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.

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.

Part II: Evangelize the Gemeinde?

In Part I it was argued the gospel is the invitation to the kingdom of God. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection as the means to enter said kingdom. The whole context of 1 Corinthians 15 is the kingdom. Jesus preached the kingdom as the gospel. Once they enter the kingdom the emphasis should be edification not telling them to be become members of the kingdom. They are already in so everything after that should be maintaining their place in the kingdom, behaving like they are in the kingdom and telling non-members of the kingdom about the kingdom and inviting them to register.

In this concluding post it will address the second chief reason my interlocutors feel that evangelism should take place in the ‘church’.

The Sermon

One of the reason is that some believe that evangelism occurs in the parameters of the local congregation is that they adhere to the practice of the rhetorical sermon. The rhetorical sermon was not a facet of the apostolic Christian ekklesia. It was introduced by Chrysostom and Augustine, they made “pulpit oratory part and parcel of the Christian faith.”[1] With Chrysostom:

the Greek sermon reached its zenith. The Greek sermon style indulged in rhetorical brilliance, the quoting of poems, and focused on impressing the audience. Chrysostom emphasized that “the preacher must toil long on his sermons in order to gain the power of eloquence.”

In Augustine, the Latin sermon reached its heights. The Latin sermon style was more down to earth than the Greek style. It focused on the “common man” and was directed to a simpler moral point. Zwingli took John Chrysostom as his model in preaching, while Luther took Augustine as his model. Both Latin and Greek styles included a verse-by-verse commentary form as well as a paraphrasing form . . . Chrysostom and Augustine stood in the lineage of the Greek sophists. They gave us polished Christian rhetoric. They gave us the “Christian” sermon: biblical in content, but Greek in style.[2]

Also as mentioned in my chapter of A Living Alternative Protestant and Roman Catholics had gotten to a point where they believed the Great Commission was not a responsibility of the ekklesia but was something specifically belonging to the first century Apostles. Through time that thinking has become the norm thus the majority of those serving churches today believe their evangelistic duties is found in the pulpit and not the world outside of the building they serve in.

Anabaptist Reason II

The primitive Anabaptists met for edification. There was no preaching of salvation or declaring of the gospel because they were all members of the Body present. Furthermore the nature of their meetings did not indicate that they evangelized in that context. In 1527 the Swiss Brethren developed a congregational order generally deemed The Swiss Order because of its origin. In it is the basis for the earliest congregational structure. The initial line of the Order says:

The brothers and sisters should meet at least three or four times a week, to exercise themselves, in the teaching of Christ and His apostles and heartily to exhort one another to remain faithful to the Lord as they have pledged.[3]

According to The Swiss Order the brethren was supposed to meet numerous times weekly and “exercise themselves” that translates into exhortation. According to John Howard Yoder this exercising probably “includes an element of rote learning of gospel narrative and teaching, since literacy and the possession of Bibles was still rare.”[4] No mention of evangelizing among the brethren.Now was there supposed to be a sermon in play? Naturally that would grant them an opportunity to evangelize the congregation during the period reserved for the sermon if they had one. According to the community order:

When the brothers and sisters are together, they shall take up something to read together. The one to whom God has given the best understanding shall explain it, the others should be still and listen, so that there are not two or three carrying on a private conversation, bothering the others. The Psalter shall be read daily at home.[5]

The Swiss Order outlines participatory gatherings.  When the Gemeinde came together they all would contribute to the didactic aspect and not function as passive attendees. This also indicates that the already present believers determined the interpretive meaning of the biblical content that they were covering. Yoder explains another valid point regarding this aspect of the order.

The one to whom God has given the best understanding shall explain it” may mean that, for every particular passage, whoever understands its meaning should speak up. Then we would have a picture of a meeting with no settled leadership, with no controlling role for the “shepherd” who was called for by Schleitheim Article V. Then one might infer, as does Jean Seguy, that this text testifies to a time before the Schleitheim decisions, when congregations functioned without a named leader. It is, however, also possible that “the one to whom God has given the best understanding” may be a circumlocution for a spontaneously recognized leader in the local group.[6]

Consequently if they did not have any official or controlling minister in the manner we see at present then there would be no place for the sermon in order to evangelize the congregation. Finally The Swiss Order of 1527 states:

The Lord’s supper shall be held, as often as the brothers are together, thereby proclaiming the death of the Lord, and thereby warning each one to commemorate, how Christ gave His life for us, and shed His blood for us, that we might also be willing to give our body and life for Christ’s sake, which means for the sake of all the brothers.[7]

As in Article III of the Schleitheim Brotherly Union the breaking of bread was to be solely observed by baptized believers which occurred every time they met. No unbelievers was in their presence to evangelize to and all members were a part of the Kingdom thus no need for the proclaiming of the gospel.

In light of the contents of the first installment and this one I stand by my position that evangelism occurs in the context of nonbelievers, the invitation is given once and it is intrinsically tied to the gospel which is an invitation to the Kingdom of God.







[1] Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices (Carol Stream, Ill.: BarnaBooks, 2008), 94.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Michael Sattler, The Legacy of Michael Sattler, trans. John Howard Yoder, vol. 1, The Legacy of Michael Sattler, Classics of the Radical Reformation (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1973), 44.

[4] Ibid., 54.

[5] Ibid., 44.

[6] Ibid. 54.

[7] Ibid., 45.

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.