CLAUS FELBINGERíS CONFESSION OF FAITH
ADDRESSED TO THE COUNCIL OF LANDSHUT, Bavaria, 1560
Dear Lords and Magistrates of this town of Landshut, God who does nothing without a cause, has so disposed that we have been arrested for the sake of divine truth, and handed over to you as prisoners. Although we have already been questioned twice in Neumarkt by the county sheriff and his assistants, and several times here by the lordís men regarding our way of life, yet I feel in my heart that I have not fully disclosed my mind in such a way that you might understand the foundation on which we stand.
It is therefore my earnest request that you take the time and trouble to read this, our written confession, wherein you may perceive how we live and on what foundation we stand and build. In it you will see (if there be a divine spark within you) that we have done nothing out of a hasty decision or without reason, although the blind world considers us fools for acting as we do. We, however, know that Godís Word cannot lie. If we build rightly thereon, and walk worthy of and in accordance with it, then our heart suffers no harm when, trusting and confiding in the Word of God, we do not allow the children of darkness to drive us from it. For so one must enter, through Christ, through much pain, suffering, fear, and tribulation, the hard, rough, narrow, slippery way through the narrow gate, which but few find, but which Christ has shown is the way to life, and has Himself gone before us.
You will now, however, find herein the main matters regarding which we are questioned, and the answers thereto, to which with Godís help we hope to stand firmly. This we shall confess as divine truth, because it is the truth, and we wish in this matter to wait upon the Lord. What He permits you to bring upon us must be to us, who love Him from the heart, for the greatest good, for salvation and comfortóand for you, if you do not change your lives and repent truly, it must be a hard testimony against you.
Therefore (dear authorities and servants of God) search us as you will and
you shall find that we have not acted against God, or wronged any man, but have
lived both here and in other places without harming anyone. The work of God,
however, is amazing in the eyes of carnal men, for Godís truth has always been
contrary and unbearable to the world, so that even the very wisest in the world
have not been able to recognize Christ, who has been truth eternally. Therefore
from the beginning he that is born of the Spirit has had to be persecuted in all
possible ways by the man born of the flesh, for they have been in every way
contrary to one another. Christ Himself said of His marvelous coming into the
world that He did not come to bring peace on earth, but discord and the sword,
to divide men two against three and three against two, and they would find their
greatest enemies among the members of their own household. That the Lord will
bring to pass, for two will be working at one mill, and one will be taken and
the other left; two will lie in one bed, and one will be taken and the other
left. That is the greatest thing for which we, through the Word of God, can
prepare the way, that God visits men with His word of grace, and gathers and
separates those according to His holy will who reverence Godís covenant.
We have been asked by sundry people why we have come into the princeís [of Bavaria] land, and draw people away. My answer is, we do not go only into this land, but into all lands, wherever our language is known, for where God opens a door for us and shows us zealous hearts that truly seek Him, hearts that are discontented with the godless life of the world and would gladly do what is rightóthere we go, for we have divine cause to do so. For heaven and earth are the Lordís and all men are His; but we have given, surrendered, and sacrificed ourselves wholly to God. Where He sends us and will use us, there we go, in obedience to His divine will, regardless of what we must suffer and endure.
Further they have asked us: "As governmental authority is ordained by God and has its power from Him, therefore all should fear and honor itónow, why do you not do so?" Mark the answer! The government is not given for the just to fear, but only for the evil, for the government should be a shield to the just. For this reason the Lord has placed a sword in its hand, and its annual income in taxes, interest, duties, etc., that it may be able to execute its office and protect the just. If it does not do so, God will punish it the harder. Therefore we are gladly and willingly subject to the government for the Lordís sake, and in all just matters we will in no way oppose it. When, however, the government requires of us what is contrary to our faith and conscienceóas swearing oaths and paying hangmanís dues or taxes for waróthen we do not obey its command. This we do not do out of obstinacy or pride, but only out of pure fear of God. For it is our duty to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
That is the reason why we refuse, namely, that we fear God. Christ forbids those whom He loves, those who are meant for Life, all carnal wrath and vengeance. Thus they are forbidden to kill, and are told to leave all vengeance to God. Therefore we do nothing to promote bloodshed, for such does not befit a Christian who is taught of God in His Son, since we should be like young children, without resentment or bitterness, and like a dove, guileless. To the men of old it was indeed said, "Thou shalt hate thine enemy and love thy friend." "But I say unto you," said Christ, "love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, pray for them that despitefully use you, that ye may be children of your Father in heaven." Therefore one must distinguish between the Old and the New Testaments. "It was indeed said to the men of old, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a head for a head; but I say unto you that in all things ye resist not evil."
Swearing of Oaths
And that I, too, with Godís help, hope to do, and will let no one stop me from speaking of that which is right before God, especially of what I have seen and heard and sensed in my heart, through the renewal of the Holy Spirit, of the resurrection of Christ Jesus, who has established new life within us who believe in Him and honor His name, who give ourselves wholly to Him and are quiet before Him.
Then Satan would be stronger than Godóbut far be it! For Christ has been sent by the Father into this world to take away the power of the devil (I John 3:8), the old serpent, tread upon his head, destroy his work, and banish sinóthat is, from all who gladly let their sins be taken away. These are they who listen to His holy Word, believe it with all their hearts, and keep it in a sensitive, pure, and good heart.
Christ does not Compel
Oh, no! On the contrary, He speaks only to those who thirst for His justice, who have ears to hear, who are heavy of heart, who would gladly be set free from their sinsówho are urged and drawn by God. Know well that faith is not a matter of course but that it is a special gift, given only to those who love God.
God wants no compulsory service. On the contrary, He loves a free, willing heart that serves Him with a joyful soul and does what is right joyfully. As it is written, "Believers will obey God in love," and again, "Those who fear God will do diligently what is pleasing to Him and fulfill His law." For God has not promised those who believe in Him a dull, slavish spirit. Oh, no! But a childlike, zealous, free, and willing spirit, in which we, trusting in faith, cry to God the Father. He represents us mightily before Him, as John also said:
"This is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." Now how can the world, yea, all sinners and unjust men who allow themselves to be ruled by the spirit of evil which drives them from one evil deed to the next, how can they call to God in such a way, they who not only do not keep His commandments, but do only what is contrary to God? Who cease not to insult His holy name and to rouse Him to wrath? How should He be gracious and favorable to them, even should they ask? As the man born blind whom Christ healed said, "We know that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth" (John 9). And David said, "If, Lord, I have unrighteousness in my heart, then wilt thou not hear me, O God" (Psalm 66). And Christ said, "The true worshippers of God must worship him in spirit and in truth, for God, who is a Spirit, wanteth such to worship him" (John 4).
This is once more to be found in the Lordís Prayer, which Christ taught His obedient children who clung to Him in all temptations, and which He spoke purely for the Wordís sake and not for sinners. For no sinner can pray the Lordís prayer in accordance with truth, for he has not given himself over into Godís obedience. With the first word he begins to lie, and in doing so he does nothing else but mock God and rouse Him to wrath, and ask vengeance on himself. Therefore what does not arise from faith is sin. To the impure nothing is pure, for his very mind and conscience are impure. But to the pure all things are pure. His prayer is pleasing to God, as it is urged by Godís Spirit. Those, however, who do not have His Spirit are not His. Only those who are impelled and urged by the same are Godís children.
The Narrow Way
Thus the worldly-wise flaunt their high knowledge before us and say, "We find it in the Old and New Testaments. As we see things, you are aiming far too high. Were none to be saved except those who act as you do, the whole world would have to be condemned at once." To this we answer that we believe the Word of God utterly: the Word that stands and that cannot lie. It does not conform to the world. Men have only to act in accordance with the Word. The worldly-wise, especially the monks, clergy, and scribes think that because they have read books and are well practiced therein they can be found wanting in nothing. Oh, foolish men! The wisdom of God is neither to be gleaned from books nor learned in universitiesófar from it! For the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and a good understanding have all they who do accordingly.
Thus one sees that only those have the secret of the kingdom of heaven who faithfully follow Christ: the others having eyes see not, and having ears hear not. David said that the secret of God is only with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant. They that continue in Christís teaching will understand the truth, and the truth will make them free. Knowledge only puffs up, but love improves and builds up. For the Word of the cross of Christ repels all the wise. Reason advises not to come under the yoke, for the way of the flesh is enmity to God.
Therefore Paul says, "Consider your calling, dear brothers! Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called; but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; that no flesh should glory in his presence" (I Cor. 1:26-29) But praise be Godís. Therefore Christ praised His Father in that He had hidden this from the mighty of this world and revealed it unto babes.
We are accused also of condemning all who are not of our mind and who act not
as we do. That we deny. We condemn no man, but we show to men their reprobate
life and warn them of condemnation, and this we do in accordance with the Word
of God that cannot lie. For we believe this Word, and that it will come to pass,
and for the sake of loyalty to it we are often forced to lay down our lives. No
human being can condemn another. Judgment is in the hand of the Lord; but
sinful, evil works are what condemn man, when he has not left them in accordance
with the Word of God and brought forth honest fruits of repentance.
Further I was asked with regard to baptism, how often I was baptized. I said, "Once, as God has commanded." They then asked if I had not also been baptized by the brothers. I answered, "The devout brothers who baptized me in accordance with the command of Christ first taught me repentance and faith in the name of Jesus Christ. Then, at my request, they baptized me on confession of my faith; which faith, God, according to His promise, also sealed and strengthened with His Holy Spirit, who has until now kept me in the way of truth. And it is my hope in God that He take Him not from me until my end."
But infant baptism I regard as simply nothing. It is conceived by men for the sake of money, that the parsons may by its means enrich themselves; it is a plant which the heavenly Father has not planted; therefore it must be rooted out. For they find not a single word in the Old or in the New Testament about infant baptism, not a word that shows either that Christ commanded or that His disciples practiced it. On the contrary, they held to the one and only true baptism. And that is when those who, having reached years of discretion, join the faith on being awakened by the proclamation of the Word of God and, on desiring to enter the covenant with God, let themselves be united by the covenant of grace of true Christian baptism. In that they take leave of the sinful pleasure of this world and reject the service of the devil. Therefore the devil strives through his messengers to hinder at all costs the revelation of the true Christian baptism. Therefore has the antichrist, the abomination of desolation, the pope, placed such emphasis on the accursed infant baptism, which is meant only to harm true Christian baptism and the command of Christ, to hinder true subjection to God. For baptism is a covenant of a good conscience with God (I Pet. 3:21) and a certain declaration that the man has been accepted as a light to the inheritance of all saints. Now what does a young child know of a "good conscience with God"? It is mere trumpery! One who stands by him, the godfather, is supposed to have faith for the child, while he himself does not know what faith is, is perhaps even a drunkard, a blasphemer of God or adulterer, a child of perdition.
To sum up, it is a foolish and blind affair. Through it all manner of evil and infamous men get the precious name, in that they call themselves Christians, which thus but becomes a cloak for their knavery. For a Christian has not received his name from baptism, but from the conduct of his whole life.
He who lives as a Christian is a Christian, he who lives as a heathen is a heathen. All this has been twisted by the antichrist, who still holds firmly with the sword that he who will not believe him must die. Then the priests of Baal cry out, "Beware! it is a time of great danger! Wolves are wanting to break in among the sheep!" What great folly! What sheep have they! It has now come to this, that the "sheep" tear the "wolves," that their "shepherds" want to shear them and suck their blood! Yet they hold the shepherds to be messengers, though they see in their lives that they are ruled not by the Spirit of God but by the spirit of wickedness. How then can they speak what is good, since they are evil? God does not entrust His holy Word to such blasphemous men, for God is Himself the Word that He has committed to true men. As Paul said clearly to Timothy and Titus, they should be men who are blameless, the husband of one wife only, vigilant, sober, of a right mind, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach the doctrine of faith, not lovers of wine, not strikers, not greedy of filthy lucre, but kind, not brawlers, not covetous, one that conducts his own house well, that he may have believing children. He must, however, also have a good testimony. They should likewise be courageous, not double-tongued, but sober, just, holy, devout, and bear in a clean conscience the mysteries of the faith (I Tim. 3; Titus 3).
Hold your clergy up to this mirror to see if there be in them a vein of such
virtue! Is not the opposite everywhere reflected? For this reason no one is
improved by their teaching. It brings forth no fruit. Why? They do not speak as
the mouth of God, but only their own thoughts, the deceit of their own hearts,
and do but destroy themselves and all who listen to them, holding them in what
is evil. Their word has no strength: it makes no one free from sin and devout,
it renews none. They remain the same old sinful wineskins, that are unable to
hold the wine of divine sweetness. The Holy Spirit will not dwell in men who are
the vessels of sin. He enters no heart that wills to do evil. Therefore they are
Then they asked me if I do not believe that Christ is essentially present in the bread and wine as the very body and blood in which He suffered for us on the cross. I answered, "No! Christ has ascended to heaven. There He sits at the right hand of God, the heavenly Father. He does not let Himself be conjured thence into the hands of sinners, that they may afterward sell Him for money. He is the enemy of all evildoers. The mad shall not appear before His eyes. Thus, also, the mad, drunken clergy may not come before His face."
"But," say they, "He has clearly said, This is my body and my blood." Yes. We know also, praise be to God, the interpretation of this high mystery which He wanted to disclose to His loved ones in this comforting supperónamely, by means of bread and wine He has shown the community of His body. Even as natural bread is composed by the coming together of many grains, ground under the millstones, and each giving the others all it possesses, they have community one with another, and thus become one loaf; and as, likewise, the wine is composed of many grapes, each sharing its juice with the rest in the wine press, so that they become one drink. Even so are we also, in that we become completely of one nature with Him, in life and death, and are all one in Christ: He the vine and we His branches, He the head and we His members.
But the branches must bear no other fruit than that which it is the nature of the vine to bear. For all unfruitful branches are cut off and cast into the fire. On the other hand, the limbs of Christís body seek not earthly goods, and regard nothing else but what the head, Christ, wills through them and inspires in them by His Spirit. He who has not His Spirit, however, is none of His. But they who have given and surrendered themselves wholly to God, with body and soul and all their members, let themselves be ruled by His Holy Spirit, led in faith by Him in true confidence in the Lord, quietly suffering Him to work and keeping His Word in a pure, good heart, such are able to bring forth fruit in patience. Only they who have the Word of God, which is spirit and life, within them (the flesh is of no profit) eat the body of Christ and drink His blood. He who acts otherwise deceives himself.
For no sinner who has not yet cleansed his heart through obedience to truth in the spirit of sincere brotherly love may sit down at this Supper. For Christ kept it with His disciples whom He declared pure for the Wordís sake in which they had believed, and one sees that Judas sat down at the table with an impure heart, lightly and thoughtlessly, despising the Lordís word to talk of all things earnestly. He did not take it to heart though Christ Himself goaded him by saying there was a traitor among them, a word that shocked the devout though they were innocent. He, however, was hardened through the deceitfulness of sin and was no longer able to grasp the word. But what happened when he took the sop? The devil entered into him, and drove him to fulfill his judgment. Therefore he had to attack his Master and cause His innocent death, as an example to all who are still unprepared, who with impenitent, unclean hearts sit at the Lordís table, hypocritically, as though they were true members of the body of Christ, wholly surrendered to Him.
Oh, the Lord knows them all! He is not deceived! And the man harms only himself who dares to oppose and tempt God; as Paul writes to the Corinthians, warning each earnestly, "Let a man examine himself well before he goeth in, to see if he be pure in heart, surrendered to God in divine obedience, a true member of his body. Where notólet him leave it alone. For whosoever eateth unworthily thereof is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord and eateth judgment to himself, in that he discerneth not the Lordís body," for he refuses to see what kind of members belong to the body of Christ. For Christ will not have impure, adulterous members, who are still cleaving to themselves and to others in carnal love. No! He wants members pure and holy as He, the Lord, is holy, who love God above all things and hold to Him alone.
"Holy Christian Church"?
Now where previously in my blind, unconscious infant baptism was I able to have such faith and certainty in God? Thus I have not left the true Christian Church, but the so-called "Christian" congregation of sinners and the unjust, prostitutes, adulterers, gamblers, slanderers of God, gluttons, winebibbers, liars, covetous men, and idolaters who do not cease to rouse God to wrath. I have indeed come out from among all these, for I will have no fellowship with such unless they leave their godless nature and repent truly by coming to a true recognition of their sins. For God has still a devout people on earth, whom He has shocked and startled into leaving sin through His living Word, whom He has called from the world to His holy name and gathered by the Holy Spirit. These He has chosen to be His own, to the praise of His glory, that they might walk according to His nature, proclaim His strength and virtue, adorn their faith with works pleasing to God, put on the garment of innocence and the cloak of justice and righteousness, and always bear before them the breastplate of right action; that the world may see what is pleasing to God and have occasion to consider its ungodly life, to leave it and turn from sins to God. For God has never left Himself without a witness, in words and works, so that no one can excuse himself before Him.
But that they say this "sect" is obnoxious to princes, lords, and all the world, for everywhere men speak against it; this does not frighten me or any lover of God. It but makes us the more certain. Through this we believe more fully the divine witness, for word and deed are in accord. For when the devout Simeon had the child Jesus in his arms in the temple, he foretold to His mother Mary that Jesus would be the light of the world and salvation to the ends of the earth, and the sign for this was to be that He would be spoken against. As though he wanted to say: "Not only He, but all His seed who believe in Him and walk in His footsteps." As He Himself said, "If they have called the father of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household" (Luke 6), for they shall slander your name and cast you off as evildoers for the Son of Manís sake. And "blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousnessí sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
They who do not know God likewise say, "Now why do you not stay here? Can not one also do right here and become blessed? Or is blessedness confined to Moravia?" Now note the answer. One can do good just as well here and become blessedóif one would only do it! But men not only do not do it themselves, but they hinder those who would gladly do good. Here men are compelled to idolatry with the stocks and robbed of their goods. As Paul wrote to Timothy: "All those that will live a godly life in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." For a devout soul that fears God cannot keep silent but speaks and witnesses against their abominable life, saying they cannot please God, much less become blessed. Whereupon hate is roused and from that hour they say, "Away with these rogues! They want to be better than we are: it is not right that they should live!" Then the devout man must flee with Jacob, who was beloved of God, before the unstable Esau and his children, and go to Mesopotamia to his friends and fellows in faith.
Therefore, as is said above, blessedness is not confined to any land or place; for the Word of God does not suffer itself to be bound. He that fears God and does right is pleasing to God, wherever he may be; but the true children of God come together in zeal for God and do not remain apart from each other, that each may be a comfort to the rest. For a devout man is never happier than with his dear brothers and fellows in faith, where each can show the others love and good, yea, faithfulness and honor, as divine love has a way of looking upon itself as the neighborís debtor and is diligent to help him with all its strength, and to do so with joy. For one devout heart refreshes the other with the gift it has received from God for the good of the body of Christ, which is His holy church, all believing, devout hearts that have bound themselves together in Godís love. There one sees holy examples, good patterns of the devout fathers in word and deed, provoking one to emulation. That is the most pleasant of all to the lover of God, as it is written, "Wisdom is a golden jewel to the obedient ear."
How Good and Pleasant it is for Brethren to Dwell Together in Unity
Therefore also is it written: "ĎWith the devout thou wilt show thyself devout, with the pure wilt show thyself pure, and with the upright thou wilt show thyself uprightóbut with the evil one thou becomest evil, with the froward thou dost act frowardly." Therefore Sirach said: "Birds of a feather flock together." So is it also with man. He seeks those like himself. For woe to him that is alone when he falls! Who will help him up?
Complete oneness [Einigkeit], separation from the world, and fellowship [Gemeinschaft, i.e., communal life], is only to be found in the perfect kingdom of Christ, for one sees how Christ separates all those whom He has ordained for life, how He has now confirmed the new testament of divine grace with His death and has won from the Father the promised Spirit who shall lead all true believers into truth. He began communal life among them. As one finds in the Acts of the Apostles, in the first five chapters, "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold and laid them down: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need; and they continued steadfastly in the apostlesí doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." And all of them were of one heart and of one soul, and none who was not yet might join them.
And God still has such a church on earth, which acts according to His law and walks in true community of spiritual as well as of temporal gifts and goods. For God wills to have children who are of His nature, who are not false; who let themselves be ruled by His Holy Spirit, through whom they are gathered and kept at one. That I testify of them with truth.
Sin No More
Then they continue: "I do not believe that one can serve God without sin, for sin always goes with one." Yes, but one must discriminate between having sin and committing sin. To have sin and to commit sin are very different things. No man who is born of a woman and the seed of man is without sin. For they all share in the original sin that comes from Adam. For the same sin has entered all men, as indeed David said: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me, and every imagination of the thoughts of manís heart is evil from his youth." As also John said: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." And James said, "When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." Here one can note clearly how far original sin harms man; namely, it causes him physical death. That one sees in children. Although they know of no sin and have never committed sin nor ever roused God to wrath, yet they must die just as the old dieóbut sin harms their soul not at all. But when the child grows up, the stronger will be his inclination to sin. Therefore one must teach children in the fear of the Lord and keep them with the rod (which takes the evil out of the childís heart) until they reach understanding and grow up. Then one sees what he will do. When he has pleasure in devoutness and a love for Godís Word and believes it, he desires also to enter into the bond of God with all Godís children, and to spend his time in true godliness until death. If it is also witnessed that this has been well proved, then he is baptized at his desire on confession of faith in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Where, however, he does not let himself be drawn by the Lordís Word nor wants to walk accordingly, but practices sin and evil, then we remove him from the church, as no warning or punishment helps him. Thus do we deal with the children among us.
And therefore, as has been said above, much is said in the world about sin without discriminationóas though Paul, John, or James were also sinners, since they confessed that they were not without sin. Now note, original sin, the rising urge in flesh suggesting sin, the inclination or desire, evil occurrences and sinful thoughts through which man is tempted to do wrongófrom these the devout are not exempt. The devout man is tempted by this. This is all sin, and still rouses itself in the body. That fills a devout lover of God with fear and trembling. He would gladly be free of it. It often appalls him, troubles his heart, and makes him sad. He cries to God, beseeches that He might take it away from him, pleads that he has indeed pleasure in true devoutness, as Paul had when he said, "The messenger of Satan buffeteth me as a warning to my flesh. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me, but the Lord said unto me, Paul, be content with my grace, for through thy weakness is my strength seen and felt more strongly.í" And again Paul said: "I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but the law of sin in my members striveth against the law of God in my heart. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God, however, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who hath given me the victory" (Rom. 7).
Just so have devout men lamented unto the grave over this sin, but they were not sinners after conversion, after they had once received grace. As Paul said to the Galatians: "But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin?" (Gal. 2) God forbid. How could we want to live in sin, when we have died to sin? (Rom. 6) But the world calls all who have sin "sinners" without discernment. A child in the cradle also has sin, but is no sinner. The man also who truly repented, was forgiven by God in His divine goodness, and God has passed over all the sins which he has done, and will never more think of them.
Temptation to Sin Remains
They speak thus: "Now we are truly children of wrath by nature from the womb. What would happen to the child were original sin not taken from him by baptism?" To this we say: Original sin is not taken from man until the grave. We all might, however, have remained under the wrath of God if God in His mercy had not thought of us and sent us the promised Messiah, namely Christ, who has stilled the wrath of God and won grace for those who believe utterly in Him. He is also the justification of young children and will absolve them until evil be found active in them. Therefore Christ points His disciples to little children, saying, "Unless ye repent and become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." But the Lord, for all His grace, does allow such weaknesses to cleave to His saints that they have to be subject to all temptation. This He does that they exalt not themselves above grace and revelation, nor become puffed up and think that they can lack nothing. Therefore He lets them feel their nothingness, that they may remain lowly and not set their hopes upon the flesh nor put too much trust in themselves, but trust alone in Him who awakens the dead. Thus God gives His children cause to pray: to pray from the depths of their heart. Thus even the weakness of the devout serves to Godís praise, for a devout man through it only comes nearer to God. Though he sink in weakness seven times a day, yet he does not remain lying but seeks the Lord.
But the ungodly who do not fear God, when caught in sin fall and remain lying in their wickedness. They find pleasure in doing sin, and without any fear of God commit deadly sins and vices. These cut men off from the kingdom of God, and they are judged by the Holy Spirit. Concerning these sins mention is made in Romans 1, I Corinthians 6, Galatians 5, Ephesians 4, and Acts 21 and 22.
Introduction to CLAUS FELBINGERíS CONFESSION OF 1560
The document to be presented here is both a great Christian document, and one most characteristic for the spirit of Anabaptism at its best. It was composed by a Hutterite brother, perhaps of Bavarian origin, Claus Felbinger, by profession a blacksmith, who had been chosen a "minister of the Word" by the brotherhood in Moravia in 1558. While not yet confirmed in this office he went on a missionary trip to Bavaria in 1560, together with another brother, Hans Leutner. In the week before Easter, 1560, the two brethren were caught by the authorities, like so many others before and after them, and were put into prison. Here they were interrogated, mainly on the issue of infant baptism, which was the most acute issue of all between the brethren and the authorities of state and church. Thereafter they were brought to the fortress of Landshut in Bavaria where they were put into separate prison cells. Felbinger, in particular, was also chained to his place. From then to July of that year, the authorities tried with all possible means to make them recant. They were interrogated and tortured, and then again drawn into disputations. Felbinger remained steadfast and absolutely certain of his position. His was a genuine and well-founded faith which he was able to present so skillfully that everyone was amazed, not expecting a humble blacksmith to know all the arguments so clearly. When at one point Felbinger said that he intended to stay in the "simplicity of Christ," the "chancellor" (apparently the interrogating state official) answered, "I do not think that you are so simple. I think there would not be one in a hundred who could give an account of himself as well as you do. Neither do I consider you an Ďenthusiastí (Schwaermer), such as run around everywhere and have no good foundations for their teachings."
From prison Felbinger sent two epistles home to the brotherhood in Moravia. (There were always humble men around who were willing to carry such mail back and forth, and there were always some loopholes in the prison system which made it possible to smuggle out these documents.) In one of these epistles he gave a detailed report of his imprisonment and of the talks and disputations with the authorities. From here the above-quoted remark was later inserted in the Hutterite Geschicht-Buch. Felbinger also submitted to the authorities a written confession of faith or Rechenschaft, a copy of which was again sent home where it was studied, copied, and spread among all brethren. But all Felbingerís "defense," that is, his explanation why he became an "Anabaptist," why he went to Bavaria as a missionary, and why he had taken such a stand from which he was not willing to deviate, was in vain. Since he certainly was not minded to recant, he was condemned to die, together with his brother-companion. On July 19, 1560, at Landshut, both were beheaded. The chronicle describes the scene: while the other brother was being beheaded, "Claus looked on unafraid, with good fine color. If one were not informed one could have thought that he was not involved at all in this affair."
The epistles and the Rechenschaft (confession or account, perhaps more correctly "testimony") now became for the Brethren a real message. In 1569, when another Hutterite brother, Veit GrŁnberger, was arrested and brought to Salzburg where he lay in prison for seven years, he too was interrogated and involved in semi-theological disputations with the clergy, which he promptly reported home to Moravia. We read: "They asked him for his confession of faith. Answer: ĎYour lord, the prince [the archbishop of Salzburg], has all the account of our religion he needs. I understand that the sheriff had sent our books [the famous Hutterite manuscript codices] to the governor. In them he may well find what we believe. For two of our ministers who were executed, Claus Felbinger at Landshut, and Haensel Haendl at Innsbruck, have given a full account of our faith, and I would not know how to improve on that.í "
The Anabaptist confessions of faith are not creedal statements in a narrow sense, binding for the church, but are rather testimonies or personal statements, making clear how every brother understood personally the Anabaptist outlook, and how he would indicate his own position (far beyond mere literalism). These statements were Christian documents of a genuine character and of great spiritual depth, not something "learned" or repetitions of what others had said. Here a personal spiritual experience of rebirth and radical change in outlook on life and its values receive expression with an amazing immediacy and liveliness. One cannot help being impressed by this matter-of-fact certitude about things spiritual and by the clarity as to why this "way" was chosen and how it must be pursued. There is no fear whatsoever of suffering and death, and with all the respect due to authorities a courageous stand before judges and other officials becomes apparent. There is much nobility of mind, quite in contrast to the uncouthness of most officials and the times in general, a dignity which proves in itself that these people went through a real conversion. It is a surprising fact, incidentally, that although each brother defends himself independently and out of a personal commitment, Anabaptist documents by and large show an amazing likemindedness, proving again that whosoever was touched by the Spirit from on high experienced and understood more or less the same truth. The "world" had no attraction for them, but also no dread any more.
The document presented here, almost a first in the field of English translation, calls for much detailed study. It is no systematic or learned paper. It begins rather as a personal letter to the authorities showing them that they perhaps cannot understand the Anabaptists at all because of the unregenerate state of mind of the officials. But then Felbinger slowly turns to the different points of the interrogations and tries to develop further the doctrinal position of the Brethren in Moravia (and we may say of all Anabaptists). We do not have too many documents of this kind of that time. The meaning of baptism finds a beautiful interpretation: baptism is the acceptance of the new covenant with the Lord from which there is no way back. The Lordís Supper is understood as the ever renewed consecration of a true Christian fellowship and brotherly unity. And toward the end of the document the great issue of sin is treated, above all the basic relationship between original sin and actual sin. This is perhaps the most important section of the document, in which Felbinger emphasizes the need for a distinction between "being born in sin" (which causes physical death for all men) and "committing sin" (which would cause eternal damnation). The Anabaptists believe that man can and must fight "the good fightí against sinósomething which certainly was not the common belief of Christians of the sixteenth century, and which might not ever be all too common today. In reply to the question, "why Moravia?í that is, whether one could not be a good Christian anywhere, Claus gives a very sensitive answer, allowing us an insight into the roots of the cohesiveness of genuine brotherhood as practiced among the Hutterites in Moravia. It is above all, no doubt, the motive of Christian brotherly love which shines through all these pages.
Felbingerís writings are found in numerous Hutterite codices, both in Europe
and in America. One of these is Codex III, 124, a 1574 document in the library
of the Archbishop at Esztergom (Gran), Hungary. They were copied and read
everywhere. But while the two epistles mentioned above have been published in
full by Johann Loserth, the Confession has never been
published or even received serious attention, although it amply deserves it.
When I visited the Hutterite Bruderhofs in Canada in 1954 I was shown an English
translation of this Confession, mimeographed as a small booklet entitled
"The Church and the World." The Brethren were glad to give me a copy of it. The
preface says that the translation had been done by the "Society of Brothers
(known as Hutterians)," of Primavera, Paraguay, and Wheathill, England; the
reproduction was done in Manitoba in 1952. We certainly owe these brethren a
word of thanks for this excellent work. The writer of this introduction has
taken pains to make the translation more clear, with apology to the original
translator, and to add a few needed footnotes. We are glad to present this
precious document now for the first time in English. Although it is a document
of Hutterite origin, it yet may be considered as an expression of genuine
Anabaptism in general. I am sure that both Swiss and Dutch-North German Brethren
of the sixteenth century would have readily approved it, just as the Hutterites
on their part frequently copied tracts and writings from writers of the two
other branches of that great movement. It is after all only one and the same
idea which pervades it: true salvation can be found only in true discipleship;
and this, in turn, is possible only through genuine rebirth and conversion of