Simple Life

1996 Church of the Brethren Statement

Because there is a need to revive and remember the Brethren heritage of nonconformity, plainness, and simple lifestyles as an alternative to the hurried excesses of modern life, and to educate ourselves, our children, and our new congregation in this basic tradition of our faith and stewardship….

Because cultural pressures against simple living are different for every generation, and the contemporary age of competition, media proliferation, and rapid technological change presents unique challenges to Christian simplicity….

Because Brethren can benefit from learning ways to practice corporate simplicity in the congregation, the district, and the denomination….

Because the discrepancy between the standard of living of many in the United States and that of many nations is so great….

Because to know what is simple is often complex, Brethren need counseling and guidance from the church to avoid the pitfalls of simplistic answers and legalism. We need education on matters such as overconsumption and sharing our wealth, as well as protecting our natural resources….

We, First Church of the Brethren, Springfield, Illinois, convened in congregational business meeting April 18, 1993, petition the Annual Conference through the District of Illinois and Wisconsin District Conference, to name a committee to study ways to reemphasize the Brethren tradition of the simple life and to discern its full meaning for our time.

Approved and passed to the Illinois and Wisconsin District Conference by First Church of the Brethren Council Meeting, Springfield, Illinois, April 18, 1993.

James Morgan, Board Chair
Tavia Ervin, Recording Secretary

Action of the Illinois and Wisconsin District Board: The District Board meeting September 25, 1993 at Virden, Illinois, recommended that this query be adopted and passed on to the District Conference.

Richard Koch, Clair
Kenneth O. Holderread, Secretary

Action of the Illinois and Wisconsin District Conference: Passed on to the Annual Conference by the Illinois and Wisconsin District Conference: The District Conference on November 5-7, 1993 held at York Center Church, Lombard, Illinois.

Judd Peter, Moderator
Christopher Bowman, Writing Clerk

Action or the 1994 Annual Conference: Emerson Fike, a Standing Committee member from the Shenandoah District, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee that the query be adopted with the goal to enable the Brethren in our time to discuss and encounter the Brethren testimony concerning the Simple Life.

Standing Committee suggests that a committee be formed and that Bethany Theological Seminary be asked to appoint a person with a seminary faculty appointment appropriate to this program to chair the committee. Standing Committee also asks that Annual Conference elect two additional members.

Standing Committee outlines its process expectations for the committee:

  1. As the committee plans its work, they will call on the needed resources not represented on the committee, e.g. the General Board staff.
  2. Any necessary support services and expenses will he discussed with and authorized by the officers of the Annual Conference, through the Annual Conference manager.
  3. By Annual Conference 1995, the committee will provide an Initial report proposing program objectives, process and budget.
  4. By the 1996 Annual Conference, the committee will report on the progress of the program at which time Standing Committee will recommend future direction for the program. (Among the options: The program could be continued under the direction of this committee, handed over to a program agency of the church, discontinued, etc.)

The delegate body adopted the recommendation of Standing Committee. It then elected Fletcher “Bud” Farrar, Jr., and Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm to serve on the committee with the Bethany Theological Seminary faculty appointment.

1996 Report

Jesus Christ gathers us as a community blessed with faith, with love for God and each other, and with hope in the coming reign of Christ which reorders our lives now. Simplicity is the Way of Jesus, God’s gift to us. The New Testament and the Holy Spirit’s guidance have led the Brethren to practice this plain way. We affirm our heritage that began with people like Anna and Alexander Mack, who gave their lives and wealth for God’s service until they died in material poverty and spiritual riches. Simplicity is living not conformed to the world, but transformed by Christ. Neither rules nor programs, neither simplistic answers nor legalism can fully define the simple life. Jesus’s way of simplicity is at the heart of the gospel. It is central to our faith and practice, not optional. To make it less than central is sinful. Simple living is sometimes difficult. But to those who embark on this humble journey God provides joy and peace.

The context in which we presently respond to the simple life is one in which most of the world lives on far less than we in North America consume. Since the last conference statement on Christian lifestyle, the gap between rich and poor in the world, in the United States, and among Brethren has widened. Many more people live in poverty. The number of children in poverty has grown. Lifestyles dominated by consumerism despoil the earth and deplete resources that could be shared with the poor. Such lifestyles separate us from the grace and humility of our lord Jesus Christ, who emptied himself for our sakes to give us another way of living.

The Way of Jesus is one of devotion to God.

Our love for God and neighbors is a treasure above all other wealth and possessions.

Single-hearted devotion to God draws us to cultivate spiritual disciplines that render us receptive to the Spirit: Bible reading and study, prayer and meditation, worship in the gathered community, service to others. Through these we can listen for and act on God’s leading, rather than bowing to serve the world which fragments us.

Devotion to God makes us aware that the earth and the fullness thereof belong to God. They are not ours to possess. Grateful thanksgiving to God abounds as we care for the earth and share its resources with those in need.

The Way of Jesus is one of integrating inward faith and outward expressions of daily living.

Integration honors time as God’s gift and remembers the Way of Jesus: patient, forbearing, unhurried.

Integration joins our words with the living Word of God so that our yes becomes yes and our no becomes no.

Integration of faith and living shows reverence for our bodies given to serve God, free from toxins, indulgences, and overwork. Our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit, not idols to gratify.

Integration guides us to compassion for those living in poverty.

Integrating faith and living keeps us from closing our hearts and hands against sisters and brothers in need when we have plenty. We will repent as thoroughly as Zacchaeus, who gave half his wealth to the poor and restored fourfold to those he had cheated. We will share as generously as Lydia and Barnabas. As Michael Frantz, colonial elder of the Conestoga congregation wrote, “As long as there is abundance and want, there is no pure genuine communion, for communion equalizes everything with the measure of love and the balance of love.”

Integrated lives will witness to peace rather than the false priorities of our culture which value military might.

The Way of Jesus is one of community.

We cannot live the simple life alone. We need the faith community to counsel and disciple us in the habits of simplicity. We need to uphold each other in this Way.

We need a faith community that models Jesus’ way by surrendering its own power, prestige, and possessions. Buildings and budgets, pensions and programs can obscure our vision and hinder our prayer. We, the church, can stand for Jesus only when we stand apart from the values of the world. Our sisters and brothers in poor countries can teach us much about joyous living in simplicity.

God redeems us to live in community with the created earth. We will care for God’s earth in ways that are sustainable.

The community of faith will discuss and discern specific ways to simplify, without resorting to one final description of simplicity to enforce. We will not shrink from acting in renewed ways that may seem difficult. May God renew us as thoroughly as the widow who, with the two coins she offered at the temple, gave all her living to God.

We repent of poor stewardship, of trusting wealth and possessions for security, of abandoning Christ’s way of living. We confess these sins and confess our faith in the gracious Way of Jesus.

With Christ at the center, the Bible at one hand, and the witness of the community at the other, we face temptation with faith and courage. When tempted to accumulate wealth, we will hear the voice of Jesus proclaiming, “Seek ye first the Kingdom.” When tempted to hurry and be busy, we will hear our spirit forebears calling, Seek ye first the Kingdom.” When we covet power, prestige, and possessions, we will join our sisters and brothers in the church singing, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.”

Jeffrey A. Bach, Chair
Fletcher Farrar, Jr.
Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm

Committee’s expenses related to travel, lodging, and meals from December, 1994
to March, 1996…………………………………………………………………………….$1,003
Estimated additional expenses……………………………………………………………$250

Action of the 1996 Annual Conference: The report of the Annual Conference Study Committee on the Simple Life was presented by Jeffrey A. Bach, chair, with other members of the committee present. The delegate body adopted the Simple Life Statement without amendment.