From the Archives: The Community of Saints
Through the centuries, various Christian groups have sought to follow the example of the first Jerusalem church in holding all their possessions in common. Such groups have often encountered misunderstanding, suspicion, and persecution. Ulrich Stadler belonged to one anabaptist group, the Hutterites, founded in Moravia in 1528. In his Cherished Instructions of 1537, he expounds his theory of community.
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.
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 for the other. In brief, equal care, sadness and joy, 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 will 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 with Christ and his own in living and dying, he is outside of Christ and his communion 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 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. 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. . . . 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.
In order to hold in common all the gifts and goods which God gives and dispenses to his own, there must be free, unhampered, patient, and full hearts in Christ, yea, hearts that truly believe and trust and in Christ are utterly devoted. Whoever is thus free, unhampered, and resigned in the Lord from everything, [ready] to give over all his goods and chattels, yea, to lay it up for distribution among the children of God—it is God’s grace in Christ which prepares men for it. Being willing and ready—that makes one free and unhampered.
By Ulrich Stadler
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #14 in 1987]Ulrich Stadler (d. 1540)
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