The Christian Church early felt the need of establishing clearly and definitely the content of its faith and exactly delimiting it; this led to the formulation of confessions of faith or creeds. The three oldest are the ecumenical symbols: the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, so called because it was the result of two great general councils at Nicea (325) and at Constantinople (381), and the Chalcedonian Creed, adopted at the Council of Chalcedon (451). They are called ecumenical because they were and are today accepted by the whole Christian Church, East and West, as the most significant product of the doctrinal teaching of the early church. However, these creeds do not cover the entire range of Christian doctrine but only the points under dispute at that time.
In the Roman Catholic Church the Confession of Trent or the Tridentinum, which contains the doctrinal resolutions of the Council of Trent from 13 December 1545 to 4 December 1556, is considered the final and authoritative norm of the faith of the church. The chief creed of the Greek Orthodox Church is the Confessio Orthodoxa, compiled at the instigation of Petrus Mogilas, metropolite at Kiev, printed in Amsterdam in 1662, and adopted by Peter the Great into the liturgy of the church.
In the Lutheran Church the Confessio Augustana or Augsburg Confession of 1530 is the "really decisive and in any case the most important confession." In addition, mention must be made of the Formula of Concord, published in 1580, which was to put an end to all doctrinal disputes. The most important confessions of the Reformed church are the Basel Confession of 21 January 1534; the Confessio Gallicana of 1559, of the French Reformed Church; the Confessio Belgica of 1561, of the Dutch Reformed Church; the Confessio Helvetica of 1566, compiled by Bullinger, and recognized in Switzerland and in the Palatinate; the Confessio Fidei of 1647, of the Scottish church; the Hungarian Confession of 1558, still valid with the Reformed of Hungary, and the Westminster Confession of 1648, which is the English and American Presbyterian creed.
The Anabaptists never attached the weight to creeds or confessions given to them by the remainder of Christendom; they were biblicists who produced a large number of confessions, not as instruments to which the laity or ministry subscribed ex anima, but as instructional tools for the indoctrination of their young people and as witnesses to their faith for distribution in society or as a means of better understanding between differing groups. Hans de Ries (1553-1638), one of the outstanding early Dutch Mennonite leaders, wrote in 1626 (Apologia, quoted in van der Zijpp's Geschiedenis, 1952, 89): "The confession is simply a short statement of what we believe we find in God's Word in contradistinction from others who also claim to hold to the Scriptures. And shall we be bound by it? We say no, it is subject to improvement." Van der Zijpp adds: "The main concern in the confessions was to learn to know one another. One did not write what had to be believed, but what was believed in the particular group." We read constantly also that the confessions were emphatically "subject to the Word of God."
The oldest Anabaptist confession is the Seven Articles of Schleitheim Brüderlich Vereinigung) of 4 February 1527, compiled by Michael Sattler. This is, however, not a true creed but rather an agreement on the doctrines, usages, and regulations peculiar to the Anabaptists. That which they held in common with the rest of Christendom is taken for granted and not discussed at all. The seven articles treat of baptism, excommunication, Lord's Supper, separation from the world, the church, nonresistance, and the oath.
The seven articles of Jakob Kautz, which he fastened on the door of the Predigerkirche at Worms, 9 June 1527 (Chr. Hege, Die Täufer in der Kurpfalz, 34-37), are merely a personal confession and have no further significance. The eight Nikolsburg Articles, which were printed in various versions in 1527 and 1528 and also as Artikel der Augsburger neuen Christen, and were often attributed to the Anabaptists, have now been proved by Wilhelm Wiswedel to be a forgery prepared by their enemies and falsely attributed to them.
Many confessions of individual (sometimes of groups) Anabaptists are found in the records of their trials; they afford a very important insight into the faith of the Anabaptists. The confession of the Anabaptists imprisoned at Marburg, of Dec. 10, 1538, by Peter Tesch, Glaubensbekenntnis der in Marburg gefangenen Wiedertäufer (printed in Urkundliche Quellen zur hessischen Ref.-Gesch., IV. Band, Wiedertäuferakten 1527-1626, Marburg, 1951, 247-56), is worthy of note, because it throws light on the peculiar religious position of the Hessian Anabaptists. More important is Das Bekenntnis der Schweizer Brüder in Hessen (ibid., 404-40) of 1578, published (in German) in the Mennonite Quarterly Review, 23 (1949) 22-34 under the title Confession of the Swiss Brethren in Hesse.
Thomas von Imbroich's (d. 1558 at Cologne) Confessio, Ein schöne bekanntnus eines frommen und Gottliebenden Christen of 88 pages (first ed. ca. 1560, later published 1702, 1742, and 1745 in Güldene Aepfel in silbern Schalen, Dutch ed. 1579, reprinted in the Martyrs' Mirror in 1660 and following editions), though a very influential book is not actually a full-fledged confession of faith, nor cast in the form of a confession, but a theological treatise mostly on baptism.
Pilgram Marpeck's Rechenschaft meines Glaubens, submitted to the Strasbourg Council in 1532, first published in Mennonite Quarterly Review 12 (1938) 167-202, though more comprehensive, is likewise not a true confession but a defense of his faith.
The religious disputations, such as were held at Zofingen in 1532, at Bern in 1538, at Frankenthal in 1571, at Emden in 1578, and Leeuwarden in 1596, the records of which were published in book form (except Bern, 1538), offer valuable testimony on the confessional position of the Anabaptists, but the records are not in themselves formulated confessions.
The Abred (Agreement) of the South German and Swiss preachers and elders at the various conferences, as at Strasbourg in 1568 Muller, Berner Täufer, 50, and printed in Mennonite Quarterly Review 1, 1927, 57-68), the Amish discipline of 1779 (Mennonite Quarterly Review 11, 1937), and the resolutions of the other Anabaptist and later Amish assemblies in Strasbourg and elsewhere from 1555 on (including the discussions of the Incarnation and other doctrines) down until the lbersheim (Germany) conferences of 1803 and 1805, throw much light on the doctrines of the Mennonites and their ethical views; but these records are not true confessions of faith. For the most part these ministers' meetings deal with life rather than doctrine; the concern is with Christian conduct and church regulations, not dogmatics. The outcome is typically precepts, not creeds.
The outstanding confession of the Hutterian Brethren is Peter Riedemann's Rechenschaft (Accounting), written in prison in Hesse about 1545 and printed in 1565 under the title, Rechenschaft unserer Religion, Leer und Glaubens, von den Brüdern, so man die Hutterischen nennt ausgangen. It was reprinted in Calvarys Antiquariatskatalog (Berlin, 1870, 254-417), published in a new edition by the Hutterian Brethren in America in 1902 and by the Hutterian Brethren in England in a revised edition in 1938, and finally by the latter in an English translation in 1950 under the title Account of Our Religion, Doctrine and Faith. Klaus Felbinger's Rechenschaft should not be overlooked in this connection (printed in L. Müller's Glaubenszeugnisse Oberdeutscher Taufgesinnter II, No. 9).
The confession of the Dutch Waterlanders, compiled on 22 September 1577, by Jacob Jansz (Scheedemaker), Hans de Ries, Simon Michiels, Simon Jacobs, and Albert Verspeck, is the oldest extant Anabaptist-Mennonite confession of faith. This confession is reported by Blaupot ten Cate (Holland 1, 118-19; see also 285-89) and was published by E. M. ten Cate (DB 1904, 145-56). It contains 25 articles and breathes the lenient spirit which characterized the Waterlanders. Külhler says of this confession (Geschiedenis 1, 356), "The authors wished only to express their own conviction; it was least of all intended to impose any compulsion or give a binding rule of faith." The Verdrag der Broederen (Emden, 1579) must also be considered as a confession of faith; it was signed by a number of Waterlander preachers, among them de Ries. (It is found in Blaupot t. C., Groningen 1, 264-70.)
The booklet, Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Mennoniten-Gemeinden in Europa und Amerika, by von Reisswitz and Wadzeck (Berlin, 1821) mentions an unprinted confession which had been used in the church at Hoorn, Holland, in the 16th century, but of which nothing further is known.
The Concept of Cologne was compiled at the synod in Cologne, 1 May 1591, by the Elder Leenaert Clock, and signed by 15 preachers of Holland and of the Lower Rhine, Frisians, and High Germans. Many Waterlanders adhered to this confession. In condensed brevity and in liberal terms borne by the spirit of Christian charity, tolerance, and mutual regard, it states the Mennonite concept of the Christian faith. But it also is not a true creed, being rather a set of conclusions on points over which differences had arisen especially concerning the ban. It was printed in De Algemeene Belydenissen . . . (Amsterdam, 1665), 1-7. There is a copy in the Dutch language in Rembert, Wiedertäufer, 615-18, and in German in Chr. Hege, Die Täufer in der Kurpfalz, 150-52.
The oldest fully developed confession of faith of the Mennonites is probably the Belydenisse near Godts heylig woort, printed in the Martyrs' Mirror in 1660 (1950 ed., 373-410), in 1837 published in English at Winchester, Va., as The Confession of Faith. It contains 33 articles, and presents the content of the Christian faith in great detail with thorough, exhaustive biblical argumentation. When and where it originally appeared, and by whom it was drawn up is not stated, but it was probably first printed about 1600. The author has been determined to be Pieter Jansz Twisck (1565-1636).
Hans de Ries and Lubbert Gerritsz formulated the Brief Confession of Faith (Corte Belijdenisse des Gheloofs, ende der voornaemster stucken der Christelijcke leer) in 40 articles, first published at Hoorn in 1618 (reprints: Amsterdam, 1624, 1716, 1741; Hoorn, 1643, 1658, 1681; Rotterdam, 1740, revised edition by Pieter Jansz at Crommenie, 1654, 1660, and at Amsterdam, 1686). According to Samuel Cramer (in HRE 3rd ed., 12, 609) it was compiled in 1615. W. Mannhardt gives 1610 as the date in Die Wehrfreiheit and calls it the "Frisian-Waterlander Confession of 1610." Schijn in his Geschiedenis gives 1580 as the date of its origin, which is repeated in the title page of the 1741 Dutch and German editions. Plitt's Symbolik (Erlangen, 1875) follows Schijn. In Mennonitische Blätter 1856, 78, the year 1581 is mentioned. The problem of the origin of this confession was finally solved by Kühler (Geschiedenis II, 1, 95). In 1608, when there was some thought that a group of English Brownists would unite with the Waterlanders, this group asked Hans de Ries to draw up a confession of faith. In collaboration with Lubbert Gerritsz, de Ries did this and presented to them a confession of 38 articles. In 1610 it was printed with two additional articles. It is usually known as the Belijdenis van Hans de Ries or Waterlandsche Belijdenis. Although it was composed by only two persons, its influence was widespread. A French translation was printed in 1684, a Latin one in 1723, and a German one in 1741 at Amsterdam.
The period 1615-1665 was one of unusual production and use of confessions by the Dutch Mennonites. It was a time when repeated attempts, many successful, were made to heal the many schisms among them and to unite the brotherhood on the basis of acceptable statements of faith. The Concept of Cologne (1591) was the first such statement in which Frisians, Flemish, and High Germans (Swiss Brethren) united, and which was accepted by many Waterlanders. It was signed by representatives of congregations from Holland, the Rhine Country, Alsace, and Wurttemberg. The Olive Branch Confession (Olijftacxken) of 1627 (printed in 1629) was designed to bring about a union between the Frisian and Flemish churches. The 1630 Jan Cents Confession served a group of United Frisian and High German congregations. The 1632 Dordrecht Confession was definitely offered as a basis for peace between Flemish and Old Flemish. J. P. Schabalie's Union of the Principal Articles of Faith (Vereenigingh van de principale Artijckelen des Geloofs) of 1640, is an extract and summary of previously issued confessions of the Waterlanders, Flemish, and High Germans.
The final development was the attempt to secure common acceptance of several similar confessions, which were then published in collections. The first of these was the collection approved at Haarlem in 1649 by a group of Flemish and High Germans, containing the Olive Branch, Jan Cents, and Dordrecht confessions as approved, plus the Concept of Cologne and the Outerman Confession of 1626, apparently not printed, however, until 1666 with the title Handelinge der Vereenigde Vlaemse en Duytse Doopsgesinde Gemeynten Gehouden tot Haerlem Ao 1649 in Junio, met de Dry Confessien Aldaer geapprobeert of Angenommen (Vlissingen, 1666). An almost identical collection which appeared at Amsterdam the previous year was published apparently by the private initiative of a group of conservative Zonist leaders (Samuel Cramer says van Braght and Schijn), who wanted to use the authority of the older confessions in their struggle with the Lamists, and in an accompanying statement, Bond of Unity (Verbondt van Eenigheydt), prepared in 1664, declared their hope that its publication would "strengthen the bond of faith and love and prevent further disintegration of the congregations." It bears the title De Algemeene Belydenissen der Verenighde Vlaemsche, Vriesche, en Hooghduytsche Doopsgesinde Gemeynte Gods (Amsterdam, 1665). It contains the Cologne, Outerman, Olive Branch, Jan Cents, and Dordrecht confessions, plus the Verbondt van Eenigheydt. It was reprinted in 1700 at Haarlem, and again in 1739 at Rotterdam with the addition of the Schabalie Union of 1640. Another motive for some confessional activity was the threat of the unitarian influence coming from the Socinians who came from Poland to Holland and were influential there from about 1600 on. The 1626 confession of 12 Waterlander preachers was an attempt to counteract this influence.
One might wonder at the frequency of the "union confessions" and whether they succeeded in their purpose. Since there was no general and authoritative synod or conference of any of the schismatic groups (Flemish, Frisian, Waterlander) the union attempts were only representative of those individual leaders or congregations who chose to respond to the invitations to the "peace conferences," and the resulting confessions had only as much weight as the prestige of those who formulated or adopted the statements, or as the convincing quality of the contents produced. In fact, since the union attempts represented the concession on the part of the conferring congregations that each group could no longer claim to be the sole true church, the more conservative element opposed them for that very reason. Also, since the confessions represented a certain degree of theological sophistication which went beyond the simple biblicistic faith of the earlier period of Anabaptist history, the same conservative groups objected to confessions in principle, claiming that the Bible was enough for them. K. Vos, in Mennonitisches Lexikon II, 120, says, referring to the confessions in the 1665 collection, De Algemeene Belijdenissen, the 33-article confession in the Martyrs' Mirror, and the Brief Confession of the Waterlanders issued in 1618 by Hans de Ries and Lubbert Gerritsz, "These confessions may be regarded as the most representative expressions of the faith of the Dutch Mennonites in the 17th century."
After the period of "peace" confession making was past, no new confessions were produced in Holland for a century. Thereafter the confessions were either the expression of the hardened holding fast by single schismatic groups to their separatistic positions (which were nevertheless abandoned by the early 19th century) or of an attempt to stem the growing tide of liberalism, such as the irenic confession prepared by Cornelis Ris in 1762 (published in 1766), which was a Zonist confession. Though not much used in Holland, it came into general use in North Germany (a German edition with commentary was published as early as 1776 in Hamburg, and another edition in 1850 at the same place) and West Prussia, and later became the unofficial confession of the General Conference Mennonite Church (German editions 1895 ff., English 1902 ff.). Following are the Dutch confessions from 1615 on in chronological order.
Bekentenisse des Ghelools, Nae Godes Woort, which appeared first in the Hoorn Martyr Book (Historie der warachtighe getuygen) of 1617, then separately at Hoorn in 1620 and 1626, was, according to Hans Alenson's Tegenbericht, the product of two Old Frisian preachers, Sijwaert Pietersz and P. J. Twisck.
F. de Knuyt was the author of a work of this general type, though not a confession in the strict sense of the word, Onder Verbeteringe, een Corte Bekentenisse onses Geloofs, first edition 1618 or earlier, reprints Amsterdam, 1623, 1642; Haarlem, 1625, 1684.
At Haarlem in 1622 appeared also Kort Verhael ende Belijdenisse der ware Religie ende des Aldeheylichsten geloofs, by J. P. (Jan Pietersz van der Molen, or Vermeulen).
The 1626 anti-Unitarian Korte Belijdenis der Waterl. gemeenten, prepared by 12 Waterlander preachers, was reprinted at Rotterdam in 1740.
The Belydenisse van den Eenigen Godt, Vader, Soon ende Heyligen Geest was the one which Jacques Outerman of Haarlem in Holland presented to the deputies of the Dutch government on 8 October 1626, and which was signed by several preachers of the Flemish. This confession deals only with the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation, without division into articles. It is found in Latin in Schijn, Hist. Menn. (1729) 79-85. This one was also put into De Alg. Belijdenissen, 816 ff., and the Martyrs' Mirror (1950) 1106-8.
The Olive Branch Confession was composed in Amsterdam on 27 September 1627. Its title is Olijf-tacxken, of Schriftuerlijcke aenwijsingh, over wat lieden den Vrede Godts staet (Haarlem, 1636, reprints Amsterdam, 1647, 1661. It also appeared in De Alg. Belijdenissen, 67-84). The preachers of the Flemish Lamist congregation in Amsterdam planned this confession for the purpose of healing the breaches among the divided Dutch Mennonites. Though it did not achieve this, it was widely accepted. It was still in use in the 18th century by the Hamburg-Altona (Germany) congregation. It is found in the Martyrs' Mirror (1950) 27-33.
The confession of Jan Cents at Amsterdam, dated 7 October 1630, bore the title: Korte Confessie ofte Belijdenisse des Gheloofs (der) Vereenighde Friesen ende Hoochduytschen. It contains 21 articles. It was apparently never printed separately but is found in De Alg. Belijdenissen, 55-90. Without the division into articles it is found also in Martyrs' Mirror, 33-38. In Latin it is found in Schijn, Historiae Mennonitarum (Amsterdam, 1729) 87-114.
The Dordrecht Confession of Faith, compiled by Adriaen Cornelisz, elder of the Flemish congregation at Dordrecht, was signed 21 April 1632, by 51 delegates from 17 Dutch churches including two Lower Rhine congregations. This Confessie des Christelicken Geloofs contains 18 articles. It is found in De Algemeene Belijdenissen, 91-128, and in the Martyrs' Mirror (1950) 38-44. It has been more generally accepted among the Mennonites of Europe and America than any other. It is more conservative than most other Dutch confessions of this time, teaching the old strict view of shunning. Its real aim was to restore peace among the Flemish Mennonites, whose unity had been broken by the House-Buyer controversy. It was printed at Haarlem in 1633 and in 1658 at Rotterdam. A German translation of the 1658 edition was sent to the brethren in Alsace, where it was signed by 13 preachers of various churches who had met at Ohnenheim, 4 February 1660. In 1664 and 1691 it was printed in Amsterdam in German under the title Christliche Glaubens bekentnus der Waffenlosen und fürnehmlich in den Niederländern (Unter dem Nahmen der Mennonisten) Wohlbekanten Christen; further German editions without place 1686, 1711, 1742; Basel, 1822; Zweibrucken, 1854; Mümpelgart, 1855; Regensburg, 1876. The 1711 German edition was translated into French and published in 1771 (n.p.) as Confession de Foi Chrétienne, and reprinted at Nancy in 1862. An earlier reputed French edition of about 1660 could not be verified. It was translated into English and published at Amsterdam in 1712 for the Pennsylvania Mennonites, who published it themselves in 1727 at Philadelphia as the first Mennonite book printed in North America, after officially adopting it in 1725 as their confession. The English title is The Christian Confession of the Faith of the harmless Christians, in Netherlands known by the Name of Mennonists. English reprints: New Market, Va., 1810; Niagara, Ont., 1811; Doylestown, Pa., 1814; West Chester, Pa., 1835; Skippackville, Pa., 1836; and many other reprints in various combinations.
This Dordrecht Confession became the authoritative confession of the German and French Amish churches (based upon the 1660 Ohnenheim adoption) and all the Mennonite groups in North America except those of Prussian or Russian Mennonite background arriving after 1870, or those who joined the General Conference Mennonite Church.
In 1659 appeared at Utrecht Een Belijdenisse Aengaende de voornaemste Leer-Stucken des Christelicken GodtsDienst Gestelt door G. F. Aldendorp, A. V. Heuven, . Andries, W. V. Maurick.
The Groningen Old Swiss group published its confession in 1744 at Groningen, written by J. van Komen (Koomen), Belydenisse des Geloofs onder de Doopsgez. Christenen.
The Groningen Old Flemish Confession written by T. Popkes appeared in 1749 at Groningen under the title, Een beknopt ontwerp of schets v. de geloofsbelydenisse der Mennonyten, onder de benam. v. Oude Vlaamingen. Another Old Flemish confession appeared at Groningen in 1755 as Geloofsbelydenisse der Doopsgesinden, bekent onder de Naarn v. Oude Vlamingen (reprints 1774, 1805, and once without date).
Cornelis Ris published in 1766 at Hoorn, De geloofsleere der waare Mennoniten of Doopsgezinden. This confession was recognized in 1773 by the Sociëteit of Mennonite churches whose delegates had met in the Zonist church in Amsterdam. A considerable number of the Dutch and some German congregations belonged to this Sociëteit at that time. For this reason this confession attained a wide distribution and a high regard among the Mennonites. It was printed in Hamburg in German in 1776 with the title, Die Glaubenslehre der wahren Mennoniten oder Taufgesinnten aus deren öffentlichen Glaubensbekenntnissen zusammengezogen durch C. Ris nebst erläuterndem Vorbericht und Anhang. It was again translated and published by C. J. van der Smissen, minister of the Friedrichstadt church, in 1850 (Horn bei Hamburg). It contains 36 detailed articles. This was the last new confession produced by the Dutch Mennonites. The increasing emphasis among the Dutch Mennonites in the 19th and 20th centuries upon an "undogmatic" faith, and upon the autonomy of the individual Christian as well as the individual congregation, has outmoded such confessions of faith completely among them.
It may be noted that some commentaries on the confessions, and formulation of the confessional contents in catechetical form, were produced by preachers and theologians. E. A. van Dooregeest of De Ryp published such a book with 813 pages in 1692 (Amsterdam) under the title (translated) Instruction in the Christian Doctrine According to the Confessions of the Doopsgezinden Wherein the Main Points of Faith are Strengthened with Scripture References, Comments, Refutation of Opposition-Arguments, in Questions and Answers. The House-Buyer group issued such a booklet in 1708 at Steenwyck, called Mennoniste Vrageboeck. The Old Flemish confession of 1755 was treated in a similar way in two editions, one of 1762 and one undated. K. van Huyzen published in 1705 at Amsterdam a brief summary of doctrine based on the 1665 collection, De Algemeene Belijdenissen, entitled Korte Inhoud van de Leere des Geloofs. A similar book, Korte Schets der Doopsgesinde Belydenisse was published by D.P.C.I.L. at Amsterdam in 1701. Mention should be made of Galenus Abrahamsz' Korte Grondstellingen, which is the last part of his Verdeediging der Christenen (Amsterdam, 1699).
The chief confession of the West Prussian churches was the Confession Oder Kurtze und Einfältige Glaubens-Bekentnis derer / so man nennet / Die vereinigte Flämische / Friesische und Hochdeutsche Tauffsgesinnete / oder Mennonisten in Preussen. Aussgegeben von denen obigen Gemeinen daselbsten; Gedruckt im Jahr Christi, 1660. Wilhelm Mannhardt held it to be a translation of an older Dutch confession, but no one has yet identified the supposed original. It was reprinted in 1751 and 1756 without place, in 1781 at Elbing, 1854 at Graudenz, and in Russia three times, at Odessa in 1854, at Berdyansk in 1873 and in 1912. It was until recent times used by the West Prussian churches. In all editions beginning in 1690 there is an appendix, Kurze Unterweisung aus der Schrift, so wir erachten denen zu wissen nötig, die sich zu der Gemeinschaft, der Christlichen Gemeine, welche man Mennonisten nennt, begeben wollen, verfasst in Fragen und Antworten. The text follows that of the preceding confession. A further addition is the Formular etlicher Christlicher Gebete (L. Clock's collection).
The Flaminger Bekenntnis (Flemish Confession) of Georg Hansen (d. 1703), a preacher and elder of the Flemish Mennonite congregation at Danzig, was presented in 1678 to Stanislaus Sarnowski, the Bishop of Leslau. It was printed in Dutch at Amsterdam in 1696. A Latin and German edition was published, probably by a member of the Bishop's Commission, under the title, Confession oder kurze und einfältige Glaubensbekenntniss der Mennonisten in Preussen, so man nennet die Clarichen. Im Jahre Christi, unseres Erlösers (1678). Attached to this edition is the record of a religious cross-examination of Georg Hansen on 20 January 1678. A copy is to be found in the Danzig city library. This confession was the vehicle of a merger of the Danzig Old Flemish churches in Holland and the Old Flemish churches in West Prussia which was solemnized and confirmed at joint communion services in Amsterdam, 6 July 1730, and in Haarlem, 16 July. It is signed by four elders in Prussia and four elders in Holland as well as 70 preachers. A German edition was published by the Danzig church in the same year. In 1768 a new edition was published with a catechism and numerous appendices under the title, Confession, oder Kurtzer und einfältiger Glaubens-Bericht der Alten Flämischen Tauf-Gesinneten Gemeinden in Preussen In Fragen und Antwort verfasset der erwachsenen Jugend zum Nöthigen Unterricht. Gedenke an deinen Schöpffer/ in deiner Jugend. It consists of 19 sections having separate headings but not numbered. This confession was reprinted in 1878 (?) at Elkhart, Indiana, for the church in Turner County, South Dakota, with a title which states it to be a reprint of the edition published in 1853 by the church of Rudnerweide, South Russia. It was again reprinted at Elkhart in 1893 in Ein Fundamentbuch der Christlichen Lehre, edited by Elder Isaac Peters of the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren.
In 1792 G. Wiebe, elder of the Flemish congregation at Elbing and Ellerwald, published at Elbing a new confession of 20 articles, Glaubensbekenntniss der Mennoniten in Preussen, which was much used in West Prussia and Russia, reprints at Elbing, 1836 and 1837, and in Russia in 1870 and 1874.
Several additional confessions prepared by individual German Mennonite ministers, but of no great significance or use, should be mentioned as follows: Evangelisches Glaubensbekenntnis der Taufgesinnten Christen oder also genannten Mennonisten, wie solches in Altona öffentlich gelehrt und gepredigt wird, compiled by Gerhard Roosen, 1702. It is found in Roosen's booklet, Unschuld und Gegenbericht der Even Taufgesinnten Christen, so Mennonisten genannt werden . . . Ratzeburg, 1702). This booklet was used somewhat in the Palatinate.
Die Gottesgelehrtheit der Taufgesinnten Christen durch Cornelius van Huyzen, Lehrer der Taul. gesinnten zu Emden 1713.
Confession oder kurzer Glaubensbericht der bekannten taufgesinnten Gemeinden in Preussen zur Erbauung der Jugend ausgegeben . . . , by Hermann Jantzen, the elder of the Flemish church at Elbing, 1741. (A copy could not be located or verified.)
In 1895 the rural Mennonite churches of West Prussia published a new confession of faith, combining the confessions of the Old Flemish and the Frisians. It was adopted at the annual conference at Marienau near Tiegehagen on 6 June 1895. Its title is also Glaubensbekenntnis der Mennoniten in Preussen (Marienburg, 1895, reprint Gutersloh, 1903).
In Russia the Mennonite Church, after using the 1660 Confession (Odessa, 1853; Berdyansk, 1873) and the 1792 Glaubensbekenntniss der Mennoniten in Preussen (editions of 1870 at St. Petersburg and 1874 at Berdyansk added the phrase "und Russland"), adopted a newly edited confession of faith in 1896, which was printed in 1898 in Halbstadt by P. Neufeld, with the title, Glaubensbekenntnis der Mennoniten in Russland.
The newly organized Mennonite Brethren Church had its first confession of 1876 printed at Basel, Glaubensbekenntnis und Verfassung der Gläubig Getauften und Vereinigten Mennoniten-Brüdergemeinde in Russland. The second revised edition, Glaubensbekenntniss d. Ver. Chr. Taufges. M. Br.G. in Russland was printed by P. Neufeld at Halbstadt in 1902. This was reprinted at Gronau in Westfalen, Germany, in 1947 for the M.B. refugees who had come out of Russia during and after World War II, and in 1916, --, and 1952, at Hillsboro, Kan., as the "amerikanische Ausgabe," having been adopted by the M.B. General Conference in 1902. It was translated and published in English about 1917 at Hillsboro as Confession of Faith of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America, American edition.
A certain amount of new confession building among Mennonites has taken place in recent times. In Europe the Mennonites in Galicia (then Austria, now Russia) published in 1871 and then in 1904 at Lemberg a confession first prepared by their Elder Johann Müller and then revised and edited by his son Johann Müller: Glaubensbekenntnis für Taufgesinnte der Galizischen Mennoniten-Gemeinden.
The Krefeld Mennonite congregation adopted a statement of "General Principles" in 1912, which is actually a confession of faith, though not so labeled. The theological position of this statement is extremely liberal, in marked contrast to the Dordrecht Confession of 1632, which had been signed by a minister of this congregation.
Joh. Kipfer, elder of the Mennonite congregation in the Emmental, prepared a confession of faith which his congregation adopted and published at Langnau in 1937: Kurzgefasstes Glaubensbekenntnis der Altevangelischen Taufgesinnten-Gemein den im Emmental. It shows some adaptation to the pietistic emphasis, and also to the Reformed position in baptism. The Conference of Swiss Mennonites refused to adopt this confession as requested by Kipfer.
In North America the first new confession was that of the present Evangelical Missionary Church (formerly Mennonite Brethren in Christ), although it has never been called a "Confession." The first form was Glaubenslehre und Kirchenzucht-Ordnung (Skippackville, Pa., 1866), English form, Doctrine of Faith and Church Discipline (idem, 1867). In 1880 a revised edition appeared at Goshen, Ind., in both English and German, and again in 1889 at Berlin (now Kitchener), Ont., in both languages. Later editions were in English only, Berlin, Ont., 1897 and 1905; New Carlisle, Ohio, 1920 and 1924, and later editions. In 1951 it was displaced by a new Doctrines and Discipline of the United Missionary Church.
The second such confession was Glaubensbekenntnis der Mennoniten in Manitoba, Nordamerika, prepared by Johannes Wiebe, elder of the church at Reinland, Manitoba in 1881 and printed the same year at Elkhart, with several reprints, such as Elkhart, 1889 and 1900, and Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1927.
Third, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, adopted and printed in 1896 (latest reprint 1952) its confession, called Confession of Faith of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. It had earlier printed the 33 articles of P. J. Twisck as its own.
The fourth new confession was that of the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren (Isaac Peters-Aaron Wall conference; now called Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches), published at Elkhart in 1907 as Glaubens-Bekenntnis der Mennoniten in Nebraska und Kansas, Nord-Amerika.
The fifth new confession was that of the Evangelical Mennonite Church, then called the Defenseless Mennonite Church, which published its Confession of Faith, Rules and Discipline, adopted in revised form at Archbold, Ohio, Aug. 30, 1917 (Chicago, 1917), later editions 1937 and 1949. Its 12 Articles of Faith teach not only the usual Mennonite doctrines, but also "second work of grace" or baptism of the Holy Spirit, divine healing, open communion, and premillennialism.
The Conference of Mennonites in Canada published in 1930 a condensed and revised form of the Cornelis Ris confession, with the following explanatory title: Glaubensbekenntnis der Mennoniten in Canada. Im Auftrage der Predigerkonferenz zusammengestellt und revidiert auf Grund der Bekenntnisse der Mennoniten in Preussen und Russland und von der Allgemeinen Konferenz in Winkler 1930 gutgeheissen und angenommen.
The Mennonite Church (MC) in 1921, and the General Conference Mennonite Church in 1941, both officially adopted doctrinal statements which do not profess to be confessions of faith but are such in effect nevertheless. Both reflect the influence of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy which continued in the United States and Canada during the first half of the 20th century. (The General Conference Mennonite group attempted a brief "revised" Articles of Faith in 14 articles, which though authorized in 1933 to be printed never were adopted.) The statement of the Mennonite Church (MC), which was adopted by its General Conference at Garden City, Missouri, Aug. 24-26, 1921, was called Christian Fundamentals and contains 18 articles. The conference expressly declared that "this statement does not supersede the eighteen articles of the Dort Confession, which the Church still confesses and teaches." The General Conference Mennonites, at their conference session at Souderton, Pa., Aug. 17-22, 1941, adopted an official Statement of Doctrine containing nine brief articles. Both churches have also adopted comprehensive declarations of faith on nonresistance, the Mennonite Church (MC) at its session at Turner, Ore., in 1937, and again at Goshen, Ind., in 1950, the General Conference Mennonite Church at its 1941 Souderton sessions.
The Beatrice (Neb.) Mennonite Church (GCM) in 1918 published a condensed edition of the old Prussian confession under the title Unser altes Glaubensbekenntnis in abgekürzter Darstellung.
The Apostolic Christian Church (sometimes called "New Amish" by outsiders although it had no direct link to the Amish) had its confession published at Elkhart in 1880, Glaubensbekenntnis der Neuen Deutschen Baptisten-Gemeinde in den Vereinigten Braaten.
Eine Konfession oder Glaubensbekenntnis der Taufgesinnten in Griechenland welche die 3 Christen von Thessalonich die nach Deutschland gekornen sind und allda bekannt haben den grund ihres glaubens is a confession written about 1540 on behalf of a mysterious group whose identity has not been fully clarified. The confession has been preserved only in manuscript form, handed down among the Amish. A copy is in the Goshen College Library. It is probable that the Thessalonian group was not Anabaptist but anti-Trinitarian.
Among the Mennonites confessions of faith earlier had no binding power or legal significance; they were and claimed to be nothing more than an easily intelligible expression of the confession of the church and the form for a commonly held content of faith. Now and again an attempt was made to compel recognition by both preachers and laymen as a binding authority upon them. In Holland this led to the division of the Zonists and Lamists. The latter thought it necessary to require unconditional recognition of the confessions of faith in order to "preserve the bond of faith and love and to prevent further injury to the church." The Lamists most definitely opposed this attempt. In general the Mennonites have held to the Protestant principle that the highest and only norm of all religious understanding, of faith, and of doctrine, is the Bible, the Word of God, which means that the Mennonite Church has not been a creedal church in the customary sense of the term. However, in recent times some groups and conferences in North America give more weight and almost binding power to the confession officially adopted by the conference. Since the beginning of the 19th century confessions of faith are no longer used in the Dutch congregations.
The theology of the Mennonite confessions of faith from the beginning has been uniformly orthodox evangelical, avoiding the particularities of the classic Lutheran and Reformed formulations, and reflecting quite well the original Anabaptist insights and emphases. The later (18th century and after) confessions reveal slightly more assimilation to the current Protestant orthodoxy or pietism, but except for a few modern statements which teach such doctrines as the second work of grace, baptism by immersion, open communion, and chiliasm, the confessions agree remarkably in presenting simply, and with many Biblical allusions and citations, the same doctrines as taught originally by Grebel, Manz, Blaurock, Marpeck, Obbe and Dirk Philips, and Menno Simons; viz., separation of church and state, believers' baptism, nonresistance, liberty of conscience, church discipline, separation from the world, the avoidance of litigation, and the non-swearing of oaths, as well as the main orthodox Protestant doctrines. These confessions have undoubtedly done much to preserve the doctrinal and ethical homogeneity of the total Mennonite fellowship in the absence of formal works of theology. This does not apply of course to those congregations in Holland and Germany which have dropped the use of confessions altogether and taken on liberal theology and accommodated themselves to current ethics.
European and North American Mennonite confessions find their roots in a series of European confessions, including the Dordrecht Confession (1632), the Frisian-Flemish Confessions (1660), the Cornelius Ris Confession (1766), the Prussian Confession (1792), the Prussian Confession (Elbing edition, 1836), the Rudnerweide Confession (1853), and the Mennonite Brethren Confession (1902).
North American Mennonite confessions derive from these major European Mennonite confessions. They emerge within the main Mennonite groups in North America and also in the smaller, more independent, yet nonetheless related, Mennonite denominations. In many instances these confessions have been adopted by churches begun by Mennonite missionaries in other countries.
The specific occasions and purposes of the confessions are as varied as the times and places in which they emerged. in the Mennonite Church (MC) the Dordrecht Confession has functioned more powerfully than any other. In North America it was translated into English in 1725 in order to build unity and clarify the Mennonite theological identity and witness, particularly the Mennonite position on nonresistance, to the new society. Together with catechisms it continued to be used for instruction in baptism and church membership. it symbolizes a rich Mennonite theological heritage.
The Christian Fundamentals (1921) appeared as a confessional supplement during the period of Fundamentalist tensions within the Mennonite Church. The Mennonite Confession (1963) is a restatement and revision of the Dordrecht confessional tradition in light of issues current at that time. The recovery of the Anabaptist vision in the 20th century has refocused attention on the significance of the Schleitheim Confession (1527), the oldest Anabaptist confession. Its articles, originally defining the tenets of the Swiss Brethren, have attained a new confessional status within the Mennonite Church (MC) tradition, and even beyond.
The General Conference Mennonite Church has never formally adopted a confession. The 1896 constitution has a simple paragraph titled, "Our Common Confession," which summarized the General Conference position. Later revisions of the constitution carried through the same Common Confession with little change. Strong recommendations were made in 1905 to accept the Ris Confession (1766) as an official confession for the conference. Even though that attempt failed, the Ris Confession has been used for instruction within the church and has clarified Mennonite identity to others. In 1933 a revised set of articles was proposed but rejected at the General Conference, although official permission was given for the printing and dissemination of these 1933 Articles of Faith. In 1941 a Statement of Doctrine was written in conjunction with the purposes of General Conference Mennonite seminary education. The statement, however, was never officially adopted or widely used.
In contrast to the other Mennonite groups, the General Conference Mennonites gave birth to a series of local church confessions. In 1878 the Turner (Ore.) congregation adopted the Rudnerweide Confession (1853). In 1918 the Beatrice (Nebr.) congregations adopted the 1836 Prussian Confession (Elbing edition). H. D. Penner and P. H. Richert merged three European confessions to produce the Kurzgefasstes Glaubensbekenntnis der N... Mennoniten Gemeinde (Summary Confession of Faith of the Mennonite Church, n.d.). Intended for use by local congregations, it strongly reflected the content of the Dordrecht Confession. P. H Unruh authored a shorter confession, What We Believe (n.d.), that was printed by resolution of the Alexanderwohl (Kansas, USA) Mennonite Church.
The Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church together approved a Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective in 1995. This major reformulation was made partially in anticipation of the integration of the two denominations.
The Mennonite Brethren Church has produced two major confessions. Written originally within the context of southern Russia, the Mennonite Brethren Confession of 1902 drew heavily from previous Mennonite confessions. it dealt with differences and agreements with the other Mennonites. The Mennonite Brethren break in 1860 from the Mennonite church (Kirchen-Gemeinden) was the occasion for such an emphasis. This note of separation is distinctive among Mennonite confessions. The Mennonite Brethren Confession of 1975 was intended to stand in continuity not only with the 1902 Mennonite Brethren confession (which the text clearly reflects), but also with the larger Anabaptist-Mennonite heritage (which is made explicit in the preface and introduction). It therefore reflects a broader identity than the 1902 confession. A revision of the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith was approved in 1999.
A considerable number of confessions have emerged from the smaller Mennonite and Mennonite-related traditions: The Confession of Faith of the Brethren (ca. 1780), known also as the The Eighteenth-Century Confession, is the earliest confessional statement of the Brethren in Christ, who also published a Statement of Doctrine in 1961. The Evangelical United Mennonites, precursors of the Evangelical Missionary Church (known as the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, 1883-1947), published their Doctrine of Faith and Church Discipline in 1967. The Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada also approved a Articles of Faith in 1997.
The Evangelical Mennonite Conference (Kleine Gemeinde) revised their confession in 1954 as the Historic Articles of Faith of the Evangelical Mennonite Church, and wrote a brief Statement of Faith in 1973; revised in 1994. The Glaubensbekenntnis der Mennoniten in Reinland Manitoba, Nord Amerika was published in 1881 and reprinted in 1913. This confession contributed significantly to the identity of various Mennonite groups, including the ones associated with the Old Colony Mennonites in Manitoba.
The Confession of Faith of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite was adopted by that group in 1896 and reprinted in 1952. The revised and expanded Articles of Faith were adopted in 1961. In 1917 the Evangelical Mennonite Church (Egly Amish) wrote their Articles of Faith, which were reprinted in 1936. They were revised in 1949 and reprinted with minor revisions in 1961 and 1980. In 1923 the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Conference adopted and printed the Articles of Faith which were reprinted in 1950. The Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church adopted and printed their Articles of Faith in 1929 and reprinted them in 1940. The Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference published A Confession of Faith in 1973. The Conservative Mennonite Conference approved a Statement of Theology in 1991; it also subscribes to the 1963 Mennonite Confession of Faith.
Most of the Mennonite confessions reflect a strong sense of continuity with traditional Anabaptist-Mennonite theological convictions. They frequently quote Matthew's gospel and emphasize corporate church life. Mennonite confessions generally reflect the following theological framework: God, Word of God, Jesus Christ (Christology), Holy Spirit, human nature, free will, conversion, church and its mission, church offices, baptism, communion, feetwashing, marriage, church discipline, Christian life and nonconformity, integrity and oaths, nonresistance and revenge, Christian and the state (church-state relations), Lord's day and work, last things (eschatology). In addition to their distinctive churchly center, Mennonite confessions consistently revolve around the themes of eschatology, Christology, theology. In the absence of a systematic theological tradition these confessions have often served an important role in preserving theological unity and identity in the Mennonite communities. They have also been used to reinforce schisms.
Blanke, Fritz. "Beobachtungen zum altesten Tauferbekenntnis." in Archiv für Reformation Geschichte 38 (1940): 242-49.
Cramer, S. "Die Mennoniten" in Realencyclopädie für Prot. Theol. und Kirche 12 (1902).
Friedmann, Robert. Mennonite Piety Through the Centuries. Goshen, 1949.
Friesen, Peter M. Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Rußland (1789-1910). Halbstadt: Raduga Verlag, 1911).
Hunzinger, A. Das Religions-, Kirchen- und Schulwesen der Mennoniten. 1830.
Jenny, Beatrice. Das Schleitheimer Täuferbekenntnis 1527, reprint from Schaffhäuser Beitrage, 1951 (see review by Arthur Rich in Theol. Ztscht 8, 1952, 309-14).
Loewen, Howard John. One Lord, One Church, One Hope, and One God : Mennonite Confessions of Faith. Elkhart, IN : Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1985, contains an extensive bibliography and the text of many of these confessions.
Mannhardt, W. Die Wehrfreiheit der Altpreussischen Mennoniten. 1863.
Mennonitische Blätter. 1856, 1857, 1885, 1886.
Mennonitisches Lexikon, II, 119.
Muller, Ernst. Geschichte der Berner Täufer. Frauenfeld, 1895.
Plitt, G. Abriss der Symbolik. Erlangen, 1875.
Reisswitz and Wadzeck. Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Mennoniten-Gemeinden in Europa und Amerika. Berlin, 1821.
Schijn, H. Historiae Mennonitarum. Amsterdam, 1729.
The following confessions discussed in this article are available in full
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 679-686; vol. 5, pp. 184-185. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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To cite this page:
MLA style: Neff, Christian, John C. Wenger, Harold S. Bender and Howard John Loewen. "Confessions, Doctrinal." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 25 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C6656ME.html.
APA style: Neff, Christian, John C. Wenger, Harold S. Bender and Howard John Loewen. (1989). Confessions, Doctrinal. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C6656ME.html.