Science in Christian Perspective

An essay on social thought as understood and practiced by the Hutterian Brethren
The New Jerusalem
Forest River Community 
Fordville, North Dakota

From: JASA 26 (September 1974): 119-123.

In the New Jerusalem, religious education is of prime importance. This religious education is managed primarily by the elders, exceptional men who have been chosen by the community on the basis of wisdom and love of religion.

The overseeing of religious education takes many forms. The elders must test the children to find out what they are best fitted for and they must choose those men and women who will be well suited to raising children. The elders also guard the sacredness of marriage to see that the strict safeguards covering it are observed.
The elders attempt to assure correct religious education by keeping the community from becoming rich or poor. A poor community does not have the means to train itself and a rich community becomes lazy. The elders also act as censor-keeping the community free of television, radios, and dirty books, in this way they are guarding against sin.

Religion is the basis of the New Jerusalem. Belief in God leaves no room for impiety and prevents a man from turning back towards selfishness.

From what little we know about Christ's early ilfe and training, it is clear that the weightiest factors were the life and teachings of the Hebrew prophets. The strong prophetic strain in the Judaism He knew left a deep mark upon the thought-life of Christ. As a young man, Christ doubtless became, like most Jews of the time, greatly interested in Judaic social and civic life. A few years before His birth, the so-called "Pax Romana" had come to Palestine. The attempt of the Empire to rule by force the freedom-loving People of God of course made for feelings of disgust in the mind of Christ. As He grew in wisdom, the ruthless way in which Roman forces put down any show of fighting back aroused the bitter antagonism of Christ toward those, like the Saducees, who worked with Rome by serving as its lackeys. In the years which followed the rise of the Idumeans to the throne in Jerusalem, indirect rule made for loose and licentious social conditions. Going into the desert for prayer, He was told by His Holy Spirit to turn to the realms of the spiritual to find a faultless Kingdom. Because He was in touch with everyday life and government, and because of the inspiration of His Divine Nature, Christ worked out in His Mind an ideal way of life.

The prophetic principle that knowledge of God is virtue was strengthened by Christ and is a part, therefore, of His New Jerusalem. Religious education, therefore, is the most important thing in the world. Upon this doctrine more than any other, true Christian influence in the twentieth century must be founded.

What is the nature of religious education? Theoretically, Christ implies the answer in His epistemology. The Will of God is the ruling Force of life. Over against the uncertain changing sense world, Christ set up a realm of the eternal, changeless Will of God. Man is hot an image of God. Unchangeable reality is found in God. His Will alone lasts forever and is worthwhile. It is His Will alone which man must seek to know and understand.

Because of His "chosen-people" outlook and of His early disgust with the politics of His day, Christ turned away in His social philosophy from the direct study of the people, such as had engaged the attention of Socrates, to a search for a just Kingdom through studying the Will of God. This line of thinking finds expression chiefly in the Gospels. A long discussion of his teachings is found in Paul's letters. Because they look at nearly every side of social life from one viewpoint, the Gospels, the Acts, the Letters and the Apocalypse, taken together, may be called a treatise in social philosophy.

Christ's thoughts on the beginnings of human life come down to us in simplified form. He begins with God. To meet man's needs, God made for him woman, and thus began the first human group. But instead of seeing why they should obey God, they were proud and rebelled. Christ sought to get man back to his original state. The New Jerusalem is thus paradise regained.

Christ teaches that man should be temperate and self-controlled. He sees man as having a free will, and does not hesitate to make value judgments. There are two sets of forces vying for the mastery of man, a better and a worse. One leads to mastery of self; the other to self-slavery and unprincipled behavior.

An Ideal Community
Inasmuch as Christ had turned away from an inviting career as a worldy King to a private life of religious thought, the instruction of a few disciples, and a series of occasional public addresses punctuated by miracles, His spotless bride took on marks that were far from worldly. His teachings seem to have in mind a group small enough in size so that everybody could know everybody else. Early Chrisitian communities indeed typically could live together in a single house. Consequently, one cannot apply Christ's social ideas rightly to a modern metropolitan center of 5,000,000 people, or to a nation-state of 200,000,000 people. The New Jerusalem is an intensional community, or a series of intensional communities.

In this New Jerusalem there is a hierarchy of rank, which includes three divisions of people: the elders, the other baptised men, and the women. Children and other dependents might be viewed as a fourth class, but they are not an integral part of the community as such. Thus for His ideal community Christ uses grown men and women. Out of the needs and through the doings of fully developed persons committed to unconditional compliance with the Word of God, Christ builds an ideal commonwealth.

Social Divisions

No man is an island unto himself. Each has his own strengths and weaknesses. By coming together all will be better off. There are not only specialized divisions, but there is specialization within the divisions. A first rule for the building of a just community is that each person shall find his place in the social order and shall fulfill his special function. The New Jerusalem sees the need for having each man do what he is best fitted for.

The people work at the foundational occupations as skilled artisans and farmers, mostly. The advantages of a special education are, as a rule, not open to them. They get the common education, including plenty of exercise, and singing. It makes no sense to try to give a higher education to that large part of the people who can get little good out of it, the more so in that such a Gemeinschaft has little need for such higher education.

The baptized men keep order at home, deal in behalf of the community with the outside, and help the elders in this and other work. They defend theft way of life by word and deed, but never with violence. As a last recourse, the community may move away, but it may never make war, either in offense or defense. We will never escape, however, either from war or other evils, and Christian community life will thus always he a utopia in theory and a cross in practice.

The New Jerusalem is paradise regained.

Every member of the community is to be a metaphorical soldier for Christ. This needs years of training. The chief trait of a true Christian "soldier" is spiritual courage. The social psychological meaning of this is that the members are always trying to make converts, among their own children and among outsiders. Such a regime raises up enemies against itself, many and mighty, and results in either making the community or breaking it. On the other hand, if the Christians lose their militancy, seeking only to lead a peaceful life and to carry on their affairs quietly, they may in the end even discourage outsiders from joining. Little by little, they go to pieces; their children get that way too. At last, they find themselves at the mercy of the world and Christian witness comes to an end. We have seen this happen many times.

Among the members of the community there will be a few outstandingly able ones, meant by age and helped by training, to be elders. They are to he lovers of wisdom and religion. Weakness of character, drunkenness, or selfishness are unbecoming to them, as is selfish living. The elders should be characterized by the greatest eagerness to do what is good for their community. They will have nothing to do with anything that is against the best interests of the group.

The elders, however, rule aristocratically. They do not seek the will of the common members on every little thing, for the same reason that a teacher does not always ask the wishes of his pupils. They lead the way in showing that they do not care about earthly or material things and always seek social righteousness. The three divisions, the elders, the common brothers, and the sisters, come to have an occupational psychology. Each comes to have occupationally conditioned feelings.


All members of the community get the elements of a basic education. At around twenty years of age they must pass an overall religious test, in order that they may become full members through baptism. They may then get practical training in leadership by being chosen head of some enterprise. During middle age, those who have shown fitness may be named to the hoard of elders. We may say they have passed a practical test lasting several years. It is at this time that they become fully responsible for the everyday life of the community by holding offices. Only at this time are they allowed to be ever seriously exposed to the temptations of the world.

Prospective elders are watched by the community at large for many years. This watching, or informal test, is threefold. The first test is that of logic; they must be able to argue successfully that it pays one to serve the community. The second test is that of fear; they are faced with dangers, for example, the dangers to life during times of persecution, or simply the spiritual dangers which beset those who undertake to rule without favoritism and without compromising their principles when confronted with the wants and wishes of powerful vested interests. The third test is that of pleasure; they must show they can resist all the pleasures which thrill the heart of man.

In other words they must show proof that the highest interest of the community is to be the ruling interest of their lives. Neither pain nor threats must affect their loyalty. The temptations which come from pleasures or the like must not disturb their self-control nor weaken their qualities as elders. From this it will be seen that there is a long period of in-depth training for the elders. This varies greatly from the ancient theory of the divine right of kings and from the current practice of passing out political spoils to friends.

Though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. The rulers once chosen and put in office will therefore be tempted to become greedy at the expense of the community. Instead of becoming and staying democratic they will be prone to become tyrannical. It is not always easy, after good elders have been chosen, to keep them so. In order to keep their goodness as elders and to take away the powerful temptation to wink at the ingathering of wealth by the few, some protective devices are built into the plan of the New Jerusalem. The elders, like the common members, may have no private property beyond a few incidentals. They shall, like the common members, not live in their own houses, but shall dwell and eat together. They shall, like the rest, get from the community' all they need, but no more. They shall, like the common members, not buy and sell for profit, nor adorn themselves with gold and silver. Like all the members, they shall be taught that they are living in the New Jerusalem, with streets of gold, and therefore shall have no need of earthly wealth. They shall not be subject to pollution from being in touch with outsiders, but as shall be needful to sell or to buy from what the community cannot raise or make for itself, to help the poor with alms, or to convert the unbelieving. If the elders should get any rights not had by all the members, in the way of lands,

Christian social philosophy is founded upon truthful propaganda.

moneys or homes of their own, they would be unable to give their whole attention to the community, and they would not become guardians of the welfare of the members, but tyrants, plotting and being plotted against. In zealous care that the rulers not be distracted from guarding with undivided attention the interests of the community, the New Jerusalem practices strict community of goods, with no distinction made in this way between the elder and the common brother.

Public Opinion and Education

The question may be asked: Will the people accept the division of the population into hierarchal divisions? The reply is that the power of public opinion be utilized, and that all who live in the community be taught that they are brothers, that is, children of their common Father, God. This serves to keep members feeling humble. Further, the members are told that different talents have been given by God the Father to His several children. Some have more talents, others less. Those who have more have the power of command and may become elders. Those who have less may stay as heads of departments. Others must be content with no special distinction at all. But all are alike dear to God, and none have any rights not needed in their work.

The objection may be raised that this is but an "opiate", one which a smart man will not be taken in by. That many will disbelieve, is admitted, and a solution of the problem is offered. Teach the children when they are young, and when they are old they will not depart from God's Way. When they grow up, furthermore, they will tell their children, who in turn will teach it. Posterity, thus, will believe it. Others, from the outside, will, from time to time, believe the Good News because of inspired preaching backed up by Godly lives. In this way Christian social philosophy is founded upon truthful propaganda. Any kind of social or economic theory can be foisted upon a whole folk through the utilization of the schools. A few godless exploiters, by controlling or neglecting leaning, can ruin a community in a generation.

Vocational Selection

The elders are to test the children in order to find what they are best fitted for. The New Jerusalem holds to a democracy of talent in the sense that talent is believed as likely to show up in the children of the common brethren as in the children of the elders. If a talented child is found, he is to be encouraged and trained in line with that talent. If a child is not talented, a meaningful place should be made for him, too, and he should be helped to fit into that place. Geniuses are born among all classes of society from the highest to the lowest. Therefore, the community should seek out potential genius and give it opportunities commensurate with what it can do and not let its God-given spark of life be snuffed out.
Furthermore, in the Christian Way, men and women well suited to the raising of children should be chosen, and the children of the community should be given over to them, not necessarily their own fleshly mothers and fathers. This makes it likely that children will be raised in a loving, but fair way, and makes it unlikely that children will be spoiled, or battered.

The elders are to oversee marriage. It is too bad that almost all choose their life-partners on the basis of things which have little to do with their later married life. The marriage tie should not be firstly an individual affair, but should be ruled by the thought of the children not yet born and also by due thought to the welfare of the family and community. The true end of marriage is not found in wealth or power or rank, but in the begetting of healthy-minded children. Marriage is sacred in the highest because it is a needful part of God's plan. Marriage between unlike persons is to be deplored. Marriage is sacred, and hence should be covered by strict safeguards, including the eugenic one that those who are close kin by blood should not marry.

Poverty and Wealth

The elders shall keep the community from becoming either rich or poor. Poverty is the father of meanness and viciousness, and wealth leads to luxury and laziness. Both make for restlessness and both cause the breakdown of true religion. The poor community cannot rightly outfit or train itself, the rich community will grow careless and no longer work hard when it comes to the getting of new members.

In the getting of wealth the law of "monkey see, monkey do" works powerfully. One man gets goods; others are right away moved to do likewise. Therefore, all the members may become lovers of money. But a money-loving membership would he the downfall of the community.

The more wealth that a man gets, the more he will want to get. The push of greed pulls men apart from one another. The more a man is taken in by the wealth-getting lie, the less does he work at staying good. When the wish to be good is working against the wish for wealth, the first wanes as the other waxes.

When the community becomes founded on private property, the wealthy have power and the poor are kept from it. In quiet times the wealthy care as little for the welfare of the poor as for becoming good. On this and other grounds, private property has no place in the Christian community.

Where you see a community that has become poor, you may safely believe that somewhere there are also thieves and other sinners. The causes of pauperism are (1) a lack of proper education, (2) ill-training, and (3) unjust ordinances or an unjust rule by the elders.

The two big economic evils are wealth and poverty. Therefore to be poor in spirit means to share worldly goods, not do without them, as a rule.

In the true Christian community, there are two ways of getting away from great wealth or poverty: legislation and education. Each person is guaranteed a small amount of goods, such as furniture, clothing, books, and the like. He may get more, but not so much that his life-style differs from the other brethren. The community quite properly insists that, beyond trivia, a member if moved by the right spirit will freely share what he gets, from any sources, with all, unless he has gotten it from the community itself.


The elders are censors. They make sure the community is free of radios, televisions, dirty hooks, etc., in order to keep the children from seeing filthy sights and hearing unseemly sounds. Particularly fiction shall he censored in order to keep the children from reading and taking over had thoughts. Vice and intemperance shall he kept from being shown, in order that the elders of time to come may not grow up with images of moral illness, and in order that the children may grow up around fair sights and may get unhindered and unhampered the good in everything.

The elders guard against sin. Since the plan of the New Jerusalem is faultless, any change would be for the worse. Hence, the elders carefully guard the customs, letting in nothing new not needful to stay alive in a changing world. If changes are made in small things, there may be no stopping the spirit of change, and great things may he lost sight of too.
The New Jerusalem rests upon the education of wise leaders. Their judgment is better even than rule by ordinances. Ordinances should he as few as can be, for they tend to be too unbending. In view of the changeable character of man's life, no last nor absolute ordinances can he laid down. The good things about ordinances, however, is not that they make men honest, but that they make men act the same and hence in a socially reliable way. Ordinances are to he looked up to because they stand for the ripe fruits of much learning and because they give a man a way of showing his yieldedness to the community and to God.

Inasmuch as the New Jerusalem is the Bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle, any change would likely be for the worse.

Punishment for sins are a part of the ordinances. In view of the sanctity of custom and of the needfulness of ordinances, obedience is a highly important Christian virtue. Punishment in the New Jerusalem is not a vindictive, but a preventive and reformatory measure. Reformation is the true aim of punishment. It is, nevertheless, sometimes needful, for the good of the whole, to be firm, even harsh. For example, he who will not work shall not eat. There is a division of labor between the sexes, but both sexes enjoy the fullness of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Men are stronger than women, and, both by training and inclination, different in mind and heart. Hence some jobs are more fitting for men, others for women. There is nothing more degrading in this for either sex; each sex is looked up to for what it is.

The great importance of child-hearing is understood, and it is therefore fitting that woman give much of her life to the rearing of children. But all women, as well as men, should be able to grow in sanctity, the first aim of all the members. Those women who have talent for this or that are free to develop it, consistent with their duties to family and community. This, of course, is true of men as well. Members of the New Jerusalem are conservative Christians, conserving the rights of both men and women, different though the rights of the latter be from the former in some cases.

Women are to prophesy and warn, and it is therefore fitting that they be knowledgeable and well trained. Hence they get the same opportunities for schooling as men.

Role of Education

Training is strongly stressed. This educational system, however, is definitely run by the elders, in a fatherly way of course. Common education is of two kinds: vocational and religious. Vocational education enables the community to support itself, a means; religious education enables it to grow in the spirit, the end. The first without the other makes for a clever
brute; the other without the first brings poverty with all its evils. The two together make for the moderate, practical man of God.

Education is not brain washing, but growth of the powers of knowing God's will within man. It is lifelong; it begins with birth and goes on until death. However, it slows up as one grows old. An aged man cannot learn much, any more than he can run much. But mostly he need not learn much, for he has gotten wise, and he need not run much, for there are younger men at hand to do such things. As a child is educated, so will his future be determined. 4 child should be taught early to honor his mother and father. Great care should be given to the first years of life. From three to six years of age the children in the New Jerusalem come under the care of chosen women.

Schooling is for everyone, but, above childhood, not compulsory. The laws of imitation are to be utilized; the teacher shall be himself what he tells others they should be.

A well-trained man is another Christ. Religion, then, plays a basic role in the New Jerusalem. Belief in God leaves no room for the belief that might is right. Impiety undermines the strength of the Kingdom. God and community are one, for the community is the body of Christ. God made man for himself. It therefore follows that God created the one for the many, but not the many for the one. The worship of God is needful for a man to keep him from going back to swinishness and his love from turning into selfishness.

Social Change

Inasmuch as the New Jerusalem is the Bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle, any change would likely be for the worse. But even Christians who have separated themselves from the world, the flesh and the Devil are not safe from the wiles of Satan. The elders are not proof against the temptations of power. To take away stirrings of self-interest in the minds of the elders, they are to share and share alike with the common brethren.

In spite of good safeguards the wisdom of the best elders will from time to time fail them. Sooner or later they will err. Communities will weaken and even fall apart. But the Holy Spirit will always come to save and renew or refound. There will always be a remnant of the New Jerusalem somewhere until the end of the world. We Hutterians believe we are that remnant today, and welcome inquiry into our way of life.