VI. B. The Character of Den Enkelte

D. Fruitbearing/Obedience

My thesis is not that what is thus proclaimed in official Christianity ought not to be regarded as Christian. No, my thesis is that proclamation in itself is not Christianity. What I am concerned about is the "how," the personal enforcement of the proclamation; without that, Christianity is not Christianity.1

My duty is to serve truth; its essential form: obedience.2 Our examination of the inner-outer dialectic already has pointed us to the theme of this section, but we have yet to realize the extent of this fruitbearng-obedience emphasis in S.K. and the fact that it is not brought in merely for purposes of completing a dialectic but actually stands as one of S.K.'s strongest and most pervasive motifs.

The double term of the heading is necessary to suggest the full scope of the thought of both S.K. and the Brethren. The very word "fruitbearing" suggests that outward action, or "personal enforcement," as S.K. called it above, is the natural outgrowth, the proper and necessary consummation of true inwardness. "Obedience," on the other hand, suggests adherence to a directive, a command, or a counsel that has come to one from another; it connotes submission to a superior will. Although, in their abstract definitions, these two conceptions are quite distinguishable, and although both must be kept in view if either S.K. or the Brethren are accurately to be understood, nevertheless in practice the two ideas tend to merge. The fact is that the "fruit" which is the natural product of true Christian inwardness is loving and joyous "obedience" to God.

That there is this close connection between fruitbearing and obedience says a great deal about the character of the obedience that S.K. and the Brethren had in mind. S.K. got to the heart of the matter when, in the guise of Judge William, he offered an etymological analysis of the word "duty" (which is, of course, the direct corollary of "obedience"). The Danish word for "duty" is Pligt, apparently derived from paa ligget, "upon lying," i.e. "that which lies upon." "It is strange that the word "duty" can suggest an outward relation, inasmuch as the very derivation of the word [Pligt] indicates an inward relation; for what is incumbent upon me, not as this fortuitous individual but in accordance with my true nature, that surely stands in the most inward relation to myself. For duty is not an imposition [Paalaeg, literally, "that which is laid upon"] but something which is incumbent [paaligger, literally, "that which lies upon"]."3 Obedience, then, comes as the desired and desirable fruit of faith, something valued in and for itself, something germane to one's existence as den Entelte. Obedience definitely is not understood as a grudging concession, as something which, unfortunately, must he given in order to merit the rewards that are consequent to the painful sacrifice of one's own will. Paul Minear has pointed to this aspect of S.K.'s doctrine in his article which presents gratitude to God as a major Kierkegaardian motif. He suggests that S.K. saw obedience as motivated basically by thanksgiving for grace.4

The positive, happy quality of obedience was lifted up by S.K. in a statement which forms an amazing parallel to what Mack Senior had written over a hundred years earlier. S.K. said:

Be therefore as the child when it profoundly feels that it has over against itself a will in relation to which nothing avails except obedience--when you submit to be disciplined by His unchangeable will, so as to renounce inconstancy and changeableness and caprice and self-will: then you will steadily rest more and more securely, and more and more blessedly in the unchangeableness of God.5

Mack wrote:

[God] does not need the service of men.... [But] in order to redeem man from his perilous condition, God ordered through his Son that [certain] simple things be done. If a man does them in true faith and in obedience holds his reason captive, he will gradually become single-minded and childlike. It is just in this single-mindedness that the soul again finds rest, peace, and security.6

Clearly, "obedience" is a necessary concomitant of the concept den Enkelte, for it is precisely through obedience that one becomes single.

Although a number of the Brethren spoke to the theme of joyous obedience, it was Mack Junior who best expressed the thought-in verse:

Indeed, the world speaks: "Christ's teachings
Are not so to he understood
As though one were bound
To follow him in all things;
[For instance,] in poverty,
That certainly would be too much!"...
[Yet] all the words of his teachings
Taste to [Christians] like sweet sugar.
Their desire, indeed, their adornment and honor
Are his footsteps....
All that [Christians] learn from him
Tastes sweeter than honey;
Christ's spirit and word are ever
Their freedom and law.7

A concept of obedience that couples "law" and "freedom"--as Mack did in his concluding line--on first thought may seem a manifest contradiction, yet this gets directly to the point that both the Brethren and S.K. were concerned to make. Only through perfect submission and obedience to God does den Enkelte become free to achieve the simplicity and singleness of his own authentic existence.

From S.K.'s side, his most outstanding word regarding joyous obedience was:

The Christian serves with perfect obedience only one Master.... This life is a hymn of praise; for only by obedience can a man praise God, and best of all by perfect obedience.... The hymn is not something higher than obedience, but obedience is the only true hymn of praise; in obedience the hymn consists, and if the hymn is truth, it is obedience.8

Yet more moving than even these beautiful lines is S.K.'s personal testimony to the effect that "I have had more joy in the relation of obedience to God than in thoughts that I have produced... [and] indescribable bliss when I turned to Him and did my work in unconditional obedience."9

In one sense the remainder of this study is an exposition of what S.K. and the Brethren felt to be the specific content of their religious duty, that in which Christian obedience was to consist. But what will become very obvious there perhaps should be given initial consideration at this point. In the first place this obedience is never understood as being directed toward any other human being or group; it is not submission to any formal discipline or program. There is no spiritual superior, no order, no church that commands allegiance. This sectarian (and thoroughly Protestant) concept of obedience is at a considerable remove from that of monasticism or any such regimen.

In the second place, although this obedience is very closely related to inwardness, it retains an entirely objective focus. Obedience is never taken to signify "fidelity to my own true nature," "response to my own higher possibilities," or anything so esoteric as this. The Brethren, of course, would have been incapable of such sophistication; S.K. disdained it. Their concept of obedience necessarily assumed the presence of a "wholly Other" possessing a will and intention of his own and capable of communicating it to man.

Ultimately, then, both S.K. and the Brethren saw the source of authority, the seat of command, as being threefold. Primarily, one seeks to be obedient to the individual intention, the "custom-cut" will that God has in mind for each particular person, for den Enkelte. But the matter does not end on this level, as it does in atomistic spiritualism. Objective help has been provided for discovering and interpreting this subjective revelation--this in the life example and the teachings of Jesus Christ (to be examined in Chapter XII). The third seat of command, or rather the third link in the one chain of command, is, then, the document that preserves and transmits the gospel record, namely, the New Testament (to be treated in Chapter XIII). And the crucial culmination of the matter is this: in neither Brethren nor Kierkegaardian thought does obedience amount to a rather general and abstract quality of mind, a wholly inward submission to God; rather, it everywhere implies and customarily is spelled out in terms of the actual, concrete fulfillment of specified commands.

S.K. was adamant on this score, expressing it in some of his shortest and sharpest thrusts:

God is willing to understand only one sort of sincerity, namely, that a man's life expresses what he says.10
All my labor with respect to knowing has no effect upon my life, upon its lusts, its passions, its selfishness; it leaves me entirely unchanged--it is my action which changes my life.... Thy understanding [is] constantly to be expressed as action, warm, full, and whole, issuing instantly the instant thou hast understood something.11

And the Brethren had been just as convinced as S.K. was. When his Radical Pietist opponents put to Mack Senior a question regarding the necessity of outward actions in relation to inward experience, he gave the blunt answer: "The spiritual rebirth is nothing else than true and genuine obedience toward God and all of his commandments."12

As S.K. and the Brethren saw obedience as absolutely necessary to the Christian life, so did they see the quality of that obedience as being absolutely unconditional. It is impossible to overstate the case that S.K. put in these terms:

[God] demands obedience, unconditional obedience. If thou art not obedient in everything unconditionally, then thou lovest Him not, and if thou lovest Him not--then thou dost hate Him.... [It is inconceivable] that a little disobedience might not be absolute disobedience,... that the least, the very least disobedience, might in truth have any other name than ... contempt of God.... Reflect that every sin is disobedience, and every disobedience sin.13

Here, too, is one of the deep springs of the Kierkegaardian. sectarian protest against intellectualism; and S.K.'s statement raises a fundamental issue regarding the theological situation pertaining in our own day and age. There would appear to be a rather major divergence between S.K. and his "heirs." "People try to persuade us that the objections against Christianity spring from doubt. That is a complete misunderstanding. The objections against Christianity spring from insubordination, the dislike of obedience, rebellion against all authority. As a result people have hitherto been beating the air in their struggle against objections, because they have fought intellectually with doubt instead of fighting morally with rebellion."14 Quite explicitly, the "demythologizing" efforts of current existentialist theology presuppose that it is problems of intellectual formulation of the faith that have alienated modern man from Christianity; S.K. was of a different mind, and consequently his "theology" was of a much different character. S.K. considered that even the church (to say nothing of the world) was in a state of mutiny, despite the lip service that was paid. He saw only one means of bringing it to a stop: "I wonder if every individual is not duty bound toward God to stop the mutiny, not, of course, with shouts and conceited importance, not by omineering and wanting to force others to obey God, but by unconditionally obeying as an individual."15

The Brethren emphasis on obedience was every bit as forceful as S.K.'s. In fact this was the thrust of Mack Senior's Rights and Ordinances—to the point that he came perilously close to advocating a form of works-righteousness. He could make such statements as:

If you had been obedient in everything to me for ten or even more years, and I requested you to pick up a piece of straw, and you did not want to do it, I would have to consider you a disobedient child. Even if you said a thousand times, 'Father, I will do everything; I will work hard; I will go wherever you send me, but it does not seem necessary to me to pick up the piece of straw because it neither helps you nor me,' I would say to you, 'You are a disobedient wretch.'16
God looks only upon obedience, and believers are bound to obey the Word. Then they will achieve eternal life by obedience.17
What Jesus has ordained cannot be intentionally changed or broken by any person without loss of eternal salvation.18

It may be helpful to know that the author of the above lines was also a believer in the eventual salvation of all men and, as we shall see, that both the Brethren and S.K. took considerable pains to avoid the implications of works-righteousness; but these considerations in no way blunted their understanding of the Christian demand for unconditional obedience.

A further facet of the Brethren-Kierkegaardian concept calls for notice. This was a uniquely Christian concept, not only because it is Jesus Christ who is to be obeyed, but because he was himself the supreme example of obedience.19 And the fact that Christ was the pattern for obedience led to the conclusion that obedience necessarily will entail suffering. S.K. observed that "if it were possible for man to learn obedience toward God without suffering, then would Christ, as human, not have needed to learn it from suffering."20 The Brethren fully concurred in understanding this relationship as an essential one. In the public letter which they circulated prior to the first baptism, the note was struck: "We must publicly profess what Christ Jesus taught and did without hesitation or fear of men. We need not be ashamed and must above all suffer and endure all things with rejoicing."21 And almost a century later, Jacob Stoll asked the rhetorical question:

Does he who is indeed obedient
 and follows Him in lowliness and submission-- ...
Does he nevertheless experience
 Persecution, ridicule, and shame?22

It is difficult to give a true impression of how central and all-pervasive is the emphasis on obedience in S.K.'s religious works. It must suffice to note that five or six of his discourses treat obedience per se, quite apart from those that center upon following Christ, the duty to love, and such closely related topics. Once S.K. got past the idea of hidden inwardness, obedience became one of his major motifs.

Both in character and in emphasis, the Brethren doctrine was of a piece with S.K.'s, being beautifully summarized in a poem by Mack Junior:

But whenever the love of Christ
 Can penetrate a man's poor heart,
He begins of himself
 To sing a new song.
He seeks not pretences, forms, nor appearances;
 He will be only eagerly obedient.
Obedience is the stone
 Despised by all the world.
Obedience alone is
 That for which faith aspires.
Obedience is the treasure
 Buried deep in the field.23

But the most eloquent witness to this aspect of Brethrenism comes not out of any Brethren writings but from two outsiders contemporary with the early Brethren. One was Elhanan Winchester, the outstanding leader of colonial universalism, the other, Morgan Edwards, the equally outstanding Baptist pastor and church historian. Winchester wrote:

Such Christians as [the Dunkers] are I have never seen. So averse are they to all sin, and to many things that other Christians esteem lawful, that they ... [and he proceeds to list the things that Brethren do and do not do]. They walk in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, both in public and in private.... Whatever they believe their Saviour has commanded, they practice, without inquiring or regarding what others do. I remember the Rev. Morgan Edwards, formerly minister of the Baptist church in Philadelphia, once said to me, "God will always have a visible people on earth, and these are His people at present, above any others in the world."24

Copyright (c) 1968