The Swiss Brethren and Worship: Part II

In the previous post addressed some of the items employed by the Swiss Brethren within the context of the Gemeinde, namely the Froschauer Bible, Swiss Brethren Concordance, Ausbund and Golden Apples in Silver Bowls. Some more elements were employed by the Brethren that will be covered here followed by my final thoughts regarding their nature and use in addition to whether a first century method of worship is attainable at present.

 

Bound Volumes (Sammelbänder)

Prior to the formation of Golden Apples in Silver Bowls there was during the closing of the 16th century “the writings of several Anabaptist martyrs had gained a kind of canonical status among the Swiss Brethren. Particularly favored were Michael Sattler, Thomas Imbroich and Matthaes Cervaes, who writings were cited authoritatively in Swiss Brethren correspondence and apologetical works.”[1] The works of the above-mentioned individuals plus various accounts of martyrdom of Dutch Anabaptists branch and prayers was bounded together for use by the Swiss Brethren.

The Strasbourg Discipline

The Strasbourg Discipline was drawn up in 1568 was the means to find a “more concrete basis for unity in 1568 when representatives from numerous Swiss Brethren congregations met in Strasbourge to formulate a common church order, or discipline (Ordnung).”[2] This document became the codified stand relating to “ecclesiological and ethical practices that would shape the Swiss Brethren”.[3] It was originally drawn and accepted in 1568 and reaffirmed in the year 1607. It contains 23 articles touching on practical questions that were being asked during that time in history in relation to congregational life. It was not binding in the fashion that creeds or confessions of faith are in Popish and Repopish circles. The document served as testimony to their efforts to move towards a monolithic comprehension of the faith specifically in practical areas.

This concludes the listing I previously mentioned, I am sure supplementary materials could be posited but this is as far as my studies will permit now. Now to answer the question, is it possible to adopt and practice first century style of worship?

My Response

I believe that it is in fact possible, if we would notice that all of the items utilized are analogs to the process in which the first century ekklesia. While in the New Testament, we have epistles written by Apostles or early disciples that bear the brand of inspiration. This does apply to the entirety of these men’s writings. At 1 Corinthians 5:9 we read “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people”.

Paul had written to that ekklesia prior to what we designate as 1 Corinthians. No one knows what happened to this letter other that it was not inspired and it is lost. Another occurrence is when Paul transcribed “When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16). Here Paul references a circular epistle that no longer is in existence that was previously dispatched to the ekklesia in Laodicea.

Therefore, the first century ekklesia received non-inspired instruction from those appointed to function as teachers i.e. the elders.

They affirmed and applied the magisterial Reformer’s theoretical talking point regarding the authority of scripture and a literal hermeneutic. Donald B. Kraybill confirms this in Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites. He tells us that the “Anabaptist groups accept the Bible as the Word of God and as central to Christian faith and practice. Similar to Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther…and John Calvin…Anabaptists turned to the Bible, more than to church tradition, for the norms of faith and practice.”[4]

His words shed light on the primary point that I am attempting to make. Take note that he mentions that the “Anabaptists turned to the Bible, more than to church tradition, for the norms of faith and practice”. Thus, he is implying that the Reformed Magisterium looked elsewhere for assistance in their interpretation of scripture. Kevin Giles adds:

None of the magisterial Reformers took the slogan sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”) to literally mean solo scriptura (“Scripture only”). Scripture was their primary and ultimate authority, but they were committed to reading it in light of how the church had understood it across the centuries. On the central doctrines of the faith they argued that what they were teaching was what the best of theologians from the past had taught and how they had understood the Scriptures. There was nothing novel, they insisted, in what they were teaching on the central doctrines of the faith. Only when it was crystal clear that what the medieval church believed and practiced patently contradicted the plain meaning of Scripture did they reject any doctrine or practice.[5]

Now the question needs to be raised, did the Anabaptists fair differently in this regard? Returning to the words of Kraybill to answer this inquiry, he adds to his earlier words by stating the “Anabaptists generally believe that the Bible should be interpreted through the process that involves the discernment of the church and the guidance of the HOLY SPIRIT.”[6]  Thus, we see that the Anabaptists relied on outside assistance for interpreting the Bible. No one can ever judge the guidance of the Spirit if in fact God’s Spirit is actually at work. That is not the area of focus. What one’s focus needs to be fixed on is the how the “discernment of the church” played a chief role in their comprehension of the biblical texts.

Who makes up the “church”? As mentioned previously the 16th century Anabaptists utilized the German term Gemeinde as a correspondent to the Greek ekklesia. This term can denote “community” or “congregation”. Moreover, to them all those that followed the parameters established by them would be held as being a member of the Gemeinde. Many teach that the Anabaptists communal hermeneutic solely applied to the local Gemeinde. This may be accurate to a degree but they also had a universal communal hermeneutic.

Take for instance when the Schleitheim Confession of 1527 was codified it was adopted not only by those present at the assembly but it was quickly dispersed throughout the Swiss and South German Gemeinden (communities or congregations) and accepted. The very document being addressed presently has an article that “shepherd” and one of his responsibilities was to “teach” (Article V).

It is possible to emulate the Swiss Brethren, which in turn emulates the first century means of worship. Many do it already but do not recognize it, now the question they need to answer is from which community directs their hermeneutic?


[1] Stayer et al., A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, ed. John D. Roth and James M. Stayer (Boston: Brill, 2007), 372.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 373.

[4] Donald B. Kraybill, Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites. Baltimore (MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 27.

[5] Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2012), 53.

[6] Ibid., 28.

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