Dear sisters, brothers, and friends, near and far, greetings to each of you! May the presence of God through the Holy Spirit, who is with us always, be a comfort and an encouragement to each of us!
Are you familiar with the term “mutual aid?” Brethren author Frank Ramirez, in his article Mutual Aid in the Bible and the Early Church, defines it like this: “It is expected that in greater and lesser ways, we take care of each other and put our stuff at each others' disposal when the need is there.”1 This Sunday, I’ll be preaching on a story from Acts 2:41-47 that recalls how the early Christians right after Pentecost practiced a particularly radical form of mutual aid. The Bible says, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). This might be one of the most notable times that mutual aid was practiced in the Bible on a large scale, but mutual aid is something you’ll find on the pages of both the Old and New Testaments.
Mutual aid is also a theme you can see throughout Brethren history. As you know, the first eight Brethren chose to be baptized even though that was illegal in Germany at the time. As a result, in their first few years of existence as a community, they were subject to persecution.2 To help one another survive, the first Brethren shared their money and possessions freely with one another. Alexander Mack, our founder, had some wealth initially, but he shared it so generously that he wasn’t sure where his food would come from for the next day.3 When the Brethren arrived in America, they continued this practice of mutual aid. All Brethren tried to be self-sufficient but when a need arose, the deacons of the church took up a collection to meet the need. Brethren were even known for keeping a guest room in their homes for anyone traveling through the area.4
Brethren soon expanded their practice of mutual aid from a congregational level to the denominational level. In the late 1800’s, Brethren formed the Mutual Aid Association. This organization helped Brethren coordinate their mutual aid on a larger scale. When there was a drought that affected Brethren in the west, Brethren in the east donated funds to help them. In the twentieth century, Brethren looked even further outward and became more aware of global concerns. Brethren mutual aid in the twentieth century is best known for helping to lead the relief effort in Europe after World War II. Organizations like Heifer International and Church World Service have Brethren roots.5
The practice of mutual aid has created a long history of witnessing to the love of Jesus. We see it throughout the Bible. We see it in our church history. We see it on a person to person level. We see it practiced within the church and with others beyond the church. We see it locally and globally. Today we face a health crisis and an economic crisis of historic proportions. I have already begun to see our church spring into action with mutual aid. I have seen mutual aid practiced among members of our church more times than I can count over the past two months! Plus, we are doing a great job of keeping the Blessing Box stocked with food to meet increased need. It warms my heart to see this tradition of radical love still going strong. As the twin crises that the world face progress in the months and years to come, how will the mutual aid we offer so well be expressed in new ways to fit the needs of new times? We’re often quite good at taking care of one another. How will we open our arms ever wider to comfort and care for persons we don’t even know yet?
In each century, Brethren have risen to the challenge and taken Jesus’ call to mutual aid to the next level. Our collective action has shared God’s love with all and made a difference in people’s lives. That sounds like a great vision for the next decade! I can’t wait to dream with you and act with you, For the Glory of God and our Neighbor’s Good!
- Pastor Tim
1. Ramirez, Frank. “Mutual Aid in the Bible and the Early Church.” Brethren Life and Thought 53, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 1–39. http://proxy.earlham.edu:2084/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lsdar&AN=ATLA0001753722&site=ehost-live, 1.
2. Durnbaugh, Donald F. “Mutual Aid in Ministry to God’s World.” Brethren Life and Thought 33, no. 2 (Spr 1988): 87–97.
3. Ramirez, 10-11.
4. Ramirez, 12-13.
5. Durnbaugh, 94-96.