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From the Anabaptists: Spittelmayr on love and property

Posted by on May 2, 2012 in church history, love | 18 comments

From the Anabaptists: Spittelmayr on love and property

Last week, I enjoyed reading an article about Anabaptists and writing about that article in my post “Which Distinctive Practices and Beliefs of Anabaptists are Important for the Church Today?” Reading that article, writing the post, and following the discussion in the comments reminded me of a great book that I read online last year called “The Secret of the Strength.” One of the things that I love about that book is that the author (Peter Hoover) includes many, many quotations from the Anabaptists themselves.

For the next few days, I’m going to post a few of those quotations. You may not agree with everything they wrote, but hopefully they will help us thinking about our new life in Jesus Christ.

This quotation was written by Ambrutz (Ambrosius) Spittelmayr just before he was beheaded in 1527:

Nobody can inherit the kingdom unless he is poor with Christ, for a Christian has nothing of his own, no place where he can lay his head. A real Christian should not even have enough property on the face of the earth to stand on with one foot. This does not mean that he should lie down in the woods and not have a job, or that he should not have fields and pasture lands, or that he should not work. It simply means that he should not think that these things are for his own use and be tempted to say, “This house is mine. This field is mine. This dollar is mine.” Rather he should say, “It is ours,” even as we pray “Our Father.”

A Christian should not have anything of his own but should have all things in common with his brother, not letting him suffer need. In other words, I will not work that my house be filled, that my pantry be supplied with meat, but rather I will see that my brother has enough, for a Christian looks more to his neighbour than to himself.

This teaching directly contradicts the “American Way.” (I can’t speak as much about the culture of greed in other countries.) Saving, building, hoarding, storing… this is the way of life in America, but it was not the way of life among the Anabaptists or among the early believers as recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts.

So, which way of life are we going to follow? Are we willing to admit that we have been so influenced by the greed of the American dream that we have missed the call of the Spirit to give to others? Or, do we continue to make excuses, blaming others for their lack or need, finding reasons not to help those who need it?

When you hold a dollar in your hand (or a hundred dollars, or a thousand dollars, or a million dollars), do you assume that God gave it to you for your own benefit? Could it be that God gave that to you so that you could use it to benefit others? It would be just like him, wouldn’t it? He is, after all, the God who gave and gave and gave… even giving his own son.

Interestingly, I’ve spent a short time in two cultures (outside of the United States) that are known to be among the poorest in the world. And, I found the Christians in those two cultures to be more giving and sharing than many in the USA.

Do you find it easier to share when you have much or when you have little? Why do you think the voluntary sharing of property was so important to the early church or to the Anabaptists in the 16th century?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-2-2012

    Alan, I may have mentioned before that I learned Christ in this context.
    I was saved off the street, and enveloped by a small community of others like me, who were one step ahead of me in knowing His ways.
    They opened their entire lives to all, and we experienced the unity, love and gifts we read of in Acts.
    Though my family is away from them now, I would sell my house and business today, give everything away and take my family back to live in a shack in the woods if I could have the fellowship, care and acceptance of brothers and sisters who value living His way, as Jesus Himself lived.
    I bemoan the devilish idea that gain is Godliness that permeates and pollutes our testimony.
    I think that if a city or community wanted to re-create Acts 2, all they need do is beat their doctrinal swords into plough shares, sell their bricks and mortar property and give the money to the poor, gather in one accord in the nearest available upper room, waiting for Him to endue us with power from on high.
    Can u imagine it?
    I do.

  2. 5-2-2012

    Do you find it easier to share when you have much or when you have little?

    I have found sharing is not the issue, having much or little, it is the to whom and where and then when. i know in past while I was in the church that man made, and the plate was being offered around, as I was going to put in, I heard no. So I listened and on my way home. I picked up a person (female) hitching a ride and that is where I put my offering to. This was and is listening to God The Holy Spirit. Another time on my way to bible study with the teens in the group, and on the way a car was broken down, so we helped. Then we were late and this was construed as forsaking the fellowship. I told the kids, just leave it alone, and we said not a word back at the supposed leaders. You see if they were of god and not of flesh and blood the Spirit would have told them. But even if they were believers or not, they were not listening, all puffed up by their vanity, and i a not saying that I listen always, I am still a work in progress.

    Why do you think the voluntary sharing of property was so important to the early church or to the Anabaptists in the 16th century?

    There are only two reasons to me.
    1. true love and led by god to do so, because what god had already done for them.
    2. the ones stirring this up and getting the emotions high on the unsuspecting to fleece the flock, and is still going on today. People seeking truth and the devil(s) come in unaware and steal, kill, and destroy.
    All I know is to listen to the inward man of my heart, that god gave me through belief in him. And I hear; be wise as a serphant, yet harmless as a dove. Not all that say they believe do, for when the time comes there will be many that say oh Lord I did this or that in your name and the Lord will say go away you who work iniquity, and Paul himself was accused of that by the ones that added to the gospel, okay you believe, but you must be circumcised, and you then can enter, then this or that and on and on and on.
    Man since the fall has always through his own flesh and blood been a manipulator to his own gain. So truly what is truth is what is in ones heart. the purpose behind what one does is either life or death.

  3. 5-2-2012

    The quotation is a thought provoking one, but contains far too much if the “should” word. That is law. In the first instance it was a manifestation of the Spirit that they had new attitudes concerning their things and their commonality. I believe that was and remains symptomatic of “first love,” but now as then, the kingdom of God is in and only in the Holy Spirit, not under the law.


    P.S. We’re getting warmer! :-)

  4. 5-2-2012

    Great blog Alan. I definitly agree with the sentiment that generousity is important, actually a requirement, but I don’t think the ‘American dream’ is the problem. The American dream is about having the freedom to pursue life liberty and hapiness. There is no requirement to be greedy. Greed is a spiritual problem that permeates the entire planet. The United States is one of the most generous nations in the world when it comes to giving away both national assistance from our government and we are also the highest private donators in the world.
    I think the issue should be examined like this:
    1. I know I have to take care of (not spoil necessarily) my family first. If I don’t then I am worse than an infidel and have denied the faith. 1 Tim. 5:8.
    2. I also know I should work with my own hands so that I can be generous to those that need help. Eph. 4:28
    3. I know as well that I should do good to all men, especially my fellow Christians. Gal. 6:10

    None of this however, requires me to be poor,to be a Communist, or to not have any personal property, or give away everything I own.

    It’s a nice thought, but it never works out in real life.

    With all of that being said, the North American church is way to preoccupied with buiding buldings instead of building people. We should get rid of our church properties, meet in homes, and use the formerly wasted funds to take care of the widows,orphans, and other helpless persons who meet the qualifications laid out in scripture.

  5. 5-2-2012


    Yes, I can imagine it, and I’m learning to live it day by day.


    I don’t think the Anabaptists of the 16th century could be accused of “stirring this up and getting the emotions high on the unsuspecting to fleece the flock.” God always leads us to love others. And, as John wrote, if we are not loving others, we are not loving God.


    The New Testament contains alot of the “should” word also. It is not law; it is teaching, exhorting, correcting, admonishing, rebuking, etc.


    Thanks for continuing this discussion. I don’t think I agree with anything that you said. Of course, with the tendency to greed, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” has to been turned toward the self (me) instead of toward others. Your example of churches giving money for their own benefit is one expression of this.


  6. 5-2-2012

    Alan, I think you agree with me more that you realize. :)

    “…with the tendency to greed, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” has to been turned toward the self (me) instead of toward others.”

    You acknowledge in your statement that the problem is a ‘tendency to greed’, which is the same as my statement that ‘Greed is a spiritual problem’. So we are in agreement on this point.

    Spiritual issues like a tendency to be greedy will be a problem in any system. I don’t disagree with your overall idea that we shouldn’t be greedy, I just get weary of hearing all the world’s problems being blamed on the wrong cause. Greed did not suddenly enter the world when the US came into existence. The problem is and always has been sin.

    With all of this being said, I like the anabaptist statement you are discussing.

  7. 5-2-2012


    I agree that we are very close here. I would suggest that the American Dream (or what it has become) is built on greed. This article about the American Dream stands in stark contrast to what Spittelmayr wrote above, especially this: “I will not work that my house be filled, that my pantry be supplied with meat, but rather I will see that my brother has enough…”


  8. 5-2-2012

    This is the first time I’ve come on this blog and found it very interesting, especially because it doesn’t necessarily make statements but rather brings certain ideas into light and questions them in order to understand the essence of some practises and what should be changed, giving the reader the idea that nothing is being placed on them, but rather constructed though meaningful and rational thinking according to the Bible – so well done, Alan!

    I understood the concept in which the quotation states, “A Christian should not have anything of his own but should have all things in common with his brother, not letting him suffer need” after reading it a few times and realising it was talking about material things. For I wouldn’t agree completely the idea if it was taken into other situations, for example, one not praying, “My Father” for He isn’t only my father, but other people’s too, or say, “God has given ME joy” rather than, “God has given US joy.” I find it helpful to call something “mine” to pursue its complete meaning and how God did it for ME because He loves ME. That doesn’t discard others in any way (of course God doesn’t only love ME – that’s not true!), it’s simply more personal and direct, making one realise how much they’re blessed for a King to do something for them, even though they are so “small and insignificant” comparing to the universe.

  9. 5-3-2012

    There is no silver bullet practice to provide us with healthy community or power from on high. Its not like poorer communities where sharing is typically more common have it all worked out.
    That said I do believe this is a huge part of living out the gospel that is largely missed in many christian circles. Its part of how we model to the world a better way. Easier to realize when we genuinely need one another as opposed to entering into it voluntarily even though we could live in a self sufficient manner.
    I too miss my days of living in 24/7 christian community, something very special about it.

  10. 5-3-2012

    Our family has transitioned into grown children all moving out and leaving three empty bedrooms this past year. As I repaint and fix their rooms we are seeking God with questions like “are there folks you want these shared with?” ” can we move to a poorer neighborhood where our lives not just our resources can be shared?” we don’t want to live upwardly reaching prosperity, but outwardly across to neighbors. We are praying through ideas that can develop community cohesiveness in people’s lives, businesses, and towns where simple discipleship and simple church plants can develop. I believe the script of sharing material things, “they had all things in common” is because they had a revelation that that there is nothing that a man has or is should separate one fom another, thus we are all the same. It is with this we all have need of Christ who comes for all, that we should thus live lives for all. If you don’t live lives WITH people all your giving may sound like clanging brass without the distinct message of The riches in Christ.
    I covet your prayers for our next transition.

  11. 5-3-2012


    Welcome to my blog! I agree with what you’ve said and with the context of this quote. It is true that God is my God and my savior. I think we must be careful in making that an individualistic statement. While God is my God he is not ONLY my God, but he is also our God.


    Forcing ourselves to do certain things because we find them in the pages of the New Testament does not change our heart. Our goal should be a hear that is changed by God – a heart that WANTS to do these things. So, the descriptions that we see in the New Testament can often work to show us where God desires to change our hearts.

    I especially like what you said at the end. One thing that I often say is that we don’t realize how much we need each other.


    Very exciting! Please keep us posted on how God leads you in this area of service to others!


  12. 5-16-2012

    Just read you post today (5-16-2012)

    “Do you find it easier to share when you have much or when you have little?”
    When we have little it is much easier to share what we have. For example in Luke 20-21, the widow put in her two mites it was all she had. It was logistically simple to give it all. The Pharisees would have had a much more difficult logistical problem to solve to give all they had. In this case the logistics were related to the heart in that their hearts are revealed by their actions; the Pharisees were ones who devoured widows houses but this little gal was generous to God with what was left. The God who sees will reward her and punish her oppressors.

    “Why do you think the voluntary sharing of property was so important to the early church or to the Anabaptists in the 16th century?”
    Only because of persecution. With out it it would have been not needed in general. When people become hunted and cannot hold a job because of being on the run they need brothers (includes sisters okay?) to help them. These were times for those who were not hunted to bear the burdens of hunted brothers. But when we can bear our own burden then we should not ask nor wish for our brothers to do it for us.

  13. 5-17-2012


    Persecution could be part of answer. However, I have visited parts of the world today in which people were extremely poor (the poorest in the world), and yet they were also very generous and hospitable. In one culture, there was persecution, but in the other, there was no persecution.


  14. 5-17-2012


    I agree. Hospitality and generosity are characteristics of God and His people. They should be abundantly present where we are in any culture or circumstance.

    However, the circumstances around the time of AD 33-70 Jerusalem was very harsh for some of the Christians. If they were put out of the synagog (which they were for claiming Jesus) they would be shunned by the society in such a way that was worse than a mere infidel but as a heretic. They were not only to be avoided but to be punished too. This would have created great hardship for them. Those who were fortunate enough to have assets (houses or lands) were compelled by the great need to sell them and lay them at the apostles feet for redistribution to those who lives were literally hanging in the balance. Similar circumstances were true during the early Reformation period.

    Absent of the great need I doubt that the people would have been moved by God to sell their assets for redistribution. They would been moved by God to be generous and hospitable but appropriate to the need. Inappropriate giving can lead to laziness and idleness.

    Today there are Christians and other people who live under great persecution and deprivation (think North Korea and South Sudan). They have great needs and those of us who live in freedom and plenty should not forget to help and share with these whose lives are hanging in the balance. What we do unto the least of the children of God we do unto Jesus our king.

    Thanks for your post and comments. This discussion motivates me to think how I may better allocate my resources to help those in need and not neglect to be hospitable and generous here at home too.


  15. 5-17-2012


    You said, “This discussion motivates me to think how I may better allocate my resources to help those in need and not neglect to be hospitable and generous here at home too.” Great! That’s one of the reasons that I write posts like this.


  16. 5-21-2013

    Great post, Alan! Those pesky Anabaptists are a thorn in the side of much of today’s Western Christianity.

  17. 5-21-2013


    Their example is often a thorn in my side.


  18. 5-21-2013

    No doubt! Same here, my friend.