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The Schleitheim Articles

October 26, 2013 Leave a comment

[Taken from:  Sattler, Michael. “The Schleitheim Articles.” The Radical Reformation. Ed. and trans. Michael G. Baylor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 172-180. Print. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought.]

The brotherly agreement of some children of God concerning seven articles.

Among all who love God and are children of light may there be joy, peace, and mercy from our father, through the atonement of the blood of Jesus Christ, together with the gifts of the spirit, who is sent by the father to all believers for their strength, consolation, and perseverance through every grief until the end, amen. These children of light are dispersed to all the places which God our father has ordained for them, and where they are assembled with one mind in one God and father of us all. May grace and peace exist in all your hearts, amen.

Beloved in the Lord, brothers and sisters, our first and paramount concern is always what brings you consolation and a secure conscience, which has been misled previously. We are concerned about this so that you may not be separated from us forever like foreigners, and almost completely excluded, as is just. We are concerned that you might turn, rather, to the truly implanted members of Christ, who are armed with patience and self-knowledge, and so that you may again be united with us in the power of one divine, Christian spirit and zeal for God.

It is also evident that the devil has slyly separated us through a thousand tricks, so that he might be able to destroy the work of God which has partly begun in us through God’s mercy and grace. But the faithful shepherd of our souls, Christ, who has begun this work in us, will direct it until the end, and he will teach us, to his honor and our salvation, amen.

Dear brothers and sisters, we who are assembled together in the Lord at Schleitheim, are making known through a series of articles to all who love God that, as far as we are concerned, we have agreed that we will abide in the Lord as obedient children of  God, sons and daughters, and as those who are separated from the world — and who should be separated in all that they do and do not do. And may God be praised and glorified in unity, without any brother contradicting this but rather being happy with it. In doing this we have sensed that the unity of the father and our common Christ have been with us in spirit. For the Lord is the lord of peace and not of dissention, as Paul shows [1 Cor. 14:33]. You should note this and comprehend it, so that you understand in which articles this unity has been formulated.

Some false brothers among us have nearly introduced a great offense, causing some to turn away from the faith because they suppose they can lead a free life, using the freedom of the spirit and Christ. But such people lack truth and are given over (to their condemnation) to the lasciviousness and freedom of the flesh. They have thought that faith and love may tolerate everything, and that nothing will damn them because they are such believing people.

Observe, you members of God in Christ Jesus, faith in the heavenly father through Jesus Christ does not take this form. It does not result in such things as these false brothers and sisters practice and teach. Protect yourselves and be warned about such people, for they do not serve our father, but their father, the devil.

But you are not this kind of people. For those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with all its lusts and desires. You certainly know what I mean and the brothers we are talking about. Separate yourselves from these brothers, for they are perverted. Ask the Lord that they acquire the knowledge to repent, and that we have the steadfastness to proceed along the path we have undertaken, following the honor of God and his son Christ. Amen.

The articles which we have discussed and about which we agree are these: baptism, the ban [excommunication], the breaking of bread [Lord’s Supper], separating from the abomination [the existing polity], shepherds in the community [ministers], the sword, the oath, etc.

First, concerning baptism, note this. Baptism should be given to all who have learned repentance, amendment of life, and faith through the truth that their sin has been removed by Christ; to all who want to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and to be buried with him in death so that they can be resurrected with him; and to all who desire baptism in this sense from us and who themselves request it. Accordingly, all infant baptism, the greatest and first abomination of the pope, is excluded. You have the basis for this in the testimony of Scripture and the custom of the apostles. Matthew 28[:19]; Mark 16[:6]; Acts 2[:38], 8[:36]; 16[:31ff.], and 19[:4]. We wish to maintain this position on baptism simply, yet firmly.

Second. We have agreed as follows concerning the ban. The ban should be used against all who have given themselves to the Lord and agreed to follow his commandments, and who have been baptized into the one body of Christ, letting themselves be called brother or sister, and who nevertheless sometimes slip and fall into error and sin, and have been unknowingly overtaken. These people should be admonished twice privately and the third time should be punished or banned publicly, before the whole community, according to the command of Christ, Matthew 18[:15-18]. This banning should take place, according to the ordinance of the Spirit [Mt. 5:23], before the breaking of bread, so that we are all of one mind, and in one love may break from one bread and eat and drink from one cup.

Third. We are agreed and united about the breaking of bread as follows. All who wish to break one bread in memory of the broken body of Christ, and all who wish to drink from one cup in memory of the blood that Christ shed, should previously be united in the one body of Christ — that is, God’s community of which Christ is the head — namely, through baptism. For as Paul shows [1 Cor. 10:21], we cannot simultaneously sit at the Lord’s table and the devil’s table. We cannot simultaneously drink from the Lord’s cup and the devil’s cup. That is, all who have fellowship with the dead works of darkness do not partake of the light. Thus, all who follow the devil and the world have nothing in common with those who are called out of the world to God. All who reside in evil have no part of what is good. And it must be thus. He who has not been called by one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one spirit, and to one body in the community of all the children of God, may not be made into one bread with them, as must be the case if one wants to break bread truly according to the command of Christ.

Fourth. Concerning separation, we have agreed that a separation should take place from the evil which the devil has planted in the world. We simply will not have fellowship with evil people, nor associate with them, nor participate with them in their abominations. That is, all who have not submitted themselves to the obedience of faith, and have not united themselves to God so that they want to do his will, are a great abomination before God. Since this is so, nothing but abominable things can issue from them. For there has never been anything in the world and among all creatures except good and evil, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who are out of the world, God’s temple and idols, Christ and Belial, and neither may have anything to do with the other. And the commandment of the Lord is evident — he tells us to become separated from evil [2 Cor. 6:17]. In this way he wants to be our God, and we will be his sons and daughters. Further, he also admonishes us to withdraw from Babylon and worldly Egypt so that we will not participate in the suffering which the Lord will inflict upon them [Rev. 18:4ff.].

From all this we should learn that everything which is not united with our God and Christ is the abomination which we should flee. By this we mean all popish and neo-popish works and divine services, assemblies, ecclesiastical processions, wine shops, the ties and obligations of lack of faith, and other things of this kind, which the world indeed regards highly but which are done in direct opposition to the commandments of God, as is the great injustice in the world. We should leave all these things and have nothing to do with them, for they are vain abominations which make us hated by our Christ Jesus, who has liberated us from the servitude of the flesh and made us suitable for service to  God through the spirit, which he has given us.

Thus, the devilish weapons of force will fall from us, too, such as the sword, armor, and the life, and all their uses on behalf of friends or against enemies; [such nonviolence is commanded] by the power of the words of Christ, “You should not resist evil” [Mt. 5:39].

Fifth. We have agreed as follows concerning the shepherds in the community of God [i.e. ministers]. According to Paul’s prescription [1 Tim. 3:7], the shepherd in God’s community should be one who has a completely good reputation among those who are outside the faith. His duties should be to read, to admonish, to teach, to warn, and to punish or ban in the community; to lead all sisters and brothers in prayer and in breaking bread; and to make sure that in all matters that concern the body of Christ, the community is built up and improved. He should do this so that the name of God is praised and honored among us, and the mouths of blasphemers are stopped.

Should this pastor be in need, he should be provided for by the community that chose him, so that he who serves the gospel should also live from it, as the Lord has ordained [1 Cor. 9:14]. But if a shepherd should do something requiring punishment, he should not be tried except on the testimony of two or three people. If they sin [by testifying falsely], they should be punished in front of everybody so that others are afraid.

But if a shepherd is banished or through the cross [execution] brought to the Lord, another should be ordained in his place immediately so that God’s little people are not destroyed, but maintained and consoled by the warning.

Sixth. Concerning the sword we have reached the following agreement. The sword is ordained by God outside the perfection of Christ. It punishes and kills evil people and protects and defends the good. In the law the sword is established to punish and to kill the wicked, and secular authorities are established to use it. But in the perfection of Christ, the ban alone will be used to admonish and expel him who has sinned, without putting the flesh to death, and only by using the admonition and the command to sin no more.

Now, many who do not recognize what Christ wills for us will ask whether a Christian may also use the sword against evil people for the sake of protecting the good or for the sake of love. Our unanimous answer is as follows: Christ teaches us to learn from him that we should be mild and of humble heart, and in this way we will find rest for our souls. Now, Christ says to the woman taken in adultery [Jn. 8:11], not that she should be stoned according to the law of his father (yet he says, “As the father has commanded me, thus I do” [Jn. 8:22]), but that she should be dealt with in mercy and forgiveness and with a warning to sin no more. And Christ says, “Go and sin no more.” We should also hold to this in our laws, according to the rule about the ban.

Secondly, it is asked about the sword, whether a Christian may pass judgment in worldly quarrels and conflicts at law such as unbelievers have with one another. This is the answer: Christ did not want to decide or judge between brother and brother concerning an inheritance, and he refused to do so [Lk. 12:13]. Thus, we should do likewise.

Thirdly, it is asked about the sword, whether a Christian may hold a position of governmental authority if he is chosen for it. This is our reply: Christ should have been made a king, but he rejected this [Jn. 6:15] and did not view it as ordained by his father. We should do likewise and follow him. In this way we will not walk into the snares of darkness. For Christ says, “Whoever wants to follow me should deny himself and take up his cross  and follow me” [Mt. 16:24]. Also, Christ himself forbids the violence of the sword and says, “Worldly princes rule,” etc., “but not you” [Mt. 20:25]. Further, Paul says, “Those whom  God foresaw, he also ordained that they should be equal to the model of his son,” etc. [Rom. 8:30]. Also Peter says, “Christ has suffered, not ruled, and he gave us a model, so that you shall follow in his footsteps” [1 Pet. 2:21].

Lastly, it should be pointed out that it is not fitting for a Christian to be a magistrate for these reasons: the authorities’ governance is according to the flesh, but the Christian’s is according to the spirit. Their houses and dwellings remain in this world, but the Christian’s are in heaven. Their citizenship is of this world, but the Christian’s is in heaven. Their weapons of conflict and war are carnal and only directed against the flesh, but the Christian’s weapons are spiritual and directed against the fortifications of the devil. Worldly people are armed with spikes and iron, but Christians are armed with the armor of God — with truth, with justice, with peace, faith, and salvation, and with the word of God. In sum, what Christ, our head, thought, the members of the body of Christ through him should also think, so that no division of the body [of the faithful] may triumph through which it would be destroyed. Now, as Christ is — as is written about him — so too must the members be, so that his body may remain whole and united for its own benefit and edification.

Seventh. We have reached agreement as follows concerning the oath [i.e. swearing oaths]. The oath is a confirmation among those who are quarreling or making promises.  And it has been ordained in the [Mosaic] Law that it should take place truthfully and not falsely, in the name of God alone. Christ, who teaches the perfection of the law, forbids his followers all swearing, either truthfully or falsely, either in the name of heaven or of earth or of Jerusalem or by our own heard  [Mt. 5:34f.]. And he does this for the reason which he gives afterward: “For you are not able to make a single hair white or black.” Notice this! All swearing has been forbidden because we cannot fulfill what is promised in swearing.  For we are not able to alter the slightest thing about ourselves.

Now, there are some who do not believe God’s simple command. They speak as follows and ask, “Did God not swear to Abraham on his own godhead when he promised that he wished him well and wanted to be his God, if he would keep his commandments? Why should I not swear also when I promise somebody something?”

Our answer is this. Listen to what Scripture says. Because God wanted to prove conclusively to the heirs of the promise that his counsel does not waiver, he sealed it with an oath, so that we could rely on the consolation received through two unwavering things [i.e. the promise and the oath; Heb. 6:17f.] about which it is impossible for God to lie. Note the meaning of this passage of Scripture: “God has the power to do that which he forbids you. For all things are possible for him” [Mt. 29:26, Mk. 10:27]. God sworn an oath to Abraham (Scripture says) in order to prove that his counsel never wavered. That is, no one can resist or hinder his will, and so he was able to keep the oath. But, as has been said above by Christ, we can do nothing to keep or fulfill an oath. Therefore we should not swear at all.

Some now say further, “In the New Testament it is forbidden by God to swear; but is actually commanded in the Old, and there it is only forbidden to swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and by our head.” Our answer is this. Listen to Scripture – “He who swears by the temple of heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits on it” [Mt. 23:22]. Notice that it is forbidden to swear by heaven, which is a throne of God. How much more is it forbidden to swear by God himself? You fools and blind people, which is greater, the throne or he who sits on it?

Some say further, “Why is it now unjust to use God as a witness to the truth, when the apostles Peter and Paul have sworn?” Our answer is that Peter and Paul testify only to that which God promised Abraham through the oath. And they themselves promised nothing, as the examples clearly show. For testifying and swearing are two different things. When a person swears, in the first place he makes a promise about future things, as Christ – whom we received a long time later – was promised to Abraham. But when a person testifies, he is testifying about the present, whether it is good or evil, as Simon spoke to Mary about Christ and testified to her, “This child is ordained for the fall and resurrection of many in Israel, and as a sign which will be rejected” [Lk. 2:34]. Christ has also taught this same thing when he said, “Your speech should be ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ for anything else comes from evil” [Mt. 5:37]. Christ says, “Your speech or words should be ‘yea’ or ‘nay’,” so that none can understand it in the sense that he has permitted swearing. Christ is simply “yea” and “nay” and all who seek him in simplicity will understand his word. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in the lord,

These are the articles about which some brothers have previously been in error and have understood differently from the true understanding. The consciences of many people have been confused through this, as a result of which the name of God has been greatly blasphemed. Therefore it has been necessary for us to reach agreement in the Lord, and this has happened. May God be praised and glorified!

Now, because you have amply understood the will of God, which has now been set forth through us, it will be necessary for you to realize the will of God, which you have recognized, perseveringly and without interruption. For you know well what reward the servant deserves who knowingly sins.

Everything that you have done unknowingly or that you have confessed to having done unjustly is forgiven you through the faithful prayer which performed by us in our assembly for all our failures and our guilt, through the merciful forgiveness of God and through the blood of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Beware of all who do not walk in the simplicity of the divine truth which is encompassed in this letter from us in our assembly. For this so that everyone among us may be subject to the rule of the ban, and so that henceforth false brothers and sisters may be prevented from joining us.

Separate yourselves from that which is evil. Then the Lord will be your God, and you will be his sons and daughters.

Dear brothers, keep in mind how Paul admonished Titus. He said this: “The saving grace of God has appeared to all. And it disciplines us so that we shall deny ungodly things and worldly lusts and shall live chastely, justly, and piously in this world. And we shall await our same hope, the appearance of the majesty of the great God and our savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself to redeem us from all injustice, and to purify a people as his own who would be zealous for good works” [Tit. 2:11-14]. If you think about this and practice it, the lord of peace will be with you.

May the name of God be eternally blessed and highly praised, Amen. May the Lord give you his peace. Amen.

Enacted at Schleitheim on St. Matthew’s day [24 February] in the year 1527.

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