Old School Anabaptists: Michael Sattler on the Breaking of Bread

Michael Sattler

My continuing Menno geekfest series on Old School Anabaptists brings me to Michael Sattler (1490-1527).  Michael Sattler was a Roman Catholic monk who broke away from Roman Catholicism to become one of the forefathers of the Anabaptist movement.  Sattler was highly influential in the development of the Schleitheim Confession which was a document that outlined the distinctiveness of Swiss Anabaptism. It remains a compass for many Anabaptists today.  Sattler was martyred in 1527.  His death was gruesome with his tongue being burned, and himself being burned to ashes, with a couple other gross things in-between.

Below is an excerpt from the Schleitheim Confession which looks at communion, or as Sattler puts it “the breaking of bread.”  I love this excerpt.  It gets me thinking about the conversation in Mennonite circles revolving around membership, who takes communion, and baptism.

Enjoy. Winking smile

Concerning the breaking of bread, we have become one and agree thus: all those who desire to break the one bread in remembrance of the broken body of Christ and all those who wish to drink of one drink in remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, they must beforehand be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism.  For as Paul indicates, we cannot be partakers at the same time of the table of the Lord and the table of devils.  Nor can we at the same time partake and drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils.  That is: all those who have fellowship with the dead works of darkness have no part in the light.  Thus all who follow the devil and the world, have no part with those who have been called out of the world unto God.  All those who lie in evil have no part in the good.

So it shall and must be, that whoever does not share the calling of the one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one spirit, to one body together with all the children of God, may not be made one loaf together with the, as must be true if one wishes truly to break bread according to the command of Christ.

Michael Sattler, Schleitheim Confession, 1527, “Anabaptism in Outline” edited by Walter Klaassen

Based on this text above, who is to participate in communion?  Do you find this to be exclusive, or inclusive?  Why?

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15 comments

  1. melodiemillerdavis · March 7, 2013

    This is indeed a good reminder. I can appreciate the fact that most Mennonite/Anabaptist churches no longer have a formal or even informal “examination” of readiness for communion/the Lord’s supper (other than a cursory confession prayed in one’s heart), but the idea of being united or at least stressing the things we have in harmony as we come together around table–that’s worth pondering. Thanks.

    • Chris Lenshyn · March 7, 2013

      Yes. It puts a heavy emphasis on how we are relating to one another. I think we sometimes get lost in the ‘me-ness’ of spiritual practice.

  2. Robert Martin · March 7, 2013

    they must beforehand be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism.

    I think this is the only requirement for communion and baptism on a corporate level. It doesn’t make sense to participate in the “breaking of bread” if you don’t recognize the symbolism represented and how it points to Jesus. You may be a crook in jail, but if you are aiming towards Jesus, pledge loyalty to Jesus, and are faithfully trying to live right, I think even that allows you to partake.

    Now… this is not to say that personal conviction shouldn’t play a role. If you feel that you are not living that way, that there is something between you and God and your fellow man, then perhaps you should think about whether or not you really mean what you are “saying” when you partake…

    However, I think what you outlined is something we need to pay attention to as we Christians in the West are facing an increasingly pluralistic culture. No longer is it a proper expectation for folks to choose between “flavors” of Christianity. Instead, while we may, in our congregations and denominations teach some distinctive doctrines, this should not prevent a Catholic, a Lutheran, a Presbyterian (right, Melodie?), and a Mennonite from sitting at a table together and fellowshipping over the remembrance of our Lord Jesus.

    • Chris Lenshyn · March 7, 2013

      Navigating unity in the midst of diversity for community is always going to be a tough one in my opinion. The ‘Breaking of Bread’ offers us a spiritual practice in which to participate together.

      I wonder, for instance, about the person who is not baptized publicly, whom in some Mennonite Church Canada churches would not participate in communion as the desire be that they first proclaim publicly their faith.

      Should communion be so exclusive?

      • Robert Martin · March 8, 2013

        The way I’ve heard it expressed in the congregations that I’ve attended that practice “open communion” is that it is expressed as open to those who have professed a faith in Christ. No one goes around and checks membership cards or does any particular questioning, just trusting that those who partake do so with clear conscience.

  3. Ryan Robinson · March 7, 2013

    I wouldn’t personally have the baptism as a strict requirement but I do agree with the general principle that communion/Eucharist is for believers. That goes back to what we see as the purpose of the meal, though, as a remembrance ordinance rather than a sacrament. If it is a sacrament – a means of grace – then it doesn’t really matter whether you even consider yourself a follower. Similarly, if it is simply a symbol of being welcome in the church, then everyone should be allowed to partake – the position most of my United Church of Canada classmates took. If it is an ordinance of remembrance, why would you even want to take part in remembering something that you don’t believe has any significance?

    • Chris Lenshyn · March 7, 2013

      That is a delicate tension to navigate. As of now I fall in the same line of thinking…

  4. Pingback: Old School Anabaptists: Michael Sattler on the Breaking of Bread | Menno Nerds
  5. Jamie Arpin-Ricci · March 7, 2013

    Our communion is largely practiced weekly in a potluck meal as we gather to worship (inspired in part by Yoder’s “Body Politics”). However, since we practice hospitality, anyone is welcome to partake. That said, it is not practiced formally (though members understand it to be communion).

    I would recommend these pieces by Beck:

    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.ca/search?q=open+table&submit=Search

    • Chris Lenshyn · March 7, 2013

      The tension seemingly inherent within communion and hospitality is telling, and frustrating…

      Beck is great. Thanks for those links…. soooo very important to work through the implications of this tension as communities who seek to ‘extend the table.’

  6. Phil Campbell-Enns · March 7, 2013

    Interesting stuff Chris. Sattler and I go separate ways on this one.

    I’m less in keeping with our history and theology on this, and more in keeping with Jesus’ example. If Judas can sit at the table, and I can sit at the table, than who am I to keep anyone away from the table. The table does not belong to me, so I don’t venture to set rules for can come to it and who can not.

    Besides that, for all of our efforts to theologize and articulate our rules surrounding the table, our congregations frequently make a hash of it anyway. The way that ‘closed’ participation often works, we don’t even invite earnest followers and seekers who happen not to be baptized, but welcome people who were baptized years ago and have barely darkened a church door since.

    That said, the church I am a part of right now is still practicing closed communion. I’m sad about that, but for the time being have decided I need to submit to it. Part of my own spiritual discipline, I guess. But I do wonder if I’ll some day be judged for not doing more to welcome our youth and other non-baptized people to gather at the Lord’s Table – to taste and see for themselves that God’s grace is always given without strings attached.

    • Chris Lenshyn · March 7, 2013

      The more I think on this Phil, the more I am with you! Take a look at Jamie’s links above. They are helpful!

  7. Chris · March 7, 2013

    Chris, thanks for starting a great conversation here. I love to hear how others are engaging with the practice of communion. I have been on a journey of understanding with regards to communion and hold it to be central to the life of faith. But I would probably not be in line with Sattler here. I am comfortable with a more open table, and practice it in my congregation as the central part of a liturgy with confession, assurance, passing the peace, hearing the Story. I’ve found it important to explain the practice carefully with the congregation. Some of our cradle Mennonite folks lived in the days when communion was very infrequently practiced and sometimes not at all, if they–or the bishop–decided the congregation was not ready. My community now includes some diversity (race, religious background, intellectual/developmental) and open table has led to some very meaningful and precious times of gathering at the table at Christ’s invitation and practicing hospitality together. I cherish those times of sharing the elements and speaking words of blessing to each other. It’s a mix of informality and sacredness, and it’s kind of beautiful, even if we don’t have it all figured out.

    I’ll admit I have become a little uncomfortable with a strict requirement for baptism, due to increasingly bland views of baptism that are sometimes held (little interest in preparation; little desire to connect with an actual Body; it’s about “Jesus & me” only… thanks Evangelicalism! 🙂 ). Moltmann’s views have been instructive for me (and thanks Jamie for the links to Beck).

  8. Elsie Hannah Ruth Rempel · March 8, 2013

    What a great discussion! Thanks for starting it. As an advocate for the inclusion of children in the church’s worship the issue of closed or open communion has been important to me for a long time; important enough that I wrote my Masters thesis on it in 2006. (It can be borrowed or downloaded at the Resource Centre http://www.mennonitechurch.ca)
    Since Mennonites have moved communion services from the closed extra service in the afternoon or evening into the Sunday morning service, we have been faced with the issue of how the non-baptized who are worshiping with us participate in this part of the service. And since we hold to believers baptism, which requires a cognitive maturity children do not have, we face additional issues when we consider their role, especially since we have Jesus’ strong example of “let the children come to me” and “unless you become as children…”
    As I researched the issue from my vantage point I came to the conclusion that children were as ‘worthy’ as any to participate (Child spirituality studies and the Judas example give good support to this view).
    However, I also grew in appreciation of our Mennonite understanding of Communion as a renewal of our baptismal covenants and see it, as welll as baptism, as powerful faith forming rites in our current context. However, children, and others who have not been baptized can clearly not renew a promise they have not made.
    Does this mean that we remove that focus from our services? Not necessarily. However, whenever we practice a closed communion in the presence of those who are not baptized, I think it is critical to articulate that reason.
    In those settings, I deeply appreciate it when the officiants invite the non baptized to come and receive a blessing, or a blessing and a grape, and wrote dual invitations to the table in my thesis appendix.
    I also affirm our move toward more frequent communions, believing that we can eat our way toward God’s reign as much as believe our way there.
    Eleanor Kreider, in “Worship Shapes Character” makes the good point that there are many different “meals of Jesus” that we can celebrate and remember. Not all of these involve a re-covenanting of our baptism. So lets expand our Lord’s table in varied ways, practice hospitality, but also retain times of re-covenanting with the bread and wide of the Lord’s Table.

    • Chris Lenshyn · March 12, 2013

      I am very appreciative of your work on this Elsie! It is extremely important IMO. Keep on keepin on!!

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