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How to Save a Church Movement from Extinction

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Originally published at Jesus Army.

Andreas Ehrenpreis is not a well-known name in church history, but what he managed to do is truly astonishing. Born 1589 in Illingen, Germany, Andreas was brought up as an Anabaptist – a persecuted, radical Christian movement that emphasised faith, peace and justice. At seven years of age, his family joined a Hutterite community in Morovia, modern-day Czech Republic.

The Hutterites had been founded by Jakob Hutter (1500-1536) as a church that believed that community of goods is something all Christians should practice. However, as Andreas Ehrenpreis was commissioned as a minister of the Word in 1621, things had changed drastically.

Community was not practiced the same way as before – people usually laid aside money for themselves and stored various luxuries. Some bought weapons to defend themselves against persecutors, despite the church’s official, pacifist stance. As the Mennonite Encyplopedia puts it, “moral slackening was observable everywhere”. (more…)

The Jerusalem Project: Starting a Christian Community from Scratch

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Originally published at PCPJ.

The Jerusalem Project is based on the radical idea that biblical followers of Jesus should live like the followers of Jesus in the Bible. Specifically, we don’t think that the community of goods that Jesus practiced with his disciples (John 13:29) and that they then continued to practice in the apostolic church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:44-45), was a mistake or has gone obsolete. On the contrary, since Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and the apostles are the foundation of the church (Eph 2:19), we believe we should live like them.

Most Christians would agree that the apostles has ultimate authority on who Jesus is, what he did for us and what he wants us to do for him. In fact, this authority is so great that the words they or their associates wrote down in letters and books are considered to be the Word of God!

That’s basically as much authority one can get.

But if they have this much authority, shouldn’t we view their lives and works as expressing God’s will as much as their words? Not that they would be sinless, but they had spend a lot of time with the sinless Son of God. He had taught them not only doctrines but practices, not just orthodoxy but orthopraxy. And so, they continued to heal the sick, preach the Gospel and have everything in common just as Jesus had trained them. (more…)

Jesus Church: Selling Everything

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This was originally posted on Jesus Army’s Forward Blog.

In this third and final blog post of my Jesus Church series, I’d like to talk about money. Twice, John points out that the ‘Jesus Church’ had a central fund that Judas was responsible for (John 12:6, 13:29). The income that the church received, probably from donations (Luke 8:3), seems to have been pooled, and the surplus given to the poor.

This was an obvious practical expression of Jesus’ radical economic teachings.

“Blessed are you who are poor”, he said, “but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (Luke 6:20, 24). It’s clear that Jesus didn’t want us to be rich.

This is also evident when he said that we should not store up treasures on earth:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21).

(more…)

A Book Packed with Community Inspiration

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A review of Charles E. Moore’s Called to Community (Plough Publishing, 2016).

I had not looked at the book cover closely enough when I opened Called to Community to realise what kind of authors it had, so it was with great surprise I turned to the first chapter and saw that it was written by Fjodor Dostojevskij! Yes, an excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov about how heaven is realised when we reject individualism, initiates this unique contribution to the Christian community litterature.

Containing writings by C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Benedict of Nursia, Dorothy Day, Jean Vanier and many more, this is an excellent source of inspiration for anyone interested in Christian community and its pioneers. Its 52 brief chapters makes it a good weekly reading over a year, obviously suitable for a collective reading in, for example, a community.

The editor, Bruderhof member Charles E. Moore, restricts his own writing in the volume to the introduction, a chapter about children in community and a chapter on knowing and loving our neighbours. The topics he lets his fellow authors cover include counterculture, calling, obstacles, love, conflict, money, forgiveness, hospitality and revolution. The chapters are organised in four different (quite chronological) sections: A Call to Community (alluding to the book’s title), Forming Community, Life in Community and Beyond Community. (more…)

What is Christian Community Like?

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An interview with me originally published at the website of Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice.

Micael, can you explain to me your living arrangement, both in domestic terms and economic terms?  

Holy Treasure is part of something called New Creation Christian Community (NCCC) which in turn is part of the Jesus Fellowship Church, or Jesus Army. NCCC is at the core of Jesus Army, basically every local congregation is based around a community house, and almost a quarter of all church members live in community.

I work at one of the church’s businesses called Goodness Foods with video making. All my wages are sent to the bank account of Holy Treasure, the “common purse”, which then provides me with all the food, clothing and transport I need.
(more…)

Why Are Biblical Churches so Rare?

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Kettering Jesus Fellowship, one of very few charismatic churches that have community of goods

I’ve been arguing for years that churches today need to look like they did in New Testament times – Jesus-centred, fully charismatic, publicly evangelistic, home based, and practising community of goods. Now churches like this are very rare as you probably have noted yourself. Even among Pentecostals and charismatics it is rare that the church publicly evangelise, they usually have church buildings and they almost never have community of goods.

Isn’t this a clear indication that I’m simply mistaken on what qualifies as a Biblical church? Not necessarily. Arguments for what a Biblical church should look like should always be based on the Bible, not popular opinion. If Christians who don’t practice community can’t defend their position biblically, it doesn’t matter how many they are.

In fact, whatever one thinks that a Biblical church looks like one has to admit that there have been historical periods where very few have been part of such a church. The Catholic and Orthodox dominance for over a thousand years would be such a period for us protestants. And even modern Catholics rarely agree with previous Catholic opposition to freedom of religion and endorsement of torture and crusades. (more…)

No, We Don’t Need to Adapt Church to Young People

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Usually when churches choose to stop doing Biblical things they don’t want to admit that the reason behind it is laziness, apostasy or sin. Rather, they like to blame the Biblical thing itself for not being “effective” enough, or they might claim that it’s just a calling for some to do on their own, or that say that culture has changed and that modern or young people aren’t interested in these particular Biblical things, so that’s why we shouldn’t do them.

I joked with these three excuses in my recent sketch about why churches don’t evangelise. In this post I would like to focus on the “modern/young people want something different” argument. It’s often used as an evangelistic argument: in order to win or keep people we need to change. Which is why it’s so absurd when it’s arguing against evangelism.

But whatever Biblical thing you argue against, it becomes nonsensical to use this argument. You need to either argue that churches shouldn’t follow the Bible, or that the Bible actually says something different from what it appears to say. What modern or young people think doesn’t matter at all. If doing Biblical things put them off, so be it. We must obey God rather than human beings (Acts 5:29), and the Bible is a better source to what God wants than Millennials. (more…)

The History of the Jesus Army

Today on the MennoNerd vlog I talk about how awesome it is that the Jesus Army organises their local congregations around their intentional communities, where people live, eat and sleep every day, rather than around unbiblical church buildings that stand empty most of the time:

This is just one of many things that make the Jesus Army different from many other churches. The church owned businesses where everyone receive the same wage, the support for celibates, the emphasis on covenant and unity and the loud and proud emphasis on Jesus is quite extraordinary. Where does this church come from and what does its history look like? Those were the questions me and Sarah brought to Mike Farrant, who lives with me at the Holy Treasure community in Kettering, in a recent episode of our Swedish podcast “Jesus People”:

Mike shared how it all began when an outpouring of the Holy Spirit hit a Baptist chapel in the small town of Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire, which made hundreds of student, hippies, drug addicts, businessmen and many other sorts of people join the church. They soon started to practice community of goods like in the book of Acts and changed name to Jesus Fellowship Church. Mike has been living in community for 41 years and obviously knows a lot about both its advantages and challenges.

How the “Everything in Common” Documentary Was Made

My documentary about community of goods at the Jesus Army now has over 750 views on YouTube, and I’ve received lots of positive feedback not the least from fellow Jesus people folks. Recently I had the opportunity to contribute to Jesus Army’s Colourful Church blog, writing about how the film was made. Here’s an excerpt:

My plan was not to make a second trip, but to only use the material I recorded in 2014. And that could certainly have been the case, the material was, as mentioned, quite extensive. But life went on, half a year passed without me starting the editing process. I only used the material once when I made a clip for my YouTube channel Holy Spirit Activism in which Huw describes how the Jesus Fellowship started to practice community. It was mixed with Kalimba by Mr Scruff, which was simply included as sample music on my laptop. The clip turned out to be very good and is actually included in its totally in the documentary (save the introduction I recorded in my Swedish bedroom).

But again, I didn’t find time to start with the actual documentary. Then suddenly, in January 2015, Holy Spirit inspiration hit me. For some reason I just wanted to make documentary and nothing else, and so I sat for about ten hours and edited in Windows Movie Maker, which was the only editing software I had. I delayed my school work just to edit this film. And during that session I produced what’s pretty much still the first 14 minutes of the film. (more…)

Pentecost Wasn’t A Mistake

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Community life at Jesus Army

Article written for New Creation Christian Community, Jesus Army’s community organisation.

I’ve never viewed Pentecost as a mistake.

The first time I read the remarkable account in Acts 2 of how the Holy Spirit filled Jesus’ disciples with miraculous power so that they could speak other languages; how Peter’s passionate sermon resulted in 3,000 receiving Jesus; how all the disciples then had everything in common so that nobody had to be poor – I knew that this was good. In fact, it was awesome. Luke’s point isn’t that this is a tragic event that shouldn’t be repeated, he’s describing the best church ever!

I realised that a lot of miracles are better than a few miracles, that a lot of saved people are better than a few saved people, and that no economic inequality is better than existing economic inequality. I realised that if I were to claim that we don’t “need to” make our churches look like Jerusalem, I would in fact be arguing that our churches don’t need to be as good as they should.

It would be like saying that a fire extinguisher doesn’t need to extinguish fire, or that a surgeon doesn’t need to save the lives of the patients he or she is caring for. (more…)

Is Community of Goods for Everyone?

As a passionate advocate for community of goods, I often get the question whether every Christian “has to” have everything in common, if it’s a universal commandment or a calling for some. Most Christians seem to assume that’s the latter is true and get upset if I were to disagree. But in this video I’d like to challenge their conclusion, which I suspect that they have reached to quickly. There are three major problems with the idea that community of goods is just for some that need to be adressed:

  1. The Biblical problem: If it’s just for some, why is it portrayed as a universal commandment in Lk 12:33 and 14:33, and why did everyone do it in Jerusalem?
  2. The empirical problem: If individual economies and spontaneous giving are just as good as community of goods, why are the only churches who exterminate poverty within themselves churches that have community of goods?
  3. The demographical problem: Are all poor Christians called to community of goods?If not, why doesn’t God want to exterminate the poverty of all poor Christians? And if they are, don’t we need all rich Christians to join as well to finance it all?

For a more detailed description if these arguments, watch the video.

Obstacles and Opportunities for a Christian Community Revolution

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Half a year ago I cofounded an association here in Sweden called the Jerusalem Project, which promotes Christian community life and aspires to make community of goods like in the book of Acts more common in the churches. I and the others in the board have been planning for some months to start an intentional community if our own next year, and as a preparation we follow a common rule that outlines a simple lifestyle, prayer routines, Bible reading and ethics. We also read The Intentional Christian Community Handbook by David Janzen together and discuss it over Skype.

In Janzen’s book, Brandon Rhodes has contributed with some great chapters on how modern culture impacts the prospects for increasing Christian community life. In the West, people are more individualistic than they used to be, which is both an obstacle to community since such a life is very communal, as well as an opportunity since it may stir a longing for an alternative social way of living.

Rhodes also point out that more people than ever before come from divorced families, that the line between youth and adulthood has been completely blurred, and the fact that people are online more than ever. These things, and many more, pose challenges to community life that need to be taken seriously. (more…)

It’s Here: Everything in Common, a Documentary About the Jesus Army

In a British church known as the Jesus Army, around 400 Christians share all their possessions just like in the book of Acts. This documentary explains how such a community of goods works practically, how it affects those who are part of it and what other churches may learn from the Jesus Army when it comes to having everything in common.

Watch the whole film right here:

It took me two years to make Everything in Common. The quality is obviously not top-notch, but the passion and love I have for this way of living truly are! 🙂 I’m very grateful to God and to all those who helped me finish this project.

If you watch the film, I would love to get some feedback! Just comment below or contact me personally. Blessings!

 

Rules for Christian Community

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Me and Sarah Stenmark from the Jerusalem Project with two nuns, who shared with us what community can look like

I’m so excited! Today I’ve had a Skype meeting with some brothers and sisters in the Jerusalem Project, an association I co-founded a few months ago that encourages Christian community of goods in Sweden. We talked about the vision for community that God has put in our hearts, and we listed some basic principles that we want to be foundational for the community that we plan to start, a community where everyone have everything in common.

As some inspiration for such a rule, I have looked at both ancient and modern examples of monastic rules. I will give you two examples here before I showcase what principles we have talked about in the Jerusalem Project.

The Old

First out is St. Basil’s rule, written in the fourth century. These are just the chapter titles, the actual rule is like a small book: (more…)

Come and See: How Community of Goods Can Become Normal Again

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My documentary about community life in the Jesus Army – Everything in Common –  is almost complete. It still needs some sound mixing and small fixes, but in a month’s time I will release it on my YouTube channel. I have shown the film to some friends here in Uppsala and many have become inspired and fascinated by this kind of living by watching it. Here’s a snippet where some Jesus saints explain what community life means to them:

The people that have joined me on my trips to the Jesus Army have become dramatically inspired as well during the visits. Just seeing community of goods in practice makes so many disciples thirst for it. Asking people to “come and see” where we live, as Jesus did (Jn 1:39) is a simple but effective way to catalyst a movement.

Many communities have historically been quite isolated, which really isn’t a necessary component of community of goods but a natural consequence of many of them being rural due to their means of sustainance as well as skeptical to communication technology due to their values of simplicity. (more…)