Book Review: “Reformation Women” by Rebecca VanDoodewaard


A large majority of the most famous Protestant reformers are, indeed, men. There are many reasons for this, but it would likewise be a mistake to think that the Protestant Reformation was a movement instigated and propagated solely by men. Rebecca VanDoodewaard’s Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth takes on the task of better understanding the role of women in the Reformation. While numerous women could possibly be selected, VanDoodewaard narrows down her research to twelve in particular. Some were fairly well-known, but others were virtually unheard of (to me, at least). At about 115 pages, this was a remarkably quick read. I finished more than half of it during down time on a weeklong missions trip, so it’s certainly not an intimidating size. For those interested in learning about women of the Reformation, who likewise want to be exhorted to Christian godliness, will find this concise book to be delightful.

By far, my favorite chapter was number one, which covered the life of Anna Reinhard. It is refreshing to hear of the personal details of what life was like for Anna and family in sixteenth century Switzerland, as the entire family pressed on to win people over to the Reformation. Many of VanDoodewaard’s citations are drawn from primary sources, though occasional secondary texts are referred to or quoted. VanDoodewaard makes it manifestly clear in her introductory remarks that she is not trying to follow the patterns of modern feminist historians, though she argues there is some good to be found in this recent historiographical movement. One thing that is probably most necessary to know from a historiographical perspective is the underlying motivation that VanDoodewaard seems to have in Reformation Women, namely, that this book is not merely to revise historiographical viewpoints of how women lived during the Reformation (in fact, that generally was not the case). And for that, professional historians might be a little disappointed. More so, this book could be lumped together in the “Christian Living” genre, since a great deal of emphasis is placed on finding these women  to be inspiring role models for Christian women today, and men as well. Furthermore, it is especially geared towards women in the “Reformed” theological camp. That is not to say that non-Reformed readers will find this book valueless, but there are noticeable criticisms of Catholics and Anabaptists that just did not seem to be as equally represented among those in the Reformed traditions. Overall, though, there is much to gain from reading Reformation Women, both for historical enrichment and spiritual encouragement.

***Disclaimer: Special thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for providing a free review copy. All opinions were my own.***


Pilgram Marpeck’s Peace in Augsburg


Pilgram Marpeck’s Peace in Augsburg

In 1555, Charles V agreed to a treaty with members of the Schmalkadic League to institute what is now referred to as the “Peace of Augsburg.” This treaty provided Lutherans with religious toleration under specified districts via the principle of Cuius regio, eius religio, but it by no means authorized religious pluralism, or even freedom of religion for other Protestants, such as those in the Zwinglian reform movement.[1] The Anabaptists knew quite personally the difficulties facing those who espoused neither the Roman Catholic faith nor the tenets of Lutheranism. As noted by Harold J. Grimm, “It is difficult to classify the various movements of the radical reformers, especially because they seemed to spring up almost simultaneously wherever conditions permitted, and their leaders, persecuted in one place, would appear at another.”[2] Pilgram Marpeck, though not as famous among reformers such as Martin Luther or John Calvin, was one of the most influential Anabaptists in the sixteenth century. He died in 1556, just one year after the Peace of Augsburg’s signing, and had been living in Augsburg for the final twelve years of his life.[3] Contrary to many prominent figures in church history that have, for their careers, served in an ecclesiastical office, Marpeck worked as a civil engineer. This research will attempt to demonstrate how Marpeck managed to utilize his occupation for the advantage of spreading his religious convictions. Overall, it will be argued that his skillful craftsmanship allowed him to have the greatest possible amount of acceptance from non-Anabaptist civic leaders during a historical context that shunned alternative religious sects.

An Evaluation of Anabaptist Historiography

Before analyzing primary and secondary sources to arrive at conclusions concerning Pilgram Marpeck’s religious toleration, it will be necessary to evaluate the different historiographical positions pertaining to Anabaptist identification. Sebastian Franck, a contemporary of Marpeck, who was the first historian to have written on the Radical Reformation, admitted, “Even though all sects are divided among themselves, the Anabaptists are especially torn and disunited, so much so, indeed, that I can say nothing with certainty or any degree of finality about them.”[4] Since Marpeck’s time, historians have managed to sort out many of the details in Anabaptist history, though there are certainly different interpretations. James R. Coggins, in the latter part of the twentieth century, provided one of the most comprehensive overviews of Anabaptist historiography.[5] He described five historiographical schools of thought: (1) The Protestants, (2) the Marxists, (3) the Goshen School/Benderites, (4) the New Mennonites, and (5) the Syncretists.

Protestant Reformers, as Coggins notes, who were opposed to the Anabaptists especially highlighted the extremists in Anabaptism, such as Thomas Müntzer and the Zwickau prophets, and explains that the reformers’ views were believed over the marginalized Anabaptists.[6] However, as William R. Estep notes, C.A. Cornelius was one of the first historians in the nineteenth century to reevaluate the Anabaptists.[7] Thus, this first category may be better defined as “Non-Anabaptist.” The Marxist historiographers, according to Coggins, still talked much about the more radical Anabaptists, but considered their actions as being positive. Discussions of social class were at the forefront as well.[8] Harold J. Grimm hints at this interpretation by stating, “The political, economic, and social teachings of the Anabaptists, ranging from opposition to tithes and the taking of interest to Christian communism, reflected lower-class interests.”[9] The first two views are limited in the source material they implement, which erroneously focused almost entirely on the extremist Münsterites, a small sect within the Radical Reformation as a whole.

To gain a familiarity with the Goshen School/Benderites, none other than Harold Bender himself offers valuable insights into this school of thought. He is perhaps best known for his proclamation, “The Anabaptist Vision,” which included the following address:

There can be no question but that the great principles of freedom of conscience, separation of church and state, and voluntarism in religion, so basic in American Protestantism and so essential to democracy, ultimately are derived from the Anabaptists of the Reformation period, who for the first time clearly enunciated them and challenged the Christian world to follow them in practice.[10]

Meanwhile, New Mennonite historiographers, Although similar to the Goshen/Bender view, offer some important clarifications. George H. Williams, for example, distinguished the three groups of the radical Reformation as having been Anabaptists, spiritualists, and evangelical rationalists. Furthermore, “discipleship soteriology,” which was basically seen as a “continuation of medieval asceticism,” was stressed to show how Anabaptists were committed—even more than other Christians from the Reformation era—to matters of holiness.[11] Views three and four—the Goshen School/Benderites and New Mennonites—are so similar to one another that it is hard to fit the writings of a particular historian into one historiographical position or the other. Interestingly, even some modern-day Baptist scholars, especially in America, are Benderites who extol the work and beliefs of the Anabaptists, so much that the Anabaptists are hard to distinguish from modern American evangelicals.[12] Such a method is a bit questionable. However, the Goshen School/Benderites as well as the New Mennonites have contributed in immense ways to how historians and non-academics alike have come to understand the beliefs and practices of the Anabaptists.

More recently, Syncretist historiographers have looked beyond the writings of the Anabaptists themselves to allow for a wider scope of applicable source material. These historians, mostly Canadian and European (as opposed to the Goshen/Bender view, a predominately American historiographical school of thought), have attempted to “reconcile the Mennonite and Marxist views of Anabaptist history.”[13] Much of their emphasis concerns the differences among Anabaptists, particularly after the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. Thus, interpreters currently have different options to choose from when analyzing topics related to Anabaptist history. It will be proposed within this research, nevertheless, that the New Mennonite historiographical position provides the best framework for comprehending the significance of Pilgram Marpeck’s ideological motivations for seeking toleration in Augsburg.[14] However, Syncretist historiographers have also supplied Anabaptist historians with valuable insights for understanding the social factors of the Radical Reformation, such as sectarianism and the spread of ideas.

Marpeck’s Life Leading Up to Augsburg

The journey of Marpeck’s life that would eventually end in Augsburg is filled with both ordinary and extraordinary events. Marpeck was born and raised in the city of Rattenberg just a couple of decades prior to Martin Luther’s movements of reform in Wittenberg. His family lived comfortably, but once he entered into his career as a civil engineer, Marpeck earned a substantial income and his family “accumulated a considerable legacy.”[15] He accepted his appointment to become Rattenberg’s mining magistrate on April 20, 1525, a duty he would fulfill until January of 1528.[16] In that very month, an Anabaptist named Leonhard Schiemer was executed for his faith. It seems that Rattenberg’s leadership did not support Emperor Ferdinand’s mandate, and it was this command that likely led to Marpeck’s decision to resign as mining magistrate.[17] Marpeck fled his hometown as a religious refugee by April in order to avoid Ferdinand’s warning of executing all Anabaptists in the city.[18] He had possibly become one of the “heretics” during Schiemer’s imprisonment in Augsburg, though it is hard to tell with certainty.

Having witnessed the severest form of religious persecution in Rattenberg with the execution of Schiemer, Marpeck seems to have found security in the small town of Austerlitz. As Martin Rothkegel, an Anabaptist historian with Syncretist leanings, writes:

Marpeck’s activity as an Anabaptist leader—or, more precisely, the two documented phases of his activity from 1528 to 1532 and from 1540 to 1556—should be understood as part of a larger effort to establish an Anabaptist ‘church’ initiated by the Anabaptist congregation in Austerlitz (Slavkov u Brna) in Moravia, also known as the ‘Austerlitz Brethren,’ whose early history from 1528 to 1531 played an important role in the narrative of the Hutterite chronicles.[19]

Rothkegel backs up the claim that the South German Marpeck network of people was indeed the founding group of the “Austerlitz Brethren” by citing a report from Johann Weisenkircher, which was found in the Regensburg archives.[20] Marpeck did not stay in Austerlitz past the summer, and Syncretist scholars in addition to Rothkegel, such as Werner Packull and John D. Roth, argue that his departure to the city of Strasbourg was not for religious protection, but was, in fact, commissioned by the Austerlitz Brethren to serve as an elder of an Anabaptist congregation.[21]

In reference to Marpeck’s stay in Strasbourg, Harold Bender, the historiographical progenitor of the Goshen School, is helpful in describing how Marpeck managed to gain the respect of those in the city: “Pilgram Marpeck’s four years of relatively unhindered life and ministry as an Anabaptist leader in Strasbourg can thus be explained in the light of a very complex and fluid religious situation in the city, and the tolerance of Burgomaster Sturm and the Council, as well as by the need for his engineering services.”[22] Strasbourg was more lenient towards Anabaptists than most cities at the time, but it would appear that Marpeck’s usefulness to the people as a skilled engineer made him, though a “stubborn heretic” according Martin Bucer, a valuable member of the community.[23] And yet, after much theological engagement with the city’s leaders, particularly Martin Bucer, Marpeck was banished. Marpeck’s views of separation between church and state can be found in his Confession of 1532, written as he prepared to leave:

I admit worldly, carnal, and earthly rulers as servants of God, in earthly matters, but not in the kingdom of Christ; according to the words of Paul, to them rightfully belongs all carnal honor fear, obedience, tax, toll, and tribute. However, when such persons who hold authority become Christians (which I heartily wish and pray for), they may not use the aforementioned carnal force, sovereignty, or ruling in the kingdom of Christ…Because of this recognition, I conclude before my God that worldly power, for all its work, is not needed in the kingdom of Christ, whose kingdom is not of this world, and I further conclude that all who attempt to preserve the kingdom of Christ by stooping to the government authority will be punished for it and come to shame. For our citizenship is in heaven.[24]

For the next twelve years, however, Marpeck’s earthly citizenship seems to have been largely undetectable, as he moved from one place to another in Switzerland and Moravia fairly regularly.[25]

Marpeck’s Arrival in Augsburg

In 1544, Marpeck arrived to the city of Augsburg with fine timing. Augsburg’s city records tell of Marpeck being hired to assist in their wood shortage and to repair the water flumes.[26] William Estep, a Goshen School/Benderite or possibly New Mennonite historiographer, says the following about Marpeck’s acceptance in Augsburg: “That [Marpeck] was an active Anabaptist was known to the council and the cause of frequent reprimands. Apparently, he was too valuable a man for the city to lose.”[27] Augsburg had a rather early presence of Anabaptism, housing major leaders such as Balthasar Hübmaier, Hans Denck, and Wilhelm Reublin.[28] However, both an imperial mandate and the city council at Augsburg prohibited Anabaptism by 1527, and continued this ban through the 1520s and 1530s.[29] By the following decade, Caspar Schwenckfeld, a theological opponent but fellow Anabaptist, was surprised of Marpeck’s toleration, having stated, “Leonhard Hieber writes that Marpeck had to present his book to the Council. I did not think that he was there any more. Thus it sometimes happens when it is to your benefit, otherwise the Council would hardly give him shelter.”[30] Therefore, the causality for Marpeck’s admittance into the community of Augsburg is an apparent anomaly.

Marpeck’s Peace in Augsburg

Marpeck’s own words provide key insights concerning his views of how an Anabaptist ought to live in a society that is religiously opposed to Anabaptist beliefs. In 1555, he stated, “[O]ne should be quiet and not give the authorities occasion to persecute if one meets together unnecessarily. That one should exercise moderation and discretion in such a case, to this end a government often presses out of respect for its own punishment, since they do not like to persecute us.”[31] Clearly, Marpeck intended for his “brethren” to be peaceful, despite their sharp disagreements with the beliefs of the legal religion of the land. He likewise stated, “However, if God’s honor and truth are at stake, then we are obligated to give up all and to endure all persecution unto death.”[32] Thus, Marpeck’s congregation was neither deliberately confrontational nor negligent of maintaining principles.

Such a cautious methodology may have hurt the overall potential for growth, but it is important to also remember that Anabaptists had the revolutionary stigma attached to them, thanks to the extreme actions of the Münsterites and the rather forceful personalities of others such as George Blaurock.[33] By contributing to the welfare of the city through his engineering occupation, Marpeck managed to earn a measure a trust from the Protestant leaders. And by practicing their religion tactfully, the small group of Anabaptists in Augsburg was able to continue residing there. Marpeck was warned four times about his illegal religious activity in Augsburg, but David C. Steinmetz interprets these as “wrist-tapping warnings,” since no actual discipline resulted.[34] The end goal for Marpeck, according to his writings, was that Augsburg and other cities might experience “a spiritual real justice” (geistlicher wesentlicher gerechtigkeit), which William Klassen defines as “the personal and social transformation which took place when the cross of Christ was accepted.”[35] Though he was likely unsatisfied with the few converts to Anabaptism by the end of his lifetime, Marpeck’s peace in Augsburg was secured and retained through much of his own efforts as a hard-working and vigilant citizen. When Marpeck died in 1556, he was buried to finally “rest in peace” in an Augsburg graveyard.


This case study of how Marpeck’s actions positively affected his ability to find modest peace in Augsburg reveals not only sociological principles for peace making, but it also opens up the discussion for how Anabaptist historiography plays a critical role in interpreting the past. Benderites/Goshen School historiographers, New Mennonites, and Syncretist scholars have been cited throughout this research. Although there are contradictions among the schools of thought, especially in relation to Anabaptist origins and identity, the topic of Marpeck’s religious toleration in Augsburg draws from multiple historiographical perspectives with relative ease. This seems to be the case due to the nature of this study. Since Benderites/Goshen School historiographers and New Mennonites focus on the religious motivations of the Anabaptists, one can observe Marpeck’s writings and numerous secondary source interpretations to see that Marpeck’s Anabaptist values were crucial to his existence. But on the other hand, Syncretist scholars add the societal dimensions necessary for such a topic. Marpeck’s peace in Augsburg, in other words, can only be accurately interpreted if both religious ideals of Pilgram Marpeck and societal factors are given a fair treatment. As James M. Stayer notes, “[The] second generation of [Syncretist] interpreters is now moving into retirement and in the last decade they have, in their turn, been criticized for undervaluing the weight and independence of religious motives behind Reformation radicalism.”[36] Syncretist historiography, therefore, is in the process of revision, but Benderites/Goshen School historiographers and New Mennonites also can learn from the Syncretists’ interpretations. Therefore, a suggestible method for future historiography is that historians take seriously the personal writings and religious underpinnings of the Anabaptists, but to supplement these foundational sources with external data, particularly in reference to the spread of ideas and the evolution of Anabaptist identity.[37]

[1] Paul M. Zulehner, “Early Modern Religion Peace Agreements: Their Effects on the Ideological Development of Europe” Society 51:6 (December 2014): 606.

[2] Harold J. Grimm, The Reformation Era, 1500-1650. 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1973), p. 217.

[3] For a brief biographical sketch of Marpeck’s years in Augsburg, see William Klassen and Walter Klaassen, trans. and ed., The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1978), p. 39-41. [abbreviated hereafter, WPM]

[4] Quoted in Abraham Friesen, “The Radical Reformation Revisited” Journal of Mennonites Studies 2 (1984): 124.

[5] James R. Coggins, “Toward a Definition of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism: Twentieth-Century Historiography of the Radical Reformation” Journal of Mennonite Studies 4 (1986): 183-207.

[6] Ibid., p. 184

[7] See Estep, The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), p. 5.

[8] Coggins, “Toward a Definition of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism,” p. 85.

[9] Grimm, The Reformation Era, 1500-1650, p. 219.

[10] Harold S. Bender, “The Anabaptist Vision” [accessed July 26, 2015].

[11] Coggins, “Toward a Definition of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism,” p. 189-196.

[12] See Malcolm B. Yarnell III, ed., The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists: Restoring New Testament Christianity, Essays in Honor of Paige Patterson (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishing Group, 2013).

[13] Coggins, “Toward a Definition of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism,” p. 196-197.

[14] For clarification, one does not need to be a practicing Mennonite to prefer this historiographical position, just as one does not necessarily espouse the economic principles of Marxism to see the value of Marxist historiography.

[15] Stephen B. Boyd confirms that Marpeck, based on tax records, was one of the highest paid city employees. Boyd, Pilgram Marpeck: His Life and Social Theology (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992), p. 6.

[16] Ibid., p. 11-12.

[17] Michael D. Wilkinson, “Suffering the Cross: The Life, Theology, and Significance of Leonhard Schiemer” in Malcolm B. Yarnell III, ed., The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists, p. 51-52.

[18] See John D. Roth, “Marpeck and the Later Swiss Brethren, 1540-1700” in Roth and Stayer, eds., Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition, Volume 6 [abbreviated hereafter, BCCT] (Boston, MA: Brill, 2007), p. 357.

[19] Martin Rothkegel, “Pilgram Marpeck and the Fellows of the Covenant: The Short and Fragmentary History of the Rise and Decline of an Anabaptist Denominational Network,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 85 (January 2011): 8. Rothkegel’s Syncretistic historiographical approach is supported by his statement, “Marpeck may have been more sectarian than generally assumed by current scholarship.”

[20] Ibid., p. 19.

[21] Rothkegel cites Packull in Ibid., p. 24. See also John D. Roth, “Marpeck and the Later Swiss Brethren, 1540-1700” in Roth and Stayer, eds., BCCT, p. 358.

[22] Harold S. Bender, “Pilgram Marpeck” Mennonite Quarterly Review 38 (July 1964): 243.

[23] Bucer’s remarks cited in J.C. Wenger, “The Life and Work of Pilgram Marpeck, “ Mennonite Quarterly Review 12 (July 1938): 147.

[24] WPM, p. 150-151.

[25] For a discussion of his whereabouts during this period, see Rothkegel, “Pilgram Marpeck and the Fellows of the Covenant,” p. 26-27.

[26] WPM, p. 39. Estep provides the date of his employment as being May 12, 1545. Estep, The Anabaptist Story, p. 124. Thus, there was some overlap of time between his arrival and his official employment. Nevertheless, he was busy writing, having composed at least four somewhat lengthy letters in 1544, and another three in 1545. See WPM, p. 13.

[27] Estep, The Anabaptist Story, p. 124-125. “Frequent reprimands” is an overstatement, as only four warnings are recorded in the historical record.

[28] See Ibid., p. 61 and John Howard Yoder, “Balthasar Hübmaier and the Beginnings of Swiss Anabaptism” Mennonite Quarterly Review 33 (January 1959): 9.

[29] Michele Zelinsky Hanson, Religious Identity in an Early Reformation Community: Augsburg, 1517 to 1555 (Boston, MA: Brill, 2007), p. 80-82.

[30] WPM, p. 40.

[31] Ibid., p. 514.

[32] Ibid.

[33] At a service in Zollikon, for example, Blaurock shockingly told the minister in the presence of the congregation, “You were not sent to preach, it was I.” See Estep, The Anabaptist Story, p. 50.

[34] David C. Steinmetz, Reformers in the Wings: From Geiler von Kaysersberg to Theodore Beza. 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 157.

[35] William Klassen, “Pilgram Marpeck and Our Use of Power” The Conrad Grebel Review 17:1 (Winter 1999): 45.

[36] James M. Stayer, “Introduction” in Roth and Stayer, eds., BCCT, 1521-1700, p. xiii.

[37] For example, Martin Rothkegel’s work, as already cited in this research, on the identity of the Austerlitz Brethren provides a helpful sociological background to Marpeck’s life, but it cannot adequately explain his religious motivations, which were arguably the central driving force behind his actions. Marpeck’s own writings would support such a claim: “It is only that God in His love takes pleasure in us His children, and we receive everything from the Father in Christ. It is this love alone which motivates us to perform the services of Christ to one another by grace…We do not serve ourselves but rather serve to the praise of God and our own salvation, because the Lord Himself has served us.” WPM, p. 553.

When should Christians divide?

The Invisible Line of Division: An Evaluation of Seeking Christ Before Seeking Separation

            The Bible is the “God-breathed” revelation to mankind which is certainly the standard for every Christian to treasure and greatly revere. In God’s Word, Paul clearly warns believers to “see to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Evidently, the world will certainly be filled with false teachers, but many argue to when Christians should separate entirely from the accused misleading men and women. Unfortunately, there have been historical examples when Christians have preemptively divided from fellow believers without strong Biblical grounds. According to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, “first-level theological issues” include “the trinity, the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of the Scriptures.” In other words, if someone opposes the “first-level” doctrines, then they are rightly condemned a heretic and should not even be considered a Christian (Mohler). Unfortunately, Christians can be quick to accuse certain teachers as heretics on less-significant doctrines while permitting false teachers on the stronghold doctrines of the Christian faith such as the Trinity and the authority of the Bible. Additionally, people need to determine the distinguishable differences between “separation” and “division.” A “separation” refers to retreating from the teachings of the unsaved, such as the example of the Radical Reformers and Catholicism (Enns 444). However, a “division” is associated with believers who distinguish themselves from one another by means of different denominations and churches ( Therefore, it is vital for Christians to determine and separate from heretical teachings, while uniting with fellow believers to advance the Gospel of Christ.

Before incorrectly separating from brothers and sisters in Christ, it is essential to clarify what defines someone as a heretic. Gerry Breshears and Mark Driscoll state in Vintage Church that “heresy is the opposite of orthodoxy” (140). It is also proper to distinguish that heretics are never saved, while false teachers may in fact be saved, but have loosened a stronghold on Scripture as a basis (Huston). A clear picture of heresy is manifested in1 Timothy 6. The Apostle Paul urged Timothy that “if anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3-4). From this exhortation, a sign of evident heresy is to disagree with Christ and His teachings. Paul continues in 1 Timothy 6:5-6 that heretics will also attempt to clash, produce resentment, insult, and cause “constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” Furthermore, heretical teaching leads back to the Garden of Eden when the “crafty” serpent falsely interpreted the word of God and led Adam and Eve into sin (Genesis 3:1-5). Likewise, a heretic will often acknowledge the existence of God, but question His authoritative word. On the issue of separation from a heretical teacher, Breshears and Driscoll give four levels of separation: doctrine to “die for, divide for, debate for, and decide for” (158-159). When someone opposes the “die for” level, according to the authors, Christians should rightly condemn the false teacher as a “heretic.” However, pertaining to the “divide for” levels, a Christian should divide if he cannot worship in a “clear conscience” (158). Nevertheless, as fellow members in the body of Christ, Christians should never close contact, hinder building godliness, or “condemn to hell,” but should seek to further unify and edify fellow believers by emphasizing Christ in all manner of living (158). However, because of the distinction between of “division” and “separation,” Christians should never separate from fellow believers but might need to divide as a last resort. Overall, Christians must be aware that heretics are Christ-suppressers and should correctly reject their false teachings, while seeking to further the Gospel by proclaiming Christ.

Genuine Christians would agree that rejection of false teachers is Biblical, but many Christians still injure the body of Christ by separating entirely over non-heretical teachings. The book of Ephesians “emphasizes the truth that all believers are united in Christ because the church is the one body of Christ” (Allen, House, and Radmacher 835). At the time of Paul’s life when writing to the church at Ephesus, the main divisional flaw was the separation of Jews and Gentiles (McDonald 1904). In Ephesians 5-6, Paul explores the topic of unity in these relationships: husbands and wives, children and parents, and slaves with their masters. Therefore, since Christians should work together for the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, complete “separation” should be only reserved for doctrinal heresy. Paul’s charge in 1 Corinthians 1:10 states, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Of course, there is still tremendous controversy regarding the fellowshipping with Christians who have strong, opposing views to one another. For example, a conservative Baptist believer would have remarkably different opinions compared to a Pentecostal believer. In this case, a “separation” should not occur, but possibly a “division” congregationally due to a “second-level” doctrinal difference (Mohler). However, the most important foundation that believers should draw from is not the denomination, association, or affiliation, but most assuredly the teachings of God’s Word. A person’s denomination, family history, or outward appearance will never save him, only Christ can reconcile God and man (Romans 5:10). The question that Breshears and Driscoll ask about finding a church is if Jesus was the person “everyone wants to please? After all, it is all about Him” (159)! In Romans 14:1, Paul exhorts the believers “not to quarrel over opinions.” Logically, it is fairly evident that Christians will indeed have differences in opinions, but differences should not lead into sin and complete separation from others believers. However, it is extremely vital that Christians attend a church where they will be well shepherded (1 Peter 5:1-4). After all, a church that preaches a false Gospel is not of Christ, but of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). While opinions among Christians will certainly differ, if a teacher starts preaching another Gospel, Christians should rightly condemn him as a heretic and he should be “accursed” (Galatians 1:8). In conclusion, balancing of loving other Christians who differ in certain opinions is a difficult challenge, but God’s Word instructs all believers to complete this task. Nevertheless, when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is altered or removed, responsively a Christian should then separate in order to fellowship under those who will shepherd the body of Christ in a biblical fashion.

Historically, many Christians have separated from one another over significant and largely irrelevant reasons. A great historical example was Martin Luther who was disturbed by the corruption of Catholic theology which contained teachings contrary to justification by faith alone (Enns 444). In disgust, Luther posted his “Ninety-Five Theses” on the door of the church at Wittenberg. Down to its core, the Ninety-Five Theses were statements of disagreement with Catholicism, stressing “sola scriptura- the Scriptures alone are the authority for people- not the church and its councils” (444). Luther’s opposition and rebuking of theological heresy is the type of correction towards false teachers that Paul was speaking of in his epistle to Titus (1:9). The controversial question remains among Christians is whether or not Luther had the right to separate from Catholicism. 2 Corinthians 6:14, while often related to the topic of Christian marriage, in its context is actually a strong argument for not being “unequally yoked with unbelievers” for marriage principles and beyond. Luther and the reformers were not dealing with a majority of Christians; they were dealing with heretics who preached another Gospel (Enns 444). Another historical issue of separation dealt with oppositional reformation groups: “Radical” and “Magisterial” reformers (McBeth 52). Some major differences between the two groups are beliefs in infant and non-infant baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Separation of Church and State (Enns 453-456). The essential understanding to consider is that the majority of both groups were regenerate Christians. This is an extremely difficult controversy to reconcile, but there are explanatory reasons why the Radicals were justified in “dividing” from the Magisterial reformers. In this particular instance, the Magisterial reformers were implementing “infant baptism” which was never commanded by Christ or the Apostles (453). In other words, the Magisterial reformers were teaching what most would define as “extra-Biblical” doctrine. It seems to be that this scenario involved beliefs that were not, as Al Mohler informs, “first-level” doctrines. Or, as Breshears and Driscoll classified, infant-baptism would be a “divide-for” but not necessarily a “die-for” doctrine (158). While the two reformation groups did split, a division should be a last resort, never intentionally pursued, and should be done in humility, but certainly not a separation. Conclusively, it is apparent that in historical examples there have been correct and incorrect responses to doctrinal teachings. Therefore, when Christians encounter “another Gospel,” they should rebuke the false leaders and separate to proclaim Christ with a fellowshipping group of genuine believers. But when Christians encounter a questionable teaching that is not clear in Scripture, separation from a specific congregation might be beneficial, but the unity that the Apostle Paul pleads for should still be greatly pursued. After all, those who follow the Gospel of Christ are united together in Christ (Ephesians 3:6).

Not only have historical circumstances existed with both correct and incorrect responses, but many modern day examples as well. Common examples of non-heretical controversies include church music, drinking alcoholic beverages, speaking in tongues, Dispensationalism versus Covenant Theology, multiple views of the rapture, Calvinism versus Arminianism, and numerous other issues as well. Before approaching any situation of non-heresy, Christians must first evaluate the situation prayerfully and then be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). However, because many false teachers exist who appear to be Christians and are actually just wolves in sheep’s clothing, Christians should maintain caution by observing the “fruits” of the leader (Matthew 7:16). Additionally, just because someone is a Christian, that does not necessarily mean he will be unsusceptible to false doctrine. For example, Paul wrote two letters to Timothy, obviously a believer, with a major emphasis on maintaining proper doctrine. Nevertheless, when a situation is dealing with a genuine Christian about a disputed, non-heretical interpretation of Scripture, maintaining unity among the brothers and sisters in Christ is essential. For a general example, there is a church in Louisiana “whose roof is green on one side and red on the other. This was done because some members of the church adamantly wanted green and other members adamantly wanted red” (Bronson). Obviously, this church was not fulfilling the Pauline exhortations to be unified, especially over such a mundane issue. A more significant example is the classic ongoing debate of Calvinism versus Arminianism. The important matter is that both groups believe in the Trinitarian God, salvation by faith in Christ, total authority of the Scriptures, Jesus died, rose, and resurrected, heaven and hell are literal places, and that believers will spend eternity with God (Enns 475-500). They both believe in the “first-level” doctrines (Mohler). Therefore, since both groups are Christians, they should seek to preach Christ instead of condemning others as heretics and following their own favorite theologian or pastor (1 Corinthians 1:10-12). Furthermore, in the same passage Paul proposes an intriguing question in 1 Corinthians 1:13 by asking “Is Christ divided?” The words coming from the mouths of Christians should not have emphasis on Calvinism or Arminianism, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There certainly will always be disagreements among Christians in many areas. Even Paul sharply disagreed with Barnabas concerning whether or not to take John Mark on their missionary journey (Acts 15:37-40). However, Paul stated to Timothy later on in his life that John Mark would be “useful” in the ministry (2 Timothy 4:11). Notice that Paul never criticized, disrespected, or caused pain to Barnabas (Beretta). Therefore, Christians should seek the same in disagreements by acknowledging that differences will arise and can be discussed, but that Christ must remain as the center of attention. In postmodern times of today, the world just might view Christianity in a different perspective with more of Christ and less of Christians.

There is much to say about division and unity among Christians, but overall a religion is worthless without Christ being the focal point. When James said in chapter 3 of his epistle that not many “should presume to be teachers,” he was clarifying that being a teacher of God’s Word is an enormous responsibility. Also, Christians should devote themselves to studying the Word for themselves (2 Timothy 2:15). The balancing assignment of being cautious of false teachings while keeping from constant quarreling over “foolish and stupid arguments” is definitely a challenge (2 Timothy 2:23). Therefore, Christians should consider three specific exhortations. First, Christians should be alert that Satan, like a roaring lion, seeks to devour anyone and uses them to accomplish “his will” (2 Timothy 2:26; 1 Peter 5:8). Second, when Christians detect a false teacher, he should be “gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant [him] repentance leading [him] to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25). Additionally, he must be “rebuked sharply” to hopefully become “sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). Otherwise, the danger exists of having the teacher produce followers of “unbiblical” Christianity. Thirdly, when a dispute arises that involves something other than a “first-level” or “die-for” doctrine, the matter should be consumed in prayer, while maintaining unity and respect of fellow believers (Breshears and Driscoll 158; Mohler). If a division occurs like in the case of Paul and Barnabas, reconciliation should be desired and the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ must remain the focus in all matters of ministry. In conclusion, when dealing with a disputable doctrinal issue, the matter is not finding where the invisible line of division begins, for that places the spotlight on man. Instead, Christians should consider in each circumstance how Christ will be magnified and how God will be glorified while holding the Scriptures close to their hearts.


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