Mennonite Brethren Church Document of Secession (1860)

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Secession Document

To the total body of church elders of our Molotschna Mennonite Church!

a) We, the undersigned, have, by the grace of God, recognized the decadent condition of the Mennonite brotherhood and can, for God's and conscience's sake, no longer continue therein; for we fear the inevitable judgment of God, since the openly godless living and wickedness cry to God in heaven. We also fear the loss of the rights and privileges granted us by our benevolent government because the transgressions and disobedience against it increase continually. It is tragic to behold (O Jesus, have mercy, and open the eyes of the spiritually blind!), when in the market places before the very eyes of their neighbors, our Mennonite brethren live satanic lives; and even the ministers go about and see it, yea even at the celebrations, sit quietly by, see and hear how people serve the devil! Of such persons the Scripture says (Psalms 109:17-18): He clothed himself with cursing, like as with his garment; as he loved cursing, so let it come unto him. The teachers do not stand in the gap as of old, Hosea 13:5.

b) Therefore, we herewith completely dissociate ourselves from these decadent churches, though we pray for our brethren, that they shall be saved. We want to be innocent of the souls of the erring. But Thou, O Jesus, equip faithful living witnesses, who will direct Thy children and the work of Thy hands to Thee! Amen.

c) We speak here of the entire Mennonite brotherhood, because the supreme government authorities consider it one true brotherhood.

d) In the articles, we are in agreement with our dear Menno, according to our convictions from the Holy Scripture.

e) We confess a baptism on faith, as a seal of faith, not on a memorized faith, as is the practice, but on a genuine, loving faith effected by the Spirit of God. For without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). And he that hath not the Spirit of Christ, is none of His (Romans 8:9). And again our dear Savior says to Nicodemus, John 3:3: Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Baptism is not the new birth, as some of the unconverted maintain, but serves as a sign for the baptismal candidate, that he is really born again.

f) Regarding holy communion we confess that it serves to strengthen the faith of true believers, for they are reminded of their mighty salvation through the death of the Lord Jesus. Yes, it is a sign that they stand in very intimate union with Jesus, their Savior. 1 Corinthians10:16. Furthermore, it serves as a sign of the covenant and fellowship of believers (v. 17), and not as a sign of the fellowship of believers and unbelievers with one another, as it is presently practiced. This is likewise stated in Menno Simons' Foundation of Christian Doctrine, Vol. I, pp. 115-121. Page 121 reads: "If someone errs in doctrine and faith, and walks in the flesh, he can in no case be permitted to fellowship with the godfearing and repentant...." In 1 Corinthians 5:11 the Apostle Paul states: "If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one we are not even to eat. How much less partake of holy communion with him?" Unfortunately, there are many covetous, drunkards and blasphemers with whom one shares the Lord's Supper, for not only those are drunkards who are almost continually under the influence of liquor, but also those who occasionally gorge themselves with food and drink at markets and taverns. 1 Corinthians 10:20-21 says "that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils." Likewise also, those who walk in the flesh cannot glorify God in the communion, because they do not know Him, but as usual they serve the devil herewith, for no man can serve two masters. Matthew 6:24. Now the apostle did not want the believers to have fellowship with the devil and the idolater who serves the devil, and thus become one body, 1 Corinthians 10:17. In Revelation 18:4 the Savior says, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." 2 Corinthians 6 states that believers shall have no fellowship with unbelievers, but shall come out from among them, and be separate.

g) Regarding footwashing, we confess that the Lord Jesus instituted it, John 13, to be practiced among one another, for the blessing is in the deed, not in knowledge.

h) Ministers may be called in two Scriptural ways: Some are chosen by God alone, without human assistance, and sent out by His Spirit, as were the prophets and apostles, and also the house of Stephen was self-appointed to the ministry of the saints. 1 Corinthians 26:15. Such are also mentioned by Paul in 1 Timothy 3. Others are called through the instrumentality of true believers, as recorded in Acts 1. Menno recognized this, as he proves in his Foundation, Vol. I, p. 148.

i) Regarding the ban, we confess that all carnal and reprobate sinners must be banned from the fellowship of believers, as Paul states in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15. In the event that someone falls into a carnal sin (God save us from it), and the Spirit of Christ, who alone can work true repentance, convicts him of his sin, so that he confesses and repents; in that case, the church has no authority to ban such a repentant sinner, because the forgiveness of sin is not obtained in or through the ban, but by the merit of Jesus Christ. This was also Menno's conviction, as recorded in Vol. III, p. 334 and 335. However, an unrepentant sinner may not be accepted into the fellowship of believers until he be genuinely converted to Christ.

k) In all other articles of our confession, we are in full agreement with Menno Simons.

Elizabethtal, January 6, 1860

Abraham Cornelssen Cornelius Wiens Isaak Koop Franz Klassen Abram Wiens Martin Klaassen Abram Wiens Daniel Hoope August Strauss Jacob Becker Isaak Regehr Andreas Voth Jakob Wall Johann Claassen Heinrich Huebert Peter Stobbe Abram Peters Diedrich Claassen

1) This shall serve to inform the elders, in case they desire to turn to our fellowship with regard to this matter, that they address themselves to the following designated members: Abraham Cornelssen, Isaak Koop and Johann Claassen.

Context of the Statement

Some Mennonites in Russia in the mid-19th century were strongly influenced by Pietism, especially in the person of the German Lutheran preacher, Eduard Wüst (Wuest). Although Wüst died in 1859, Mennonites who desired renewal of the church and their own spiritual life began to meet in homes for Bible study and prayer. These home Bible studies became the cradle of a new Mennonite Brethren church. Two developments effected a break with the old church.

Several small groups of the "Brethren" (which also included women) requested a sympathetic elder of the Mennonite church to serve them the Lord’s Supper in their own home. They wanted to celebrate communion more frequently, but their request was also in part a reaction to taking communion with people who had made no open profession of faith. The elder refused their request on the basis that private communion was without historical precedent, would foster spiritual pride, and could cause disunity in the church. In November of 1859, the Brethren decided to take the Lord’s Supper in a home without the elders' sanction.

On Epiphany, January 6, 1860, a group of "Brethren" met in a home for a "brotherhood" meeting. This gathering proved to be the charter meeting of the Mennonite Brethren church. They examined a letter of secession that explained their differences with the mother church. The letter affirmed their agreement with the teaching of Menno Simons and addressed abuses they saw in baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church discipline, pastoral leadership and lifestyle. Eighteen men signed the document. Within two weeks, an additional nine men signed the letter of secession. Since each signature stood for a household, the charter membership of the Mennonite Brethren church comprised more than 50 people.

The text of the document follows the translation in Peter M. Friesen, The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia (1789-1910), trans. J. B. Toews and others. Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature [M.B.], 1978, rev. ed. 1980: 230-232. Refer to the article on Mennonite Brethren Church for background on the formation of this church.


  • Friesen, Peter M. The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia (1789-1910), trans. J. B. Toews and others. Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature [M.B.], 1978, rev. ed. 1980.
  • Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911.
  • Toews, John A. History of the Mennonite Brethren Church, ed. A. J. Klassen. Fresno, CA: Mennonite Breth­ren Board of Literature and Education, 1975.
  • Toews, J. B. A Pilgrimage of Faith: The Mennonite Brethren Church, 1860–1990. Winnipeg, Man. : Kindred Press, 1993.
  • Toews, John B. Perilous Journey: The Mennonite Brethren in Russia, 1860–1910. Winnipeg, Man. : Kindred Press, 1988.