Pilgram Marpeck’s Arguments against Common Views of Sin during the 16th Century

At this time I will look to the South German Anabaptist leader Pilgram Marpeck.[1] The German theologian and Reformation preacher Caspar von Schwenckfeld (1489-1561) accused Pilgram Marpeck of not holding to the historic Church’s position on original sin and in its place Palagianism. Marpeck responds to this accusation in his almost systematic work entitled the Response. In the course of replying to Schwenckfeld’s allegations Marpeck presents arguments communicated by Schwenckfeld concerning the nature of original sin and he provides some very thought-provoking counter arguments.

Marpeck begins his rejoinder by addressing the claim that inherited sin comes into being through the “matrimonial act of creation” (eelich werk der schoepfung natur)” i.e. “only within marriage—which happens through the conception or birth of the flesh”.[2]  In other words original sin comes into being at conception. That is when a husband and wife conceive a child said child will be tainted with sin.

He begins by appealing to Martin Luther’s treatment of the matter in “The Estate of Marriage” written in 1522. Marpeck summarizes the arguments Luther employs by stating “that the matrimonial act is part of the created order of nature and of God’s commandment to multiply humanity and be fruitful, filling the earthly kingdom.”[3] Next Jesus thoughts on the matter is appealed to concluding with the affirmation that the “matrimonial act leads to birth and not sin.”[4]

After this Pilgram Marpeck takes up the argument that others held by namely that “flesh and blood in and of itself” is the source of inherited sin.[5] Marpeck reasons that if flesh and blood was intrinsically sin “God . . . would have created Adam in sin; indeed, he would have created sin!”[6] He then immediately asks a series of inquiries. The first being if “that were the case, how could God fairly judge the world?”[7] The second asks how “could he be called a righteous God and Judge, as Scripture attests of him”?[8] The South German leader replies that it “would be blasphemy to say that God in his majesty, glory, righteousness, and irreproachableness made Adam transgress, as if God were guilty of his fall and sin. All of that is contrary to Holy Scripture.”[9] In short sin did not originate from God.

Pilgram Marpeck also argues that if human flesh and blood was innately sinful then one would have to wrestle with the virginal conception of Jesus. Namely that Jesus took his flesh and blood as it were or his physical organism from Mary thus if flesh and blood was sinful simply because it is flesh and blood then Jesus was be sinful amongst others. The Anabaptist writes:

If flesh and blood were sin in and of themselves, then the flesh and blood of the blessed virgin Mary, as the mother of the Lord Jesus—indeed, the flesh and blood of Christ himself, from the seed of David . . . would have to be called sinful. So also the flesh of John the Baptist, the prophets, apostles, and all other saints would have to be called sin. How could they have been saved, how could a single person be saved today or eternally, if flesh and blood were sin in and of themselves? Otherwise, how could someone be set free from sins, distinguish them from the flesh itself, or purify the flesh, if it were sin itself? Is, then, flesh the wages of death and its disciple? The only alternative to this view would be the error that in the resurrection another flesh would be given to the devout then the one they bore when they lived within time. Far be it from us to believe that! This view would fortify those people who erroneously deny that Christ partook his flesh from the human generation of Mary.[10]

Marpeck also explains that flesh and blood is not inherently sin but that it “became a dwelling place for sin through Adam’s fall . . . It’s not that flesh and blood are sin, but that sin lives in them. Through the fall of Adam and Eve the devil took root in flesh and blood through the serpent.”[11]

The Anabaptist leader Pilgram Marpeck’s human anthropology is very eye-opening and it has ramifications that touches on many other “theological” categories such as the nature and character of God for instance. If God essentially is good and did not configure the material universe in a fashion that would make Him the author of sin that would disqualify much of Calvinist theological paradigm.


[1] Even though he was South German he is considered a member of the Swiss Brethren and so what he posits represents their views to a greater or lesser extent.

[2] Walter Klaassen, John Rempel, and Werner O. Packull, trans., Later Writings by Pilgrim Marpeck and His Circle: The Expose, A Dialogue, and Marpeck’s Response to Caspar Schwenckfeld, Anabaptist Text in Translation (Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 1999), 1:87.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 88.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 89.

[11] Ibid., 88.


My Absence and a Look at Free Will and Justification and Works

I’ve been extremely busy of late for the reason that I am entering into a PhD program. Well technically I am somewhat in except I had to revise my proposal to fit the parameters of the Historical Theology degree in place of the Religion Studies one that I was originally pursuing. During this whole revision period I had to familiarize myself with the original German language of the Anabaptists if you want to call it that. It is more like a semi-decent means of translating the material but anyway that explains why I have not posted anything in a while.

Even though I have not posted some good results was achieved overall in my understanding of Anabaptistica while writing the proposal. My comprehension of the nascent Anabaptist view of free will and justification has improved greatly. In order to accomplish this I had to return to a place where I initially caught the notion that the Anabaptists held to the notion of free will which was in the Brüderliche Vereinigung or the Schleitheim Brotherly Union. The very first article strongly states:

Baptism shall be given to all those who have been taught repentance and the amendment of life and [who] believe truly that their sins are taken away through Christ, and to all those who desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and be buried with Him in death, so that they might rise with Him; to all those who with such an understanding themselves desire and request it from us; hereby is excluded all infant baptism, the greatest and first abomination of the pope. For this you have the reasons and the testimony of the writings and the practice of the apostles. We wish simply yet resolutely and with assurance to hold to the same.[1]

The portion of note is where the Brotherly Union speaks of “all those who desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and be buried with Him in death, so that they might rise with Him; to all those who with such an understanding themselves desire and request it from us”.  J. C. Wenger translates this section as “to all those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with Him in death, so that they may be resurrected with Him, and to all those who with this significance request it [baptism] of us and demand it for themselves.”[2] This passage was extremely controversial in the 16th century, so much so one would lose their life behind it.

To understand why this was the case one has to narrow the focus to be more specific, attention has to be on the term “desire” or “wish” in the case of Wenger’s rendering. These terms if read by someone that was Reformed they would immediately go on the offensives because of their belief in predestination. That one term challenges the very essence of the Reformed view of salvation. This is best illustrated in Ulrich Zwingli’s criticism of the Schleitheim Brotherly Union in his In Catabaptistarum Strophas Elenchus, 1527 (Refutation of the Tricks of the Catabaptists, 1527). He wrote:

For when they say that remitted are the sins of all who wish to walk in the resurrection of Christ and to be buried with him in death, they elevate free will, and next to that justification by works. For it is in our choice or power to walk in the resurrection of Christ, or to be buried with him in death, it is open for anyone to be a Christian and a man of perfect excellence. Then Christ spoke falsely the words: “No one can come to me except the Father who sent me draw him.”[3]

It is apparent that Zwingli immediately took notice of the term and how it is associated with the concept of free will.[4] The act of desiring something or to wishing for something is situated at the point prior to action but results from the unhindered mental conception of something. Zwingli rightfully sees it as an action thus exercising the free will is a work that leads to righteousness. In the previous quote he said that the first article elevates “justification by works” alongside free will. He charges “For they who trust in works make Christ of no effect”.[5] The reasoning is that Zwingli believes that if a person can wish or desire to “walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and be buried with Him in death” and ultimately to choose “to be a Christian and a man of perfect excellence” they control their salvation. This is stated even though the Swiss Brethren qualified their statement by saying that the person had to be repentant and modified their way of life prior to baptism. Zwingli acknowledged this but he felt that it was just subterfuge on the part of the Brethren. He wrote “[T]hey conceal justification by works, and though they admit remission of sins through Christ here, they clearly deny it elsewhere.”[6]

The Swiss Brethren never refuted the claim that they believe in free will. It is implied throughout all of their extant writings. However they did deny the notion of works righteousness. They believed they are saved by faith that works. That is works are so interconnected with faith that salvation is not possible without them. Around the same year as the drafting of the Brüderliche Vereinigung its primary contributor Michael Sattler is credited with penning the work known as Von der Gnugthuung Christi or Concerning the Satisfaction of Christ. In this document Sattler demonstrates the reality and gravity of the role works play in salvation. When speaking of the Protestant Reformers or “scribes” as he disapprovingly calls them Sattler critiques their interpretation of certain salvation related texts.

the scribes interpret as if a person could be saved through Christ whether he do the works of faith or not. If such were the case, why then should Paul say [in] Romans 2 that God will render to everyone according to his works, namely eternal life to those who strive after glory, praise and immortality with perseverance in good works, but to those who are quarrelsome and are not obedient to the truth, but are obedient to the evil, there will come disfavor and wrath, tribulation and anxiety, [namely] upon all the souls of men who do evil. He says, [in] Romans 2, Not those who hear the Law are righteous, but those who do the Law.[7]

Sattler reference to the second chapter of Romans encompasses verses 5-13 that advances the concept of:

“the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.”

This scriptural passage contains what some at present deem “eschatological justification”, that is in due course the God of the Bible will render judgment on the entire world or a final justification will be carried out based on works one has exhibited in life.[8] In light of this we see that the Swiss Brethren didn’t deny justification through faith but the type of faith they spoke of is one that would be immediately accompanied by works or rather the works are a crucial component of faith.

Michael Sattler wrote “just as one speaks of justification through Christ so must one also speak of faith, [namely] that repentance is not apart from works, yea not apart from love (which is an unction), for only such an anointed faith as one receives from the resurrection from the dead is [at all a] Christian faith, and [it alone] is reckoned for righteousness”.[9] When a person experiences justification it is not attained without faith and said faith is characterized by works of repentance and love. Love is a sign that we have in our possession genuine Christian faith.

Returning to my original topic it can be said that the main problem that the Reformed had with teaching free will was that it ultimately implied that humans has the means to determine their destinies by means of their attitude towards God. And since works is a part of defining faith one can potentially lose their salvation or do not pass the irrevocable adjudication for a lack of deeds. It totally takes the matter out of the hands of God, thus contradicting the Reformed doctrines of predestination and God’s maximal sovereignty.


[1] John Howard Yoder, ed., trans., The Schleitheim Confession (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977), 10.

[2] J. C. Wenger, “The Schleitheim Confession of Faith,” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 19, no. 4 (1945): 249.

[3] Ulrich Zwingli, Selected Works of Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531), the Reformer of German Switzerland, Vol. 1, ed. and trans. Samuel Macauley Jackson, Classic Reprint (1901; repr., London: Forgotten Books, 2012), 179.

[4] Ulrich Zwingli wrote his In Catabaptistarum Strophas Elenchus, 1527 in Latin. Prior to his replies he wrote out each article of the Brotherly Union in Latin as well.  When translating Zwingli’s Latin text into English Samuel Macauley Jackson employed “wish” in the fashion Wenger did years later. I have not found the Latin text of In Catabaptistarum Strophas Elenchus, 1527 to see exactly what term was employed.

[5] Ibid., 179.

[6] Ibid., 178.

[7] John Christian Wenger, “Concerning the Satisfaction of Christ: An Anabaptist Tract On True Christianity,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 20, no. 4 (1946): 247.

[8] From a scriptural context this judgment applies to the believer and unbeliever alike. For the Apostle Paul says that those who are not a part of the Christian faith will be judged by their obedience to the law God instilled in all people—that is the law of conscience.  However it appears that Sattler applies this passage to the believer even though he qualifies elsewhere in the document “How then did Christ do enough for our sins? Answer: [He did enough,] not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world, insofar as they believe on Him and follow Him according to the demands of faith”. Romans 2 does not seem to indicate that the unbeliever can only attain a good judgment from God through believing in Christ as Sattler states.

[9] Ibid., 251-2.

Modern Churches Serious Lack of Reflection Concerning the Table

Presently I find that many professed Christians will view the Lord’s Supper with either a thoughtless cavalier attitude or they will overly dramatize it and focus more on ritual, trappings and pomp. In other words people either give too little concern to these things or make a grand deal regarding the process. But how many authentically focus on the meaning behind it and how it relates to the believer beyond it being an ordinance Jesus gave his disciples and Paul wrote about it. Peter Riedemann in his Rechenschaft defined how the Hutterites would prepare for the event and how it was observed.

 When we gather to celebrate the meal of remembrance, or the Lord’s Supper, the people are encouraged and taught for two or three days beforehand. They are told clearly the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, how it is observed, and how they should prepare themselves to be worthy to receive it. Each day should include prayer and thanksgiving. When this has taken place and the Lord’s Supper has been observed, all sing a hymn of praise to the Lord. Then the people are exhorted to live in accordance with what they have just expressed. They are commended to the Lord and allowed to depart.[1]

Riedemann’s words can be broken down into three facets. The first is retrospective. His remarks begins by pointing out that the Lord’s Supper was a “remembrance”. The Lord’s Supper functions as a memorial of the Lord’s death on behalf humankind. On the night he initiated it Jesus after blessing the cup said “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:17-19).

The Hutterian’s words show a prospective aspect which likely manifested itself during the encouragement and elucidation on the “meaning of the Lord’s Supper”. Paul said “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Until he being Christ “comes” points to Jesus future activities when he returns to establish the Kingdom proper on earth as it is in Heaven.

Thirdly the quote from the Rechenschaft is introspective in nature. This required each believer to ascertain whether they was “worthy to receive it”. The “it” consisted of the supper made up of the unadorned emblems of wine and bread. Being a worthy partaker harmonizes once again with scripture.  “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:27-28).

This portion stood out to me because at present this is a derelict concept. Where do you find a body of professed believers that would take “two or three days” to ponder their quality to dine? There are numerous instances where pastors treat the Table liberally and present it unreserved to all regardless of the individuals association with the Kingdom of God. How can someone determine if they qualify to feast at the Lord’s Table if they do not have the right station to rightfully take it if they were?

In conclusion Peter Riedemann’s words stand as a case of how avowed believers should view the Lord’s Meal. It is not something that should be taken lightly or outshined by ritual. It is something that should be highly esteemed and considered sacred worthy of deep and long contemplation. It is something just anyone can partake of but only those worthy as being a member of the Body of Christ of good moral character.  I really appreciate this stand and wish that others would embrace it.






[1] Peter Riedemann, Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith: Translation of the 1565 German Edition of Confession of Our Religion, Teaching, and Faith, by the Brothers Who Are Known as the Hutterites, ed. and trans. John J. Friesen, Classics of the Radical Reformation (Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press, 1999), 151.

Bad Santa: It Must Lead to Obedience

nikolausOn Christmas day (2014) I was engaged in a conversation inspired by the third-century born Nicholas or if you must “Saint Nicholas” who became the Bishop of Myra in Lycia (modern day Turkey). Nicholas was the archetype for the present-day notion of “Santa Claus” supposedly because of all the “good deeds” towards children he performed throughout his life. Well every year around this time (Christmas) people post the following meme.


Well the history behind it is that during the time of the Nicean Ecumenical Council of 325 which dealt with the nature of Jesus in relation to the Father. Nicholas was anti-Arian and proponent of what is known at present as “the Orthodox Christian position” thus Nicholas was one of the signatories of the Nicean Creed.  As the memes indicate supposedly at some point Nicholas physically struck Arius because of his beliefs. nsp

I find it ironic that the man who supposedly was defending the nature of Christ physically assaulted someone he most likely viewed as an enemy. Yet Jesus taught:

 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.[1]

In essence we had the very one that believed he understood Christ upset about people not understanding Christ appropriately to the point of physically assaulting them but in light of Jesus’ words above apparently Nicholas was the one that did not understand Jesus. The following is not an argument for or against the truthfulness of Nicean Christology but it is a case for practical theology. One needs to ask does defending and knowing the Nicean Creed makes one more obedient. Can an Arian obey Christ’s words concerning nonresistance or because they lack an understanding of the Trinity they cannot forgo physically harming others? The natural response to this is that Trinitarian theology does not give a person an edge on being obedient. The following material will demonstrate how the Swiss Brethren prioritized matters.

In the year 1571 a group of Reformed theologians in Frankenthal, Palatinate, Germany invited some leaders of the Swiss Brethren branch of Anabaptism to engage in what is known as the Frankenthal Disputation. It was a series of intensive theological discussions that took place over a number of days. Looking back at this disputation provides a means to examine the second generation of Swiss Brethren’s comprehension of certain issues related to “doctrine”. Historian Arnold Snyder provides us with an account of what was stated during that event. All the areas discussed will not be presented here. I want to zoom in on is the Swiss Brethren’s response when the discussion addressed the Trinity.

Arnold Snyder tells us the Reformed theologians asked the Swiss Brethren to articulate their understanding of “person” and “hypostases” as these terms relate to God and the Trinity.  The Swiss Brethren replied “with simple scripture passages or with statements denying their qualifications for pronouncing on such lofty or deep matters as the actual nature of the Godhead.” [2] Eventually after “some lengthy sessions, the end result was that the Swiss Brethren managed to demonstrate to the Reformed that they were orthodox trinitarian believers. As Rauff Bisch stated early in the debate, “We confess that these three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are one, as John says.”[3] Now the next aspects of the account is the heart of what I am trying to argue overall. The Swiss Brethren explains the reason for their reservations regarding any discussion of the Trinity or God’s nature to begin with. One of the brothers said “We would much rather teach our Christian people to fear God and to love their neighbors, rather than dealing with such difficult matters concerning which we have no command.”[4]

Not too many years following the debate an unnamed member of the Swiss Brethren took a copy of the minutes of the debate and added additional commentary to the text fleshing out the Swiss Brethren’s thoughts and arguments. Regarding the section mentioned previously on the Trinity the author whom Snyder designate as “Q1” is documented as saying “Knowledge of God . . . is necessary for salvation (Jn. 17), and so it is necessary to clarify the meaning of the article on the Trinity. Nevertheless, describing the Trinity in proper words is of little account; rather, “He who says he knows God, and does not keep His commandments is a liar . . . Therefore, whoever wishes to gain knowledge of the Trinity will submit to [God] in obedience.”[5] In traditional Swiss Brethren fashion the focus is on obedience and not theology.

Finally Q1 says something that puts “Saint Nicholas” and those that think like him in the proper perspective. Q1 writes: “Truly a simple peasant, or a humble lay person who serves God, is better than a puffed up little scholar who is immersed and drowned in many arts and completely mired in himself.”[6] Snyder explains that by the aforementioned statement ultimately the Swiss Brethren and Q1 considered questions such as the ones in the debate “to be speculative, finally beyond the reach of human knowledge and thus of secondary importance”.[7]

The above is a stark contrast with many today that put such a high value on comprehension and articulation of orthodox doctrine such as the Trinity that obedience becomes secondary in importance. Whereas the Swiss Brethren Anabaptists put so much emphasis on obeying Christ that they relegated the so-called standard for Christian acceptance and brotherhood as ordered by Nicea to the ranks of a speculative secondary issue. Therefore what’s the point if whatever it is that you are teaching does not end in right living?


[1] Matthew 5:43-48

[2] Arnold Snyder, “The (Not-So) “simple Confession” of the Late Sixteenth-Century Swiss Brethren Part II,” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 74, no. 1 (2000): 116.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Scot McKnight and the Anabaptist Kingdom?

smkcThe more I run across Scot McKnight’s writings I see the primitive or radix spirit of the Anabaptists becoming more evident with time. I find it amusing that an Anglican thinks and behaves in a fashion more akin to Anabaptism than many today that choose to carry that designation.

I would like to initiate my return to blogging by addressing some thoughts contained in McKnight’s new book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. In it he first provides a critique of how a group he calls the “Pleated Pants” crowd predominantly comprised of “bible scholars and theologians”.[1] This group essentially reduces the kingdom to some theoretical, abstract, insubstantial concept that “is nowhere and everywhere at the same time”.[2] To McKnight “When this is what ‘kingdom’ means, ‘kingdom’ means nothing because it means everything”.[3]

Next McKnight talks to something that is a reality to me and I see almost on a daily basis. He calls the next group the “Skinny Jeans” people (most likely progressive Neo-anabaptists) that defines the Kingdom of God by way of activism and good deeds in the public sector by professed believers and nonbelievers alike. The activities of these individuals are qualified as kingdom work. McKnight writes regarding the Skinny Pants folk:

For many today, it is far easier to be committed to social justice in South Africa, to the restoration of communities on the Gulf Shore following Katrina, to cleaning up from the devastating tornadoes of the Plains, or to fighting sexual trafficking in any country than it is to be committed to building community and establishing fellowship in one’s local church. I hate to put it this way, but I must: it is easier to do the former because it feels good, it resolves some social shame for all that we have, it creates a bonded experience, it is a momentary and at times condescending invasion of resources and energy, and it is all ramped up into ultimate legitimation by calling it kingdom work. Not only that, it is good and right and noble and loving and compassionate and just. It is more glamorous to do social activism because building a local church is hard. It involves people who struggle with one another, it involves persuading others of the desires of your heart to help the homeless, it means caring for people where they are and not where you want them to be, it involves daily routines, and it only rare leads to the highs of “short-term mission” experiences. But local church is what Jesus came to build, so the local church’s mission shapes kingdom mission.[4]

I am in total agreement with Scot McKnight’s observations on both accounts for as mentioned above I see this line of thinking on both accounts daily and it is bothersome to say the least.

Now at this time I want to focus on the aspect of McKnight’s new work that has everyone upset especially in the Neo-anabaptist community. In the work Mcknight argues that the kingdom is one and the same as the church or ekklesia. He explicitly states “There is no kingdom now outside the church”.[5] Alternatively as McKnight states it elsewhere, “the kingdom is the church, and the church is the kingdom—that they are the same even if they are not identical. They are the same in that it is the same people under the same King Jesus even if each term—kingdom, church—gives off slightly different suggestions”.[6]

The above statements are authentic Anabaptist thought on the part of McKnight. I wrote on each of these subjects from the perspective of a radix comprehension of Anabaptism.  In the blog article Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus I addressed how one cannot acquire redemption in isolation:

The gospel that die Täufer preached was not a soterian gospel but one that focused outside of oneself. It did not concentrate on “my place” in the Kingdom but on welcoming others and making sure that, their fellow brothers and sisters maintained their place it in. In Anabaptist thought “[r]econciliation between individuals belongs as much to the essence of salvation as does reconciliation to God; the two dimensions are inseparable.” To them “man cannot come to God except together with his brother” but not just one’s spiritual sibling but also “the neighbor”, these “constitutes an essential element of one’s personal redemption.

In an earlier post I also talked to proto-Anabaptism’s thinking on this matter called The Core Message of 16th Century Anabaptism: The Gospel where I essentially argued that the Gemeinde (the preferred German term that was the equivalent in the minds of the Anabaptist of the Greek ekklesia) was the equivalent of the Kingdom on earth. Putting it in the words of Robert Freidman the Gemeinde or “brotherhood-church” to him was “a gathering of the reborn, an attempt to translate the kingdom idea into practical forms of everyday living—if not in terms of the fullness of the kingdom itself, then at least in what it foreshadows.”[7]

As was mentioned in the opening Scot McKnight is looking at the matter from the perspective of radix or primitive Anabaptism and even though he is Anglican now I appreciate that at least someone on the internet and in academia that defines Anabaptism properly.


[1] Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014), 9.

[2] Ibid., 13.

[3] Ibid., 14.

[4] Ibid., 96-7.

[5] Ibid., 87.

[6] Ibid., 206.

[7] Robert Friedmann, The Theology of Anabaptism: An Interpretation (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 1998), 43.

Anabaptism: Two Kinds of Obedience

A dualistic view of the world permeated Swiss Brethren thought. The things of God and Christ in contrast to those of Satan, spirit versus flesh and light versus dark. In their estimation there was a correct way to do something and an inaccurate way.  How one demonstrated obedience was posited by the Brethren, as in other areas there was a wrong and right way to not only show but view obedience.[1] This is seen in a tract of Swiss Brethren origin entitled Two Kinds of Obedience believed to have been written by Michael Sattler.

No time is wasted by Sattler he begins the tract by stating the whole premise which is where the title originates. Sattler writes:

Obedience is of two kinds, servile and filial. The filial has its source in the love of the Father, even though no other reward should follow, yea even if the Father should wish to damn His child; the servile has its source in a love of reward or of oneself. The filial ever does as much as possible, apart from any command; the servile does as little as possible, yea nothing except by command. The filial is never able to do enough for Him; but he who renders servile obedience thinks he is constantly doing too much for Him. The filial rejoices in the chastisement of the Father although he may not have transgressed in anything; the servile wishes to be without chastisement although he may do nothing right. The filial has its treasure and righteousness in the Father whom it obeys only to manifest His righteousness; the servile person’s treasure and piety are the works which he does in order to be pious. The filial remains in the house and inherits all the Father has; the servile wishes to reject this and receive his lawful (gesatzten) reward. The servile looks to the external and to the prescribed command of his Lord;-the filial is concerned about the inner witness and the Spirit. The servile is imperfect and therefore his Lord finds no pleasure in him; the filial strives for and attains perfection, and for that reason the Father cannot reject him.

The filial is not contrary to the servile, as it might appear, but is better and higher. And therefore let him who is servile seek for the better, the filial; he dare not be servile at all.[2]

From the offset dual forms of obedience is posited, the “servile” and the “filial”. Sattler’s tract does not address what to do in its entirety but rather the attitude one is supposed to possess concerning obedience unto God and Christ. The opening form is an unquestioning slavish disposition, the individual does it because of fear, laziness and selfishness. They dread the consequences of disobedience and they will only do what is required of them by their master and nothing more. The other is has a familial attachment to God as a father and the individual is obedient out of love for their Creator. The filial wants to do the will of God because it brings him or her joy to do so. They desire nothing out of it but the satisfaction of knowing they have been obedient to their Lord and their Father.

Also the servile variety of obedience is not favored by God because He knows the reasons for the servile’s compliance. That is the servile only seeks what he or she desires and to look virtuous in the eyes of onlookers and nothing else thus it is imperfect. The actions may be appropriate but the longing that perpetuates the actions fall short in the eyes of God. It should be the aim of the servile to transcend their current state of mind in order to acquire the mindset of the filial or not attempt to serve in any fashion whatsoever.

The servile is Moses and produces Pharisees and scribes; the filial is Christ and makes children of God. The servile is either occupied with the ceremonies which Moses commanded or with those which people themselves have invented; the filial is active (sehefftig) in the love of God and one’s neighbor; yet he also submits himself (unterwindet er sich) to the ceremonies for the sake of the servants that he may instruct them in that which is better and lead them to sonship (kindschafft). The servile produces self-willed and vindictive people; the filial creates peaceable and mild-natured persons; the servile is severe (schwer) and gladly arrives quickly at the end of the work; the filial is light and directs its gaze to that which endures (die were). The servile is malevolent (ungünstig) and wishes no one well but himself; the filial would gladly have all men to be as himself. The servile is the Old Covenant, and had the promise of temporal happiness (seligkeit); the filial is the New Covenant, and has the promise of eternal happiness, namely, the Creator Himself. The servile is a beginning and preparation for happiness; the filial is the end and completion (volkomenheit) itself. The servile endured for a time; the filial will last forever. The servile was a figure and shadow; the filial is the body and truth.[3]

Here Sattler likens the mental disposition of the servile with Moses who represents the behavior found in the Old in contrast with filial that parallels Christ and the conduct found in the New. A servile mindset only creates legalists while the filial manifests Spirit filled heirs of God. The servile’s focus is on the minutest details of traditions and liturgies while the filial’s motivation is loving God and their neighbor. The filial will submit him or herself to “ceremonies” not for the reasons that the servile would do so. The filial does so in order to show the sevile the path to what is better. A servile mentality only produces egotistical and vengeful individuals in contrast to the peaceable filial. One may start with a servile outlook but they should not remain in that state perpetually. Their view should not be happiness that only exist in the present but happiness with eternity in view. Sattler continues with his “familiar Anabaptist distinction between the lower ethical standards of the Old Testament and the higher law of the New.”[4]

According to the Old Testament only he who murdered was guilty of judgment; but in the New, he also who is angry with his brother. The Old gave permission for a man to separate from his wife for every reason; but not at all in the New, except for adultery. The Old permitted swearing if one swore truly, but the New will know of no swearing. The Old has its stipulated punishment (roach), but the New does not resist the evil.

The Old permitted hatred for the enemy; the New loves him who hates, blesses him who curses, prays for those who wish one evil; gives alms in this manner that the left hand does not know what the right has done; says his prayer secretly without evident and excessive babbling of mouth; judges and condemns no one; takes (zeuget) the mote out of the eye of one’s brother after having first cast the beam out of one’s own eye; fasts without any outward pomp and show (misszierung) ; is like a light which is set on a candlestick and lightens everyone in the house; is like a city built on a hill, being everywhere visible ; is like good salt that does not become tasteless, being pleasing not to man but to God alone; is like a good eye which illuminates the whole body; takes no anxious thought about clothing or food, but performs his daily and upright tasks ; does not cast pearls before swine (sewe)y nor that which is holy before dogs; seeks, asks and knocks; finding, receiving and having the door opened for him ; enters through the narrow way and the small gate; guards himself from the Pharisees and scribes as from false prophets ; is a good tree and brings forth good fruit ; does the will of his Father, hearing what he should do, and then doing it.[5]

The Swiss Brethren’s above “description of Christian faith and life” is comprised of “Biblical phrases taken from the words of Christ”.[6] The reason being that to the Anabaptists Christ was the center of their faith. He was the exemplar in which they were to strive after and emulate. His words illustrate the filial form of obedience. The filial does not just seek the barest minimum in what is required of him or her but they go above and beyond. It is not enough not to physically commit a homicide but a person with a filial disposition will endeavor to rid their hearts and minds of any negatives feelings and thoughts that could compel them to murder.



[1] The tract is also a condemnation on soterianism.

[2] John Christian Wenger, “Two Kinds of Obedience: An Anabaptist Tract On Christian Freedom,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 21, no. 1 (1947): 20.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 19.

[5] Ibid., 21.

[6] Ibid., 19.

Another Look at the SBC

In the past I have been very critical of the Southern Baptist Convention and their relatively newfound fascination with Anabaptism. Recently I have been rethinking my stance on the matter and the SBC in general when it relates to this subject. And I realized that I have a lot in common with them, and in light of some recent events this has become even clearer to me. Take for instance many of my beliefs that I attained from my study of the proto-Anabaptists would be considered conservative or as my progressive critics would most likely call “Fundamentalist” a point which I would vehemently disagree.

My belief model originates with the 16th century Anabaptists and therefore if it is “fundie” in nature then the designation applies to those men and women from the past as well. Wearing pejoratives goes with the Anabaptist territory. Another area that I share with this particular segment of the SBC is a passionate dislike of Calvinism and Reformed thought, which is inherent in Anabaptist thought. My last point I would like to bring attention to is a shared appreciation for the source material (whether it be in the original German or English translations). Who better to define Anabaptism than the Anabaptists themselves?

Now with that being said, I still have issues with the SBC when it relates to implying a historical connection with Anabaptism that can barely be made to begin with. And naturally I have issues with traditional views that the SBC held to for many years and some even today regarding war, military service, political involvement and issues relating to “race”. Now I know all SBC members do not approach those matters in the same fashion but those are still relevant issues that need addressing.

Last night I went ahead and purchased The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists: Restoring New Testament Christianity edited by Malcolm B. Yarnell III.


Not too long ago I was granted limited access to the work and from what I looked at it was a good effort. The authors actually went to the sources i.e. the original Anabaptists and took what they believed and tried to demonstrate how we can apply those teachings at present. I do not see that much today, in its place I see political and social ideology passed off as Anabaptism.

Going forward I think I am going to reach out to some of these Baptists and see what comes of it.

MennoNerd’s Contemporary Anabaptist Convictions

As MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism.

My fellow MennoNerd Tyler Tully devised criteria for determining contemporary anabaptism. These present-day identifiers consist of:

  • Jesus Centered- Jesus stands as the lens by which we read the entire Bible, and the exemplary by which we engage all theology. Jesus takes all precedence in matters of faith and life for us. He is the exact representation of God and the King of our Kingdom. His example, teaching, and identity matter more than anything. His values, example, and commandments often put us at odds with the laws, values, and expectations of Christendom and State. Responding to the ways of this world in a Jesus-like manner, Anabaptist communities operate as alternatives to the systems around them. Its is the centrality of Jesus above all things that defines every other particularity within Anabaptism.
  • Free Church of Confessing, Baptized Disciples- For the Anabaptist, community is essential to follow Jesus–and this practice often places us at odds with the Church-State. Although individuals choose to respond to this calling, or not, we enter into community with others through baptism. Salvation is realized in community, but so is sin.  As a matter of intersection, some Anabaptist groups draw from the Wesleyan and Liberationist wells that are also aimed at communal and economic reform in light of the Kingdom of God. Although not unique among (mostly white) post-liberal groups, post-colonial theologies continue to influence this new wave of Anabaptist expression as historically rooted Anabaptist theology has influenced them. Building upon the movement of the God through the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt, the Jews occupied in the time of Jesus, the religious, cultural, political, and social identity of Jesus in the Gospels, and the history of persecution of Anabaptists during the Reformation period and beyond–Anabaptists choose to minister in, of, and amongst the marginalized. We see this as a natural expression of our commitment to discipleship in the Kingdom which stands against Christendom and the State.
  • Agents of God’s Shalom– More than merely being non-violent on a personal level (a measure that all Anabaptists will not flinch from) we are dedicated to producing God’s Shalom in our communities, and standing against violence in all of its forms (Empire, oppression, poverty, war, etc.). Shalom is more than the absence of conflict (Pax Christi), it is the peace that surpasses all understanding, as God’s Reign fosters wholeness through reconciling the hierarchies of class, race, ethnicity, age, sex, gender, sexuality, and ableism. Although there are tensions within the Anabaptist movement as to the Church’s relationship to possible political responsibilities, Anabaptists reject Dominionism in favor of persuasion. Thus Anabaptists can responsibly engage the Powers and Principalities through prophetic and non-violent witness.

It is my goal to take these distinctives and demonstrate their appearance from the perspective of Radix-Anabaptism.

Jesus Centered

Many proclaim to be Christ centered or “Christocentric” but there are distinctions and realities that must be recognized when dealing with this matter. What many define as a Christocentric approach is in reality an “Christological” perspective. Stuart Murray explains the historical origins of the positions regarding Anabaptism in relative to their Protestant contemporaries in addition to the nuances involved in owning a Christocentric or Christological model.

When we compare the Christocentric Anabaptist approach with the Reformers’ methodology, we can appreciate the distinctive nature of the Anabaptists’ approach. The Reformers’ hermeneutics can fairly be described, explicitly or implicitly, as Christological. Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of God to humankind, and his death, resurrection, and ascension are God’s central acts in history. The biblical message was that through these events salvation was available to those who would believe. The whole of Scripture testified to this central truth. With this Anabaptists heartily agreed. However, the Reformers’ emphasis was less on Jesus himself and more on his salvific acts and the doctrine of justification by faith. In this sense, we might describe the Reformers’ hermeneutics as soteriological: their understanding of salvation provided the hermeneutical key to Scripture.[1]

In the Anabaptist mindset, the focus is on Jesus life and teachings thus making their position Christocentric or Christ centered whereas the Reformers put more emphasis on the soteriological aspects of Jesus’ life. All of these things factor into the hermeneutic or interpretative methods employed when looking at the Bible, which is the source of any post resurrection information one can acquire, related to Christ.  However, the Anabaptists added a second aspect by to their paradigm. Murray goes on to explain:

Anabaptist hermeneutics, however, were not only Christological but Christocentric in the sense of focusing on Jesus himself instead of on a doctrine describing the effects of his redeeming work. For Anabaptists, he was not only their redeemer but also the example they were to imitate and the teacher they were to learn from. Their Christocentrism was tied more firmly to the human Jesus than was the Reformers’ Christological approach, and their interpretations of the rest of Scripture were significantly different as a result, making their hermeneutics distinctive in the Reformation context.[2]

The Anabaptists applied an Christological perspective to their Christocentric position thus not losing any type of recognition for the acts and benefits wrought by Christ on their behalf.  However, once one has recognized the works of Christ as a Christian emulating his life and obeying his teachings was required of his followers. Thus in a genuine sense the Anabaptist community “was a community whose discernment was measured by the person and the words of Christ.” [3]  For believers then and now Jesus’ life and teachings are to be viewed as the “primary way to understand the circle-of-expression that is God, we have a living human example upon which to model our human living.”[4]  To be Christocentric begins with looking at the four detailed and intimate portraits of Jesus and his life known as the Gospels. These four accounts are consistent “in the nature of Jesus’ teaching, pronouncements and attitudes to all.”[5] When one wants to be Christocentric, they should be inclined “to adopt his attitudes and example as well as heeding his teaching directly.”[6]

Yet when one embraces a Christocentric faith the life and teachings of Jesus must stand over all others as far as ordering of priorities. The Christian should start with Jesus while not neglecting the remainder of God’s special revelation. While Protestants in general regardless of place in history, emphasize the writings of Paul to an abnormal degree some professed, Anabaptists appears to emphasize the Gospels to the point where other portions of the Bible in general seem to be neglect or deemphasized. This should not be the case; all later New Testament writers should be contemplated. All the biblical writers  was Spirit inspired by the Father to document His will in the same fashion as Christ came to declare and live out the Father’s will. Authors such as Paul and Peter did not stray from the words of Jesus but explained them or interpreted them. They took the commands, teachings and principles established by the Messiah and demonstrated the application of those things for Christian consumption.

There is no such thing as a Paul vs Jesus rivalry, Paul was a servant of Christ and he did not teach anything that would contradict his Master’s wishes. The initial point naturally leads into the second.

Free Church of Confessing, Baptized Disciples

Loosely defined the “term ‘free church’ suggests a community which arises from the voluntary association of the faithful and which on principle administers its own affairs without the aid or the interference of the temporal government.”[7] It has an emphasis on the “free will of the individual and liberty from the constraints of the authorities were thus the distinct marks of the free church, as it first appeared among the Anabaptists.”[8]The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online expands on this issue by stating:

The church (Gemeinde) . . . is a voluntary and exclusive fellowship of truly converted believers in Christ, committed to follow Him in full obedience as Lord; it is a brotherhood, not an institution. It is completely separated from the state, which is to have no power over the church; and the members of the church in turn do not hold office in the magistracy. There is to be complete freedom of conscience, no use of force or compulsion by state or church; faith must be free. In these principles the Anabaptists were pioneers and forerunners of modern religious liberty and the free church. This church concept was held in sharp distinction from the prevailing inclusive concept of both Catholic and Protestant state-churchism, namely, that of the mass church (Volkskirche) coterminous with the population of a state, into which all citizens are in effect born and are to be formally incorporated by universal and compulsory infant baptism and in which they remain until death . . . . the Anabaptist conception of the church is ultimately derivative from its concept of Christianity as discipleship, i.e., complete obedience by the individual to Christ and the living of a holy life patterned after His example and teachings, an essential idea in it is that the church must be holy, composed exclusively of practicing disciples, and kept pure. It is a church of order, in which the body determines the pattern of life for its members, and therefore has authority over the individual’s behavior. It controls admission of new members, requiring evidence of repentance, the new birth, and a holy life, and maintains the purity of the church through discipline using the ban or excommunication. Adopting the program of Christ for the church . . . as their aim, the Anabaptists sincerely sought to achieve a church “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” They cannot however rightly be charged on this account with perfectionism, for their position expressly provided for discipline for sinning church members.[9]

Another essential aspect of the free church originally and is essential to Radix-Anabaptism is “a denial of both the Roman Catholic and the Protestant teachings about salvation and the Christian life.”[10] The reason for this being that the Anabaptists held to a dualistic worldview. There are only two realms or “Kingdoms” in which one can reside. The first being the Kingdom of the World and the other is the Kingdom of God or Heaven. Only the free church can reside in the realm of the Kingdom indicated by the visible manifestation of the Spirit’s presence in their midst. The Schleitheim Brotherly Union states:

We have been united concerning the separation that shall take place from the evil and the wickedness which the devil has planted in the world, simply in this; that we have no fellowship with them, and do not run with them in the confusion of their abominations. So it is; since all who have not entered into the obedience of faith and have not united themselves with God so that they will to do His will, are a great abomination before God . . . Now there is nothing else in the world and all creation than good or evil, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who are [come] out of the world, God’s temple and idols. Christ and Belial, and none will have part with the other . . . . From all this we should learn that everything which has not been united with our God in Christ is nothing but an abomination which we should shun. By this are meant all popish and repopish works and idolatry,  gatherings, church attendance.[11]

To be a free church within the context of prototypical Anabaptism meant detachment from the State and unscriptural and burdensome practices and teachings. This two is another identifier of Radix-Anabaptism.

Agents of God’s Shalom

To the ancient Hebrews the word for peace is the term שָׁלוֹם. Transliterated it is shalom; it has the lexical significance of “completeness”, “soundness” (as in mental or physical), “welfare”, “contentment” and “peace”. It denotes a full-orbed state; it “is iridescent in meaning, connoting well-being. Shalom may denote (material) prosperity . . . . ethical relations among humans . . . or eschatological (messianic) hope that brings peace among nations”.[12] The Anabaptist approached this form of peace through what is known as nonresistance, in “German, the mother tongue of most early Anabaptists, the teaching was called Wehrlosigkeit, or defenselessness. It indicated the unwillingness of the peaceful Anabaptists to carry weapons or to defend themselves. To distinguish themselves from other Christians, they called themselves die wehrlosen Christen, of defenseless Christians.”[13] This was the method sanctioned by Christ, he said:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.[14]

This is identified as biblical nonresistance; this is the proper means to acquire shalom.

It attempts to make peace, or perhaps better, it attempts to offer peace in place of the natural response that man makes when thwarted or attacked. It does not have a backup position that allows it to support violent action or warfare in cases when all else fails to bring peace . . . Nor does it allow taking of human life to defend another human life in cases where that life is being threatened. It is not peace itself that is being honored, but the image of God in the other human being, as well as the commandments of Jesus. It is not earthly peace that is being sought as it was the highest possible good.[15]

Being advocates of peace requires more than talking or speaking. Agents of peace speak through their actions. The Anabaptist emphasis on obedience and works held to nonresistance of a biblical nature. When speaking they do not “speak truth to power”, for Christians was not commanded to engage any government or authoritative civil or political entity. Their message is to be shared with each other and those common ordinary people and if only the opportunity presents itself to those in power. No intentional interaction should be sought with those in power.

Concluding Remarks

While Radix-Anabaptism would not have an issue with the above, the criteria established by the MennoNerds in general, some features must be nuanced.  Personally, I feel that it is the first step in a very positive direction.


[1] Stuart Murray, Studies in the Believers Church Tradition, vol. 3, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition (Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 1999), 84.

[2] Ibid.

[3] C. Arnold Snyder, From Anabaptist Seed: Exploring the Historical Center of Anabaptist Teachings and Practices (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2007), 17.

[4] Andrew Francis, Anabaptism: Radical Christianity (Bristol: Imagier Publishing, 2010), 15.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Hans Jürgen-Goertz, The Anabaptists, trans. Trevor Johnson (London: Routledge, 1996), 86.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Harold S. Bender and Cornelius J. Dyck, Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press, 1955), s.v. “Church, Doctrine Of,” accessed May 3, 2014,http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Church,_Doctrine_of#1955_Article.

[10] James Edward McGoldrick, Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History, Atla Monograph Series (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 2000), 32:88.

[11] Micheal Sattler and John Howard Yoder, “The Schleitheim Brotherly Union,” Mennonite Church USA Archives, February 11, 2002, accessed May 4, 2014, http://mcusa-archives.org/library/resolutions/schleithiem/separation.html.

[12] Donald E. Gowan, ed., The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 354.

[13] Stephen Russell, Overcoming Evil God’s Way: The Biblical and Historical Case for Nonresistance (Guys Mills, Pennsylvania: Faithbuilders Resource Group, 2008), 6.

[14] Matthew 5:38-42.

[15] Ibid., 6-7.

Liberation from Burdensome Liturgy and Practices

The following is Radix-Anabaptism’s contribution to a blog tour surrounding this year’s Wild Goose Festival theme ‘Living Liberation.’


Galatians 5:1 admonishes believers to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”[1] In another place when denouncing the Sadducees and Pharisees Jesus said regarding them. “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46). Jesus likened the unscriptural meticulous traditions and customs of the Jewish religious community to a load of goods that one is not easily able to carry, something that taxes a person physically and harmonizing with the thought of the analogy spiritually. However, Jesus offered something different he said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

For centuries, the historic church has adopted liturgies and practices that do not communicate the words of Jesus and Paul but in its place, it has reinstated arduous formularies for public worship. During the sixteenth century when the Protestant Reformation surfaced many things was retained and even at present it has become widespread to reach back and replant those things that was castoff. Out of the Reformation, another reformation occurred, known as the Radical Reformation and while there were, many participants in this reformation one group stood out in particular. That group was the Anabaptists.

Within Anabaptism, they adopted a simplified means of gathering for mutual edification.  While there is not that much data regarding their day to day gatherings for edification (or worship services), the extant material present reveal a simplicity that liberates one from the traditions assimilated during the post first century Church. The Anabaptists saw that Christianity is supposed to be simple in nature, it should be where it is a way of life; it should function as a part of a person’s daily routine. We are called to be obedient and produce goods works, not to put forth effort attempting observe liturgies or alien practices that did not originate from God’s Word the Bible. When one compares what we see at present to what the Anabaptists practiced, it would be hard to determine which aligns with the words of Christ and the apostolic ekklesia. Take their meetings for edification as an instance.

The Anabaptists “worshipped in forests . . . caves, barns, or mills . . . the only Anabaptist meetinghouse was built in the 16th century . . . [a] few groups bought and refurbished the interiors of buildings like warehouses, but they were forbidden to make the exteriors look like conventional churches”.[2] They also employed their personal homes for such meetings more often than the above settings.  Even when they had meetings houses in later generations, they forewent “symbols or sculptures or stained glass windows . . . [m]ost of them didn’t even have meetinghouses, and they got used to the simplicity of natural surroundings.”[3]

In larger settings, “the central element was preaching to explain the Scripture. The services included prayers and hymns, and participants also had opportunity to comment on the sermon.”[4] Contemporaneously one is almost never allowed to inquire about the sermon in a public setting. The people’s participation level is zero they are solely spectators. The minister or pastor is the sole arbiter of truth and no freedom of expression is permitted. The Anabaptists also “ate a light meal together, sometimes baptized candidates, and discussed major issues such as who among the ministers or readers would be the presiding elder.”[5] Unlike in many instances today, communal meals are not shared nor are the inner workings of the congregation decided by its members. All of these things encapsulate the sizable Anabaptists’ meeting, in other words this is more than one congregation come together on special occasions for various reasons.

Normally when they would meet in smaller groups at a more frequent basis, there was very little variation. These meetings possibly consisted of “five to 10 people”.[6] While many pastors complain about not having a sizable congregation, the Anabaptists knew that smaller was advantageous.  Low cost to maintain and in place of everyone being united at one geographical location numerous smaller communities was established over a wide geographical area for effective evangelism and missions. Their normative local or smaller meetings also parallel the larger assemblies in that they “included Scripture readings, interpretation, and prayer, but perhaps less singing than at larger, more secluded gatherings.” [7]

Oppression played a part in the Anabaptist primitive meeting style however; this did not indicate they would have emulated Protestant and Roman Catholic models for gathering if those very same groups did not persecute them. The persecution did not determine the nature and structure of their meetings instead persecution “which made meetings difficult and often dangerous, gave added support to this basic attitude.”[8] The cruelty they underwent only reinforced an attitude that was present since the inauguration of the movement.

Much more could be related but the above snapshot should model true liberty in practice if only in one area. When we take upon ourselves the yoke of Christ in order to experience the freedom found in him it is essential that we remain in him and obey. Jesus comforted his disciples by saying:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”[9]

One aspect of minding Jesus’ instructions is following those that followed Christ, Paul encouraged the Corinthians by saying “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). While the New Testament authors did not pen any direct mandates concerning all aspects of ecclesial polity they did in fact teach through their actions. They modeled authentic Christian meetings and praxis. I will conclude with the words of J. L. Dagg, he wrote in 1859:

It was made the duty of the apostles to teach their converts whatsoever Christ had commanded, and to set the churches in order. If, instead of leaving dry precepts to serve for our guidance, they have taught us, by example, how to organize and govern churches. We have no right to reject their instruction and captiously insist that nothing but positive command shall bind us. Instead of choosing to walk in a way of our own devising, we should take pleasure to walk in the footsteps of those holy men from whom we have received the word of life . . . respect for the Spirit by which they were led should induce us to prefer their modes of organization and government to such as our inferior wisdom might suggest.[10]


[1] Authorized (King James) Version

[2] John Oyer and Keith Graber Miller, “In Forests, Caves, and Barns: Worshipping with the Early Anabaptists,” Gospel Herald, September 2, 1997, 2.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Harold S. Bender et al., eds., Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press, 1989), s.v. “Worship, Public,” accessed March 13, 2014, http://www.gameo.org/index.php?title=Worship,_Public#1959_Article.

[9] John 15:5-11

[10] J.L. Dagg, Manual of Theology (Charleston, SC: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1859), 84.