The Schleitheim Confession: Who May Share the Lord’s Supper?

Who should be included in the Lord’s Supper? As I’ve been researching today for my promised essay on Mennonites and ordinances, I came across this answer in the Schleitheim Confession (the earliest Anabaptist statement of faith):

Concerning the breaking of bread, we have become one and agree thus: all those who desire to break the one bread in remembrance of the broken body of Christ and all those who wish to drink of one drink in remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, they must beforehand be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism. For as Paul indicates, we cannot be partakers at the same time of the table of the Lord and the table of devils. Nor can we at the same time partake and drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils. That is: all those who have fellowship with the dead works of darkness have no part in the light. Thus all those who follow the devil and the world, have no part with those who have been called out of the world unto God. All those who lie in evil have no part in the good.

So it shall and must be, 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.

I find it interesting how this statement affirms two realities at the same time: (a) Not everyone has a right to take part in breaking bread and (b) there is only “one body of Christ” composed of “all the children of God.”

On the one hand, there is a warning that those who “have fellowship with the dead works of darkness” have no right to the Lord’s Table. It is easy to understand this concern, given how the Roman Catholic mass was extended to all citizens within the Holy Roman Empire, holy and unholy alike. Latter in the Schleitheim Confession this separation from evil is described in very specific language:

…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. From all this we shall be separated…

The second concern, the concern for unity, may seem less expected. After all, this confession was written by believers that had just broken off from what everyone else thought was the church. But this concern for oneness is also clearly stated: Anyone who does not “share” in “one body together with all the children of God” is not eligible to break bread. Perhaps significantly, no mention is made of sharing a oneness merely with one specific congregation; the vision of these Anabaptists extended to all who belonged to Christ. In this context this meant, at minimum [?], that scattered, rapidly-growing, loosely-connected network of what we now call Anabaptist congregations, which at the time were not formally united into one denomination or church alliance. [Edit: For a more accurate nuance than what I initially wrote here, see Kevin Brendler’s comment below, with my response. You can find the notes Brendler mentions by following the Schleitheim Confession link above.]

The Schleitheim Confession cites Paul as it expresses its warning against the dead works of darkness. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 Paul includes these words:

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (v. 21)

The Schleitheim Confession’s concern for oneness springs equally from Paul, borrowing language from Ephesians 4:4-6. Paul also expresses this concern in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, where his primary concern is that the Lord’s Supper is being observed in a way that divides believers from one another. Rich believers are consuming the bread and wine of the church love feast without waiting for their poor, tardy brothers! This  selfish practice is so at odds with the sacrificial, serving nature of Christ’s death that the Corinthians are supposedly remembering that Paul wonders whether they are even discerning the signified presence of the Lord’s body in the bread and wine that they are consuming! How can they keep the bread and wine of the supper to themselves when Jesus did not keep his own body from them–when he shared it freely, even unto death?

The framers of the Schleithheim Confession were right to emphasize both holiness and unity. They were right to say that both walking in darkness and being disunited from the one body of Christ make one ineligible for the Lord’s Supper.

But look again. Perhaps most amazingly, these early Anabaptists did not describe these two prerequisites as conflicting values. Rather, they linked them as inseparable:

…They must beforehand be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism. For as Paul indicates, we cannot be partakers at the same time of the table of the Lord and the table of devils. (emphasis added)

Note the linking word “for.” We could paraphrase these sentences like this: They must be united to the one Church because they must not be unholy. The implication is clear: You are either part of Christ’s one church, or you are unholy. There is no such thing as a holy Christian who has no concern to be united in “one body together with all the children of God.” And there is no such thing as a member of that one body of Christ who is too unholy to take part in the Lord’s Supper.

Since the Roman Catholic Church had dominated Europe for centuries with its strong emphasis on the singularity of the one true Church, these Anabaptists were very clear about the unity of all true believers. Since they had just left that church to escape its entrenched sins, they were clear on the need for holiness. Both concerns were expressed clearly in their qualifications for sharing in the Lord’s Supper.

What about your church? Is it clear on the unity of all true believers? Is it also clear that all members of Christ’s body will do the deeds of light? Are these truths pitted against each other or seen as inseparable? And are both truths clearly displayed whenever you share the Lord’s Supper?

Thank you for reading! I welcome your insights in the comments below.


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19 thoughts on “The Schleitheim Confession: Who May Share the Lord’s Supper?”

  1. Very good post. This is a topic I am especially interested in and I agree with your conclusion within the framework of the Confession. This raises the question, why do so many Christians in general and Anabaptists in particular go to such lengths to exclude others, even others they recognize as believers, from the table of the Lord?

  2. >… the vision of these Anabaptists extended to all who belonged to >Christ. In this context this meant, at minimum, that scattered, >rapidly-growing, loosely-connected network of what we now call >Anabaptist congregations, which at the time were not formally >united into one denomination or church alliance.

    This statement needs greater clarity and definition; I think it lacks accuracy also.

    The Confessors at Schleitheim did not concede, in any sense, that the body of Christ could include infant-baptizers. That was a sheer impossibility for them. So when you write “at minimum” above, who are you thinking of? You have delineated a composite group of Anabaptists and suggested that Schleitheim may well have admitted others beyond that mixed-bag of Anabaptism to the Lord’s table. I don’t believe that is accurate. They certainly would not have received the Lutherans, the Zwinglians, or the Calvinists (who would arise later). None of the state-church Reformers nor their newly founded churches were regarded by the Schleitheim Confessors as Christian people or Christian bodies. In fact, the Reformed churches are explicitly referred to in the Confession as “repopish works,” bodies severed from Christ, abominations which ought to be shunned. So you would have been better off identifying the variegated and scattered Anabaptist groups of the time as a *_maximum_* definition of Christian communion rather than a “minimum,” according to Schleitheim. But even that would not have been accurate.

    In the cover letter to the Schleitheim Confession, Michael Sattler refers to “aliens” who are “separated from us.” It is true that these “aliens” are also addressed as “brothers and sisters in the Lord,” but they are “by right almost completely excluded” from God’s people and they are admonished to “turn to the true implanted members of Christ … and thus be again united to us.” John H. Yoder, in his translation of the Confession, footnote 3, indicates that Sattler here reproves the Anabaptist libertines, “namely, the enthusiasts of St. Gall.” There are very serious divisions then, within Anabaptism itself. Yoder goes on to suggest that the libertines are “alienated” from the Confessors “by unbelief.” So the Schleitheim definition of authentic Christian communion does not appear to include all who practiced believer’s baptism. Even some of the new Anabaptist groups were considered outside the unity of the true people of God. But there is more.

    The cover letter goes on to mark “some false brothers among us.” Yoder, in footnote 9, references H. W. Meihuizen with approval; “Meihuizen concludes that Schleitheim must have been aimed against Denck, Hubmaier, Hatzer, Bucer and Capito.” Yoder’s own conclusion is that “the false brothers referred to by the cover letter were therefore not only state-church Reformers, but at least some of them were within Anabaptism.” So the circle of true Christian communion was much less than composite Anabaptism, according to Schleitheim. Indeed, Yoder reads Sattler as intentionally restricting that circle of true Christian unity to the “Zurich-Schleitheim stream,” excluding “marginal Anabaptists and Spiritualists.”

    What to make of all this? We all have presuppositions and biases as we approach any subject. These presuppositions mediate and ultimately determine our understanding. When the facts contradict our understanding then we have to recalculate our presuppositions. In this case, a desire for Christian unity (a good thing) and a bias toward that unity (a not so good thing) has probably led to a skewed reading and application of the Schleitheim Confession.

    Your thoughts?

    1. Kevin, thank you for that analysis. I think you are correct. The rhetoric of the confession, read by itself, sounds more generous to our ears today than actually intended at the time. I will update my post to alert readers to your comment.

      I wish I knew the subsequent history of the Swiss Brethren better. Whatever they did and did not mean here in the Schleitheim Confession, this is their testimony centuries later: “The Mennonites of Switzerland seem to have had sufficient earnestness in the Christian life, enough love for the brethren, and ample tolerance for the differing judgments of others to have lived together for four centuries with but one division. May the Mennonites of America become their worthy sons and daughters!” –J.C. Wenger, Glimpses of Mennonite History and Doctrine, 1959, pg. 109.

      1. Confessions and creeds are useful inasmuch as they provide a framework and a historical glimpse into the past. One of the things that I see as a positive among Anabaptists is that by and large they are not slavishly devoted to creeds, as some of my Reformed brethren are to the point of seeming more concerned with what a particular confessions says than what Scripture says. We must always read anything like the Schleitheim Confession in light of history context, just as when we read the Westminster Confession or the London Baptist Confession of 1689. Given the environment in which it was written it is considerably less charitable than we should be today, just as the Reformed confessions are in relationship to Anabaptists.

        So while we might read the Schleitheim Confession through 2015 eyes, that is probably OK as we live in a totally different culture and time where Anabaptists can gather without fear of persecution from Lutherans or the Reformed. I am less interested in trying to use these confessions to dictate precisely how to think or behave now but rather as useful tools in my own and our communal interpretation and application of Scripture.

        1. I agree, Arthur. Historic confessions, as expressions of unique historical circumstances, are not perfect, yet they are very useful as mirrors for checking our own theological gaps. They increase the size of our brotherhood hermeneutical circle. And, just as we can learn from past brothers and sisters, doubtless they could also learn from us at times.

  3. If we would “draw the line” at baptism, then should we separate baptism and local church membership, at least in some cases? I have known sincere Christians who were not yet comfortable with all the changes needed to become plain Mennonites, and they were of course denied communion even though they had attended a plain church for quite a while. That hurts me. How can membership be the magic ticket to being allowed to be part of celebrating communion? Is communion something that must be earned?

    1. Rosina, those are the kinds of questions that so many of us are wrestling with, and there is no clear consensus among individual Anabaptists on the correct answers, despite a strong tradition among conservative Mennonites of closed communion.

      My main response would be that, biblically speaking, joining Christ and baptism and church membership were all inseparable elements of the same event in the NT era. Baptism (accompanied by repentance and faith) was the event by which one was joined both to Christ and to his family. And communion was offered to all who belonged to Christ; it is a powerful symbol that one truly belongs both to Christ and to Christ’s family. So I’m not sure that the best way to solve one problem (denying communion to Christians) is to introduce another unbiblical practice (separating baptism and membership). In a second-best scenario, yes, I think that offering both baptism and communion to all true believers, even while restricting membership to a more select few, is better than refusing both to all except those who “become plain Mennonites.” But that can also leave a mixed message of belonging and yet not fully belonging. Perhaps the better solution is not to juggle our baptism and communion practices, but to develop a biblical concept of “membership” and its expectations, so that we recognize all who belong to Christ as members, while also acknowledging ranges of spiritual maturity within Christ’s body. I realize these are radical thoughts, but they arise out of my own extended study of Scripture.

      1. I would love to see that happen! I feel completely at a loss, though, to know how I (as an individual, and especially as a woman) could change anything about the systems we have in place.

  4. Arthur writes:

    >>Confessions and creeds are useful inasmuch as they provide a >>framework and a historical glimpse into the past.

    If that is all Confessions and creeds are useful for, an historical glimpse, then they possess very little value for us at all. The Schleitheim claims to summarize important Biblical truth about the New Testament church. If you think it errs at certain points (which it may, as an unInspired document), then you should make your case from Scripture. To dismiss the Schleitheim as a cultural artifact is disrespectful of Sattler and his fellow Confessors because it does not take seriously what they claimed to be doing.

    >>So while we might read the Schleitheim Confession through >>2015 eyes, that is probably OK as we live in a totally different >>culture and time….

    I don’t think that is OK. That is precisely how contemporary Christians deny the Scriptural mandate that women cover their heads in prayer. “We live in a totally different culture and time….” That is exactly the argument that is made in Evangelical churches today with regard to the headcovering.

    Again, the Schleitheim claims to be stating important truth, Biblical truth. It is not appropriate to dismiss any of it on the basis of its historical period or cultural context. There may be reasons to dismiss some of it (I’m not suggesting here that those reasons exist), but those reasons must be brought forth from the Word of God.

    1. Kevin, I was simply pointing out that the Schleitheim confession, as a non-inspired document, is a product of the time in which it was written, just as the Westminster confession or the LBCF were. That is a completely different statement from attributing alleged cultural influences on the inspired Scriptures, something I have written extensively against in defending practices like headcovering. Since I never said or implied that the Schleitheim was erroneous on any point I am not sure where your reaction is coming from.

  5. I believe the underlying truth upon which the Confession(s) are built remains the same, and each generation must consider seriously the impact that truth should have on the experience and times in which they live. So even though the specific resistance to truth which the authors of the Confession(s) felt they needed to deal with may have changed, the underlying truth is timeless. It is not that the Confession(s) are irrelevant for our culture and time, but that the ‘angle of attack’ being made on truth changes, depending upon the culture and times.
    As for ‘Who should have communion?’ I fear we may be some distance from the original intent in some of our practices.

  6. Wayne writes:

    >It is not that the Confession(s) are irrelevant for our culture and >time, but that the ‘angle of attack’ being made on truth changes, >depending upon the culture and times.

    I think this is exactly right and well said. It also implicitly marks the necessity of new Confessions, given that God’s truth will be attacked in different ways at different times. The Schleitheim is excellent in so far as it goes, and it served that first generation of Anabaptists marvelously, but it does not begin to repel the manifold assaults of the enemy in our generation.

  7. Rosina writes:

    >How can membership be the magic ticket to being allowed to be >part of celebrating communion?

    Membership is the “magic ticket” into communion because the church, by definition, is a concrete and visible body of believers who have voluntarily joined themselves to one another in a particular locale under particular shepherds. The notion of an invisible church in history goes all the way back to Augustine, I believe. Most contemporary Christians assume the invisible church as a kind of default position, as if a profession of faith ought to be sufficient to “credentialize” or “verify” one as a Christian. I think we have almost unconsciously imbibed this doctrine from the injurious influences of Western individualism and spurious contemporary applications of democratic principles. In days past one had to be a *_verifiable_* citizen of the United States in order to vote. Presently, it seems, all that’s required is a claim to reside here. It’s kind of an “open franchise” policy. Much in the same way, most churches today throw open the communion table to all who make some kind of claim to be Christian. But Biblically speaking, the privileges of the Lord’s table are reserved for believers who have been “verified” by a particular church and received into membership through baptism. Dwight makes the point above (and how *_crucial_* a point it is!) that faith in Christ, baptism and local church membership were all of one piece in the apostolic era. So very many of our problems today have arisen because we’ve separated what God has joined together.

    [Since you mention the plain Mennonites in your comment, I am compelled to ask the following: since the plain Mennonites have set up human standards and vain religious tradition as requirements for church membership, have they not forfeited authority to “verify” any believer? I mean, if all you have are Yoders, Millers and Grabers, how is that the new humanity spoken of in Ephesians 2? Mennonite theologian John H. Yoder posed the problem this way (and I paraphrase): “If in your church there are not people from different ethnicities, backgrounds and cultures who have been united in Jesus Christ, then in that place the new humanity in Christ does not exist and in that place the Gospel is not true.” If Yoder is right, and I contend that he is, then what does that mean for the authenticity of plain Mennonite baptisms and their gatherings for the Lord’s supper?]

    It should be noted that Scripture does, on occasion, refer to the church in a universal and invisible sense, but these occurrences are rare. Certainly, there is a great cloud of witnesses looking down upon us from an invisible region, as Hebrews tells it, but the church in history is visible, discrete and voluntary. Paul’s letters were written to visible churches in particular cities with particular leaders. His epistles were not sent out in a general sort of way to all professing believers everywhere. The latter fits well with our Western notions of fairness, equality and inclusion, but it’s simply not how the apostle Paul thought about the church, in the main, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

    1. Kevin, I should clarify myself a bit. You mention my observation that in the NT “faith in Christ, baptism and local church membership were all of one piece.” I think that is true. But I didn’t actually use the word “local” when I made that statement.

      The membership language in the NT is connected to the concept of the body of Christ. That is, we are “members” in the sense that we are “parts” of Christ’s body. When we see this, then we can see that there is only one body, and that membership language is thus emphasizing our belonging within the universal church of Christ.

      Unfortunately, in modern usage, membership language is almost exclusively used to refer to our belonging to a local congregation of believers. This reflects an individualism operating at the level of the congregation; what happens to the rest of Christ’s church doesn’t matter so much as what happens in my congregation! Thus the universal church becomes the invisible church, ignoring that it, too, is composed of real flesh-and-blood people. And then when we reject the concept of an “invisible church,” we end up downplaying the importance of the universal church.

      The NT actually talks about the universal church a lot–much more than is commonly seen through our individualistic, congregation-focused eyes. Besides the body/member language which is found in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians, we have things like the following:
      * Letters like Galatians, Ephesians, James, and 1 & 2 Peter which were intended for multiple congregations scattered across a region.
      * Letters like Romans and 1 & 2 Corinthians which were intended for multiple congregations within one city.
      * Paul’s collection from all the Gentile churches for the church in Jerusalem, intended to underscore the unity of all the churches.
      * Multiple other metaphors for the church which underscore that there is only one church: Bride of Christ, God’s temple, branches of the Vine, one loaf, etc.

      The last one is a good example of how we often misread such references to the universal church. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16-17). I have heard this verse used to emphasize that a local congregation must be unified before they can partake of the Lord’s Supper. While local unity is most certainly important, this interpretation fails on two fronts: (1) It gets cause-and-effect backwards. Paul is saying that our shared participation in the Lord’s Supper produces (or at least proves) our unity. “We who are many are one body.” How do we know that is true? “Because there is one bread… for we all partake of the one bread.” (2) By writing “we,” Paul includes himself with the Corinthians, thus showing that he is talking about the universal church–the one and only body of Christ–not just one local Corinthian congregation.

      I think is clear that Paul actually wrote his letters with the understanding that he was giving instructions for all the churches–or at least for all the churches of the Gentiles, over which he was specially designated as apostle. This is true despite the fact that most of his letters were tailored to local needs. And this is indeed how his letters were received, for we have Peter referencing Paul’s letters (plural) in 2 Peter 3:16. Evidently even Peter was reading multiple letters of Paul and considering them to be “Scriptures,” intended for the reading of the universal church.

      So yes, it is important for believers to have their membership authorized by a local body of believers. But I suggest it might be even more important for local bodies of believers not to contradict the membership status that true believers already possess if they are known to be members of Christ’s body. “Think globally, act locally” applies to the church as much as to the environment, education, or business.

  8. Dwight, thank you for the thought provoking clarification. This aspect of ecclesiology is a very interesting subject, but not one to which I have given a great deal of attention. However, it is certainly worthy of sustained attention and so I’m grateful for the opportunity to exchange with you on the matter. In the process I hope to reach a clearer comprehension of what Scripture actually reveals on this point.

    Now if I understand your concern correctly, it is this: all who trust in Christ and are baptized become members of the church universal and it is inappropriate, even wrong, for a local church to deny any member of this universal church a place at the Lord’s supper. Does that accurately reflect your position? If you find it wanting or insufficient, then please modify it, but I will move to some questions that will help me understand you better. These are not intended as “gotcha” questions, but sincere attempts to locate the Biblical center on this issue.

    If a Roman Catholic shows up at your local church on communion Sunday, do you admit him to the Lord’s supper? What if he gives a more than credible account of his repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus?

    What about a Presbyterian whose soteriology is much more Biblical than the average Roman Catholic? He comes to you on communion Sunday, confessing Christ and defending his infant baptism. Do you invite him to the Lord’s supper?

    Just to make this a little more challenging: what if you had a Presbyterian friend, whom you knew to be deeply devoted to Jesus Christ, whose holiness of life you greatly admired, and who had, in fact, led you to Christ many years ago… what if this friend shows up on communion Sunday, without believer’s baptism… do you allow him to participate in the Lord’s supper? Is he not a member of the church universal, as you understand it?

    Now a Southern Baptist shows up on communion Sunday; he professes faith in Christ and was baptized as an adult. But… he’s in the military and he killed dozens of terrorists in his latest deployment. Do you allow him to eat of the Bread?

    Last one. Another Southern Baptist shows up on communion Sunday. This time it’s a young woman visiting from out of town. She expresses her personal faith in Christ and confirms baptism as a teenager. But… she’s wearing a mini-skirt, a revealing blouse, high-heels and needless to say, no head covering! She works as a waitress in a night club. What do you do with her? Does she participate with your local church in the Lord’s Supper? By your definition, isn’t she a member of the universal church?

    I realize that you are still wrestling with these issues yourself and may not have reached a definitive position that yields satisfying answers to all questions. But do some of these queries press upon your current understanding of the subject?

    >…I suggest it might be even more important for local bodies of >believers not to contradict the membership status that true >believers already possess if they are known to be members of >Christ’s body.

    Above, you refer to “true believers” and those “known to be members of Christ’s body.” I am compelled to ask more questions:

    Who authorizes one as a true believer, if not the local church? That is, isn’t local church membership itself that authorization, at least theoretically? I mean, Biblically speaking, isn’t that the way it is supposed to work? A genuine NT local church is the only historical institution/body with Divine authority to authenticate one as a true believer. No? And that Divine authority to authenticate, possessed by a genuine NT church alone, is exercised only by receiving a believer into membership locally. No?

    And does not that authorization on the local level require more than faith in Christ and believer’s baptism? There are standards of believing life, of discipleship, that must be agreed upon and promises of obedience made relative to those standards before baptismal authorization can legitimately be administered. No?

    And on your definitional map, isn’t it possible that you could end up denying local church membership to one you affirm as a member of the body of Christ? Am I understanding you correctly? Are you sure you really want to be there? It seems terribly wrong, in my estimation, to actually affirm someone as a member of Christ’s body but then deny them membership in the historical realization of Christ’s body, your local assembly. In my view, this is an intolerable divorce of what must necessarily be kept together, Biblically speaking.

    Aren’t you also bound on your terms, at least potentially, to regard someone as a member of Christ’s body even though he may be living in flagrant and unrepentant violation of Christ’s commands? Don’t your definitions push you inexorably toward this dreadful possibility?

    To conclude, it seems that given our current ecclesial context, however we define matters, we are left with significant and fundamental anomalies. It is for this reason that I urge a new beginning.

    “And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham (Gen 26:18).”

    1. Kevin, I’m still seeking better understanding, but I’ll answer as I can:

      (1) Your series of questions about potential visitors is good. That is exactly the kind of questions I think we should be asking, rather than hiding behind (I don’t mean to be pejorative) a closed communion policy that doesn’t require us to wrestle with our relationship to most other believers. I think that true discipleship involves interacting with such people on a case-by-case basis. Also, a follow-up question would be to ask what the NT says about “guarding the table.” Are we taught that we are responsible to sift every person who comes to share in the table? Or are we only taught to withhold the table from those who are under discipline or have been removed from the church based on specific sins that discredit them from being true believers? I’m not sure there are blanket answers here that will save us from dealing with difficult cases. Rather, I think we need to (a) grow in our ability to identify what constitutes a true Christian and (b) give professing Christians the honor of teaching, discipline, and invitation to repent before writing them off as unbelievers. This sounds messy to me, but it sounds like what we see in the NT epistles.

      (2) Regarding your questions about the local church affirming a person’s faith claim: I agree that this is the norm. Yet, do we really want to go so far as to say that a person who does not have their names “on the books” in any local congregation is not a Christian? If this is so, then it would be impossible for pioneer missions to take place; the converts have no local church to join. Rather, they are baptized by the Spirit into Christ’s body, and then subsequently form a local witness to that body, a local congregation. You write: “It seems terribly wrong, in my estimation, to actually affirm someone as a member of Christ’s body but then deny them membership in the historical realization of Christ’s body, your local assembly.” I fully agree. That is what I’m trying to say! (I’m speaking of the ideal here; I’m not fully sure how to put it into practice.) We regularly affirm that so-and-so attending our church is a Christian, yet we do not count them as part of our congregation.

      You write: “To conclude, it seems that given our current ecclesial context, however we define matters, we are left with significant and fundamental anomalies. It is for this reason that I urge a new beginning.” If you have more insights on what this should look like, I’m listening. 🙂

      Thanks for thinking and sharing.

  9. Arthur writes:

    >Since I never said or implied that the Schleitheim was erroneous >on any point I am not sure where your reaction is coming from.

    I grant that you did not address any point of the Schleitheim, but it seemed me that you were diminishing the Confession as a whole when you wrote:

    >Confessions and creeds are useful inasmuch as they provide a >framework and a historical glimpse into the past.

    and

    >So while we might read the Schleitheim Confession through >2015 eyes, that is probably OK as we live in a totally different >culture and time….

    If you did not intend to minimize the Confession’s importance and value by asserting its cultural and historical conditioning, then please receive my sincerest apologies.

    All documents are products of their time (even the Inspired Scriptures). That is to state a given, is it not? Most who make such an argument about a particular document seem to do so in order to mitigate that document’s contemporary relevance.

  10. I’m back over here on the Schleitheim thread 🙂

    You wrote:

    “You mention my observation that in the NT “faith in Christ, baptism and local church membership were all of one piece.” I think that is true. But I didn’t actually use the word “local” when I made that statement.”

    Ok. Why the hesitation with respect to the word “local?” Does Scripture provide us with any other means, beyond believer’s baptism in a genuine NT _local_ church, whereby an individual may be counted and recognized as a church member?

    You continued:

    “The membership language in the NT is connected to the concept of the body of Christ.”

    Ok. I pose a similar question. Does Scripture provide us with any other means, beyond believer’s baptism in a genuine NT _local_ church, whereby an individual may be counted and recognized as a member of Christ’s body?

    You again:

    “When we see this, then we can see that there is only one body, and that membership language is thus emphasizing our belonging within the universal church of Christ.”

    One more time… Does Scripture provide us with any other means, beyond believer’s baptism in a genuine NT _local_ church, whereby an individual may be counted and recognized as a member of the universal church of Christ?

    When the NT uses the term “church” it may be referring to more than the local church, but it is never referring to less than the local church. In other words, there is no universal, invisible church in history that we can somehow contemplate as distinct from the local church. The NT simply does not allow for that.

    So the universal church, which you seem so anxious to highlight, is really nothing more than the sum total of all existing genuine NT local churches. It (the universal church) does not and cannot consist of all professing Christians everywhere, irrespective of NT local church membership. That kind of universal, invisible church does not exist in history. The NT nowhere contemplates or envisions such an entity. It is a complete fiction. It may be a cozy, warm and fuzzy concept, but it has no basis in reality.

    There is one Lord, one Faith and one baptism, according to Paul (Ephesians 4:5). And that one baptism can be legitimately performed only by an authentic NT local church, as defined by God’s Word.

    And so you see the problem…

    We are left with the inescapable, irreducible necessity of answering the tough questions: What constitutes a genuine NT church and what are the Biblical standards for local church membership? Regrettably, that obligatory project must leave our Reformed and Presbyterian friends outside the local church, unrecognizable as members of Christ’s body; for their churches fundamentally distort and disfigure the NT conception of the church, in virtue of their infant baptism.

    Now you are not going to like this, but the same unhappy assessment must be made of the Plain people. Conservative Mennonites are outside the NT local church, unrecognizable as members of Christ’s body; for their churches fundamentally distort and disfigure the NT conception of the church, by making custom compulsory and binding people with human regulations. This is not a small error, an error that can be endured. No, it is an egregious error, a de-naturing error. You cannot be an authentic NT church and bind people with a range of human regulations as a condition for joining Christ’s church! The church does not belong to your kind. It is not a human institution that you can engineer according to the preferences of your own kind. The Head of the church does not give you the liberty to establish the specifications for membership in His own institution. The Church belongs to Christ; it does not belong to conservative Mennonites.

    Yes, I accept the consequences of the truth articulated. There a very, very few, if any, genuine NT local churches in the Western world. That, in fact, is the painful reality. Now you know more clearly why I continue to urge a new beginning.

    Whether or not there are genuine Christians within these false bodies is not my call. That is a judgment which belongs to God alone. What I will not do and cannot do, according to the NT, is recognize Presbyterians or Methodists or Mennonites as my brothers. Outside of a genuine NT local church no authentic brotherhood can exist. Period.

    And so I wait in the Wilderness for a new move of God’s Spirit, for a new Exodus that will reconstitute the body of Christ in history, according to the Word of God alone.

    Now don’t throw me off your site for telling you the truth in love 🙂

    “And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham (Gen 26:18).”

    1. Well, Kevin, I guess you have no real assurance of being a member of Christ’s church either, if (a) membership in a local church is necessary in every case for membership in Christ’s church and (b) you live in the Western world and (c) there are “very, very few, if any, genuine NT local churches in the Western world.”

      In that case, I have very little reason to listen to your unChristian accusations, or require my other readers to listen to them, either.

      (A brief rebuttal to your first premise: Local church fellowship is most certainly important. But into what local church was the Ethiopian eunuch baptized? Or the hosts of other first converts in the various localities described in Acts? Or perhaps they weren’t saved until a local church was formed in their communities?)

      Despite your statement that God alone can judge whether there are any genuine Christians within the “false bodies” to which I and my fellow blog readers belong, you have taken that judgment upon yourself by indicating that you “will not and cannot” consider any of us to be your brothers.

      I regret to say that I have decided to do what you seem to be looking for me to do: Adjust settings so that any future comments from you will require manual approval, if I so chose. This saddens me deeply. May God minister his love to you in whatever ways he knows you need it.

      PS: If any other readers want me to respond in more detail to Kevin’s arguments in this comment, please let me know and I will be most happy to do so, if our dialogue can be respectful. Also, if any other readers feel I am responding inappropriately to Kevin here, please send me a private message suggesting a better response. Thank you!

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