Justice, Community, and the Coming Kingdom
Excerpts from the book by Eberhard Arnold. For the complete work see Community Library – Books
Silent prayer is a deep necessity for every Church community, especially in times when something sweeps over us, when God’s wind blows over us, for it is important that we recognize what God wants to say. We need to hear His voice in the events around us and in our midst. We need to hear His voice in our hearts. And in times like ours, in the midst of the darkness that has descended on the earth, we need to see His light.
Silent inner gathering for worship is an essential part of our common life. That does not mean that we have to spend a certain length of time together during which we may neither speak nor sing. On the contrary, we believe that words of faith and love and deeds of faith and love are born out of the common silence. When we are silent, we want to be silent before God. What we should silence is our own words, our own deeds. All that has arisen or may arise from our self-will should be laid down during silent worship.
Our common silence is deeply akin to a Quaker meeting. In our meetings we long that God himself speak to us, that Christ’s voice speak among us, that the Holy Spirit move our hearts directly. That is why the quiet and silence are so very important to us. Human talk often drives away the Spirit. But in the common silence God fills us directly. We testify to this as the deepest experience of our life together. When we listen to the voice of God within us, we find unqualified unanimity. When we listen deep down to what the Spirit says to the Church, the same truth and love will grip us all. Then the right words will be given; what God says to us in the silence will be voiced, out of the depths of the Spirit.
We should be ready to put our trust in God. Then out of the gathered silence words may come from us, words that come out of the depths of our hearts, out of ultimate truth and truthfulness. When people can be silent together, words of ultimate truth can come out of this silence. When people can be silent before God and He speaks to them, they may be able to say words that are given to them, that do not come from themselves.
It is startling to realize that the very prayer Jesus entrusted to His disciples has been turned into its opposite by the literalistic spirit. Jesus summed up just in these few words what God’s will is, to warn His disciples not to use many words nor to imagine that an unnatural display is a part of prayer.
The misuse of meaningful songs, or even only a lack of understanding and feeling in singing them communally, has a devastating effect. When we sing them in real community with the Holy Spirit, we sense something of innermost holiness. Such songs should be sung only at very special moments, only at times of God-given experiences. To suggest songs that were once written in the Spirit, with the idea of producing an atmosphere that does not exist, to sing “God is present with us!” when no one feels that God really is present, to dare to sing “Lord of all, to Thee we bow” when there is no real honoring of God’s greatness in the atmosphere of the meeting is a misuse that borders on the sin against the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said, “The hour is coming, and is already here, when people will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23) He contrasts “spirit and truth” with church buildings, bell towers, domes, and synagogues, as much as to say, till now people have prayed in temples, on mountain tops, or in sacred groves; now they will worship God in spirit and in truth. Strange contrast!
Why should we not make use of solemnly consecrated places or rooms to worship God in spirit and in truth? For the very reason that such places have been connected for thousands of years with the misuse of God’s name. They house a subtle form of idolatry that clings legalistically to a certain book or to some image or idolatrous rite. The cult of consecrated places is a threat to the worship in spirit and in truth. The more incense, the more imagery, the more tradition and prescribed words, the less spirit and truth.
We fully affirm prayer and worship; only we are cautious about them in a wider circle, out of reverence for prayer. We have our worship meetings in a united circle.
If you have had a quarrel with a brother or a sister that leaves a tension between you, then these words of Jesus apply: “If, when you are bringing your gift to the altar, you suddenly remember that your brother has a grievance against you, leave your gift where it is before the altar. First go and make your peace with your brother, and only then come back and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:23–24, NEB) Unimpaired unity is essential to the spirit of the Church. And the prayer of the Church presupposes that those who are met together are wholly united with one another and with the Spirit of the Church. Should there be a tension between any members, it is the obligation of each one to resolve it straightaway at the very latest during the time the community is gathering.
The important thing is that we are united about the object of our prayer. Jesus says, “If two or three of you agree in asking for anything, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 18:19–20) If two or three ask God for something to happen, it will happen. It is not the words we use that matter, but our unity. There is no need for many words giving an exact description; God needs no explanation from us. What matters is that the members of a Church reach complete agreement about the object of their prayer before they join in calling upon Him.
We need to ask the Holy Spirit for His gifts. But we should ask for what the Holy Spirit himself wants to do in the Church – not, for instance, that any one member wishes to have this or that spiritual gift for himself or herself personally. Rather, each one should ask the Spirit to pour out the horn of plenty over His Church and to give what has been intended for each one since the beginning of time. (1 Cor. 12:27ff.)
Let us lay down all self-will and be ready to receive and use whatever gift is given us. Let us be thankful to be allowed to live in simple discipleship of Jesus without being led into temptation by great gifts. And finally let us ask that we all without distinction be given the gift promised to all members of the Body of Christ – the highest of gifts, which is love; that is to say, we ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor.13:13)
The Body of Believers
Life in God means gathering. (John 12:32) God’s life wants to gather us into an organism; He unites us in one living body, animated by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:13–14) So our unity in the Spirit and our bond of peace are the driving force in our daily, practical life, and that is where our unity becomes physical reality.
We believe that the Holy Spirit reveals His presence in the living Church com-munity. This is where our Christianity differs from a purely personal one. True, the individual heart must be visited by the Holy Spirit. Yet the Spirit’s actual working begins in the communal Church. When the experience of the individual heart is shared by the whole believing community, then, and only then, will the Kingdom of God be visible.
If anyone asks us whether we, a few weak and needy people living in community, are the Church, we have to say no, we are not. Like all human beings, we are the recipients of God’s love. And like everybody else – more so, if anything –we are unworthy and unfit for the working of the Holy Spirit, for the building of the Church, and for the mission to all the world.
But if anyone puts the question this way, “Does the Church come to you? Does the Church of God come down where you are, to people? Is the Church present in the Holy Spirit, who alone has the power to bring the Church down?” Then we have to answer yes, that is so. The Church comes down wherever believers are gathered who have no other will, no other purpose, but that God’s Kingdom come and that the Church of Jesus Christ be revealed in the unity of His Spirit. The Church is wherever the Holy Spirit is. (1 John 3:24)
The Church is a living structure, made up of live building stones. They are far from perfect; they need to be dressed and hewn if they are to fit into the building. And yet it is a perfect building. The mystery is this: The life of this building does not reside in its parts, but rather in the living, gathering Holy Spirit. Its unity does not result from assembling the parts that make it up or from an agreement of opinions. By nature the stones are spiritually dead. But the Holy Spirit awakens them to life by joining them together in a new unity. (1 Pet. 2:5)
If only we could challenge the heads of government in our day as George Fox challenged Oliver Cromwell to refuse the crown and lay it down before the throne of Jesus Christ! But first we have to lay down all our own little wreaths at Christ’s throne, including our glittering self-will and all our personal wishes and presumptions. And the dwelling place of the communal Church, the place of unity, is where this is made easy for us. It is impossible for our selfish nature to triumph when we are confronted with the Church. Selfish desire cannot possibly impose itself where there is unanimity. In the unity of the Church we will be freed from all the delusions to which we are so prone. In the Church of Jesus Christ all pomposity falls silent and all personal self-importance is blotted out. (Eph. 4:17–24)
That a person changes in the course of his life is certainly human; but it is more than that: it is in accordance with God’s will. Since we will never measure up to God’s perfection on any level, we must constantly change. It is the direction of our change that is decisive. We are told what this direction should be: to move closer to the image of God, and in Christ to grow deeper in our under-standing of it so that He can work within us and change us. (2 Cor. 3:18) But the image of God cannot be mirrored by one single individual; it is mirrored by an organic unity composed of many members who are committed to one another and support one another. That organic unity is the Church animated by the Holy Spirit. The Body of Christ is the image of God in our time.
We in all our smallness are allowed to live on this earth in the Church; there we can reflect the Father’s nature in word, life, and work. Not the individual believer, but the Church, whose orderly plan is given by God through His instruments, is the new Body of Christ. It is the new embodiment and form of the Word made man. Here, prayer to God – the ruling, commanding, helping, and loving “Thou” – subjects the rebellious resistance of the human “I” within the “we” of the Church, with complete trust and faith, to the almighty, all-uniting God. He will always remain the utterly different, the only great and good One. Through His Spirit He speaks and calls again and again to the Church. He gives it His grace and protection, and equips and commissions it.
Jesus wanted to have His closest friends, those we call His disciples, constantly near Him. (Mark 3:13–14) Later on, His Spirit impelled the first Christians to stay close together so that they might live the life Jesus lived and do the deeds He did. (Acts 2:42–47) Since they were driven by a deep inner compul-sion, every question or problem in their life together had to find a solution whose outer form was perfectly in keeping with complete unity and love.
The all-powerful presence of Christ in His Church was the secret of the early Christian communities. (Col. 1:26–27) The wonderful thing about this mystery was that Christ did not appear as a vision but was Himself present be-cause the Holy Spirit was poured out over them.
At the very moment when members of the Church acknowledge that God’s love is poured into their hearts through the Holy Spirit, they are acknowledging that Christ is present, He is there! He triumphs over all impure spirits and emotional ties, over touchiness and selfishness, over all sin. The King, the Crucified and Risen One, is present in His Church through His powerful Spirit.
The bond with the Brotherhood is not a human bond based on a mutual prom-ise. Rather, it is the necessary outward sign that we yield in faith to God’s will and to the Holy Spirit. God’s will is that we be fully one, and it is the Holy Spirit who makes this unity among us an actual fact over and over again.
We are not a collection of people who have good intentions about living in community and think that if all these good intentions are led in the right direction, the result will be something like unity in the Spirit. That is not what we believe. We know that in spite of our incapacity for communal living, in spite of our weaknesses of character and our lack of gifts, in spite of the way we are, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who is the Spirit of unity, calls us to this way and bids us gather others.
There is no particular individual who gives orders to others; that would amount to a division between employer and employee. We don’t have that. And we don’t have a group of intellectuals ruling over people who do the physical work. That would divide us into groups, one superior to the other. Every remnant of division into class, caste, or rank is thoroughly rooted out. Such organization of our work as is needed is born of unanimity in the Church community. The only superior authority is this unanimity, this full accord of all believing and loving members…
Some members have a specific service assigned to them, such as the Servant of the Word, steward, business manager, work distributor, housemother, school principal, and many others. But these can carry out their service only to the extent that it is supported by the full agreement of the community. The organizing that results from this causes no problems for anyone in the community. On joining the community each one brings into the unity everything he is and has. He keeps nothing, not a single hour of working time, no savings account, however small, not even the tiniest box of valuables. He owns absolutely nothing. (Luke 12:32–34) What he has in his possession is only given to him to use as long as he needs it to do his work. But this does not make for uniformity; we should not imagine that communal organization results in just one single note; it leads to rich harmony.
The community provides the means for each member to produce fruitful work in farm and garden, craft and art work, publishing and printing, teaching and recreation, kindergarten and nursery groups, kitchen and laundry, house-cleaning, and so forth. Everyone does his job for the entire community.
It is a real miracle that we have been able to live these twelve years in commu-nity, that we have known the power of the freeing, redeeming, healing Spirit and are able to testify to that power. A miracle like this can never come from us.
How can we enter into the atmosphere of this miracle? We find the answer in the words of a favorite song of the Sannerz time: “In holy waiting we’re at home.” We are at home in active dedication, and we know with certainty that the Holy Spirit, the perfect nature of Jesus, will come to us. What happened when the Holy Spirit came? The fact that we have to wait a long time need not discourage anyone. The little band in Jerusalem had to go through a very difficult time of waiting that must have seemed almost endless, and then it happened: The Holy Spirit was poured out. (Acts 1:4–5; 2:1–4) All at once everything changed. And we believe that this change has to take place again and again.
Today we have again reminded ourselves that we by no means see our Broth-erhood as the goal, but as our stake toward the goal. We have no thought of consolidating the Brotherhood for the sake of the Brotherhood, or the Bruderhof for the sake of the Bruderhof. We want our Brotherhood to go into action for peace and unity so that the whole world with all its nations may attain to the Kingdom of justice and peace. In other words, we want to work for the Kingdom of justice and peace to come over the whole world. Then the monstrous powers of animosity and bitterness will be opposed by a little band, however small, that sends rays of unity, peace, justice, brotherliness, and humaneness out into the world, rays of God’s love and Christ’s love, rays of Kingdom power. That is what we want to live for, and that is the object of your uniting with us.
Leadership and Service
What Is a Servant?
There is no lord or master in the Church except Christ, there is no leader but Jesus Christ, who is the Head. We are all brothers one with another. We are all members, each one serving the others. (Matt. 23:8–12) We are living cells. Governing this Body with the power of the Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.
In New Testament times, the days of Greco-Roman and Oriental slave culture, servants were not only those who served at table and acted as personal servants, kitchen boys, and house servants. Even scholars, poets, language teachers, ac-countants, business managers, and head stewards freely served their masters as slaves. That is what the apostles had in mind when they spoke of the Servants of the Church. (Gal. 5:13)…
What does the service mean for all those who are appointed to be true Servants of the Church? The apostles gave the name of servant or deacon to all those brothers who were charged with important responsibilities in the Church. In our community life, too, servant is the best word to describe any bearer of special responsibility. Servants are those who, while carrying a heavy responsibility for a large part of the communal life, occupy the lowest place in the Church.
The place of the Servant of the Word is truly a burdened one – often overburdened. He does his service in the love of truth and the truth of love. (1 Tim. 6:11) He does it in a brotherly spirit, the spirit in which all brothers and sisters are of equal worth.
The Shepherd or Elder has the final responsibility for the whole Bruderhof. He is entrusted with the Service of the Word, with concern for the personal welfare of all members, with the main responsibility for the children’s education, and with the care of guests. He is accountable for the goods and money and the material welfare of the community. He is expected to follow through all work done by the Bruderhof, both within the community and outside, including mission and printing and publishing…
In both inner and outer matters, the Housemother is given the task of caring for all at the Bruderhof under the guidance of the Elder and in close conjunction with the Steward. As the housekeeper, she is responsible for the running of the house and the women’s work.
The Church of God, coming to us in the Spirit and in Christ’s future, is called our mother. Therefore there is a unique significance in the loving service to the Church entrusted to our Housemother for all our members and guests.
To have to be Elder or anything similar is a heavy burden; it is an ordeal. Any-one who hankers after it simply does not realize the anguish this service, holy and necessary as it is, brings to us weak human beings. (1 Cor. 9:16) Happy are those who do not have it laid upon them; happy, that is, unless they secretly covet such a service for themselves.
I am willing just simply to live with you all without any claim to be Elder. I don’t want any title. If the term Elder is felt to be a title, I shall lay it down. If it is a social position, I hereby renounce this position as a work of the Devil So I say we must cleanse our consciences of dead works. (Heb. 9:14)
Authority Depends on the Gift of the Spirit
A Servant of the Spirit has to be commissioned by the Holy Spirit. He must be chosen, called, and sent out by the Holy Spirit and also by a people filled with the Spirit. (Acts 13:2–3) He has to be sent out into God’s harvest by God himself and by His Church. Even Christ was sent and anointed by the Holy Spirit. (Luke 4:18–19) The apostles had to be clothed with power from on high by the living Word before they could go on their travels as Servants of the Word. When the Word is proclaimed, it has to come from the living Bible of the heart. That is what gave the words of the apostles their force, their vigor, the ring of truth. Their words cut to the quick, stabbing like knives.
In the first Church, the men who were appointed as deacons or servants (to make sure everything was distributed fairly) were required to be full of Holy Spirit and wisdom. (Acts 6:3) Such a man was Stephen. He proved to be a man full of the Holy Spirit to his last moment, when he died as a martyr.
We have no fixed offices here, only services that grow out of the stream of love, the moving current of the Spirit. As soon as those who do these services want to be something independent of this stream of love and of the Spirit, their life is a lie, an impossibility. Not even the most gifted person has anything to say if he believes in himself.
The Holy Spirit wants to give us so much light that we not only obey what He has made clear to us, but that we see further and grasp the movement of heart He inspires at any given moment in other members of the Church, especially in the most childlike.
I could almost say that for one who does the Service of the Word it is more important to perceive at any given moment the voice speaking and the light dawning in other members than to heed his own heart. As soon as he recognizes in any member the movement of heart inspired by this light, he must express it to make it clear to all.
No Church community has within it the generative power that brings rebirth and new life. Nor is any Servant of the Word able to give others the chance of new life and the power that comes from it. Were he to believe even the slightest bit that he could, his service would be lost and would have to be laid down. The secret is the Jerusalem above, the mother of us all, who has the power to give new birth. (Gal. 4:26; Rev. 21:2) That is where new life comes from, new justice and righteousness, new love, new vitality.
Guests, young people, and novices should feel able to confide in a Servant about their problems whenever necessary. Not that an individual should keep on bringing himself and his feelings to the attention of the Servant of the Word, but whenever emotional problems and spiritual needs keep someone from serving God’s Kingdom in full dedication, he should ask a Servant of the Word for help. (Heb. 13:17)
The Servant of the Word must never force or press anything on the Church community entrusted to him. He is not placed in the leadership of the Church to do violence to its members, but for their joy. (2 Cor. 1:24)
Discernment of Spirits
A ship’s pilot has to be at all times in full accord with his whole crew, a gift that is closely analogous to the discernment of spirits. You can’t steer clear of rocks unless you realize they are there.
The gift of helmsmanship is a specific spiritual gift needed by every Servant of the Word. Not only do the Servants of the Word need it; their service has to be supported by many other people, just as there are reserves in any ship. As many community members as possible need to be given the gift of steering the right course in inner as well as in practical matters.
Only a Church that is fully awake can survive these dangerous times. (1 Cor. 16:13) We have no moment free for tiredness, for getting limp and weary and being concerned with ourselves. Every moment is needed to keep the Church awake, using the weapons of the Kingdom left and right. Is that clear? So we must ask God for the spirit of alertness, for the Holy Spirit. We know we are tired people with weary flesh. We of ourselves do not have the strength to meet head-on all the dangers threatening from right and left and to keep our wits about us in the midst of it all.
And this is where the Servants of the Word need to be alert and prove their constancy, being watchful in all directions. Then the Church will be kept on the right course by the freshly blowing wind, the breath of God, the wind of the Holy Spirit. In these times of danger a gentle breeze is not enough – a cold, invigorating storm has to come. We must ask for it to come and drive out all lukewarmness from among us.
These are the dangers that surround us:
First is bureaucracy and bossiness, the presumption of brothers who look upon their service as a means to elevate their own persons. Out of a sense of duty they suppress the free movement of the Spirit. This threatens to enslave the rest of the community.
Second comes the tendency to arrogant moralism, the audacity of a person who places himself and his moral convictions above others. Consequently he thinks and speaks slightingly of people who are not on the same high moral level.
The third danger is a spirit of business efficiency: the constant concern about earning money, about the harvest, about the productivity of the daily life, about all the hard work that is being done.
And finally there is sheer pride, which is quite logically connected with all the rest: some people think they are the most capable and most discerning and others less competent; other people get depressed when they realize that they cannot reach these high moral levels or such business efficiency.
Only the Spirit Should Speak
When we go the holy way of the Church, none of us has the right to do just as he or she chooses, no one has the right to go ahead on his own. We have to speak, work, and act by the stimulation of God’s Spirit. This is the only way Church community can exist. Therefore, in every Brotherhood meeting and every kind of work as well as in the Service of the Word, the Spirit alone should be able to determine what we say and do.
Once we have fully understood this, we will have deep reverence for the spoken word in our worship meetings or Brotherhood meetings. Then we will not look on people and their human characteristics. Instead we will hear only the voice expressing what God has to say, what God is actually telling us now. And the same applies to deeds. As soon as we deviate by so much as a hair’s breadth from the holiness and godliness of the way, even with the best human intentions, we are immediately in extreme danger of drowning in humanness. And linked with this is the danger of the whole city on the hill drowning in the swamp.
When we are about to read something aloud, we should not do so unless we are really moved by the Holy Spirit. I don’t mean that we should use a particularly lofty style of speech, voice, or manner. The prompting of the Holy Spirit may inspire us in quite practical matters, for instance for our workshops or garden layout; or it may help us in personal concerns such as marriage. The prompting of the Holy Spirit can touch on anything and everything that is part of life. But it needs to be born of God’s heart and really given to us by God. Otherwise it is better to be silent. (1 Cor. 2:13)