Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Building the House of the Lord: Hutterian Architecture as an Expression of the Christian Faith

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Building the House of the Lord: Hutterian Architecture as an Expression of the Christian Faith

Article excerpt

Abstract: Throughout their history the Hutterites have understood their Haushaben, or colonies, to be living temples of God. The whole of each community, as the body of Christ, thus manifested itself as the place where God dwells. As the "last" church, the Hutterites wanted to pattern themselves after the "first" apostolic church, when there were no cathedrals or elaborate religious edifices. The Hutterites understood the ornate religious ceremony of the Old Covenant, including the physical temple structure itself, to be transitory, something that was coming to an end with the New Covenant of Christ. The gathered assembly, in and of itself, constituted the "church," and the only requisite was space enough to allow the members to gather in worship. Peter Riedemann in the 1540s and Leonhard Dax in the 1560s developed this Hutterian idea on the basis of biblical theology, parts of which are quoted below.


The sixteenth-century Hutterites saw themselves as part of the "last" church, taking their cues from the "first" church of the first century. They dismissed the evolving ecclesiastical developments of hierarchy and the welding of the church to the state as aberrations, regarding it as a departure from the original intent of Christ and his spiritual body, the living House of the Lord, as described in the New Testament.

As an Anabaptist group separate from the state-church, the total Hutterian community thus understood itself as being-in and of itself--the living temple of God. The shape and nature of the physical edifice where Hutterites met for worship thus held no intrinsic religious value for the Hutterites; the physical place of worship simply needed to be large enough to permit all members of that given community to come together in one place. Such a gathered people, conscious of being separate from general society, founded their faith and life upon their own understandings of biblical foundations, from the perspective of Christ's way and teachings.


Early in their history the Hutterites developed a written, biblical theology of the church, spelled out by Peter Riedemann in the early 1540s. Hutterites everywhere came to accept this interpretation as their general Hutterian confession of faith. It is the second part of the book, Account of our Religion, Doctrine and Faith, (1) and it is divided into seven segments. The whole adds up to a biblical recounting and interpretation of the full sweep of Jewish and early Christian history; the end result is a creative venture in expounding theology within a biblical purview, with an eye to describing faith within the flow of salvation history.

The first and second segments of Riedemann's biblical theology furnish clues for anticipating the nature of the Hutterian view of worship spaces and places. The first segment is titled: "How God Desires to Have a People Whom He Himself has Separated from the World and Chosen to be His Bride." The second segment is titled: "How the House of the Lord Should Be Built Up in Christ."

Although the second segment speaks more directly to the theme of the nature of Hutterian worship, it builds solidly on the first segment. Peter Riedemann's argument on the nature of this separate people of God goes something like this: God created the human race in his own image. The first humans transgressed and were thus driven from the Garden. Transgression increased, and God from time to time separated the godly from the ungodly. In due course, God established a covenant with Abraham and his people. Still later God reconfirmed his covenant with Moses, continuing down this path of maintaining a separate people: through Joshua, and then, via the Israelite kings. (2)

Riedemann at this point theologizes out of his strongly Christocentric position:

   Now, since all this--their land, glory, rule and later kingdom--is
   a sign and figure of the kingdom of Christ, and of Christ the king,
   which was promised beforehand and then later established, this
   driving out [of those who did not believe in the God of Israel] is
   nothing other than the separation of the believing from the
   unbelieving, who can neither be nor stand in the Church of God; for
   God desires to have an holy bride, who is without wrinkle, spot or
   blemish, holy, as he is holy. … 
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