Anabaptists have always had a view of salvation that differed sharply with Reform traditions in that it emphasized repentance and transformation of life into conformity with Jesus Christ. This is a quick look at Protestant and Anabaptist views of salvation based on confessions of faith down through the years.
In my view the “1921 Christian Fundamentals Mennonite Church” (Garden City) is the low water mark in that it seemingly copied and articulated the Reform view of salvation almost to a word.
In my view the “1921 Garden City Christian Fundamentals Mennonite” is the low water mark in that in it Mennonites seemingly copied and articulated the Reform view of salvation almost word for word. This is of continuing concern since many conservative Anabaptist groups still based their confessions of faith on the 1921 Garden City Confession.
Now, note the progression, influence and shifts.
1527 (Anabaptist) The Schleitheim Confession
This Schleitheim Confession was not an attempt to be a complete confession but it just addressed areas that were of immediate concern so it does not specifically have a section on salvation. The first article on Baptism does indirectly cover repentance, new life and faith so I have included it below.
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.
1530 (Lutheran) Augsburg Confession
IV. Justification by Faith: Man cannot be justified before God through our own abilities; we are wholly reliant on Jesus Christ for reconciliation with God.
VI. Of the New Obedience: Lutherans believe that good deeds of Christians are the fruits of faith and salvation, not a price paid for them.
XII. Of Repentence: Repentance comes in two parts: in contrition for sins committed according to the Law and through faith offered through the Gospel. A believer can never be free from sin, nor live outside of the grace of God.
XX. Of Good Works: The Lutheran notion of justification by faith does not somehow condemn good works; faith causes them to do good works as a sign of our justification (or salvation), not a requirement for salvation.
1632 (Mennonite) The Dordrecht Confession of Faith: VI. Of Repentence
We believe and confess, that, since the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, and, therefore, prone to all unrighteousness, sin, and wickedness, the first lesson of the precious New Testament of the Son of God is repentance and reformation of life, and that, therefore, those who have ears to hear, and hearts to understand, must bring forth genuine fruits of repentance, reform their lives, believe the Gospel, eschew evil and do good, desist from unrighteousness, forsake sin, put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness: for, neither baptism, supper, church [membership], nor any other outward ceremony, can without faith, regeneration, change or renewing of life, avail anything to please God or to obtain of Him any consolation or promise of salvation; but we must go to God with an upright heart, and in perfect faith, and believe in Jesus Christ, as the Scripture says, and testifies of Him; through which faith we obtain forgiveness of sins, are sanctified, justified, and made children of God, yea, partake of His mind, nature, and image, as being born again of God from above, through incorruptible seed. Gen. 8:21; Mark 1:15; Ezek. 12:2; Col. 3:9, 10; Eph. 4:22, 24; Heb. 10:22, 23; John 7:38.
1915 (Protestant) The Fundamentals: 4. Salvation
It is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
1921 (Mennonite) Christian Fundamentals Mennonite Church: VI. Of Salvation
We believe that man is saved alone by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ; that he is justified from all things on the ground of his shed blood; that through the new birth he becomes a child of God, partaker of eternal life and blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. Ephesians 2:8; Romans 3:20-26; Acts 13:38, 39; John 1:12, 13; John 3:4, 8, 16; John 5:24; Ephesians 1:3.
1963 (Mennonite) Mennonite General Conference: Article 6. Salvation by Grace Through Faith
(short) 6. We believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, a free gift bestowed by God on those who repent and believe
We believe that men are saved, not by character, law, good works, or ceremonies, but by the grace of God. The merits of the death and resurrection of Christ are adequate for the salvation of all men, are offered to all, and are intended for all. Salvation is appropriated by faith in Christ. From all eternity God knew who would be the believers in Christ, and these persons foreknown as believers are elect according to the foreknowledge of God. Those who repent and believe in Christ as Saviour and Lord receive the gift of righteousness, are born again, and are adopted into the family of God. Saving faith involves the giving of the self to Christ, a full surrender of the will, a confident trust in Him, a joyful obedience to His Word as a faithful disciple, and an attitude of love to all men. It is the privilege of every believer to have the assurance of salvation. The God who saves is also able to keep each believer unto a happy end in Christ. As long as the believer lives, he stands in need of the forgiveness, cleansing, and grace of Christ. John 3:16; John 10:27-29; Romans 4; Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 1:8-10; 1 John 5:13; Jude 24.
Bronze Bow Media has done a video interview of Clayton Shenk of Tidings of Peace on conservative Anabaptists and city missions. Clayton weaves his experiences and thoughts together into an invitation to urban missions for conservative Mennonites who may not initially be comfortable in that setting.
Check out Tidings of Peace at http://www.tidingsofpeace.org
Anabaptists, and especially conservative Anabaptists, tend to delineate carefully between the words “pacifism” and the more specific “nonresistance” which is squarely based on the cross of Jesus. Continue reading →
Conservative Anabaptists have deep and abiding differences with both Protestant and Catholic conceptions of what authentic Christianity looks like.
The question has been raised about how Protestant and Catholic beliefs compare to conservative Anabaptists and this caught my interest enough that I decided to try to plot differences. I thought this could be helpful for several reasons:
- Think more carefully about Protestant/Catholic differences myself
- Note more precisely how Anabaptist/Protestant/Catholics actually compare
- Temper uncritical reading of Protestant & Catholic writing & help us not to unquestioningly accept theology (especially Reform axioms) conveyed in unquestioned assumptions
[Note: The chart below is a guide and a work in progress and I would really welcome your input & corrections. (One thing that would really help is any glaringly missing major Protestant theological points that would be in agreement with conservative Anabaptists) It is has obvious generalizations for simplicity’s sake and some are judgment calls. Also, at the moment the list is a quite a will nilly order.]
Note: A bit more nuance on “Faith Alone”: Anabaptists believe in salvation through faith in Christ and maintain the NT emphasis of both Jesus, Paul & others on the importance of repentence and walking in newness of life. A classic formulation of Anabaptist thinking on faith & salvation is found in the Dordrecht Confession article IV on “Of Repentence & Newness of Life“.
Hopefully this is helpful in living in the truth.
It is not every day epistemology is used as an argument for actually following Jesus but this is what Steven Brubaker does in his new book “A Mennonite Thinks About Knowing” published by Faith Builder’s Educational Programs. If Brubaker has done his job well the common perception that conservative Anabaptists are unconcerned with epistemology may be inverted in that they have a profound interest in “first things” (reality) and merely not as much interest as they might in “second things” (accurate descriptions of reality)
The book starts by defining truth using a widely accepted definition: “accurate descriptions of what is”. It then goes on to emphasize that Jesus & the New Testament not only define truth as a description of what is but also as “reality itself” using texts such as “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) The book notes that “our understanding of truth should encompass both the substance (the thing itself) and the accurate description”.
our understanding of truth should encompass both the substance (the thing itself) and the accurate description
The book also takes a look at different models of how beliefs relate to each other (balance, tension, knife-edge & road-ditch) and notes a useful model that avoids some problems of the others is that of first & second things. This model emphasizes which of the related items is “more basic, primary or fundamental than the other” instead of setting related items against each other as some of the other models tend to do. Using this model to compare “reality itself” with “descriptions of what is” the conclusion is quickly drawn that the former is a first thing and the latter a second thing. The examples of Jesus and writings about Jesus and being and doing are given to show the explanatory power of this model.
Instead of limiting our defense of the truth to logical arguments, we offer love as the preferred apologetic
This view of truth leads, by what might be an unfamiliar path, to a very characteristically Anabaptist insight: “Instead of limiting our defense of the truth to logical arguments, we offer love as the preferred apologetic.” The book also takes an interesting look at the problems that result when the first & second related truths are reversed, confused or separated.
What I’ve outlined are some of the ideas that stuck out to me from chapter 1 and the chapters that follow look at what reality is, coming to terms with reality, knowing by describing and participating and confidence in knowing.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book on epistemology from a Mennonite perspective. It is very common for Christian apologetics to primarily focus on an accurate description of what is and it is interesting to hear a careful explanation why there might be reasons to look further for a more complete conception of truth. We can describe the agape of God and we can allow God to make agape a reality in our lives and clearly the reality is a “first thing”. The world could use more of this inversion I think. The book does an interesting and nuanced job of describing when Christians can agree and disagree with both modernists and postmodernists. This book makes the clear Christian case that Jesus is at the center of any worthwhile effort at finding truth. If epistemology is of interest to you I recommend you read this book.
If you want to read the eBook right now, below is the link.