Concept of Cologne (Anabaptists, 1591)

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Concept of Cologne

[1. The Trinity.]

First of all, we believe in the divine Trinity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-that there is one, sole, eternal, and omnipotent God.

[2. Jesus Christ.]

We believe Jesus Christ to be the sole Son of the Father from eternity, born of Mary in the fullness of time, through the power of the Most High and through the participation of the Holy Spirit, and who became flesh through the eternal Word of the Father.

[3. The Holy Spirit.]

We also believe in the Holy Spirit, as a power of God, proceeding from the Father through the Son, promised by Christ. and sent to comfort the believers.

[4. Salvation.]

Whoever believes in this Son of God as the promised Redeemer and Savior sent by God, the same is free of all sins.

[5. Baptism.]

The person who acknowledges himself or herself to be sinful, who demonstrates worthy fruits of repentance, who gladly embraces the Word of Christ, and who desires and requests baptism: that person is to be baptized with water by an irreproachable chosen minister, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, whoever is so minded, and who is already baptized in the manner mentioned above, shall not be baptized again.

[6. Communion.]

All who in this manner have been baptized through one Spirit into one body [1 Corinthians 12:13] shall celebrate communion together, using common bread and wine, in memory of Christ's great love and his bitter death.

[7. Congregational Discipline.]

This community of the saints has the power through the keys of the kingdom of heaven to bind and to loose, and in this manner, the rule of Matthew 18 [:15-20] is to be observed, when a sin is committed between brother and brother.

However, public acts of the flesh are to be disciplined, according to God's Word, with mature judgment According to the teachings of Paul, 1 Corinthians 5 [:9-13], one is to have nothing to do with such persons, including not eating with them. To be sure, in carrying out such strict discipline, there is to be no misuse, which unfortunately has taken place many times, through which the misuse of marital avoidance and other such disorders also followed. Much more, according to the anointing of the Holy Spirit, one is to act with love in working with those being disciplined, that they may mend their ways.

Even if this judgment of Paul is understood by some in a more complex manner, and by others in a simpler manner, we still, as God-fearing people, until further indication from God to the contrary [Philippians 3:15], shall at all times be reconciled with one another in love, listening to each other's views in the spirit of love, without strife and quarreling.

Individuals who sin shall be avoided if they were admonished once or twice.

[8. Marriage.]

We also confess from Holy Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, that believers do not have the freedom to marry, except among those who through faith have become a member of the body of Christ, who are thus a spiritual brother or sister-namely, two free persons according to the first charter as initiated with Adam and Eve. Transgressors of the same are deserving of discipline by the congregation, and no spiritual unity is to be maintained with them, unless one detects in them worthy fruits of regret and repentance; they then are to be admonished to hold faithfully to their marriage vows, neither to forsake their spouse, nor to enter into a second marriage. NI this is to be administered correctly according to the anointing [of the Holy Spirit].

[9. Foot washing.]

We also want to practice the foot washing of the saints. If fellow believers ask this of us, we want to comply: their washing our feet, but also our washing their feet, in humility.

[10. Leadership.]

A bishop or a preacher is to be blameless. After he has been tested, he is to be allowed to serve. He is to be installed in his office through the laying on of hands by the elders, in agreement with the congregation, and elected in this manner.

[11. Deacons.]

According to the example of the apostolic congregations, deacons are also to be chosen, to whom the care of the needy is entrusted. They are to distribute the gifts donated for those in need in such a manner that the distributions also remain confidential, according to the teachings of Christ (Matthew 6:3].

[12. Concerning Oaths.]

According to Christ's and James's teachings, one is not to swear oaths; much more, all words and deeds are to be confirmed with a truthful yes or no, and nothing in addition-which in truth is to be held to, in the same manner as that of a sworn oath.

[13. Concerning Usury.]

Since usury is an abomination before God, and seen as damaging to humanity, therefore everything that according to Holy Scripture can be identified as being usury is not to be permitted.

[14. Concerning Revenge.]

No revenge is permitted, whether with outward weapons, or in requiting verbal abuse with verbal abuse.

[15. The Resurrection.]

We also believe in a bodily resurrection of the dead, both for the righteous and unrighteous, and believe that at the last judgment each will be received accordingly as he or she has lived.

[16. Separation from the World.]

Furthermore. another proper concern was discussed, namely, that the freedom the merchants exercise in running their businesses tends to increase temporal greed, and that the fashions of dress resemble more the ways of the world than they do the way of Christian humility. Since these sins can creep in unnoticed, and since it is to be feared that the same will bring damage to many souls, and since it is not easy to set exact standards in this regard-how much profit a merchant may earn and what a person is to wear-we still desire that everyone be content with a modest profit and with simple clothing: indeed, in every way, proving oneself to be a light to the world, neither following the fashions of the world, nor comparing self to those who are insatiable, forever wanting more and more. It was agreed in this regard that all guardians of God's household are to warn their people, in all faithfulness to-and empowered by-the Word, that they together may remain pure, and escape from the corruption of the disobedient In this manner one member is to admonish and warn the other in a kindhearted way, so that the admonition may be all the more agreeable.

This was signed by many hands as follows:

The Concept of Cologne was signed and agreed upon by the elders and servants of Anabaptists settlements in nine different regions, North and South, and "humbly recorded" by Leenaert Clock, in the name of the group

Translated by Leonard Gross and Jan Gleysteen, November 1989.

Context of the Agreement

As we look to closer cooperation among the several Mennonite groups, including possible integration and merger, we do well to look back to such past attempts, for insights and ideas that might be of help presently, in charting our future course.

A highly significant Mennonite merger in this regard took place in Cologne, Germany in 1591. Indications suggest it was a positive step for all concerned. Two groups met face to face: the Swiss-South Germans and the Low-Country Dutch. (In the main, the Mennonite Church is rooted in the Swiss; and the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Brethren, in the Dutch tradition.) Representatives of these groups came to agree on sixteen points-some, obviously, the concern of the Low-Country Mennonites; others, just as obviously, the concern of the Swiss. The confession of faith to emerge from this conference has come to be known as the Concept of Cologne.

The Low-Country Mennonites were concerned with a more visible systematic-theological approach than were the Swiss; the latter, more concerned already from their very beginnings in 1524-25, with the existential question of how a gathered, peaceful people are to function. And in both cases, there were bona fide reasons for these differing 'emphases. We always need to respond, somehow, to the problems and issues at hand.

The Concept of Cologne is the result of the first successful attempt at integration for these two Anabaptist traditions. Both, to be sure, had as their primary motifs the main tenets of what has come to be known as the Anabaptist vision: disciples, gathered as the spiritual body of Jesus Christ, attempting to live out his gospel of peace (see Concept of Cologne text, points 5, 6, 7, and 14 above). The Low-Country Mennonites, on the one hand, introduced into the Swiss mindset a more explicit systematic theology; the Swiss, in turn, suggested to the Low-country leaders that congregational discipline should not be taken to the extreme (points 7 and 8). All Mennonites, of course, were intent upon remaining separate from the evils of the world, the note on which this confession of faith ends (point 16).

The Concept of Cologne should be seen as a document of its time, as it had to be, to be effective for its generation. Individuals from two disparate groups worked, in a loving manner, through extremely difficult questions, such as that of exclusion and matters of dress. The answers the group came up with were flexible and redeeming in nature. The Swiss concern for group process (Matthew 18) was combined with the Low-Country concern for church purity (1 Corinthians 5). It is significant that in the severer Dordrecht (Netherlands) Confession of 1632, Matthew 18 is not mentioned, yet in the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, which is Swiss, Matthew 18 is central -- whereas 1 Corinthians 5 is missing there in the discussion of congregational discipline.

The Concept of Cologne was foundational for later attempts at unification, as Christian Hege mentions in his article "Concept of Cologne" in The Mennonite Encyclopedia (1955, Mennonite Brethren Press, Mennonite Publication Office, Mennonite Publishing House, Volume 1, page 664): "The bond which was formed in Cologne between the Dutch and High German [i.e., Swiss] Mennonites led beyond these agreements to practical deeds of brotherly love. In the seventeenth century, when the Swiss Mennonites were hard pressed by their government, the Dutch Mennonites persuaded the States-General to relieve this oppression and helped them settle in lands where they were tolerated. Thus the agreements reached in the Concept of Cologne had their effect on Mennonite history for a long time afterward."

1953 Article

The Concept of Cologne (Concept van Keulen), an agreement between the High German and Dutch Mennonites, was signed on 1 May 1591 at Cologne. Various previous attempts had already been made to bring about union, but they were usually geographically limited. Participating in this conference at Cologne were Mennonites of the Rhine region from the North Sea to the borders of Switzerland.

The churches were trying to reach a fraternal agreement to bridge over differences that had formed between them. The Dutch churches realized that they had been too severe in their attitude toward other brethren, as in the use of the ban, and joined with the High Germans in signing a common confession of faith and an agreement on church regulations and conduct which was called a Concept, commonly known as the "Concept of Cologne" since it was published under that title in 1665 in De Algemeene Belijdenissen (see Confessions of Faith). It was never printed separately.

In doctrine, the belief in the Trinity was affirmed. "In Jesus Christ we recognize the only Son of the Father from eternity, born of Mary in the fulness of time through the power of the Most High and through the co-working of the Holy Spirit, who was made flesh through the eternal Word of the Father. We acknowledge also the Holy Spirit, that He is a power of God and proceeds from the Father through the Son, promised by Christ and sent to comfort the believer. He who believes in this Son of God as the Savior and Redeemer promised and sent from God, he is free from all sins. . . . We also confess the resurrection of the body from the dead, both the righteous and the unrighteous, and believe that at the Last Judgment each will receive according as he has walked."

Concerning baptism and communion the Concept says: "The man who acknowledges himself to be sinful and brings forth the fruits of repentance, and proves that he gladly accepts the Word of Christ and requests baptism out of desire, him shall an irreproachable ordained minister baptize with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He who is thus minded and has been baptized, shall not be baptized again. All those who are thus baptized by the Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:12) shall observe communion together with ordinary bread and wine, and thereby remember His great love and His bitter death."

The practical church regulations of the Concept sought to ease the severity of discipline in the Dutch churches. It was lamented that in many cases it had been misused, especially in the use of the ban applied in marriage (q.v., see also Avoidance). Church discipline should serve to keep the church pure, but love should be allowed to reign, and brotherly admonition should not be neglected, as is explained in Matthew 18:15-18.

The preachers are to be chosen from the church, according to the Concept. They must be blameless, and may not serve until they have been proved. They are to be ordained by the laying on of the elder's hands. To care for the poor, deacons should be chosen according to the example of the apostolic church; they must distribute the gifts voluntarily given for that purpose, and are to keep silence in accord with Matthew 6:3. Further regulations are as follows.

One should allow feetwashing to be performed on oneself if requested by a brother, and also wash his feet in sincere humility.

Marriage shall be concluded only between believers; transgression of this requirement is punished by exclusion from the communion before the congregation. If the transgressor shows a change of mind, "if one feels in him fruits worthy of repentance," then he shall again be admitted to communion. Married persons shall in all cases be admonished to be true to their marriage vows; they shall not leave a spouse or marry another.

A Christianity shown in deeds is required of the members. In accord with the teaching of Jesus and James, the oath is forbidden; "all words and deeds shall be affirmed by a truthful yea or nay, and nothing be added, and this shall be truly kept like a sworn oath." Retaliation is not permitted, "not only with external weapons, but one should not repay abuse with abuse." Merchants shall be content with modest profit. How much they may take cannot be prescribed. No one should be like the discontented and insatiable. Usury is an abomination and is regarded as shameful by all men. Warning is given against elaborate clothing, which "resembles the world more than it shows Christian humility." It is not possible to prescribe to each individual what he shall wear; in simple clothing and in all his deeds he shall be a light to the world.

In conclusion it was agreed "that every watchman of God's house shall in all faithfulness and in the strength of the Holy Spirit warn the people, thereby to keep himself and them pure from the ruin of the disobedient. In this manner one brother shall admonish and warn another with a fatherly heart, that the admonition may be more acceptable."

The agreements were signed by 15 representatives of the churches. Of the Dutch Mennonites, especially the Frisians supported them, but also many Waterlanders as well. Of the High (South) German churches, those of Alsace, the Breisgau, and the Palatinate joined; the names of the signatory congregations are Strasbourg, Wittenberg (probably Wissembourg in Alsace), Landau, Neustadt, Worms, and Kreuznach. Of the Lower Rhine region, representatives of the Mennonite churches at Gladbach, Cologne, Odenkirchen, Rees, and all the churches of the duchy of Berg (Rembert, 618) signed.

In drawing up the agreements, Leenaerdt Clock (see also Amsterdam), a Mennonite of South Germany who later moved to Haarlem, took a leading part, probably writing most of it himself. His relations with the Waterlanders were severed in 1611 when he withdrew from them because of his increasingly severe views on mixed marriages and the ban. But this unfortunate event hardly touched the relations between the Dutch Mennonites and the High Germans. The Alsatian and Palatine churches in 1660 adopted the Dordrecht Confession drawn up in 1632, thus following the pattern of the Concept of 1591.

This agreement of Cologne served as a basis for future attempts at unification; the conference held under the chairmanship of Tieleman van Braght in 1651 (1649) at Haarlem between the Frisians and High Germans with the Flemish, accepted the Olive Branch Confession (Olijftacxken, 1629), the Confession of Jan Cents (1630), the Dordrecht Confession (1632), and the Concept of Cologne.

The bond which was formed in Cologne between the Dutch and High German Mennonites led beyond these agreements to practical deeds of brotherly love. In the 17th century, when the Swiss Mennonites were hard pressed by their government, the Dutch Mennonites persuaded the States-General to relieve this oppression and helped them settle in lands where they were tolerated. Thus the agreements reached in the Concept of Cologne had their effect on Mennonite history for a long time afterward.


  • De Älgemeene Belydenissen (Haarlem, 1665): 1-7.
  • Catalogus der werken over de Doopsgezinden en hunne geschiedenis aanwezig in de bibliotheek der Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam. Amsterdam: J.H. de Bussy, 1919: 168, 169, 353.
  • Gross, Leonard. "The First Mennonite Merger: the Concept of Cologne." Mennonite Yearbook 1990-91. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1990: 8-10.
  • Hege, Christian. Die Täufer in der Kurpfalz. Frankfort, 1908: 149-152.
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