Following Jesus

Overturning and Transforming Everything

December 17, 2020 by

EGMain

What has been your life-changing inspiration? Eberhard Arnold – scholar, theologian, and co-founder of the Bruderhof in the early twentieth century – found his life-changing inspiration in the vision that was given to the early church. These Christians in Jerusalem, not only as a gathered church but as individuals, were filled with a spirit that continually seeks expression in every moment of time. Arnold’s life also brought this vision, this spirit, to expression – seeking how it was meant to break through in the modern world.

The following paragraphs are from Experiencing God, the third volume of Inner Land – A Guide into the Heart of the Gospel. These books are part of the wide-ranging contribution that Arnold made to the trove of Christian inspiration and guidance that light the narrow path, exploring the depth and breadth of the centuries-old Gospels. Arnold’s words inspire and challenge, reflecting a timeless urgency. It is remarkable how something written one hundred years ago can speak directly into the times of turmoil that we as a whole world are experiencing today. Too often, I think, we find ourselves caught up in the day-to-day happenings of this struggling world and miss the significance of the hour in which we live. At the same moment we are blind to the answer for the struggle: the coming of Jesus in the stable. He brought light then, into the darkness of that hour, and he wants to break in now. Will he find our hearts open for him?

The more shaking the historical events of a time period, the more necessary it is to recognize what spiritual power determines their course. Outward events as violent as those of our day call for an insight into this ultimate will and its aim. But the more agitated the times, the more temporary matters push to the fore. At such times of tension, a tangle of issues seems to prevent any clarity about the ultimate answer. Mounting pressure leads to emergency measures that seem imperative. Conditioned to the times, they are not able to turn the tide of need and distress. One attempt follows another, misery increases, and nothing can overcome it; people go under in the day-to-day struggle and lose all hope of a change.
Some think we have to give first place to patriotic ideas and the historic task laid on the nation. The longed-for freedom of the national community appears imperative at the moment, demanding that everything else be subjected and sacrificed to this. Others, however, believe in a historical development to raise to power in every nation all those oppressed and exploited by competition and private enterprise; for a time they are to be given unlimited power. In comparison with both of these, the champions of liberty and freedom for the individual (with the consequent competition) retreat into the background. No state protection preserves them from their approaching insignificance. What falls almost completely by the wayside in the struggle for quickly-won power is this: in the end, a classless society based on justice and peace shall unite all extremes.
Not one of these three directions with their struggles and fluctuating hopes expects anything from the prophetic power of the Christ-proclamation. Those who stand in the middle between the first two extremes have no fear that their egotistical life might be shattered by the kingdom of God. And where individuals try to comply with the economic system, their consciences become too dull to be aware of how universal need and distress are. But to the right and to the left, people think more seriously. To the right, in contradiction to Christ, they want religion to uphold unconditionally the power structure they have fought for. Christian consciences are meant to surrender to it in willing submission; the conscience becomes the slave of political power. To the left, all they see in the Christian confession is their most hated opponent. All they know of Christianity is the social power of class privilege, which, also in contradiction to Christ, covers up social injustice with a hypocritical mien and refers the tormented to a better world hereafter. The Christian conscience appears to represent the height of injustice and should be exterminated.
To all this, Christian confessions in general, apart from a few rare exceptions, have nothing to say. The prophetic clarity of intense and confident waiting for a final kingdom – a kingdom of loving community in God – has given way to feeble imitations. People no longer believe that the peace, justice, and brotherliness of the kingdom of God are a present reality that eclipses all other hopes of the future. And yet all these prospects of a better future are borrowed from and would not exist without the hopes of prophetic early Christianity. But not even the historical significance of early Christian prophecy is taken seriously. In practice, the general run of Christianity just accepts existing conditions of social order, or disorder, including any new ideas people come up with. The early Christian expectation is being forgotten. Because it is no longer seriously believed, it has, for present-day Christianity, lost the dynamic to overturn and transform everything.

Read more from the book.


Jesse Barton lives at Beech Grove, a Bruderhof in Nonington, Kent, in the United Kingdom.

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