Friday, May 25, 2012

Article 38: Goods Held in Common

Today's article (We are nearing the very end!) deals with the interesting theological concept of things held in common by the community: 

XXXVIII. Of Christian men's Goods, which are not common
The Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.

This article clearly calls out the Anabaptists by name. Anabaptist, of course, is an umbrella term for quite a few strands of Radical Reforming Protestantism. I have gone into this discussion before. I will only note that one should be sure not to confuse the term Anabaptist with Baptist, as the two are completely different. Most known of the Anabaptists in America are the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites.

I mention the Hutterites because there are several Hutterite colonies in South Dakota. In fact, there is a very large colony not far from where I live currently. You see them in their distinctive garb coming in to shop here in town. Most of them still speak with a heavy German brogue. In fact, Hutterish is a distinct German dialect unto itself. I have a parishioner who owns land adjacent to the Hutterite colony, and we have been meaning to make an appointment and go have lunch at the Hutterite colony. Sadly, we have not been able to coordinate that yet, but I still intend to do that, as Hutterites are truly fascinating. 

Hutterites are classic communal Anabaptists. Everything is held in common by the colony. As I understand it, they are pretty strictly segregated by gender within the colony. But what it fascinating about them is that they basically live in common. The children seldom have existential identity issues because they are communal, and it is clear what the role is of each individual within the community.     

What is also fascinating to me about them is that unlike the Amish, they have absolutely no problem with modern technology. They have some of the finest combines and farming equipment in the county; but it is just all held in common. They rationalize life in this way as a modern application of how the Early Church is described in the Book of Acts

Western views of individuality and capitalism are firmly entrenched in our modern mindsets. I am not against individual freedoms and private ownership at all, but say what you will about Anabaptist Utopian views against private ownership, this Anabaptist practice is very hard to refute from a Scriptural standpoint. I think this is why it fascinates me. They are living Biblically in a very real, tangible, and Christian sense. Perhaps some Anabaptist groups do "falsely boast" of this mentality of holding things in common, but I find it interesting that this Article dares not assert that such a view is "Repugnant to Scripture," because it is very much scriptural.

Sometimes I think Modern Christianity might actually be better off if we actually attempted to live more communally, and not simply relying on the Government to provide everything for us like healthcare, social welfare, etc. God commands the Church to care for the poor. I do not see any "passing the buck" allowed in the New Testament. If we can't or won't provide all the needs of the poor, have we failed in our mission as the Church?

Food for thought.

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