The commitment of the Church of the Brethren to living simply is evidenced in our slogan- “Peacefully. Simply. Together.” It is often easy to visualize the “peaceful” and “together” aspects of Christian life, but “simply” is discussed less frequently. To address this Brethren value more fully, Brethren Woods hosted “Simplify: A Simple Living Weekend,” in November. The conference brought together Christians interested in discussion about what this commitment to simplicity looks like in a world that values consumption, status, and material possessions.
Over the course of the weekend, the keynote speakers and panelists shared their personal experiences with living simply. Sam Funkhouser, a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church, New Conference, made the case for a radical change to a non-conformist lifestyle, in which we live out the theological calls for simple living. If we do it correctly, he argued, a desire to live simply would be seen as the “natural end to a life of repentance.” In workshops, he shared practical advice for increasing a car’s fuel efficiency and making ethical, sustainable, and simple clothes at home.
Jenn Hosler, co-pastor at Washington City Church of the Brethren, presented on the theological basis for a simple lifestyle. Citing Biblical passages calling for creation care, fair social practices and good stewardship, she drew connecting lines between Biblical teachings and the call for simplicity.
Other workshop leaders included Nancy Heisey, who shared about simple living as it relates to technology, and Yakubu and Diana Bakfwash, who presented on what servant leadership looks like in today’s world. While each speaker had a different approach to simple living, they all believed strongly that Christians are called by their faith to live out a commitment to simplicity.
In our culture, which values status and material possessions, it is not uncommon to feel as though we must hoard earthly wealth for security, respect and well-being. The Bible challenges this notion. The Parable of the Rich Fool was brought up many times in small group conversations. In this parable, a rich man tears down his existing barns and builds bigger ones, in order to store the excesses of his harvest. In doing this, he hoards his own excessive wealth at the expense of the hungry in his community. Jesus reminds his audience in this chapter to “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15).
A Gandhi quote that has become popular in our churches in recent years is, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” This call reflects the disparate living standards around the world, and the unsustainable nature of our own consumer culture. The earth does not have enough resources to support a humanity in which every person lives the type of lifestyle that most Americans enjoy.
The theological call to live simply is one that must be lived out in daily live, as a constant public witness. The way in which we live tells others a lot about our faith and worldview. One of the ways in which the Office of Public Witness works to encourage this simplicity in the ecumenical community is by supporting Creation Justice Ministries (CJM). Efforts to reduce the impact we have on the environment, and to reduce our excessive consumption, are key to working towards a simpler lifestyle.
The 1980 Annual Conference Statement on “Christian Lifestyle” says that “we cannot sit easily in the seats of wealth and power of an oppressive status quo.” As members of a society that uses more than our fair share of resources, our consumption directly impacts poor and marginalized people around the world. We push the cost of our cheap consumer goods off onto the underpaid factory workers that produce them, the children who breathe polluted air, and the communities burdened by the landfills and incinerators built to dispose of our trash. We must be intentional about confronting ourselves about the ways in which we are not faithful stewards, and work to reflect our commitment to simple living with real lifestyle changes.