Life’s Task

“For those of us called to community, it is a life’s task.” Eberhard Arnold talks about what it means to live in community.

For those of us called to community, it is a life’s task. We are not simply a society for colonizing, for forming new settlements as if there were not enough without a new one being formed, in which people live as near and yet just as far from one another as in other places. We are also not seeking a general community of humankind, nor do we wish to bring together in community people as they are at present. If by community we mean a life based on mere mutual regard, then all of us could have remained in our own places, for people are to be found everywhere and here we find neither better people nor worse people than elsewhere. If mutual relationships among people are all we seek, then we need not come together in community as we have.

Human relationships can be found everywhere, but community on this basis is never successful. All attempts that rest upon the present conditions of human existence must fail. Right from the beginning they are bankrupt. Left to our natural inclinations, we cannot realize true community. Even the smallest community between husband and wife, which arises out of love, only in the rarest cases shows itself to be a true, lasting spiritual community. Most married couples merely coexist.

It is impossible to build up a true community – a heartfelt unity, a true fellowship of mutual help, and a common task – if it is based on human goodwill. Granted, as long as people’s interests do not conflict, things will be all right, but as soon as conflict arises and egos clash, people rise up against one another.

True community will never be achieved if human relationships go on as they are. The community we seek is not based on human nature but on the eternal God. It is fed by divine strength and comes to true unity in God not by reason of our own strength, or even our collective strength, but through a power given from above. Without faith that we will be given this spirit of complete love and fellowship, the spirit of Jesus Christ, we cannot last long in community. In other words, if you do not seek for God with your whole heart, if you do not seek for love and unity, and if this is not the all-important question for you, then in the long run seeking community is pointless.

In every person there is a longing for true righteousness, love, and unity. Our doors, therefore, should be open to everyone. Still, most people are not yet ready for community. There is no point going out on the streets to call everyone to community. It is not cowardice that keeps us from doing this. It would be folly; many people would simply not be in the position to understand such a call. They would not be mature enough in their inner development to follow it. God must call them first. The Spirit must speak the living Word into their hearts. So, since faith is not given to everybody at all times, we must wait for the hour which God gives.

No one should join a community simply to live a friendly life of mutual human relationships. That will never do; it will certainly fail. One can enter into community only if one seeks its religious secret, only if one seeks this with all one’s heart, soul, thought, and powers. One need not already fully understand this secret, for in the final analysis no one can understand it. Only one thing is necessary: to seek this religious secret with our whole being.

People have come to join our community who claimed to understand nothing at all of religious words, but they understood the social element. Social justice, brotherhood, unity, and social harmony were their highest concern. In pursuing these things with their whole heart, they were in fact seeking community’s spiritual secret without realizing it. And they belong with us in spite of the fact that they have rejected religious language, because what we are seeking together is not any dogma, any stringing together of religious words, but a power. The essence of this elementary power is love and unity, a love and unity that extends into the outermost aspects of life and action and work. Whoever seeks for this wholeheartedly should be welcome to stay with us.

But why is it that some people seek and do not find? That even after pledging themselves to others in community, they fail? That even though they are ready to fight to the death, it is not given to them?…That is not our concern. It would be judging our friends if we wished to discover the reason their faith had not held out, and Jesus has told us not to judge. We know that anyone else could have become equally unfaithful. The term used by the early Christians is grace. To one it is given, to the other not. More than that we do not know.

We must not be surprised when people come who do not find an inward relationship to life in community. We cannot hope to come to the deepest exchange with everyone we talk with. What God does not give, we cannot do. We must also not be shocked if people leave us who have made some steps and attempted to live in community. It has simply not been given them. They could not substitute their own tremendous willpower for that which can only be given to them by God.

We do not want our community to grow by having many people join us who wish to surrender themselves and be steadfast merely through their own capacity for decision. That will come to nothing, and the sooner the better. There are many who would gladly take part in something that seems great to them and contribute to it their own goodwill and personal gifts. All these people will fail; in their own strength they will not be able to remain faithful.

We can only go the way of complete community if a power comes to us which is not our own power, a source of strength from another world and another future. When people leave us, we must test ourselves deeply as to whether we are called by God to such a radical life witness, or whether perchance we have entered on this way out of our own will and in our own strength. Jesus asked his disciples, “Will you also go away?” (John 6:67). This question should come to mind every time someone leaves.

All this will be alive for us only if our first concern is not personal salvation and happiness or the fulfillment of our personal wishes, but rather that which is great, that which lives beyond us. Only then will we be able to stay true to the very end. Those who seek only their personal happiness, their own salvation and blessedness, will not stand firm. Only those will stand firm whose hearts beat for the cause of justice and peace for all nations, for the brotherhood of all social classes, and for the welfare of all people in all parts of the world. Only those who wish to see the victory of the reign of God as the reign of love and unity, and who lose themselves with a glowing heart in this desire, will be able to remain true to the church of Jesus Christ. Such people will seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and in them will be fulfilled Jesus’ words, “…and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).

It is not sufficient for us merely to find an intellectual unanimity of opinion, or to find a common goal toward which all our wills can strive, or to experience together the same subjective feeling in the swing of the emotional pendulum. Something quite different must move in us to lift us out of this purely human level, so that our human sphere and human atmosphere are permeated with a power that comes from an entirely different realm. Just as the rays of the sun constantly stream onto the earth, and as the lightning brings down light and fire from the clouds, so must an element break in upon us which does not originate in us. This element has nothing to do with our abilities. It does not arise from our most lofty and idealistic thoughts or feelings, nor from that which is most holy or noble in our nature. No, that which descends upon us is something which cannot come from us.

Only through the Holy Spirit, which comes upon us, are we enabled to achieve a unity of consciousness, which brings about a complete unanimity of thought, willpower, and emotional experience. Just as a man is in himself a unity of consciousness – and this in spite of his conflicting thoughts, goals, and sentiments – so the descent of this Spirit brings into being a unity of consciousness among those who receive it. Thus the individual person is significant only as a cell which belongs to the whole living organism of this one unity of consciousness of the Spirit.


As published in Called to Community (Plough Publishing, 2016).

Article edited for length and clarity.