When we are no longer able to be there for all men, when we can no longer concern ourselves with the need and suffering of the whole world, our life has no longer any right to exist. As long as I live, I shall protest if people who are fighting for any ideal whatsoever no longer find an understanding among us. People who are fighting with a free and generous spirit for purity, for national unity, for pacifism, for a renewal of national characteristics, who are fighting for any political ideal, for any renewal of society cannot do it just in their own strength. If we were to have an understanding only for Anabaptist thinking, I shall not go along with it. I shall protest against it as long as I live.- Eberhard Arnold
Eberhard Arnold came into the world an emblem of upper-middle-class German life, solidly established within the state church and society. As he grew older, he shed this identity piece by piece in his intense search for the kingdom of God – a place where everything is shared in common and where all are committed to peace.
As a teenager, Eberhard found his comfortable lifestyle challenged by the poverty and injustice he encountered in his work with the Salvation Army. His social conscience was also stirred through studying the lives of evangelists George Müller (who founded homes and schools for orphans in England) and Charles G. Finney (a popular Christian evangelist also involved in social reform, particularly the abolitionist movement in America).
In 1910 Eberhard read They Must by Hermann Kutter, a Zürich pastor. A positive evaluation of socialism and its agenda from a Christian viewpoint, They Must deeply impressed Eberhard. Although most socialist writing was aggressively atheist, Kutter recognized that social democracy shared the same goals as many of Jesus’ commandments – commandments that in his view had been watered down and misinterpreted by the churches. Others now had to preach what the church ought to be preaching and had to carry out the tasks that the church should have been doing. Eberhard once described his own spiritual development as “from Luther to Kutter.” However, Eberhard did not share Kutter’s admiration of the Social Democratic Party, and he criticized the communists’ atheism and the socialists’ optimistic belief in automatic progress. Without Jesus at the center, Eberhard believed, remedies to social problems would be merely superficial.
Eberhard began incorporating thoughts and themes from Herman Kutter into his lectures. He testified that faith demands action on behalf of social justice. The Sermon on the Mount was central to his convictions, and Bible passages about wealth and power became intensely relevant to him. Like the pastors Johann Christoph Blumhardt and his son Christoph Friedrich, Eberhard spoke of the kingdom of God as a reality on earth. Following the First World War, the fate of destitute and neglected people propelled Eberhard in a more radical direction, resulting in his vow of poverty and decision to live in community.
The war experience also changed him from an ardent supporter of the German cause to a convinced pacifist. On his regular visits to military hospitals in Berlin he listened as wounded soldiers confessed their agonizing feelings of guilt and distress of conscience.
Friedrich Wilhelm Förster, a philosopher and pacifist who taught ethics and spoke out against militarism, influenced Eberhard with his political analysis and predictions. The religious socialist Leonhard Ragaz from Zurich likewise had a profound influence on the Bruderhof fellowship, as did the pacifist socialist anarchist Gustav Landauer.
These convictions came at a cost – first, through Eberhard’s break with the Student Christian Movement and its publishing house Die Furche, which continued to support the German military; later, and more seriously, with the rise of the Nazi regime, which placed the Bruderhof under threat and ultimately necessitated its departure from Europe following Eberhard’s death.
1. Markus Baum, Against the Wind (Plough Publishing House 1998), 69.
Is Pacifism Enough?
Eighteen months after Hitler’s rise to power, Eberhard Arnold warned of the threat of a second major war – and foresaw that the international peace movement, which he had championed, would be powerless to stop it. His reflections remain unsettlingly relevant today.Continue Reading
The Courage of Love
How should the church relate to politics? Eighteen months after Hitler’s rise to power, Arnold spoke about this to members of his community, whose German branch had already been raided twice by Nazi forces. The question was no longer just theory...Continue Reading
The Eve of Advent
Advent is a time in which we share in the yearning of all those who, in their suffering and struggle, long for redemption and liberation, for unity, for peace, for a golden age – for a manifestation of God’s love and unity, for a breaking in of his justice among the nations.Continue Reading
How glad I am that you are so positively united with me in the experience of peace and of Jesus’ spirit of love! The question is not at all one of our only refusing to do military service, though people always put it in this negative way. This refusal, after all, follows as a matter of course from a positive experience of the Spirit of Christ. When this Spirit, which is expressed so very intensely in the Sermon on the Mount and in Romans 8, penetrates us and glows in us, then we will become victorious people who must work as long as it is daylight—work in the productive, creative work of love.- Eberhard Arnold
Whoever has discerned in the revolutionary movements the awakening of conscience in the sense of the Sermon on the Mount and in the sense of the future kingdom of God fights all the more sharply against the demonic powers of impurity, the murder spirit, lying polemics, and the greed for possession and power in socialism and communism. But it is of great importance that just in this decisive struggle Christians discern the awakening for God, and that they witness to Christ in the midst of the socialist, pacifist and communist movements of conscience.- Eberhard Arnold