Saturday, December 13, 2014

Discipleship by J. Heinrich Arnold

This book is not an organized treatise on discipleship. Rather, it is a collection of short writings from Arnold, compiled and edited by several people who knew him personally.

It took me a while to get into the book. At first, it seemed like a rather random collection of Arnold's words, placed under broad topics. Then I hit a zinger. Then another. I was hooked. Arnold is painfully to the point. Don't read this book unless you are willing to be confronted about your spiritual life.

Consider this one:
From a letter: Dear sister, turn away from your opinionatedness and your need to be in the right. How different things would be if you had a humble, listening ear. When we speak, let us be open to the heart of another. Let us share with one another and listen to one another. Ultimately we have to see that we are all stumbling blocks. Only God is good.” (57)

Can you imagine receiving a letter like that from your own pastor? Or one like this?
From a letter: Dear sister, it seems to me that there is an atmosphere of eroticism around you, and I want to warn you about this.” (66)

How about receiving a letter like this one about how we converse?
From a letter: It is important to be straightforward and honest about your true feelings. Rather be too rude than too smooth, too blunt than too kind. Rather say an unkind word that is true than one that is 'nice' but untrue. You can always be sorry for an unkind word, but hypocrisy causes permanent harm unless special grace is given.” (83)

Arnold was part of a community attempting to live like the early church in Acts. So you'll find he said, “We must give up all private property and all thirst for collecting things for ourselves. … Wealth brings about death because it isolates the heart from God and from one's fellowman. … The way of Jesus means complete possessionlessness!” (96) That may be hard for some to take in our American independent and financially secure Christian experience. “When we speak about the authority of leaders in the church, it should be very clear that we never mean authority over people.” (107) That might upset some leaders in the American church. And the section on church discipline may be totally foreign to many contemporary Christians.

This is not a book one would sit down and read from cover to cover. The relatively short writings (a paragraph or two) can be used for devotional readings. One could also go to a particular topic and read the writings offered. A Scripture index is included as well.

Johann Heinrich Arnold (1912-1982), when he was six, with his parents left their upper-class home in Berlin and moved to Sannerz, a village in central Germany. With a small circle of friends, they set out to live in full community on the basis of Acts 2 and 4 and the Sermon on the Mount. Heinrich made the decision to follow Jesus at age eleven. He later committed himself to life-long membership in the community, then known as the Bruderhof. In 1938 he was chosen as pastor. From 1962 to his death he served as elder for the growing movement. He had no formal theological training.

Plough Publishing House, 298 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Handlebar for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

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