Wish Id Been There: Schleitheim
by Myron S. Augsburger
One of the greater events of the Reformation was the Schleitheim
Synod. Its impact has been underestimated among many of us, but
not so by its contemporaries. The Reformers of Switzerland wrote
that they could scarcely find an Anabaptist who did not carry
a hand-written copy of this Confession. While it was not a full
statement of faith it spoke to the crucial issues of identity
and unity for the group. This meeting has a very high rating
in my own study and reflections on the 16th century and I would
have liked to have been present.
First, because it was the Anabaptist answer to the martyrdom
of Felix Manz and others, it was a gathering which may well have
determined the fate of the movementwhether it would live
Second, because it was a creative and daring thing for the
believers church to call a Synod, and to have done so before
the other movements of the Reformation, Lutheran and Reformed,
had called such a gathering.
Third, because Michael Sattlers leadership, only a few
months before his arrest and martyrdom, was a very formative
influence for the Anabaptist movement; his story going down the
Rhine to the Netherlands already in 1527.
Fourth, because the process and spirit of the meeting and
of the written confession gives special attention to the discernment
and unifying work of the Holy Spirit among them.
Fifth, because the confession is clearly Christological, distinguishing
between the Church within the perfection of Christ and society
outside the perfection of Christ.
Sixth, because this conference rejected the use of the sword
and took a very positive and unapologetic stance for peace and
Seventh, because the group drew up plans for the evangelization
of Europe and adjourned with these plans as their directives.
Among other things these seven points present the uniqueness
of this first and special synod; a gathering of religious leaders
without officials from the State. While two hundred years ahead
of recognition in the New World of the principle
of religious freedom this gathering was a revolutionary pointer
to a new day.
Myron S. Augsburger, Harrisonburg, Virginia,
is pastor emeritus of Washington (D.C.) Community Fellowship
and teaches theology at Eastern Mennonite Seminary.
Historical Bulletin, April 2000