Following Jesus

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Following Jesus

What is the Task of the Church?

November 30, 2018 by

In my next posts, I’d like to try to share something of Eberhard Arnold’s vision of the church’s task in the world. In 1920 he co-founded the Bruderhof in a small German village and by the time he died fifteen years later, this Christian community was nearly 150 men, women, and children. Arnold’s last two years were under the shadow of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, and as the pastor of the Bruderhof, he surely wondered sometimes if their little group of believers were living in the end times. But through their collective faith, I believe he was given a prophetic vision to see world history from God’s perspective.

Over the last two decades, there have been plenty of sobering events that have made me question the trajectory of humankind today. But I take hope and courage from these words, which Arnold spoke at Pentecost, 1934:

Pentecost came down to an expectant group of people in Jerusalem, a small group, but one that was decisive for the world because it was inspired by the faith of expectation. Their expectation was filled with anxiety and extreme tension. Jesus had been taken away from their midst; they were left alone in the world, but they believed in his word. And this word was their expectation and their certainty.

What did the first church expect? It expected the kingdom of God; it expected the revolution of all things. It expected the complete changing of all conditions and of all relationships in business, state, and society. It expected the revaluation of all values. God was to become the highest value; he was to reign, he was to reveal himself. God would replace the other dominions; he would sweep away the dominion of lying, of impurity, and of murder. Instead, the peace of God would take hold of the world and the justice of Christ would penetrate all creation. This was the expectation of the original church.

The church acknowledges the necessity of government today. But the church’s task is different from the dominion of these powers. It is entrusted with the embassy of the last kingdom. Every sovereign nation maintains an embassy in Paris, Saint Petersburg, Berlin, Rome, and elsewhere. The embassy building is sacrosanct territory. There, no one can be subjected to the law of the state in which the ambassador lives; in the embassy building only the law of the state which has sent this embassy is in effect.

It is exactly the same with the embassy of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit of his church. Here only the law of life of the last kingdom counts. Therefore the church may not simply subordinate itself to the laws of the government in power today. The church of Christ lives by the sovereign freedom of his final kingdom. The character of this kingdom is decisive for the church and its entire conduct of life.

The church acknowledges the necessity of government today. But the church’s task is different from the dominion of these powers.

Now when the church of Christ has such a great message entrusted to it, its commission goes forth to all humankind. This does not mean that already in this particular moment of history everybody must live in the church of Christ. But it does mean that everybody must be reached by the witness of truth, of the final goal of human history, which is the unity of Christ revealed in the embassy of Christ’s church. This fact strikes deep into the hearts of all individuals, even if they are not yet ready, here and now, to be part of the church of Christ.

The Holy Spirit reveals the witness of the church as truth to all people’s consciences. There are no exceptions; all humankind is included. And if one could see into all movements and grasp them to some extent, one would see that even in today’s National Socialist movement, people hope for love, unity, and community.

The church is placed into this world and its history for the purpose of allowing the heart of God, the innermost depths of his love, to triumph over all powers. Thus the church confesses that the final goal of God’s kingdom is its way in the present time. The way of God’s community goes straight into the midst of God’s judgment; it goes directly through God’s anger, but it stands alone under the sign of mercy and of love – the love of God that loves its enemies. The church loves her actual opponents. Even in them she recognizes an ideal which they hold before them; even in them she feels the pulse of an awakened conscience; them, too, she may acknowledge as being called.

Therefore it is important that faith in love begins here and now and that nothing shall be postponed. The calling of love goes forth to all – but not all follow the call. One can follow the call only if one’s personal life is deeply devoted to the cause. Christ as a whole – all his word and all his being – is the cause of love; the important thing is to turn oneself toward this cause. We must not be satisfied with a partial image of Jesus; we must receive the whole Christ, in the all-embracing breadth and greatness of his love. As king of the kingdom of love, he calls and gathers the church, in order to send out from it his ambassadors to all the world. And the ambassadors of his kingdom summon people to love and to unity, to justice and to brotherhood, for they honor their King.

field of wheat in the sunset

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About the author

Emmy Maendel

Emmy Maendel

Emmy Maendel, an author with a particular interest in Bruderhof history, writes a regular blog post featuring timely...

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