Mennonites & the Apostles’ Creed

Mennonites are not known for using the Apostles’ Creed in liturgy. But Anabaptists have always affirmed the Apostles Creed. The way J. C. Wenger put it in a 1953 article “the Anabaptists assented to the truth of the Apostles’ Creed, although making little or no liturgical use of it.” [1]

In a recent perusal of the Mennonite 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith [2], I noticed that an almost verbatim significant chunk of the Apostles’ Creed [3] can actually be found in article IV:

He was, according to the providence of God, delivered into the hands of the unrighteous; suffered under the judge, Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, was buried, and on the third day, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven; and that He sits on the right hand of God the Majesty on high, whence He will come again to judge the quick and the dead.

This got me wondering if the rest of the Creed is in the Dordrecht, and, indeed it is.

Almost everything. Woven into the articles. The 12 points of the Apostles’ Creed are recreated from the Dordrecht in the below reconstruction. The Apostles’ Creed point numbers are at the beginning of each statement and the Dordrecht articles numbers at the end.

1…We…believe…in one eternal, almighty, and incomprehensible God…and…that He is the Creator of all things visible and invisible… (I)

2 We believe…the Word… who is God’s only, first and own Son… (IV)

3 that He was conceived of the virgin Mary…

4 He…suffered under the judge, Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, was buried,

5 and on the third day, rose from the dead,

6 and ascended to heaven; and that He sits on the right hand of God the Majesty on high,

7 whence He will come again to judge the quick and the dead. (IV)

8 We…believe…in…the Holy Ghost (I),

9 a…church of God…who are one with God…(VIII), the communion of the saints (VII/VIII),

10 forgiveness of sins, (IV/VI)

11 the resurrection of the dead (XVIII),

12 [and] life eternal….Amen (XVIII)

When compared to the 1921 Christian Fundamentals (Mennonite) [4] there are some other ways the Apostles Creed and the Dordrecht are more similar. They both start with an article on God, versus the Fundamentals starting with scripture.  The Fundamentals have no significant chunk of the Creed’s language in its article V on Jesus comparable to the Dordrecht’s article IV. Because of this, the Fundamentals drops the particular enthronement language of “Jesus sitting enthroned at the right hand of God”, for the more vague, and less politically challenging, “ascended to glory”.

It is probably not surprising that the Dordrecht follows the Creed, since in the concluding statement of the Dordrecht the writers note that “These, then, as has been briefly stated before, are the principal articles of our general Christian faith, as we teach and practice the same throughout in our churches and among our people; which, in our judgment, is the only true Christian faith, which the apostles in their time believed and taught…”

[1] http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Apostles%27_Creed
[2] http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Dordrecht_Confession_of_Faith_(Mennonite,_1632)
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostles%27_Creed
[4] http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Christian_Fundamentals_(Mennonite_Church,_1921)

What Evangelicals Won’t Tell You About Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Sermon on the Mount

According to Bonhoeffer “Everything changed” when  he discovered the Sermon on the Mount:

I was lacking in humility…terribly ambitious…alone…then something happened…for the first time I discovered the Bible…Then the Bible freed me from that, in particular the Sermon on the Mount. Since then everything has changed. I have felt this plainly, and so have other people around me. –Ferdinand Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance pg.95

Bonhoeffer scholar Ferdinand Schlingensiepen says the influence of Jean Lasserre was influential in Bonhoeffer’s transition from theologian to Christian:

Bonhoeffer’s ‘transition from theologian to Christian’ …was induced by Bonhoeffer’s experience in the USA, particularly his conversations with Jean Lasserre (A Christian pacifist who believed Christians should live the Sermon on the Mount today) –Ferdinand Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance pg.94

In 1935 Bonhoeffer still believed the Sermon on the Mount was the hope of the church:

The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, follow Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time as come to gather people together and do this” (Bonhoeffer in letter to his brother in 1935) –Ferdinand Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance pg.175

How should the Church celebrate Memorial Day? Some thoughts from Bonhoeffer’s 1932 Memorial Day sermon:

The demons rise up. It is a rebellion against Christ. And one great power of this uprising is called war! …

“What does faithfulness of the church-community of Christ mean here other than calling out into this furious raging [of war] again and again – unto exhaustion, unto humiliation, unto martyrdom – the words of Christ that there should be peace, that there should be love, that there should be blessing, and that he is our peace, and that God is a God of peace?

“And the more they rage, the more we should call out. And the more we call out, the more wildly they will rage. For wherever the word of Christ is truly spoken, the world senses that it is either ruinous madness or ruinous truth, which endangers its very life. Where peace is really spoken, war must rage twice as hard, for it senses that it is about to be driven out. Christ intends to be its death.” —The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (editor: Isabel Best) via TGC

What did Bonhoeffer think was necessary to destroy Nazism? Assassination? Living the Sermon on the Mount?

I would only achieve true inner clarity & honesty by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. Here alone lies the force that can blow all this hocu pocus [of Nazism] sky high – like fireworks, leaving only a few burnt-out shells behind…  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a letter to his brother Karl) –Ferdinand Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance

Bonhoeffer has well documented his confidence in living the Sermon on the Mount in “The Cost of Discipleship” (in which Bonhoeffer is more radical about cheap grace & the living the Sermon on the Mount than many Mennonites I have met!) . I have scoured his later “Ethics” to find any trace of a reversing of his earlier strongly held beliefs and I can find none.

Martin Luther & Anabaptists On the Societal Ill of Extravagant Clothing

Martin Luther recently brought it to my attention that clothing was no less than one of the top 3 issues that the faced the State of his time. In “A Treatise of Good Works”[1] (1520) Martin Luther notes 3 evils the rulers (the State) in his time should address:

  • Make an end of gluttony & drunkeness. (men could live without seasonings & spices…)
  • Forbid the excessive costly clothing (This is indeed an unchristian thing…)
  • Drive out usurious buying of rent-charge, (which ruins the whole world and troubles our lands…)

Or listen to Luther request a German law to prohibit “extravagance in dress” in his writing “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation”[2] click here:

In the first place, we require a general law and consent of the German nation against profusion and extravagance in dress, which is the cause of so much poverty among the nobles and the people. Surely God has given to us, as to other nations, enough wool, fur, flax, and whatever else is required for the decent clothing of every class; and it cannot be necessary to spend such enormous sums for silk, velvet, cloth of gold, and all other kinds of outlandish stuff. I think that even if the Pope did not rob us Germans with his unbearable taxes, we should be robbed more than enough by these secret thieves, the dealers in silk and velvet.

Roland Bainton, in his biography “Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther”[3] notes an additional concern of Luther:

He was in such a panic of disgust because the girls at Wittenberg were wearing low necks that he left home declaring that he would not return.

Thankfully his physician was able to convince Luther to return home.

These sentiments on dress are especially interesting since Martin Luther himself writes quite unsympathetically of the Anabaptist’s for speaking on the issue of proper attire for Christians & actually practicing wearing simple clothes in his own “Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount”[4]:

“…Anabaptists say… stop…dressing like other people…” -p.263

 “…they say, one must not wear satin or silk, red or variegated clothes.. .” p.264

And…

“…but he is a true Christian who proves it by his works, forsakes everything, does not accept any secular authority and rule; dresses in a gray coat; suffers hunger and sorrow, etc…

For the whole context:

“See, thus must they embellish themselves, both in doctrine and practice, so that they employ the same words that we hear, and along with this lead a beautiful attractive life; as now our anabaptist sectaries, in fact, mislead many people by crying out that we do not have the real gospel, because one may see that it yields no fruit, and the people continue to be bad, proud, avaricious, etc.; that there must be something more than the mere word and letter: the Spirit must do it, and they must honestly strive to live better; if it were the word of God it would surely also produce fruit. Then they go on and say they have the true understanding, and the right fruits and life. If a simple, inexperienced man hears this, he says: O, that is really so! lets himself thus be carried away by the taking words: Spirit, and fruits of the Spirit. Then they go further, and say: He who wants to be a Christian must not share in civil authority, or bear a sword, or have anything of his own, as it is with us; but he is a true Christian who proves it by his works, forsakes everything, does not accept any secular authority and rule; dresses in a gray coat; suffers hunger and sorrow, etc. These they call fruits of the Spirit. See, these are nothing but sheep’s clothing; with these they carry away crowds of the poor people…” -Martin Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount

Luther’s critique of the Anabaptist’s on this point is intriguing in two ways:

  • Luther apparently agrees with the Anabaptists in principle (perhaps not in extent?) that the issue of dress needed a solution in his society
  • Luther seems only to differ on how to achieve societal reform of dress and his solution is State laws on dress! (compared to Anabaptist’s voluntary community commitment)

It is quite interesting to read Luther and Anabaptist responses to the ills of society. Should a Christian promote a community who calls men voluntarily to avoid gluttony, drunkenness, costly clothing & usury…or have THE STATE with it’s coercive measures take on these tasks? The latter is the Luther/Constantinian model and the former the Apostolic/Anabaptist model.

And, we might do well to remember that Jesus Himself gave some warnings about money, food & clothing.

[1] A Treatise of Good Works, Martin Luther
[2] To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Martin Luther (quote)
[3] Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Roland Bainton
[4] Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Martin Luther