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Johannes Werner Klein

–From  “Die Gründer Der Christengemeinschaft: Ein Schicksalsnetz” by Rudolf F. Gaedeke, translation by Rev. Cindy Hindes

June 24, 1898, Düsseldorf – March 9, 1984, Hamburg

The first one who really asked for religious renewal in such a way that the answer could be an offer of help, but also the first one to break out of the community consecrated to the spirit, was Johannes Werner Klein. Within his being, he had to unite the greatest polarities, which continued to have an effect throughout his life.

His father, Alfred, a lawyer in Düsseldorf and a great patron of the arts, had a daughter and a son from his first marriage. When his wife died, his second marriage was to Helene Portig, a Lutheran pastor’s daughter from Bremen. They had four children, three daughters and a second son Johannes Werner, who thus grew up with five siblings. He was born on June 24, St. John’s Day, 1898, and at seventeen (1915), we already see him going to war with patriotic enthusiasm. He became an officer, fought in Russia, and in the following years at the front in France.

In the spring of 1918, when he was in the hospital near Sedan with a severe fever, he clearly realized that the war was lost for Germany – and with it, his highest personal ideal. During a short home leave, which he had surprisingly been granted, he consciously wanted to say goodbye to his relatives. He thought he would not survive the following final phase of the war and wanted to be prepared for death. Thus it happened, when he was with his parents for a few days in the Harz mountains for recreation, that he saw a girl from afar, and this encounter tore him out of his composure in view of death. Now he wanted to live because he felt spontaneously connected to her. Later he learned she was engaged.

The day of the armistice in 1918 approached, and afterward, the retreat of the troops from Metz via Worms and Heidelberg to Franken. In a small village in that quarter, the experience of the collapse of a world and its ideals became overwhelming. Victory for the Fatherland was nothing, his ideal nothing, but he was alive – only, for what?

The girl was engaged. He put the gun to his temple. A glance in the mirror opposite showed him his own face. This kept him from doing the extreme. On New Year’s Eve 1918, he was released into his personal life – but for what? Life – for what?

LifeFor What? that became the title of his memoir, which he published at the age of eighty. From a distance of fifty years, some things in it do not correspond with what he wrote and did in the 1920s, especially concerning the founding of The Christian Community.

At that time, at the beginning of 1919, he lacked inner stability. He found no direction, no goal. He experienced his environment absent-mindedly and dreamily. Then one of his sisters told him about anthroposophy. She gave him a book to read, Edouard Schure’s The Great Initiates. Yes, if what was written there were true! – Once again, the military called, and later, he joined the “Freikorps” [Volunteer Corps] against the Spartacists [Marxist revolutionary movement] in the Ruhr area and at the Lower Rhine. At the same time, Johannes Werner Klein attended lectures at the Düsseldorf College for Municipal Administration. Should he become a lawyer like his father? He also attended introductory evenings in anthroposophy. Should he study theology, as his maternal grandfather wished?

In all this turmoil, painting made him happy and comforted him. He painted many pictures. There were also symbolic ones among them, which were supposed to express his inner self.

On June 24, 1919, on his 21st birthday, one day after the peace treaty of Versailles, he was finally finished with warcraft. He returned to the forests of the Harz Mountains to recuperate. There,  the decision matured to study theology, but he also continued to paint. On July 17, 1919, he wrote, “The decision has been made to take up and carry out the difficult fight. I want to become a theologian. The church is rotten. Who will help to rebuild it?”

He traveled to Friedrich Rittelmeyer, who was staying at Wilhelmshöhe above Kassel for a cure and discussed his study plan with him at this first meeting. Rittelmeyer advised him to come to Berlin. He, however, chose Munich.

He traveled there in late summer. The artistic life, the nature of the nearby high mountains and lakes inspired him to many undertakings. But it did not hold him. He sought peace and quiet, a quieter environment, and fled Munich after eight weeks. He arrived in Marburg during the night. On the steep slope below the castle, he found a student dormitory. First, he took the Hebrew exam after preparing for two and a half months. He had been told that one of the theology students was an anthroposophist. He sought him out at 18 Market Street, on the second floor. It was Martin Borchart. A friendly working relationship with him began.

On November 22, 1919, Johannes Werner Klein wrote in a letter: “The ideal that I have in mind is the establishment of a large, spirit-borne, Christian people’s church. You know my veneration for the Catholic cult as the guardian of true, great mysteries … But as a human being, I am faced with the fact that the Catholic Church failed during the war, like any other … it rules by authority, mixed up with the power of the mysteries … We demand the achievements of Protestantism for all people: Freedom of spirit and freedom of conscience … Only on anthroposophical ground can the new church be built …”

As certain as these sentences sounded, his moods and judgments were repeatedly unsteady. First came a year of “doubts and deepest depressions. 1920 became the darkest year of my student days.” Anthroposophy could not be worked out in such a way that it gave secure support and grounding. Also the university business with its “gray science” did not offer this grounding; ”Satan-Lucifer, whom I love,” entered into the temptation. “I was morbidly sensitive.” From his major of theology, he changed to philosophy.

But right at the beginning of that year, fate had given the first sign. Martin Borchart had asked him to go with him to Dornach. Yes, Johannes Werner Klein wanted to go with him, before the circumstances would no longer allow such a trip abroad. And he wanted to speak with Rudolf Steiner.

On Sunday, February 8, 1920, in the Dornach studio, where the large statue of the overcomer of all temptation stood with its mighty pointing gesture next to Rudolf Steiner and Johannes Werner Klein, Klein asked, in the sense of Schelling, about the third church beyond Catholicism and Protestantism. “If you want to do that and find the necessary forms for it – the forms can be found –  then that means something quite great for humanity …. My task is a different one … You must do it yourself.”

Thus Johannes Werner Klein quoted Rudolf Steiner in his book (p. 79). But therein lies one of his later distortions. For in 1924, Klein referred to this conversation for his colleagues as follows: “If you carry out what you intend to do – and the forms can be found for it …. ”

Already at that time, Klein had made the mistake that he himself should create the “forms.” He had made a plan for himself: to finish his studies, to study all the rituals of humanity, to proclaim anthroposophy, to build up an organization, to form a new cultus. For this, the years were set at least until 1933. He experienced his youthful faith in himself strengthened by Rudolf Steiner. Rudolf Steiner had meant he would be able to help, even though his mission was that of spirit knowledge. For inner strengthening, Johannes Werner Klein received a meditation from Rudolf Steiner. Rudolf Steiner had to wait for the proper understanding of his first answer.

Further storms passed through Johannes Werner Klein’s soul, excited by the Kapp-Putsch (an attempted coup to overthrow the Weimar Republic in 1920). He sought tranquility through a period of living with the Benedictine monks in the monastery at Beuron. He immersed himself in the study of anthroposophy with Martin Borchart. He wrote more than two hundred pages about his war experiences and became a leader of youthful hiking groups, all combined with the highest, emphatic enthusiasm, alternating with the deepest depression. Again, the melancholy fir forests of the Harz Mountains were a place of refuge, where he made the decision for more concentrated study. The philosophies of Kant and Fichte began to bring about an inner consolidation. The philosopher Nicolai Hartmann (1882-1950) became his lifelong teacher in abstract thought.

It was not until Easter 1921, on the occasion of the second Hochschule course in Dornach, to which Martin Borchart was able to send his friend Johannes Werner Klein with difficulty, that the latter met Gertrud Spörri, whose theological studies he ironically attacked. But when she replied that Rudolf Steiner had said he was ready to give an intimate course for theologians, Klein awoke from his misconception that he himself should inaugurate the movement.

Now he began – in contrast to the descriptions in his book – an intensive activity. He wrote a “requesting letter” to Rudolf Steiner and, together with Gertrud Spörri, gathered the eighteen people who, after Gottfried Husemann had reformulated the request, received the June Course.

While in summer 1921, these participants worked intensively on the enlargement of the circle, Klein withdrew again and took long hikes in the Black Forest and in the Alps. During the autumn course of 1921 in Dornach, he also kept a low profile and gladly left the leadership and the initiatives to Emil Bock.

In the winter of 1921/22, Johannes Werner Klein was accepted into Nicolai Hartmann’s closest circle of students in Marburg through a semester paper on Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit.” It resulted in the “triumph of my academic career” in the personal-philosophical life of this circle.

But the activities of the new movement foundered. Johannes Werner Klein attributed this also to his own “second failure” at the autumn course in Dornach. That is why at the turn of the year 1921/22, Martin Borchart, Kurt Willmann, and he (for the second time) went to Tübingen to Dr Hermann Heisler. Klein, who had taken over collecting the funds, felt left alone in the monastery of Beuron. Again, in the distress of a feeling of guilt because of his passivity towards the movement, an impulse drove Johannes Werner Klein – but what should happen?

A conversation between Heisler, Borchart, Klein, and Rudolf Steiner came about in January 1922 in Mannheim at the Röchling house. Rudolf Steiner suggested that the founders should put their will in writing. And those who had written such a memorandum then met on the occasion of the Berlin university course in March 1922 in the confirmation hall of the New Church. Friedrich Rittelmeyer was then present in this circle for the first time.

Now Johannes Werner Klein set out intensively on a great journey and gathered all who were determined into the circle that was forming more and more. His studies in Marburg were abandoned; an essay for the first pamphlet was written. They met for the gathering in Breitbrunn, and even before the ordination of priests with the first Act of Consecration was carried out in Dornach, the first circle of the new hierarchy of the priesthood was formed under Rudolf Steiner’s advice. Johannes Werner Klein took over the office of Oberlenker.

He had already formed a first congregation with Rudolf Meyer during the summer in Bremen. There he celebrated the first Act of Consecration in this circle in October 1922, before Friedrich Rittelmeyer held the first public service on November 12, 1922, in the Martinikirche, the old fishermen’s church in Bremen. Johannes Werner Klein began the Hamburg congregational work – after much preparation by the local pastors Hermann Heisler, Carl Stegmann, Thomas Kändler, and Rudolf Meyer – with the ordination of the latter on October 20, 1922.

Lecture tours, contributions at conferences, courses at the seminary in Stuttgart, essays for the magazine (from 1924), and the third volume of the series Christ of All the Earth were his most important works for The Christian Community, in addition to his parish activities in Bremen and, since Christmas 1922, in Hamburg.

The volume Baldur und Christus shows Johannes Werner Klein’s thinking and sensing at that time. The chapter on the Gospel of John already contains the beginning of a decades-long connection with this topic, which much later resulted in his writing Ihr seid Götter [You are Gods]. The booklet Baldur und Christus (Baldur and Christ), published in 1923 by Michael-Verlag, Munich, ends with the motif of the community of all Michael-fighters for the new spirituality.

The priesthood is grateful to Johannes Werner Klein not only for his first question of religious renewal to Rudolf Steiner and all his subsequent activities, however much these may have alternated with phases of weakness for him, but also for the fact that Rudolf Steiner connected his last course in the fall of 1924 with the theme of the Apocalypse of John.

In the spring of 1924, Johannes Werner Klein had not only received medical advice from Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman; Rudolf Steiner had also told him that the deep relationship with that strange, once-seen girl was an old connection of destiny. Klein interpreted this to mean that his will to the priesthood had its origin in her. He had sent her the booklet Baldur and Christ as an occasion for a re-encounter, which took place. In the following years, Johannes Werner Klein sought again and again meetings with Emma (Emma Krille, the name of that girl). She had long since married and later had a daughter. From August 16, 1918 on, he only called her ‘Petra.’ At first, everything was internally driven, which is only too clear from Johannes Werner Klein’s description. He pushed himself into the existing family and, from 1927, lived in Hamburg with the Krilles in the house maintained by them.

From his own descriptions, it is to be noted how he projected far too much of his own into this ‘Petra’ and how dependent he was on these imaginings. One of his later friends, a connoisseur of C.G. Jung’s psychology, judged that this relationship was a typical ‘anima projection’ in Jung’s sense …

Everything had to be subordinated to ‘Petra.’ Johannes Werner Klein resigned from the Anthroposophical Society. This was prompted by Marie Steiner’s preface to the first book edition of Rudolf Steiner’s cycle on the Gospel of John in Hamburg in 1908, which he considered to be a falsification of history in relation to the founding of The Christian Community. In the summer of 1928, he demanded from Rittelmeyer and the leadership, under threat of self-destruction, the recognition of his identity with ‘Petra’ and his task, and only wanted to continue to serve the community – to which he had, after all, pledged himself – under the condition of complete freedom from it. This could not be granted to him. He resigned from his office as Oberlenker and pastor of The Christian Community, its first apostate (April 1929). “The darkest point of my life had been reached.”

After a dramatic confrontation with ‘Petra’ and her husband, he wanted to leave for South America; but as he was on his way, ‘Petra’ met him at the Bremen train station and brought him back to Hamburg. The three of them continued to live together in the Krille’s house.

The most important reason for Johannes Werner Klein’s departure from The Christian Community was that his spiritual view of the Lord’s Supper was no longer compatible with a physically practiced communion as celebrated in the Act of Consecration of The Christian Community. Although he spoke so much about the meeting of spirit and matter, and was so connected with the Gospel of John, the actual Johannine aspect of the renewal of the ritual remained closed to him. For him, it was too “Catholic,” too “Petrine.” He found no backing for sacraments in the gospel. (All this is especially clear in his writing Ihr seid Götter. Die Philosophie des Johannes- Evangeliums. Pfullingen: Neske 1967, S. 114-129. [You Are Gods. The Philosophy of the Gospel of John, Pfullingen: Neske 1967, p. 114-129.]) For him there was now only Petra.

In the following years, Johannes Werner Klein lapsed into national socialism. He became a party member and, for a short time, a district speaker. “National Socialism is the birth force of the new becoming,” he proclaimed in 1934 at the opening of the Volkshochschule Cuxhaven. “We need Eros, friend. Logos is completely exhausted,” he wrote to Claus von der Decken in August 1933. After Emma Krille’s divorce, he married her during the Second World War. After the war, Johannes Werner Klein lived from his lectures and courses, which he held in northern German cities.

In 1984, five years after the publication of his memoirs, which are written in a Luciferic, phrase-like language, Johannes Werner Klein died in Hamburg. He had written his eulogy himself: a single eulogy on Petra, his ‘rock.’ She took her own life a few months later.

The Christian Community has much to thank him for in its formative years. Despite the understanding of his personal fate, it must be said that he stands as an example for the will to the renewed priesthood from the truly free individuality, which is not properly founded in anthroposophy.

MEMORANDUM Marburg, January 29, 1922

The development of our religious movement in the last four months prompts me to state the following in an overview:

The starting point of our striving was clear and unambiguous. It consisted of the question: How can we reach the foundation of viable Christian congregations? – And the spirit of our Stuttgart meeting in June 1921 left no doubt about it: Our problem was of a practical-social nature; our striving was religion, and the equipment that Dr. Steiner first demanded of us, was spirit.

As a technical precondition, there was also the demand for a small, firm organization, which should include all the strong-minded theologians who could be won over for this final goal.

Dornach, in autumn 1921, meant a setback to this spirit. Not only did a large number of the participants have nothing less than a community foundation practically in mind; their appearance also meant a paralysis for all the others. Dr. Steiner had to accept the given situation, and part of the time had to be sacrificed to theorizing and trivialities.

It did not come to any unfolding. The bearers of ideas were silent and failed to act; even the formula of obligation was signed by most of them without a clear consciousness of its implications. The negative attitude of the Dornach participants has hung like a stumbling block on our spiritual development ever since. Theology has prevailed over religion. However energetic and far-reaching the plans of the leadership, there are only theories above us. Where are the individuals? A state has arisen of indefinite listening and waiting for something that is supposed to come from outside or from above, which in reality can only be born from the spontaneity of the individual in a free decision of will. From time to time, however, news comes out of Berlin about the intention of a central preparatory activity and other honestly intended mental instructions, which are not suitable to raise the general joy of responsibility, decision, and determination. [Later handwritten marginal note by J. W Klein: “I do not uphold these judgments for today. At that time, however, they had such an effect on me.”]

It is just the spirit that has got lost, and where everybody should be, nobody is. It is high time that everyone should ask himself, deeply and decisively, what the cause to which we committed ourselves by signing, demands of each one of us today. The money question can no longer be called acute. But the personalities are missing. We are at a decisive turning point.

Therefore, all those who are able to come to a clear, unambiguous decision today should immediately unite in a first front line of workers and take action. For the decision (which no one can help the others to reach in any way) will not be much more or less than to break off and leave everything that is present and from now on to belong only to the matter on the basis of concrete, strong-willed perspectives.

And so, for my own part, I do not hesitate to declare to the other co-workers and to Dr. Steiner that, abandoning my philosophy studies and other educational endeavors, I henceforth want to serve directly only the active carrying forward of our religious movement and that I am available with my whole person.

Furthermore, I demand that during the University Week in Berlin from March 5 to 12, 1922, there should be a clear and unambiguous discussion about the type and competence of the leadership (see attachment) and the future development of the movement. For this purpose, the presence of all who are immediately available is necessary. Dr. Steiner has promised his appearance.

Thereupon, however, we should no longer disperse but join together, exerting all energies for a last teaching and education course. Place and opportunity will arise. And if we ask Dr. Steiner to lead the course in the same way as he trained the Waldorf teachers for their profession, he will certainly grant our wish. And just as certainly, according to his wish, the other teachers such as Rittelmeyer, Geyer, Bock, Rud. Meyer will assist him.

This course will not end until we are ready for practical work. For we cannot part in any other way than directly to our profession.

Notwithstanding our actions, the working organs of the movement will then have to develop further. In particular, a seminary must be founded as soon as possible in order to be able to supply those outside with ever new helpers.

If we are filled with the right attitude and succeed in awakening a supra-individual, objective spirit in all of us as a body, then success is assured.

Johannes Werner Klein

The Eucharist

First published as The Metamorphosis of the Eucharist by The Christian Community in New York in about 1954. This edition, revised by James H. Hindes, published by Floris Books in 1995. All rights reserved. NOTE: This is the complete pamphlet.

1. Introduction
2. The New Testament
3. Early Christian services
4. Archetypal structure
5. Pre-Christian mysteries and the Eastern Church
6. The western Mass and action
7. The Reformation
8. The Act of Consecration of Man
9. Gospel and Offertory
10. The Transubstantiation
11. The Communion

1. Introduction

On the eve of the event of Golgotha, on Maundy Thursday, Christ Jesus celebrated the Last Supper together with his disciples. He gave bread and wine and with them his ‘body’ and ‘blood,’ and charged them when repeating this to do it in remembrance of him. Out of this Last Supper has been developed the Eucharist, the ritual of the Mass. It is now celebrated by The Christian Community, Movement for Religious Renewal, in its new form, still containing the four main parts: reading of the Gospel, Offering, Transubstantiation and Communion.

The question sometimes arises: does this elaborated ritual really have any foundations in original Christianity? Is it based on the New Testament? The Protestant Church tried to keep close to the letter of the New Testament, and rejected everything which in the further course of Christendom seemed to have been added to the text of New Testament scripture.

There is no doubt that the New Testament is the basic, classical book of Christianity. Through the modern science of Anthroposophy, which is a science of spiritual knowledge, a new possibility is given to acknowledge the ‘inspired’ character of the New Testament writings. It is one of the tasks of The Christian Community to cultivate a new concrete understanding of the scriptures as documents of real inspiration. But we must not forget that for the first generations of Christendom the New Testament did not yet exist. The Epistles of St Paul were apparently written beginning about AD 50, the first three Gospels not before AD 60-70 and St John’s Gospel not until AD 100. It was not before the end of the second century that these writings were combined into a New Testament. The canon of the New Testament was not definitely fixed until AD 393 by the Church synod at Hippo Regius in North Africa. In this process of bringing together these twenty-seven writings, which constitute the wonderful spiritual organism of the New Testament, we venerate an act of divine guidance and providence, an act of inspiration. Nevertheless the first Christian generations had to do without these writings. Instead of this they had the apostolic nearness of the Christ event, and they had the Eucharist. The Christian Church lived for a certain time without a New Testament, but it never lived without the Eucharist from the very beginning.

The Eucharist is first mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, after the experience of the Holy Spirit at Whitsun: ‘… they broke bread in the houses with spiritual rejoicing’ (Acts 2:46). This is the first Eucharist after Holy Thursday and a first metamorphosis can be seen. The Last Supper was celebrated in a mood of leave-taking which was overshadowed by the events to come. After Whitsun a jubilant mood was experienced. The Greek word, agalliasis, means more than ‘joy’; it is a kind of spiritual enthusiasm and exaltation. The Last Supper had been a farewell meeting. After Pentecost it was like a first dawn of his second spiritual coming.
From the beginning the Eucharist was never a mere repetition of the Last Supper. The latter is like a seed which now begins growing. One cannot argue against the growing plant that it is different from the seed. There is identity, but there is also metamorphosis.

The Last Supper, on the eve of Good Friday, is a kind of anticipation, a prophetic summary of the event of Golgotha. It reveals what Christ and his deed mean to man: that Christianity is not only ‘doctrine’ and ‘ethics,’ that Christ is not only a teacher and an example, but that he descended to earth as a divine being and transformed his divinity into humanity by going through death and resurrection. He transformed the ‘wave-length’ of his divinity into that of humanity and thus became accessible and ‘communicable.’ Now we are to ‘eat’ and ‘drink’ him spiritually in order to be more and more penetrated by his heavenly substance. The essence of Christianity can be seen in Christ offering himself to his followers: ‘eat’ and ‘drink’ me, take me into your whole being.

That which is demonstrated in anticipation in the Last Supper received its fulfilment through Golgotha, through death and resurrection. After this fulfilment the Eucharist is no longer the anticipation but now conveys the substantial radiation and emanation of this great deed.

During the forty days to Ascension and in the ten days from Ascension to Whitsun we do not yet hear about the disciples celebrating the Eucharist. But immediately after Whitsun they begin. At Ascension Christ grew into a new form of existence, definitely outgrowing his former Jesus-existence which limited him to a certain spot in the spatial world. In his Ascension, he weaves his original divinity together with his humanity which he took through his earthly life and death. Thus his resurrection body reaches its full capacity to be omnipresent. At Whitsun, in an act of spiritual awakening, the disciples threw off a certain spell of dullness and dream under which they had lived through the preceding weeks. It is a remarkable fact that the manifestations of the risen Christ after Easter were not yet able to induce the disciples to preach this message to people beyond their own intimate circle. With Pentecost they proved to be strong enough to do so. As Christ had overcome the last limitations and restrictions of his existence at Ascension, so the disciples overcame their limitations of consciousness and will power at Whitsun. Thus they started celebrating the Eucharist by ‘breaking bread in the houses.’ Christ’s prophetical saying, that he would celebrate his meal ‘anew in his father’s kingdom’ (with which he united himself at Ascension) begins to fulfil itself.

The Essence of Christianity

1. The Riddle of Man’s Being
2. The Creation of Man
3. The Loss of Paradise
4. A Godless World
5. When the Time Had Fully Come
6. The Son of God and the Son of Man
7. The Mystery of the Powerless God
8. The Healing Power of the Christ
9. Christendom
10. History and Mysticism
11. Apocalyptic Prospect

Chapter 1: The Riddle of Man’s Being

The nature of Christianity is inseparable from the question of man’s own nature. Modern awareness feels this question weighing ever more heavily: ‘What is man all about?’ Human existence is no longer seen as clear-cut and obvious but is called into question. It has actually become questionable. Is there any meaning at all in being ‘human’?

How often do we see the miraculous promise of early childhood collapse and perish in the empty routine of the adult world -a promise unfulfilled, unredeemed. Moreover, we can observe how the power of human thought resulted in the awful realities of poison gas and the atom bomb, while undirected emotional power wanders into greed and hatred. We witness daily the tragedies resulting from our inability to live together in peace at every level: peoples, races, classes, neighbours, families, marriages, and even, ultimately, the individual’s struggle in living with himself. Indeed, all of us have experienced that sudden sigh within – perhaps on a walk in the country – which announces the thought: ‘How beautiful the world would be without people!’ Yet, put differently, this amounts to saying: ‘How beautiful the world would be without its crowning creation!’ This paradoxical statement brings us face to face with the whole troublesome riddle of man’s existence. What kind of peculiar creature is it who, on the one hand, is such a miracle of divine creation, and yet can be more malevolent and horrible than the wildest beast? Is there not obviously something wrong with man?

How are we to make sense of all these contradictions?

It is our very labouring with this burdensome riddle which offers us the maturity to recognize and accept Christianity. As modern men we are able to look at Christianity afresh and with the best intellectual conscience. That we are able to do so, and to see in it the great, decisive concern of humanity, we owe to anthroposophy (wisdom of man), the body of knowledge made available by Rudolf Steiner.

Although Christianity entered the pages of history only at a specific historical moment, it must be seen in a broad human context. Thus from its inception, Christianity included in its view of the world the wisdom of past ages as preserved in the Old Testament. Let us first direct our attention to this prehistory of Christianity.

Baptism in The Christian Community

Translated by Eva Heirman. First published in 1982 in Dutch under the title Noem mij bij mijn diepste noam. Doop en geboorte in de Christen gemeenschap by Uitgeverij Christofoor, Zeist. in 1982. First published in English by Floris Books in 1985. © Andreas Stichting, Den Haag 1982. This translation © Floris Books. Edinburgh, 1985.

NOTE: This is abridged from the original.


1. Why Baptism? Baptizing small children. Preparations

2. Godparents and their task. Looking for godparents

4. The form of the service and the substances used

5. The Christian Community. Church and membership

6. The influence of Baptism in everyday life

1. Why Baptism? Baptizing small children. Preparations

Baptism has always held an important place in Christian religious life. Many people, even those who rarely go to church or have lost their faith, still wish to have their children baptized. But tradition does not necessarily justify the continued existence of this sacrament in a modern conception of Christianity. Insights into the process of incarnation, birth and baptism, or observations and experiences concerning the effect and meaning of the sacraments in a Christian community, can lead to a conscious decision to have a child baptized.

Here we arrive at an important question: May we make decisions for a child that is not yet capable of his own decision-making? Obviously, he cannot understand what is entailed. Should we not go back to adult baptism? To find the answers we have to look more closely at the source and development of Christian baptism.

The Gospel describes how John the Baptist baptized in the River Jordan those people who came to him of their own free will. The event was so moving that those involved confessed their sins and experienced a complete inner change. This was possible because it was not a shallow symbolic act but an act of initiation whereby man is brought into connection with his divine, heavenly origin. John brought people to the brink of death through drowning, so that the spirit in man freed itself from the physical body and the inner eye opened to the spiritual world. That is why the Gospel speaks of a ‘turning’ (Greek metanoja) rather than ‘conversion’ as it is so often translated. It was a dramatic experience, and that must be one of the reasons it was a sacrament for adults.

The object of the baptism as John the Baptist performed it, was twofold: the cleansing (katharismos) and enlightening (Photismos) of the recipient. These two elements are very noticeable in the way the Christian baptism was originally carried out. Through baptism the soul was purified. As Paul expressed it: ‘but you were washed’ (lCor.6:1l). The vision of a higher world was experienced as an ‘enlightening’. In Roman Catholic circles it is still the custom to give a baptized baby a white cloth and a candle as christening gifts; in this way both elements are expressed.

Only adults were baptized during the first few centuries of the Christian world. We can assume that the danger involved in infant baptism by submersion became too great and that therefore, by about 350 AD, an infant baptismal ritual was introduced. With this, naturally, the whole character of baptism changed, but this was not carried through to completion in the Churches where it is still essentially an adult undertaking carried out on infants. Infant baptism retained both the confession of sins and the joining of the church. This cannot be demanded of a child, let alone a baby. Still, questions were put to the child and answered by the godparents on his behalf. Only when Baptism acts as a spiritually sacramental addition or completion of birth, can we speak of a true ‘child baptism’ as in The Christian Community. Subsequently, the main reason for an adult form of baptism falls away as this is not essential to commit oneself to a community. Who then would wish to deny a child this gift when he can freely receive it!

Apart from these points we need not place too great an emphasis on the question of making decisions for a young child. We shall have to make countless decisions regarding diet, clothing, and education throughout the child’s life. And we should realize that by not baptizing the child we have also come to a decision. Maybe the unborn or newborn child can influence our decision. It is not unusual for parents to have a definite feeling that their children helped them to decide. It is important to ask oneself ‘Why do I want to have this child baptized?’ even if other children in the family have already been baptized.

The search for godparents should begin before the birth so that they too can prepare themselves for the birth, the baptism, and their specific tasks as godparents. Often, only one consultation between parents, godparents and priest is possible owing to inadequate or late preparation and this is not really enough. The quality of anticipation is greatly enhanced when we increase our awareness of the meaning of baptism and the shared responsibilities it entails. Some people may feel this to be premature, but the experience of others indicates that preparation for baptism before the actual birth is very valuable. For the child it is best to be baptized as soon as convenient, preferably within the first six weeks of life. (In The Christian Community it is unusual to receive this sacrament beyond the fourteenth year.) Ideally, the godparents should also experience the sacramental life of the Community before the Baptism, so that they gain some perception of it and it is in the best interest of the child if they also meet those with whom they will be sharing their responsibility, namely the congregation.