Justice, Community, and the Coming Kingdom
Excerpts from the book by Eberhard Arnold. For the complete work see The Bookshelf, God’s Revolution.
We seem, to our horror, to be standing on the brink of a catastrophic judgment. It is so close that it can be averted only through God’s direct intervention.
The human race has made stupendous technological progress, conquering time and space by means of automobiles and airplanes; but how many thousands of people are being killed by these very same means! There are amazing achievements in the big cities, yet most urban families die out in the third or fourth generation.
The most sinister powers of our civilization are the three mighty organizations – the State, the military, and the capitalist structure. These three organizations represent the highest achievement of the earth spirit. The tremendous edifice built up by a fallen creation is incredible. But it will end in death. How mighty is this power, how unquestioned its apparent worth!
The dark reality of today – humankind destroying and ruining itself in reiterated madness – must be opposed by a much greater reality: the light of tomorrow. In this light humankind is called to something that is the opposite of betrayal and deception, of murder and hate, of death and destruction. (1 Thess. 5:4–5)
But we will not find the assurance that the dawn is coming until we have grasped night’s darkness, its impenetrable blackness and bottomless suffering.
The rule of evil affects all human beings. In our day it has reached massive proportions. We come across it in every form of government, in every Church, in every gathering no matter how pious, in all political parties and labor unions, even in family life and in our Brotherhood. It has a demonic power that shows up in every one of these structures, however different they may be on the surface. They are pervaded by the inclination to obstinate self-determination, the tendency to present what is one’s own as the only thing that counts – one’s own person, one’s own nation, State, Church, sect, party, labor union, one’s own family or community – or at least, one’s own way of thinking.
There has hardly ever been a time when it was as evident as it is today that God and His righteousness and love do not yet rule. We see it in our own lives and in current events. We see it in the fate of the hopeless, the millions upon millions of unemployed. We see it in the unjust distribution of goods though the earth offers unstintingly its fertility and all its potentials. There is urgent work that must be done to help humankind, but it is obstructed and destroyed by the injustice of the present world systems.
We are in the midst of a collapse of civilization. Civilization is nothing but humankind’s orderly work in nature. And this work has turned into a disorder whose injustice cries out to heaven.
There are hundreds of signs that something is about to happen. Nothing in history takes place, however, unless it comes from God. So our plea to Him now is that He make history, His history, the history of His righteousness. And when God makes His history, we all have every reason to tremble. For as matters stand today, He can do nothing unless His wrath first sweeps over all the injustice and lovelessness, all the discord and brutality, that rule the world. His wrath will be the beginning of His history. First must come the day of judgment: then the day of joy, of love, grace, and justice can dawn.
But if we ask God to intervene, we must bare our own breasts before Him so that His lightning can strike us, for we are all guilty. There is no one who is not guilty of the wickedness in today’s world.
No one can deny that the revolutionary movements have aroused the human conscience, thus violently shaking humanity’s soul. The conscience cannot find peace until its warning cry reaches into every person’s life. The attack by socialism and communism on the status quo is a call to our consciences – those of us who consider ourselves Christians. This call warns us more strongly than any sermon that our task is to live in active protest against everything that opposes God in this world. So poorly have we Christians filled this role that the question must be asked: Are we Christians at all?
Every awakening of humankind’s collective conscience is of deep significance. There is such a thing as a world conscience, the conscience of humanity. It rises up against war and bloodshed, against mammonism and social injustice, against violence of any kind.
At this eleventh hour hearts must be made ready, through faith, to receive the powers of the future world, the Spirit of the upper Jerusalem. (Rev. 3:10–12)
The final Kingdom is near, and the whole world should be on the watch. But the world will not take heed unless the Church of Jesus Christ puts the unity and justice of this Kingdom into practice daily. Faith will bring about true unity among believers who are ready to live a life of unlimited, active love.
He has called us, not so that we love our own lives, not even the lives of our fellow human beings. In other words, we are called to live, not for people, but for the honor of God and His Kingdom. We must not endeavor to raise ourselves to God’s Kingdom by loving our life and taking good care of it. The way to the Kingdom leads through death, through very real death. It demands that our life be given up for the sake of God and His Kingdom. (Mark 8:35)
If we understand our time as it really is, we cannot fail to see how close that demand has come. We need not even go so far as to think of war, though it seems imminent. The political situation today requires that we be willing at any moment to lose our lives in serving the cause we have taken up. And woe to those who try again and again to keep their lives! (John 12:25)
Wake up, you who sleep, and arise; then Christ will reach you! (Rom. 13:11) The call is meant for anyone who has slipped back into the gloomy twilight of his own heart: “Wake up and arise from the dead!” Christ, the true Light, stands before you. (Eph. 5:14) He will strengthen you so that you may do powerful deeds, the deeds of love that are born solely of faith in Christ.
You are living in the end-time. “It is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18) See to it that you lead a blameless life. That means you must look to the future and shape your life in accordance with God’s future. Make use of the present moment, for the times are evil. The hour of extreme danger has come. People must wake up if they look for protection in the coming judgment. Therefore do not be foolish. Learn to understand the will of the Most High in our day. (Eph. 5:15–17) Be alert in these evil and dangerous times, lest in the hour of temptation you remain under the judgment. The foolish virgins became careless. You too will come to grief in the coming judgment unless you can borrow or are given oil for your lamps. (Matt. 25:1–13)
The Kingdom Breaking In
If in all we do we have no other goal than this: that His Kingdom come, that His will be done on earth, then our prayer will be answered. (Matt. 6:33) God will prove greater than our hearts can grasp. Much more will happen than we dare put into words. His answer will surpass our boldest prayer. And so that we may be sure it is God who does it all, it will happen while we are yet praying or even before we have spoken our prayer. (Isaiah 65:24) Anyone who knocks at God’s door and seeks God alone will receive what he asks for before he knows it. (Matt. 7:7–11)
Let us ask God to send forth His Spirit with renewed authority. New thoughts must break forth from the depths of God’s heart that go far, far beyond our own human thoughts and weak notions. Let us pray for God’s mighty deeds, deeds that are completely independent of us human beings. Our prayer is that His rule breaks in, that His love is revealed, that His Kingdom becomes visible, ready for the Holy Spirit and Christ to descend. To this we will give ourselves, even if it costs us our lives. We will pledge our lives that this may come about for the deliverance of all nations.
The miraculous powers of God, the reality of His Kingdom, will be revealed in your midst; for it is the Holy Spirit who grips you and penetrates you and takes you into the sphere of God’s coming Kingdom. (Acts 2:17–21) The wind that precedes the storm is part of it. The Holy Spirit belongs to the day of judgment and redemption when the Kingdom breaks in, even though He is the voice of God in the storm that precedes God’s rule. Every time this happens, confirming the event we know as the founding of the apostolic Church in Jerusalem, it affects the entire world.
We are a hundred and fifty people, young and old, and each one has experienced a special leading. All these different threads have led us to life in community, a goal common to us all. It is in accord with God’s future Kingdom. By this we mean something that is earthly as well as heavenly. We believe in life beyond, eternal life. But at the same time we believe in life here on earth, the life that looks toward God’s future, that expects eternal powers to break in and conquer the earth for God’s coming Kingdom. Because we hold that the Church of Christ is an embassy of God’s future reign, we believe that the communal Church has to represent here and now the charter of the Kingdom to come. We say, the Holy Spirit is a harbinger of God’s future; the Holy Spirit is the element of the great future. And that is why the Church receives the Holy Spirit, not so as to figure out a map or timetable of God’s Kingdom to go by – far from it – but so that its life may be guided by perfect love, in keeping with the Spirit. Certainly this means that we are in a situation of crass opposition to the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. We withstand both the spirit of dictatorship and the liberal spirit that gives free rein to evil and sin, that allows people’s sensual nature to have its fling, so to speak. Both go in a wrong direction. So from every point of view we are untimely. July 1935
There will be no need for do’s and don’ts, no need for tables of commandments or tablets of law. In this Kingdom everything will be regulated by inner rebirth and inward inspiration, under the rule of Christ’s Spirit. Sept. 1935
Jesus challenged us to work while it is still day. (John 9:4) He compared His Kingdom to labor in a vineyard, the investment of entrusted money, the good use of every talent. If God’s Kingdom is to transform this vale of tears into a place of joy, it has to be a realm of work. Work, and work alone, befits the destiny of the human spirit. By our nature as human beings we are called to a life of creativity. Healthy joy in life will be ours only through unclouded, loving fellowship in work.
We have been given an important calling in the context of the tremendous struggle between two opposites. We are unworldly in that we deny recognition to mutual displacement and annihilation. Yet we are close to the world and to nature in that we acknowledge the constructive social force of mutual help and interdependence. And we do not exclude anybody. We believe that all human beings, whoever they may be, are drawn together by this deep-down sense of solidarity and mutual service. We believe that all, however deeply they may have sunk into darkness, do yet have a spark of light in the depths of their hearts. We believe that this spark of light in every person must in the end gather them all together in the ocean of light – fellowship with God.
It is not uncommon to hear people say it is wrong to try to bring about prematurely any part of God’s Kingdom. That is true. We human beings must not and cannot hasten into being what God will do. But by saying it is wrong to force anything, people tend all too often to cover up their lack of faith in the Holy Spirit. Men and women cannot precipitate God’s Kingdom. But God can send a forerunner of His Kingdom: He sends the Holy Spirit, who is the essence of the future Kingdom, who speeds ahead to herald the coming reign.
There have been many people on whose hearts the suffering of the world weighed heavily and who therefore knew that one day justice would have to come. But Jesus is the only one who, as well as implanting in us the longing for justice, gave us the Kingdom with its clarity and justice and showed us the way there.
The State and the Church that supports it are, relatively speaking, the best things in the darkness. Until all this relative good is overthrown, God’s Kingdom will not come.
The absolute good is the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Supper. (Rev. 19:7–9) We need not try to imagine what form it will take. We are not interested in exact descriptions or pictures. Our concern is for His joy and His unity to be made visible across the whole horizon. The entire earth shall be one Church of Christ, the whole earth will join in His wedding feast, and peace will reign in all the earth. Christ will be present everywhere. And to live in Church community means to be faithful in our expectation of that day and to work faithfully toward it. Every wedding, every wedding feast, shall be a symbol; every common mealtime shall be a sign of brotherhood.
Christ fulfills everything, for in Him everything is already fulfilled. Boundless joy is given to us when we turn away from the old life and find forgiveness for it, when we turn to a new life with courage to dare. That is the joy of the Gospel, the joy of the Holy Spirit, joy in the Lord, the joy that encompasses all of life because it springs from the eternal God. (Phil. 4:4) It is joy in the certainty that this same happiness belongs to all, that the future is the Lord’s.
The coming down of God’s Kingdom when Jesus gives this earth back to God on the day of the new creation will be something different. Our prayer shall call on God to bring this about. We cannot do it, not even with our faith. God alone can do it.
An awakening must come; but something still greater must come. Can you grasp this? Can you grasp it that something even greater than the early apostolic times must come, namely the Kingdom of God, which will change the whole world?
Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount
We ought constantly to occupy our minds and hearts with the person of Jesus: who He is, what He said, how He lived, how He died, and what His resurrection means. We have to take in the full import of His words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) and in the parables, and we have to represent to all the world the same things He represented in His life.
What the Kingdom of God means is made clear in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Lord’s Prayer, and in the words, “Enter by the narrow gate!” This means, treat people as you wish them to treat you. This is generally overlooked. You will not be going the way of discipleship until you do for everybody all that you ask from God for yourself, that is, absolute social justice and the peaceable atmosphere of God’s Kingdom. We are envoys of the coming Kingdom of God; we serve only one law, the law of His Spirit.
The Sermon on the Mount tells us what that means in practice. To anyone who is sincere about it, the way is plain. Of course, no one can go this way without grace. Jesus indicates this when He speaks of the tree and its vitality in connection with the Kingdom of God. He also speaks of the salt, meaning the entirely new nature bestowed on us in Christ and the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “Unless your justice is better than that of the moralists and theologians, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” And He also says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice.”
To be submerged in the wind of the Holy Spirit – that is the new life. Its effect will encompass the whole world. We need to have faith that we live in a time of grace; for the tree is meant to spread over the whole earth. And all humankind gathers under this tree, in the shelter of this living tree.
It is not enough to recognize that Jesus is the friend of our hearts; we must prove our love. And Jesus tells us how to do this: “Those who love me will keep my word!” (John 14:15)
To be ready for God’s Kingdom does not mean to stop eating and drinking or to reject marriage; it means recognizing the signs of the times and living now as we shall live in the future Kingdom of God. But what will be the sign that God’s Kingdom is about to come? We read the answer in Matthew 24:31 and Mark 13:27: “And He will send His messengers with a trumpet sounding afar, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” That is the sign of the second coming of Christ. The gathering together is the sign of Christ –“How much did I desire to gather you as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings.” (Matt. 23:37)
Jesus says that your words must be your deeds, your faith for the future must be your present living. The salvation of Jesus Christ must be your life. In this way you will find the right attitude to all people and all things. You will not judge, but you will sense that people’s lives are ruined by social injustice; you will feel that all guilt represents humanity’s moral decline. So you will take care not to expose the holiest things to eyes and ears that do not understand. You will try to see that others have everything that you want for yourself. Do you need a house or a bank account? Then make that possible for all. Whatever you expect others to do for you, do the same for them. Love your neighbor as yourself – that is truth and reality; it is the reality of Jesus. And right afterwards He tells us to go in by the narrow gate, to go the narrow way. Beware of the way of compromise, the way of the many, the broad way. Beware of false prophets. They speak of peace and work for peace, but they are not free from the power of money, from mammon, lying, and impurity. Anyone who is not completely free of mammon should not speak of peace; otherwise he is a false prophet. Mammon is the murderer from the beginning. Whoever has not broken with mammon should not speak of peace, since he is a participant in the unceasing war that destroys the dispossessed by the power of wealth and its possessors.
Jesus concludes with the challenge: It is no use to hear these words unless you also do them. The .nest peace palace will collapse unless it fully represents the will of Jesus. The call of Jesus goes to the core, to the very heart: Leave everything and go my way. “Sell all that you have and give to the poor. Go with me!” (Matt. 19:21; Luke 5:27)
Our experience of personal salvation has to go hand in hand with our expectation for the whole world. Otherwise we are not completely at one with God. And this will not happen until we are at one in the interests that the all-powerful, caring God has. Then we are truly at one.
Who are the blessed? They are those who stand before God as beggars begging for His Spirit; who have become beggars in the material as well as the spiritual. They are those who are beggarly poor in goods and in grace. Only the beggarly poor know that to hunger and thirst means to agonize in this desire. Yet these are the truly blessed, who are plagued by this hunger and thirst for righteousness, who bear deep pain, who suffer the ultimate need, as Jesus suffered the ultimate need. Just as He suffered with the world’s deepest suffering and in the bitterest God-forsakenness, only those are the blessed who suffer to the verge of death, for the world and its need. They have pure, clear, radiant hearts, they are concentrated on God’s cause with completely undivided hearts, they are at one with God’s heart and live from their hearts just as God lives from His heart. So they are the ones who bring peace in the midst of an unpeaceful and corrupted world.
The New Testament says that faith does not depend on signs and wonders. Jesus says they should be kept secret. People too easily cling to miracles. So Jesus warns us not to speak of them or display them, because He wants us to find a faith that does not depend on miracles. (Luke 8:56)
Nowhere among the early Christians do we find the cold light of intellectual understanding that constantly analyzes and differentiates. Instead, there was the Spirit that burned within their hearts and made their souls alive. (Col. 2:8–10)
The crucial question is this: Do you believe in Christ? Do you love Christ?
It is no good to lament about our sins. What matters most is to believe in Christ and to love Christ. When we see the whole unhappy world going to pieces, when we realize how crazy it must sound to talk about faith and humanity and about being humane, then there can be no doubt: Christ alone remains the true Man, He who called Himself the Son of Man, the Child of Man.
There is nothing else for me to hold on to for my life or death, nothing else to believe in for my neighbors, for those who are close to my heart, nothing else to trust in for our Bruderhof, nothing else to hold on to for a world going to pieces. I have to confess: I have absolutely nothing but Christ alone! (Phil. 3:8)
The Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God – what do these words mean? A kingdom or realm is a political system; it is the orderly structure of a people in the work they do and their public relationships. It is a national community held together by justice and solidarity. This is the kind of realm the prophet Isaiah had in mind when he foretold the Kingdom of God. (Isaiah 9:6–7) Such a realm exists only where people are living in a lasting, binding order of justice in all relation-ships, a new order given to our human condition.
What is unique about the way Jesus has shown us is that no one but God is in authority, no one else has the right to say anything. So it is quite right to speak of God’s kingly rule. God alone rules. He alone is King. That is the Kingdom of God.
We know, of course, that this Kingdom has not yet come on this earth. Not only God has great power; the mighty national governments have great power; lying and impurity have great power. Forces that are entirely opposed to God assert themselves. The Kingdom of God is not yet realized in our day. If it were, nothing else would count.
For God’s Kingdom to come, the personal intervention of God through Jesus Christ is needed through the renewal of the world, the rebirth of the planet Earth. The Apostle Peter says that fire will melt the earth, and then the earth will be made completely new (2 Peter 3:12–13). And John the Evangelist says that in the new realm of God’s kingship the earth will be so completely transformed that the sun is no longer needed, for there will be nothing but light. (Rev. 21:23)
I believe that a radiation really went out from Jesus, that people accepted it with real thankfulness for their personal salvation and healing; but then they were satisfied. Their longing cooled off, and they were happy to be on the way to salvation. Whereas that was actually only the start. Jesus says we must be born again in order to be included in the Kingdom of God, and He shows what the Kingdom of God means.
Here is where the interest dies down. People seek constant confirmation of such grace as they have already received. Instead they should say, “This personal experience is given to me to help me find clarity about the complete Christ and God’s Kingdom, a clarity that will make my life part of the life for His Kingdom.”
If the Kingdom of God is in the present as well as in the future, believers must be able to live here and now in accord with God’s future Kingdom. Then their lives will also be in keeping with the historical life of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and to all Eternity, and we must become one with His life and His future by living today in accord with God’s Kingdom, and with the way it will be manifest in the future.
People who want to assign to the Kingdom of God a place outside the actual history of the whole human race – as if it were being prepared in a few converts only – ought surely to find a new and broader vision through the mighty language God speaks in history today. The increasing gravity of the times makes it imperative for all who believe in the truth to search the Scriptures and find out what the conditions for God’s Kingdom are and what effects it will have. We need to be steeped in the Biblical truth about God’s Kingdom, so that we can watch for the signs of the times and be found faithful when He comes (Matthew 16:3).
God’s economy, His plan for the Kingdom of God, must be given well-defined practical expression in the household of the Church. (Eph. 1:10; 3:9–11) Then even the blindest will have to realize that here is a place where they can find something of the love and joy that God’s Kingdom will bring to all humankind at the end of time.
To those who ask us whether this is the only way people can choose in order to bring down the Kingdom of God, we say that it is not a way we choose. It is a way that comes down to us from God. His economy, the plan He has for the human race, is the highest and the only possible way. We human beings have no way that leads to the Kingdom of righteousness. Unless God gives Himself to us, there is no way for us to go.
God comes down to us in His Church, created through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Church, the virgin bride, who is our mother, comes to us, and all of life is transformed, including the economic structure. (Acts 2:1–4; 4:32–37) July 1933
God’s Kingdom is visible wherever Jesus is. That is why the First Letter of John begins with this testimony: What we have seen and heard, what we have touched with our hands, we proclaim to you about the Word of Life so that you may be united with us in the same faith. Life has appeared, it is revealed. This we proclaim to you so that you may have fellowship with us. Fellowship with us is fellowship with the Father and the Son…
Where the Kingdom of God, the rule of Christ, is being proclaimed, things start happening. That is why John the Baptist was challenged: Why are you asking? Look at what is happening, listen to what is being said, and accept it. This is what is happening here: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. (Matt. 11:5)
Jesus is saying that if only you could believe what is actually happening, Christ would be revealed to you, and your questions about God’s Kingdom would be answered. That is what faith means. And because John the Baptist was not yet able to grasp this faith fully, Jesus told His disciples, “I tell you, there is none greater than John the Baptist among all the sons of women; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.” (Matt. 11:11) The least in the Kingdom of God, the simplest in the Church, understand what is happening in faith…
The apostles went out to tell people: Now the word of the prophets is coming true. Now it is coming – you can see it happening! Part of what was happening in Jerusalem was that Church community was being established. The Kingdom of God was drawing near – healing given through faith witnessed to that.
When the story of the apostles was written down, it was called The Acts of the Apostles because it described what the apostles did and what happened through them. It is an account of the same miraculous powers, the same deeds and events, that took place in the life of Jesus. Here too the decisive thing was the proclamation of God’s Kingdom; and because the Kingdom of God came near, many signs and wonders took place.
The human race finds itself in such boundless misery because it has fallen into a state of hostility. It is split apart, lacerated. This cleft shows the disastrous degree to which coldness of heart and hostility has advanced in a divided humankind.
It was not always like that. The hour of humankind’s birth was a time when people lived in peace with God and one another. There is simply no doubt that the cradle of humanity was Paradise. (Gen. 2:8–15)
What is Paradise? Paradise is peace. When all powers work together in one spirit, in unbroken harmony, that is the secret of peace. Peace is like a prism that gathers all the colors of the spectrum in the pure white light of the sun and refracts them as the resplendent hues of the rainbow. In this peace all powers and gifts are used to serve God. That is the peace humanity knew at its very beginning.
Everywhere the world is going to pieces. It is crumbling and rotting away. It is going through a process of disintegration. It is dying. And in these fearsome times, through the Holy Spirit Christ places the City-Church with its unconditional unity right into the world. (John 17:11, 23; Matt. 5:14) The only help for the world is to have a place of gathering, to have people whose will, undivided and free of doubt, is bent on gathering with others in unity.
Paul the Apostle says that all nations of the earth shall be gathered in this Church, that the fences and walls between races, nations, classes, ranks, and individuals shall be broken down. (Col. 3:11) Not only shall the entire world be conquered for God, but the Church shall reveal a life of complete unity in the midst of it.
This is a time when the whole world is in extreme danger. It is urgent therefore that we decide to accept the gift God offers us: life in the communal Church, a life of unity.
We are not simply a society for colonizing, for forming new settlements or villages (as if there weren’t enough villages already) where people live as close together and yet as far apart as anywhere else. Nor is it our aim to create a community of the human race or to bring people together for communal living just as they are.
If we wished to form a community based on mutual regard, each one of us could have stayed where he or she was. The people here are neither better nor worse than anywhere else. There would have been no need to come to the Bruderhof if we were seeking nothing but mutual human relationships in community. We could have found that anywhere. But it would have been a complete failure. All attempts based on the present state of humanity will be unsuccessful. Right from the beginning they are doomed to go bankrupt.
How Was the Church Established?
No one person or group of people could have brought about the first Church community. No heights of oratory, no burning enthusiasm, could have awakened for Christ the thousands who were moved at the time, or produced the united life of the early Church. The friends of Jesus knew this very well. Had not the Risen One himself commanded them to wait in Jerusalem for the fulfillment of the great promise? (Luke 24:49) John had baptized in water all those who listened to him. But the first Church was to be submerged in and filled with the holy wind of Christ’s Spirit. (Acts 2:1–2)
The apostles were instructed to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high. That was the founding of the Church, which in turn was possible only through the fact of the resurrection. For what was the first thing the apostles proclaimed? “This one pure One, whom you have killed, has been awakened by God!” (Acts 2:22–24)
At Pentecost the apostles of Jesus were suddenly able to feel so completely with other people that their hearers could take their words to heart, for these words echoed their mother tongue and their true calling. The crowd was moved by the same Spirit that spoke through the leaders; the listeners had the same overpowering experience as the speakers. (Acts 2:4–11)
It was neither hypnosis nor human persuasiveness. People allowed God to work in them; they were overpowered and filled by His Spirit. At that moment the only true collective soul took on shape and form; the organic unity of the mysterious Body of Christ, the Church community, was born…
The crowds that were gathered from different nations for Pentecost cried out with one voice, “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God!” (Acts 2:11) The great works of God were what counted, and nothing else. Pentecost was God’s way of bringing about His future reign. Pentecost was His message of righteousness to all nations, a powerful demonstration of God’s deeds for the whole of humankind and for each individual…
When the murderers of Jesus stood in the presence of the living Christ, they were confronted with absolute truthfulness. Then they felt the need for forgiveness of their sins. They experienced the inner poverty that could be satisfied only through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The first response to this overwhelming inflow of the Spirit was the question that surged from people’s hearts: “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)
As a result, there came about a complete transformation of people’s inner being, a reshaping of their lives. It was in fact the very change of heart and conduct that John the Baptist had proclaimed as the first requirement for the great revolution to come, the turning upside down of everything. We cannot separate personal rebirth from this total transformation in Christ.
When we speak of community, we mean community under the rule of God, in keeping with the prophecies about God’s Kingdom.
What is the Kingdom of God? It is community in God, community in God’s justice, that is, justice in the sight of God, the social justice that is part of brotherly community. Love God! Love your neighbor! (Matt. 22:37–40) That is what justice means. Love God in such a way that you become one with Him. Love your neighbor in such a way that you become one with him. Jesus prays that the world may be able to tell who He is and what love is by looking at His disciples. That can only be if there is perfect unity among them. In the unity of the communal Church and the Kingdom, justice, peace, and joy meet and flow together.
This unity is what Jesus died for and rose for. His words, His deeds, His life were all for the sake of unity. And so this unity in the Spirit was there the moment the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost. That is how the early Christians became one. They were united in the teaching of the apostles. They knew that the Holy Spirit was given both to the apostles and to them. So between them and the apostles there was complete unity in the understanding of the truth.
If we are united with that same Spirit by whom God was revealed, we are completely one with the apostolic Church and its witness, with the writings of the apostles and prophets. That is our attitude to the Bible: The Bible witnesses to the Spirit of God’s unity.
We oppose outright the present order of society. We represent a different order, that of the communal Church as it was in Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit was poured out. The multitude of believers became one heart and one soul. On the social level, their oneness was visible in their perfect brotherliness. On the economic level, it meant that they gave up all private property and lived in complete community of goods, free from any compulsion. And so we are called to represent the same in the world today, which quite naturally will bring us into conflicts. We cannot put this burden on anybody unless he or she prizes the greatness of God’s Kingdom above everything else and feels inwardly certain that there is no other way to go.
We celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of full community because it meant that Paradise was given back in the midst of an un-peaceful, hostile environment. Jesus had begun this spiritual battle against the injustice of mammon, against impurity in human relationships, and against killing and war. The Church of Jesus Christ is set right into this world to be a place where peace, joy, and justice abide, a place of love and unity. That is the Church’s calling. And that is why the Apostle says the Kingdom of God does not consist in abstaining from this or that kind of food, but in justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 14:17) This is what actually happened in Jerusalem! It had already happened in Jesus’ time in a very small circle among the Twelve. In Jerusalem it happened among thousands of people with a force that radiated into the entire accessible world of that day.
And in the following centuries this mission was never lost. Its light shone in Asia Minor; it penetrated as far as southern France, to the southwestern part of the Alps, to North Africa, to the plateaus of northern Italy, along the Rhine, as far north as Holland and England, and to the eastern Alps, Moravia, and Bohemia. This community of total sharing shone its rays into every century. Again and again this sacred spark was fanned to a holy flame. It was never extinguished, for the Holy Spirit will not retreat from the earth until the whole creation celebrates the victory of God’s Kingdom, and peace, justice, and joy in love and unity reign in all the world.
The only way the world will recognize the mission of Jesus is by the unity of His Church. But this unity of the Church must be translated into total community. Jesus spoke of the absolute unity between His Father and Himself. And His prayer for us is that we be just as united. (John 17:21–22) Can there still be mine and thine between us? No. What is mine is thine, and what is thine is mine. In the Spirit of the Church everything we have belongs to all. First and foremost we have community in the innermost values of the common life. But if we share the treasures of the Spirit, which are the greater ones, how can we refuse to share the lesser things?
Authority for Mission
For mission you must have authorization and a power station where you can receive inner strength and support, a central place where you will find the help and correction you need. And that place is the Church community. Ultimately, not the Church here on earth, but the Church that is above, the Jerusalem above that is mother of us all. This highest City of God sends its light down to the little bands united in faith on this earth. The more deeply they are united, the more authority they receive.
It is a great thing if we can go out and tell people about God’s Kingdom. But it is a much greater thing if a historical reality is presented to the world, a witness to the truth of the Gospel to be unforgettably branded into the records of history. It means much more than our limited attempts to convert individuals, if we are called to participate in making history by representing with our lives the way of love and peace and justice in the midst of a hostile, untruthful, unjust world that is bristling with weapons – if we are called to live out this witness, unperturbed and unswayed, while around us the nations rage. That is the Church’s true calling.
In view of the widespread evil in the world, the Church community acknowledges that the use of government force is unavoidable. But what is entrusted to the Church is something completely different.
Each kingdom or nation maintains an embassy in Paris, Petersburg, Berlin, Rome, and other capitals. The embassy building is sacrosanct territory, where no one is subject to the laws of the country surrounding the embassy; in the embassy building only the laws of its own country are in effect.
It is just the same with the Church. Jesus Christ sends His Church, led by the Holy Spirit, to be His embassy. Here the final law is that of the final Kingdom. Therefore the Church community should not unthinkingly submit to the laws of today’s governments. It should honor them, but it should not be bound to them in slavish obedience. (Acts 5:27–29)
In the twentieth century this is as true as ever: The way is narrow, and those who find it are few. (Matt. 7:14) But it is not only a way. It is not only a narrow mountain path. It is at the same time a city on a hill that can be seen all around. Because it is visible to all, it is significant for all, even for those who do not want to go the way, who have no desire to enter the city. They see the possibility, and their attention is drawn to the coming Kingdom. And they will think, if God’s love came down upon us all in this way, then we would all live together in peace, unity, and justice. (Matt. 5:14–16)
That is the service we must do for the world. It is the practical outcome of following Jesus.
God is patient with humankind. He interposed the Church so that, while this world age lasts, individual people might be called out, so that in the midst of this world a living monument to His patience might be erected to represent the fellowship of the Cross. The fellowship of His blood, the fellowship of the Cross, shows us what it means to die with Him. And that can only be shown in the lowly Church, in the interim between the Cross of Christ and the second coming of Christ.
Unity and the Holy Spirit
The Church community is to be a city on a hill, with light from its windows shining out over the land, so that all who see it will realize: There is a united city, a united Church! (Matt. 5:14) This is the call of Jesus in our time, that communal Churches are brought into being, whose light of perfect unity, of justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, shines out into the world.
We are not optimistic about world politics. We do have faith that the Church can give witness to unity and that this witness is the best service we can do for the world. Full community, full agreement, is possible! It is possible through faith in God, in Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. This is what our life is about.
Unimpaired unanimity is indispensable for anything the community under-takes, building a house or whatever it may be. This unanimity is only possible because of our faith that God uses His Spirit to say the same to each individual. Mutual persuasion does not do it. God does it, speaking to us through the Holy Spirit. This Spirit not only assures us of our salvation – that He has accepted us – but His speaking to us also makes us certain even in the so-called “trifles” or small matters. He prompts us also in making decisions such as buying a meadow, or whatever it may be. Unanimity is the first sign.
The second sign is the work itself. People normally work to support their families, from a healthy, natural instinct. But more often than not their only reason for holding a particular job is to earn a living. The rest of their life has no connection with their work. We fight against that. Just as there should be concord between people, so there should be harmony between the work a person does and his or her inner calling. (Col. 3:17, 23) All strength and all gifts must be devoted to this work, in the Spirit of the Church.
Community, Not Uniformity
Only if we have willing, sincere, and open hearts will we find unanimity in our convictions. We have never found it disturbing when people have come to us representing convictions that differ from ours. On the contrary, that is more fruitful than if we had no chance to hear opposing ideas. We believe that a free exchange of ideas can help people to recognize the truth, thanks to a Spirit that does not originate with us human beings. Then, no matter how diverse our opinions may have been, through the ultimate truth we will all be united. Each one will bring from the storehouse of his earlier convictions those elements that are true, and he will find these again. And the more varied our different backgrounds are, the richer the fruits of this diversity will be. A united conviction can never be produced by forcing anyone to comply. Only the Holy Spirit with His power of inner persuasion leads people from freedom of opinions to true unity.
It is a remarkable thing when people decide something unanimously. It is the opposite of making a majority decision. Unanimity means that nobody disagrees with it or opposes it, not even in secret. (1 Cor. 1:10)
When people believe in unity, it creates a very strong bond. It is a deplorable fact that some who call themselves Christians are so very disunited, not only in the various world Churches but also among those who try to be real Christians. And it is no help at all to decide to be silent about those subjects people don’t see eye to eye on. Many a one feels: Today is the day for worship, the day to go to Church, to serve God; tomorrow I will be at my job and lead my personal and family life. How will such a person ever find unity and harmony within, let alone with others?
There is nothing that surpasses perfect unity. That is God’s mystery – joy and unity in His creative Spirit. So the question now is: Do we really believe in God? Do we really believe that He will triumph in His intent to bring about unity? Do we believe that it will happen here and now, provided we want nothing but God and His way?
Not a Human Bond
Because the flame from the other world really does come to us, we can say with assurance that we are not satisfied with finding an intellectual unanimity. It is not enough to set a common goal and use all our willpower to reach it; nor is it enough to vibrate together in an emotional experience. We know that something quite different has to come over us that will lift us out of this purely human level.
Just as the sun’s rays constantly shine upon our earth, just as lightning from the clouds brings down light and fire, so too an element has to burst into our midst that does not come from us. It will not come from our noblest feelings or from what is holiest within us. It has to be something that overwhelms us, something we cannot give to each other. We witness to the fact that this overpowering element makes us conscious of our unity and brings us complete unison of thought, will, and feeling. (Eph. 3:14–19)
One may ask how the Church, the Church of the heavenly realm, works in the lives of people here on earth. There is but one answer faith can give, namely, that through the Holy Spirit the Church of Jesus Christ comes down to the earth; the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church continually in just the same way as at Jerusalem when the Spirit was first poured out on all flesh. Wherever the Church comes down in the reality of the Holy Spirit, its life has a sociological impact that is no different from what happened at Pentecost in Jerusalem.
The Holy Spirit Gathers
God, who created all things and without whom nothing has come into being, sent His Holy Spirit upon the earth and to all people. This Spirit wants to gather all, to bring them together. Jesus was placed in the world by this Spirit to live among people, and He in turn testified to the gathering power of the Holy Spirit, saying, “How often would I have gathered your children; but you would not let me.” (Matt. 23:37) But He was taken away from those who did not want to let themselves be gathered. He was killed by the spirit that scatters, by the power that drives apart. (Matt. 12:30)
Yet He, the Living One, returned to His own. “Receive the Holy Spirit! As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” (John 20:21–22) “What you gather on earth will be gathered; what you loose will be loosed; and what you bind will be bound.” (Matt. 18:18) From that moment on, all those whose hearts were gripped by this Spirit felt the need to be together. Under the stress of their sorrow they stayed together and waited in holy expectation. Those were long weeks of waiting. This tense expectancy must always be there before a complete uniting can be given. Unity is not accomplished by a meeting of minds, by a coalition of individual human spirits. It is found exclusively through the coming down and breaking in of that Spirit which is not a human spirit.
We ask the Holy Spirit that the Church of light and of love may shine down on us from all the centuries, from all Eternity, and that we may be completely united with it. We ask that the Spirit of the Church may be poured out over us with all its powers, setting us on .re. We ask that we in our humble place may be used wherever the Spirit wants us, not where we want to be. We do not want to gird ourselves but long to be used wherever God, who rules over the history of all worlds, wants to use us. We ask to be led in such a way that the fire He has kindled in us may fulfill His task.
Beyond the Personal
Personal piety has become widespread, but unfortunately it is confined to what could be called purely religious experience, which cannot stand before God. Many of these exclusively religious movements have arisen in recent years, confining themselves to preaching and personal confessions of faith, to a private experience of the Savior and a very limited personal sanctification.
However much we rejoice that people are awakened to a love for Jesus, that they experience forgiveness of sin in His death on the Cross, we must state that Christ’s love and the meaning of His death on the Cross are not fully understood if they are restricted to the individual’s subjective experience of salvation. It was to be foreseen years ago that the influence of modern theology would be disastrous. True, it did show us something great: God is totally other than all our movements for personal salvation or social reform. Yet a one-sided emphasis on this otherness, which removes the living God to the distant Beyond, is bound to have the effect of minimizing or even suppressing social responsibility.
It is truly Christian to proclaim the good news of the pardoned sinner, who is now able to lead a purified life so as to belong more and more to Christ. (Col. 1:28) The New Testament, in fact the whole Bible, speaks of it. That is why we are thankful that movements have sprung up again and again of people who long to be purified for God by Jesus their Savior. Such waves of inner revival keep recurring, and that is a great grace. We are thankful that very many of us have experienced something of Christ in similar movements.
It is important to observe, however, that the purely personal approach does not bring satisfaction in the long run. A Christianity that concentrates only on the individual soul and its experience cannot endure for long.
The revelation of the Holy Spirit does not stop at any boundary, least of all the boundary that divides the spiritual from the material. The Holy Spirit is a creative Spirit. He seeks the way from the heart of God right down into the material world. We believe it is the will of the Holy Spirit to bring about true community precisely in material things, including work with the elements of the earth. We believe that the unity of the Spirit is present in the so-called out-ward aspects of life just as much as in the innermost concerns of faith. Faith urges us to do the deeds of love. In other words, faith wants to use love to transform matter so that it can be fitted into God’s Kingdom and His justice. The unity among us must extend to everyday things. And the more we are animated by the Spirit, the more we will surmount our practical problems.
Our reverence for the reality of the Holy Spirit must become so great that our trivial personal concerns, including our state of health and our emotional needs, will be consumed as in a mighty flame.
When the great hour comes, will there be a generation worthy of it? As far as humankind is concerned, only one thing is worthy of the greatness of God’s Kingdom: the readiness to die. But unless we prove our readiness in the trivialities of daily life, we shall not be able to muster up courage in the critical hour of history. In our communal life we need to overcome completely all our petty attitudes and feelings, to give up all personal ways of reacting to things, that is, fear, worry, inner uncertainty – in short, unbelief. Instead, we need faith, a faith as small as a tiny seed but with the same potential to grow. (Luke 17:6) This is what we need, neither more nor less.
Through Christ and His Holy Spirit, this faith is at work in our midst. We have felt it, but we have not lived accordingly. If the Holy Spirit had to withdraw from us because we have grieved Him and driven Him away, have not held him in reverence but thought little of Him, valuing our own affairs higher, then all we can do is ask, “Send Thy judgment upon us, and in Thy infinite mercy spare nothing!” And then this judgment in mercy, this mercy in judgment, will release us from ourselves and prepare us at last for mission, making us ready for God to use.
If we live according to our old nature, we cannot represent anything good, even if we base it on the Bible. But in the new creation, in Christ, in His Spirit, wherever His Spirit is present without being distorted or caricatured, indestructible community has arisen among people. Let him grasp it who can! The truth of the Bible is not intellectual or logical truth. It is beyond logic. It is given only to those who believe. (1 Cor. 2:12–13)
So we are faced with quite practical questions: Do we believe that the Holy Spirit will be increasingly poured out over the Church? Do we believe that Jesus comes into our midst, that He opens His heart to us so that we may live as He did and have an influence in society as He did? Do we dare to carry out the task as His Church in His coming Kingdom, to be a corrective within society through the grace of the indwelling Christ? Do we dare to live a life of love in the midst of the world, giving up all privilege and even the right to our possessions and our own bodies? Are we ready, completely defenseless, to follow Jesus?
Community—the Natural Result of Love
Jesus showed us what it means to love – that love knows no bounds and stops before no barriers. Nothing can stop love, even if circumstances seem to block the way. Love had, and has, faith for everything. (1 Cor. 13:7–8) So Jesus, prompted always by love, did not let property or possessions stop Him. When He came to know and love a young man who owned many possessions, Jesus looked straight into his heart and said, “You still lack one thing: Sell all your goods, give the money to the poor, and come, go with me.” (Mark 10:21)
The first Church in Jerusalem distributed all their goods straightaway. As soon as Christ’s Spirit was poured out over them, nobody could hold on to property any longer. Love compelled them to lay everything at the apostles’ feet. With the help of the deacons the apostles distributed everything. (Acts 6:2–6) Christ’s love makes us want to give up our possessions and live in community of goods. (Acts 4:32–37) That strikes at the root of our selfishness.
To give away your cloak as well when only your coat is asked for is truly in keeping with love. But to put in a second hour of work when one hour is asked for means much more. (Matt. 5:38–42) The fight against private property must be preceded by something deeper: the killing of selfishness, self- love, self-will, and self-importance.
Religion and devout feelings are useless unless they are expressed in action and in truth, that is, in real community. (1 John 3:17–18) Jesus says, Love God! And the other command is exactly the same: Love your neighbor! There is no true love to God if it is not a true love to our fellow human being, and vice versa. (Matt. 22:36–39)
This has been our experience: Community is possible through the Spirit that comes to us from God. It is when this Spirit fills us that there is true love for our neighbor and full community among us.
People Cannot Build Community
It is certainly true that God works in people, in all men and women. But as soon as this truth is exaggerated to the point where we believe solely in ourselves and other human beings, we are on the wrong track. We must believe in God in such a way that not the individual but God is in the center, and that individuals join with each other in submitting to His will. God’s will can then work in us and through us, and we ourselves become so transparent – like a window – that our own human life no longer matters at all: God’s working is all that is seen. I do not believe community can come into being in any other way. No matter how humble, dedicated, and unassuming a person may be, he cannot build community in his own strength. (2 Cor. 12:9)
Our faith in God is not the product of our wishful thinking; the basis of our communal life is God and God alone. But we cannot say we have acquired this basis and now we own religion as one owns property. What we have must be given to us new each day. It is a dreadful thought, but we have to face it: We can lose it any day. All we can say is that we are placed on this foundation by God’s grace. Our faith does not result from our natural abilities; the Holy Spirit has to lead us there.
We have nothing. If we ever thought we had community, we have now seen that we do not have it. And it is good for us to have seen that. Community exists exclusively in Christ and His life-giving Spirit. If we forget Him and are left without His influence, if we forfeit His working among us, it is all over with our community. (John 15:5)
Can the Invisible Church Become Visible?
The invisible Church must become visible. For this to happen, community of goods and work and a common table are needed. The Church of Christ is active everywhere, though invisible, wherever people are gripped by Christ’s Spirit. A life in full community, though, makes visible this invisible unity, not only in religious practices but in the whole of life.
The stream of unity flows from the fountainhead of the Spirit into all areas: first into the heart-to-heart relationships among the members and then into the things around us. Out of community in the Spirit grows community of education and of work, and that naturally means community of goods without any private property, because the mainspring of our life is love. Love is joy in one another. This joy, welling up from the fountain of unity, enables us to surrender everything. Giving up a sum of money means nothing compared with surrendering all our strength. (Luke 9:23–24) Wealth stems from the resources of the earth and from human labor. We share both earth’s resources and our working strength. But with all that, we do not want to live in collective egotism just to support ourselves as a community. Rather, we have to make this possibility known: people can live in community! We bear witness to this reality: people are living in community! We bear witness to the well- spring of this reality: the future Kingdom of God.
Touchiness, opinionatedness, self-love, self-centeredness – all these are obstacles. It is a deadly poison to have a higher opinion of oneself than of others. (Phil. 2:3) Anyone who still has that attitude is incapable of community. He will be incapable of partaking in the unity we want to live for. This is a very important point. To think of others and their situation and to look for the best in them will help us not to see ourselves in a better light than others. It is easy to see the shortcomings of others out of all proportion and forget that we ourselves are weak human beings. We should not always be trying to correct other people’s mistakes. We have to reconcile ourselves to human imperfection.
Is Community God’s Will?
A guest asked: Do you mean to say that the Bruderhof is God’s will?
Eberhard: Not the Bruderhof, but total community. What we have recognized as being important is the life Jesus lived with His disciples and the life of the first Church in Jerusalem. We see the prophetic Old Testament likewise as a Word from God that we should live together in Church community (Ps. 133), in peace and justice and joy, as the Apostle Paul puts it. (Rom. 14:17) Our whole life is meant only to humbly suggest the way.
We believe in God’s mercy for everyone. For this reason we feel no need to make all humankind members of the Bruderhof, although we are glad about each one who enters into community with us. We don’t think that anyone who doesn’t come to us is lost, but we want to live this way to the end of our lives because we believe that this is our calling for the sake of all humankind. The fulfillment of this calling does not depend on how many want to join us in community. It simply means living together in such a way that our life reveals God’s love and unity in a positive, concrete way. Again and again, and rightly, the words of the Bible, “God is love,” are underlined; we are deeply convinced that they are true. We can also turn this around and say, “Wherever there is true love, God is there.” (1 John 4:8, 11–12)
So it is clear to us that this true love means unity and community, mutual help and service, renunciation of anything of our own, and joy in one another! Then we are united in love and can say, “God is unity, and he who remains in this unity remains in God and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)
Is Community Escape?
Our community life first came into being because of the widespread need around us. The reason we left the big cities was not to withdraw from the world. And in moving to this place on a mountain (so very isolated at first sight) we had no intention of evading our responsibility to society. Rather, we felt that by concentrating our forces we might best be able to influence society at large. And still today our first and foremost concern is that our communal life may have an effect on the world around us. (John 17:20–23)
We are always surprised when people say that we no longer live in the world because we live in a Bruderhof or any other community. We live in the midst of the world the same as anyone else. We are not ghosts, but people of flesh and blood right here on earth, and we too have to ask for protection from evil in the world, otherwise we are lost. (John 17:15–16) This mistake comes from a spiritualization of Jesus’ words that is not the Spirit of Jesus. It transforms the realism of the Bible into the twilight of unclarity.
We are told to be on the lookout not for our own advantage but for that of our fellows. (1 Cor. 10:24) How can this be done? Only in a community life of complete dedication where all property is held in common. It goes without saying that communal property must never lead to collective egotism. It is not meant to be a common enterprise for the benefit of its members, nor a partnership for the profit of its partners. Instead, all common property must be dedicated to a service that benefits all, to the community of all humankind in God’s future Kingdom, to the positive Christian faith that turns toward the whole of humanity.
The Power of Money
The fall consisted in this: Human beings took as their possession not what God gave them, but what the Devil gave. This is the root of sin – taking possession of property. The covetous will, wanting to have something for one’s own, is the very substance of evil. That is what the story of the apple is all about (though the Bible does not speak of an apple). But humankind rejected what God had given them, that is, community with God. They despised what God had given them. They appropriated something that God had not given them. That is why mammon is the Devil. (Matt. 6:24ff.)
Evil is not just a concept; it is a reality. Death is evil. Anything that leads to death, destruction, separation, mistrust, and division is evil. Prostitution is evil and therefore has devastating effects.
Evil is not merely the absence of good, a standing apart from God’s life. It is a mistake to think that evil is simply a negation of good, a mere deficit. Death is a power, mammon is a power. Money is a personification of Satan; it is the Devil personified. The same is true of murder and impurity. There is a tremendous power behind all these things. (John 8:44) If money were nothing but a medium of exchange for goods and work, it would not be evil. But it is not true to say money is only a medium of exchange; it is a means to power. This is what is devilish about it: It is a means to power over people’s lives. Within a community there is no need for money. In a really communal life money is totally superfluous; in fact it is the antithesis of community.
At the beginning in Sannerz, there were immature moments when our little community considered having pocket money [for private spending]. Today we know that keeping any kind of money separate from the communal purse sounds the death knell of brotherly community.
Jesus opened up the struggle against property. He himself had left all that was His own; He had abandoned all privileges and given up all He possessed in order to go the way of love and sacrifice. (Matt. 8:20)
He was our example because He wanted no property. From manger to Cross, He was the poorest. Gather no treasure for yourselves, gather no property; instead, store up something different for yourselves, that is, the love of your fellows. Let go of money, the perishable wealth, and instead take hold of imperishable wealth; then you will be rich. (Matt. 6:19–20)
Now something new is being demanded of you. You are expected to administer faithfully this wicked offspring of godforsaken matter, namely money, so that you can do something for God’s Kingdom even with this thing that is alien to you. That means of course that money should be used immediately. If you give it away it will be essential to give it where it is needed, not to increase a rich man’s bank account. It must be used to produce new assets that are no longer tainted with mammon, that are no longer alien to the Spirit – assets that will pass the test of Eternity…
When a person comes to the realization of personal sin, an icy shock passes through him. He cannot imagine how through Christ he could be united with the heart of the Father and with the Church. And just because it is such a great shock, something so unbelievable, this is the point where faith begins.
It is exactly the same in material matters. When these things give us the worst fright and we are utterly helpless, unable to imagine how a Spirit beyond the earth can master earthly things like these, just then faith begins. Faith is the only way we are shown; we have no other. (Matt. 6:24–34) And this faith is faithfulness and trust. The secret of faith in this area lies in our approach to questions of income and expenditure, to matters concerning farm, workshop, building, and office: We must allow the Holy Spirit to show us the way. We need to keep a wholesome awareness of our financial situation so that we can be deeply shaken by what God does.
Community is Work
We believe in a Christianity that does something. Daily work with others is the best and quickest way to find out whether we are willing to live in community on the basis of real love and faith. Work is the crucial test that shows whether our faith is genuine.
Faith put into practice in community life is the secret that brings a close relationship between matters of faith and work. (Col. 3:23–24) Most people are unable to find a relationship between these two areas. Even for those who can testify to genuine Christian experiences, these two areas of life are separate; they go in opposite directions.
People may live their inner life in the holiest things and try to hold on to them while at the same time the practical aspects of their life on this earth move further and further away from the Holy Spirit. We are subject to the same danger; we aren’t the slightest bit different from other people. In our communal Church life, however, we have been given a glimpse of the mystery that connects these two areas of life in a way we never knew before. The connection is a deep one, based on the apostolic faith: We believe in the Maker of the first creation just as much as we believe in the One who redeems us for His new creation, and we believe in the Spirit who shows us the way to it.
Prayer must never supplant work in God’s Kingdom and in His Church. We pray for God’s will to be done on earth, for His nature to be revealed in deeds, for His rule to bring unity, justice, and love. If we are serious in our request, our life will mean hard work. Faith without action is dead. (James 2:17) Prayer without work is hypocrisy. Unless we live according to God’s Kingdom, we make the Lord’s Prayer a lie. The Lord’s Prayer should put us into the frame-work in which what we ask for actually happens, becomes part of history. For us the Bruderhof with its communal life is the God-appointed place where we can give our whole working strength so that He is honored, His will is done, and His Kingdom comes. Unless love among brothers and sisters results in work and action, the tree of our life will wither and come under judgment.
People are happiest when they can use their strength in healthy productivity and actually see the results of their work. Certainly, if they are to be happy in their work, they have to find the job they are fitted for, the job they enjoy because it comes naturally to them.
It is commonly argued that this is a utopia and that no one would do menial tasks unless compelled; but this reasoning is based on the false premise of present-day humanity in its moral decline. Nowadays most people lack the spirit of love that makes the lowliest practical job a joy and delight. The difference between respectable and degrading work disappears when we have to nurse or look after someone we love. Love removes that difference and makes anything we do for the beloved person an honor.
It is an unhealthy symptom of our civilization that many think of physical work as an inferior kind of activity, something nobody enjoys. But we human beings are in fact not made to concern ourselves exclusively with spiritual or intellectual matters. Healthy people have an urge to do simple physical work on the land; they enjoy sun and light, mountains and woods, plants and animals, farm and garden. Pleasure in physical activity is natural and brings joy in life, in God and His creation.
No community that exists for its own sake can survive. (John 15:4) It would be a sect, something cut off. It would lose the way by becoming isolated, no matter how much it practiced community.
We had searched the ages and the nations and continents thoroughly and systematically for people who lived together in total community, in perfect love and absolute peace, in complete freedom of the Spirit and full unity. We had searched for traveling companions, for proved and tested groups of pilgrims on the same way. We were never in the least interested in founding our own movement or maintaining our own enterprise. We never cared the least to assert our so-called independence or to win the reputation of having a lifework of our own. Away with anything of our own! All that mattered to us was that our call was clear, our freedom pure, and our unity real. That alone had to be kept alive and deepened. So we looked out for men and women, for individuals and groups, who might be following this call to freedom, purity, and unity better than we had been able to do and who might thus be an example to us.
And we did in fact encounter several community attempts, some large and some smaller groups, some old and some of recent origin. How much we rejoiced at every drop of life that .owed into the greater stream of life, at every tiny living organism that showed signs of a greater unity! Many little communal groups in our own and neighboring countries were young and frail in their origins; but we also found several movements that had been living in full vigor for two, three, or even four centuries in complete community in a freeing and uniting spirit – and still are living today!
Copyright 2002 by The Bruderhof Foundation, Inc. Used with permission.