Words spoken by Arnold on his 50th Birthday

by Eberhard Arnold

Note: Spoken July 26, 1933; printed in Eberhard Arnold: A Testimony to Church Community from His Life and Writings (Plough 1953, 1973).

On this day I have been especially conscious of my lack of ability and of how unsuited my own nature is to the work I have been given, remembering how God called me when I was only sixteen years old and how I have stood in His way, with the result that so much of what God must have wanted to do by His instruments has not been possible. It remains a miracle that His work of the Church community and the Holy Spirit is nevertheless revealed and mightily testified to, in us feeble human beings--not through our merits, but because we are accepted time and time again through the grace of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins.

I have had to think of the Shepherd of Hermas [an early Christian writer], how he describes the building of the great and mighty temple of marble, and how he keeps referring to the many stones that must be thrown away. The attempt is made to fit them into the building, but if they cannot be used, even after their corners are chipped away by stern, sharp strokes of the chisel, then they must be thrown away--as far away as possible. But even the stones that are used must be chiseled very sharply before they fit and can be set into the wall. When we look back on the years that Emmy and I have been seeking, so that the Church community might be gathered--it is a miracle that we may still take part in it; this is only possible through an infinite Power--then we become very serious, thinking of the many people who for years have been intending to seek this way. ... A lot of these stones that seemed for a while to be possibilities have been thrown away again. That is very painful. It troubles and pains me to think of all these stones that have been thrown away and I wish the day might come when one or another of them would be taken up once more to be chiseled.

Another thing concerns me very much: the powerlessness of man, even of a man who has been entrusted with some task. Only God is mighty; we are completely powerless. Even for the work that has been given us, we are wholly without power. We cannot fit even one single stone into the Church community. We can provide no protection whatsoever for the community when it has been built up. We cannot even devote anything to the cause by our own power. We are completely without power. But I believe that just this is the only reason why God has called us for this service: we know we are powerless. It is very hard to give an account of or tell how it has come about that all of us, especially we older members of the Brotherhood, know we are so completely powerless. It is hard to describe how all our own power is stripped off us, how our own power has been dropped, dismantled, torn down, and put away. What I should wish for our younger Brotherhood members too is that this dismantling of their own power might be carried out to its full extent. That is not attained so easily and does not happen through a single heroic decision. It must be done in us by God. This is the root of grace: the dismantling of our own power. Only to the degree that all our own power is dismantled will God go on effecting the results of His Spirit and the construction of His cause through us, in us and among us--not otherwise. If a little power of our own were to rise up among us, the Spirit and authority of God would retreat in the same moment and to the corresponding degree. In my estimation that is the single most important insight with regard to the Kingdom of God. How it actually happens is hard to say. It is as hard to speak of this as it is to speak of the mystic Source of all things. The only thing that can be said is that the Holy Spirit produces effects that are deadly for the old life and that at the same time have a wakening and rousing power for the new life which comes from Christ and His Holy Spirit alone.

Let us use this day to give glory to God. Let us pledge to Him that all our own power will remain dismantled, and will keep on being dismantled among us. Let us pledge that the only thing that will count among us will be the power and authority of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit; that it will never again be we that count, but that God alone will rule and govern in Christ and the Holy Spirit. That means we declare our dependence upon grace. This is the testimony we are required to give. Everything we have is the unmerited gift of God. God can give this unmerited gift only to people in whom their own claims and special rights have been dismantled. And for this reason we acknowledge and ask for the grace that appeared in Jesus Christ and that comes to us in the Holy Spirit.