A Comparison of the Schleitheim and Mennonite Dordrecht Confessions

Schleitheim Confession, title page, ca. 1560. Scan courtesy Mennonite Church USA Archives

Introduction

Christian confessions of faith say much about the people who write them. Confessions help determine how the Bible has shaped a person or a group of people, and tell how those people interpret the Word of God. Confessions also help a group of people take a stand against false teachers and heretics who attempt to defile the Word of God. Additionally, confessions serve as a source of inspiration for both the people to whom the confession was written, and also, in many cases, people in generations to come. Two important confessions that have stood as interpretive models of God’s Word, attacks against heretics, and sources of inspiration to God’s people are the Schleitheim Confession and the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession.

Theology and History of the Confessions

The Schleitheim Confession, also known as the Seven Articles of Schleitheim [1] and the Brotherly Agreement of Some Children of God, [2] was written by Michael Sattler, a former Benedictine Monk, of Stauffen in Germany. Sattler wrote the confession as a public statement of the doctrines held by the Swiss Brethren Anabaptists. It was written in 1527 in the face of biblical interpretive error and persecution. It was adopted by the Swiss Brethren Conference on February 24, 1527, immediately after its drafting.

The Schleitheim Confession was not meant to be a full systematic theology, but was intended rather as a foundation of truth at a time when heresy and persecution were rampant.  Sattler sought to both comfort the distraught victims of persecution in his fold and to explain the specific convictions that set these victims of persecution apart from both the Catholics and the Protestants alike. The Schleitheim confession is important to Christian history as it is the first theological confession to be written after the Reformation, and is one of the most fundamental sources concerning the teachings of the Anabaptists directly after their formation in 1525 [3].

The Mennonite Dordrecht Confession of Faith, known also as simply the Dordrecht Confession of faith, was written by Adrian Cornelius, elder of the Flemish Mennonite congregation in the Dutch city of Dordrecht [4].  It was adopted on April 21, 1632, and expounds on all of the teachings of the Schleitheim Confession, while addressing new doctrines and practices not previously mentioned in the previous confession. Although it was written 105 years after the Schleitheim Confession, its significance and influence cannot be overstated. The value of the text of the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession can be seen today, as it has been adopted in its entirety by many present-day Mennonite churches across the world.

The Mennonite Dordrecht Confession of 1632 represents the mature development of Anabaptist thought and is therefore valued by present-day Mennonites and other Christians alike. It is not only a more comprehensive statement of faith than the Schleitheim Confession; it also addresses the distinct order and practices of the Mennonite Church [5]

The language of the Dordrecht Confession is simple and direct, not literary or philosophical in character; it abounds in Scriptural quotations, and follows the general emphases of evangelical Protestant thought except that it teaches the baptism of believers only, the washing of the saints’ feet, earnest church discipline, the shunning of the excommunicated, the nonswearing of oaths, marriage within the same church, strict nonresistance, and in general places more emphasis on true Christianity involving being Christian and obeying Christ rather than merely holding to a correct system of doctrine [6].

Both the Schleitheim and Dordrecht Confessions address the doctrines or issues of baptism, the ban, the Lord’s Supper, separation, Pastor’s in the church, taking up the sword, and the swearing of oaths. The Dordrecht Confession addresses each of these doctrines or issues in greater specificity, giving scriptural references to support each teaching or issue. The Dordrecht Confession also addresses other issues and doctrines not addressed in the Schleitheim confession, such as God as Creator of the universe, the fall of man, the promise of Christ that makes restoration possible, the purpose of the coming of Christ, the sealing of the law of Christ (the New Testament), the necessity of repentance in one’s life, the visible, holy church as one church, an expansion from discussion of pastors to a discussion of all church offices, feet washing, marriage, secular authority, shunning of the separated, and the resurrection of the dead.

Comparison

The Mennonite Dordrecht Confession (MDC) starts out in section I with a decree that there is only one eternal God, and that this one, eternal God is the creator of all things. God is the creator of all things visible and invisible, and He created mankind just as the Bible says He did in Genesis Chapter one. The Schleitheim Confession does not address the doctrine of God as the supreme creator of the universe, although the stand Sattler and his followers took for God and Christ made it apparent that they felt this way toward God. Sattler wrote on the run, and therefore wrote only of issues that his followers disagreed with the Catholics and Protestants on.

Section II of the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession addresses the fall of man, and the state that men subsequently find themselves in as a result of the fall. It plainly lays out the fact that all men have sinned, which is the clear teaching of Scripture found in Romans 3:23. Because of the sin of mankind, men are eternally separated from God, and thus in need of reconciliation.

Section III of the MDC addresses the reconciliation men need and the immaculate Lamb who would accomplish this reconciliation. Christ had been foreordained from the foundation of the earth to accomplish our reconciliation, as can be seen in First Peter 1:20. According to the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession, He was foreordained to “raise the fallen race of man from their sin, guilt, and unrighteousness.”

Section IV of the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession speaks of the coming of Christ, and the purpose of His manifestation. Jesus is the precious promised Messiah, Redeemer, and Savior of the Old Testament. He became a man, was crucified, died, was buried, and rose on the third day. He is the Promised Messiah for all who would believe, as He tasted “death and shed His precious blood for all men”.

Section V concerns the New Testament, and speaks of it as an eternal Testament that was confirmed and sealed with His precious blood. No one is to take away from or add to the Law of Christ – most likely a reference to the Catholic Church’s emphasis on tradition over the Word of God. At the end of this section, the children of God are called “lawful heirs”, and therefore no one is excluded from salvation except the unbelieving, disobedient, stiff-necked, and obdurate.

Section VI calls all the unrighteous, wicked sinners to follow the first lesson of the Gospels – repentance. Those who claim to be children of God must bring forth fruits of repentance, reform their lives, and desist from unrighteous behavior. True believers are to be born again from above and are to partake of the mind, nature, and image of Christ, as seen in Mark 1:15 and Ephesians 4:22.

Section VII, Of Holy Baptism, marks the first section in the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession with a parallel section in the Schleitheim Confession. Baptism, the primary issue of disagreement between the Anabaptists and the Protestants and Catholics, is addressed in the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession and the Schleitheim Confession in detail. Both proclaim that baptism is for penitent believers who wish to be buried with Christ in death and likewise resurrected with Him. The Schleitheim Confession makes a specific proclamation concerning who baptism is not for: “This excludes infant baptism, the highest and chief abomination of the Pope.”

Section VIII defines the church as a visible church of baptized believers. The believers must be “rightly baptized”. Those who are a part of the church are a chosen generation and a royal priesthood. The church was bought with the supreme sacrifice and no tempest or floods shall prevail against them.

Section IX speaks of the importance of church offices in the church. Jesus, before leaving the earth, supplied the church with faithful ministers, apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These faithful servants were chosen by Him through prayer and supplication that they might care for the flock. The Mennonite Dordrecht Confession gives specific duties of these servants, with an apparent emphasis on the elder, as opposed to an emphasis on the Pastor in the Schleitheim Confession (Section V in the Schleitheim Confession). Additionally, the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession addresses the office of deacon, whereas the Schleitheim Confession does not.

Section X of the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession and Section III of the Schleitheim Confession address the Lord’s Supper. Both specifically address the Lord’s Supper as a memorial to Christ, thus attacking the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. The Schleitheim Confession gives prequalifications to those wishing to partake in the Lord’s Supper, namely salvation and baptism, whereas the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession does not address these prequalifications.

Section XI of the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession addresses the practice of feet washing. The emphasis on feet washing is humility. The practice is also to serve as a reminder that the believer has been washed through the precious blood of Christ.

Section XII addresses marriage. It encourages believers to consider marriage an honorable and holy event. It emphasizes both the individual believer’s freedom to marry, which includes the Pastor or Bishop (First Corinthians 9:5), but also the necessity of marrying within the church of believers. Members should marry people only of like communion, faith, doctrine, and practice.

Section XIII addresses the office of secular authority. Civil authority is spoken of as “ministers of God” because they punish evil, protect the good, and maintain countries and cities. The civil government should be respected and not reviled or resisted. The church is advised to pray for those in civil government, so that they may dwell under its protection.

In section XIV of the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession and Section VI of the Schleitheim Confession revenge and the sword are addressed. The sword is said to be “outside the perfection of Christ”.  The Schleitheim Confession gives a discussion of the sword, giving an original purpose for the sword as punishment for the wicked and protection from evil. Both confessions call for laying down the sword and praying for enemies, as Christ had forbidden His disciples from picking up the sword against their enemies.

Both section XV of the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession and section VII of the Schleitheim Confession address the swearing of oaths. The Schleitheim Confession defines what swearing an oath means, and gives specific instructions on Christian procedures to avoid swearing of oaths. The Mennonite Dordrecht Confession gives only the admonition not to swear, advising Christians to just say “yes” or “no”.

Section XVI and XVII concern a ban and subsequent shunning of those who fall into grievous sin and refuse to repent of the sin. Those who forfeit the kingdom of God are to be purged out as leaven, not as punishment, but as protection for the other believers and as a method of restoration for the fallen member. If a member continues in unrepentant sin after two private warnings, the congregation should exclude (separate from) that person and shun them. Separation is addressed in the Schleitheim Confession, but shunning is not.

Section XVIII of the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession addresses the resurrection of the dead, according to First Thessalonians 4:13. Believers are promised the hope of resurrection through “the incomprehensible power of God”. This teaching is not addressed in the Schleitheim Confession.

Conclusion

The Mennonite Dordrecht Confession and the Schleitheim Confession were written by godly men who desired to contest the teaching of men that differed with the teaching of Christ. The Dordrecht confession was written over 100 years after the Schleitheim Confession, contains many more direct scripture references, and is much more descriptive, both in practice and theology. The Schleitheim Confession was written on the run, and was written to address specific doctrinal heresies that needed to be condemned. Both confessions served, however, to separate the Anabaptists of their time from the Catholics and the Protestants, and their false teachings.

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Key Search Words: History of Baptists, Liberty University CHHI 694, Baptist Confessions, The Mennonite Dordrecht Confession, The Schleitheim Confession

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ENDNOTES

1        George Thomas Kurian, Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary: The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), 398.
2        “Glimpses of Christian History: Swiss Anabaptists Drew up a Seven-Point Confession,” Christianity Today, http://chi.gospelcom.net/DAILYF/2002/02/daily-02-24-2002.shtml (accessed 18 October 2008).
3        January 5, 1525, is the date that Anabaptists Conrad Grabel and George Blaurock baptized each other, and is therefore known as birth date of Anabaptism.

4        J.C. Wenger, “Dordrecht Confession of Faith: Mennonite, 1632,” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/D674.html (accessed 09 October 2008).

5        John H. Leith, Creeds of the Churches: A Reader in Christian Doctrine From the Bible to Present, 3rd ed., ed. John Leith (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1982), 292.
6        J.C. Wenger, “Dordrecht Confession of Faith: Mennonite, 1632,”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

“Glimpses of Christian History: Swiss Anabaptists Drew up a Seven-Point Confession.” Christianity Today. http://chi.gospelcom.net/DAILYF/2002/02/daily-02-24-2002.shtml (accessed 18 October 2008).

Kurian, George Thomas. Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary: The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publsihers, 2001.

Leith, John H. Creeds of the Churches: A Reader in Christian Doctrine From the Bible to Present. 3rd ed. Edited by John Leith. Westminster: John Knox Press, 1982.
Wenger, J.C. “Dordrecht Confession of Faith: Mennonite, 1632.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/D674.html (accessed 09 October 2008).

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One response to “A Comparison of the Schleitheim and Mennonite Dordrecht Confessions

  1. Dear Brother: actually I am studing about the Mennonite and Anabaptist History to understand really my doctrinal and denominational origin; specially useful when are looking the false position where the London Confession of 1689 is placed like the doctrinal reference.

    I am saved by Faith and His Grace, growing in a Biblical General Baptist Church in Caracas, Venezuela.

    Thank you really for this important comparation and information

    My Bless God you and your Church

    Luis D. Mendoza P.

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