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The Schleitheim Confession
(Swiss Brethren, 1527)
The persecution of Anabaptists was the dark chapter of the
Reformation. Labeled "The Radical Reformation," Anabaptists were
perceived as a threat to the order of society by both Catholics and
Protestants, especially the Calvinists of Switzerland. As a result, they
were intensely persecuted and frequently executed in hideous ways by the
Calvinists of Geneva and surrounding areas.
The word "anabaptist" means "re-baptizer," and refers to the idea
that baptism could only have validity for people who understood what it
meant. Therefore, they contended that anyone who had been baptized as an
infant in Catholic churches needed to be baptized again when they made
an adult profession of faith. But it was their position on the church's
relation to political power that was threatening.
Anabaptists and similar groups came into being during the Protestant
Reformation of the early 1500s. The Reformation triggered in 1517 by
Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in Germany soon spread to
Switzerland. Ulrich Zwingli, a priest in Zurich, along with others
including Felix Manz, Conrad Grebel, and George Blaurock, instituted
similar reforms in Swiss churches in 1520-1523.
Because of the political situation in Europe in the 16th century,
both Luther and Zwingli, as well as John Calvin, found it necessary to
cooperate with civil leaders and magistrates. Luther, who had been
condemned by the Edict of Worms issued by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles
V in 1521, had found it necessary to cooperate with political leaders in
order to have some degree of protections and legitimacy. By the
mid-1500s, Calvin had combined political and religious control of Geneva
into a functional theocracy in which he had the civil authority to try
and execute those deemed to be heretics, which he did enthusiastically.
However, by 1525 some of the followers of Zwingli’s reforms in
Switzerland objected to such political involvement. They also thought
that the Reformation was not going far enough in distancing itself from
Roman Catholicism. So Manz, Grebel, and Blaurock along with others split
from Zwingli and formed what would become known as The Swiss Brethren.
They rejected infant baptism in favor of symbolic "believer’s" baptism,
saw the church as a community of the redeemed apart from civil society,
advocated the separation of religions and civil authority and contended
that Christians could not serve in civil government, and adopted a form
Such opinions threatened the uneasy alliance between the Reformers
and the political powers that were themselves often embroiled in
factional and national wars. The reaction from Zwingli and Calvin was
intense and led to a prolonged program of persecution against the
Anabaptists. This drove many Anabaptists to other parts of Europe, and
eventually to the newly founded American Republic in search of religious
The Anabaptists were not a unified group. Various leaders of the
movement emerged in different areas and with different emphases. In the
1530s one group in Moravia took the name Hutterian Brethern or
Hutterites from Jacob Hutter, who advocated a communal form of
Christianity. Menno Simons, a former Dutch Catholic priest, joined the
Anabaptist movement in 1536 and gave his name to the Mennonites, a
collection of widely diverse groups characterized by pacifism and
service to others. Hans Reist was a leader of the Swiss Mennonites in
the early 1600s. Jacob Amman thought the Anabaptists under Reist were drifting from
their original ideals, and in 1632 organized what would become known as
the Amish, a strictly conservative branch of Anabaptists. Some of the
later Brethren Churches have their origin in the Swiss Anabaptist
The Schleitheim Confession of Faith of the Swiss Anabaptists resulted
from a Swiss Brethren Conference in Schleitheim in the Canton of
Schaffhausen, Switzerland in 1527. It comes from a time of intense
persecution of the Anabaptists by both Catholics and Protestants. The
purpose of the conference was to give voice to some of the basic beliefs
of the Swiss Brethren in order to counter some of the charges being made
against them by opponents. There were risks in defying the churches
that were sanctioned by the state, and they wanted their beliefs to be
well thought out and deliberate, and presented in a unified statement.
The confession was drafted by Michael Sattler of Germany. It is
certainly not a complete account of the Christian Faith and focuses
especially on the beliefs of the Swiss Brethren. In places the language
is strong in its condemnation of state churches. As Luther had noted
about Catholic leaders, and as history shows about Calvin and other
Protestant leaders in Switzerland, sometimes their actions were harsh
and in some cases truly atrocious. Many of the Anabaptists paid for
their beliefs with their lives. Sattler was himself condemned as a
heretic and was burned at the stake in 1527, less then three months
after the Schleitheim conference. His execution is exemplary of the
brutality of the religious wars in Switzerland and the persecution of
the Anabaptists. He was sentenced to have his tongue cut out, and red
hot tongs were to be used to tear pieces of flesh from his body. After
this, he was taken outside the city where the tongs were applied five
more times. He was finally burned at the stake. Others arrested with
him, including his wife, were executed by the sword or by drowning.
This version is adapted from a translation by J. C. Wenger, published
in Glimpses of Mennonite History and Doctrine Mennonite
Publishing House, 1940. Words in brackets are the translators for
clarification. -Dennis Bratcher, ed.
The Schleitheim Confession of Faith
Brotherly Union of a Number of Children of God
Concerning Seven Articles
[Pastoral Cover Letter]
May joy, peace and mercy from our Father through the atonement of the
blood of Christ Jesus, together with the gifts of the Spirit--Who is
sent from the Father to all believers for their strength and comfort and
for their perseverance in all tribulation until the end, Amen--be to all
those who love God, who are the children of light, and who are scattered
everywhere as it has been ordained of God our Father, where they are
with one mind assembled together in one God and Father of us all: Grace
and peace of heart be with you all, Amen.
Beloved brethren and sisters in the Lord: First and supremely we are
always concerned for your consolation and the assurance of your
conscience (which was previously misled) so that you may not always
remain foreigners to us and by right almost completely excluded, but
that you may turn again to the true implanted members of Christ, who
have been armed through patience and knowledge of themselves, and have
therefore again been united with us in the strength of a godly Christian
spirit and zeal for God.
It is also apparent with what cunning the devil has turned us aside,
so that he might destroy and bring to an end the work of God which in
mercy and grace has been partly begun in us. But Christ, the true
Shepherd of our souls, Who has begun this in us, will certainly direct
the same and teach [us] to His honor and our salvation, Amen.
Dear brethren and sisters, we who have been assembled in the Lord at
Schleitheim on the Border, make known in points and articles to all who
love God that as concerns us we are of one mind to abide in the Lord as
God's obedient children, [His] sons and daughters, we who have been and
shall be separated from the world in everything, [and] completely at
peace. To God alone be praise and glory without the contradiction of any
brethren. In this we have perceived the oneness of the Spirit of our
Father and of our common Christ with us. For the Lord is the Lord of
peace and not of quarreling, as Paul points out. That you may understand
in what articles this has been formulated you should observe and note
A very great offense has been introduced by certain false brethren
among us, so that some have turned aside from the faith, in the way they
intend to practice and observe the freedom of the Spirit and of Christ.
But such have missed the truth and to their condemnation are given over
to the lasciviousness and self-indulgence of the flesh. They think faith
and love may do and permit everything, and nothing will harm them nor
condemn them, since they are believers.
Observe, you who are God's members in Christ Jesus, that faith in the
Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ does not take such form. It does
not produce and result in such things as these false brethren and
sisters do and teach. Guard yourselves and be warned of such people, for
they do not serve our Father, but their father, the devil.
But you are not that way. For they that are Christ's have crucified
the flesh with its passions and lusts. You understand me well and [know]
the brethren whom we mean. Separate yourselves from them for they are
preverted. Petition the Lord that they may have the knowledge which
leads to repentance, and [pray] for us that we may have constancy to
persevere in the way which we have espoused, for the honor of God and of
Christ, His Son, Amen.
The articles which we discussed and on which
we were of one mind are these:
2. The Ban [Excommunication]
3. Breaking of Bread
4. Separation from the Abomination
5. Pastors in the Church
6. The Sword
7. The Oath.
First. Observe concerning baptism: Baptism
shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and amendment of
life, and who believe truly that their sins are taken away by Christ,
and to all those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish
to be buried with Him in death, so that they may be resurrected with
Him, and to all those who with this significance request it [baptism] of
us and demand it for themselves. This excludes all infant baptism, the
highest and chief abomination of the pope. In this you have the
foundation and testimony of the apostles. Mt. 28, Mk. 16, Acts 2, 8, 16,
19. This we wish to hold simply, yet firmly and with assurance.
Second. We are agreed as follows on the ban: The ban shall be
employed with all those who have given themselves to the Lord, to walk
in His commandments, and with all those who are baptized into the one
body of Christ and who are called brethren or sisters, and yet who slip
sometimes and fall into error and sin, being inadvertently overtaken.
The same shall be admonished twice in secret and the third time openly
disciplined or banned according to the command of Christ. Mt. 18. But
this shall be done according to the regulation of the Spirit (Mt. 5)
before the breaking of bread, so that we may break and eat one bread,
with one mind and in one love, and may drink of one cup.
Third. In the breaking of bread we are of one mind and are agreed [as
follows]: All those who wish to break one bread in remembrance of
the broken body of Christ, and all who wish to drink of one drink as a
remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, shall be united beforehand by
baptism in one body of Christ which is the church of God and whose Head
is Christ. For as Paul points out we cannot at the same time be
partakers of the Lord's table and the table of devils; we cannot at the
same time drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of the devil. That is,
all those who have fellowship with the dead works of darkness have no
part in the light Therefore all who follow the devil and the world have
no part with those who are called unto God out of the world. All who lie
in evil have no part in the good.
Therefore it is and must be [thus]: Whoever has not been called by
one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one Spirit, to one body, with
all the children of God's church, cannot be made [into] one bread with
them, as indeed must be done if one is truly to break bread according to
the command of Christ.
Fourth. We are agreed [as follows] on separation: A separation
shall be made from the evil and from the wickedness which the devil
planted in the world; in this manner, simply that we shall not have
fellowship with them [the wicked] and not run with them in the multitude
of their abominations. This is the way it is: Since all who do not walk
in the obedience of faith, and have not united themselves with God so
that they wish to do His will, are a great abomination before God, it is
not possible for anything to grow or issue from them except abominable
things. For truly all creatures are in but two classes, good and bad,
believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who
[have come] out of the world, God's temple and idols, Christ and Belial;
and none can have part with the other.
To us then the command of the Lord is clear when He calls upon us to
be separate from the evil and thus He will be our God and we shall be
His sons and daughters.
He further admonishes us to withdraw from Babylon and the earthly
Egypt that we may not be partakers of the pain and suffering which the
Lord will bring upon them.
From this we should learn that everything which is not united with
our God and Christ cannot be other than an abomination which we should
shun and flee from. By this is meant all popish and antipopish works and
church services, meetings and church attendance,* drinking houses, civic
affairs, the commitments [made in] unbelief and other things of that
kind, which are highly regarded by the world and yet are carried on in
outright contradiction to the command of God, in accordance with all the
unrighteousness which is in the world. From all these things we shall be
separated and have no part with them for they are nothing but an
abomination, and they are the cause of our being hated before our Christ
Jesus, Who has set us free from the slavery of the flesh and fitted us
for the service of God through the Spirit Whom He has given us.
Therefore there will also unquestionably fall from us the
unchristian, devilish weapons of force -- such as sword, armor and the
like, and all their use [either] for friends or against one's enemies I
would like the records -- by virtue of the word of Christ, Resist not
[him that is] evil.
Fifth. We are agreed as follows on pastors in the church of God:
The pastor in the church of God shall, as Paul has prescribed, be one
who out-and-out has a good report of those who are outside the faith.
This office shall be to read, to admonish and teach, to warn, to
discipline, to ban in the church, to lead out in prayer for the
advancement of all the brethren and sisters, to lift up the bread when
it is to be broken, and in all things to see to the care of the body of
Christ, in order that it may be built up and developed, and the mouth of
the slanderer be stopped.
This one moreover shall be supported of the church which has chosen
him, wherein he may be in need, so that he who serves the Gospel may
live of the Gospel as the Lord has ordained. But if a pastor should do
something requiring discipline, he shall not be dealt with except [on
the testimony of] two or three witnesses. And when they sin they shall
be disciplined before all in order that the others may fear.
But should it happen that through the cross this pastor should be
banished or led to the Lord [through martyrdom] another shall be
ordained in his place in the same hour so that God's little flock and
people may not be destroyed.
Sixth. We are agreed as follows concerning the sword: The sword
is ordained of God outside the perfection of Christ. It punishes and
puts to death the wicked, and guards and protects the good. In the Law
the sword was ordained for the punishment of the wicked and for their
death, and the same [sword] is [now] ordained to be used by the worldly
In the perfection of Christ, however, only the ban is used for a
warning and for the excommunication of the one who has sinned, without
putting the flesh to death, -- simply the warning and the command to sin
Now it will be asked by many who do not recognize [this as] the will
of Christ for us, whether a Christian may or should employ the sword
against the wicked for the defense and protection of the good, or for
the sake of love.
Our reply is unanimously as follows: Christ teaches and commands us
to learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly in heart and so shall we find
rest to our souls. Also Christ says to the heathenish woman who was
taken in adultery, not that one should stone her according to the law of
His Father (and yet He says, As the Father has commanded me, thus I do),
but in mercy and forgiveness and warning, to sin no more. Such [an
attitude] we also ought to take completely according to the rule of the
Secondly, it will be asked concerning the sword, whether a Christian
shall pass sentence in worldly disputes and strife such as unbelievers
have with one another. This is our united answer: Christ did not wish to
decide or pass judgment between brother and brother in the case of the
inheritance, but refused to do so. Therefore we should do likewise.
Thirdly, it will be asked concerning the sword, Shall one be a
magistrate if one should be chosen as such? The answer is as follows:
They wished to make Christ king, but He fled and did not view it as the
arrangement of His Father. Thus shall we do as He did, and follow Him,
and so shall we not walk in darkness. For He Himself says, He who wishes
to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow
me. Also, He Himself forbids the [employment of] the force of the sword
saying, The worldly princes lord it over them, etc., but not so shall it
be with you. Further, Paul says, Whom God did foreknow He also did
predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, etc. Also Peter
says, Christ has suffered (not ruled) and left us an example, that ye
should follow His steps.
Finally it will be observed that it is not appropriate for a
Christian to serve as a magistrate because of these points: The
government magistracy is according to the flesh, but the Christians' is
according to the Spirit; their houses and dwelling remain in this world,
but the Christians' are in heaven; their citizenship is in this world,
but the Christians' citizenship is in heaven; the weapons of their
conflict and war are carnal and against the flesh only, but the
Christians' weapons are spiritual, against the fortification of the
devil. The worldlings are armed with steel and iron, but the Christians
are armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace,
faith, salvation and the Word of God. In brief, as is the mind of Christ
toward us, so shall the mind of the members of the body of Christ be
through Him in all things, that there may be no schism in the body
through which it would be destroyed. For every kingdom divided against
itself will be destroyed. Now since Christ is as it is written of Him,
His members must also be the same, that His body may remain complete and
united to its own advancement and upbuilding.
Seventh. We are agreed as follows concerning the oath: The oath
is a confirmation among those who are quarreling or making promises. In
the Law it is commanded to be performed in God's Name, but only in
truth, not falsely. Christ, who teaches the perfection of the Law,
prohibits all swearing to His [followers], whether true or false, --
neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor by our head,
-- and that for the reason which He shortly thereafter gives, For you
are not able to make one hair white or black. So you see it is for this
reason that all swearing is forbidden: we cannot fulfill that which we
promise when we swear, for we cannot change [even] the very least thing
Now there are some who do not give credence to the simple command of
God, but object with this question: Well now, did not God swear to
Abraham by Himself (since He was God) when He promised him that He would
be with him and that He would be his God if he would keep His
commandments, -- why then should I not also swear when I promise to
Hear what the Scripture says: God, since He wished more abundantly to
show unto the heirs the immutability of His counsel, inserted an oath,
that by two immutable things (in which it is impossible for God to lie)
we might have a strong consolation. Observe the meaning of this
Scripture: What God forbids you to do, He has power to do, for
everything is possible for Him. God swore an oath to Abraham, says the
Scripture, so that He might show that His counsel is immutable. That is,
no one can withstand nor thwart His will; therefore He can keep His
oath. But we can do nothing, as is said above by Christ, to keep or
perform [our oaths] : therefore we shall not swear at all.
Then others further say as follows: It is not forbidden of God to
swear in the New Testament, when it is actually commanded in the Old,
but it is forbidden only to swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem and our
head. Answer: Hear the Scripture, He who swears by heaven swears by
God's throne and by Him who sits on it. Observe: it is forbidden to
swear by heaven, which is only the throne of God: how much more is it
forbidden [to swear] by God Himself! You fools and blind, which is
greater, the throne or Him that sits on it?
Further some say, Because evil is now [in the world, and] because man
needs God for [the establishment of] the truth, so did the apostles
Peter and Paul also swear. Answer: Peter and Paul only testify of that
which God promised to Abraham with the oath. They themselves promise
nothing, as the example indicates clearly. Testifying and swearing are
two different things. For when a person swears he is in the first place
promising future things, as Christ was promised to Abraham Whom we a
long time afterwards received. But when a person bears testimony he is
testifying about the present, whether it is good or evil, as Simeon
spoke to Mary about Christ and testified, Behold this [child] is set for
the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be
Christ also taught us along the same line when He said, Let your
communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatever is more than these
comes from evil. He says, Your speech or word shall be yea and nay.
[However] when one does not wish to understand, he remains closed to the
meaning. Christ is simply Yea and Nay, and all those who seek Him simply
will understand His Word. Amen.
Dear brethren and sisters in the Lord: These are the articles of
certain brethren who had heretofore been in error and who had failed to
agree in the true understanding, so that many weaker consciences were
perplexed, causing the Name of God to be greatly slandered. Therefore
there has been a great need for us to become of one mind in the Lord,
which has come to pass. To God be praise and glory!
Now since you have so well understood the will of God which has been
made known by us, it will be necessary for you to achieve perseveringly,
without interruption, the known will of God. For you know well what the
servant who sinned knowingly heard as his recompense.
Everything which you have unwittingly done and confessed as evil
doing is forgiven you through the believing prayer which is offered by
us in our meeting for all our shortcomings and guilt. [This state is
yours] through the gracious forgiveness of God and through the blood of
Jesus Christ. Amen.
Keep watch on all who do not walk according to the simplicity of the
divine truth which is stated in this letter from [the decisions of] our
meeting, so that everyone among us will be governed by the rule of the
ban and henceforth the entry of false brethren and sisters among us may
Eliminate from you that which is evil and the Lord will be your God
and you will be His sons and daughters.
Dear brethren, keep in mind what Paul admonishes Timothy when he
says, The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,
teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live
soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that
blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior
Jesus Christ; Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all
iniquity, and purify unto Himself a people of His own, zealous of good
works. Think on this and exercise yourselves in it and the God of peace
will be with you.
May the Name of God be hallowed eternally and highly praised, Amen.
May the Lord give you His peace, Amen.
The Acts of Schleitheim on the Border [Canton Schaffhausen,
Switzerland], on Matthias' [Day],* Anno MDXXVII.
*February 24, 1527