Following Jesus

Wisdom of the Hutterites

November 11, 2020 by

Anabaptists
An Anabaptist meeting. Artist unknown.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Unless you give up everything, you cannot be my disciple.” I asked myself, “Dear God, you mean everything? What do you want me to do?” These questions led me to the Gospels, and the writings of the early Christians and Hutterites.

One vision from an early Christian impressed me and pointed me to the truth. Hermas, a Christian who lived in Rome around the second century, saw a vision of a great tower being built upon water. It was explained to him that the tower symbolized the church. He saw square white stones that were used for the tower, and they fit each other so perfectly that he could not even see the joints between them. And then the stones that were dragged from the deep were placed on the building just as they were, and fit at the joints with the other stones. Again, the joints were not visible and the tower looked as if it were built of a single stone. Hermas asked for an explanation. The answer was this: “The stones that are square and white, these are the apostles, bishops, teachers and deacons who have walked according to the holiness of God and have ministered to the elect of God with purity and reverence. They had peace with one another and listened to one another. For this reason, their joints fit together in the building. The stones that are dragged from the deep whose joints fit together with the other stones already used in the building are those who have suffered for the name of the Lord.”

Along with the vision, what pointed to the truth was writings of Hutterites. As I studied their history, I became convinced that they were these stones that are dragged from the deep. They were truly like lambs, just like their master.

The Hutterites stem from the Anabaptist movement that arose during the Reformation. At the time, infant baptism was enforced in Catholic and Protestant churches. Whoever refused was labelled a heretic, and could suffer persecutions up to death by fire, water, or the sword. Anabaptists believe that infant baptism is not supported by Scripture, specifically, that baptism should be given only to those who understand the meaning of the gospel and want to live by it. Their opponents would ask them, “In Mark 16, it says he who believes and is baptized will be saved but he who does not believe will be condemned. If infants are not baptized, how could they get saved?”

The Anabaptists would answer them, “Hear what it says there. It says whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. And whoever does not believe will be condemned. Therefore, even if you are baptized one hundred times without believing, it will not help you. Infants cannot believe. So, this verse cannot be applied to infants who cannot believe. The Apostle Paul wrote ‘whoever does not work, should not eat.’ This verse does not apply to infants who cannot work. Paul said it to those who are able to work. Who are you to condemn innocent children?”

Claus Felbinger, a Hutterite minister who suffered martyrdom around 1560, gave the following testimony to the council of Landshut:

I was asked why I separated myself from the holy Christian church and joined a sect that is tolerated nowhere. I told them that I did not separate myself from true Christian church. On the contrary, I only joined the church by entering into the true community of believers through true Christian baptism. There is no doubt in my mind that this is where we find forgiveness of sins. Where we find the power given by the Holy Spirit to loosen and to bind so that this will be valid both on earth and in Heaven (Brotherly Community, 116–117).

The establishment of community of goods through the Holy Spirit was a blessing given to the Hutterites. Peter Walpot, a Hutterite elder during the sixteenth century, wrote the following:

The mystery of baptism teaches us true community. For Paul says, we were all baptized into one body (1 Cor 11:13). He says ‘into one body’ because nothing portrays unity better than the body. . . To a body that is well and healthy all its members are equally dear, without distinction or favoritism, even though they are not equal among themselves (1Cor 12:4). Though the hand is not the eye, both are equally respected by the body. . . . each member is there not for itself, but for the sake of the body. None of them lets the other suffer want. If one foot slips, the other moves quickly to prevent a fall. Each helps the other as it would help itself . . . What happens to one, happens to the other as well. Whatever the body has to do, they do it together. None has anything of its own, rather, what it has and can do must be there for the good of the whole body. Into such a spiritual body we are all baptized, that we may show forth community both in spiritual graces and in temporal goods. That is why in the scriptures Christians are often referred to as a body and members one of another (Rom 12:45, 1 Cor 12:13, Eph 1:23, Col 1:18).

I hope these words will inspire many people to study Hutterite history and writings, which are as gold refined by fire. Now I would like to mention again the tower which symbolizes the church. Hermas asked, “Why is it built upon water?” The answer was, “It is because your life was saved and will be saved through water.” Namely, baptism. In early Christian times, baptism meant complete surrender to God and commitment to brothers and sisters in faith. In fact, they had to be ready to suffer martyrdom any time. As the Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren describes, during the Reformation the “long suppressed Church finally lifted its head at last” by restoring the foundation of the church, which is the believer’s baptism of the suffering Christ.

As the stones dragged from the deep joined with the white and square stones so perfectly that even their joints could not be seen, the early Christians and Hutterites represent the same faith and calling. Out of their intense unity given by the Holy Spirit came the fiery mission to gather the zealous for God.

May God help us, and chisel us to fit into his tower!


Hee Tae Kim lives at Bellvale, a Bruderhof in Chester, New York.

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