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An Epistle of Menno Simon, to the church at Emden, East Friesland, Germany.
"For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ," 1 Cor. 3:11.
With a sorrowful heart I make known to the brethren that I receive one letter after another complaining of the excommunication, in regard to husband and wife; which causes great trouble with some, at which I am not at all surprised. For, from the commencement of my service, which is more than twenty years, I have feared this issue, which cannot be settled under such excitement as is, at present, found in the Netherlands. Dietrich Philip, our brother, and I counseled with the elders, in regard to this matter, as far back as 1547 and then it was resolved that we should act, in this matter, according to circumstances; and it was again so resolved at Wismar, two years ago. Therefore we should admonish according to the most definite and plain rules; but if we cannot thus convince, we should not force any one beyond what he conscientiously believes to be right, but bear with him in love and patience. I hope that every pious person is sufficiently instructed in the word of the Lord, to know that if either a husband or a wife commit adultery, theft, witchcraft or any thing else that is criminal, that such criminal misbehavior is summarily punished at the hands of the magistracy; or, to know, that, in case one cannot, undisturbedly live up to his faith, on account of his consort, but is at all times combated with false doctrine, beaten and abused, and thus is sliding back in faith, through the obstacles of such fallen consort, one should abandon such consort if he would stand before God and the church and save his soul. But if he or she can live up to his or her faith, in all things, undisturbedly, and is not combated with false doctrine, then they are conscientiously bound to remain together undisturbedly; for they are one flesh and live together as husband and wife should live.
Since there are many dangers and offenses connected with this matter, to punish with excommunication, the souls thus bound, who otherwise walk unblamably, in every respect, before God; and, since we all are flesh, therefore I pray that the merciful Lord may keep me from consenting to or teaching such doctrine. In view of this, my heart was filled with sorrow, on hearing that a certain length of time was given to Swaantje Rutgers, in which to leave her husband; or that, in case of her failure to leave him, she was to be excommuned and delivered over to satan.
O, my chosen brethren, consider well your actions. What slandering words will you put into the mouths of the slanderers! And what bad reports you will spread of the word of the Lord and his church! How many grieved souls will you afflict! Yea, how many souls will you separate from the truth, and what dangers will beset you! We never dared follow such doctrine, for we fear the consequences. 0! that you would desist from it. How would I, afflicted man, be rejoiced at it! My heart shall never consent to such indiscreet action, and say, amen, to such intentions.
I desire to teach, according to my humble talents, a gospel that builds up, and not one that breaks down. One that is acceptable, and not one that is offensive; and I do not intend to encumber the service of God with something besetting, for which I have no scriptural grounds. I can neither teach nor live by the faith of others. I must live by my own faith, as the Spirit of the Lord has taught me, through his word.
Here you have my admonition. The Lord grant that you may follow it in all love, peace and unity. Be not too hard nor yet too lenient. Excommunication is instituted for reformation and not for corruption. O, that all were of one mind with me in this matter. How discreetly would the ban be practiced in this respect. But, as it is, every one follows his own inclinations and imagines it Spirit and Scripture.
O Lord! grant them thy Spirit and wisdom, that they may see and judge rightly, "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," Eph. 4:3. Beloved brethren, follow my advice, for God's sake; for it will cause many souls to rejoice. The Spirit of wisdom be with you unto eternity, Amen.
Your unworthy brother,
November Me 12th, A. D. 1558.
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