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An Epistle of Menno Simon, to the brethren at Franeker, province of Friesland, Netherlands.
"The love of God is true wisdom,"
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life," John 3:18.
With a sorrowing and troubled heart I write to you, because a letter was handed me, signed by five brethren, in good standing, from which I learn that a violent dispute has arisen (God better it) amongst some of you, concerning the ban (excommunication). If I do not misunderstand, one party would that no transgression should be punished with excommunication until the transgressor should have been thrice admonished. I cannot agree with this doctrine. For there are some sins, as for instance, murder, witchcraft, incendiariam, theft and other like criminal deeds, which require summary punishment at the hands of the magistracy. If we were to admonish transgressors thrice, in such cases, before they were punished, then the sweet bread of the church would be changed into sour leaven, before the whole world. Therefore act with discretion, and do not treat criminal matters, especially if they are public, the same as you would other carnal works which are not considered, by the world, as requiring disgraceful punishment.
The other party desires, if I understand the matter right, that all transgressions should be punished with excommunication, without being first admonished at all; and that all penance should be outside of the church. That doctrine is, according to my humble understanding, erroneous and against the word of Christ, Paul and James. For avarice, pride, hatred, discord, defamation and quarreling are carnal things which work death, if not repented of, Gal. 5:19, 20; James 3:18; notwithstanding, they are not punished until after having been thrice admonished as the Scriptures command. I wish that it were taken into consideration, that, as "the wages of sin is death," so also, the repenting, converted heart brings forth life, as may be seen in the case of David, Peter, the murderer, Zaccheus and others.
I also understand that these same brethren are of the opinion that if some brother should secretly have transgressed in something or other, and, in sorrow of heart, should complain to one of his brethren that he had thus sinned against God, that then this same brother should tell it unto the church; and if he should fail to do so, that he, then, should be punished with the transgressor. This opinion is not only absurd but it sounds in my ears as a terrible one. For it is, clearly, against all Scriptures and love, Matt. 18; Jas. 5:19, 20.
Excommunication was, in one respect, instituted for the purpose of repentance. Now, if repentance is shown, namely, the contrite, sorrowing heart, how can excommunication, then, be pronounced against such? O, my brethren, do not put this doctrine in force, for it will lead to sin, and not to reformation.
If we were thus to deal with poor, repenting sinners, whose transgressions were done in secret, how many would we keep from repentance, through shame. God forbid, that I should ever agree with, or act upon such doctrine! Lastly, I understand, they hold, that if any one, in his weakness, transgresses, and openly acknowledges his transgression, that they should consider him, then, as a worldling.
This, again, is an absurd doctrine; for, if the transgression was done through weakness, then, let us not be arrogant and too hard on the poor soul, lest we commit a worse fault.
283Not the weak, but the corrupt members are cut off, lest they corrupt the others. Of such unscriptural doctrines and practices I want to be clear. I desire that excommunication be practiced in a sincere, paternal spirit, in faithful love, according to the doctrine of Christ and his apostles, as I have abundantly declared in my writings, for over five years.
My chosen brethren, guard against innovations for which you have no certain, scriptural grounds. Be not too severe nor too lenient. Let a paternal, compassionate, prudent and discreet heart, and the Lord's holy word, actuate you.
Follow this my brotherly admonition in this respect, which has been acted upon for twenty one years. I could give you no other and better advice. I feel constrained to write to you, for the above mentioned reason. I have, in sincerity of heart, served my beloved brethren without any partiality, as becomes us in Christ. I was asked to give my grounds for my doctrine, which I am, at all times, willing and prepared to do; not to the pious only, but also to the whole world, as the word of the Lord commands me to do. I do not teach nor live by the faith of others, but by my own faith. O, that they all were of one mind with me! How paternally and discreetly would excommunication, then, be practiced, without all offense; while, now, it is sometimes practiced so offensively.
I beseech all the pious, for God's sake, to seek peace. And if you have offended each other in the least, purify your hearts and be reconciled in Christ Jesus. Remember that you are the Lord's people, called unto peace, put under the cross, separated from the world and hated unto death. If you be baptized in one spirit, then fulfill my sincere desire, and be of one mind with me in Christ. Build up and destroy not. Instruct one another in love, and do not disrupt so that divine peace be with all the children of God, and remain whole with us unto eternal life.
May the peaceful Spirit of Christ protect you all. May you be sound in doctrine, ardent in love, and without offense in life, to the edification of his church and to the praise of his holy name.
Your unworthy brother and servant,
November 13th, A. D. 1555.
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