Wismar Articles (Dutch Anabaptist, 1554)
In the first place, we hold concerning those who marry outside the congregation, that these persons shall be put out of the congregation and avoided until they manifest a proper Christian life before God and the brethren. And at that time the brethren are at liberty to receive the same, whether it be a sister or a brother, until the brethren shall observe for a time the state of affairs of the afore-mentioned persons.
In the second place, in the matter of the ban in buying and selling, we hold and construe it to be wrong, unless need requires it for the apostate.
In the third place, between husband and wife we take it that the apostate one is to be avoided and shunned, whether it be husband or wife--but if it be a case of a weak conscience which is unable to grasp this, against this the Scriptures concerning marriage militate. Therefore, a careful investigation must be made whether it is indeed a matter of conscience or whether it is a matter of the flesh. This will quite readily be apparent. And if anyone whose spouse is apostate wishes to be admitted to the congregation, the aforesaid rules shall apply.
In the fourth place, if a believer and an unbeliever are in the marriage bond together and the unbeliever commits adultery, then the marriage tie is broken. And if it be one who complains that he has fallen in sin, and desires to mend his ways, then the brethren permit the believing mate to go to the unfaithful one to admonish him, if conscience allows it in view of the state of the affair. But if he be a bold and headstrong adulterer, then the innocent party is free--with the provision, however, that she shall consult with the congregation and remarry according to circumstances and decisions in the matter, be it well understood.
In the fifth place, concerning a believer and a nonbeliever--if the nonbeliever wishes to separate for reasons of the faith, then the believer shall conduct himself honestly without contracting a marriage, for as long a time as the nonbeliever is not remarried. But if the nonbeliever marries or commits adultery, then the believing mate may also marry, subject to the advice of the elders and the congregation.
In the sixth place, touching believing children of believing parents--the congregation does not consent to their marriage without the foregoing consent of their parents, seeing that they are being supported by their parents. But in case the children have honored their parents in the matter and the parents refuse to consent, they are not in a position to deny the children their right; and, in the case of those children who have nonbelieving parents, these shall seek their parents' advice and shall show them honor. But if their nonbelieving parents refuse to give consent, then these (the children) will submit themselves to the judgment of the congregation. We consider secret marriages to be censurable.
In the seventh place, as to demanding payment, at law, of just indebtedness, we approve in all cases where no wickedness results therefrom.
In the eighth place, touching weapons, the elders are unable to consider it impure when a believer traveling on the roads, according to the conditions of the land, carries an honest staff or a rapier on his shoulder, according to the custom and the manner of the land. But to carry weapons of defense, and, to present them according to the command of the magistracy, this the elders do not consider permissible--unless it be in case of soldiers on guard.*
In the ninth place, no one is to undertake of himself to preach or admonish from church to church unless he be sent or ordained thereto by the congregation or the elders.
The text of Article VIII is evidently corrupt. Where the version which we have followed has die weerlicke knechten (which we have translated with soldiers on guard; that is, engaged in self-defense) another ancient version has de onweerlicke knechten, the exact opposite, i.e., non-defensive soldiers.
The Wismar Articles, called in Dutch Besluyt tot Wismar, also Bespreck van Wismar, were the result of a conference of Mennonite elders held in 1554 at Wismar in Mecklenburg, Germany. Present were (according to Vos) Menno Simons, who was then living in Wismar, Dirk Philips, Leenaert Bouwens, Gillis van Aachen, Herman van Tielt, Hans Busschaert, and Hoyte Riencx. The Besluyt tot Wismar contains nine articles. The first five articles deal with shunning or avoidance (ban). Article VI deals with the question of young believers needing the approbation of their elders for getting married. Article VII, which is not quite clear, deals with the right of believers to invoke the aid of a worldly court. Article VIII treats the subject of bearing arms. Article IX states that only a person who is ordained by a congregation or an elder may teach and admonish, i.e., function as a preacher in a congregation.
The articles were printed at Amsterdam that very year, and were reprinted at various times since, such as in Grouwelen der Hooftketteren, 1623, 170-72, and in K. Vos, Menno Simons, 1914, 124-27. As John Horsch points out (Menno Simons, 1916, 92), the text which has been preserved is not entirely pure; one may note, e.g., the contradictory texts on Article VIII pertaining to guards (see the Translator's footnote). And there are other items in the articles which seem to be of questionable authenticity. Compare the remarks of Harold S. Bender in his Brief Biography of Menno Simons, V, "Labors in Holstein, 1546-1561," printed in Complete Works of Menno Simons. Menno himself refers to the Wismar decisions in his Letter to the Church at Emden, 1556. Among the bishops present at Wismar were Menno Simons, Dirck Philips, Leonard Bouwens, and Gillis of Aachen (called Jelis of Aix-la-Chapelle in the 1660 Martyrs' Mirror).
- Menno Simons. The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, c. 1496-1561, translated from the Dutch by Leonard Verduin and edited by John Christian Wenger, with a biography by Harold Bender. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1956: 1041-1042.
- Horsch, John. Menno Simons, his life, labors, and teachings. Scottdale, PA: J. Horsch, 1916: 92.
- Vos, K. Menno Simons, 1496-1561, zijn leven en werken en zijne reformatorische denkbeelden. Leiden : Boekhandel en drukkerij voorheen E. J. Brill, 1914