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The Bruderhof: A Community in the Spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and the Radical Reformation

November 13, 2017 by

Over the past week, many churches have been busy celebrating the five-hundred-year anniversary of the Reformation. Unfortunately, and perhaps without wanting to, what many are commemorating is a schism in the church. And so, in accordance with Jesus’ prayer that the church may become one, a consortium of believers has been gathering this week in Wittenberg, Germany (the site of Martin Luther’s original protest against the Catholic Church) to work for “the removal of hostility between followers of Jesus, the healing of damage caused by centuries of hostility, and the deepening of reconciled diversity.” After several years of preparatory gatherings, this week’s Wittenberg 2017 event is a culmination of efforts to bring about a re-formed and re-united church.

people singing together around a campfire

Wittenberg 2017’s organizers invited the Bruderhof to participate this week, and so we are happy to share with you the prepared notes that will be delivered by Chris Zimmerman on “Modern Anabaptists.” As Chris says,

There is a tendency in this anniversary year to keep looking back at 1517 – at yet another facet of the Reformation. I myself am a history buff – and there are endless fascinating aspects. But what does it all mean for us, today? Eberhard Arnold’s genius was his readiness not only to grapple with this question, but also to live the answers he came upon. Though a brilliant academic, he was not satisfied with ideas and analyses, or with exploring radicalism retrospectively. He dared, in his searching, to assume a forward stance.
In what sort of “Babylonian captivity” might the Reformers find us today? To what extent does our slavery to a middle-class mind-set of entitlement – to a good education, vacations, etc. – reveal our true allegiances and priorities? What idols of the present – consumerism, sex, infotainment, technology – threaten to hold us latter-day Christians in bondage from day to day? In a time of instability and turmoil not unlike Luther’s, where does our real security lie?
History shows that reform rarely begins at an institutional level; that the renewal the church needs again and again tends to come from the margins and the grass-roots. In that regard, a thought from Oscar Romero: “What the world needs… is people who take the risk of renouncing everything and seeking only God’s justice and love. It needs people of eternal hope; people who do not yield to pessimism or let earthly cares exhaust their faith in eternal ideals.” More specifically, he goes on, “What the world needs is people who live out their baptism; who are faithful to their calling. So many of us have practically become baptized pagans, and we need to shake ourselves and each other out of habits that threaten to keep us as such.”
In other words, we need, each of us, a revolution of the heart; to return to what the writer of Revelation calls the “first love,” so that, as workers in Christ’s vineyard, we can become co-creators in establishing his realm of peace and love and justice and community on this earth. So that we can bear fruit.
It will cost us. The storied martyrs of the Radical Reformation proved that five centuries ago. So did the first members of my community, the Bruderhof, many of whom were kept on the move for the entirety of their lives, at great personal sacrifice, as they fled persecution and war; or sought to rebuild after crippling internal crises. Yet as Jesus himself says, “Whoever tries to save his life will lose it. But whoever gives up his life for my sake will find it” – in abundance, and eternally.
This life need not be a deferred dream. It is promised to us now – today – wherever even a handful of people come together in peace and love, reconciled with one another, and with him: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” In a world of apocalyptic catastrophes and terrors – a world in which, as the Gospels presciently warn, the love of many “shall grow cold” – such words hold tremendous hope.

Click to read Chris’s full talk, or watch it right here:


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  • Recently "discovered " your publication` Will be subscripting

    George R. Cox MD