Presented are transcripts of radio broadcasts by R.L.D.S. President Frederick M. Smith in 1938 on pertinent topics that continue to be of considerable interest in this 21st century.
VII. The Early Christian Community
After the experience in the Upper Chamber where the Lord’s Supper was instituted, there followed in swift succession events which were stunning in their effects upon the followers of Jesus—his betrayal and apprehension, the trial, his condemnation, the cruel road to Calvary, and the agony of the Cross. How terrible must have been the depression into which the followers of Jesus, and especially the apostles, were plunged. They had often seen his power, but before his enemies he seemed helpless. The gloom which settled over them as he was laid in the rock-sealed tomb must have been dense. How long those three days must have seemed to them, as they in seclusion and with abated voices relived their experiences with the Master, and recalled again his splendid teachings. And how rich in meaning they became!
Then came the glorious news, “He is risen!” They saw him, talked with him again, listened to his instructions once more. Then they saw him ascend into heaven. Who can measure their ecstasy as they comprehended his power as never before and the scope of his teachings? And the promised Comforter, the Great Teacher, the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God came upon them, and with the endowment thereof and under its impulsion they went out as ambassadors for Christ and witnesses of his resurrection, and with great power they preached the Christian gospel, the good news of conquered death and victory over the grave.
The Great Change
But they evidently did more than that, according to the record, for it appears that in their minds and teachings the Christian religion was meant to improve conditions here. That they were successful in impressing this aspect of the gospel is quite evident from some of the Scriptures I desire to examine.
Without doubt the apostles were never the same after Calvary as they were before. Before the Ascension they had Jesus, their leader, with them. To him they could and did turn in every emergency. But when he was gone to the Father, they must determine their own courses, decide their own questions, solve their own problems. To be sure, the promised Comforter was there to guide, but in initiative and policies they must form their own policies and they grew and expanded in power. They preached as never before, for they taught as men having authority. They rebuked sin, encouraged righteousness, and laid down the principles of life.
Impetuous, emotional Peter, who so often tried the Master, became a power and an anchorage to his brethren. Following Pentecost he stood in boldness, rebuked the Pharisees, denounced sin, and called men to repentance. He told them what they must do to be saved—repent and be baptized.
The Christian Community
The effect of Peter’s words upon those who listened is briefly outlined in the second chapter of Acts. I wish more were written, but what appears is so important I quote here some six verses, for there is much therein to which I wish to direct the attention of my readers.
Then they that gladly received his [Peter’s] word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.—Acts 2:41-47
In this passage of Scripture, the first thing I want to note is that those who gladly received Peter’s word rendered obedience by passing through the regenerating waters of baptism. There was no cringing obedience there, for it was one of joy. And this class only were baptized, but that they were many is testified by three thousand souls being added in a day.
They were thoroughly converted, too, not an emotional momentary “getting religion,” for they remained steadfast in doctrine as well as in fellowship. Now note the text. It is said that they continued steadfast, too, in breaking bread and in prayers. This is not the only time in Holy Writ where daily sustenance (bread) and devotions (prayers) are placed together in importance. There is a reason. God intended that man, in his religion, Christ’s religion, should be concerned about his bodily welfare. He intended man to be in reasonable comfort, though not to eat beyond bodily needs, and to this end he blessed the earth that it should bring forth sufficient for all, and even more. Daily bread bears close relationship to daily prayers.
The fear which came upon every soul was doubtless the “fear of God,” that fear of disobeying him. It is a wholesome fear, and prompts to righteousness.
The signs and wonders done by the apostles because of the closeness with which they and the people walked with God holds promise to all peoples answering the call of Christ that obedience brings powers to do even beyond the understanding of man or his ability to explain.
A Basis of Unity
The believers were together. This is the operation of the social law known as “the consciousness of kind.” Persons of one mind, one belief, will gather. It is natural and right. Like beliefs in theology merely would not function so strongly as a motive for gathering, as would like-mindedness in social ideals, especially when efforts were being made to put those ideals in realities and work out social problems. That the social factors played prominently in gathering these believers of the teachings of the apostles is evidenced by the statement that they “had all things common.” If we were to stop right there, as some persons do, we might think we would be justified in believing that the apostles taught Communism—that kind of “all things common” according to which all property would belong to the group, whether large or small in numbers, and that no man would hold property in his own name or in his own right. But the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does not believe that such application of “all things common” was intended by the apostles in their attempt to give social expression to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Problems of Property
However, immediately following the statement that they had all things common is also the statement that their possessions and goods were sold, and that these possessions and goods were divided, or parted, “to all men.” Here again the real idea at issue would not rightly appear if we stopped at those words, for the phrase following puts quite another meaning into the manner of dividing, or parting. It was parted as every man had need. If any man had no need, then there was not goods parted to him, but where need existed, then the division or parting was to relieve the need. This brings in a law, which we might designate as the “law of need,” which must not at any time be lost to view when discussing the group surplus accumulated by the consecration of individual surpluses, of which I shall have more to say later.
It is evident from reading even this very brief statement about the social efforts of the apostles that there was poverty among the early members—the poor–those who had need. And here it is also clear that one of the prime duties of a group organized along the social lines of Christ’s teachings is to relieve distress by supplying need; and, I might say, a first task is to eliminate poverty. It is the law of need at work.
It must be remembered, too, that possessions or property accumulations in those times were much simpler than today. Houses and lands and flocks were the chief lines. Stocks, bonds, insurance policies, endowment policies, etc., were quite unknown. Hence the selling of these possessions was also a simpler matter, and it may be that a chief reason for so doing does not appear here. Were the believers disposed to gather to some place or places, where because of being in entire control they could create desirable conditions under which to foster and realize their ideals, then the mobilization of their resources would become important.
Now note that it does not say that all the goods were parted, though all men participated in establishing the higher level of being or living. Of this, also, more later.
Bread and Prayer
In this account from the second chapter of Acts we note again that bread and prayer are closely associated in idea, for it is said these happy believers continued daily “with one accord in the temple,” which means religious ceremonies, and in “breaking bread from house to house.” Daily sustenance and religion, religious ceremony and breaking bread. I want to keep that before you. Breaking bread from house to house meant indulging in the social amenities and thereby fortifying the bonds of fraternity and goodly friendship.
And as if to emphasize the close relationship between bread and devotion, this fact is repeated in another form when it is recorded that they “did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God.”
In what spirit do you eat your meat? Is it with the gladness and singleness of heart that springs from the consciousness that your neighbors and others are also eating, and is your conscience clear from the charge that in selfishness for you and yours you are withholding, grasping that which God has intrusted you in way of wealth or goods so that other mouths are empty, and other hearts heavy with sadness and bitterness?
Of course, you alone would not do all that should be done. But are there not those with whom you could pool your interests, and in the light and under the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, do the things he said to do?