The Radical Reformation: The Secrets Behind the Schleitheim Confession

Posted on November 17, 2011 by


At the beginning of this reformation project I knew nothing on the reformation (except that there was another guy named Martin Luther). After looking at the sheet of suggested tasks I did the reading on the Reformation but to be honest, I didn’t learn anything, so I decided to use the greatest resources ever made, Wikipedia. After understanding some of the background of the Reformation I needed some secondary sources on the Radical Reformation but there were some documents that were in different languages (French and German) so there was some trouble but I found some sources and this is what I found.

The Radical reformation, also known as the Anabaptist reformation, was started in the 16th century in response to the apparent corruption of the Catholic Church and the start of the Lutheran movement, started by Martin Luther and others. It began in Germany and Switzerland and birthed many Radical groups; among those in these groups are the somewhat known Thomas Müntzer and Andreas Karlstadt. The groups consisted of the Zwickau prophets and Anabaptist groups like the Mennonites and Hutterites. According to The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) the word Anabaptist comes from the Greek word meaning “rebaptizer,” the word appeared in English as early as 1530. Unlike the other churches the Anabaptist church believed in an “invisible church” which means that, unlike the “visible church” which has dignitaries known to the world, in the “invisible church” the leaders can only be seen by god thus, the Church only consisted of the tiny community of believers, who accepted Jesus Christ and demonstrated this by adult baptism, called believers baptism.

After finding the background of the Radical Reformation I needed to find aprimary source to analyze and on the outline that Mike gave us he stated a option, The Schleitheim Confession, which I put on my possibilities list after sometime looking for other primary documents I found nothing, so I used The Schleitheim Confession as my primary source document.

The Confession was made in a meeting that was chaired by the Anabaptist Michael Sattler in 24 February 1527, in Schleitheim, Switzerland. Michael was leader of the Anabaptist movement in Switzerland and Southern Germanand right after the making of the Confession was arrested put on trail and eventually executed We must remember when reading this document that when this was written the Anabaptists were under intense persecution by the Catholics. The confession consists of seven points clearly but briefly written that GAMEO suggests was written by Michael himself. The articles were

1. Baptism

2. The Ban [excommunication]

3. Breaking of Bread

4. Separation from the Abomination

5. Pastors in the Church

6. The Sword

7. The Oath.

I focused on the 1st, the 2nd and the 6th of these 7 articles.

The first Article, concerning Baptism is probably the most important of them all, considering that the name of their group is Anabaptist, which means “rebaptizer.” The main point of the first article is that children can’t be baptized; they decided that one had to “have learned repentance and amendment of life, and who believe truly that their sins are taken away by Christ,” in other words

one has to understand that Jesus is their savior so that they can be resurrected with him. The passage about baptism is the shortest and the most “to the point” passage in the entire Confession suggesting that this was already established and they wanted to make it a law. The second section of the Confession was on the topic of excommunication, which was employed by the Catholic Church as a threat to people who tried to suggest new ideas, like the Anabaptists and Lutherans and other movements that went against the Pope and his dignitaries. The Anabaptists don’t refer to it as an Excommunication but “Ban.” In other words the Anabaptists really wanted to separate themselves from the church in every way possible. They state in the second passage

“The ban shall be employed with all those who have given themselves to the Lord, to walk in His commandments, and with all those who have been baptized in the one body of Christ and who are called brethren and sisters, and yet who slip sometimes and fall into error and sin, being inadvertently overtaken.”

The quotation says, “only those that were baptized can be ejected” which makes sense because in the Catholic tradition when one is excommunicated one still has to attend mass which means that the Anabaptists chose the logical solution when somebody sins then they don’t deserve to go to heaven so they go to hell. Something else that is interesting about the second passage is that “The same shall be admonished twice in secret and the third time openly disciplined or banned according to the command of Christ.” So excommunication is the last option on the disciplinary list.

Passage 6 refers to violence (or “The Sword”). It states 4 issues concerning the sword, first they say,

“In the perfection of Christ, however, only the ban is used for a warning and for the excommunication of the one who has sinned, without putting the flesh to death, – simply the warning and the command to sin no more.”

In other words they say that Excommunication is the highest punishment that one can incur, the interesting thing about this is that later they state,

“Also Christ says to the heathenish woman who was taken in adultery, not that one should stone her according to the law of His Father (and yet He says, As the Father has commanded me, thus I do), but in mercy and forgiveness and warning, to sin no more.”

This quotation is probably the most interesting in the entire Confession. They not only said those women that commit adultery won’t be stoned to death but also said that they wouldn’t be excommunicated but only punished, in comparison to the Christians and the other new religions where they are drowned, burned or stoned. The second thing that they state is that Anabaptists can’t “Pass judgment between brother and brother.” Thirdly they state that nobody who is Anabaptist can be in office, like in the government because “They wished to make Christ king, but He fled and did not view it as the arrangement of His Father. Thus shall we do as He did, and follow him, and so shall we not walk in darkness”; and finally they elaborated on the third reason by saying that the reason why Anabaptists can’t be magistrates is that,

“The government magistracy is according to the flesh, but the Christians’ is according to the Spirit; their houses and dwelling remain in this world, but the Christians’ citizenship is in heave; the weapons of their conflict and war are carnal and against the flesh only, but the Christians’ weapons are spiritual, against the fornication of the devil.”

What interested me most about this quotation is their use of the word “Christian.” It raises the question did they consider themselves Christian? The answer is in the definition of Christian that is “Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus,” which is exactly what they believe in so they can be considered Christians.

The Reformation of the 16th century spurred lots of new ideas and started many new religions, including radical ones like Anabaptism, Mennonites and Hutterites. The Radical Reformation wouldn’t have happened if the Catholic Church was so intolerant of anything that went against them. The Radicals woudn’t have existed if Gutenberg’s printing press wasn’t invented, with the press people had more access to books which had great effect on how learned the people were back then, which in turn affected how the people thought of themselves in comparison to the higher authorities, which included the church. Some of these religions didn’t last but for the first time in the history of man, people started to think for themselves.

Link to Document:


Neufeldt-fast, A. “16th Century Reformation Reading Room.” Tyndale Seminary. Tyndale University, n.d. Web. 17 Nov 2011. <;.

Mann and Walter Klaassen. “Anabaptism.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 17 November 2011.

Wenger, John C. and C. Arnold Snyder. “Schleitheim Confession.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 17 November 2011.

Wikipedia contributors. “Excommunication.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 16 Nov. 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.

Wikipedia contributors. “Martin Luther.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 10 Nov. 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.

Pavao, P. “The Anabaptists: The Radical Reformation.” Christian History for Everyman. N.p., 2009. Web. 17 Nov 2011. <;.

Sattler, M. “The Schleitheim Confession .” Baptist Studios Online. N.p., 1527. Web. 17 Nov 2011. < >.

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