The Purity of the Church

(Posted by Peter Joseph Garcia)

The Schleitheim Confession of 1527 is a brief explanation of the distinguishing marks of the two year old movement gaining great momentum Switzerland. In the face of violent persecution by and competition against other Protestants, Anabaptists boldly sought to carry out the reforms that they believed the magisterial reformers failed to take far enough.

Article 2 states:

“We have been united as follows concerning the ban. The ban shall be employed with all those who have given themselves over to the Lord, to walk after [God]. in His commandments; those who have been baptized into the one body of Christ, and let themselves be called brothers or sisters, and still somehow slip and fall into error and sin, being inadvertently overtaken. The same [shall] be warned twice privately and the third time be publicly admonished before the entire congregation according to the command of Christ (Matthew 18). But this shall be done according to the ordering of the Spirit of God before the breaking of bread so that we may all in one spirit and in one love break and eat from one bread and drink from one cup.”

For a community that radically practiced adult baptism as testimony of regeneration and entrance into the community of faith that knew who was in and out, the idea of preserving a pure church was a top priority. Luther’s doctrine of simul justus et peccator was firmly rejected. Hence, the ban–a temporary dissolving of friendships, relationships, commerce, and hospitality–for known sinners or “heretics” (a quite misused word). For a community committed to physical non-violence, they do not shy away from emotional violence amongst themselves.

Is this alive in churches today in one form or another? Is reformative shame and separation a form of discipline that truly is to one’s benefit or more of a demand for justice? How important is the purity of the church? As the church wrestles more and more (and more and more publicly) with issues of sexuality and gender, scandal, divorce, abortion, materialism, and sin within the church, it is faced with pitting the purity of the church against a radically inclusive love–to create space for grace, searching, honesty, and healing, against being wrapped up in a white cloth that cannot be stained nor keep hurting people warm. Which is more gospel?

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