|Here are several articles on Christian community life. The first, shown below,
is by the late Elmo Stoll, founder of the Christian Community in
Tennessee. The second article, Let Us Honor
God With Our Lives, was written by the late Eberhard Arnold, founder of the
Bruderhof in New York. The third article, The Christian Communalism of the Hutterian
was presented by Robert Friedmann at a meeting of the American Society for Reformation Research
on December 29, 1954.
But now be prepared to go into shock - my observations compel me to tell you that for most people living without wheels and gadgets is not the biggest hurdle. For most the most difficult challenge is learning to live in brotherhood and under what the Plain People consider a scriptural concept of church authority. Included in this part of the picture is the lack of privacy that brings forth exasperated comments like, "You people gossip so much! You're all so nosey. Why do people think they have a right to mind my business?" No doubt we do gossip too much, and our noses should be shorter. But that does not remove the part of the problem that results from having grown up in a society that puts a premium on independence and self-identity rather than a brotherhood's caring for one another.
Living in a close community, everyone tends to know a lot about everyone else. This is not necessarily nosey. Living in brotherhood means sharing your life to a degree many people have not been used to. They discover that what they thought was normal may not be, and what strikes them as abnormal may actually be more in line with what God intended. Our lives are not our own. We are accountable to others, and others to us.
We mentioned church structure. We are not a democracy where the majority vote rules. We commonly make a comparison between the natural family and the spiritual family. Just as the husband is the head of the natural family, so the bishop and ministers are responsible to watch over and care for the spiritual flock entrusted into their care. In the natural family, many times the husband abuses or is unworthy of his position. That calls for his repentance, but does not change what is God's order. The same is true in the church. Someone is responsible to lead and shepherd, and others are responsible to support and submit. Otherwise, there can be no godly order.
Another subject that may take you unawares, especially if you come from an evangelical background, is how we look at faith and works. One visitor to our community said, "They act like they thought their works have something to do with their salvation." He was perceptive. We do. The strong modern-day emphasis on faith only is a dangerous imbalance that leads to cheap grace, and a false hope. We do not find such an imbalance supported either in Scripture or in the teaching of our forefathers, whose writings we trust.
We find that many people who come to us are truly a product of the "now generation." They have been basically raised with a concept of living for the present without being overly conscious of the past or of the future. In contrast, we believe the Christian faith is something that God intended should be handed down from one generation to the next. God never intended for every generation to reinvent the church. We should learn something from the wisdom and experience of those who lived before us. Today's world has been brought up with the idea that a reason should be given for every action and practice and tradition. We agree with that, as long as we have the mindset that it is perfectly acceptable to include among those reasons: "That is how our fathers taught us to do it, and we see no Scriptural reason to change it." If Malachi 4:6 is put into practice, and the hearts of the fathers are turned to their children, and the hearts of the children are turned to their fathers, that answer should not see strange to us, but reassuring.
We believe in going by the Bible, and no doubt, you do too. But even here, you may discover a difference. We may put less emphasis on the printed word, and more emphasis in reading how it is lived out in the lives of God's people on a daily basis. As an example of what I mean, I think of a father who spent a short time in the community here. He had read Solomon's words, "Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell" (Pr. 23:13-14). He read these words and believed them, and put them into action as he understood them. But when I saw him use a club on his son, a club three or four inches in diameter, I was horrified. Yes, Solomon did say to beat your child, and he was certainly beating him. I could not correct him from the printed word, but I found that I went more by the "living" word - the way I had seen this verse lived out. In fact, I had personally experienced my father putting the verse into action in how he "beat" me - not with a bruising club, but by taking a slender green branch from a hickory tree and stinging my rebellious little bottom.
I think I mentioned earlier that you should not act in haste as you consider joining a plain community. It might be well to balance that out here. It is true that you should visit as much as you can, and read anything that is pertinent, and ask many questions. Do your homework well. I even like to advise prospective Seekers to go and talk with the people who have gone away from us unhappy, and ask them why they left. But when you have done all that, and are still interested, the time comes to take action, especially if you have growing children. Small children will adjust quickly, and soon feel at home. For older children it may be harder, especially if they don't want to make the change. Ideally you should move before your oldest children are twelve, and sooner would be better. If they are older, you will just have to make the best of it, obviously. But be prepared that there may be a price to pay for having waited too long. Losing your oldest children back to the world you are seeking to leave can be heart-rending. A worse possibility is that your reluctant son or daughter will stay with you, but fit in so poorly that his presence will be disruptive, putting a strain on your relationship with the rest of the community. No close knit community can tolerate a rebellious son or daughter on the long term without dealing with the problem in some way to stop any harmful influences.
Many Seekers contemplating a move to a plain community find their marriage under attack. Going from mainstream American culture to join a plain group is a drastic step. It is not surprising that sometimes husbands find their wives struggling to submit. I would like to stress here the importance of husbands and wives working together. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Many times husbands may be the fault that their wives struggle to trust their leadership. Be very open to examine your own heart, and humbly confess your failures in not providing leadership in the home in the past that could build confidence. Seek humbly God's help and blessing in winning the support of your wife and be open to the possibility that you may be moving too fast.
Also, be completely honest with the group you are considering joining. Share with them your personal needs, and your family situation. If it is not something you can discuss with the group, ask to speak personally with one of the leaders. Open your heart, and ask him for advice. If you really want help, and hope to establish a relationship in a close brotherhood, you cannot get far by hiding and denying your problems. It may seem hard for you to confess your sins, and expose your failings, but it is not only Scriptural, but also good for the soul.
One last caution before we end this article - don't try to outdo the people you are going to join. It is not uncommon for Seekers to live among, but try to retain some separation from the people they live with. There is certainly a place for being a good example within a group, but for you, new on the scene, let that example match whatever the ministry and concerned members are doing. Don't wear your hat rim a half inch wider than they do, or forbid your children to join in the activities their children are allowed, or ask your wife to wear a longer dress or a bigger covering. Just be content to live the level they live at for ten years, and if by then you still feel you have a better recipe to live a godly life than they do, it may well be in order to consider some improvements. By that time your example will likely carry some weight. Before then, what may look to you as convictions, may appear to those you join as only your individuality showing.
The Bible does give us an example of the perfect - and successful -- convert: a young widow from Moab, Ruth. Spend some time reading her story, and meditating upon it. Faith in Israel's God had rooted in her heart and would not let her go. Even the common sense logic of her mother-in-law did not shake her resolve. "...Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die I will die..." Ruth gave herself totally to the people she went to join, holding nothing back. And God saw her desire, and blessed her efforts. She was a Seeker that found what she was looking for - the blessing of yielding her own self-will and her past identity to be molded and shaped by God's people. She not only received a blessing, but became a blessing to many future generations.
By God's grace, you can, too.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Editors Note: Elmo Stoll died in Sept. 1998. He had formed a group of communities called the Christian Community. Here is a report written 11/04/2004 by one of the former members of the Christian Community.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Let Us Honor God With Our Lives, by Eberhard Arnold
The Christian Communalism of the Hutterian Brethren, by Robert Friedmann