Life in Community

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Life in Community

Is Community Necessary?

May 19, 2017 by

Is community really necessary? Isn’t Christianity an individual choice, a matter of each person’s relationship with Jesus? The discussion is as old as the idea of community. In April 1934 a young Englishman visited the Bruderhof in Liechtenstein. Discontented with his life, Peter Jenkin had given up a successful job as a surveyor. He was impressed by the community but felt its members were too cut off from the world. “Christ was an individualist,” he asserted. Eberhard Arnold answered:

Jesus knew the worth of the individual; he loved him and fought for him. But when he spoke about the new birth of the individual, he did it in relation to the coming kingdom of God. The one lost coin that was looked for in every corner was to be found and used for the household. The one lost sheep, which was loved individually, was sought in order to be incorporated again into the flock – that was the important thing, not that it remain alone and be loved for its own sake.

Community members at a plant sale

The kingdom of God is at hand. Turn away from individualism, be ready for community! The lost son was loved more than the son who was a moralist. But he was loved so as to be once again incorporated into his father’s household. Nietzsche says: “You call out, ‘We want to be free.’ But I ask you: Free for what?” The individualism that Jesus means is the complete change of a person’s life; it is turning to God. The question is always: For what purpose? You are to be born again in order to come into God’s kingdom. But this individual summons is communistic: New birth of the individual for community.

We believe that the individual must be renewed and all his gifts fully developed in order to stimulate the community of peace and justice. The individual is precious, but community is more precious. The individual is nothing in himself, but in his connection with true community he is everything. Paul compares the church to a living body, each individual in it is a living member. Each member of himself is nothing. The goal of human history is that humanity becomes a true community, and this must be realized as an example by those who have recognized it – by you too. Gustav Landauer once said: “There is as yet no community of humankind. That is the most bitter fact.” We confront this statement with: A community of humankind does exist! It is small but it is there!

You see, dear Peter, you must forsake everything so that all your gifts may be used best.

Peter: When I was in England I often doubted whether life had any meaning at all.

Eberhard: Without community, life has no meaning. You must believe in God, not in yourself.

Peter: I turned more and more to blatant individualism. If all were true individualists, there would have been no war.

Eberhard: If we were all true communists there would have been no war. We are individualists within communism. If one takes the individual completely seriously, there would not only be no war, but we would live in community.

Peter: War proves that man is a tribal animal. Isn’t there a danger of becoming tribal in community?

Eberhard: Mass suggestion never leads to community or to anything good. We have to see God and his kingdom in their depth. If, with true sincerity, we reach into the depth of our soul and spirit, we will hear God’s voice calling: “Come into my kingdom, into community!” We will hear it quite individually in our heart. Only the superficial individualist remains in isolation; one who reaches the depths comes to community. You find in the depths of your heart a longing for a union that has its origin in God, a uniting with all things in the world. We believe that unity is only given in freedom. True community imparts true originality, the blossoming of the individual.

Peter:I tried to look deeply into myself and into life, but found only a longing for death.

Eberhard: You have to look still deeper, through the forsakenness of death to life and community. You have become very dear to us. We share a common feeling, even though there are difficulties in understanding each other. At this point we have more fellowship of heart than of mind! It will surely be led further. Let us love everyone. Then we will have to live in community and our individual talents will unfold.

Read more from Eberhard Arnold in Emmy Maendel's From the Founder series.


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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  • Thank you for responding to this article. Certainly community may take many forms and does not only need to be lived in “small communes.” Arnold is speaking here about selfish individualism (which is promoted by today’s society). If you find a way to have community within the larger society, you have my full respect.

    Emmy Maendel
  • Do you feel that community is only possible in 'small' communes? Can we not have community within the wider society?

    Judith Scollard