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Similarities I see between CRC ways and Hutterite ways

In my report that I have been presenting to the Transition Team I have already mentioned how we readily see how Hutterites and Mennonites are different than we are, but I also say we are not so good at seeing similarities.  Some of the similarities are due to common human fallen nature, but for my interests there are enough cultural and belief-pattern similarities to make me stop and pause. Some of the similarities I see may be gone — they may be from the past — but their being in my/our history helps me not to feel superior to our neighbours. In fact it helps me wonder about what practices and behaviours which we call Christian today will seem ridiculous 20 to 50 years from now.

I have been reading a book titled “Hutterites: The Nine; Our story to Freedom” and I am seeing some of these cultural similarities more clearly than ever.

For one example, we and the Hutter/Mennon-ite communities have in our history stories of “hidden Televisions.” I have memories of visiting friend’s homes and seeing a cabinet opened and a colour TV hidden in there. I later learned this was to hide the fact they had one from the Elders when they visited. Just last week on two different occasions, I was told stories of hidden TVs in colonies and in the homes of our Reformed cousins 50-100 years removed.

Here are some other observations:

1. We and the Hutt/Mennon-ites are insular, removed, withdrawn-from-the-evil-world communities.

The other two groups in view may be more visible about it, but we have our “own” schools and tend to do business and socialize among our own and growing up were warned about the wrongness and sinfulness and damnedness of those outside our circles, just like they are. We use ‘in house’ language that is only understood by insiders (like “Total Depravity,” “Benediction,” etc. )  and keeps those unfamiliar with us and our ways at a distance. Someone who is a little bit self-aware and arrives in our company for a worship service dressed outside of the accepted-yet-unspoken boundaries for worshipwear will feel like they don’t fit, they don’t belong. We have all kinds of such patterns that define the insiders and work to exclude (whether we are aware of it or not) those who don’t know our secret codes. These things are certainly more obvious and exaggerated in the Hutt/Mennon-ite communities, but we have them too. Here’s how one of the contributors to the book “The Nine” explains it:

“The Hutterites have a secluded … way of life. The Hutterite woman’s dress code and the Hutterite language are two very obvious stumbling blocks that kept me from relating to the outside world. As a Hutterite woman, I didn’t realize there could ever be any opportunity for me to associate with people from the “outside.” – pg 47

2. We and the Hutt/Mennon-ites do either no outreach or true evangelism or do it feebly if at all. 

For us, our doctrine of Election is part of the problem why we are not strong in evangelism, and there are other theological or doctrinal barriers, but we also have social barriers just like the other groups. Here is another quote from the book:

“Everyone that is saved, born again, has the command to share the gospel. If one declares they are a Christian they should willingly obey the Word of God. Why is it, the Hutterites claim to be Christians, and yet, they don’t evangelize? “As you go, preach, saying the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 10:7) The Hutterites are closed off and don’t welcome newcomers. I have only heard of two converts won over to Hutterism. The Hutterites believe no one will ever be as holy and privileged as those born Hutterite. Therefore, if there is to be any growth in numbers it will only be done from the inside.” — pg 41

We too have in our history the thought that we had the truth “locked down” and boxed up,  and our community was a chosen people, so that it was a matter of people finding us and then becoming like us in language, dress and belief (culture) for them to participate in the truth we had. I see that now as extremely arrogant and ignorant (even if done without knowing) and something the church at large needs to repent of. The sociological term for this today is “Cultural Captivity of Christianity.”

We also, like our neighbours, have in our history an emphasis on church growth through biological reproduction. We do not know how to do it differently. Some of our most anxious churches (not Nobleford on this count) are the ones where the numerous children have moved away… and the church is seriously shrinking… They have counted on that one means of growth so strongly, they are lost when it is taken away, and unable to culturally adjust.

3. We and the Hutt/Mennon-ites tend towards believing church is about doing many things that have nothing to do with biblical directives but instead are about man-made rules and rituals and conditions and completing those properly. A suspicion of emotion is prevalent. 

“While in church, everyone had a straight somber face and there was no joy or rejoicing. All the men and women wore black jackets; … There was no life in the singing or preaching. Those in the congregation were not allowed to speak on any subject at any time and only the two ministers would speak. There were no musical instruments and we would only sing old hymns in German. It was all so very still and quite stuffy.” — pg 31

Today still, there are those in our churches that believe that same kind of somberism and ritualism and legalism and use of non-current language is exactly what church should be about. There are times for somberness, and there are times for rituals, there is even place for law, for sure, but the biblical evidence clearly says joy and unstuffiness in delighting in God is a delight to God. So maybe our lack of delight in God is the biggest problem, or our fear of having any kind of delight or joy lest God or someone else becomes displeased? I am not clear in this yet. Here’s the book’s description of a similar thing:

“So many things the Hutterite leaders would declare had no scriptural basis. We could wear a watch at work, but it was considered unholy in church or at the dining table. …  There were many useless religious influences and false teachings that stripped us of our personal freedoms and desensitized our proper judgment. The way it was presented to me at the time, I believed I was being taught the truth, and now realize much of it was heretical teaching. They didn’t have a love for the truth, which caused them to believe and teach the lie.”  — pg 29

The sad thing is, that people who were raised in the CRC who then saw through some of these things, particularly when the legalism was used against them, have left, and they feel they were lied to, because they were. My hope is that they still find the gospel of Jesus and a relationship with God. But if we were healthier, and worked to fight our tendency toward those problems, such folk are more likely to remain and contribute to the growth of the Kingdom in our church

4. We and the Hutt/Mennon-ites tend towards groupthink and social control of those who head for the margins.

The book has numerous versions of a telling of how these youngsters who were struggling with having had a taste of the true biblical gospel and the Holy Spirit beginning to stir their hearts began to realize how gossip and behind-the-back talk would lay scorn on the backtrail of anyone who had defied the rules of the colony in some way. This would be done in a way that the struggling ones would feel in fear of losing their eternal salvation, and of being the person who has made tracks out of the controlling community.

We too have used and do use gossip and such behind-the-back talk in the same way. We also put a lot of pressure on the youngster who struggles with a particular doctrine or belief, or who chooses to believe slightly differently than we profess, the pressure is a social pressure to conform. How else do you think Romans 12:1,2 became a favourite verse of mine in a stage of life where the only world I knew was the CRC world? I believed the command to not conform was speaking about the church and resisting it’s pressure to conform to it’s man made expectations and rules and behaviours and practices. I felt that pressure, and it did not give me space or room or spirit to take some time to sort out my relationship with God. My relationship in conformity to the community seemed to be the most important to them. Social pressure toward creating conformity to groupthink is an unhealthy tool from days gone by.  Thankfully it also does not work as well today.

“The Hutterites warn you, if you leave and forsake the colony life you will stray from the faith because it is so evil “out there.” I was terrified to leave my mother’s side for fear of being lost, left behind, or forgotten.” — pg 28

 A piece of this is the belief that a great evil lives outside the community. That belief allows a lot of evil to play around inside the community. Evil is in everyone’s heart, and any group that is not working on the evil in their hearts in the light of the gospel will fall into disrepair as the body of Christ.

5. We and the Hutt/Mennon-ites — in our emphasis on preservation of custom, of past practice instead of long standing biblical principle — tend towards not conveying what a biblical spiritual walk with God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is like.

“Hutterites aren’t taught to pray from the heart. They pray the same repetitive, memorized prayers for occasions such as mealtime and church.”  — pg 23

“I grew up believing that if I obeyed the rules set forth by the Hutterite Church it would serve as my ticket to heaven. This was one of those times when I realized the traditions of the Hutterite elders were contrary to the written Word of God. There were such ordinances as forbidding fellowship with a colony that was excommunicated from the Hutterite Church for their faith in Jesus Christ. The new rules also prohibited any Hutterite colony from having a Christian curriculum in their English school.”

“I began to see all of this as it really is and a righteous anger rose up within me as I realized I conformed to believe lies. I was asking myself, “Am I the only one feeling this frustration…” — pg 150

“I recognized I was miserable, empty, and I desperately needed Jesus Christ in all of my life.”

“My heart cried out with deepened conviction: I can’t stay here! Not in this hypocrisy! Not without love! I began to grasp that the type of love I was receiving or had received growing up, was not the unconditional love borne by the Holy Spirit. I believed my parents loved me. Why didn’t they stand up against the system …  In so many ways this system’s operation is much more slanted towards prejudice and selfish competition than the outside world.” —  pg 151

So those are a quick sampling of similarities. I celebrate that it seems to me we are closer to biblical freedom than some of the groups I am comparing us to, even as it saddens me and angers me to see communities keeping people trapped and imprisoned. But I share these provocative comparisons, knowing they will likely threaten some, in the hope that it helps us keep moving forward, out of bondage to human customs into freedom in Christ alone.

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