Anabaptism and the Bruderhof

How Do We Fit In?

 

Video transcript:

MAUREEN
Hey everybody! Today we’re going to be talking about how the Bruderhof fits into Anabaptism, because it’s kind of a unique story.

RICHARD
The first thing to say is that although we draw inspiration from the early Anabaptists, particularly the communities that formed in Moravia led in part by Jakob Hutter, they are only one of a number of movements that go back to the very earliest times of Christianity. The difference is that the Anabaptists were prolific in their writings so we can learn about how they thought.

MAUREEN
Eberhard and Emmy Arnold who founded the Bruderhof together with Emmy’s sister Else, grew up Lutheran. Eberhard’s father Franklin Arnold, who was a professor of church history and a staunch Lutheran himself, was the first to turn his son on to the baptizer movement by speaking positively about the early 16th century Moravian communities. But, Franklin Arnold said, the fact that they were persecuted violently by the authorities was proof that it wasn’t God’s will.

RICHARD
Kind of an odd position for a professor of church history if you ask me. The interesting thing is that Eberhard and Emmy didn’t set out to start an Anabaptist community per se. After witnessing the devastation of the First World War, they read the Sermon on the Mount with fresh eyes and set out to create a life based on that very demanding set of instructions. Really, read it and imagine actually trying to live it out. They were also inspired by the accounts of a radical sharing community in Acts 2 and 4. It was only later when the Arnolds realized that there were still Anabaptists living in community of goods – the Hutterites in North America – that they took steps to affiliate themselves with them.

MAUREEN
Arnold spent a year traveling among the Hutterites in America. His letters from that time reflect his joy in finding a 400-year-old movement alive and thriving. He also worried that in 400 years, a movement can drift, sometimes unintentionally, from some of its founding tenets set down so clearly in the original books and letters.  The Hutterian Church made many of these century–old documents available to the Bruderhof, and a new season of inspiration began back in Germany, as members read and re-read these clear testaments to a common life lived on gospel truth, at great risk to those who lived it.

RICHARD
The Bruderhof was incorporated into the Hutterite Church in 1930. Arnold was accepted as a minister, and commissioned to continue to lead the small community in Germany, which took on many of the ordnung of the Hutterite colonies, including their mode of dress. The publishing house was commissioned to reprint some of the oldest Anabaptist writings.

MAUREEN
Amazing to think of these historic books and letters coming back across the ocean to a place fairly close to the Tyrol and Moravia from where they were originally smuggled as the early Hutterites fled persecution.

RICHARD
There were also visits from American Hutterites to the Rhon Bruderhof over the next years, which were dangerous years to be witnessing to nonviolence and love of all humanity in Germany. Hitler’s rise to power threatened the safety of the Bruderhof, and in at least one case, it seems that the presence of two Hutterite ministers on the premises protected the community’s continued existence.

MAUREEN
I actually heard this story from my grandmother, who was a young mom when the storm troopers raided the Rhon Bruderhof.  She could tell it as if it happened yesterday, how the women and children were herded into a room, and the men were told to line up against a wall. They knew that plenty of dissidents in those years were disappearing, though the scope of the concentration camps wasn’t known. But from the way the Nazis acted when they met the community’s American friends, it appears they weren’t ready to cause a possible international incident.

RICHARD
There has been a rich relationship with the Hutterian church over the years, with plenty of ups and downs, and varying degrees of separation and working together. We parted ways in 1995, though we still find ways to connect, for example, through our publishing house. More on that later.

MAUREEN
So how do we still measure up as Anabaptists?

RICHARD
If you go through the Schleitheim Confession, written by Michael Satler in 1527 and recognized as an articulation of elements that are distinctive to Anabaptism, the Bruderhof comes close to ticking every box: adult baptism, application of the “direct address” described in Matthew 18 to correct one another, Lord’s Supper taken only with those who have been baptized as adults who affirm the same confession of faith and who we’re at peace and in unity with. It’s a little tricky with point four which has to do with separation from the world because we partner and count as friends many people and organizations beyond our communities.

MAUREEN
But we do try and remain independent from the individualistic, consumer culture in the way we dress and the cultural influences we tolerate. Point five has to do with leadership, people who are appointed to take on responsibility for guiding the community in spiritual and temporal matters but who are responsible to the membership body, and can be removed if their leadership is ineffective or harmful. The Bruderhof’s approach to pastoral leadership is in line with Schleitheim on this point. We’re also in complete alignment with point six which has to do with unconditional nonviolence – that would preclude military service, self-defense, and holding a position as a judge or juror -- and point seven which is about refusing to take oaths in accordance with Jesus’ teaching.

RICHARD
One thing that isn’t mentioned in the Schleitheim Confession is community of goods. That first comes up in the another document, the similarly named Schleitheim Congregational Order which was written at the same time and in the same hand as the Confession. Point five of the order states that members should not have anything of their own but hold everything in common.

MAUREEN
What’s interesting is the progression of community of goods or common ownership from an ad hoc flexible system of mutual sharing to a fully structured communalism which became the hallmark of the Hutterian church. The Hutterian Chronicle, which is a contemporaneously written account of Hutterian history, relates the first time it happened as a down–to–earth response to circumstance. An underground Anabaptist congregation in Moravia of over two hundred people was forced to flee the land they were on. Because of the difficulty of moving a large group which included children as well as those who were elderly or sick, they appointed people to be responsible for practical matters. The chronicler writes, “These men then spread out a cloak in front of the people, and each one laid his possessions on it with a willing heart – without being forced – so that the needy might be supported in accordance with the teachings of the prophets and apostles.”

RICHARD
Over time this practice was formalized and defended as an article of faith with appeals to Scripture, the example seen in God’s creation (or the divine economy), the ethic of love, the concept of Gelassenheit or total surrender to God and the church, and also to history. For the Bruderhof, community of goods does not rise to the level of an article of faith but is rather a practical way to live in accordance with all of these points.

MAUREEN
The way you do it is not important. The fact that you do it is. Well, that pretty much covers it for chapter two in our Anabaptist series. Make sure to subscribe and ring the bell to be notified when we upload the next one.