'Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching.' Luke 12:37
We Hutterites are now living in a golden age. Never before in our history has there been such a long period where the authorities have left us alone to live and worship as we wish. The communities we live in are safe, secure and prosperous.
Around us, the world is changing at an incredibly rapid pace. The Christian worldview that has shaped societies for over two thousand years is under fire and in some places, almost obsolete. Self is worshipped in place of God and truth is considered relative. The world is at our gates, trying to win the hearts and minds of our young people. It is a time to be on our guard, ‘for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the powers of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.’
That our love and zeal has grown colder in these peaceful, easy times must be acknowledged. Good times do not generally make for good Christians. Consider the words of Jesus to the Church of Ephesus: ‘Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.’
The early Hutterites saw clearly that to follow in the footsteps of their master Jesus, a life of self-denial and loving service to their fellow man was required. They believed that community of goods was the necessary outward expression of a life truly committed to Christ and His kingdom. 'And all that believed were together and had all things in common.'This is the vision that the Hutterite Church has tried to uphold in the long centuries since the Reformation.
From their beginnings in Austria where they witnessed to the truth with their lives, their journey with this vision led them across Eastern Europe. Many times they established flourishing communities on the estates of noblemen, but the periods of peace never lasted for long. Suffering terrible persecution and unjust treatment, they fled on to next place, refusing to deny their God and faith. Finally, to escape military conscription in Russia, they left behind the comfortable farming villages they had established and immigrated to America.
In addition to their steadfast faith, they took their language, culture, and customs with them across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. Thanks in part to the legacy of our forefathers, the Hutterite church has managed to preserve a distinct identity and faith in modern day America; where many other cultures and religions, of greater numbers, have assimilated.
Our church has been able to take an uncompromising stand on many issues, refusing to conform to the world. From head coverings and male leadership, to divorces and gay marriages, the church has not bowed to popular opinion and trends but has kept its doctrines scriptural. 'Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.'
The current modern worldview is a dangerous lens through which to look as we seek to preserve our faith. Condoning the values of the world in our church makes us increasingly resistant to the guidance of the Spirit. We have a rich treasury of literature and the background of a godly heritage that help correct our vision and bring us back to the Biblical foundation of our beginnings.
The literature includes the sermons preached in our church services, written centuries ago by Spirit-filled elders with a deep faith in Jesus and a sincere love of the brethren. From their genuine spiritual and communal experience they wrote of issues that we are still dealing with today. The sermons provide commentary and profound Biblical insights, as well as serving as a safeguard against the tendency to drift away from Scriptural truths. Our community gathering at the end of every day to listen to the Word of God, to sing and pray together, strengthens our bond and acts as a constant reminder of Whom we serve.
Part of our heritage are the laws, practical arrangements, and accepted codes of behaviour maintained throughout our history to govern our communities and keep our people separate from the world. If these standards are in accordance with Biblical teachings, we should consider what we might lose if we abandon them. ‘Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.’ But we must be careful lest we adhere only to the letter of the law without seeking after the Spirit. That path constitutes a barren and meaningless religion.
Adding strength to the structure of the church is the accountability of each individual community to all the other Hutterite communities, and the accountability between each believer to the other. Brotherly admonition keeps our vision clear and vibrant, so that none among us may be led astray by the deceiver.
Our elders have an important role in preserving the vision of our church. They are gatekeepers of the church of God, watching for our souls as they that must give account. A gatekeeper needs to be sober and vigilant, for the enemy circles the house of God, seeking whom he may devour.
‘Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day not the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh.’ To hear the words: ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant,’ when our Master returns is our sincere hope and longing.
In preserving our vision, we believe we are fulfilling our Master's will and giving our children the best possible hope for their eternal future. Through the Church we can bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, protected from much of the harmful influence of the world and providing them with a Christian worldview and valid counter-culture. Then when the Spirit comes to these young people, the vision comes gloriously alive, its truths illuminated from within, and unites them to all true believers.
Our church provides for the widows, the sick and the elderly, it provides discipleship and accountability. Rightly lived, it is the fulfillment of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount; it is the city set on a hill, whose light shines so that all men see it.
We do not know what the times will be like when the next generation finds themselves being the leaders and elders of the Hutterite Church. The Bible prophesies terrible times before that great and notable day of the Lord comes. By the grace of God we hope to be a small part of preserving this vision for them against that day.
"Dear brothers, I plead with you to keep watch against disunity, for you can well imagine the terrible disasters that would come in its wake and what great suffering would befall widows and orphans.
Watch that you keep firmly to the fine old Church Ordnungen and follow them without moving the boundary stones.
Hold firm to Christian community, and fight with all your might against stinginess and selfishness, for covetousness is the root of all evil and destroys everything good. Guard against innovation and starting on a new course. Take special care, my brothers, not to compete against or take advantage of one another, for that is not right.
I appeal to you before God to give fatherly care to the widows and orphans and to concern yourself faithfully with the needs of the church.
Always act in the fear of God, following truth, justice and righteousness.
Tell the elders as a last request that I urge them before God to be wholehearted in taking on the responsibility for the Lord's Church and giving all their strength to its care.
I commend you to the protection of the Almighty God. May He care faithfully for His people, bless you, keep you in peace, uphold and preserve you. Amen. Amen."
Hutterite Elder Klaus Braidl. Neumuhl Community, Moravia. 1611
Sarah M. Hofer