A Short Confession of Faith by Hans de Ries (1618)
Commentary on the Confession
Commentary by Cornelius J. Dyck
It is interesting to note that the Anabaptists, who considered themselves anticreedal, produced as many confessions as Calvinism and many more than the Lutheran movement during the first one hundred years of their history. A strong, almost literalistic Biblicism accounted in part for this anticonfessional bias, but a redefinition of the function of confessional statements allowed them to be written nevertheless. At the heart of their origin was a radical affirmation of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. This was particularly true of Dutch Anabaptism where candidates for baptism even today write out their own statement of faith.
In common with the other Reformation movements the Anabaptists considered confessions an aid in teaching and preaching, enabling a full and orderly presentation of the faith, but they considered themselves unique in ascribing primary significance to the confessions as instruments for the promotion of unity. That they may not have been as unique as they thought they were is apparent from a study of the place of confessions in the work of the major Reformers, except that the conversation which the Anabaptist confessions fostered was usually carried on within the group rather than between different traditions as was the case, for example, at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. We note that the seven articles of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527 begin with the phrase "We have been united," indicating they had not been united before and that something had happened among them.
The constant fear of the Anabaptists seems to have been that the confessions might become normative, a regula fidei, or that they might displace the Scriptures as authority within the church. In his introduction to the confession which follows, E. A. van Dooregeest wrote in 1686 that "we should gladly use this confession for teaching and instruction, but not as a scale upon which to weigh our brothers."1 The confessions were to achieve, rather than enforce consensus. That they were frequently successful is seen in the history of the Concept of Cologne (1591), the Olive Branch (1627), the Dordrecht Confession (1632), and others, as well as in the confession to be presented here. It is a curious phenomenon that the confessions, as cherished evidences of individual freedom, could become instruments of unity among the Anabaptists. Instead of a tolerant reductionism in the name of unity and brotherhood the objective seemed rather to be a fusion of vital interests through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In contrast to all other Anabaptist confessions the following one is unique in being the only one written for the express purpose of exploring common ground with non-Mennonites. It is also unique in being the first Anabaptist-Mennonite confession which systematically treats all of the major doctrines of the faith. While the preceding confessions are more in the nature of corrective statements, intended to speak to specific issues and taking the basic doctrines of the faith for granted, the present confession treats all of the classical loci beginning with God and ending with the doctrine of last things.2 In these two aspects the confession is unique to Anabaptism-Mennonitism, but conforms almost completely to the Protestant confessional pattern of the time.
The occasion for the writing of this confession was the coming of the Brownists from Gainsborough and Scrooby, England, to Holland under the leadership of Francis Johnson, John Smyth, and others. Persecuted as Independents in England, they had come to the Lowlands in considerable numbers after Robert Browne of Norwich began the move in 1581. Johnson came to Middelburg in 1589, Henry Ainsworth to Amsterdam in 1593, John Smyth from Gainsborough to Amsterdam in 1607, John Robinson and Thomas Helwys from Scrooby in 1608.3 Differences soon developed between Johnson and Ainsworth over discipline and the rights of the congregation, as a result of which their Amsterdam congregation split in 1610. Strong differences also developed between these two men on the one hand, and John Smyth on the other, over the doctrine of baptism. Finally Helwys broke with Smyth over their relationships to the Dutch Mennonites, involving particularly the issue of church and state.4
Upon his arrival in Amsterdam, Smyth had formed the second English church, parallel to the one headed by Francis Johnson. Soon, however, he found his Bible study leading him to observations that even the Brownists had not made before. Ecclesiastically he moved in the direction of radical congregationalism, doctrinally he moved to Anabaptism. Late in 1608 Smyth baptized himself, and then his followers, to begin a church of believers. The Brownist leaders thereupon expelled him in disgust, Ainsworth writing that "God's hand is heavy upon him, in giving him over from error to error, and now at last to the abomination of Anabaptism."5 Actually Smyth's knowledge of Anabaptism must have been minimal for it was only after contact with Jan Munter, a Mennonite from whom he rented a meeting hall, that he began to question the validity of his self-baptism.6 This doubt led to the drafting of a statement addressed to the Mennonites seeking union with them as the true Church:
The names of the English who acknowledge this their error and repent of it, viz., that they took in hand to baptize themselves contrary to the order laid down by Christ, and who now desire to come to the true church of Christ as quickly as can be done.7
The petition was signed by fifteen men and seventeen women, including Smyth. It was probably drawn up early in 1609.8 Accompanying it was a statement of faith in Latin, containing twenty articles, signed by Smyth.9
Hans de Ries was enthusiastic about the prospect of union. In response to the confession by Smyth he, with the help of Lubbert Gerrits, drew up the following confession in behalf of the Waterlander Mennonites to facilitate understanding with Smyth and his followers. In the preface he stated that he first wrote the confession "at the request of several Englishmen [who had] fled from England for conscience sake."10 He also circulated a letter among the Waterlander congregations surrounding Amsterdam, informing them of the request made by Smyth and his group.11 Since "they are well known to us by their godly life" and since they have, with the exception of Smyth himself, all received true evangelical baptism, de Ries wrote, the Amsterdam congregation is prepared to receive them as members unless objections are heard. Smyth must, of course, be rebaptized.
The response was less than enthusiastic. Some wrote that they saw real danger in such union and would have no part in the negotiations set for 23 May 1610. Others requested a copy of the Smyth confession, preferably signed by one of the Englishmen (!), for study. Yeme de Ringh, of Harlingen, urged that the Frisians be given more information on the matter.12 Added to this was a strong warning from Thomas Helwys not to receive John Smyth into the Mennonite Church: He has been banned because of his grievous sins and remained unrepentent; he stirs up trouble among the members; he deals falsely with the Scriptures. From an earlier letter to the Waterlanders we know that the Helwys group was as unhappy with the Mennonites as they were with Smyth. In response to a Mennonite suggestion that Helwys' ordination was not valid since it had not been administered by a duly ordained leader, Helwys, William Pigott, Thomas Seamer, and John Murton replied that the very idea of succession was "Antichrist's chiefe hold, and that it is Jewish and ceremoniall", an ordination of the old testament but not of ye new." Who can forbid any man to wash with water the believer according to the example of John?13
The Waterlanders do not seem to have taken these warnings very seriously. A letter was sent to Friesland, asking for a reply within fourteen days to the question of admitting the Smyth group. The answer was negative again with the added tedious suggestion that the congregations in Prussia and Germany be consulted for their opinion.14 Thus the matter was delayed indefinitely. Still, de Ries worked for the union, writing that he "thanked God for the English issue" and hoped it would have a good ending. Repeating this hope twice in the same letter he concludes: "Dear brother, see that the English issue comes to a good end."15 In 1611 Helwys wrote to de Ries and Reynier Wybrandtsz:
We have written privately to the whole congregation you are of to prevent you in that evil [i.e., the evil of making Smyth's people one with them], we have written particularly to you H. de R., but all is in vaine in that you esteeme the truth wee professe and us herein as vaine.16
While waiting for the Mennonites to receive them, Smyth drafted another confession of faith in 102 articles.17 By the time the Mennonites were ready, on 21 January 1615, Smyth was dead, having been buried on 1 September 1612. Some twenty-five, however, did join the Waterlander congregation in Amsterdam. The General Baptists owe their origin to the group that accepted adult baptism under the leadership of Smyth, particularly to Helwys and Murton, who returned to England in 1612, having become convinced that the Mennonite attitude to the state was wrong and that it was wrong to flee from persecution.18 Helwys died in the Tower of London in 1616. A number of members from John Robinson's church at Leyden were among the Pilgrim Fathers who sailed for America in 1620.19
The following confession is primarily the work of de Ries. The extent of participation by his colleague Lubbert Gerrits is not fully known, but as early as 1607 Gerrits petitioned de Ries to write it. In a preface to the edition of 1618 de Ries twice refers to himself as having been the author, adding that he had "enlarged it somewhat" later, but it was clearly accepted by the Waterlanders and beyond as the later editions show. Unfortunately the original manuscript seems to have been lost. The assumption that it was first printed in 1610 was made by Kuhler.20 S. Blaupot ten Cate believed the edition of 1618 to be the third.21 This would make an edition of 1610 plausible. No trace, however, has been found of either the original or the first two editions if that of 1618 is indeed the third. Other editions were printed in 1624, 1643, 1658, 1681, 1686, 1716, 1740, with a French edition in 1684, a Latin edition in 1723, and a German edition in 1741.
The following translation was prepared from the microfilm copy of the 1618 edition, with comparative references to that of 1686. Particular attention was given, however, to the English translation by John Smith since it is undoubtedly the oldest statement of the confession, albeit in translation. Comparison shows that Smyth attempted to make a faithful translation for his group. The confession was signed by forty-one members of his group, including Smyth. From this comparison it becomes clear that his references to "enlarging it somewhat" undoubtedly referred to the addition of article XIX on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and article XXII on the new birth. The last article of the confession has also been expanded in the 1618 edition over that appearing in Smyth's translation. We assume that de Ries increased this rather than that Smith condensed his translation.
Since Smyth's translation contains no Scripture references, and since de Ries's other confessional writings carry very few such references, they have been omitted here as not part of the original draft. The edition of 1618 has numerous Scripture references for each article. The edition of 1686 carries not only references but several pages of explanation with each article. The article itself, however, is reprinted without the references, confirming the assumption that the first draft did not contain them. For the sake of convenience titles have been given to each article similar to those appearing in the edition of 1618, though it must be assumed that they did not appear in the original since they are not found in the Smyth translation.22
The edition of 1618 was printed at Hoorn by Jan Jochimsz. Byvanck. The title page carries the Scriptures found in 2 Corinthians 4:13, Matthew 10:32, and 1 Peter 3:15 and the heading Short Confession of Faith and the Essential Elements of Christian Doctrine.
Short Confession of Faith and the Essential Elements of Christian Doctrine
We believe and confess, by the power and instruction of Holy Scripture, that there is one God alone, a Spirit or spiritual Being, eternal, incomprehensible, everlasting, invisible, immutable, almighty, merciful, righteous, perfect, wise, alone good, a fountain of life, the source of all good, the Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. [Deuteronomy 6:4, 1 Corinthians 8:4.]
II. The Trinity
This one only God is revealed and discerned in the Holy Scriptures as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, being three yet, nevertheless, one God. [I John 5:7.]
III. The Trinity
The Father is the origin and beginning of all things, having brought forth his Son from eternity, before all creation, in an incomprehensible manner. The Son is the eternal Word and wisdom of the Father, in whom all things consist. The Holy Spirit is God's power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son.23 The three are neither divided nor different in nature, essence, or essential attributes: to wit, eternal, omnipotent, invisible, immortal, glorious, and the like.
IV. Creation, Fall, and Redemption of Man
This only God created man good, in his own image, for happiness and salvation. The first man fell into sin and disgrace. [Rom. 5:17.] Nevertheless, he has been saved24 by God and given eternal life, together with all those who had fallen in him, according to the comforting promises of God. Consequently none of his descendants, being included in this redemption, are born with sin or guilt.25
V. Freedom of the Will
Because man was created good he had in himself the ability to hear, accept, or reject the wrong with which he was tempted by the spirit of evil. Thus when man fell he still had the ability, though standing in this evil, to hear, accept, or reject the good which the Lord himself placed before him. Even as he was able to hear and accept the evil before the fall, so also he is able to hear and accept the good that is before him after the fall. This ability to accept or reject the grace of God has remained with the posterity of the first man as a gift of grace.26
VI. The Origin of Sin
God has foreseen and foreknown all things that have occurred, occur, and will occur, both good and bad, from all eternity. Since he is the only good and perfect fountain of life we confess him to be the only author, source and creator of the things that are good, holy, clean, pure, and conformable to his nature. In no sense, however, is he the origin of sin or evil unto damnation. God commands the good, desires obedience to the good, counsels and admonishes to do the good, giving great promises to those who obey. On the other hand he forbids evil, warns evildoers and pleads with them, announcing to them eternal punishment and sometimes punishing them in this life. In this he testifies that he is the enemy of the sinner,27 that all unrighteousness is contrary to his holy nature. Thus not the good God but evil man, through his free choice of sin, together with the spirit of evil within him, is the author, source, and worker of sin and evil, being thereby guilty and punishable.
The cause of man's calamity and damnation is his own free choice of darkness, his affirming of sins and his willingness to live in them. Destruction comes from man, not from the good Creator. God, being perfect good and love itself (according to the nature of perfect love and goodness) , desired the best for his creatures-healing, salvation. Therefore he neither predestined, determined, nor created anyone for damnation, neither willing nor ordaining their sinful life in order to bring them to destruction. Rather (since as a good God he had no desire, as surely as he lives, that any man should perish but that all might be saved), he created all men for salvation. When they fell he restored them, with infinite love, through Christ who has become for all men a medicine of life. This Christ was given over to judgment, sacrificed and died for the reconciliation of all men, affirming his desire that all creatures and nations should hear, and have offered to them through evangelical preaching, the grace, love, and compassion which he brings. All those who now receive this grace of God in Christ (who came for the salvation of the world) with penitent and believing hearts and remain in him are and remain the elect whom God has ordained before the foundation of the world that they should share his glory. Those, however, who despise or reject this grace of God, who love darkness more than light, who remain unrepentant and unbelieving, make themselves unworthy of salvation through their own perversity, and are therefore justly rejected by God because of their own evil. These will not reach the end for which they were created and for which they were ordained in Christ, neither shall they taste the Supper of the Lord, to which they had been invited, in all eternity.
VIII. The Incarnation
The eternal intention of God to reconcile the world which he saw falling into wrath and disgrace has been accomplished in the fullness of time through the sending of his Son, the eternal Word from heaven, as the fulfillment of the promise to the Fathers. Born of the holy virgin Mary he became flesh and blood through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. This, however, not in a manner by which a part of the eternal essence of the Word was changed into visible, mortal flesh or man and thereby ceasing to be Spirit or God; rather, the eternal Son of God, remaining what he had been before, namely God and Spirit, became that which he had formerly not been, flesh or man. Thus Jesus Christ, our Emmanuel, is at the same time in one Person true God and man born of Mary, visible and invisible, external and internal, very Son of the Living God.
IX. The Threefold Office of Christ
Being then both God and man, Son of the Living God, Christ came into the world to save sinners, to reconcile the sinful world to God the Father. Therefore we confess him to be our only Mediator, prophet, priest, and king, a lawgiver and teacher whom God had promised to send into the world. Him we hear, believe, and must follow.
X. Concerning the Law
Christ has brought to an end and removed from among his people the unbearable burden of the law of Moses with its shadows and figures, the priestly office of the temple, altar, sacrifice and all else that was a part of the priestly office. Likewise he brought to an end the kingly office and what came with it, the kingdom, sword, the wrath of the law, war, and whatever prefigured his Person and office. These were the image, the shadow of him who was to come.
XI. The Prophetic Office of Christ
As the true prophet of the promise Christ has revealed and proclaimed to us the will of God, that which God requires of the people of the New Testament. Even as God spoke to the people of the Old Testament through Moses and the prophets, declaring his will to them, so in the last days he has spoken to us through this prophet (his Son), proclaiming that which had been hidden during all time. Thus he preached to us the good news,28 instituted and ordered the sacraments, offices and services provided by God. With his life and teaching he pointed out the law of Christ, the rule of life, and the path to eternal life.
XII. The Priestly Office of Christ
Beyond this, as the only High Priest and Mediator of the New Testament he interceded with his heavenly Father for all believers as well as for all those who crucified and killed him. Finally he himself entered into the extremity of suffering, offering himself to the Father through his death upon the cross, an offering and gift of sweet savor and eternal worth.
XIII. The Obedience of Christ
We confess that the obedience of the Son of God, his bitter suffering, death, shed blood and sacrifice upon the cross is the reconciliation and satisfaction for all our sins and the sins of the world. Therefore we have been reconciled with God and are at peace, having a certain high hope and assurance of entry into eternal life.
XIV. The Office of Christ as King
As the promised spiritual king Jesus Christ, our Prophet and Priest, has also established a spiritual kingdom, having gathered a multitude of believing and spiritual people whom he has provided with spiritual laws and weapons in the manner of his heavenly kingdom. In this kingdom he has ordained righteousness and those who dwell therein as servants of righteousness. He himself is the preserver, protector, fortress, castle and rock, and shall remain king of this kingdom forever.
XV. The Resurrection of Christ
After he had completed his work here upon earth through his death upon the cross he was buried as a certain sign of his death. On the third day he arose again from the dead, showing himself thereby as Lord and conqueror over death, one who could no longer be held by the grave. In this he became to all believers a comforting assurance of their redemption and final resurrection from the dead.
XVI. The Ascension and Glorification of Christ
Following this he walked among his disciples forty days, showing himself to them in order that no doubt should remain concerning his resurrection. Then, surrounded by a cloud, he ascended to heaven and entered into his glory. Thus he led captivity captive, establishing a glorious triumph over his enemies. Seated at the right hand of the majesty of God he has been made both Lord and Christ, glorified in his body, exalted, crowned with praise and honor, remaining priest and king over Mount Zion in all eternity.
XVII. The Priestly Office of Christ
The holy office of this glorified priest, king, lord, and Christ in his heavenly Being consists in serving, guiding, and ruling his holy church amidst the storms of this world by the strength of his Spirit. According to his priestly office, as servant of the sacred things, the true tabernacle, he is our intercessor, spokesman, and mediator with the Father. He teaches, comforts, strengthens, and baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and with fire, bringing us heavenly gifts. He celebrates his spiritual Supper with believing souls, making them partakers of the living food and drink of the soul. In these sacraments alone is the fruit, power, and worth of his work upon the cross appropriated.29
XVIII. The Royal Office of Christ
According to his royal, heavenly office Christ rules over the hearts of the believers through his Word and Holy Spirit. He takes them into his care, covers them with the shadow of his wings, arms them with spiritual weapons for a spiritual warfare against all their enemies, the spirits of evil with their associates upon earth. This glorious, almighty, and heavenly king stands by the faithful believers in every need, delivering and freeing them from the hands of their spiritual enemies, conquering the enemy and winning the field of battle, thus preparing for his own a heavenly kingdom of righteousness. These are the redeemed of the Lord, living in the house of the Lord and on Mount Zion. They have changed their carnal weapons. Their swords have been changed into ploughshares and their spears into sickles. They neither lift a sword, nor teach, nor participate in carnal warfare.
XIX. To Know Christ According to the Spirit
30. From what has thus been said concerning the ascension, glorification, office, and service of Christ in glory we believe and confess that he must not only be known according to the flesh, or confessed literally according to historical knowledge, or only in his incarnation, birth, manifestation in the flesh, his life, miracles, suffering, death, cross, and other events. Rather we must rise higher and confess Christ also according to the Spirit, in his exaltation and glory, according to his glorious office and, as the Scriptures teach, receive this knowledge with a believing heart. Continuing in fervent prayer to God, we must seek to have his holy office according to the Spirit, and a knowledge of him revealed to us through his infinite patience and love.
All this must be sought to the end that his image and likeness may be born within us, that he himself may be revealed in us, living, walking, teaching, and preaching; that the miracles he performed in the flesh may be worked in us according to the Spirit, healing us of the sickness of the soul, deafness, blindness, leprosy, uncleanness, sin and death. We must know Christ according to the Spirit that he may baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire, feed us with heavenly food and drink, making us partakers of the divine nature. In this power we may crucify the old man in us, becoming like Christ in his suffering and death. In this power we are resurrected to new life according to his own resurrection, to the glory and honor of God our heavenly Father. This we call a knowledge of Christ according to the Spirit, without which the knowledge of Christ according to the flesh is not sufficient for salvation.
XX. Concerning Saving Faith
All the spiritual gifts and mercies which Jesus Christ won for the salvation of sinners through his own merit, we enjoy by grace through a living faith active in love. This faith is a certain heartfelt assurance or inner knowledge of God, of Christ, and other heavenly things received by grace out of the Word of God. This knowledge, together with the love of God, a sincere trust in the one, only God as gracious, heavenly Father who provides all our physical and spiritual needs for Christ's sake, is necessary for salvation.
Through this living faith we are truly justified, that is, we are declared free of all past and present sins through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, receiving the true righteousness which he works in us in co-operation with the Holy Spirit [Romans 5:1]. Thus we are transformed from being evil to being good, from a carnal to a spiritual state, from selfishness to mildness, from pride to humility, being changed from unrighteousness to righteousness. This justification proceeds from the new birth.
XXII. The New Birth
31. The new birth is an act of God effected in the soul of the truly repentant, a restoring of the image of God in man, a renewing of the mind and heart, an enlightening of reason through an acknowledgment of the truth. This new birth brings with it a transformation of the will, of carnal desires and lust, a sincere putting to death of all evil within, of the old man with his desires and life of sin and rebellion. At the same time the new birth brings an awakening of new life in God, in true goodness, righteousness and holiness. It is a taking away of the heart of stone with its pride, ignorance, blindness, sin and sinful lusts, and a gracious granting of the promised fleshly heart filled with the law of God, light, wisdom, understanding, virtue and holy desires. This new birth comes from God through Christ. It is worked in us by the Holy Spirit with his fire and power, not by an creaturely means. Therefore the regenerate person also testifies to his being born again or not, not by natural means. Hereby we become children of God, spiritual-minded, righteous and holy. We believe and teach that this new birth is necessary for salvation according to the words of Christ: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" [John 3:3], and again, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" [John 3:5].
XXIII. Good Works
When man has thus been born again and justified of God through Jesus Christ, he lives in love (which the Holy Spirit has poured into his heart) [Romans 5:5], rejoicing in all good works, in the law, commandments, and morality given him by God through Christ. Thus he thanks God from a pure heart through a holy life, for all his gifts, particularly the spiritual gifts to the soul. This soul is a sacred plant of the Lord, a tree of righteousness honoring God through good works, awaiting the blessed reward which God in his abundant goodness has promised to it.
XXIV. The Church
All who believe and are born again, though scattered to the ends of the earth, are the true church of God, or church of Jesus Christ upon earth. These he has loved and given himself for them that they be holy. Yes, he has sanctified them through the water and the Word of life. Of this church Jesus Christ is the foundation, the head, the shepherd, leader, Lord, King, Master. She alone is his beautiful bride, his holy body, clothing, and people who through the new birth have become part of his flesh and body. While there are among these many hypocrites and pretenders, those who have been born again in Christ and sanctified are true members of the body of Christ and will inherit the promises. Of these great blessings the pretenders and hypocrites, through their own fault, will have no part.
XXV. The Ministry
In this his holy church God has ordained the evangelical office of teaching the divine Word, administering the sacraments, and aiding the poor. Likewise God intended the servants of these offices to admonish the brethren, to chastise and finally to separate the unrepentant from the brotherhood. Thus holy ordinances are contained in, and must be administered according to, the Word of God.
XXVI. The Ministry and the Laity
Even as a body consists of many members of which each has its own particular function since not every member is the hand, eye, or foot, so also in the church of God [1 Corinthians 12:12]. Though every believer is a member, not every one is a teacher, elder, or deacon, but only those who have been designated to these offices. Therefore the administration of these offices belongs only to those who have been ordained, not to every layman.
XXVII. The Calling of Ministers
The calling or selecting of servants to these offices takes place through the ministers of the church together with the congregation. They call upon the name of the Lord, for he alone knows the hearts of men, he is in the midst of the believers gathered in his name, guiding them by his Holy Spirit. Thus he knows the minds and hearts of his own, bringing into service those who will best serve his church.32
Although the calling and selection of these servants occurs as stated, the installation of these men into their office is the work of the elders of the church through the laying on of hands.
XXIX. Concerning True Doctrine
The doctrine taught by ordained servants of the church is the same as Jesus brought from heaven, which he taught by Word (that is, with life and teaching) and which was taught by the apostles at the command of Christ and by his Spirit. The doctrine we find described (as much as is necessary for salvation) in the writings of the New Testament, to which we add all that is contained in the canonical books of the Old Testament and which is in harmony with the teaching of Christ and his apostles, which conforms to the rule of his spiritual kingdom.
XXX. The Sacraments
Jesus Christ has instituted two sacraments in his holy church, baptism and the Lord's Supper, attaching their administration to the office of the ministry. These are external, visible signs of the invisible divine grace given to us by God. They are the invisible, spiritual act of God through Christ (in co-operation with the Holy Spirit), bringing the new birth, justification, spiritual nourishment and sustenance to repentant and believing souls. Likewise we testify thereby [in partaking of the sacraments] to our repentance, faith, and obedience, committing ourselves in good conscience to the service of God.
XXXI. External Baptism
Holy baptism is an external, visible, evangelical act in which the believer is baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit according to the command of Christ and the practice of the apostles. All who hear, believe, and gladly receive the good news of the gospel are thus commanded by Jesus to be baptized, but not children.
XXXII. The Inner Significance of Baptism
The external act of baptism places before us the fact that Jesus Christ himself baptizes the repentant believer inwardly in the bath of the new birth and renewal through the Holy Spirit, washing the soul from all filth and sin through the merit and shed blood of Christ. Through the power and work of the Holy Spirit the heavenly, spiritual and living water washes the soul, making it heavenly, spiritual, alive in goodness and righteousness. Therefore water baptism points us to Christ and to his office in glory, brings this to our remembrance and certifies the effectiveness of his work to the hearts of the faithful. Thus external baptism admonishes us not to rely upon the external but in holy prayer to ascend to Christ, seek the gifts he graciously bestows and multiplies in the hearts of those who receive the sacraments in true faith.
XXXIII. The Lord's Supper
The Lord's Supper, even as baptism, is an external, visible, evangelical act in which, according to the command of Christ and the example of the apostles, bread and wine is received for a holy purpose. The bread is broken, the wine poured out and given to those who have been baptized upon their faith according to the ordinance of Christ. In eating the bread and drinking the wine Christ's death, passion, and bitter suffering is proclaimed. All this is done in remembrance of him.
XXXIV. The Inner Significance of the Lord's Supper
The external, visible administration of the Lord's Supper witnesses and signifies to us that Christ's holy body was broken upon the cross, his blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins, that in his glorified state he is the living bread, food and drink of the soul. The external Supper brings to our mind the office and function of Christ in glory, his institution of the spiritual Supper with believing souls, feeding them with truly spiritual food. Likewise the external Supper teaches us to rise above the external in holy prayer, longing for the reality of the gift of Christ. It teaches us to be thankful to God, to live in love and unity with each other.
XXXV. Church Discipline
Church discipline or the extreme penalty is an external act among the believers by which the unrepentant sinner, after due admonition and exhortation, is denied the fellowship of the faithful and the external gifts because of his sin, the wrath of God being announced to him unless he repent. Thus through external separation is shown how God deals with the unrepentant. The initiative in judgment remains with God, the church remains his servant. Therefore we teach herewith that no one should be judged by the church who has not previously been judged by the Word of God.33
Unless they repent, those separated from the fellowship are in no case allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper or other ordinances of the church. These and all fellowship or spiritual communion are withdrawn from them. Thus their ungodly life and conversation, which is detrimental to the faithful as an irritation and temptation, is rejected to the preservation of holiness and the honor of the name of the Lord. All this, however, must be done in keeping with the Word of God. Thus married persons may not be separated. None may be encouraged to act contrary to the command of love, mercy, and Christian humility nor to ignore need and other requirements of daily living.
Government, or secular authority, is ordained of God as necessary for the maintenance of public life, of orderly citizenship, for the protection of the good and punishment of evil [Romans 13:1 f]. We confess our obligation according to the Word of God, to fear, honor, and obey the secular powers in all things not contrary to the Word of God. We are called upon to pray for these powers, to thank God for good and Christian government, to give to her without complaint the taxes and assessments which are her due.
This office of secular power has not been given by the Lord Jesus in his spiritual kingdom to the members of his church. He has not called his disciples to be secular kings, princes, dukes, or authorities, nor instructed them to seek and assume such office, nor to rule the world in a worldly manner. Neither has he given to his disciples a law which would establish such a service. Rather, with a continuing voice from heaven, they are called to lead a nonresistant life to become cross-bearers, following in the footsteps of the Master. Nothing is further from this call than to rule this world with the sword.
All this then, together with the many other things which are attached to worldly office--the waging of war, the destroying of life and property of the enemy, etc., which things do not harmonize with the new life in Christ--lead us to avoid these offices and services. With this, however, we in no way seek to despise honest government nor give it a lesser place than that given by the Holy Spirit through the writings of the Apostle Paul.34
XXXVIII. The Oath
Jesus Christ, king and lawgiver of the New Testament, has forbidden all swearing of oaths to Christians. Therefore the swearing of oaths is also forbidden to all believers of the New Testament.
We hold marriage to be an ordinance of God, instituted in such manner that every husband shall have his own wife and every wife her own husband. These may not be separated except for reasons of adultery. Neither do we believe that one of our brotherhood may marry an ungodly, unbelieving, carnal person outside of the church without being judged, as other sins are, by the Word of God, and, according to the circumstances, [by the church].
XL. Concerning Last Things
Finally we believe and teach that Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord and king, will come again, visibly, in a manner like unto his ascension, in power and glory with his holy angels, to reveal himself in his holy ones and all who believe, to judge the living and the dead. Then all people who have lived upon the earth, both good and bad, shall arise imperishable from the grave. Their soul shall be united with the body in which they lived sinfully or virtuously. Those who have not died but remain alive upon earth shall be changed in a moment into an eternal state, and all mankind shall appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive their reward according to their works, either good or evil. Then Jesus shall separate the sheep from the goats as a shepherd divides his flock, putting the sheep to his right, the goats to his left, and pronouncing judgment upon them. The righteous, who led a holy life on earth, who did works of love and mercy, he shall separate and take to himself as a bridegroom. They shall enter with him into eternal life, into their heavenly rest, remaining always in the presence of the Lord and inheriting the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. The unrighteous, however, who did not know God nor obeyed the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, shall be sent into fire prepared for the devil and his angels. These shall suffer torment, eternal damnation before the glory and majesty of the Lord.
The almighty God, full of grace and mercy, preserve us from the judgment of the ungodly and grant us grace to live a holy life, to die blessedly, and to arise joyfully at the last day with all true believers. Amen.
Published by permission of Mennonite Quarterly Review, Goshen, Indiana. All rights reserved. Translated and edited by Cornelius J. Dyck. Reprinted from Mennonite Quarterly Review 38 (January, 1964). For information on subscribing to Mennonite Quarterly Review visit their website.
Footnotes to the Confession of Faith
- E. A. van Dooregeest, "Aenspraeck aen
de Doopsgesinde Christenen." In Hans de Ries, Korte Beliidenisse des
Geloofs (Amsterdam, 1686):16. See also my discussion of "The
First Waterlandian Confession of Faith," Mennonite Quarterly
Review 36 (January 1962): 5-13.
- Peter Riedemann's Rechenschaft was, of
course, much earlier but is written more in the nature of an apology
than of a succinct confession. Also, it is essentially a Hutterite
document in its genesis.
- J. G. de Hoop Scheffer, "De Brownisten to
Amsterdam,"Verslagen en Mededeelingen der Kon. Acad. von
Wetenschappen, afd. Letterk. 2de reeks, dl. X., pp. 44f. Translated
and edited also by W. E. Griffis as History of the Free Churchmen
(Ithaca, 1962). Further information is available in Walter H. Burgess,
John Smith, the Se-Baptist, Thomas Helwys and the First Baptist
Church in England (London, 1911).
- Ibid., 126, 145 f, 186 ff.
- Griffis, 119.
- Ibid., 146.
- Lijst van Engelschen (in Latin), n.d. (Archief
II:1347). The handwriting is that of John Smyth. A reprint is found in
Burgess, p. 186.
- In a notation on this document J. G. de Hoop
Scheffer, the Dutch Mennonite historian of the nineteenth century,
suggests February 1609 as the date.
- John Smyth, Corde credimus, et ore confitemur
(Archief II:1348). Reprinted in Griffis, pp. 211-13.
- Hans de Ries, Korte Belijdenisse ...
Letter from Thomas Helwys and congregation to the Waterlanders
in Amsterdam, n.d. (Latin). Archief II:1349.
Archief II:1362 and II:1363.
Letter from Hans de Ries to Reynier Wybrandtsz, n.d., 2 pp.
Letter from Thomas Helwys, William Pigott, Thomas Seamer, and John
Murton, of Amsterdam, to the Waterlander congregation there, March 12,
1609 (Archief II:1351). A footnote reads: "We have written in our
own tongue, because we are not able to express our mynds in anie other
and seeing you have an interpreter. And wee have beene much greaved
since our last conference with you because wee dishonored the truth of
God much for want of speech in that wee were not able to utter that
poore measure of knowledge which God of his grace hath given us."
John Smyth, Confession of Faith, 1612 (Archief
II:1365). Reprinted in Griffis, pp. 231-53.
- Burgess, 289 f.
Helwys was indebted to the Waterlanders at many points by his own
admission in the Advertisement, which he dedicated to Hans de
Ries and others in 1611, but he also had difficulties with the Mennonite
doctrines, particularly their rejection of the involvement of Christians
in affairs of the state. Recent discussions are found in the following:
Winthrop S. Hudson, "Who were the Baptists?" The Baptist Quarterly
16 (July 1956):303-12; Ernest A. Payne, "Who were the Baptists?" ibid.
16 (October 1956):339-42; Winthrop S. Hudson, "Who were the Baptists?"
ibid. 17 (April 1957):55-60; James D. Mosteller, "Baptists and
Anabaptists," I, The Chronicle 20 (January 1957):1-27; 11,
ibid. (July 1957): 100-14; Norman H. Maring, "Notes from Religious
Journals," Foundations 1 (July 1958):91-95; C. Norman Kraus,
"Anabaptist Influence on English Separation as Seen in Robert Browne,"
Mennonite Quarterly Review 34 (January 1960):1-19. A good summary
of theories concerning the origin of the Baptists is found in Robert G.
Torbet, A History of the Baptists (Philadelphia, 1950): 59 f. See
also Lonnie Kliewer, "General Baptist Origins: The Question of
Anabaptist Influence in the Origin of the Particular Baptists,"
Mennonite Quarterly Review 36 (October 1962):322-348.
W. J. Kuhler, Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden in de
Zestiende Eeuw (Haarlem, 1932): 94-96.
S. Blaupot ten Cate, Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Holland,
I (Leeuwarden, 1839), appendix 3.
Hermannus Schyn, Geschiedenis dier Christenen, welke in de
Vereenigde Nederlanden onder de Protestanten Mennoniten genaamd worden:
I (Amsterdam, 1743): 238-79 carries a reprint of the confession,
probably of the edition of 1740.
De Ries consistently teaches that the Spirit proceeds from the Father
and the Son. In contrast to this the Concept of Cologne (1591)
teaches that the Spirit proceeded from the Father through the Son, a
traditional emphasis of Eastern Orthodoxy.
The original term is wederom opgerecht, i.e., to rehabilitate,
to restore, to lift up, to establish.
The intention is to affirm that the restoration is for all people, not
- To deny that the second Adam had restored
the loss suffered through the transgression of the first Adam seemed to
de Ries to make the first Adam stronger than the second.
- The intention seems to be that God is the
enemy of sin rather than of the sinner, i.e., the enemy of evil, not of
- The intention is not to deny that Christ was
himself the good news, as is evident from articles XII, XIII, and
- For perspective upon this seeming
sacramentalism, his further elaboration upon the sacraments in articles
XXX-XXXIV must be kept in mind.
- This article does not appear in the John
Smyth translation but is in the edition of 1618. It is undoubtedly the
work of de Ries himself, embodying the heart of his spirit-mysticism.
- This articles does not appear in the John
Smyth translation, but is in the edition of 1618. It is undoubtedly the
work of de Ries, as comparison with his theology reveals.
- The custom of calling ministers by lot, as
practiced by the Swiss and South German Mennonite congregations, was
never adopted in the Lowlands. See Harold S. Bender, "Lot." Mennonite
Encyclopedia (1957) 3:399.
- There is no evidence that de Ries himself
excommunicated anyone during his fifty-year ministry.
- It is clear from this article that de Ries
assumes several levels of Christian living. While he thanks God for
"good and Christian government" he continues to believe that
participation in government does not "harmonize with the new life in
Christ." His irenic spirit still refuses to compromise the traditional
Anabaptist emphasis upon the church as a people called out from the
social order. The "Constantinian synthesis" is thus rejected.
- Dyck, Cornelius J. "A Short Confession of Faith by Hans de Ries." Mennonite Quarterly Review 38 (January 1964): 5-19.