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    Detail from Bruegel's painting The Harvesters.

    The Body of Believers

    An early Anabaptist reflects on Paul’s metaphor of the church as the body of Christ.

    By Ulrich Stadler

    June 23, 2024
    • Larry Smith

      Dear Erna: At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I address this in an article for Plough that is slated for August, “Money & Democratic Capitalism,” drawing on and developing the thoughts of Michael Novak. In the article, I demonstrate that capitalism and socialism (i.e., shared ownership) bring different gifts and can complement one another, and I challenge fellow Plough readers and admirers of the Bruderhof to distinguish that which is a community’s gift to the church from that which is prescribed for the entire church, and to encourage all the gifts. Looking forward to reactions from others, Larry

    • Erna Albertz,

      Thank you for reading. In his analysis of the metaphor of the body of Christ, Stadler makes a forthright case for community of goods. Is it possible to justify any other interpretation? Please share your thoughts.

    Ulrich Stadler, a mining official from the Tyrol, became part of the nascent Anabaptist movement in the early 1520s. He led fellow believers under persecution and founded several communal settlements. Together with one of these groups, he eventually joined the Hutterite church. Stadler’s writings demonstrate deep spiritual insight and have been valued by Anabaptists up to the present day. In this teaching, he examines the metaphor of the body of believers used by the apostle Paul in Romans 12.

    There is one communion (gmain) of all the faithful in Christ and one community (gmainschaft) of the holy children called of God. They have one Father in heaven, one Lord Christ; all are baptized and sealed in their hearts with one Spirit. They have one mind, opinion, heart, and soul as having all drunk from the same Fountain, and alike await one and the same struggle, cross, trial, and, at length, one and the same hope in glory. But it, that is, such a community (gmain) must move about in this world, poor, miserable, small, and rejected of the world, of whom, however, the world is not worthy.

    Whoever strives for the lofty things of this world does not belong. Thus in this community everything must proceed equally, all things be one and communal, alike in the bodily gifts of their Father in heaven, which he daily gives to be used by his own according to his will. For how does it make sense that all who have here in this pilgrimage to look forward to an inheritance in the kingdom of their Father should not be satisfied with their bodily goods and gifts? Judge, O ye saints of God, ye who are thus truly grafted into Christ, with him deadened to the world, to sin, and to yourselves, that you never hereafter live for the world or yourselves, but rather for him who died for you and arose, namely, Christ. They have also yielded themselves and presented themselves to him intimately, patiently, of their own free will, naked and uncovered, to suffer and endure his will and, moreover, to fulfill it and thereafter also to devote themselves in obedience and service to all the children of God. Therefore, they also live with one another where the Lord assigns a place to them, peaceably, united, lovingly, amicably, and fraternally, as children of one Father. In their pilgrimage they should be satisfied with the bodily goods and gifts of their Father, since they should also be altogether as one body and members one toward another.

    painting of harvesters working and eating under a tree

    Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Harvesters, 1565.

    Now if, then, each member withholds assistance from the other, the whole thing must go to pieces. The eyes won't see, the hands won't take hold. Where, however, each member extends assistance equally to the whole body, it is built up and grows and there is peace and unity, yea, each member takes care of the other. ln brief, equal care, sadness and joy, and peace are at hand. It is just the same in the spiritual body of Christ. If the deacon of the community will never serve, the teacher wilI not teach, the young brother will not be obedient, the strong will not work for the community but for himself and each one wishes to take care of himself and if once in a while someone withdraws without profit to himself, the whole body is divided. In brief, one, common builds the Lord's house and is pure; but mine, thine, his, own divides the Lord's house and is impure. Therefore, where there is ownership and one has it, and it is his, and one does not wish to be one (gmainsam) with Christ and his own in living and dying, he is outside of Christ and his communion (gmain) and has thus no Father in heaven. If he says so, he lies. That is the life of the pilgrims of the Lord, who has purchased them in Christ, namely, the elect, the called, the holy ones in this life. These are his fighters and heralds, to whom also he will give the crown of life on the day of his righteousness.

    Secondly, such a community of the children of God has ordi­nances here in their pilgrimage. These should constitute the polity (policeien) for the whole world. But the wickedness of men has spoiled everything. For as the sun with its shining is common to all, so also the use of all creaturely things. Whoever appropriates them for himself and encloses them is a thief and steals what is not his. For everything has been created free in common (in die gmain). Of such thieves the whole world is full. May God guard his own from them. To be sure, according to human law, one says: That is mine, but not according to divine law. Here in this ordinance [in our community] it [the divine law] is to be heeded (gilt es aufsehens) in such a way that unbearable burdens be not laid upon the children of the Lord, but rather ones which God, out of his grace, has put upon us, living ac­cording to which we may be pleasing to him. Thus only as circumstances dictate will the children of God have either many or few houses, institute faithful house managers and stewards, who will faithfully move among the children of God and conduct themselves in a mild and fatherly manner and pray to God for wisdom therein.

    From George H. Williams and A. M. Mergal, Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers (Westminster Press, 1957).

    Contributed By placeholder Ulrich Stadler

    Formerly a mining official, Ulrich Stadler became one of the greatest theologians of the early Hutterites.

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