Living in Community
Pilgrim visitors to Jerusalem from all parts of the known world—came together and established the first Christian community. In a day. With three thousand members.
From this beginning in Jesus (an inner-city community), messengers took the good news far and wide. In Antioch, in the African cities of Alexandria and Carthage, in Philippi (starting with a few women), Thessalonika, Corinth, and Rome little households of faith took shape, grew, and multiplied.
It worked. It was what Jesus had in mind.
Tiny communities, springing up like mushrooms -- in a day -- got swept by winds of persecution into the remotest hinterlands of Europe, up the great rivers of Russia, ever deeper into Africa. Anabaptists, fleeing for their lives, spread out a coat, threw their belongings onto it, starting their first community on the run.
From there it went fast.
Everywhere believers found one another they set up households (Haushaben) on the back streets of towns that tolerated them. Rented buildings only. Rented shops or fields. Everyone working in trades here and there. Nicely set up today, fleeing, or up in flames tomorrow. Yet even in that precarious state, they accepted ten, twenty, thirty or perhaps as many as sixty thousand “seekers” in about 30 years time.
Community for the first Anabaptists (Hutterites) was a fluid, adaptable, always circumstantial arrangement, suited to whatever the time or setting brought. Community lay in the spirit of things. It lived in people’s hearts, not in their economic of physical establishment.
That is the kind of community we so desperately need today! The world is crying for it. No place needs it more than the United States of America and Europe -- where many old “cut and dried” communities survive, but no longer as the cities of refuge they were meant to be.
Dozens, hundreds, of people here and there, are waking up to the fact that our world stands in need of real live community again. Loving community (not godless communism) as only Jesus could bring it. But WHERE? Where oh where, is the family of Jesus that will receive these “seekers,” be a home to them, and let them grow?
The Hutterite movement (of which I am a part) indeed has many vestigial patterns and blessings to share with the world. But Hutterites have become firmly convinced the only way new communities can start is with years of planning, lots of experienced people, and a million (or several million) dollars.
That is a sad and dreadful mistake. It is also as far from the truth as the south pole is from the north. Had Jakob Hutter and Peter Riedemann entertained any such ideas in the 16’th century, not one Hutterite community would ever have gotten established at all!
It is neither right, nor even sensible, for any church to limit its fellowship to people that are physically able to live on its property. All true seekers need to get accomodated or incorporated somehow, if that is their desire. Once our physical or economic system becomes exclusive or restrictive, it is no longer of Christ and needs to be recognised and dealt with as such.
Neither should we think that Hutterites alone have the gift or knowledge necessary to live in community. Falling into a communal mindset, like falling in love, is neither hard nor complicated. It is as EASY as falling off a log! And it is certainly no harder to start a new community than to start a new home. What does it take?
1. It takes two or three willing believers, born of the Spirit, willing to commit themselves to Jesus and one another, for life.
2. It takes a place. Any neighbourhood where work and housing is available can be a good place.
3. It takes stable, committed, leadership. If none is available, or if the leadership question is unclear, new communities do well to locate geographically close to older, established ones that can provide helpful oversight. (Along with a place to worship or school, if necessary.)
That, under the blessing and direction of Jesus, is all it takes.
And what does it NOT take?
1. It does not take a lot of experienced people. Sure, it is nice where a believer or two from an established community can help get things set up and going. But deep-seated conviction is worth more than all the experience in the world.
2. It does not take lots of money. Community was designed to help believers get along on little, not with a great load of assets. In fact, the communal lifestyle, if handled correctly, can be the cheapest way of life on earth.
3. Unless you are thinking of beginning a community in some foreign country where legal and employment obligations make it necessary, you should not need a “jump-start” from an older community. Christian community was designed to work for believers anywhere, of all cultures, of all traditions. Leaning on someone else’s old forms and structures may well do you more harm than good.
Good community is never bound to one rigid “this-is-what-takes” mentality. It is always open to new people and ideas, always adjusting itself, always finding its way in the Spirit of Jesus through whatever crisis may come (and many do come!).
Sure, it is imperative that we commit ourselves to the “three-legged principles” of a common work, a common purse, and a common table. But where all that is not possible at once, we make the best of what there is. Perhaps in new communities we may all need to work in trades here and there at the beginning. Perhaps we only get to eat one meal a day together. Perhaps our sharing needs to be an arranged sharing until debts get paid or until we have everything in place for that to happen.
There is no exact pattern. No recipe, other than the words of Jesus: “Whoever does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple,” and the instruction of Paul to “esteem others better than ourselves.”
To those of you in Europe and America that seek community but don’t have it, I am forced to say: Don’t wait on any Hutterites to come and help you! Don’t set your hopes on finding a place in a Hutterite colony! You could well find yourself waiting fifty years or forever.
But if you went and parked yourself on their doorstep, so to speak -- if you rented places and got little households going in Minneapolis, or Sioux Falls, or Winnipeg I dare say you would soon have lots of meaningful interaction (good for them, good for you).
And if you are able to do it without that kind of interaction, by all means do what Jesus asks of you in Paris, in Berlin, in Seoul, or Timbuktu!
Remember it only takes ONE DAY to start a new community.
That is the day two or three believers say, “Let us live together. Let us pool our resources. Let us do on earth what is done in heaven, with Jesus help—and stick with it no matter what comes.”
That is the birth and essence of “family” in Jesus. The body and the blood. The reason for what has come to us through more than two thousand years. All the rest is “nothing but the details.”