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Home » Manna Matters » April 2023 » Australian Christian Alternative Communities
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Q&A Column

Australian Christian Alternative Communities

Tom from Perth asks:

‘Why do so few Christians follow the Hutterite and Bruderhof communities’ model of living out Jesus’ injunctions and the early church practice regarding possessions, stewardship, mutual caring, witnessing, peace-making, etc. in our broken post-modern society?’

My first instinct is to answer Tom’s question historically. For those who don’t know, the Hutterite and Bruderhof communities are part of the Anabaptist tradition, along with others, such as the Mennonites and Amish. The Anabaptists were central to what is referred to as ‘the Radical Reformation’ in the sixteenth century: while Martin Luther was focussed on reclaiming salvation by faith and scripture alone, the Anabaptists were focussed on rejecting the wealth of the Church and reclaiming what they perceived as the radical communitarian practices of the Early Church, especially sharing possessions.

It is true, that for the first 300 years, Christian communities where characterised by high levels of economic community—not quite the picture we see in Acts 2 and 4, but still high levels of income pooling and mutual support. That all began to unravel in in the fourth century AD when Christianity became the favoured, and then the official, religion of the Roman Empire, turning the Church into an avenue for pursuing wealth and power. Today, despite the efforts of the Anabaptists, we still live in the shadow of Christianity’s accommodation to the social norms around economic life.

There is a large and thriving Bruderhof community at Inverell in NSW (200+ people, I think), but I am not clear if there are any established Hutterite communities of any size in Australia at the moment. Bruderhof live from a common purse, with no individual incomes and technically no individual possessions (although in reality each family has their own private stuff). This, plus their commitment to living simply, means that the Bruderhof Community produce incredible surpluses which they use to support all sorts of good work with amazing generosity.

What is stopping other Christians following their example? One primary reason is that many Christians (probably most) still have very little idea about the economic teachings of the Bible or the economic practices of the Early Church (hence Manna Gum!). Another reason is that the forms of economic community practised by the Bruderhof deeply challenge the inherent individualism of our culture in ways which many of us find confronting (also, they tend to be quite culturally conservative, which many also find confronting). Finally, we have so few examples that fall in between the extremes of the complete individual consumerism of our culture and the radical (and, I think, inspiring) way of life of the Bruderhof. This makes it hard for many people to think of any alternative.


Which brings me to Tom’s next question:

‘Are you aware of any other Christian church/community in Australia, other than Seeds Community, who consistently tries to live out the above practices?’

I think Tom is referring here to an article I wrote in MM Sept 2019 on economic cooperation in the Seeds Community (my community here in Long Gully, Bendigo). Just to be clear, the economic practices of the Seeds community bear no comparison to those of the Bruderhof. Nevertheless, modest as they are, they are still something different from the Australian norm.

There are other communities who have done much more.  The Community of the Transfiguration in Teesdale, Victoria, is a monastic Baptist community (!) of roughly twenty people who live with complete community of goods and common purse, which similarly allows them to practise radical generosity and hospitality. Up until recently, the Cornerstone Communities dotted throughout regional NSW and Vic lived off a centralised common purse, pooling and redistributing their income among each other and funding their ministries.  In the 1980s and 1990s there were a number of smaller ‘intentional Christian communities’ that experimented with various forms of sharing income and sharing possessions. I know of numbers of families that have bought properties together and I am sure there are plenty out there I know nothing about.

We have a real need to document and share stories of multiple forms of Christian economic cooperation that show there is a whole spectrum of possibility in between doing nothing and a complete community of possessions. If you know of something please share it with us!

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