The Confession of 1527
The author is assumed to be Michael Sattler, a highly educated ex-monk, of a friendly disposition, who was martyred at Rothenburg, on the Neckar, May 12th. 1527
This may well be the very first Doctrinal and Devotional Statement drawn up on behalf of a Baptist Congregation, but the principles had been set out much earlier and Grebel, in a letter, explains the principles of congregational discipline in 1524.
This Confession raises some important issues which are ignored in the present age. The writer uses Scriptural terminology which many Christians actually try to avoid. This document is valuable and will repay careful study.
A German language copy was being circulated in printed form in, or before, 1533. Zwingli translated this Confession into Latin and attempted to refute it. Prior to 1544 a French copy existed, but it is now lost. In 1560 a Dutch translation was being circulated. Most English editions of this Confession have been translated from Zwingli’s Latin copy.
PLEASE NOTE. The Scripture references in this confession have chapter numbers but do not have paragraph letters or verse numbers. This is because they would have been using an edition of the Bible that had the chapter numeration devised by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, circa 1228, but did not have Hugo de Sancto’s paragraph notation, as did Tyndale, nor Seinitas Pagninus’ verse numbering, as did the Geneva and King James Translations. The Holy Bible used by these brethren preceded all English Language Translations of Holy Scripture. The edition of the Holy Bible that these brethren used was, without doubt, ‘The Word Of God’.
Letter of the brotherly union of certain children of God, who have assembled at Schleitheim, to congregations of believing, baptised, Christians;-
Joy, peace, and mercy from our Father, through the union of the blood of Christ Jesus, together with the gifts of the Spirit (Who is sent by the Father to all believers for strength and comfort and constancy in all distresses unto the end, Amen.) be with all who love God, and with the children of light everywhere scattered abroad, wherever they are appointed by God our Father, wherever they are assembled with one accord in one God and Father of us all. Grace and peace in heart be with you all. Amen.
Beloved in the Lord, brothers and sisters, we are first and specially concerned for the comfort and assurance of your minds, which have perhaps been disturbed; that ye should not always, like foreigners, be separated from us and almost cut off, justly, but that ye may again turn to the true implanted members of Christ who are armed by longsuffering and knowledge of himself, and so be united again with us in the power of one divine spirit of Christ and zeal toward God.
It is also plain that with a thousand wiles the devil has turned us away, in order that he may disturb and destroy the work of God, which has been mercifully and graciously begun in us. But the True Shepherd of our souls, Christ, who has begun this in us, will direct and guide the same to the end, to His honour and our salvation. Amen.
Beloved brothers and sisters, we, who are assembled together in the Lord at Schlaitten Am Randen, make known to all who love God that we have agreed in certain points and articles, which we should hold in the Lord, as obedient children of God, and sons and daughters who are, and should be, separated from the world in all things we do or forbear. And, to God be everlasting praise and glory, we were perfectly at peace, without opposition from any brother. By this we have perceived that the harmony of the Father and our common Christ, with their Spirit, was with us; for the Lord is the Lord of Peace and not of contention, as Paul shows.
But that ye may understand what these articles were, mark and understand. Scandal has been brought in amongst us by certain false brethren, so that some have turned from the faith, because they have presumed to use for themselves the freedom of the Spirit and of Christ. But such have erred from the truth and are given over (to their condemnation) to the wantonness and freedom of the flesh; and have thought faith and love may do and suffer all things, and nothing would injure or condemn them so long as they thus believed. Mark, ye members of God in Christ Jesus, faith in the Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ does not thus prove itself, does not work and deal in such way as these false brothers and sisters do and teach. Take heed to yourselves; be warned of such; for they serve not our Father, but their father, the Devil. But ye are not so, for they who are of Christ have crucified the flesh, with all lusts and longings. You understand me well, and the brethren whom we mean. Separate yourselves from them, for they are turned away. Pray the Lord for their acknowledgement unto repentance and for our constancy to walk in the way we have entered, for the honour of God and His Christ. Amen.
The articles we have discussed, and in
which we are one, are these;
In the first place, mark this concerning baptism; Baptism should be given to all those who have learned repentance and change of life, and believe in truth that their sins have been taken away through Christ; and to all those who desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to be buried with Him in death, that with Him they may rise; and to all those who with such intention themselves desire and request it of us. By this is excluded all infant baptism, the Pope’s highest and first abomination. This has its foundation and witness in the scriptures and the usage of the Apostles – Matt. 28, Mark. 16, Acts. 2, 8, 16, 19. This we would with all simplicity, but firmly, hold and be assured of.
In the second place, we were united concerning excommunication, as follows; Excommunication should be pronounced on all those who have given themselves to the Lord, to walk in His commandments, and on those who have been baptised into one body of Christ, and who call themselves brothers and sisters, and yet slip away and fall into sin and are taken unawares. They should be warned, the second time privately, and the third time publicly rebuked before the whole congregation, or be excluded according to the command of Christ, Matt.28. But this should take place, according to the order of the Spirit of God, before the Breaking of Bread, that we may with one mind and one love break and eat of one bread and drink of one cup.
Thirdly, we were one and agreed concerning breaking of bread, as follows. All who would break one bread for a memorial of the broken body of Christ, and all who would drink one draught as a memorial of the poured out blood of Christ, should beforehand be united to one body of Christ; that is, to the Church of God, of which the head is Christ, to wit, by baptism. For, as Paul shows, we cannot at the same time be partakers of the table of the Lord and of the table of the Devil; we cannot at the same time partake and drink the cup of the Lord and of the cup of the devil; that is, all who have communion with the dead works of darkness, they have no part with the light. All who follow the Devil and the world have no part with those who are called from the world to God. All who lie in the wicked one have no part have no part with the good. Hence, also it should and must be, whoso has not the call of one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one spirit, to one body, common to all the children of God, he cannot be made one bread with them, as must be if we would in the truth break the bread according to the command of Christ.
Fourthly, we re agreed concerning separation: This should be from the evil and wicked whom the devil has planted in the world, to the end alone that we should not have association with them or run with them in the multitude of their abominations. And this because all who have not entered the obedience of faith, and who have not united themselves to God to do His will, are a great abomination before God, and naught can possibly grow or issue from them but abominable things. Now, in all creatures there is either goodness or evil; they either believe or are unbelieving; are darkness or light; of the world or out of the world; temples of God or of idols, Christ or Belial, and none may have part with the other. Now, the command of God is plain to us, in which He calls to be ever separate from evil. This will ever be our God , and we shall be His sons and daughters. Further, He warns us to go out from Babylon and carnal Egypt, that we be not partakers of their torment and sufferings, which the Lord will bring upon them.
From this we should learn that everything that is not at one with our God and Christ is nothing else than abomination, which we should avoid and flee. By this is meant all Popish and Anti-Popish work and worship, assembly, church-going, wine-houses, citizenship, and enjoyments of unbelief, and many other similar things which the world prizes, though they are done directly against the command of God, according to the measure of all unrighteousness, which is the world. From which we should separate and have no part with such, for they are clear abominations, which will make us abhorrent to our Christ Jesus, Who has delivered us from the service of the flesh and filled us for the service of God by the Spirit Whom He has given to us. Therefore, there will also from us undoubtedly depart unchristian and devilish weapons – sword, armour, and the like – and all use of them for friend or against enemies, through the power of the Word of Christ, ‘resist not evil’.
Fifthly, we are united respecting the pastor in the congregation of God, thus: The pastor in the congregation should be one in entire accordance with the direction of Paul, who has a good report from those who are without the faith. His office should be to read, exhort, and teach: to warn, reprove, excommunicate in the congregation, and to lead in prayer for the bettering of all brothers and sisters; to take bread, to break it, and in all things to care for the body of Christ, that it be edified and bettered, and that the mouth of the blasphemer be stopped. But he, when he is in want, must be supported by the congregation which elected him, so that he who serves the Gospel should also live from it, as the Lord has ordained.
But if a pastor should do anything worthy of reproof, nothing should be undertaken with him without two or three witnesses; and if they have sinned, they shall reprove before all the people, that others may fear.
But if a pastor is driven away, or is taken by the cross to the Lord, immediately another shall be chosen in his place, that the little flock be not destroyed.
Sixthly, we are united concerning the sword, thus: The sword is an ordinance of God outside of the perfection of Christ, which punishes and slays the wicked and protects and guards the good. In law the sword is ordained over the wicked for punishment and death, and the civil power is ordained to use it. But in the perfection of Christ, excommunication is pronounced only for warning and for exclusion of him who has sinned, without death of the flesh, only by warning and the command not to sin again. It is asked by many who do not know the will of Christ respecting us, whether a Christian may or should use the sword against the wicked in order to protect and guard the good, or for love?
(Now) The answer is unanimously revealed thus: Christ teaches and commands us that we should learn from Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and so we will find rest for our souls. Now Christ says to the heathen woman who was taken in adultery, not that they should stone her according to the law of His Father (yet He also said, ‘as the father gave Me commandment, even so do I’), but in mercy, and forgiveness, and warning to sin no more, and says ‘Go and sin no more.’ So should we also closely follow according to the law of excommunication.
(Now) Secondly: It is asked concerning the sword, whether a Christian should pronounce judgement in worldly disputes and quarrels which unbelievers have with one another? The only answer is; Christ was not willing to decide or judge between brothers concerning inheritance, but refused to do it; so we should also do.
(Now) Thirdly. It is asked concerning the sword: Should one be magistrate if he is elected thereunto? To this the answer is: It was intended to make Christ a King, and He fled and did not regard the ordinance of His Father. Thus we should do and follow Him, and we shall not walk in darkness. For He Himself says, ‘Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.’ Also, He Himself forbids the power of the sword and says, ‘The princes of the gentiles exercise lordship,’ etc., ‘but it shall be so among you.’ Further, Paul says, ‘for whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.’ Also, Peter says, ‘Christ has suffered (not ruled), leaving us an ensample that ye should follow His steps.’
(Now) Lastly, it is remarked that it does not become a Christian to be a magistrate for these reasons: The rule of the magistrate is according to the flesh, that of the Christian according to the spirit; their houses and dwelling remain in this world, the Christian’s is in heaven; their citizenship is in this world, the Christian’s citizenship is in heaven; the weapons of their contest and war are carnal and only against the flesh, but the weapons of the Christian are spiritual, against the fortresses of the devil; the worldly are armed with steel and iron, but the Christians are armed with the armour of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and with the word of God. In short, as Christ our head was minded towards us, so should the members of the body of Christ through Him be minded, that there be no schism in the body by which it be destroyed. For every kingdom divided against itself will be brought to destruction. Therefore, as Christ is, as it stands written of Him, so must the members be, that His body be whole and one, to the edification of itself.
Seventhly, we are united concerning oaths, thus: The oath is an assurance among those who dispute or promise, and was spoken in the law that it should take place with the Name of God, only in truth and not in falsehood. Christ, Who teaches the perfection of the Law, forbids to His people all swearing, whether true or false, neither by heaven not by earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor by our head, and that for the reason which He immediately gives, ‘Because thou canst not make one hair white or black.’ Take heed, all swearing is forbidden, because we are not able to make good that which is promised in the oath, since we cannot change the least upon us. Now, there are some who do not believe the simple command of God, but they speak and ask thus: ‘If God swore to Abraham by Himself because He was God (when He promised him that He would do good to him and would be his God if he kept His commands), why should I not also swear if I promise a person something?’ Answer. Hear what Scripture says; ‘God being willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it with an oath, that by two immutable things, in which that was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation.’ Mark the meaning of this Scripture: God has power to do what He forbids to you, for to Him all things are possible.
‘ God swore an oath to Abraham,’ says the Scripture, ‘in order that He might show His counsel to be immutable;’ that is, no one can withstand or hinder His will, and therefore He an keep the oath. But, as was said by Christ above, ‘We have no power either to hold or to give,’ therefore should not swear at all.
Further, some say God has not forbidden in the New Testament to swear, and He has commanded it in the Old; but it is only forbidden to swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and by our head. Answer. Hear the Scriptures; ‘He that shall swear by heaven sweareth by the throne of God; and Him that sitteth thereon.’ Mark, swearing by heaven is forbidden, which is only the throne of God; how much more is it forbidden to swear by God Himself? Ye fools and blind, which is the greater, the throne, or He Who sits upon it?
Some still say, If it is wrong to use God’s Name for truth, yet the apostles Peter and Paul swore. Answer. Peter and Paul testify only that which God promised to Abraham by oath, and they themselves promised nothing, as the examples clearly show. But to testify and to swear are different things. When one swears he promises a thing in the future, as Christ was promised to Abraham, Whom we received a long time afterwards. When one testifies he witnesses concerning that which is present, whether it be good or bad, as Simon spoke of Christ to Mary and testified, ‘Behold, this one is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against.’ Similarly Christ taught us when He says, ‘Let your communication be yea, yea, nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these commeth of the Evil One.’ He says, your speech or word shall be yea and nay, and His intention is clear.
Christ is simple yea and nay, and all who seek Him simply will understand His Word. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, these are the articles which some brethren have understood wrongly and not in accordance with the true meaning, and thereby have confused many weak consciences, so that the Name of God has been grossly blasphemed ; for which cause it was necessary that we should be united in the Lord, which, God be praised, has taken place.
Now that we have well understood the will of God, which has been manifested through us, it is necessary that ye from the heart and not wavering perform the known will of God. For ye will know what is the reward of that servant who sins wittingly.
All that ye have done unwittingly and that ye have confessed that ye have done wrong, that is forgiven you through believing prayer, which was made by us in the assembly for the sin and guilt of us all, through the gracious pardon of God and through the blood of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Mark those who walk not according to the simplicity of divine truth, which is contained in this letter, as was apprehended by us in the assembly, in order that each one among us be governed by the rule of discipline, and henceforth the entrance among us of false brethren be guarded against. Separate from you what is evil, so will the Lord be your God, and ye shall be His sons and daughters.
Dear brethren, be mindful how Paul exhorts Titus.. He speaks thus; ‘The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present world, looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.’ Think of this and practice it; so will the Lord of Peace be with you.
The Name of God be eternally praised and glorified. Amen.