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What is the Christian, more specifically Protestant, view of communal living? By communal living I mean things like shared housing and intentional communities.

I can't find any teaching that would prohibit communal living, yet it seems so rare. Is there a specific reason for this?

I'm also wondering why there are no large residential communities in Protestantism where people live together. For example, something like a monastery but without the vows and other things criticized by the Reformers.

I hope that's not too many questions!

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    – agarza
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 0:05
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    This would be only available anecdotally. If people share accommodation, it is not a matter of a 'Protestant view'. They dwell together because they love one another and are in fellowship with one another.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 0:47

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There are two similar questions here which might get confused.

First:

Are there Christian (Protestant) groups who believe that communal living is a necessary part of Christianity.

The answer is that there are, but they are very rare. The principal group that practices this are the Hutterites. You can read this article about their conflicts with Canadian governments and society in their practice of community living .

The second question is:

What branches of (Protestant) Christianity see community living as an acceptable way to live, for those that choose it.

The answer to that is "virtually all of them". Pretty much no Protestant group forbids community living, although many groups in the West would think it "weird" and maybe even socially problematic, but that would mainly be for social reasons ("nice middle-class people don't do that") and not theological or discipleship reasons.

Some examples of Christian community living:

  • "Religious" communities, i.e. monks and nuns. While this is mainly a Catholic practice, plenty of Protestants practice it also.
  • Have a look at the works of Shaine Claibourne, who is part of a group that practices community living.
  • Plenty of Christians (and others) practice community living in shared houses when they are too poor to live independently, particularly during student years. Some Christian colleges explicitly set up shared housing for students.
  • In my own church a number of families have explicitly set up "hospitality homes" where a group of people live in a shared home and invite others who need housing to join them on a temporary basis. Other groups of families have bought large houses that they can share together, cutting down on housing expenses and freeing up funds for other uses.

Regarding the question of why there are so few examples of community living there are no definitive answers and so it's a matter of speculation. The most significant issue is that communal living is a radical departure from normal modes of living expected by current cultures, especially Western culture which is highly individualistic. Community living requires extreme trust and extreme sacrifice, and neither of those are common.

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  • Since most Protestant groups allow communal living, why are there practically no large Protestant residential communities? I'm think about something like a monastery, but without the strict vows and other rules. These seem to be extremely rare. I've looked for examples of Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian etc communities and couldn't find any examples. I did find a few ecumenical ones though. Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 0:51
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What is the Protestant view of communal living?

Not all Protestant are against this ideal of living lifestyle. Although practiced in the Early Church as seen in the Acts of the Apostles to some degree, many are not in favour of it too.

There are some Protestants who still practice this to one degree or another. More and more Protestant communities are doing this.

Anglican Protestantism has monks who live in monasteries.

Between 1841 and 1855, several religious orders for women were begun, among them the Community of St Mary the Virgin at Wantage and the Society of Saint Margaret at East Grinstead. Religious orders for men appeared later, beginning in 1866 with the Society of St. John the Evangelist or "Cowley Fathers". In North America, the founding of Anglican religious orders began in 1842 with the Nashotah Community for men in Wisconsin, followed in 1845 by the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion under Anne Ayres in New York.

In recent decades, there has been a remarkable growth of religious orders in other parts of the Anglican Communion, most notably in Tanzania, South Africa, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. There are currently about 2,400 monks and nuns in the Anglican communion, about 55% of whom are women and 45% of whom are men.

Anglican religious order

The Taizé Community which started in France does this same thing with a slightly different variation.

The Taizé Community is an ecumenical Christian monastic fraternity in Taizé, Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy, France. It is composed of more than one hundred brothers, from Catholic and Protestant traditions, who originate from about thirty countries around the world. It was founded in 1940 by Brother Roger Schütz, a Reformed Protestant. Guidelines for the community's life are contained in The Rule of Taizé written by Brother Roger and first published in French in 1954.

Taizé has become one of the world's most important sites of Christian pilgrimage, with a focus on youth. Over 100,000 young people from around the world make pilgrimages to Taizé each year for prayer, Bible study, sharing, and communal work. Through the community's ecumenical outlook, they are encouraged to live in the spirit of kindness, simplicity and reconciliation. The community's church, the Church of Reconciliation, was inaugurated on 6 August 1962. It was designed by a Taizé member and architect, Brother Denis. Young Germans from Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, created for reconciliation after World War II, assumed the work of building it. Owing to the founder's commitment, since its inception the community has evolved into an important site for Catholic–Lutheran ecumenism. A Catholic, Brother Alois, succeeded as prior after his predecessor's death in 2005.

Taizé has become one of the world's most important sites of Christian pilgrimage, with a focus on youth. Over 100,000 young people from around the world make pilgrimages to Taizé each year for prayer, Bible study, sharing, and communal work. Through the community's ecumenical outlook, they are encouraged to live in the spirit of kindness, simplicity and reconciliation. The community's church, the Church of Reconciliation, was inaugurated on 6 August 1962. It was designed by a Taizé member and architect, Brother Denis. Young Germans from Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, created for reconciliation after World War II, assumed the work of building it. Owing to the founder's commitment, since its inception the community has evolved into an important site for Catholic–Lutheran ecumenism. A Catholic, Brother Alois, succeeded as prior after his predecessor's death in 2005.

Taizé Community

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  • "Over 100,000 young people from around the world make pilgrimages to Taizé each year for … communal work.". This isn't an appropriate example of communal living when there is a small number of permanent residents and a massive number of temporarily visiting pilgrims that do the actual work. Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 16:03
  • @RayButterworth I am very familiar with Taize, and yes it is an appropriate example. Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 16:42
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I can't find any teaching that would prohibit communal living, yet it seems so rare.
Is there a specific reason for this?

TL;DR:
Two specific reasons:

  • There are few teachings because Christians don't criticise governments and politics.
  • True communal living is rare because in practice it tends to fail due to human nature.

Communal living (and socialism, communism, etc.) are social and political concepts. Christians respect authority, obey the laws, and follow the customs of whatever society they happen to be living in (except when it would violate one of God's laws), so it would be inappropriate for Christian organizations to express negative views on such issues.

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
— 1 Peter 2:13,14

This is especially true with respect to communal living, since, because of the large early conversions described in Acts 4, some of the Christians lived communally for a short time, supporting the converts that had come from far away and were financially unprepared to stay in Jerusalem for so long.
(See my answer to For how long did the early Christians share all their possessions?.)

Historically though, some individual Christian groups have deliberately tried communal living, but nor surprisingly, with disastrous results.

The most famous of these is the American Pilgrims who, about 400 years ago, tried communal farming.

The “common property” approach killed off about half the settlers. Governor Bradford recorded in his diary that everybody was happy to claim their equal share of production, but production only shrank. Slackers showed up late for work in the fields, and the hard workers resented it. It’s called “human nature.”

Why the Pilgrims Abandoned Common Ownership for Private Property.

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    It is completely untrue that Christians are not expected to express views on social and political concepts. Christians were prominent in the movements to abolish slavery, to give just one huge example. Christians in America express political opinions all the time. If you are talking about only one particular sect where it is considered "inappropriate" to express social views then please make that clear. Also you have quoted a single example of a failed attempt (with only a marginal connection to Christianity) and ignored the many successful examples that exist. Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 14:13
  • @DJClayworth says "only a marginal connection to Christianity*". yet Wikipedia says: "The Pilgrims' leadership came from the religious congregations of Brownists, or Separatist Puritans, who had fled religious persecution in England". ¶ "I didn't say "not expected to express views". See Romans 13, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers", and Hebrews 13:17 "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves". ¶ "many successful examples that exist" — successful examples of communism and communal living? As the Pilgrims discovered, it doesn't work in practice. Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 15:53
  • You literally wrote "it would be inappropriate for Christian organizations to express views on such issues". And you have cited exactly one example of failure and drawn a conclusion of impossibility. Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 1:41
  • @DJClayworth. By "express views on such issues", I meant negative views. I've made this explicit now. ¶ I never mentioned "impossibility". ¶ I gave that one example since it is so famous and so well documented. ¶ Your example of the Hutterites is not simply a commune, but a strict patriarchal society, where people are taught from birth to follow the orders of the colony's leadership; there's no issue of anyone slacking off or letting the others do their work. It's certainly not what most people have in mind when they consider joining a commune. Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 3:02

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