Following Jesus

discipleship • the inner life • prayer
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Following Jesus

Why I Joined the Bruderhof

July 20, 2019 by

When I started down the road of Christian discipleship, I wore lots of makeup, I wore bikinis, and knew every secular rock and pop song by heart. Big deal, right? I had morals. I went to a church youth group – though it was more like a dating service with Christian background music. Apart from my deep faith and relationship with Jesus, I was pretty lonely. I spent many a Friday night watching TV in my bedroom, wondering why I was so depressed. Then I stumbled across a website about an early Christian–style community – spoiler alert, it’s the one you’re visiting now – and my comfortable Christianity was exposed. This group is trying to live out Jesus’ teachings like the first Christians, here in the twenty-first century!

A family at the Bruderhof, an intentional community in the UK.The author with her husband, Dan, and their three children at the Bruderhof

But who were the early Christians, anyway, and why hadn’t I heard more about their witness? Maybe their obedience to Jesus in word and deed was just too radical. So I read David Bercot’s brave book, Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up, comparing early Christianity to Christianity today, to learn more about them.

The early Christians lived in the Roman Empire in the first and second centuries after Christ. The teachings of Jesus and the apostles were fresh in their hearts and minds. Their witness had not yet been watered down by compromise with the world and with the state. The early Christians were severely persecuted because they stood firm in their faith and did not conform to the immoral Roman culture.

But how did the early Christians resist pressures to conform? I certainly wasn’t able to defy modern society!

According to the book of Acts, the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship. . . . And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:42; 44–45). The early Christians supported each other in their faith seven days a week; they didn’t face the world alone! The Romans could not ignore their love. In fact, many Romans joined them because they wanted a new life.

Now, you may be thinking that today’s society is much different from the ancient times in which the early Christians lived. That is a common misconception. Actually, ancient Roman society was strikingly similar to modern Western society. Bercot writes, “A fashionable Roman woman used virtually every beauty aid that her modern day counterpart uses. She began the day by arranging her hair and putting on her makeup. Fashionable women insisted on wearing gowns made of silk . . . luxurious dresses were often transparent and clung sensuously to a woman’s figure.” When the early Christians dressed modestly it was out of respect for each other and God’s creation, not because Romans dressed that way. They were not trying to be culturally relevant; instead, they were unafraid to be counter-cultural.

I realized that I couldn’t follow Jesus on the world’s terms. And no Christian can go the way of true discipleship alone.

The early Christians also refused to participate in Roman entertainment. They did not attend theaters, gladiatorial games, or raucous public parties. I often listened to music, saw films, and went to concerts that were not exactly espousing Christian values, just because everyone else was doing it. I felt like a sell-out, because I let the culture, through powerful media influences, tell me what to wear, what to do, and even what to believe. Bercot says, “The early Christians were able to reject the ungodly attitudes, practices, and entertainment of their culture because they had conformed to a different culture. Tens of thousands of other Christians shared the same values, attitudes, and standards of entertainment. All the individual Christian had to do was conform to the body of believers.”

More importantly, because the early Christians were so united, they could make a clear witness on the vital issues of their day, like abortion, euthanasia, and Biblical marriage. Don’t those issues sound familiar? The early Christians not only spoke out where they thought society was going wrong, they pointed to another way. They offered a positive alternative. They cared for babies that the Romans abandoned. They looked after the sick and the elderly. They remained faithful in their marriages.

The apostle Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, . . . Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection.” (Rom. 12:2; 9–10) The early Christians followed his directive. Why can’t we? Christians cannot say it is impossible because the times have never really changed. Maybe what has changed is the church’s clear, united, loving witness to the gospel of Jesus and the teachings of the apostles – her witness to a different way.

I joined this early Christian–style community, the Bruderhof, as a young twenty-something. I realized that I couldn’t follow Jesus on the world’s terms. I had to count the cost of true discipleship. And no Christian can go the way of true discipleship alone. I became part of a group of imperfect but radical Christians fully committed to Jesus, to each other, and to doing deeds of love both near and far. And I’m not lonely anymore!


Emily Hallock lives with her husband, Dan, and their three children at Beech Grove, a Bruderhof community in Kent, England.

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  • Interested in learning more. Thank you!

    Margaret Bluhm