the church and work related. From the moment we agree to move with the Spirit and uproot our family, we have had a difficult time finding consistent and honorable work by which to provide for our family. Through these past 8 months or so, we have been gradually learning a lot about having true faith in God to provide.

Recent circumstances have led me to pursue a deeper vision for the role of family “provider” in light of the fact that we have very practically seen that it is God who is doing most of our providing, even financially. The New Testament theme that came to my mind is that of the Common Purse. If your in the dark, having a “Common Purse” refers to the concept of living in community with others so that everyone shares their income in a single group account. Everyone adds in their money, everyone takes what they need. I wanted to know more.

After some inquiries, I got a chance to have a text based discussion with Zak, who is part of a community that lives together in Cincinnati, called The Gladstone House. Here are some of the highlights of our little online dialogue, formatted interview style, so it sounds a bit more interactive. Hopefully you’ll find this as enlightening as I did.

The Good Stuff

Micah – So first off, practically speaking, how do you go about this? Does everyone just give all their money to a treasurer type person?

Zak – Common purse itself is (from the practical perspective here only) VERY simple. It is simply a matter of budgeting. Every person or family is budgeted according to the needs of that family. Everyone dumps their pay into a common bank account and then at the beginning of every month receive from the treasurer the amount they need for the upcoming month. What is saved up together is used for ministry, common meals, etc. We follow the Biblical model commanded by Paul, “If a man does not work he shall not eat” meaning that Common Purse is not a free-ride. Everyone is required to work 40 hours a week minimum. If they for whatever reason lose their job for a time, they work for the community, cleaning, on projects, etc.

M – That idea of some people finding a free ride seems like a pretty obvious flaw. I guess intentionality is paramount here just like any other area of the Christian life. I know I can think of some Common Purse ideas in the Bible, but could perhaps give a quick summary of the overarching Biblical idea that fuels the Gladstone House on in this?

Z – The summary of the Biblical idea has several folds to it:

Jesus lived in CP with His disciples and the example in Acts flowed out of their relationship with Him. Unfortunately, the treasurer at the time of Jesus’ ministry was Judas Iscariot who used to help himself from the CP (according to John), but non-the-less, this explains why the early apostles lived this way in Acts (have you ever wondered why they suddenly started living like this?). They simply continued and expanded what Jesus began with them.

M – Okay, this is kind of mind-blowing for me. It’s simple, and it’s right there in the NT, but, like you said, the example we have in Acts just flows out of Jesus ministry. They weren’t making up some cool new system, they were just doing what they had become accustomed to doing, living in super tight and trusting community! I have a feeling I’m gonna be thinking about that for days…

Z – There is a great text in an early Christian writing which says this: “If you are going to be sharers in that which is eternal, how much more should you share that which is temporal!”

In Christ we are a family. Every healthy family shares not only it’s life, but it’s possessions together. Everything is “our,” not “mine.” As we learn to share all we have together, we’re learning how to be a family in Christ. Wherever you put your treasure there your heart is and we chose to put our treasure together, in the Body of Christ. It is also interesting, here in the wealthy West, how we talk about Jesus’ teaching on Money and possessions… I hear many people talk about wanting to be good stewards, etc, and not many people actually discussing what Jesus actually told His followers to do; for example: “27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:27-34) or; “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:31-33) to quote just a couple of many… perhaps the disciples in Acts were not only following Jesus’ example, but saw their common sharing of everything a living out of the doctrine that Jesus’ taught them.

M – This may seem simplistic, but in all of that text, “oh ye of little faith!” sticks out to me at this point more than anything. I find myself continually coming back to a place where I have nothing to provide, then learning again to have faith in the Father as our Provider, only to grasp at any job opportunity that comes my way when I see the opportunity!

It seems like having a CP where people were aware of who was contributing more/less could also force a lot of people to deal with pride/shame through healthy, Spirit-led community. It would be pretty hard to keep feeling better than someone else who makes less money for very long if your finances are tied to one another. I see a lot of obvious problems that would quickly arise, giving people the opportunity to check themselves and remove a lot of self that is involved with providing.

Z – A few last things on a subject that could fill a book…

1.) Do not attempt this without being in a Spirit-filled community. Even with those of the highest character and who are full of the Spirit difficulties arise with this, but it is the active ministry of the Spirit of Christ, who actually makes all this not only possible, but even enjoyable. Notice in Acts 2 and 4 that all the talk about their common sharing came right after great moves of the Holy Spirit. This way of life is not something that can work naturally due to the selfishness of mankind, but the work of the Holy Spirit makes it more than possible.

2.) Leadership is key. The early Church had the apostles and later the deacons who distributed the money according to need… it cannot work as a free-for-all. Let the Spirit appoint leaders (more than 1 is best) to care for the fellowship and the moolah.

3.) Never pursue CP first, pursue unity with the Body of Christ around you in all levels of life, share your heart, your space, your struggles, your love, and then sharing possessions become an outflow. Take some time, when you can, and read all of Jesus’ teachings on His disciples and money/possessions and you will see where the early Church got the basis for Common Purse. I know this is long, hope it helps. Feel free to ask any further questions! 🙂

M – Thanks for your encouragement and insight, I’m sure I will come back with more questions in the future! This is a lot of good stuff to think about!

End of The Good Stuff

As I think back over everything that I am just scratching the surface of understanding, I am beginning to see a theme that aligns itself with many other principles I have come to grow in understanding and believing over the past few years. Christian community is designed to look radically and even uncomfortably like a family. In the context of a family, CP is logical and separation of income is really odd, almost like a prenuptial agreement in a marriage. Could we really even function like a family if we don’t trust one another with the depths of our pockets? In pursuit of a familial understanding of the Kingdom which is coming all around us, it is hard to let this looming aspect go completely unnoticed.

– Micah and Lisa Landers recently moved along with their two tiny daughters from Ft. Thomas, KY to Oklahoma City, OK, simply because that’s what God suggested for their family. Micah is a deep thinker, voracious reader, and fellow believer that J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion is the closest thing to Scripture mortal man has ever written. You can connect with them on their journey at www.justlikelions.wordpress.com.