When the American Mennonite Church abandoned the German language in the nineteenth century and adopted the English, there was a tendency to discard the tried and proved literary materials of the brother hood. Mennonite publishers, such as John F. Funk, provided English translations of some of the Anabaptist classics, and printed them in numerous editions. Nevertheless, it appeared for some decades as though the Anabaptist-Mennonite heritage was doomed to serious decline. The group appeared to have lost much of its original spiritual vigor, and had partially succumbed to formalism, Pietism, and other aberrations. In the latter part of the century a young German Mennonite scholar named John Horsch stepped to the side of Funk and began producing a stream of popular articles and scholarly monographs on Anabaptism which continued with some interruptions for half a century. Horsch was joined by younger scholars who were equally eager to recapture what Harold S. Bender has aptly termed "The Anabaptist Vision." The bibliography at the close of the present volume will furnish some insight into the literary activity of recent American Mennonite scholars. I hope that my modest effort in this book may also be of value in the Christian indoctrination of our youth (p. vii).
This catechism of thirty-five questions and answers appeared among the Prussian Mennonites as early as 1690. It was probably the first Mennonite catechism in the German language, and as Robert Friedmann adds, (Robert Friedmann: Mennonite Piety Through the Centuries, Goshen, Indiana: The Mennonite Historical Society, Goshen College, 1949, p. 129) it was "at the same time the most successful one, as the countless reprints up to the most recent times indicate. This is also true for American Mennonitism, since all editions of the Christliches Genzütsgesprach [Roosen's catechism] in this country since 1769 have this handy and useful Fragenbüchlein as an appendix." The original Confession of Faith to which this catechism was added as early as 1690 was reprinted in Prussia in 1751, 1756, 1781, and 1854; in Russia in 1853, 1873, and 1912. It was reprinted at Elkhart, Indiana, in 1878 at the instance of the Mennonite Congregation of Turner County, Dakota. The catechism, as was noted above, appeared in all editions of the Conversation on Saving Faith [Christliches Gemütsgespräch von dem Geistlichen und Seliginachenden Glauben . . .] of which at least eleven German and six English editions appeared in America between 1769 and 1941. This is evidence of its great popularity among Mennonites.
The original German title was Kurze Unterweisung aus der Schrift . . . ,wording which is still retained in the latest English edition of Roosen's Gemütsgespräch, "Brief Instruction for Youth From the Scriptures." However when J. S. Coffman and J. F. Funk issued their Confession of Faith and Ministers' Manual in 1890 they labeled the thirty-five questions and answers, "The Shorter Catechism." As such it has been widely known in the modern American Mennonite Church. In some districts, the Franconia Conference, for example, these questions and answers have been used traditionally to instruct converts preparatory to baptism. It is an excellent though brief summary of Christian faith and life. It is anonymous, though certain writers such as Berend Karl Roosen seem to have thought that Gerrit Roosen had written it.
2. What has induced you to do this?
The will and good pleasure of God, which were proclaimed and demonstrated to me through the preaching of the holy Gospel; in which were also revealed unto me the laws and commandments of Christ, which I am bound to receive and observe in true faith. Matt. 7:21; 19:17.
3. Do you then expect to be justified and saved through your good works and the keeping of the commandments of Christ?
No. For through our good works alone we cannot merit heaven, for salvation is the unmerited grace of God purchased for us by Jesus Christ. Eph. 2:8.
4. For what purpose then are good works, or the keeping of the commandments of Christ necessary?
They are evidence of true faith in Jesus Christ; for obedience out of love to God, is the light and life of faith without which "faith is dead." Jas. 2:20.
5. Through what is man justified before God?
Through the Lord Jesus Christ alone, of whose righteousness we must be come partakers through "faith which worketh by love." Gal. 5:6.
6. What is true faith?
It is a certain knowledge, whereby we hold everything as true that is revealed to us in Holy Scripture, and whereby we cherish a full confidence that our sins are forgiven, righteousness, and eternal life are granted unto us by God, through cur Lord Jesus Christ. Eph. 2:5.
7. What do you believe?
I believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
8. How do you believe in God the Father?
I believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth, that He is one, eternal, almighty, and just God the Creator and Preserver of heaven and earth, together with all things visible and invisible. Gen. 14:17.
9. How do you believe in the Son?
I believe that He is Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, our Saviour and Redeemer; who has been with the Father from eternity, and who, at "the fullness of time," was sent into the world; that He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the blessed Virgin Mary; suffered for us under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried, rose again from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the almighty Father, whence He will again come to judge the living and the dead. Matt. 25:31; John 17:5; Gal. 4:4.
10. How do you believe in the Holy Ghost?
I believe and confess that the Holy Ghost proceedeth from the Father and the Son, and is of a Divine nature; therefore I also believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as being one true God. Besides I also confess a general, holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, and thereafter eternal life. I John 5:20; John 5:29.
11. What do you confess of the Christian church, or the congregation of the Lord?
I confess by my faith that there is a Church of God, which the Lord Jesus purchased with His own blood, and which He sanctified and cleansed with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church. Eph. 5:26, 27.
12. In what does the Church of God consist?
In a number of persons, who, through faith in Jesus Christ, have withdrawn from a sinful world and submitted in obedience to the Gospel, not to live any more to themselves, but to Christ, in true humility; who also give diligence to exercise Christian virtues, by observing God's holy ordinances. Such are members of the body of Christ, and heirs of eternal life. II Pet. 1:11.
13. How, and through what, is the Church of God upheld?
Through the preaching of the holy Gospel and the instruction of the Holy Ghost, for the purpose of carrying on and maintaining which, teachers and ministers are elected by the church. Eph. 4:11.
14. Who has given power to the church to choose teachers?
I confess that, as the apostles were accustomed to do, so has God also given power to His church to do, namely, to elect teachers and ministers, that the body and ministers also takes place according to the example which the apostles were accustomed to observe in such matters. Eph. 4:12; Acts 1:15-26.
15. Whence comes the ordinance of the service to the poor?
Of this service we have an example in the Acts of the Apostles, where the apostles, when the "number of the disciples was multiplied," called together the multitude and caused to be "appointed from among them, seven men," who took charge of the necessary "business," which example is still observed; so that that which is contributed by Christian hearts is properly applied to the relief of the necessities of the poor members of the church. Acts 6:1; Eph. 4:28.
16. How, and through what means, are the members of the body of Christ incorporated into the church?
Through the ordinance of Christian baptism, on confesson of their faith and repentance of their past sins, whereupon they are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Matt. 28:19.
17. What is baptism properly?
I confess that it is an external ordinance of Christ, a sign of a spiritual birth from God, a "putting on of Christ," and an incorporation into His church, an evidence that we have established a covenant with Christ. Rom. 6:4; Gal. 3:27; I Pet. 3:21.
18. Of what use is baptism?
It represents to true believers the washing away of the impurity of their souls through the blood of Christ, namely, the forgiveness of their sins, whereupon they console themselves with the hope of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, whom they have "put on" in baptism. Gal. 3:27.
19. To what are the members of the church of Christ bound by baptism?
To the act of suffering their past sins to be buried into Christ's death by baptism, and of binding themselves to Christ in a new life and conversation-a life of obedience-in order that they may follow His will and do what He has commanded them to do. Matt. 28:20.
20. What is the Lord's Supper?
I confess that it is an external ceremony and institution of Christ, ad ministered to believers in the form of bread and wine; in the partaking of which the death and sufferings of Christ are to be declared and observed to His memory. I Cor. 11:26.
21. What purpose does the observance of this ordinance subserve?
It is thereby represented to us how Christ's holy body was sacrificed on the cross, and His precious blood shed for us for the cleanes us of all sins. I John 1:7.
22. What is the use of the observance of the Lord's Supper?
We thereby bear witness to our simple obedience to Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer; which has the promise of eternal salvation. Further, it secures unto us, through faith, the communion of the body and blood of Christ, and comforts us with the benefit of His death; that is, the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins. I Cor. 10:16; Heb. 5:9.
23. Is marriage also an institution of God?
Yes. For it is instituted by God Himself, and confirmed in the case of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Gen. 1:27, 28.
24. For what purpose is marriage instituted?
For the purpose of increasing the human race, so that the earth may thereby be peopled with inhabitants; also, that fornication may be avoided. Therefore "every man" is to "have his own wife," and "every woman her own husband" (I Cor. 7:2).
25. How must such marriage be begun so that it does not clash with the in stitution?
Persons who are not too nearly related by consanguinity, may, after diligent prayer to God, enter into this state, and endeavor to live therein, in a Christian manner, to the end of their days; provided that they, as members of the Christian Church, enter into marriage only with members of the church. Lev. 18:6-17; I Cor. 7:39; 9:5.
26. Is a member of the church not at all allowed to enter into matrimony with a person who is not agreed with him in faith and doctrine?
No. For this is contrary to the marriage institution; and he who thus enters into matrimony, acts contrary to the law of God, and the doctrine of the apostles. Deut. 7:3, 4; Judges 3:6, 7; I Cor. 1:10; 7:39; Phil. 2: 1, 2.
27. Can also a lawful marriage, for any cause, be divorced? No. For the persons united by such marriage are so closely bound to each other that they can in no wise separate, except in case of fornication. Matt. 19:9.
28. What do you confess in regard to the power of civil government?
I confess, from the testimony of Holy Scripture, that kings and governments are instituted by God for the welfare and common interest of the countries over which they rule; and that he who resists such authorities, "resists the ordinance of God." Rom. 13:1. Wherefore we are under obligation to fear and honor government, and obey the same in all things that do not militate against the Word of God. So we are also commanded to pray for the same. I Tim. 1:2.
<29. Is it allowed to swear an oath?
No. For although this was allowed to the fathers of the Old Testament, yet has our Lord and institutor of the New Testament, Christ Jesus, expressly for bidden it, Matt. 5:33-37, which is confirmed by the Apostle James, when he says: "Above all things, my brethren, swear not . . .but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation" (James 5:12).
30. Is it allowed to take revenge?
No; although there was liberty to do so under the Old Testament dispensation. But now that it is totally forbidden by Christ and His apostles, we must not lust after it, but in meekness do good unto our neighbor; yea also to our enemies. Matt. 5:38, 39; Rom. 12:19-21. 31. If a member of the church fall into some sin or misdeed, what is to be done in such case?
I confess by virtue of the doctrine of Christ and His apostles that reproof and discipline must be fostered and maintained among believers, so that the head strong, as well as such as have committed gross sins and works of the flesh, where by they have separated themselves from God, may not be suffered in the communion of believers; but may, for their own amendment, be rebuked before all, "that others also may fear." Matt. 18:15-18; Isa. 59:2; I Tim. 5:20. 32. How must we demean ourselves towards such as are thus separated from the church?
According to the doctrine of the apostles, the true members of the church of Christ are to withdraw from such reproved and impenitent offenders, and have no spiritual communion with them, except by chance or occasion, when they may be exhorted in love, compassion, and Christian discretion again to rise from their fallen state, and return to the church. Rom. 16:17; Tit. 3:10. 33. How long is the avoiding of such offenders to be observed?
Until they return again, give evidence of repentance-sorrow for their sins- and earnestly desire again to be admitted into the communion of the church. In such case they are, after solemn prayer to God, again to be received and admitted. II Cor. 2:6, 7. 34. What do you believe concerning the second coming of Christ, and the resurrection of the dead?
I believe that Christ, our Head, Lord and Saviour, will just as He visibly ascended to heaven, again appear from thence in great power and glory, 'with a shout. . . and with the trump of God" (I Thess. 4:16). "For the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, Unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28, 29). "For we must all ap pear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (II Cor. 5:10).
35. Now as this confession agrees with the doctrine of Christ and His apostles, the question is finally put to the disciple: Whether he is inclined with his whole heart, to submit himself to the will of his Redeemer and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to deny himself together with all sinful lusts, and to strive by the grace of God, in true faith and heartfelt humility, to lead a pious and godly life and holy conversation, according to the commandments of God, as long as he lives?
Yes. To which are heartily wished God's grace and rich blessings, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to salvation, to whom be honor and praise for ever and ever. Amen.
From: John C. Wenger, Doctrines of the Mennonites, Scottdale Pennsylvania: Herald Press, Copyright 1950, pp. vii, 92-96
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May God's grace and peace be with you as you study His Word.December 29, 2001