15.2.4 Despite the Stated Dedication to the Authority of Scripture Even Beyond Luther and The Other Reformers Anabaptists Reasoned Doctrine Beyond What Scripture Actually Says

If the Anabaptists claimed that the reformers did not go far enough in restoring the Christian faith it can be just as well be argued that they made statements beyond what Scripture actually teaches also.

Consider this teaching by Pilgram Marpeck (Marpeck was a very significant figure in the early development of the Anabaptists. A number of his writings survived, which gives us an excellent opportunity to evaluate his Anabaptist theology.)

“In this Holy Spirit alone there is forgiveness of sin through the sacrifice of death on the cross and the shedding of the blood of Christ.”[1]

This statement appears consistent with Scripture.

Marpeck continues, “such forgiveness, however, takes place only in the fellowship of Saints, which alone receive such power from Christ.” Next Marpeck gives his reasoning, “therefore Paul says: “the bread which we bless (which means: to speak well of, to praise and thank our God) (1 Cor 10:16f) // for this reason there is no forgiveness of sin outside the Fellowship of Christ, however much of the whole world may claim for itself grace and forgiveness of sin with false boasting. I write this so that you may be in possession of genuine and true evidence for your hope for pardon and the forgiveness of sins, and produce the honest fruit of repentance in order to escape the coming wrath of God.”[1]

Here Marpeck goes beyond Scripture. Instead of each believer having access via the spirit to the intermediary actions of the Savior Marpeck says that forgiveness is dependent on being in fellowship with the saints. Of course the implication is that if you are not in fellowship with the right group your sins are not forgiven, and as he says, there are many that believe in false claims of forgiveness in other churches. This kind of reasoning appears in a number of churches who believe and teach that their church alone is the true Church, and all others outside their Fellowship are apostate, even heading to judgment and damnation.

From here Marpeck, the lay theologian, specifies five fruits of true repentance.

  1. The sinner becomes ashamed and broken in his own eyes; he must contemplate God’s condemnation [2]
  2. “God allows a small light of the hope of his grace to shine along with his condemnation in order that the sinner may anticipate that grace” with patience.[3]
  3. the sinner “must be more in sorrow by what he has done against God than about what he must suffer in consequence. [4]
  4. the penitent must not allow sin to rule, but to obey Christ. [5]
  5. the sinner must not blame anyone else or anything else for his sin. [6]

Marpeck concludes that “wherever such remorse, which is true sorrow and suffering, is found in sinners, it produces a repentance which no one will regret, and wherever sin so abounds in sorrow (not the works of wickedness), there grace also abounds. Without this eternal regret, pain and agony of conscience remain //together with eternal torment and wherever man forsakes the right and good and again commits the lie, sin, wickedness together with all unrighteousness remain.”[7]

Marpeck says, “it is not enough that one merely says: I would gladly repent and confess my sins. A part of it is to recognize what kind of fruit sin brings.”[8]

Marpeck’s whole line of reasoning just appears so much more complicated than Scripture. While it does say in first John 1:8;

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.[1John 1:8]

The next verse simply says;

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.[ 1John 1:9]

The next verse is an admonition that we are to be aware of when we are unrighteous;

If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [1John 1:10]

But it is the focus that Marpeck places on the sinner experiencing the condemnation of God that seems clearly opposed to what Paul writes in Romans 8:1;

There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death.
… For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace:[ Rom 8:1,2,6]

While there is stated in Scripture a genuine need for repentance, that is, to experience sorrow for one’s transgressions against God, Scripture doesn’t say to focus on God’s condemnation of our sin. Rather it tells us that once we realize we have sinned, we need to acknowledge our sin to God and move into the life and peace of the spirit. Dwelling on the condemnation of God for sin goes beyond what the New Testament writers were promoting. Marpeck’s theology is just a little off as rather than explain what the New Testament writers wrote, he, like so many other theologians, appears at times to like to present theological systems and use Scripture references to support them. Nowhere in Scripture is Marpeck’s teaching on the five fruits of repentance.  Nowhere in scripture is the concept supported that someone must be in the right denomination of Christians in order to be forgiven for their sins when they confess them honestly before God. And while there is a need for true repentance which does mean realizing that there has been a transgression against God the guidance that we must sufficiently dwell on God’s wrath and condemnation before we can be forgiven is misguided.

[1] THE WRITINGS OF PILGRAM MARBECK, translated and edited by William Klassen and Walter Klaassen, Herald Press, Scottdale PA, 1978, p. 486
[2] ibid., p. 489
[3] ibid., p. 490
[4] ibid., p. 491
[5] bid., p. 492
[6] ibid., p. 492f
[7] ibid, p.496
[8] ibid, p.489

© copyright 2010 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

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