In the old city of Augsburg in Bavaria, Jakob Wideman (VEE duh mun) found the way of Christ in 1527. Augsburg was a wealthy city. The Fuggers, Europe's richest and most powerful bankers, lived there. But when Jakob found Christ, he left money and earthly securities behind. Immediately after his baptism the authorities banished him from the city and he fled with others to Nikolsburg in Moravia.
The Anabaptist movement had swept through Nikolsburg a short time before. Perhaps as many as twelve thousand converts had been baptized. But Jakob Wideman and the refugees from Augsburg did not feel at home among them. Not all the Anabaptists of Nikolsburg had given up their possessions to follow Christ. Some, like the lords von Liechtenstein, had kept their palaces, their servants, their swords, and their government positions. Jakob and other sincere seekers spoke against this, and within a year there were two Anabaptist congregations in Nikolsburg -- the large Schwertler group (those who carry swords) and the Kleinhäufler (those of the little heap). In 1528 the Schwertler drove the Kleinhäufler, under the leadership of Jakob Wideman and Philip Plener, out of the city.
For a long time they walked, leading their children and carrying bundles of bedding and food on their backs. They numbered about 200 people, not counting the children. They walked north past Tannewitz in the direction of Muschau until they came to an abandoned estate called Bogenitz. There they camped for a day and a night.
At Bogenitz, after lifting their hands to heaven and calling on God for help, the Kleinhäufler chose Franz Intzinger, Jakob Mändel, Thoman Arbeiter, and Urban Bader to be their ministers of material needs. Jakob Mändel had been the general manager of the estates of the lords von Liechtenstein. Then these four men spread out a coat in front of the people "and everyone with a willing spirit, not out of obligation, threw onto it what he had."
From this time onward, the Kleinhäufler had their things in common. The lords von Kaunitz allowed them to settle in rented buildings in the Moravian town of Austerlitz. Jakob Wideman was their servant of the Word. Ulrich Stadler, another servant, joined him. Philip Plener settled with a community of brothers in the city of Auspitz. Jörg Zaunring and Jakob Hutter came with refugees from the mountains of Austria. Dozens, then hundreds and thousands upon thousands of new believers joined these Moravian communities -- Rossitz, Lundenburg, Schäkowitz, Dämberschitz, Pausram, Pellertitz, Rampersdorf, Stignitz, Koblitz, Altenmarkt, Neumühl, Prutschan, Landhut, Nemschitz, and Maskowitz . . . a steadily growing list of communities, which in thirty years became the home of an estimated 60,000 new Christians.1
Christ the Founder of Community
Jesus Christ, who lived in community of goods with his disciples, prayed for them and all who would choose to follow him: "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name -- the name you gave me -- so that they may be one as we are one. . . . May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:11, 23).
The Anabaptists surrounded Christ in community. They shared everything one with another -- blessings as well as hardships -- and the world saw in them the love of God.
Felix Mantz, writing to the Zürich council in the early months of 1525, stated that immediately after baptizing new believers he "taught them further about love and unity and the holding of all things in common as in the second chapter of Acts."2
Johannes Kessler, wrote about the first Anabaptist congregation in Switzerland:
Now because most of Zollikon was rebaptized and held that they were the true Christian church, they also took, like the early Christians, to community of goods (as can be seen in the Acts of the Apostles). They broke the locks off their doors, chests, and cellars, and ate food and drink in good fellowship without discrimination.3
The joint council of Zürich, Sankt Gallen, and Bern condemned the Anabaptists in 1527. One thing they held against them was their teaching on economics:
They say that no Christian, if he is really sincere, may either give or receive interest on money. They say that all temporal goods are free and common and everyone has full rights to use them. We have been informed by trustworthy people that they often said this in the beginning of their movement, and in this way they got the poor and the simple to join with them.4
Sebastian Franck, while describing the Anabaptists, wrote:
As far as one could see they taught nothing but love, faith, and the cross. They broke bread one with another as evidence of their unity and love. They helped each other faithfully as brothers, lending and giving, and they taught that all things should be held in common.5
The Anabaptists of Switzerland wrote in their first statement of belief:
The brothers and sisters of this commune shall have no property of their own. Rather, as in the time of the apostles, they shall have all things in common. The property of the commune shall be considered one sole property, out of which the poor shall receive, every man according to his need. Like in the time of the apostles no brothers shall be left wanting.6
The first statement of belief of the Anabaptists in Austria, written by Leonhard Schiemer, includes this article:
The brothers and sisters shall give themselves body and soul to God in his community. Every gift that God gives shall be held in common after the practice of the apostles and the first Christians. In this way the needy within the community will be taken care of.7
Peter Rideman, in a letter to the brothers in Austria wrote:
Truly it is a sure sign -- those who leave community of goods and go back to private property walk away from God. They lose their first love and become enemies of God and thieves of what he gives to us.8
An Outer Testimony
Spirit baptism is an inner experience, taught the Anabaptists of Moravia. It is not complete until we receive the outer baptism of water. Communion is inner, spiritual union with God. It is not complete until we outwardly partake of the bread and the wine. In the same way, brotherly love is the inner, spiritual union of brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not complete until we clasp our hands, embrace one another with our arms, and share our outward possessions in Christian community. Where such a materialization of love takes place, the true Gospel of the kingdom has been preached.
Sebastian Franck, writing about the early church, helped the Anabaptists to understand this community of love. He described how the early Christians lived:
The bishop and his servants, the deacons, used to be their householders and stewards. They took care of both the spiritual and physical needs of the church. They distributed their possessions, which they held in common, to meet everyone's need. But after some time they began to get greedy. They began to turn common goods into private property and to use them for personal gain.9
Sebastian Franck stated his own opinion as well:
To be fair, everything should be held in common. . . . Private property, like the use of worldly force, began when the wicked Nimrod stepped out of God's order after the flood. Not only the Apostles testified against this evil, but Plato and Epicurus as well.10
It is no wonder that the Anabaptists, following Christ, promptly found themselves at odds with the feudalism and ungodly capitalism of their day. Soon after the first adult baptisms in southern Germany Hans Römer directed a seeker, Ludwig Spon, to Sorga in Hesse: "There in a village near Hersfeld, called Sorga, there is a congregation that leads a good life. Everyone helps everyone else with goods and food when necessary. Forty or fifty people get together there."11
This particular group of Anabaptists at Sorga, after establishing relationships with Philipp Plener in Auspitz, suffered a mass arrest. The authorities questioned the heads of the homes: "May a Christian own property?"
Answers received varied in detail but they were consistent: "A Christian may have property but in such a way that he has it not, and no one should call property his own. . . . Holders of property yet owning nothing, Christians use property only as long as it pleases God. Then, when a neighbour or when God needs it, they let it go. . . . Christians may have property but they should remain gelassen (unattached)."12
Other Anabaptists captured at the Hessian village of Berka said: "Everything except husbands and wives should be held in common. . . . Everyone who believes like us has just as much right to our belongings as we do, but those who don't share our faith do not."13
Heini Frei, captured and interrogated at Zollikon in Switzerland, said about the Anabaptists (after his recantation):
They believed that everything should be pooled as common property, and whatever someone needed he should take from the common store.14
Love that Cannot Help but Share
Community, for the Swiss and South German Anabaptists, was not a legalistic obligation. It did not come from obedience to apostolic example, nor was it a penance. They shared their things in a spontaneous, joyful way because true love, they said, had unfolded itself in their hearts.
Gabriel Ascherham, trained as a furrier in the old Bavarian city of Nürnberg, became the leader of a large Anabaptist community at Rossitz in Moravia, in the late 1520s. Coming from Silesia, Bavaria and many parts of Switzerland and Austria, around one thousand two hundred brothers and sisters lived there in voluntary community of goods. Gabriel wrote:
The apostles did not preach anything about community of goods nor order any one to keep it, in the first church at Jerusalem. But when they heard the good news of Christ and the kingdom of God the people believed and came to take part in the visible kingdom of the Holy Ghost. He filled them with joy and fixed their hearts upon heavenly blessings, so that they counted earthly possessions as nothing. Willingly, on their own and without being told, motivated only by the joy in their hearts, they went and sold their property, bringing the money from it to lay at the apostles' feet. Then they distributed to everyone according to his need. The first believers began community of goods without being told, everyone giving out of his own free will. Community of goods, as a result, was an open witness of the kingdom of God that had already come to them. It was not something commanded by men for the sake of the kingdom of God.15
Four hundred seventy years after the founding of the community at Rossitz, a nineteen-year-old Anabaptist -- a boy who decided against becoming a Roman Catholic priest and who joined the movement in Central America -- put the same belief to words:
I believe that to live in community only to benefit from the blessings of it is wrong. Unless God has first called us to spiritual community and has placed community of goods into our hearts, all other motives or reasons for seeking community are wrong. Unless God has given us such a love that we cannot help but share our goods and our time with others, whatever we try is in vain.
I do believe that community should be optional, but why should it be optional? For one thing we do not want to force anyone into something that he or she has not been called to. But at the same time, if a person receives the call from God to live in community, then community is no longer an optional thing, but the will of God for that person. Now, my question is: Have we been called into community? If we have, then are we going to let preferences, likes and dislikes, etc. keep us from it? I surely would not consider going into community with others if this sense of belonging together is not there between us and them. This sense of belonging together is what holds people together as they work out their differences. As long as we can feel that, we should not be afraid of going ahead with whatever the Lord puts before us.
An Ausbund writer wrote:
To be like Christ we love one another, through everything, here on this earth. We love one another, not just with words but in deeds. . . . If we have of this world's goods (no matter how much or how little) and see that our brother has a need, but do not share with him what we have freely received -- how can we say that we would be ready to give our lives for him if necessary?
The one who is not faithful in the smallest thing, and who still seeks his own good which his heart desires -- how can he be trusted with a charge over heavenly things? Let us keep our eyes on love!16
The Year of Release
The Anabaptists found the promise of Christian community in the Old Testament year of release. Peter Walbot wrote:
For six years the Israelites could harvest their crops, every man for himself, but the seventh year was a year of release. It was proclaimed that the land should hold a solemn Sabbath unto the Lord.
On this seventh year the Israelites could not harvest their crops. Everything the land produced was to be held in common and enjoyed by everyone -- by the father of the household and his servants, by the cattle and by the wild animals of the land. Slaves were to be released with all manner of gifts and presents, and whoever had lent anything to his neighbour was to cancel the debt in the year of release. It was to be a glorious time, like a wedding feast, and it was a picture of the time of the new covenant in Christ.
The true year of release is the acceptable year of the Lord, as the prophet himself interprets it. It is the year when those who all their lives have been slaves of the devil are released. We celebrate it by having all the goods that God has given us in common through Christian love, and by enjoying them with our neighbours, brothers, and households, not claiming anything for our own. We now live in a much more glorious and festive year of release than that of the Old Testament. We live in the year of grace.17
The Kingdom Community
The Kingdom of Heaven, the Anabaptists believed, comes to earth in the community of those who follow Christ.
Ambrosius Spittelmayr, before he was beheaded for his faith in 1527, wrote:
Nobody can inherit the kingdom unless he is poor with Christ, for a Christian has nothing of his own, no place where he can lay his head. A real Christian should not even have enough property on the face of the earth to stand on with one foot. This does not mean that he should lie down in the woods and not have a job, or that he should not have fields and pasture lands, or that he should not work. It simply means that he should not think that these things are for his own use and be tempted to say: this house is mine, this field is mine, this dollar is mine. Rather he should say it is ours, even as we pray "Our Father." A Christian should not have anything of his own but should have all things in common with his brother, not letting him suffer need. In other words, I will not work that my house be filled, that my pantry be supplied with food, but rather I will see that my brother has enough, for a Christian looks more to his neighbour than to himself.18
Wolfgang Brandhuber, before his death in the massacre at Linz, had been a school teacher in the village of Burghausen in Bavaria. He promoted the early Anabaptist idea of "household communities," where the food, belongings and income of everyone living under one roof was held in common. He lived in such a community with his family and the young people who stayed with him until his arrest in 1529. He wrote:
Watch out for false prophets who gather the money-hungry about them and resist the commands of Christ. They do not like to be told to live in the order of Christ. They become displeased upon discovering that every person in the commune cannot be his own treasurer (Secklmaister). They go around as hypocrites, contradicting the life of Christ and speaking against the order established by his beloved apostles. These false prophets say that it is not necessary to have all things in common. They say it is not necessary for every member to tell the others in love how much he has (or doesn't have). They do not want to have men made responsible by the commune for everyone's money. Rather, they want to keep their financial affairs to themselves and manage their own affairs. I call this wrong. Wherever God makes it possible for us to do so, we should have our things in common for his glory. If we share the most important things (our common faith in Christ), why should we not share that which is least important (our earthly goods)? I do not mean to say with this that we should carry everything together onto one pile. That would not even be proper in many situations. But the head of every home and everyone who has come to take part with him in the common faith should work together for the common fund (Seckl). This includes everyone: the married man, the young worker, the women, the girls, and whoever shares the faith. Even though every man earns his own wage (and Jesus said the labourer is worthy of his hire), love compels everyone to place his earnings into the common fund (den Seckl); yes, it is love that brings this about.19
Ulrich Stadler, servant of the Word at Austerlitz, who fled with a small group to Poland when the Kleinhäufler were scattered for a time in the 1530s wrote:
All gifts and goods that God gives to his own are to be held in common with all the children of God. For this we need sincere, resigned, and willing hearts in Christ. We need hearts who truly believe and trust God and are completely surrendered in Christ. . . . People criticize us and say that the Lord never commanded us directly to have our goods in common and to appoint managers over the finances of the commune. But to live like this is to truly serve the saints. It is the outworking of love. In Christ we learn to lose ourselves in the service of the saints, to be and become poor if only others may be better off. To hand over all lands and goods and to throw away our rights to private property takes Gelassenheit (true resignation) and a free giving of ourselves to the Lord and to his people. . . . Each brother shall serve another. Each brother shall live and work but not just for himself.20
Hans Hut wrote:
A Christian should have all things in common with his brother -- that is, he should not allow him to suffer need, for a Christian looks more to his neighbour's needs than to his own.21
Berndt Rothmann, who wrote the main part of the Verantwortung published by Pilgram Marpeck and the south German Anabaptists, wrote:
We hope that the spirit of Gemeinschaft among us is so strong and glorious that community of goods will be practiced with a pure heart through the grace of God as it has never been practiced before. Not only do we have our goods in common under the supervision of the servants of material needs, but we also praise God with one heart and one inspiration through Jesus Christ, and we are inclined to serve one another in every way. All that have served their own materialism and the owning of property, such as buying, selling, and working for personal gain, interest, or speculation, even with unbelievers, and drinking and eating the sweat of the poor through whose labour we fatten ourselves -- all this has disappeared completely among us through the power of love and community.22
Peter Walbot wrote:
To profess to believe in one holy Christian church and in the community of the holy ones is a main article of the Christian faith. This is not a profession of partial but of complete community, both in spiritual and material goods and gifts. The one who professes to believe in the community of the holy ones, but who does not live in community of goods is a liar and not a true member of the Lord's commune.
How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for them to get in. If Christ would not require a total surrender and community of goods from all those who want to go in to eternal life and inherit heavenly goods, it would not be hard for the rich. It would be as easy for the rich as it is for the poor to enter the kingdom of God.23
Leopold Scharnschlager, servant of the brothers in Switzerland, wrote:
Some who profess the faith are neither hot nor cold. They say they have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and are members of the body of Christ. They are rich but do not know that they are miserable, blind, poor, and naked, and that the Lord will spit them out. Some of these have gone back and allowed themselves to be taken up with the Geschäft und Handel (business and dealings) of this world again. They say they want to build up a business for the good of themselves and their children, but in doing so they fall back to loving the world from which they once turned away. By doing so they return to licking up what they have vomited out, and have given themselves over to foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. These who want to make money for themselves hinder and hold up the work of the Lord, and make it so that the knowledge of the truth does not grow. Instead of becoming rich in heavenly gifts and goods, they cause the commune to become drowsy and discouraged, weak in the faith and good works, and finally to go to sleep with the five foolish virgins.24
Greed and Property
Constantly on guard against the danger of "laying up treasure on earth" (Matthew 6:19), the Anabaptists of southern Germany and Austria condemned the twin evils of Geiz (greed) and Eigenthum (private property). No matter whether they lived in spontaneous or in total community of goods, the south German Anabaptists saw the holding of property only for oneself as sinful. They believed, like the early Christians, that everything we have belongs to God and our brothers.
Leonhard Schiemer, baptized and ordained by Hans Hut, wrote before they beheaded him at Rattenberg on the Inn:
Whoever gives himself to God under the cross is a child of God. But this is not enough. He must separate himself from all those who have not given themselves to God, and he must practice love and community with all those who have done so. For these are closest to him and with them he must hold in common all gifts received from God, whether instruction, abilities, property, money or anything else. What God lends to him, he must invest for the common good.25
Hans Betz wrote:
God's commune holds only to the customs of God. Its Gemeinschaft is in Jesus Christ and in his true peace. Like bread made of many grains that have all become one loaf, so is God's commune which had freed itself from private property.
No person can live with a desire for wealth in God's commune. Where there is greed the Lord Christ is not. Greed is of the devil. The devil was the first to take Eigenthum (private property) when he rebelled against God, the creator of life. For this reason God drove him out and consigned him to hell. The devil wanted to be like God (the true owner of property), but God could not tolerate that. . .
History tells us about greed. God gave the Israelites manna to eat. But those who gathered more than they needed found it full of worms. . . . Ananias, driven by greed lied to the Holy Ghost and God punished him. Judas, driven by greed, ended up hanging himself. In this way God punishes the greedy.
Everything on this earth was created to be free. The one who claims it as private property breaks the command and robs the glory of God. For this reason he will receive his wages with the rich man in hell.
God's commune, washed in the blood of Christ, is to be holy and pure. He who wants to be in it must purify himself by giving all that he has to be used for the glory of God. He gives to his neighbour as he has freely received. . . . Oh how pleasant it is in Jesus Christ where brothers live together in unity and have all their property in common!
The members of Christ share their spiritual and material gifts because they hold the kingdom of God in common. . . . They alone are the bride of Christ. . . . Oh commune of God, keep your marriage pure! Do not let yourself be carried away!
Turn from the enemy and his teachings. Do not let yourself be tricked like Eve who paid attention to his talk. Even if the serpent tries hard and long, do not let yourself be moved. Always follow Christ and you will live with him forever. . . .26
The Anabaptists could not continue, hand in hand, with the world's way of doing business. Hans Hut wrote:
Everyone says that we should keep on in our business like we did before conversion. If this is so, why didn't Peter remain a fisherman, Matthew a tax collector, and why did Christ tell the rich young man to sell what he had and give to the poor? If it's right that our preachers may have great possessions, then the rich young man would have been in the right to keep his possessions too. Oh, Zacheus, why did you give up your property so frivolously? According to our preachers' rule you could have kept it and still been a good Christian!27
Powerful writers and leaders of the early sixteenth century, such as Thomas Müntzer in southern Germany and Michael Gaismair in Austria pointed the Anabaptists on to equality in Christ. These men held a deep conviction that the hoarding of material goods was wrong. They believed that Christ came to bring equality and material peace to men. Michael Gaismair wrote about Christ's kingdom in 1526:
All city walls, as well as all fortresses in the land shall be broken down, so that there will be no more cities but only villages. Then there will be no distinctions among men, and no one shall consider himself more important or better than anyone else. It is from differences of rank among men that dissension, arrogance and rebellion arise. But there is to be absolute equality in the land.28
The Anabaptists made humble equality in Christ their ideal. They rejected wealth, rank and power. Hans Hergot, executed at Nürnberg in Bavaria in 1527, published a tract which described this:
Old Testament times, in Hans Hergot's tract, were the "age of the Father." New Testament times are the "age of the Son." And now, at the end of time, there is to be an age of the Holy Spirit (the millenium). Before this millenial age comes upon us, there are "three tables in the world. The first one is the table of superfluity. It is loaded and running over with too much on it. The second one is the table of moderation (comfortable poverty). It has just enough on it to meet necessity. The third one is the table of miserable poverty. It has hardly anything on it. But the people seated at the table of superfluity are still trying to grab what they can from it. Then a fight breaks out. God intervenes and both tables (the table of superfluity and the table of miserable poverty) are turned over. Then everyone must sit at the middle table of moderation."29
The Anabaptists took Paul literally where he wrote:
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little" (2 Cor. 8:13-15).
After quoting this excerpt from 2 Corinthians, Peter Walbot wrote:
By this the apostle makes it clear that the rich who come to the commune should have no more than the poor, and the poor should have no less than the rich -- but that among them there should be Christian community and equality.30
Peter Rideman wrote:
Since all the saints have holy things in common, and since they all have Christ in common, they claim nothing as their own. God did not give his gifts to an individual, but to the whole body of believers. Therefore, they are to be shared with the whole body.
The same is true of natural things. They are not given to one man to enjoy, but to all men. Because of this the community of the holy ones shows itself not only in spiritual, but also in earthly things. Paul taught that one should not have an abundance while the other suffers a need, but that there should be an equality of goods. . . .
One can see in all things created that God, from the beginning, did not want things to be privately owned, but to be held in common. Only after man fell into sin did he claim things and make them his own. Then his possessions grew and he became materialistic. Through this collecting of created things, man has been led so far from God that he has forgotten him and has begun to worship created things instead of their Creator. . . .
Those created things that are out of man's reach are still held by all of us in common: the sun, the heavenly bodies, the light of day and the air we breathe. It was the will of God that his creation should be like this. But the only reason these things are still held in common is because they are out of the reach of man. So evil and so greedy has man become that if it were possible, he no doubt would have claimed these too.
That created things were not made to belong to man in private property is shown by the fact that when we die we leave everything behind for others. We can lay no permanent claim to anything. . . .
Because the things of this earth do not belong to us, the law said we should not covet them. They belong to someone else. We should not set our heart on earthly things because they are not ours. Whoever wants to follow Christ must forsake the ownership of created things and private property, as Christ said: "Whoever does not forsake everything he has cannot be my disciple." If a man is to be made new in the image of God, he must forsake all that draws him away from God -- the lure of private property -- for he cannot become like God if he is drawn away. Christ said: "Whoever will not receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a little child will not enter into it."
The one who has freed himself from earthly things lays his hands on what is true and what is of God. When he does this, it becomes his treasure. He turns his heart toward it. He empties himself of everything else, claiming nothing for his own, but regarding everything as belonging to God's children as a whole.31
Mine and Yours
When my older brothers got married my father told them, "Now you must stop saying this is mine and start saying it is ours." The Anabaptists applied the same principle, not to marriage, but to baptism into the Lord's commune. Peter Walbot wrote:
In the day of grace, men observe a great Sabbath. They oberve one Sabbath after another and lead the most peaceful life on earth because they lay aside the words mine and yours, which do not belong to the nature of things. These words have been the cause of much warfare, and are still so today. Where do war and bloodshed come from? Where do contention and strife come from? Why is there so much disunity and division? All these things come from the desire for property and for claiming things as one's own.
Those who have become slaves of the words mine and yours, that is, to private property, are friends of covetousness. The two daughters of shameful covetousness are called Give Me This and Bring Me That.
Just like the earth that can never soak up enough water, like the fire that never says, "It is enough," or like the one who suffers from dropsy and gets thirstier the more he drinks, the devil, death, and hell can never be satisfied. The more men have the more they want. He who wants much needs much. This is the greatest poverty and the most miserable bondage on the earth. It is that from which Christ saves us when we become part of his household -- when we begin the true Sabbath, Pentecost, and Easter day.32
Temporal goods (zeitliche Güter) were seen as a necessary but dangerous thing to work with. Johannes Brötli, who had been the state church pastor of Zollikon in Switzerland wrote to his friends in that village before his execution as an Anabaptist missionary in 1530. He warned them that their love of material possessions made it hard for them to stay true to their baptismal vows: "Oh woe to temporal goods! They hinder you! Christ said it in his holy Gospel."33
Leonhard Schiemer spoke of those who loved and claimed temporal goods as their own:
They pray: Give us this day our daily bread. But as soon as God gives it, they don't think of it as ours anymore but as mine. It isn't enough for them to concentrate on today, rather they are concerned about tomorrow, contrary to God's command. God commands us not to take thought for the morrow, but they take thought not only of tomorrow but for the whole year; not only for one year but for ten, twenty, thirty years. They are concerned, not only for themselves but for their children, not only when their children are young but also after they're grown up.34
Not Forced, but Free Community
Most early Anabaptists, even though they believed in community of goods and rejected private property, did not live in organized Bruderhöfe. Persecution would have made that difficult, but even beyond this, there was a freedom in their Gemeinschaft which kept them from making laws about community and exactly how it should be lived out.35
The Anabaptists at Augsburg wrote:
Community in Christ is patience and love. It functions without bosses or chiefs (Obrer), and it needs no underlings (Unterthanen). In this community, all are on one level in Christ. Where there are no chiefs, there can, in fact, be no underlings, yet all true Christians are under the control of the will of God in Christ.36
Gabriel Ascherham wrote:
Some who have already become Christians are being begged and coaxed to enter into community of goods . But they are giving up their possessions before they feel an inner motivation to do so. They are complying with heavy hearts only to gain through this the kingdom of Christ. This is not right. They are not entering community of goods out of love or because of the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Rather they are trying to buy their way into the kingdom of God like Simon the sorcerer. Then after they have given up their possessions with heavy hearts, there are those who assure them that they are now God's children. Oh, the miserable assurance that comes through trying to buy the grace of God with outward things!
I tell you, if you can be saved only through community of goods, then you will never be saved. For salvation does not lie in good works but in the grace of God. And the one who is joyful in Christ [selig] does not need to be forced into sharing his goods with the community. It comes naturally when the heavenly mind begins to control what is of the earthly nature. In this way the whole human being, inner and outer becomes one in community with all that belong to him.
Leupold Scharnschlager wrote:
The example of the first Christians is often misunderstood, and because of it some try to make laws, put on pressure, and get people into a corner with what appears to be a human or carnal way of becoming "righteous." We should remember that the community of the first Christians in Jerusalem was totally voluntary. Even after the Christians were scattered, Paul kept on teaching about giving over material things and community of goods (Handreichung und Gemeinschaft der Güter). We should seek to do this after the apostolic pattern, without forcing it upon anyone, but allowing people to be led into it. . . . Some say that since the Lord Jesus expects everyone to live in community of goods, we should boldly require it of everyone. But the Holy Spirit does not want it that way. It is not man's work to force others into community, just as community itself is not a work of the flesh. We should not go about it in a fleshly way but in a spiritual way, being careful not to violate the free will of the Lord's people (dem Herrn sein Volk verstören in der Freiwilligkeit).37
Balthasar Hubmaier wrote:
A man should always have a concern for the next one, that the hungry be fed, that the thirsty get something to drink and that the naked be clothed. No one is really the owner of what he has, but the caretaker and distributer of it. But we should by no means take by force that which belongs to another and make it common. Rather we should be ready to leave our cloak along with our coat.38
Georg Cajacob (Blaurock), when questioned before the Protestant court in 1525, told Huldrych Zwingli that he "taught the believers to have all things in common after the example of the apostles." In a later court session he explained what he meant. He said that having all things in common was to share possessions freely with those who needed them. Felix Manz said the same.
Menno Simons lost a brother in the Münsterite revolts of the Netherlands, where economic communism and rebellion against the government went hand in hand. The peasants, stirred up by false prophets, had revolted against the wealthy and had taken their riches by force to distribute them to the poor. Against such an ungodly "community of goods" Menno was strongly opposed. But he wrote in 1552:
We teach that all Christians are one body (1 Cor. 12:13). All partake of one bread (1 Cor. 10:18). All have one God (Eph. 4:5-6). It is only reasonable that Christians care one for another. The entire writings speak of mercy and love, the sign by which true Christians are known. "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:15).
It is not normal for a person to care for one part of his body and leave the rest uncared for and naked. No. The intelligent person cares for all his members. It is this way in the Lord's commune as well. All who are born of God and called into one body are prepared to serve their neighbours, not only with money and goods, but like Christ did, with life and blood. They show mercy as much as they can. No one among them is allowed to beg. They take strangers into their homes. They comfort the afflicted, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and do not turn their faces from the poor.
Such a community we teach and not that anyone should take and possess the property of others. . . . Our property has to a great extent been taken away from us. It is being taken away. Many a godly father and mother is put to the sword or burned at the stake. Obviously we cannot enjoy a free home life. Times are hard, yet none of those who have joined us, nor any of their orphaned children have been forced to beg. If this is not Christian practice, then we may as well forget about the Gospel. We may as well forget the holy sacraments and the Christian name, saying the life of the holy ones is all a fantasy or a dream.39
A great many Anabaptists never found their way into the Bruderhöfe, but those who did built model communities that won the respect of contemporary society. An eyewitness described them in 1568:
No one stood around with nothing to do. Everyone did what was asked of him, what he was able to do and what he knew how to do. It did not matter whether one was of noble birth, rich, or poor. Even the priests who joined the community learned how to work. . . . Everyone, no matter where they were from, worked for the common good and advantage of all. A helping hand was given where needed -- it was nothing else but a complete body in which all the members served one another.
It was like the works of a clock where every cogwheel drives another, and everything turns in an orderly way, or like a hive of bees where all work together, some making wax, some making honey, and some carrying nectar to the hive. . . .
In all this there had to be order. Only through the keeping of order can a work go on -- especially in the house of God where Christ himself is the one who says what needs to be done. Where there is no order things end up in chaos: God cannot live there and everything goes to pieces.40
Community under test
Long after the Anabaptist movement began to decline elsewhere, the communities in Moravia kept on prospering in a phenomenal way. Messengers sent out every year brought back new believers. But the violence of the sixteenth century could not pass Moravia by. In 1535, King Ferdinand of Austria banished the Anabaptists. The community at Austerlitz fled. Ulrich Stadler and a number of families reached Poland. Jakob Wideman fled with a small group to Austria where he was captured, tortured and put to death in Vienna by Roman Catholic authorities.
Michael Schneider of the Philippite community in Auspitz wrote from the prison in Passau:
We cry to you, Lord God, and tell you about our distress here in the tower and stocks into which they have put us. We used to have a nice place. You used to let us see your treasure -- that great treasure you give us in eternal life, and for which we strove. That treasure is the Gemeinschaft once held in your commune when we all lived together, keeping your Word in such a way that not one false person could stand to live among us. We held all things in common. No one said, "This is mine alone." We shared everything. . . .
Your children were glad to live this way but Satan did not leave them alone. . . . He chased them away from it and now afflicts them without mercy, saying, "Stand off from this heresy, this error and mob action which has led you astray. Stand off and we will let you live. We will return your goods to you." But oh God, we do not want to do that. Even if it should cost us our hides and hair, our bodies, our children and wives, we will stay with you.
You will give us everything again in the land into which you will lead those of us who touch no unclean thing and who have not allowed ourselves to be led astray.41
For two hundred years after this, the communities in Moravia and Slovakia passed through great tribulation. Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Turkish armies passed through the area time after time. They burned the communities. On one day the sky turned dark as twenty-five Bruderhöfe went up in flames at once. The soldiers slaughtered the men and chased the women and children from their homes in the dead of winter. They sought shelter in the woods and dug vast networks of underground tunnels to escape their enemies. Turkish soldiers grabbed their children, tying them together by their feet to sling them over their saddles, one on each side with heads hanging down, and galloped off to sell them as slaves. They violated the women, the children and the teenagers of both sexes in public. They undressed, tortured, and mutilated the men -- singing off their hair, hanging them up by their genitals, beating them or cutting them to pieces in front of their wives and children until they died. They robbed the communities of their food, their animals, their tools and their clothing, until only a small remnant survived to flee across the mountains through Hungary and Romania to Russia.42
But in the face of the most brutal violence, the highest command of love did not die. As long as the Anabaptists lived in community with Christ they shared what they had, and Christ led them . . .
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