Early Distinctions in Absonderung or Separation

It is correct to say that Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz did not desire to separate from the church but instead they desired to “try to win Zwingli and the Zürich government for a re-establishment of the apostolic church”.[1]  This imagined apostolic church they desired would take the form of a “tortured church state structure, led by a decidedly Christian government and by Zwingli, to which the majority of the population would belong.”[2]

This is seen shortly following the first disciples’ baptism in January of 1525 when “the churchgoers Zollikon . . . gathered in the church for worship. Their pastor, Niklaus Billeter, is about to mount the pulpit, when” Georg Blaurock entered the church.[3] Then between:

the two an excited conversation takes place before the congregation. Blaurock asks the pastor the rhetorical question of what he intends to do. Billeter answers as a good Zwinglian: “I will preach the Word of God.” Blaurock replies: “Not you, but I have been sent to preach.” Billeter calls his attention to the fact that he has been sent, namely, by his superior at the canon seat of the Grossmünster Church in Zürich, which for ages had engaged the clergyman for Zollikon.

Blaurock was not satisfied by this information and continued to talk. Meanwhile, Billeter had mounted the pulpit and had begun to preach. But Blaurock was still disturbing, and Billeter interrupted his sermon, came down from the pulpit and turned toward the door, certainly not to vacate the place in the pulpit for the disturber but to shorten the tumult.[4]

Then the congregants made it clear that they did not want the pastor to stop the sermon so Billeter returned to the pulpit and continued while telling the audience that “if anyone wanted to show him his errors he should do so privately in the personage, but not . . . in the church”.[5] In response Blaurock interrupted the sermon again saying “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers.”[6] He then took a stick he had with him and rapped it against a church pew four times ultimately ending with “Deputy Bailiff Wuest, who was present in the church, arose and threatened the disturber with jail if he did not immediately desist.”[7] Six months later in the town of Hinwil we see a similar incident in the church pastored by Hans Brennwald. When the people arrived:

to the regular Sunday morning service of the church and awaited the pastor. But before he . . . appeared, that is, before the service began . . . Blaurock stepped up into the pulpit and preached, introducing himself with the explanation: “Whose house is this? Is this God’s house where the Word of God should be proclaimed? Them I am here as an ambassador from the Father to proclaim the Word of God” . . . Brennwald came too late; he was not able to expel the intruder and had to call on the bailiff for help.[8]

These incidents reveals two things regarding the perspective of the proto-Anabaptists. For Blaurock “the development of Anabaptist movement in Zollikon was too slow. He wanted to attempt to convert the population, if possible, at one stroke through preaching in the church.”[9] Even though the movement began just months earlier Blaurock felt that he had a role to play in the purposes of God and his role was to set God’s house aright.  Thus his continued reference to Matthew 21:13 suggesting that the state Church was connected to God but was corrupted and needed cleansing.

Early on there were two kinds of separation or Absonderung, the first being “separation from the world and its evil works”.  It consisted of shunning the unbiblical and immoral teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. This calls back to Georg Blaurock’s thinking and behavior. The other form is full “separation from the church”.

Generally when addressing Absonderung people will reduce it to something as simple as saying that the early members of the Brethren in Christ (Brüder in Christo) later the Swiss Brethren (Schweizer Brüder) sought to remain attached to the state church until they were left with no alternative. As seen with Blaurock it can be argued that the Anabaptists embraced “separation from the world and its evil works” universally from the initiation of the movement. For instance when one looks at the one many people hold as the ‘father of Anabaptism’ Conrad Grebel. Grebel felt that every:

reminder of the Roman mass must be eliminated. In its place a simple Supper was to come, in which only the installation words were to be read, and which would not be taken in the church but in the homes of believers, without clerical dress, with ordinary bread and ordinary drinking cups, as a symbolic meal demonstrating the fellowship of Christians with each other and with Christ . . . Baptism should not be given to children but, according to the usage in the early church, to adults who have become believers, and should signify that we have washed from sin . . . Baptism and Lord’s Supper therefore . . . lacked sacramental character.[10]

This conception of the community of God was founded on Grebel’s Biblicism. That is, it was on “the basis of their interpretation of the authority of the Scriptures.”[11] And it was this hermeneutic that led Grebel and his companions “to withdraw from the Reformed folk church in Zurich and set out to establish a church form to correspond to the pattern of primitive Christianity, namely, a church of the few who have come to personal faith in Christ and have been baptized on the basis of their faith . . . . But Grebel did not preach withdrawal only from the folk church, but also from the life of the state.”[12] Before commenting on the contents of Grebel’s position, one more account needs to be considered.

The Zollikon congregation was granted permission by the Zürich Council “to hold private gatherings had been granted to the Anabaptists on February 7, 1525, at the same time when they were prohibited from maintaining a separate church.”[13] In addition to this they “were not to baptize any more, but among themselves they might meet for Bible study.”[14] Georg Blaurock appeared and the baptizing of adults commenced once again leading to more sanctions by the Zürich Council in March regarding “baptizing, that is, against founding their own church.”[15]

The Anabaptists obeyed the Council’s demands and they created their conventicles or “Bible groups” and “ignored the church services and the pastor” based on the directive given them back in February.[16] This was not what the Zürich Council desired, they “had intended such gatherings to take place within the church; that is, the participants in these Bible groups should also go to church and regard themselves as members of the state church.”[17]

In August the Zürich Council forbade them from gathering privately and they were required to “go to church and there hear the word of God”.[18] Upon receiving this order the Zollikon Anabaptists gathered to decide how best to respond this this new mandate. The congregation arrived at the decision “to give up baptizing, simply live the Christian life together, and be obedient to my lords”.[19]  To put it another way, the “plan to organize an Anabaptist free church in Zollikon was buried; also the gatherings in the houses here and there were discontinued; the brothers would still remain bound to each other in the Christian spirit, but without an independent organization; they would render obedience to the regulations of the Council in regard to church attendance and membership in the state church.”[20]

In this instance we see that the Zollikon group began holding the same position as Grebel, a short while later they tried their best to maintain their autonomy within the parameters established by Zurich Council. When this was not enough they abandoned any thoughts of creating a community of genuine believers and began again to attend the Reformed state church. While this behavior seems out of character with the fearlessness and martyr’s spirit the Anabaptists are known for the reader has to be mindful that this was during the formative first year of the movement. With that being said while they conceded to the state church it was only in the areas of baptism and separation from the Reformed Church. No one are we told that they changed their views on any other matter.

From all of this we see that Conrad Grebel and the earliest Anabaptist community held to a position analogous to what is found in the Brüderlich Vereinigung or Schleitheim Brotherly Union that was drafted later in 1527. The Brotherly Union defined Absonderung in the following fashion. It says:

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, winehouses, guarantees and commitments of unbelief, and other things of the kind, which the world regards highly, and yet which are carnal or flatly counter to the command of God, after the pattern of all the iniquity which is in the world.[21]

Therefore two years later the concept of Absonderung or separation comprised of a melding of separation from the church and separation from the world and evil works. But also at this time the accounts featuring Georg Blaurock and the fate of the Zollikon congregation demonstrate that separation in both areas was not universally and simultaneously held. They held both and one position

Another point worth looking at is how Anabaptists related to the state Churches varied by location. Blarock’s and the first Anabaptist congregation’s actions initially occurred in Zollikon then in Hinwil. But when you look at the city of Therwil you will get a different picture.

The Anabaptists relationship with the state church in the city of Therwil was a remarkably divergent from what occured in Zollikon and Hinwil. The Anabaptists actually thrived and functioned in the midst of the state church during the year of 1526. The reason being was that the priest that served there was considerate towards the Anabaptists and their message. This was evidenced by his benevolently opening his home to the Anabaptists for their meetings at the risk of his own welfare and life.[22] Thus from this chronicle it posits the fact that the state churches’ in an area response to the Anabaptist message early on determined how the Anabaptists viewed it and associated with it.






[1] Fritz Blanke, Brothers in Christ: The History of the Oldest Anabaptist Congregation, Zollikon, Near Zurich, Switzerland (Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005), 20.

[2] Ibid., 12.

[3] Ibid., 29-30.

[4] Ibid., 30.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 31.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 14.

[11] Ibid., 15.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 67-8.

[14] Ibid., 68.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., 69.

[20] Ibid.

[21] John Howard Yoder, ed., trans., The Schleitheim Confession (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977), 12.

[22] Johannes Gast, De Anabaptismi Exordio, Erroribus, Historijs abominandis, Confutationibus adjectis, Libri duo (Basel; 1544), 360.



Response to “Mennonites and “separation”: More ruminations”

Not too long ago I ran across an interesting article posted on Facebook by the professor of Theology and Peace Studies at Eastern Mennonite University and author Ted Grimsrud. It was a blog article he had written named Is the Mennonite (Church USA) project doomed? Some ruminations. We had a brief but interesting exchange that could not really go the distance because of other commenters on the thread. So I asked him if it was possible for him to turn his comments into a blog article so we could dig deep into the issue uninterrupted. This is my response to his article Mennonites and “separation”: More ruminations.


To begin let me make this clear, while I am not a member of the Mennonite denomination I can say that I am a friend of many Mennonites and while I can’t speak from the perspective of someone who is experiencing many of the events Ted Grimsrud speaks about I can say that I can comment on the behaviors, practices and perspectives expressed.

Separation (Absonderung)

It is true the Anabaptists didn’t desire to establish a separate faith community initially. They strove to persuade the Reformed and Roman Catholics to cast-off their unbiblical doctrines and practices and experience genuine renewal. For the reason that they felt that the reforms initiated by Luther did not go far enough, that Luther and others fell short of ameliorating to the fullest extent possible.

The use of the word “separation” without qualification can be misleading when looking back during the formative years of the movement. There are two types of separation during that time. The first is found in the Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren which contain the recollections of George Blaurock regarding how the first Anabaptist Gemeinde came into existence. In the retelling there is an arresting statement that is vital in understanding Absonderung or separation from the Anabaptist perspective. Following the first disciple’s baptisms the Chronicle says “[t]hus they together gave themselves to the name of the Lord in the high fear of God. Each confirmed (bestätet) the other in the service of the gospel, and they began to teach and keep the faith. Therewith began the separation from the world and its evil works.”[1]

“Separation from evil did not initially denote separation from the church. The Anabaptists only disassociated themselves from certain practices within the church which they found offensive.”[2] The second form is “separation from church” which forbade the participation in all aspects of the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.

The Anabaptists saw themselves as being a part of something which had many corrupted facets and their shunning of those things and antagonism towards them was their means of protest. The programmatic epistles of Conrad Grebel to the German radical Reformer Thomas Müntzer (1488/9-1525) had already demonstrated separation from the world and its evil works as found in the ecclesiastical powers that was extant at that time in 1524. In the first of the two letters Grebel and his fellow members of the Zürich Circle said that at some point in the past people fell away from sound Christian teaching and practices and had taken up:

useless, unchristian practices and ceremonies and supposed they would find salvation in them but fell far short of it, as the evangelical preachers have shown and are still in part showing, so even today everyone wants to be saved by hypocritical faith, without fruits of faith, without the baptism of trial and testing, without hope and love, without true Christian practices, and wants to remain in all the old ways of personal vices and common antichristian ceremonial rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, dishonoring the divine Word, but honoring the papal word and the antipapal preachers, which is not like or in accord with the divine Word. In respect of persons and all manner of seduction they are in more serious and harmful error than has ever been the case since the foundation of the world. We were also in the same aberration because we were only hearers and readers of the evangelical preachers who are responsible for all this error as our sins deserved.[3]

In the above passage we see a denunciation of “useless, unchristian practices and ceremonies” while at the opening of the correspondence he refers to Thomas Müntzer as “Dear Brother Thomas” and he is asked to “Consider us your brethren”. Yet in the very same letter the Zürich Circle explained to Müntzer:

Moreover, the gospel and its adherents are not to be protected by the sword, nor [should] they [protect] themselves, which as we have heard through our brother is what you believe and maintain. True believing Christians are sheep among wolves, sheep for the slaughter. They must be baptized in anguish and tribulation, persecution, suffering, and death, tried in fire, and must reach the fatherland of eternal rest not by slaying the physical but the spiritual. They use neither worldly sword nor war, since killing has ceased with them entirely, unless indeed we are still under the old law, and even there (as far as we can know) war was only a plague after they had once conquered the Promised Land.[4]

The Circle ends their admonition with “No more of this.”[5] The reasoning behind this is that Thomas Müntzer spoke of violent revolution that eventually led to him becoming a “rebel” leader in the Peasants’ War whose life ended in torture and decapitation in 1525 following his being captured. Even though the Zürich Circle that eventually became the group known as the Swiss Brethren rebuked violence under any circumstances they still saw that Thomas Müntzer as a spiritual brother which is a surprising contrast to their stance years later as seen in Article VI of the Brüderlich Vereinigung (Schleitheim Brotherly Union) which addresses the “Sword” and if you look back at Article IV on “Separation” which demonstrates a connection between it and the Sword. It says “Thereby shall also fall away from us the diabolical weapons of violence—such as sword, armor, and the like, and all of their use to protect friends or against enemies—by virtue of the word of Christ: “you shall not resist evil.”[6]

Ultimately the crystalized form of Absonderung appeared in in 1527 in the aforementioned document and article. Absonderung is defined as:

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, winehouses, guarantees and commitments of unbelief, and other things of the kind, which the world regards highly, and yet which are carnal or flatly counter to the command of God, after the pattern of all the iniquity which is in the world.[7]

The Swiss Brethren’s desire to separate from evil was in place at the onset but separation from the church occurred later in its definitive manifestation. All this could be summarized by saying that many within (and outside of) the scholarly community:

conclude that separation was not always, or even generally, the position of the early Swiss Anabaptists because they equate separation from evil with separation from the church. They recognize the Anabaptist desire for radical reform within the established structures, but confuse the issue somewhat by their use of the term “separation.” Trying to determine when the Anabaptists became separatist tends to overshadow the fact that the concept of separation from evil was a part of the Anabaptist concern for moral improvement from the beginning. When that desire led the Anabaptists to reject attendance at the preaching was dependent upon the receptiveness to their message.[8]

The Ban (Bann)

I find all this talk of “trauma” problematic in relation to the Bann. Now while how one executes a certain practice can be potentially traumatizing, that does not make the practice wrong in and of itself. Also many times people become distressed because they did not get to do or acquire what they desired and have everyone accept it then in response these individuals or even groups claim they have been traumatized or experienced some psychological event from the response they received. The ban (whether exclusion from communion or exclusion from membership), excommunication, disfellowshipping or whatever name people prefer it is all biblical mandate Jesus specifically expressed that exclusion in some fashion for those that went beyond the strictures of the ekklesia. Matthew 18:15-20 reads:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.

The Swiss Anabaptists called the ban the “Rule of Christ”, it was called the “Rule” because it was the authoritative direction Jesus prescribed to regulate the Christian community. It is to maintain a state of holiness in the context of the ekklesia. The relationship with God and Christ involves discipleship which in turn requires a clean ekklesia. Balthasar Hübmaier wrote in the year 1527 in his work Fraternal Admonition:

such admonition and exclusion is not only good for one according to the nature of the case, but it would also be much better for him that a millstone be hung around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than that he should give the very least offense or scandal in the church and pile sin upon sin . . . Now since fraternal admonition and the Christian ban proceed from such inner, heartfelt and fervent love, which one Christian should have daily toward another in true faithfulness, therefore he must be a most ignorant, wild and godless monster, yea a grim Herod . . . who would not accept such admonition from his brethren in a friendly and kind way, and with thanksgiving.[9]

Fraternal admonition and the ban are loving practices to not only maintain the sanctity of the Gemeinde but assists believers to preserve their virtuous standing before God. Therefore the person that is being admonished should take it as something for their benefit and not their detriment. Thus when done properly there is no trauma involved at all.

Stories of Past Traumas

As a side note the Martyrs Mirror (1660) was not compiled by Thieleman J. van Braght “to rekindle the passion by collecting stories of past traumas”. Van Braght was carrying on a practice that started almost 100 years earlier.  The first compilation of (Dutch) Anabaptist martyr stories occurred in the year 1562 entitled Het Offer des Heeren. It went through 11 editions with additional content by the year 1599.  So this was not something new brought on by “trauma” but it was done as a means for those who suffered and died for the Anabaptist faith as it were to be remembered and see those brave men and women as examples of authentic Christians to be emulated.







[1] George Huntston Williams and Angel M. Mergal, eds., Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006, 1957), 44.

[2] Ervin A. Schlabach, “The Rule of Christ Among the Early Swiss Anabaptists” (diss., Chicago Theological Seminary, 1977), 59.

[3] Conrad Grebel, “Conrad Grebel: Letters to Thomas Muntzer,” The Anabaptist Network, February 3, 2008, accessed May 8, 2015, http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/grebel.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] John Howard Yoder, ed., trans., The Schleitheim Confession (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977), 13.

[7] Ibid., 12.

[8] Ervin A. Schlabach, “The Rule of Christ Among the Early Swiss Anabaptists”, 61.

[9] Balthasar Hübmaier, Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, ed. and trans. H. Wayne Pipkin and John Howard Yoder, Classics of the Radical Reformation (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 5:380.

Pilgram Marpeck’s View of Original Sin, Humanity and States of Salvation

At this time I want to illuminate Pilgram Marpeck’s position on Original Sin, the nature of humanity post-Fall and the states of salvation. This is a continuation of his replies to the Reformed theologian Caspar Schwenckfeld that was addressed previously.

Marpeck begins by arguing “that for children neither inherited nor actual sin counts before God because a child remains in ignorance and in created simplicity (schoepflichen einfalt) until it grows up into understanding (in die vernunft erwachst) and the inheritance is realized in and through it.”[1] The Anabaptist leader continues on by stating that before “that, sin has no damning effect; neither inherited nor actual sin is counted against child before God” or as he put it plainly the “origin and beginning of inherited sin is in the knowledge of good and evil.””[2]  When children reach the age of understanding of right and wrong “then the inheritance which leads to damnation becomes effective in them . . . inherited sin becomes inheritable.”[3] Marpeck calls this process the dying off of their “created simplicity”.

Before moving on with the remainder of the material we see from the offset Marpeck posits a view contrary to the Reformed teaching that all have inherited original sin and deserve the severe judgment of God. Marpeck maintains the Swiss Brethren view that children are not judged by God in the fashion that He assesses adults.

After explaining that physical and mental maturity that permits the comprehension of good and evil transitions a child from being in a state of created simplicity to one of accountability for potential sins Pilgram Marpeck introduces a new state called “simplicity of faith”.  He articulates that before the change “the child is reconciled and excused for all things; hereafter, it may still hold onto the simplicity of faith in which understanding is taken captive through faith in Christ. As long as this simplicity continues, no sin is counted before God until we fall again out of simplicity into understanding and sin and grow in them.”[4]

Marpeck then appeals to Matthew 18 where Jesus admonished his listeners by saying “unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” for the supposed purpose of explaining what comprises simplicity of faith.[5] One is to not interpret Jesus’ words to communicate “that we should in all things become like youth in its lack of understanding or its inarticulateness.”[6] But instead “become like children in our readiness to change direction and all those things which hinder people who have reached the age of understanding from receiving salvation.”[7]

To say it differently a person must have the willingness to follow the lead of another i.e. one must have a spirit of obedience in the same fashion that (some) children will listen to the instruction of their parents and turn from an action that they are told to no longer engage in.

We turn away from sin through faith and Gospel teaching, by turning from what we know is malicious, proud, and in love with the world. Through true remorse and regret we disown all of it, returning, as if into forgetting and ignorance, because we surrender our understanding into captivity. We become simple, without falseness or guile, as children are.[8]

He there is mention of turning “away from sin through faith” and “Gospel teaching” thus one being instructed in what posture to take towards life. Next Marpeck then follows with a number of biblical texts such as Matthew 10:16; Romans 16:19; 1 Corinthians 14:20 to fortify his argument that we are to parallel the “created ignorance” of the original man and woman in Eden prior to the Fall of humanity.[9] From this point Pilgram Marpeck appeals heavily to the first and second chapter of the book of Romans to explain that when people attain the natural knowledge of God, good and evil and when they even neglect the little light that illuminates the good that’s imbedded in the human conscience only then will the type of sinfulness that lead to condemnation that was inherited from Adam will be a factor.

We stand firm in our confession . . . that sinfulness leading to condemnation follows as an inheritance only as people grow out of their created simplicity into the common, natural human knowledge of good and evil. When it extends into carnal selfish reason (fleischlich aigen vernuft) and the abandonment of the knowledge of good which came through the light of nature, then people stand before a judge, Jesus Christ. They do this through their fallen nature and the work of the devil. If they carry out the evil they know as heirs of Adam’s fall in an understanding which is contrary to their true selves, if they do not heed the fact they knowingly bear either God and goodness or evil and sin (Rom. 1)—in sum, if they acknowledge evil or sin in their conscience, that comes not out of an unfallen but a fallen nature. They have their judge, Jesus Christ (Rom. 2). God preserve us from excusing such people! We excuse young, innocent children from guilt and the remnants of their inheritance through none other than Christ. There is no more condemnation for them through Adam and Eve’s fall. Nor do they have an inheritance which leads to condemnation; the wrath of God is not upon such children until they reach understanding, that is, the common knowledge of good and evil. We say, “Let the children remain in the promise of Christ until they can be instructed, until they can know and believe.[10]

Also these things apply to those in the past or as Marpeck puts it the “children of the old age” because in the same fashion they inherited the potential for sin in Adam they also inherited and have the “advantage of the promise of long ago and the grace it afforded, Christ’s reconciliation” through his death.[11] At this juncture Marpeck he becomes more detailed in how Satan and sin actually works upon and within humanity. Likewise it appears that Marpeck communicates an additional manner in which someone can exist in a state of simplistic faith that is attained through the light of creation that was mentioned earlier if adhered to by someone.

We are told that as “soon as the simplicity of the created order dies out in children, as soon as the simplicity of faith dies out in old people” then the “the old Adam comes alive in their understanding and in their lust for falsehood.”[12] This results in these individuals existing in a state of opposition to God. Then the “serpent becomes everyone’s head and the person becomes a member of the serpent’s body. This serpent holds sway among the children of malice.”[13] What he is saying here is that the sin is connected to one’s disposition or view and approach to life. The person that has embraced sin will behave in accordance with remainder of those that are in opposition to God and His directives and abide by the dictates of the serpent. Also at this point Marpeck broaches the matter raised earlier. He writes if “such a person is again to come to grace, he must die again and be buried through baptism into Christ’s death, be born of water and Spirit, and rise again with Christ through the simplicity of faith in the word. Such a one has accepted the kingdom of God like a child!”[14]

Previously he said that “the simplicity of faith dies out in old people” and prior to that he appears to argued that the simplicity of faith is achieved through the turning “away from sin through faith and Gospel teaching” i.e. coming to faith. Yet he does mention the “knowledge of good which came through the light of nature”. He expands on this thought by saying towards the conclusion of his thoughts on human anthropology. He says that all:

those who were naturally holy after Adam’s fall—Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Cornelius the centurion, and others—were made that way through their immortal spirit and the light of nature. Still today it shines in all who admit it and creates such light or law in people in whom the fear of God dwells and leads them into natural holiness. This same light shone on Adam unhindered before the fall. But after the fall, its light is obstructed by our own perverse life and will. It hinders everyone who lets it do so. In a child this light is untouched, unextinguished, un-darkened until understanding and reason appear. Then it makes its own darkness; great is that darkness . . . The light dims or darkens through sin and malice of the flesh.[15]

So now we have another category that seems to be synonymous with the simplistic faith without conversion category called “natural holiness”. This is a state where one essentially follows the lead of the light of creation which would most likely involve following the law of conscience rooted in human beings by means of God. John Rempel notes concerning this section that “Marpeck seems to be saying here that a “natural” relationship with God is possible, i.e. that in a spiritually receptive person there need not be an existential “fall” in which all capacity to respond to God is lost. There is an inescapable allusion here to the train of thought, if not the actual text, of Romans 2:6-16.”[16]

In summary from this it appears that Pilgram Marpeck held to three categories of right standing with God. There are the Creative Ignorance which is the state that all humanity are born in. It is the ignorance that all children have regarding good and evil. After this within time as the child matures and start to attaining the knowledge of good and evil they can either embrace sin or enter into one of two states. There is the state of the Simplicity of Faith Non-Christian or Natural Holiness. This is where the individual that is spiritually receptive obey God by means of responding positively to the light of nature. This obedience is based on the recognition of something greater and following the law of God as found in the conscience. Finally there is the Simplicity of Faith that leads to one genuinely coming to faith and becoming a member of the Body of Christ and a citizen of the Kingdom of God.


[1] 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), 1:89.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Matthew 18:13

[6] Ibid., 90.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 90-1.

[11] Ibid., 91.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 92.

[16] Ibid., 148.

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.

Part I: Evangelize the Gemeinde?

Recently a book was released that I functioned as one of the general editors and contributed a chapter entitled A Living Alternative: Anabaptist Christianity in a Post-Christendom World. Just recently I got into a discussion regarding the meaning of something I wrote. The passage in question related to how I defined evangelism. I said:

Evangelism simply put is the transmission of said gospel to those who have not heard it in order for them to accept the invitation to become citizens of God’s Kingdom, which results in them becoming members of the ekklesia.[1]

The pushback I received related to the portion that says “the transmission of said gospel to those who have not heard it”. In my interlocutors’ comprehension evangelism is not limited to only those that have not been espoused to it. Instead it is a perpetual activity that occurs in the context of the local congregation. It is evident in the sermons that is preached weekly and it is found in the context of discipling. Well I am at odds with the above for the following reasons. Initially I am approaching the matter from a non-Protestant or repopish perspective. I look at the issue from a primitive apostolic perspective as indicated in the New Testament and history. Also from the ecclesio-centric understanding of the prototypical Anabaptists.

New Testament

Evangelism is inseparably tied to the gospel, you can’t talk about one without mentioning the other. The terms employed in the Greek is εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) which denotes literally “good news” often translated as “gospel”, the verb form of euangelion, is εὐαγγελίζω (euangelizo) to “announce” or “herald” or “proclaim” the good news or in English evangelize. These terms is seen employed within the context of sharing with unbelievers. Evangelism is heralding the message—making the pronouncement that relates to the king and kingdom. Thus once a Christian has delivered the message or the recipient have heard it all other things that come after is designated as instruction, apologetics or mentoring (discipling). Evangelism cannot be considered as being an aspect of encouraging sanctification for the reason there is a vast distinction between evangelizing and living one’s faith as a testimony.

Also it is important to note that how one defines the gospel will determine its use in the context of the Body. If it is a soterian gospel it will be employed inside especially when one holds to the traditional thinking that majority of the evangelism occurs within the fabricated structure called a “church”. Whereas if the gospel is an invitation to the kingdom then once the invite is accepted you do not need to keep inviting individuals that’s already present.

An objection to this point was it is difficult to escape a gospel that has a soteriological focus after all the Apostle Paul delineated a soterian gospel at 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. There Paul writes:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

If a person looks at 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 as representing the Protestant soterian gospel then there is a problem. Paul did not start that pertinent section (verse 3) off with Χριστός (Christos) or “Christ” and its relation to γραφάς (graphas) the “Scriptures” for nothing. He was focusing on Jesus being the “Messiah” or “Anointed One”. Many treat the term Christ as if it has lost its titular force as a result it has virtually became a last name for Jesus instead of serving as a title to designate messiahship in the minds of professed believers. In ancient “Judaism, “messiah” came to refer to a divinely appointed redeemer who would rule over a restored kingdom of Israel where the dispersed Jews would be gathered at the end of days.”[2] Hence when Paul began with highlighting the gospel he has already in the offset established the kingdom as being the topic. His referencing the scriptures recalls all the messianic promises associated with the kingdom and it’s sovereign.

The Messiah’s death, burial and resurrection was the thing that verified Jesus’ position as the foretold Messiah who would be king. His resurrection validates Jesus being the means in which we individuals experience the new birth which functions as the admission into the kingdom. In the very same chapter that is utilized to communicate the Protestant soterian gospel speaks of the kingdom as the end goal.

But Christ really has been raised from death—the first one of all those who will be raised. Death comes to people because of what one man did. But now there is resurrection from death because of another man. I mean that in Adam all of us die. And in the same way, in Christ all of us will be made alive again. But everyone will be raised to life in the right order. Christ was first to be raised. Then, when Christ comes again, those who belong to him will be raised to life. Then the end will come. Christ will destroy all rulers, authorities, and powers. Then he will give the kingdom to God the Father. Christ must rule until God puts all enemies under his control. The last enemy to be destroyed will be death. As the Scriptures say, “God put everything under his control.” When it says that “everything” is put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself. God is the one putting everything under Christ’s control. After everything has been put under Christ, then the Son himself will be put under God. God is the one who put everything under Christ. And Christ will be put under God so that God will be the complete ruler over everything.[3]

Paul did not create a substitute gospel to replace the one Jesus demarcated all the Apostle did was provide the supplementary knowledge of how to enter the kingdom through faith in the Messiah.

The following is the initial reason why the Anabaptists did not evangelize when the Gemeinde gathered.

Anabaptist Reason I

The proto-Anabaptists known as the Swiss Brethren did not have the ekklesia organized in a fashion where evangelism would take place. The reason being that to them it is implied that the gospel was for all intents and purposes was an invitation in the fashion mentioned subsequently. Anabaptists viewed the gathering of the community (Gemeinde) as being something only the baptized member could participate in. They did not have it open for all.

Because a key aspect of their meetings was the Lord’s Supper and according to Article III of The Schleitheim Brotherly Union touching on the subject of “Bread” it states that only those who can partake of the Lord’s Supper must “be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism.” This point is echoed by articulating that “whoever does not share the calling of the one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one spirit, to one body together with all the children of God, may not be made one loaf together with them, as must be true if one wishes truly to break bread according to the command of Christ.”[4] The entirety of the contents housed in the Brotherly Union articulate a separatist ideology and there would be no place for a nonbeliever in their presence nor would they try to evangelize someone at their conventicles since all present would be believers already.

The next installment of this article will cover the second Anabaptist reason why they did not evangelize in the Gemeinde.







[1] Joanna Harader and A.O. Green, eds., A Living Alternative: Anabaptist Christianity in a Post-Christendom World (New York: Ettelloc Publishing, 2014), 5.

[2] Ronald L. Eisenberg, Jewish Traditions: JPS Guide, JPS Guide (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2008), 619-20.

[3] 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 Easy-to-Read Version

[4] Michael Sattler, The Schleitheim Confession, trans. John Howard Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977), 11.

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.

Felix Manz’s View of Death—No Soul or Hell

Felix-Manz-WebFelix Manz (ca. 1498-1527) is credited with penning the hymn I Will Stay With Christ (Mit Lust so will ich singen) found in the Ausbund the oldest hymnbook of the Swiss Brethren. While Manz did not live very long to write much material depicting his views the things that remains shed light on his beliefs. The canticle mentioned above reiterates something that I addressed previously regarding the Swiss Brethren branch of the Anabaptists views regarding death and the soul. The first two stanzas of Mit Lust so will ich singen (I Will Stay With Christ) says:

I will sing with gladness! My heart rejoices in God who made me wise enough to escape eternal death! And I praise you Christ from heaven who turns away my grief—you whom God sent for my example and light, to call me into your kingdom before my end.

There [in the Kingdom of Christ] I will be joyful with him forever, and love him from the heart. I love his righteousness that guides all who seek life—here as well as there. Righteousness lets itself be scorned as well as praised. But without it nothing survives.

Felix Manz unmistakably tells us how he views death. According to him God provided him with the wisdom to avoid “eternal death” with no qualification.  In the second stanza he speaks to being joyful with Christ “forever” in the “Kingdom of Christ” which contrasts with the eternal death outside of relationship and the kingdom. Also in this section he posits the idea that without embracing Jesus’ righteousness “nothing survives”.

In the seventh section Manz speaks of how servants of Christ does not bring harm to their enemies and those who do are hypocrites lacking the type of love Christ displayed yet they want to be “shepherds and teachers” because they do not comprehend his words. Other than being an indictment on the religious powers that was persecuting the Anabaptists Manz shows that disobedience earns “eternal death”.

The hymn I Will Stay With Christ (Mit Lust so will ich singen) is rich with Swiss Brethren teaching or if one must Swiss Brethren “theology”. Just from the few lines we see that in order to attain salvation an impartation of wisdom, a relationship with Christ and a life of righteousness is required. But that is not the purpose of this post. I can revisit this hymn on another occasion for that what I am lecturing to at present is the fact that we see what many  would call an “unorthodox” view of the soul was not just present in the teachings of Michael Sattler but also with Felix Manz. In Manz’s opinion death was an eternal state save from an intervention of God who gives everlasting life (Romans 1:161 John 5:10-11). At preset we would call this “conditional immortality” or annihilationism. This also renders the concept of Hell nonexistent in first generational Anabaptist understanding at the very least on the part of some of its original members.

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.

Proto-Anabaptist Meetings

At present, many define Anabaptism in a fashion that essentially parallels Protestant Evangelicalism.  Looking at the nature of the average “church service” or “worship service”, the barebones order consists of the following.

  1. Opening Song
  2. Welcome and announcements
  3. Continued worship set
  4. Prayer
  5. Sermon
  6. Receive tithes and offerings
  7. Closing song

You also must include the Sunday school and the very questionable “children’s church service”.[1] That’s just the rudimentary worship service order, that’s not counting the various trappings that has been adopted over the centuries. Commenting on this matter in The New Republic, Ed Kilgore observes:

[T]he single most notable trend in mainline American Protestantism in recent decades has been the adoption of liturgical practices associated with Catholicism, such as frequent communion and observance of liturgical seasons, particularly since Rome reformed its own liturgy during and after the Second Vatican Council Catholics and most mainline Protestants have long since adopted a common “lectionary” of scripture readings for use during worship services throughout the year. At the same time, the radical theological experiments that were once so fashionable in liberal Protestant circles have been subsiding; mainliners are far more likely to recite the historic Nicene or Apostle’s creeds during worship than are evangelicals. In other words, a growing number of mainline Protestants now worship much like Catholics.[2]

In contrast, I would like to highlight the nature of the prototypical Anabaptist’s “worship service”. That is how the group that began on January 1525 in Zollikon, Switzerland now known as the Swiss Brethren formally the Brüder in Christus (Brothers in Christ). Harold S. Bender tells us that the “service began with the reading of a passage from the New Testament and ended with baptism of such as desired it, and with a general participation in the Lord’s Supper. Baptisms took place at any time and at any place, in the morning or in the evening, in the house or at the stream.” [3] Regarding the Lord’s Supper and its observance Bender continues to relate that the “ceremony was made as simple as possible. The one who was conducting the service simply broke or cut a loaf of bread and pronounced over it the words of consecration, whereupon whoever desired was permitted to take a portion with the wine.”[4]

Their meetings basically consisted of the reading of God’s Word, observance of the ordinances and an open invitation to baptism. The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online states in “contrast to the general Reformation doctrine that the church comes to expression when the Word is preached and the sacraments properly observed, the Anabaptists believed that the “true church is raised up” where “faith, spirit, and power” result in “repentance and change of life” and obedience to the truth. Hence the Anabaptists placed little emphasis in formal public worship or ceremonies, and rejected all liturgy.”[5] Ecclesial discipline was implemented as well; the Anabaptists called it the “Rule of Christ”.

Some argue that the Anabaptist primitive meeting style existed because of persecution. That is the Brethren was limited in what they could do otherwise they would have emulated those around them. The truth of the matter is that 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.”[6] The oppression they underwent only enforced an attitude that was present from the launch of the movement. One can summarize thus:

In such worship a common searching of life was involved, and discipline naturally resulted, often carried through as a supplement to the regular worship. The fact that several ministers served the group in Bible reading, admonition, and prayer, and that services were not held in large church buildings but in homes or barns, in forest retreats, or even caves, in addition to the understanding that every member was a responsible adult who had chosen to follow Christ and shared fully in the life of the brotherhood, added to the intense sense of participation by all. Hence, Anabaptist congregations were not “audiences” in attendance upon a worship service furnished by a clergyman in a building belonging to the state and used for nothing else, but a genuine brotherhood sharing in Bible study, prayer, and mutual admonition. The high authority of the Bible of course placed it in the very center of the service, and the reading and exposition of it, or admonition from it, was the most important element. In a sense life was more important than worship.[7]

The above quote does a superb job of contrasting the past with the present, however I must point out far more said there then one truly realize. Perhaps this will be addressed in a future post.

[1] This is not the norm but some find it very appealing.

[2] Ed Kilgore, “The Widening Political Divide between Catholicism and Mainline Protestantism,” The New Republic, April 30, 2012, accessed March 13, 2014, http://www.newrepublic.com/article/books-and-arts/103027/ross-douthat-response-religion.

[3] Harold Stauffer Bender, Conrad Grebel, C. 1498-1526: The Founder of the Swiss Brethren Sometimes Called Anabaptists (Eugene, Or.: Wipf and Stock, 1998), 138.

[4] Ibid.

[5] 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.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Pilgram Marpeck and his Swiss Brethren Connection

Most that knows me or had conversations with me regarding my Anabaptist studies know that I primarily focus on the 16th century Swiss Brethren and the Hutterites more so than any other group classified as Anabaptists. Depending on the subject, it is sometimes problematic to find any material where these assemblies discussed certain issues. This is especially true concerning the Swiss Brethren because (1) they did not even desire to address the matter because they were more interested in applying Christianity than reflecting on theological categories than Rome and Protestantism. (2) Their material is episodic for the reason that many things are just lost to time. (3) The documents exist in German since I do not read and or write in German and no English translations exist as of yet thus I cannot possibly access it. (4) I simply cannot afford the work at this time so I have to wait until I am able to amass the necessary funds nor can I find the material online anywhere.

However, something has come to my attention recently that could assist me in filling in some of the blanks as it where regarding my study into the beliefs of the Swiss Brethren in addition to those that for the most part held the same beliefs as with the Hutterian Brethren. This apparent source of information is found in Pilgram Marpeck (ca. 1495-1556). When I first began to delve into Anabaptistica I never really paid attention to him due to the fact that when I first encountered the Swiss Brethren I was drawn to them immediately. It was not until recently I saw the intimate connection the Hutterites had with them and now it has come to my attention that Marpeck and later his Circle (a group of like-minded Anabaptists in which Marpeck collaborated on many writings) paralleled the Swiss Brethren in belief.

In times past it was felt by Anabaptist scholars that Marpeck did not have any connection with the Swiss Brethren because of some epistles he “wrote to the Swiss Brethren at Appenzell distancing himself from the rule-based legalism and literalistic interpretations of Scripture that he had apparently witnessed there”.[1]  His disagreement with the Swiss Brethren related to their use of the “ban” and by extension, he also contended with the Hutterites regarding their communitarian practices. He felt that the Swiss employed the ban too frequently and the Hutterites was too coercive in their insistence that all who joins them relinquish all their material belongings. Yet even light of that Marpeck’s differences with those groups especially the Swiss Brethren was comparatively small, “Marpeck’s letters critical of the Swiss Brethren at Appenzell were fraternal admonitions intended as correctives within a theological tradition that he himself largely shared.”[2]

Regarding themes such as “adult baptism, the visible church, nonresistance, church discipline, and the role of pastors or shepherds, Marpeck’s thought was fully consistent with the central themes on Swiss Brethren theology. To be sure, Marpeck is virtually silent on the oath and somewhat equivocal about the church dualism that was so prominent in early Swiss Anabaptism.”[3] In the end, he felt that the Swiss Brethren were his treasured brothers and sisters. It is also believed the “Pilgramites” that is those that followed Marpeck was eventually merged with the Swiss Brethren sometime after 1556 following Marpeck’s death.

In light of this, I have a new source that I need to take advantage of even though the price of the English translations of Marpeck and his Circle’s writing can get pricey. The following is the works that I am going to attempt to purchase sometime in the near future.




[1] Stayer et al., A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, ed. John D. Roth and James M. Stayer (Boston: Brill, 2007), 362.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 362-3.