The church we believe in lives in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit we believe in bears the church within itself. This church of the Spirit will give life to the future unity of humankind. It gives life already now to all truly living communities. The foundation and basic element of every community is not merely the combination of its members but simply and solely the unity of the Holy Spirit, for the true church is present there.
An organism becomes a unit through the unity of consciousness brought about by the spirit that animates it. It is the same in a believing community. The future unity of humankind, when God alone will rule, is ensured by the Holy Spirit. For this Spirit is the coming leader and Lord himself. The only thing we can hold on to here and now, the only thing we can already perceive of this great future of love and unity, is the Spirit. Faith in the Spirit is faith in the church and faith in the kingdom.
In the life of a community, several decisive questions will need to be confronted again and again: how are we called? to what are we called? will we follow the call? Only a few are called to the special way that is ours. Yet those who are called – a small, battle-tried band, who must sacrifice themselves again and again – will hold firmly for the rest of their lives to the common task shown them by God. They will be ready to sacrifice life itself for the sake of unity. People tear themselves away from home, parents, and career for the sake of marriage; for the sake of wife and child they risk their lives. In the same way it is necessary to break away and sacrifice everything for the sake of our calling to this way. Our witness to voluntary community of goods and work, to a life of peace and love, will have meaning only when we throw our entire life and livelihood into it.
It is over five [now ninety] years since our tiny fellowship in Berlin decided to venture, in the sense of this confession, to live and work together in community on a basis of trust. With time, a life of total community came into being.
We are small in number, we come from the most diverse backgrounds and walks of life, but we want to place ourselves as one group in the service of all people. Given our basis of faith, we cannot approach the development of our community from a purely economic point of view. We cannot simply select the most capable people for our various work departments. We aim for efficiency in all areas; but far more important, we seek faith. Each of us – whether committed member, helper, or guest – must be faced again and again with the question whether or not he is growing into the coming community ruled by Christ, no matter what his special service or task.
Our work, then, is a venture dared again and again. Yet we are not the driving force in this – it is we who have been driven and who must be urged on. The danger of exhaustion and uselessness is always present, but it is continually overcome by the faith that underlies mutual help.
Thomas Merton gave two interpretive talks on this text in September 1968. Read them in Why We Live in Community.