Justice, Community, and the coming Kingdom
Excerpts from the book by Eberhard Arnold. For the complete work see “Community Library – Books”
Now Is the Hour
The colossal need facing humankind in this hour of history makes it urgent to show a new way. The time is here for the communal Church to be a light on the lampstand, a city on a hill. (Matt. 5:14–15) The reality of the God-given life among us must affect many and finally all people. The time is here when the message of God’s unity, justice, and brotherhood in His Kingdom must be spread abroad. But we are exceedingly weak, and our numbers are small, very small, when we think of the magnitude of this calling…
We cannot evade the call of Jesus or the impulse of our hearts. It is a call that goes out to all, especially to all the needy. And when the misery reaches such a pitch as we see around us today, the call of Jesus becomes all the more insistent and pressing – more so than ever before: “Go ye out into all the world!” (Mark 16:15) Go out, get to work! Call the people and gather them in! Now is the hour!
A Mission to All Men
The great tidings entrusted to the Church of Christ must be brought to every-one without exception. Everyone should hear it. That does not mean that ev-erybody is expected to join the communal Church of Christ at this particular moment in history. It does mean, though, that the message of truth shall reach every single human being: Namely, that this unity in Christ, as it is shown in the life of the communal Church, is the goal of humankind’s history. (John 17:20–23) And this message will leave its mark in the depths of every heart, whether or not a person is ready today for the Church of Christ.
Each one in the Church must live by his vision of the coming Kingdom. Those sent away on sales trips or on training do not have the task of zealously buttonholing people to bring about a personal change in their lives. They are expected to have a vision beyond themselves, looking to the greatness of God’s coming Kingdom, but not pressing others. We are heralds of the final Kingdom; from where we are, we go out as bearers of the cause, as envoys of God’s Kingdom. The turning of all things is near. Everything else must collapse. God’s love alone shall triumph! In doing this task we need at all times to be so turned toward the world around us that we are able to say a word from God; a word coined and weighed to .t the present historical hour. It has to be a word for all nations, proclaiming the supra-political Kingdom of God.
We believe that every human being has a longing for true justice, true love and unity. Therefore, the open door of the community is open to everyone. At the same time we realize that not every person is ready for community at every stage of his or her life. You can’t expect everyone to be able to accept it at every moment. For example, I can’t simply stand at the Leipzigerstrasse in Berlin and call, “Come here, all of you, come and live at the Bruderhof!” It is not cowardice that keeps us from doing this. It would be folly; many people would simply not be in the position to understand such a call. They would not be mature enough in their inner development to follow it. God must call them first. I have no right to call anyone unless the Spirit himself has already called him.
Perhaps the kind of mission we should ask for is a mission to the homeless, to those who live in terrible conditions, close to starvation. That would be preaching the Gospel to the poor in a special way. I believe it is our duty to give every Samaritan service asked of us. But I also believe we need special guidance to seek out the destitute, knowing that they may not be called as yet. It needs to be a mission of mercy and compassion. (Isaiah 61:1)
If we are no longer here for all people, if we can no longer concern ourselves with the need and suffering of the whole world, community life has lost its right to exist.
The powers of bloodshed and violence, of impurity and unfaithfulness, of lying and mammon, have gained more strength than at any other time. And now the truth of Jesus’ words becomes clear: The last day will not come until the Gospel of all creation has been proclaimed in all the world. (Matt. 24:14) This Gospel proclaims a new creation, a new day of creation.
It is more than high time that this Gospel be proclaimed to all people and all nations. The Church is charged with carrying out this task. The apostles were sent out by the Church. How can they go unless they are sent? How can they be sent without an authority to send them? How can they proclaim peace unless they have gone forth from a place of peace and bring peace with them? (Rom. 10:15)
When Salt Loses Its Savour
People often raise the following objection to the community life of the Bruderhof. They say we are supposed to be the salt of the earth, and that salt shouldn’t be sprinkled in big lumps but in tiny grains. And so the salt of individual Christians should be scattered abroad.
That sounds very convincing. But there are two things wrong with it. First, it is a mistake to think that the community does not act as salt outside its own circle; in fact, people are constantly being sent out. Second, one could ask whether many don’t lose their salt-power because of the compromises they cannot avoid making, because of the dangerous mixture of spirits that surround them. The sharpness of the salt-power loses its edge. (Matt. 5:13) Things get blurred. People get used to coming to terms with the various trends they encounter, and gradually the clarity of their witness is lost.
And so we understand why life in community is of such tremendous importance and why it is a mistake when people tell us, “You could be much more effective if each one of you lived in a different town; that would give you many more points of contact.” The secret of community life does not lie in adding up the number of people who come together. Nor are these people capable by themselves of doing what community life enables them to do. The secret of life in community is the uniting with the invisible cloud of the Spirit, given to people who can wait, wait for God –their all in all.
The Way of Mission
When the apostles went out into the world, they did not use persuasion or try to overpower people’s minds or wills. The apostles came innocent and harm-less as doves. (Matt. 10:16) That was the way they did their mission work. They were sent out like the simplest of creatures, the most unassuming sacrificial birds, like lambs or doves.
And yet they were to be wise as the wisest of animals, provided their cleverness and presence of mind did not conflict with guilelessness and goodness. So they had to be fully aware of what they were getting into. Jesus said, “Do not judge.” (Matt. 7:1) Do not set yourselves up to pronounce a final judgment over people. But He also said to judge everything according to the spirit and take a clear stand. “Test the spirits, whether they are from God.”
(1 John 4:1) You will recognize everything by its fruits. Be discerning, and especially discern the false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing. They are ravening wolves, who will soon reveal their true nature. Beware of everything that bears a human face, for the traitor will appear out of the ranks of those whom you may innocently trust most, from among your best friends. You will be betrayed, arrested, and handed over to the powers that be by those from whom you least expect it.
Our fight is not against flesh and blood but against an atmosphere. (Eph. 6:12) This is all-important: the atmosphere that comes from us has to be stronger and purer and therefore more victorious than the impure atmosphere usually found among people. That is why nobody should go out independent of the Church. No one should dare to go on a mission journey unless equipped for it by the Holy Spirit. (Mark 13:11; Acts 13:2–4)
Jesus formed the core of innermost community with the twelve, and together they went out to people in the countryside around. On this we pattern our community life and our mission.
One of our youngest members, who has felt the call to go out to people in the neighboring towns, writes about the amazing encounters he is having. During most of the year three or four brothers are away on such journeys. It is a small attempt to reach out to people, but it needs a direct inspiration in the hearts of those who are to be sent out, and it can only be done with the full agreement of the whole Church community.
We are all united in our deepest concern that Christ himself may send you out. (Matt 9:38) May He lead you step by step to one task after another. We ask that you may be protected so that your heart and your tongue do not run away with you in an exuberance of feeling or eloquent words. Rather, you will need to be inspired to speak the right word at the right time, when the person you meet has reached the point when he is full of expectation, when he is at last ready to hear and accept just this word. It is our earnest prayer that you may be led in this way. Our thoughts will go with you and support you day and night…
There are dangers on the way of mission, for instance the danger of idealizing community life. My wish for you is that you represent only what is reality in your life and in our common life. (1 John 1:3)
The Church can be compared to a lantern with a light burning and shining in it. The light shines out through the lantern glass to all the world. The rays of light are brothers and sisters sent out on mission. They are messengers of God, messengers of light, angels of light, apostles of light, light-rays of the Gospel sent out by the light of the Church, the lovelight of God in Christ Jesus, in His Holy Spirit. This comparison shows us that the messengers sent out are not independent, they do not undertake anything on their own. And the Church community is not shut in on itself and does not undertake anything for its own sake. It is its nature to shine, to send out light.
Our Work Is Very Small
How very small our work is in comparison with the tremendous suffering in the world and in the light of the great events of history. I think it is very important to realize this. All the more we depend on prayer that in this world with all its billions of people, our modest efforts to sell our books and turnery will have some impact on the world in ways known only to God. (Luke 10:2)
Mission has to be a challenge addressed only to people who are in some mea-sure already drawn by God. No one can come to Him unless the Father draws him. (John 6:44) God is the great awakener. Through the events of history He strikes with hammer blows. But it is not for us to shatter consciences. Our task is to seek, find, and gather those people and groups who are inwardly moved.
The call goes out to everyone. Whoever seriously wants to be a Christian will find a warm welcome here, anyone who wants to devote his or her short life to love, who wants to give up a basically futile existence and leave be-hind all compromise with the world, who wants to follow Jesus and nobody but Jesus.
There is a hidden Christ in some who claim they are unbelievers. We have experienced that Christ is strongly at work in people who still deny Him with their lips. That shows how much greater Christ is than our minds can imagine, how much more loving He is than our hearts can grasp. (1 John 3:20) But that should not surprise us. If we have experienced even a little of Christ’s Spirit, we will not ask all those we meet whether they believe as we do. Our love for them will urge us to visit them and to .nd out what is alive in their hearts and to acknowledge this before there is ever any talk of unity.
In the Footsteps of Jesus
Simple, apostolic mission does not require large halls and grand lectures. It is much simpler than that. It means finding the living thread from one person to another, from house to house, from one town to the next. It means discovering the footsteps of Jesus Christ to see which way He went, so that we can go to the very place where He has been. And to find that is sheer grace…
It has to be said that the main thing is not gathering individuals or little groups to live in full community: That would not accord with the greatness of God. The main purpose of mission is to make all the world aware of who God is and what His will is, of His power to bring about perfect love through Jesus Christ, and that this love can be put into practice here and now in a community life. And that today, unity can be lived out in complete social justice, and brotherliness. The main thing is that the whole world, and that includes those in high places as well as the masses of underprivileged, know that something that had almost been forgotten is after all a reality and still possible.
The World’s Revolution and God’s Revolution
When someone asks us, “What is it like to live in community?” “How did you come to live in community, and how is your community organized?” we can only say that faith, quite specifically faith, is the seed from which community springs. We know that faith can move mountains. (Mark 11:23) That is the only help for humanity. Nothing else can help. Radical social revolution, idealistic back-to-nature movements, personality cults, pacifistic belief in the gradual improvement of the human race or in the power of good at work in history – none of these things can give humankind strength or show it the way. None of them can overcome sin, injustice, egoism, self-seeking, or greed. That is quite obvious, for example, from the words of members of the agrarian reform movement
[for fairer use and distribution of land]
. They say, “We take human selfishness for granted. Otherwise we could not stay in the reform movement.”
Faith does not take human selfishness for granted; it counts on doing away with it completely. Egoism is then replaced by what Jesus tells us: that if we seek God’s Kingdom and His righteousness as the first thing, everything else will fall into place. Then there will be but one answer to all questions: God’s rulership in Christ through the Holy Spirit. I am convinced that no problem will remain unsolved if we follow this way in earnest and if this seed truly grows and thrives among us.
Bolshevism or political communism does not originate in spiritual fellowship or fellowship of faith and life, but in an ideal of centralized government and economy. It aims to force the communist way of life on the people. It approaches things from without. It tackles the outward problems of economic control. The hope is that the outward control will also help to improve inner relationships. Bolshevism can never create community by the use of force. Murder is not the way to peace. Killing is not the road to love. Bolshevism is a dangerous abyss; it is anti-Christian. Yet it can teach us that something better and purer must be given through Christ and His perfect love.
So the justice of God’s Kingdom has to be something much better. Unless your justice is better than that of the moralists and theologians – and that of the Bolshevists – you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. (Matt. 5:20) The justice of Bolshevism is inadequate for the Kingdom of God. Its justice does not come from the heart, nor from spiritual fellowship. It is forced down people’s throats. That is no way to build community.
We have to find a different way. It is a very modest way because we refuse to at-tempt the reform of social conditions by political means. We abstain from all efforts to improve conditions by legislation; we refrain from playing any kind of role in the civic order of society. It may look as though we were withdrawing and isolating ourselves, as though we were turning our backs on society. In fact we are building up a life that is disengaged from the established Churches with their autonomy and self-sufficiency. We want to free ourselves of all these things as far as we are given the grace to do so and to follow Christ by living like the early Church in Jerusalem. Such a life means that a quite new reality has to determine everything in social, economic, and religious affairs, a new reality based on the unity and unanimity given by the Holy Spirit. (Ezek. 11:19–20)
That is the battle into which the communal Church is placed. The apostles refer again and again to the fact that we share in the martyrdom and the Cross of Christ, for the zeitgeist will not tolerate the Spirit of Christ’s future. (John 15:18–25) The zeitgeist does tolerate and enjoy our attempts at representing a little of the Spirit of the future and at the same time catering to people who are quite willing to make a few concessions. That kind of mixture is most desirable to the zeitgeist. Even the heathen State affects a mixture with the Christian spirit; the biggest capitalist enterprises want to have a bit of the Christian spirit, and deceitful undertakings of all sorts wish for a veneer of Christianity, a veneer of truth. Even those who go to war want to show some Christian love. This mixture is dear to them all.
It is a paradox that the government, which is meant to suppress evil, by its very nature uses violence and thus is a beast from the abyss. (Rev. 11:7) If I may say something very bold, I would put it like this: God controls the hell of human crimes with an infernal machine, the State.
Now someone may say, “I am going to operate this machine and make it less hellish; I want to moderate the satanic properties of hell, so I will serve the State.” Such a resolve commands respect. Very well; whoever wants to do that should go ahead, and I pray that such an undertaking may help a little. For myself, I refuse to mount the machines of hell. I will board the ship that shows all humankind the way to the other shore, which is not yet discovered. It is the Kingdom of peace, justice, and perfect love.
We need people who dare to set the course for this other shore, who dare to discover it, who dare to live in accordance with the ways of the land on the other side. But from this ship we intend to keep in touch with all other people. We have a message to send out to them, and through this we continue to carry our responsibility for the fate of humankind. We believe that this is the way we can best serve the world in this terrifying moment of history. (2 Cor. 5:20)
A brotherly revolution is one that calls for a uniting on all levels, inner and outer. Such a revolution is needed to bring about the desired freedom and equality in rich profusion and to lift all of life out of the sphere of human gain. But this upheaval, which lifts us all from the dust toward brotherhood, can never come from people but only from God himself. God’s will is loving unity and holy reverence. It alone can transform the will to power, with its destructiveness and deceit, into a new will filled with the power of love.
We have often been reminded of what Johann Christoph Blumhardt and his son said: God waits for places where He can break in. Each individual has to open his or her window to let in God’s light, and the same is true of the nations. The Blumhardts said that for the most part people do not make way for God to act, but in their self-will and arrogance put their own actions in place of His. If only there is somewhere a place where people are completely united in waiting for God alone to act, He will intervene in the history of the nations and of humankind…
The Church is called to move God – yes, God himself –to act. This should not be understood to mean that God will not or cannot act unless we ask Him to. But God waits for us to be ready to believe in Him, for us to be ready in faith to expect His intervention. It is His unchangeable will to act among people, but only to the extent that they have faith, that they are ready to ask Him to act, to accept whatever He does wholeheartedly and to respond with their own daily lives. (Matt. 7:11)
What we seek in calling upon God is an action that is not ours, a deed that is not our doing, a fact that we cannot create. What we seek in prayer is for something to occur that can never occur through us, for something to happen at last that we can never cause to happen. It is for something to be prepared that we can never prepare, for history to be made that we can never make, for a judgment to come to us that we can never summon.
The object of our prayer has to be what God has wanted all along. He is only waiting for us to be ready. This readiness is true prayer. God will come to us in answer to true prayer.
So the Holy Spirit comes to us in prayer, into our worship meetings. Not only does the individual forget his or her personal situation; the Brotherhood as a body transcends its own authority. The Spirit of the future comes to us and drives us into the future of the whole universe. For the Spirit whom we ask to come down to us wants to grip not only us but the whole world. That is why we ask Him to come and shatter the whole world at this very moment. We believe that our worship meetings are historic hours for the whole world.
And so we pray in our meetings to be united in faith that God will intervene in present history, that God will make history leading to His end-history.
That is what the first Christians prayed for in the name of Jesus Christ.
The call to the tragic way of the Cross, to the revolution and judgment that has to precede the new creation, must be heard again in our day. We all hear it in the prophetic words of Jesus: “Change your lives to the very foundations, for the reign of God is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)…
The early-Christian revolution of faith rests on the certainty that each individual, all of society, yes, the whole atmosphere surrounding the earth, will be freed from the dominion of evil: The present economic and political powers will be overthrown, and God will establish His rule.
To be ready is everything! Let us be ready! The expectation of God’s coming shall be our active readiness. That means stretching out our hands to Him in order to be crucified with Him. It means going down on our knees, ready to be humbled by Him. It means laying down all our power over ourselves so that He alone may have power over us.
In these days of wrath and judgment the heart of Christ is needed all the more to blaze up in the world and in history. The Church is sent into the world for this purpose: in the midst of the mounting waves of panic, in the midst of the furious breakers of spilt blood, the Church must fling itself against the waves and bring the banner of love to those who are drowning in loveless wrath.
For this we must be ready. Therefore, at the same moment while pleading for His day to dawn, we ask God to send us out. And not only to those few people whom we meet here on our hill, but to all, including the rich and the oppressed – especially the oppressed. But also as prophets to the wealthy, just as John the Baptist once went to Herod and sacrificed his head. (Mark 6:17–29)
We cannot ask for God to come, for Christ’s way to be followed, for the Holy Spirit to send down His stream, unless we for our part are ready for the utmost. And we all have to be completely agreed about this. Only if we are one in what we ask God for will He grant it, but then He surely will.