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Definition and Demarcation – Conrad Grebel and Others to Thomas Müntzer (September 5, 1524)

The early Swiss Anabaptist leader Conrad Grebel (c. 1498-1526) and some other “Swiss Brethren” wrote the following letter to Thomas Müntzer, a Thuringian revolutionary and veteran of the Wittenberg reformation. Whether the letter ever reached its intended recipient remains unknown. Either way, the text offers insight into the activities of the Swiss Anabaptists. Grebel’s intention was to draw the boundaries between his movement and any future group that might prove more activist in nature. Three defining elements of Grebel’s teaching and practice were: separation from the established churches, the rejection of rulers’ intervention in religious life, and non-violence. In the twentieth century, scholars of Anabaptism were particularly interested in emphasizing the pacifism of the Swiss Brethren and stressing their distance from the revolutionary tradition that ran from Müntzer to the Anabaptist Kingdom founded in 1534 in Münster in Westphalia.

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May peace, grace, and mercy from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord be with us all, Amen. Dear Brother Thomas, for God’s sake do not marvel that we address you without title and as a brother request you to correspond with us, and that we have ventured without your asking, and unknown to you, to initiate dialogue. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who presents Himself as the one Master and Head of all those who are to be saved, and who calls us brethren through the one common word to all brethren and believers, has moved and constrained us to establish friendship and brotherhood [with you] and to call your attention on the following articles Your writing of two booklets on spurious faith also moved us to write to you. Therefore may you receive it favorably for the sake of Christ our Savior, and if God wills, it shall also serve and work for our good. Amen.

Just as our ancient forefathers fell away from the true God and from the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and from true faith in Him, and from the one true, common, divine Word, and from the divine rites of Christian love and being, and lived without God’s law and gospel in human, unprofitable, and unchristian rites and ceremonies, and thought that thereby they would obtain salvation, and yet fell far short of it, as the evangelical preachers have pointed out, and are still in part pointing out, so also today everybody wants to be saved by a make-believe faith, without faith’s fruits, without the baptism of trial and testing, without love and hope, without proper Christian rites, and while continuing in the old blasphemous way of life, and in the common ceremonial, anti-Christian rites of baptism and Christ’s Supper: thus despising the divine Word and following the papal word as well as the word of the antipapal preachers which is not identical with nor agreement with the divine Word. In respect of persons and all sorts of seduction we are in more dangerous and damaging error than ever existed from the beginning of the world. In this same error we too had been, as long as we were hearers and readers of the evangelical preachers, who are guilty for all of this, in recompense for our sins. But after we took the Scripture in hand, and examined all sorts of items, we gained some insight and became aware of the great and damaging deficiency of our shepherds and of ourselves: that is, that we do not daily, earnestly, and with continuing sighs cry to God that we might be led out of the destruction of all godliness of life and out of human abominations, and that we might enter into true faith and God’s rites. In all this, the false sparing makes the divine Word silent and mixes the human with it. Yes, we claim that it damages everything and sets back all things divine. To specify and elaborate is not necessary.

While we were taking note of and lamenting these things your writing against spurious faith and baptism was brought to us, and we were more fully informed and confirmed. It made us wonderfully happy to have found one who was one with us in a common Christian understanding, and who ventured to point out to the evangelical preachers their deficiency: how in all the major articles [of faith] they practice false sparing, and follow their own notions, yes, even those of Antichrist, above God and contrary to God, as is not right for ambassadors of God so to act and so to preach. We therefore entreat and admonish you as a brother, by the name, power, Word, Spirit, and salvation which all Christians receive through Jesus Christ our Master and Savior, to seek earnestly to preach only the divine Word, and unafraid, to set up and defend only divine rites, to esteem as right and good only what is found in crystal-clear Scripture, to reject, hate, and curse all proposals, words, rites, and opinions of all men, even your own.

We understand and have noted that you have translated the mass into German, and have begun to use German hymnody. That cannot be right, when we find no teaching in the New Testament about singing, and no example of singing, Paul scolds the learned at Corinth more than he praises them because they chanted in the church service, just as if singing, as the Jews and Italians pronounce their words in a singsong manner. Second, since singing in the Latin tongue arose without divine teaching and apostolic precedent and practice, and neither resulted in good nor brought edification, it will much less edify in German, but will result in an outward make-believe faith. Third, Paul quite explicitly forbids singing in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, when he teaches that they shall teach and admonish one another with psalms and spiritual songs, and if anyone wishes to sing, he shall sing and give thanks in his heart. Fourth, that which is not taught by clear instruction and example we shall regard as forbidden to us – just as if it stood written, Do not do this; do not sing. Fifth, the only command Christ gave His ambassadors in the Old (Testament) was to preach the Word; the same in the New. Paul likewise commands that the Word of Christ shall dwell in us, not singing. He who sings poorly is vexed; he who is able to sing well becomes conceited. Sixth, a person is not to do what seems right to him; it is the Word which we are to follow, with no additions. Seventh, if you wish to abolish the mass, do not introduce German singing. That is perhaps your idea, or it originated with Luther. (Eighth), by the word and counsel of Christ it must be rooted out. Ninth, (Singing in the meeting) was not established by God.

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