“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)
Kluge enumerated a set of criteria which he says we apply to enable us “to distinguish a true community of Jesus”. We would like to respond to these in some detail.
Unfortunately he left out the most important criteria: namely the truth and the teaching.
Paul calls the community of the living God “the pillar and the foundation of the truth” (1Tim 3:15). Therefore the most important question always concerns the teaching. Anyone who openly puts forward unbiblical teachings does not build on the base of the truth and therefore cannot be in the community. Just as Hymeneus and Philetus, who denied the bodily resurrection, could not remain in the church (2 Tim 2:17-18; 1 Tim 1:20).
A look at the array of churches around today shows a broad spectrum of quite different teachings in all the big denominations, often contradictory to each other and, most importantly, contrary to the Bible. There is no trace of unity in their teachings nor of compliance with Scripture. How can these organisations be churches, that is, “foundations of the truth”?
When the foundation of truth is missing there are always corresponding consequences for life.
Christian community life is only possible when it is based on Christian teaching.
Let us move now to the criteria mentioned by Mr. Kluge:
a) The term “devoted Christian” is a tautology. Anyone who is not ready to devote himself is not a “non-devoted Christian” but is not a Christian at all. Church refers to the assembly of ALL Christians. Everyone who follows Jesus belongs to the Church, but likewise anyone who does not follow Him, does not belong to the Church.
b) “No functionaries”
The essence of the community does not consist in a hierarchical structure (as dogmatically defined by the Roman Catholic “church”), but in brotherly fellowship.
“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.” (Matt 23:8-10)
Jesus did not forbid the use of titles such as “Reverend”, “Monsignore”, “Canon”, “Cardinal”, “Eminence”, “Excellence” and “Your Holiness”. But even if he had been so specific, so-called Christian leaders would, in their vanity, certainly have found other titles to call themselves. Yet they nevertheless dare to call their “functionaries” “Father” (Padre) or even “Holy Father”. Those who do so have surely studied theology long enough to know that this was just what Jesus wanted – wasn’t it?
Having been repelled by the example of the Catholic hierarchy, we want to hold to the biblical example of a brotherly community.
Brotherly community does not mean that everyone must have the same duties. There are differences in the gifts and in the tasks given to Christians (Rom 12, 1 Cor 12), but always of course on the base of brotherly relationships. A two-class society, which distinguishes between priests and laymen, between functionaries and simple believers, or between the 144,000 with heavenly hope and the great crowd of sheep-like people (Jehovah’s Witnesses); or between those baptised with the Holy Spirit and those baptised with water only (Pentecostal groups) cannot be found in the Bible and contradicts brotherly love. The Bible only points to two groups of people: believers and unbelievers, those who are inside and those who are outside.
Just as in a family, where older siblings take care of their younger brothers and sisters, in the community the older brothers also care for their younger brothers, not in order to keep them dependent but to lead them to responsible independence:
“… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (Eph 4:12-14)
The more a person has received from God, the greater his responsibility is. The Bible uses various terms for people who bear responsibility, e.g.
elders [presbyteroi] in Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17 etc.
prophets and teachers – Acts 13:1
overseers [episkopoi] – Acts 20:28; Phil 1:1; 1Tim 3:2; Tit 1:7
(Sometimes translated as Bishops. Please note – the way the Catholics and Protestants use the world Bishop is certainly not what is meant here. “Episkopos” refers to someone who “sees after others, takes care of others”).
pastors (shepherds) and teachers – Eph 4:11
“those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you” – 1Thess 5:2
leaders – Hebrews 13:7+17
From these different terms, which are to some extent equivalent (as with presbyteros and episkopos in Acts 20 and Titus 1 – a clear testimony against the Catholic differentiation between priests and bishops, who do not have anything to do with the biblical presbyters and episcopes anyway), it is visible that there was no uniform church structure in the New Testament churches. The specific structure of a particular community depended very strongly on the particular circumstances in which a community lived.
A structure with a monarchical church leader was unknown to all New Testament communities. The one and only head of the Church is Christ.
Unfortunately the monarchical structure had already been propagated quite early on (beginning 2nd Century) by Ignatius from Antioch, and has since become the model structure for almost all so-called churches. Even the Reformation did not dare to go back to the way things were before Ignatius, even though the hierarchical structure in the Protestant organisation does not have the same constitutional character as among Catholics where the hierarchical structure with the Pope at the apex has become a salvation issue. As an example, the Bull ‘Unam Sanctam’ by Boniface VIII (1302) and the decisions of the 1st Vatican council concerning the infallibility of the Pope are quoted here:
“… This one and unique Church, therefore, has not two heads, like a monster, but one body and one head, viz., Christ and His vicar, Peter’s successor, for the Lord said to Peter personally: “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21.17). ‘My’ He said in general, not individually, meaning these or those; whereby it is understood that He confided all His sheep to him. If therefore Greeks or others say that they were not confided to Peter and his successors, they most necessarily confess that they are not among Christ’s sheep, for the Lord said in John: “there shall be one fold and one shepherd” (Jn 10.16)… Furthermore we declare, state and define that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of all men that they submit to the Roman Pontiff.” (Bull Unam Sanctam (1302) in: J. Neuner – J. Dupuis: The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, Rev. Ed. 1982, p. 218)
“And so, faithfully keeping to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, for the glory of God our saviour, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion, and for the salvation of Christian peoples, We, with the approval of the sacred Council, teach and define:
It is a divinely revealed dogma that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, acting in the office of shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he defines, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, possesses through the divine assistance promised to him in the person of Blessed Peter, the infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining the doctrine concerning faith or morals; and that such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are therefore irreformable of themselves, not because of the consent of the Church (ex sese, non autem ex consensu ecclesiae).
But if anyone presumes to contradict this our definition – which God forbid – , anathema sit.” (1st Vatican Council, Session 4, 1870 in: J. Neuner – J. Dupuis: The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, Rev. Ed. 1982, p. 234)
While the Catholics have elevated disobedience to Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:9 to a principle of salvation, we hold fast to the brotherly community which Jesus founded.
c) “daily meetings”
From a historical point of view, we did not start by reading Acts 2:42-47 and then decide to meet together every day. We simply wanted to be together as often and as intensively as possible. Thereafter we saw that God’s spirit had led us to the same community life as the first Christians. In his sermon at Pentecost Peter didn’t preach the “church rule”, “Thou shalt meet thy brothers and sisters every day!”. The Christians simply did it because God’s love had been poured out into their hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5), manifesting itself in brotherly love as Paul writes:
“Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” (1Thess 4:9)
Whoever has God’s Spirit, will love his brothers and sisters and have the desire for fellowship and to share his life. When this life is replaced by ritualised ‘church services’, it shows that God’s Spirit no longer has the say.
We are aware that in the course of history, Christians faced situations time and time again, in which community life was very difficult or impossible. But Christians have always wanted to make the best of the current situation because they were led by love towards each other. No one was afraid of having too much fellowship, but a common love for God led brothers and sisters together.
We are thankful that we are living in a time in which external circumstances (working hours, transport, etc.) make it much easier to have daily fellowship. Thus we can put Hebrews 3:13 so much more easily into practice:
“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 13:3)
Jesus has freed us to be able to have a personal relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters. Community life will obviously therefore, not consist of ritualistic liturgies, but of personal fellowship with each other in which each of us contributes (see 1Corinthians 12:26). The need for rites and rituals arises when the living relationship has died. Wherever spiritual life has ceased, it begins to be imitated through rituals.
The consequence of daily fellowship is that, spiritually speaking, every day is a holiday. Every day we experience fellowship with God and with our brothers and sisters, and for this reason alone we see no need to observe special holidays.
This practice also correlates with the following passages from the NT:
“Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.” (Romans 14:5)
Still caught up in the Jewish Law, Jewish Christians continued to observe the Jewish festivals. Christians, who had already understood that salvation through Jesus invalidated the Law, made no distinction between days. This holds true also for us, because we know that the Law has been fulfilled in Christ. The transition period from the Old to the New Testament is long gone.
That is why Paul also instructs the Colossians not to
“let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths”, because, as he explains, “these are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)
Anyone who still wants to celebrate festivals today has not understood the meaning of Salvation. Festivals are but a shadow of what is to come. We believe that Christ’s eternal reality has already come and thus we experience the celebration of his presence in the fellowship of the saints every day.
“Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.” (Galatians 4:9-11)
This passage also shows that the observation of “special days and months and seasons and years” is a relapse to the “weak and beggarly elemental spirits”. The exact meaning of these “elemental spirits” is a separate topic which would go beyond the scope of this article. It is clear though, that Paul regards the observation of Jewish Festivals by the Christians dangerous for their salvation, because it amounts to a denial of Christian freedom.
The ‘Christian’ holidays, Easter and Christmas, were not observed by the first Christians. The origin of Christmas can be traced back to Paganism, and Easter is also very strongly interspersed with Pagan customs. These festivals harbour the danger that the one-off events of salvation, namely the incarnation of the Logos and the death and resurrection of Jesus, are remoulded into regularly repeating myths. By this, the resurrection of Jesus becomes a symbol of the reawakening of nature, and Christmas, the Festival of light, which it was originally (the celebration of the invincible Sun-god Sol Invictus). Paganism making a come-back in Christian’ clothing.
In Christ, days and times have lost their significance, but nevertheless the social institution of regular days of rest should be observed. It is good that today, thanks to technological progress, many countries have two days of rest per week. Even in times of social cutbacks this achievement must not be abandoned. Increased productivity should actually lead to the further reduction of working hours.
We do not reject state or federal holidays. In fact, we would even welcome their increase (which today is unfortunately a utopia). It’s also good for non-Christians to be conscious of the fact that work is not the aim of life. A society whose primary goal lies in economic growth contributes to its own downfall.
Of course we are always glad to have more opportunities to be together as a community on public holidays and that long weekends enable us to meet brothers and sisters from further abroad.
d) “Sharing of spiritual and material possessions”
Acts 4:32, “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”
“Thou shalt not turn away from him that is in want, but shalt make thy brother partaker in all things, and shalt not say ‘that anything is thy own’. For if ye are fellow-partakers in that which is imperishable, how much rather in the things which are perishable?” (Didache 4:8)
Just as with daily fellowship, the sharing of spiritual as well as material possessions is a natural result of the love which God has placed in our hearts.
Members of a well functioning family share with each other. It is not about what is “mine” and “yours”, but rather what is “ours”. If this works within an earthly family, why shouldn’t it be possible within the family of God?
The thinking among unbelievers is: “When it comes to money, friendship has its limits”. In the Church, the attitude is: “Brother, let me share with you.”
For this to be the case it must, of course, be a Christian community. If I cannot trust another person, then I cannot entrust him with my money either. If I know that my brother or sister will handle my money just as carefully as his own, because it is ours, if I know that they are not wasteful with money, and will not just misuse my money for sins such as drinking and smoking, then I can share with them.
As Christians we know that everything we have has been given to us by God to use for him in the best way. Christianity is the end of egotism. The sharing of our material things is an important expression of that love.
The exact way in which community of property can be practised depends very much on the specific situation of each local community. The more intensive the community life is, the more intensive the sharing of property will be.
Above all the sharing of goods has to happen on the basis of a free decision to share one’s possessions (compare Acts 5:4)
What would our critics say if they heard the following quotes passing from our lips?
“Is it permitted in the brotherhood to posess one’s own property? – This is contrary to the testimony of the believers in the book of Acts, where it is written, “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions” (Acts 4:32). Therefore, whoever claims ownership of anything separates himself from the church of God and from the love of the Lord, who taught in word and deed that a man must lay down his life for his friends, then how much more the temporary goods?” (Basil, Lesser Rule 85)
“Those who owned something in the world should be careful in wanting to share it in common once they have entered the monastery.” (The Rule of St. Augustine, Chapter 1)
“The vice of personal ownership must by all means be cut out in the monastery by the very root, so that no one may presume to give or receive anything without the command of the Abbot; nor to have anything whatever as his own, neither a book, nor a writing tablet, nor a pen, nor anything else whatsoever, since monks are allowed to have neither their bodies nor their wills in their own power. Everything that is necessary, however, they must look for from the Father of the monastery; and let it not be allowed for anyone to have anything which the Abbot did not give or permit him to have. Let all things be common to all, as it is written. And let no one call or take to himself anything as his own. But if anyone should be found to indulge this most baneful vice, and, having been admonished once and again, doth not amend, let him be subjected to punishment.” (The Holy Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 33)
“But even if anything is sent him by his parents, let him not presume to accept it before it hath been make known to the Abbot. And if he order it to be accepted, let it be in the Abbot’s power to give it to whom he pleaseth. And let not the brother to whom perchance it was sent, become sad, that “no chance be given to the devil”. But whosoever shall presume to act otherwise, let him fall under the discipline of the Rule.” (The Holy Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 54)
“Community of property is total.” (Frère Roger, The Rule of Taize)
What “the most illustrious children of the Church” (as H.U. von Balthasar calls the founders of the monastic orders) could only achieve by force and threats of punishment, is in the Community of God the work of love where giving springs from a free decision.
To avoid any misunderstandings we want to state for the record that we reject community of property in its absolute form, as described in the aforementioned monastic rules because it opposes human dignity. It is simply degrading for a person to be made to feel dependent on a so-called spiritual leader in everything right down to the smallest articles (book, slate…) of everyday life. The biblical concept of sharing goods, which we also try to adhere to, is built on the principle of owning private possessions from which everyone freely makes their contribution for the good of the community.
“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7)
Among Christians it is normal to talk about personal problems, doubts and failings; and this requires a deep level of trust, which we can have through Jesus. Of course Mr. Kluge would have to interpret this as something negative by saying that this is a way of deliberately influencing individuals.
Everyone is constantly being influenced by something. Anyone who claims that they are not influenced by anyone shows that they have a most unrealistic and uncritical view of the world. Of course we influence each other, but not in the way Kluge accuses us of. The reason we are together is so that we can strengthen each other on the path to God through encouragements and admonitions.
We have the freedom to choose who we want to be influenced by. We don’t want to be influenced by the mind-numbing mass media. Through reading the Bible frequently and having fellowship with brothers and sisters, we submit ourselves consciously, yet not without thinking, to the influence of God. Brotherly criticism and admonition is always open and clear. The same cannot be said of those who use psychological tricks or group-dynamics to influence people – this degrades a person’s dignity and such practices have no place among Christians.
Brothers and sisters with whom we share not only certain ritualistic actions but our daily life; whose sins and weaknesses are not unknown to us; who don’t seek their own advantage but want to give; and who are also ready to accept admonitions, are surely more trustworthy than a Guru or Clergyman who, unlike Paul, isn’t prepared to “…share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves…” (1Thess 2:8), and instead keeps himself aloof from others behind his self-assumed title.
e) “No sinners in the community”
Jesus’ own words are completely clear on this matter:
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 18:15-18)
Paul too gives his view on this issue:
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?
For … I have already pronounced judgement in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing … with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. …Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch … Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth… But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one… ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you.” (Excerpts from 1 Corinthians 5)
“Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be your father, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)
These words were taken seriously in early church practice: in fact they often interpreted them too strictly. Even some modern authors from large “churches” occasionally write clear statements on this matter, even though they did not do anything to promote the actualisation of these thoughts.
“It is now time for the congregation to … [administer] the keys. … Now the judgement of God himself is about to be pronounced upon the sinner. If he shows genuine repentance, and publicly acknowledges his sin, he then receives forgiveness in God’s name (comp. 1 Cor 2:6 seq.). But if he is still unrepentant, the Church must retain his sin in that Name. In other words, the sinner must be excommunicated. ‘Let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican’ (Matt. 18:17). … But excommunication is really nothing more than the recognition of a state of affairs which already exists, for the unrepentant sinner has condemned himself already (Titus 3:10), and before the community had to exclude him. Paul calls excommunication ‘delivering over to Satan’ (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20). The sinner is handed back to the world, where Satan rules and deals death. … The sinner is ejected from the fellowship of the Body of Christ because he has already separated himself from it. He has no further claim on the community. Yet even this extreme measure has one sole aim, the salvation of the sinner: ‘that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus’ (1 Cor. 5:5), ‘that they might be taught not to blaspheme’ (1 Tim. 1:20). Readmission to the community or salvation is the purpose of church discipline in all its stages: it is throughout a ‘pedagogic’ procedure. It is absolutely certain that the Church’s verdict has an eternal validity where the sinner refuses to repent, and it is equally certain that his verdict (which means the inevitable loss of salvation) is no more than the last offer of restoration to the community and of salvation. Thus the Church maintains its sanctification by walking worthily of the gospel. Such a life produces the fruit of the Spirit, and is ordered by the discipline of the Word. Yet all the time the Church is still the community of those whose sanctification is Christ alone (1 Cor. 1:30), the community which is advancing towards the day of the Lord’s return.
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, London 2001, pp.222-223)
After all, church discipline (that is, the readiness to admonish brothers and sisters who sin, and in the case of their unwillingness to change, to separate from them) is a question of love and of the identity of the community. Love doesn’t just stand by and watch sin happen, but warns the sinner of the spiritual danger which they find themselves in. Love doesn’t want to watch passively as a person shipwrecks themself spiritually. The aim of exclusion is, in the end, “so that his spirit may be saved”, even if there is no guarantee that the sinner will repent.
If, despite intensive encouragement and admonition, a person still clings to their sins and resists sanctification, then they have no place in the community of those who are sanctified by God. Confrontation with the world might still help them to see just how much they have lost through their sins. It is hoped, that being “handed over to Satan” (which doesn’t mean that Satan obtains special permission to torment the sinner, but that whoever is not in the community is in the world, where, in Jesus’ own words, Satan is the prince – see John 14:30) will lead to the “destruction of the flesh”: that is, to the abandoning of one’s sinful attitude towards God.
The other issue at stake is the identity of the community. When the Community of the Redeemed has amongst its ranks people who resist the redemptive work of Jesus, and for whom sin is more important than discipleship, it ceases to be the Church.
Of course it’s clear even for us that there has never been a sinless community, nor will there ever be one. When we confess our sins it is not a “verbal admission” but an expression of our fight against sin.
John emphasises in his first letter that, on the one hand, a Christian doesn’t sin (1 John 3:3-10), and on the other hand, everyone who says that he has not sinned, makes God out to be a liar (1 John 1:8-10). These statements do not contradict one another. In Chapter 3 John speaks in general about the life of the redeemed person, who has a completely new attitude towards sin and has stopped doing many of the things which characterised their old life. Life as a Christian is a life in freedom and victory over sin. But as soon as a person starts to endeavour to live a holy life, they will begin to see more clearly just how much is still wrong in their life, and how prevalent sin is.
“…for all of us make many mistakes.” (James 3:2)
If a person follows Jesus’ example in word and deed and shares his life with brothers and sisters, he will naturally have less to do with others. Jesus’ fundamental demand of his disciples was that in comparison with their relationship to him, all other relationships were to have a lower priority.
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
For Jesus, spiritual relationships have priority over family relationships.
“And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:49-50)
We can only share our lives with others who follow the same Lord. But an obligation to break off all family relationships, as has been imposed from time to time in the Catholic monastic orders, does not exist in the Church of God.
Whereas someone else wrote:
“Therefore the biological parents or siblings of a member of the brotherhood, if they live piously, should be treated and cared for with honour as common parents and relatives by all the brothers. “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven”, says the Lord, “is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt 12:50) …But if in their disposition they are still entangled in worldly affairs, we who are far from distractions, striving to do what is valuable and pleasing to the Lord, have no fellowship with them. If any of our former relatives come to visit who despise the commands of God and consider worthless the service of piety, we must not welcome them, because they do not love the Lord, who says, ’Whoever does not love me does not keep my words’ (John 14:24). …
It is not at all permitted for a brother to engage in a conversation with either a relative or a stranger, if we do not have the conviction that the conversation will bring about edification and the perfecting of the souls…” (St. Basil, Greater Rules, 33)
What would Kluge say if we wrote something like that? Control of environment? Control of information? A typical sign of a cult! Basil, though, is revered by his “church” as a saint.
In the church of Jesus there are only active members. For this reason a purely formal membership of the Church of Jesus would be absurd. Community life and anonymity oppose each other like fire and water. That is why it is impossible to use the word “church” to refer to groups in which the overwhelming majority of members don’t even accept their own doctrines. When community life is replaced by formalism, it is easy to see that God’s Spirit is not at work.
We do not reproach institutional “churches” for practising infant baptism, but for the fact that the children are not baptised into a community of brothers and sisters in which they will be guided towards a Christian life. The main difference lies not in whether infant baptism or adult baptism is right, but whether the church is made up of believers or formalism.
Likewise enforcing a Church tax would be completely unthinkable for Christians. On the foundation of a loving relationship I share whatever I have with my brothers and sisters. A “church”, which in co-operation with the state, forces its members to pay a certain amount of money, has given up any claim of being the Church of God. If something is from God then the believers stand behind it wholeheartedly and give more than is necessary, without being forced. Compulsory contributions are a no-confidence vote for God and for other believers, and an admission of one’s own unbelief.
In writing about our relationship to outsiders Kluge vacillates in his use of terminology from “people of a different faith” to “Christians outside the Group”.
Common prayer is not possible with people from a different faith (non Christians) for we must be sure that we are praying to the same God. This fundamental thought was self-evident in the first centuries. We gladly pray with people who are sincerely seeking God. In the same way common prayer with Christians “outside the Group” is natural. Our joy is renewed again and again when we find Christians who have found Jesus independently of our community, and we rejoice in the unity we have with them.
It is not ‘belonging to our group’ which is the sign of someone’s Christianity, but the mutual love that we have towards each other which God has placed in the hearts of all his children. When we get to know other Christians, the natural consequence is not only that we endeavour to reach unity, but that we actually reach it. It is unthinkable to write off brothers and sisters in faith as Sectarians as Kluge does, who on the one hand, thinks that we are somehow Christians, and on the other hand calls us a cult, and has never even made the slightest attempt to come to unity with us.
We do NOT see ourselves as an elite community. A division into elite and normal members must never appear among Christians. Each Christian is holy and endeavours to grow in faith. Humble service is our goal, and not arrogance. We have no right to be proud of something which we ourselves have only received.
We are not ready to water down the truth which Christianity lays claim to in order to appear humble. There is nothing arrogant about being convinced of the truth of Christianity (which inevitably means that all other ways are false). This conviction was held by Jesus (John 14:6) and the Apostles (Acts 4:12). We too, intend to cling to this conviction. We have experienced how God called us out of darkness into light, from error into the truth. Now we have the chance to call other people to take the same steps, not because we think we are good, but because we know that Jesus is the only way to God. We want to share the great gift that we have received with others.
We are not Gnostics, thinking of others as ‘captives of the material world’. Matter too, is a part of God’s good creation. We don’t think that we have reached an outstandingly high moral and religious level. What kind of a world are we living in when that which is actually normal is considered to be an insurmountably high level? It is not about whether one ‘makes it’ or not. As Christians we live through the power of God and experience that his commandments are not burdensome.
“For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)
Concerning Acts 2:42-46 we are not interested in formalistically applying models of community from the first century directly to modern life (as Mr Kluge puts it) and we certainly don’t do that. In Acts 2 it is visible that God’s Spirit filled the young Christians with a love for God and for each other. This love is the steadfast foundation of every Christian community, regardless of the conditions under which Christians are living. The same love that led the first Christians to have daily community and to share their material goods leads us to do the same, even if the concrete realisation of it appears to be different from how it was in Jerusalem in 30 A.D. or in Ephesus in 55 A.D. It hasn’t always been as easy to have daily community as it is for us today. Christians always did their best but circumstances didn’t always allow daily meetings. For us on the other hand, circumstances are favourable and daily meetings are possible. We receive this gift with gratitude, not distinguishing between superior and inferior community models.
Jesus called us to live a holy life. Therefore it is self-evident that the community expects a morally pure lifestyle from its members. It is the teaching of the Bible
e.g. Phil 2:14-15, “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.”
and the tradition of the early church (e.g. Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians Chapter XXXI “…you know that those whose life is directed towards God as its rule, so that each one among us may be blameless and irreproachable before Him, will not entertain even the thought of the slightest sin.”
Kluge’s intention is not completely clear here. Does he want to praise us, or does he consider the pursuit of morality a typical sign of a cult? Failing to strive for morality is actually a much more conclusive proof that an organisation has ceased to be Church. Assuming that he had the former in mind we would add a minor correction that we usually do not use the expression ‘false Gospel’ to describe a lax lifestyle.