The United Order: Should There be Rich and Poor in the Church?
Q. If the first Christian Church lived the Law of "All Things in Common" then why does James speak to "rich" and "poor" members in James 1:9-11? Isn't this evidence that the "United Order" was not practised, or at any rate, not for very long?
A. Most scholars believe that the Epistle of James was written sometime before A.D.50 because of its simple church structure (there were, apparently, only "elders" and "teachers"), the fact that there is no mention of the circumcision controversy that threatened to split the Church in Paul's time, and the term "synagogue" is still used to refer to a meeting place. This would possibly make it the earliest Christian writing, with the exception of Galatians. It could be argued, therefore, that the United Order was not established.
This argument is not, however, altogether convincing as James wrote from Jerusalem where, according to Acts, the United Order was lived very soon after Pentecost. A better explanation would be that this Epistle is, as the introduction suggests, a general letter to all Jews in the Diaspora (Jas.1:1b) and therefore addresses a mixed audience of Messianic Jews (Christian Jews) and non-Messianic Jews at a time before the Christian Church and Judaism formally split. For we must not forget that at the beginning Christians were regarded as simply a "sect" within Judaism, much as Pentecostals might, at one time, have been looked upon as "charismatic Lutherans". Thus we would expect to find rich and poor mentioned since James is addressing not only Christian Jews but non-Christian Jews. If James had a position of respect within the Jewish community generally (as Paul who was a Pharisee before his exclusion) then it would not be unusual for him to have a pastoral audience amongst the non-Messianic Jews.
An alternative explanation is that the United Order was not, in the beginning, practised outside Jerusalem. He is, after all, addressing the Diaspora (JNT), i.e. those Jews living outside the geographical borders of Israel amongst the Gentiles.
Whatever the truth is, we cannot deny that the United Order was practised in Jerusalem and that it was regarded as an ideal, as witnessed by the power of the Spirit that was in it as, for example, when Annanias and Sapphira deliberately broke their covenants (Ac.5). The New Covenant Church teaching is that the United Order was only lived in Israel proper, with Jerusalem as the main congregation living in this manner. This we call a Firstborn Colony. Outside Israel, in the mixed Jewish-Gentile congregations, either the Law of Tithing and/or the Freewill Offering constituted God's economic Law. This is the pattern followed by us and makes best sense of the Scriptures.
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 17 December 2007
Copyright © 1987-2008 NCCG - All Rights Reserved