In 1920 Eberhard Arnold founded the Bruderhof community movement, which still exists today.
Life in community is no less than a necessity for us – it is an inescapable “must” that determines everything we do and think. Yet it is not our good intentions or efforts that have been decisive in our choosing this way of life. Rather, we have been overwhelmed by a certainty – a certainty that has its origin and power in the Source of everything that exists. We acknowledge God as this Source.
We must live in community because all life created by God exists in a communal order and works toward community.
Admittedly, with our present nature, without God, we humans are incapable of community. Temperamental mood-swings, possessive impulses and cravings for physical and emotional satisfaction, powerful currents of ambition and touchiness, the desire for personal influence over others, and human privileges of all kinds – all these place seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the way of true community. But with faith we cannot be deluded into thinking that these realities are decisive: in the face of the power of God and his all-conquering love, they are of no significance. God is stronger than these realities. The unifying energy of his Spirit overcomes them all.
We do not acknowledge sentimental love, love without work. Nor do we acknowledge dedication to practical work if it does not daily give proof of a heart-to-heart relationship between those who work together, a relationship that comes from the Spirit. The love of work, like the work of love, is a matter of the Spirit. The love that comes from the Spirit is work.
Work as spirit and spirit as work – that is the fundamental nature of the future order of peace, which comes to us in Christ. Work alone makes it possible to live in community, for work means joy in striving for the common good and joy in the presence of those we strive with. Such joy is given to us only as far as we are able to sustain a consecrated relationship to the Eternal, even when performing the most mundane tasks – only as far as we remember that everything that is material and earthly is, at the same time, consecrated to God’s future.
The spirit-filled life of love that arises from faith has been decisively witnessed to over the centuries, especially by the Jewish prophets and later by the first Christians. We acknowledge Christ, the historical Jesus, and with him his entire message as proclaimed by his apostles and practiced by his followers. Therefore we stand as brothers and sisters with all those who have joined together to live in community through the long course of history.
We must live in community because we are compelled by the same Spirit that has led to community time and again since the days of biblical prophecy and early Christianity.
There is no great commission without a specific, clearly defined task. Yet it is of decisive importance that any special task lead only to Christ – that it truly serve the whole, the church, the coming kingdom. Wherever people see their task as something special in itself, they will go astray. But when a person serves the whole, even if in his special place and in his own particular way, he can well say, “I belong to God and to life in community,” or to God and to any other calling. Before our human service can become divine service, however, we must recognize how small and limited it is in the face of the whole.
A special calling – living in community, for instance – must never be confused with the church of Christ itself. Life in community means discipline in community, education in community, and continual training for the discipleship of Christ. Yet the mystery of the church is something different from this – something greater. It is God’s life, and coming from him it penetrates community. This penetration of the divine into the human occurs whenever the tension of desperate yearning produces an openness and readiness in which God alone may act and speak. At such moments a community can be commissioned by the invisible church and given certainty for a specific mission: to speak and act – albeit without mistaking itself for the church – in the name of the church.
Efforts to organize community artificially can only result in ugly, lifeless caricatures. Only when we are empty and open to the Living One – to the Spirit – can he bring about the same life among us as he did among the early Christians. The Spirit is joy in the Living One, joy in God as the only real life; it is joy in all people, because they have life from God. The Spirit drives us to all people and brings us joy in living and working for one another, for it is the spirit of creativity and love.
Community life is possible only in this all-embracing Spirit and in those things it brings with it: a deepened spirituality and the ability to experience life more keenly and intensely. Surrendering to this Spirit is such a powerful experience that we can never feel equal to it. In truth, the Spirit alone is equal to itself. It quickens our energies by firing the inmost core – the soul of the community – to white heat. When this core burns and blazes to the point of sacrifice, it radiates far and wide.
Community life is like martyrdom by fire: it means the daily sacrifice of all our strength and all our rights, all the claims we commonly make on life and assume to be justified. In the symbol of fire the individual logs burn away so that, united, its glowing flames send out warmth and light again and again into the land.
We must live in community because the spirit of joy and love gives us such an urge to reach out to others that we wish to be united with them for all time.
From Why We Live in Community.