ANDREAS Ehrenpreis is not a well-known name in church history, but what he managed to do is truly astonishing. Born in 1589 in Illingen, Germany, Andreas was brought up as an Anabaptist – a persecuted, radical Christian movement that emphasised faith, peace and justice. At seven years of age, his family joined a Hutterite community in Morovia, modern-day Czech Republic.
The Hutterites were founded by Jakob Hutter (1500-1536) as a church that believed that community of goods is something all Christians should practice. However, as Andreas Ehrenpreis was commissioned as a minister of the Word in 1621, things had changed drastically.
Community was not practiced the same way as before – people usually laid aside money for themselves and stored various luxuries. Some bought weapons to defend themselves against persecutors, despite the church’s official, pacifist stance. As the Mennonite Encyplopedia puts it, “moral slackening was observable everywhere”.
Facing this, Ehrenpreis preached about the movement’s roots and inspired his brothers and sisters about community again. In 1639, he was unanimously elected bishop, which gave him the opportunity to preach to the whole movement. He never chose to back down: he passionately argued for stricter disciplines, holiness and revival of the “first love”.
In his epistle Brotherly Community: the Highest Command of Love he writes:
“Passion and money is the root of all filth just as much for the miser as for the spendthrift. Those who love possessions should never forget that avarice is essentially nothing but idolatry. For men cling to money as they should cling to God. They serve it as they should serve God. Their idols are silver and gold. No one who is in the service of idolatry, impure passion, or love of money can come close to the kingdom of God. On these points, Christ the Lord is hard and inaccessible; His coming kingdom is closed to them. The man who knows this gives his goods to the poor so that they may bear fruit a hundredfold; if he acts otherwise, everything will be taken from him.”
Ehrenpreis also emphasised the importance of raising children according to Jesus’ radical teaching:
“The salvation of these young people is taken so lightly, so little value is set on it, that these defenceless young people are handed over to beasts of prey. They are practically pushed toward their ruin. They are delivered to the worst and most godless influences, which in the end must spell their ruin. Who can answer for that before God? The Holy Scriptures and the voice of our own consciences could and should protect us from this.”
One could think that such challenging teaching would lead people to abandon Ehrenpreis’ church. On the contrary, the movement was revitalised and strengthened. Instead of facing marginalisation or possibly extinction, the Hutterites lived on as a movement and still exist to this very day.
No wonder Ehrenpreis has been called the “second founder” of the Hutterites.