Concept of Cologne (Anabaptists, 1591)

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The Concept of Cologne (Concept van Keulen), an agreement between the High German and Dutch Mennonites, was signed on 1 May 1591 at Cologne. Various previous attempts had already been made to bring about union, but they were usually geographically limited. Participating in this conference at Cologne were Mennonites of the Rhine region from the North Sea to the borders of Switzerland.

The churches were trying to reach a fraternal agreement to bridge over differences that had formed between them. The Dutch churches realized that they had been too severe in their attitude toward other brethren, as in the use of the ban, and joined with the High Germans in signing a common confession of faith and an agreement on church regulations and conduct which was called a Concept, commonly known as the "Concept of Cologne" since it was published under that title in 1665 in De Algemeene Belijdenissen (see Confessions of Faith). It was never printed separately.

In doctrine, the belief in the Trinity was affirmed. "In Jesus Christ we recognize the only Son of the Father from eternity, born of Mary in the fulness of time through the power of the Most High and through the co-working of the Holy Spirit, who was made flesh through the eternal Word of the Father. We acknowledge also the Holy Spirit, that He is a power of God and proceeds from the Father through the Son, promised by Christ and sent to comfort the believer. He who believes in this Son of God as the Savior and Redeemer promised and sent from God, he is free from all sins. . . . We also confess the resurrection of the body from the dead, both the righteous and the unrighteous, and believe that at the Last Judgment each will receive according as he has walked."

Concerning baptism and communion the Concept says: "The man who acknowledges himself to be sinful and brings forth the fruits of repentance, and proves that he gladly accepts the Word of Christ and requests baptism out of desire, him shall an irreproachable ordained minister baptize with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He who is thus minded and has been baptized, shall not be baptized again. All those who are thus baptized by the Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:12) shall observe communion together with ordinary bread and wine, and thereby remember His great love and His bitter death."

The practical church regulations of the Concept sought to ease the severity of discipline in the Dutch churches. It was lamented that in many cases it had been misused, especially in the use of the ban applied in marriage (q.v., see also Avoidance). Church discipline should serve to keep the church pure, but love should be allowed to reign, and brotherly admonition should not be neglected, as is explained in Matthew 18:15-18.

The preachers are to be chosen from the church, according to the Concept. They must be blameless, and may not serve until they have been proved. They are to be ordained by the laying on of the elder's hands. To care for the poor, deacons should be chosen according to the example of the apostolic church; they must distribute the gifts voluntarily given for that purpose, and are to keep silence in accord with Matthew 6:3. Further regulations are as follows.

One should allow feetwashing to be performed on oneself if requested by a brother, and also wash his feet in sincere humility.

Marriage shall be concluded only between believers; transgression of this requirement is punished by exclusion from the communion before the congregation. If the transgressor shows a change of mind, "if one feels in him fruits worthy of repentance," then he shall again be admitted to communion. Married persons shall in all cases be admonished to be true to their marriage vows; they shall not leave a spouse or marry another.

A Christianity shown in deeds is required of the members. In accord with the teaching of Jesus and James, the oath is forbidden; "all words and deeds shall be affirmed by a truthful yea or nay, and nothing be added, and this shall be truly kept like a sworn oath." Retaliation is not permitted, "not only with external weapons, but one should not repay abuse with abuse." Merchants shall be content with modest profit. How much they may take cannot be prescribed.  No one should be like the discontented and insatiable. Usury is an abomination and is regarded as shameful by all men. Warning is given against elaborate clothing, which "resembles the world more than it shows Christian humility." It is not possible to prescribe to each individual what he shall wear; in simple clothing and in all his deeds he shall be a light to the world.

In conclusion it was agreed "that every watchman of God's house shall in all faithfulness and in the strength of the Holy Spirit warn the people, thereby to keep himself and them pure from the ruin of the disobedient. In this manner one brother shall admonish and warn another with a fatherly heart, that the admonition may be more acceptable."

The agreements were signed by 15 representatives of the churches. Of the Dutch Mennonites, especially the Frisians supported them, but also many Waterlanders as well. Of the High (South) German churches, those of Alsace, the Breisgau, and the Palatinate joined; the names of the signatory congregations are Strasbourg, Wittenberg (probably Wissembourg in Alsace), Landau, Neustadt, Worms, and Kreuznach. Of the Lower Rhine region, representatives of the Mennonite churches at Gladbach, Cologne, Odenkirchen, Rees, and all the churches of the duchy of Berg (Rembert, 618) signed.

In drawing up the agreements, Leenaerdt Clock (see also Amsterdam), a Mennonite of South Germany who later moved to Haarlem, took a leading part, probably writing most of it himself. His relations with the Waterlanders were severed in 1611 when he withdrew from them because of his increasingly severe views on mixed marriages and the ban. But this unfortunate event hardly touched the relations between the Dutch Mennonites and the High Germans. The Alsatian and Palatine churches in 1660 adopted the Dordrecht Confession drawn up in 1632, thus following the pattern of the Concept of 1591.

This agreement of Cologne served as a basis for future attempts at unification; the conference held under the chairmanship of Tieleman van Braght in 1651 (1649) at Haarlem between the Frisians and High Germans with the Flemish, accepted the Olive Branch Confession (Olijftacxken, 1629), the Confession of Jan Cents (1630), the Dordrecht Confession (1632), and the Concept of Cologne.

The bond which was formed in Cologne between the Dutch and High German Mennonites led beyond these agreements to practical deeds of brotherly love. In the 17th century, when the Swiss Mennonites were hard pressed by their government, the Dutch Mennonites persuaded the States-General to relieve this oppression and helped them settle in lands where they were tolerated. Thus the agreements reached in the Concept of Cologne had their effect on Mennonite history for a long time afterward.


De Älgemeene Belydenissen (Haarlem, 1665): 1-7.

Catalogus der werken over de Doopsgezinden en hunne geschiedenis aanwezig in de bibliotheek der Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam. Amsterdam: J.H. de Bussy, 1919: 168, 169, 353.

Gross, Leonard. "The First Mennonite Merger: the Concept of Cologne." Mennonite Yearbook (1990-91). Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1990: 8-10.

Hege, Christian. Die Täufer in der Kurpfalz. Frankfort, 1908: 149-152.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: vol. II, 545-547.

Keller, Ludwig. Die Reformation und die älteren Reformparteien: in ihrem Zusammenhange dargestellt. Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1885: 478.

Rembert, Karl. Die "Wiedertäufer" im Herzogtum Jülich. Berlin: R. Gaertners Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1899.

Wolkan, Rudolf. Die Lieder der Wiedertäufer. Berlin, 1903. Reprinted Nieuwkoop: B. De Graaf, 1965: 153. Available in full electronic text at

Additional Information

Concept of Cologne (1591)

Author(s) Leonard Gross
Christian Hege
Date Published November 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Gross, Leonard and Christian Hege. "Concept of Cologne (Anabaptists, 1591)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. November 1989. Web. 7 Dec 2023.,_1591)&oldid=146391.

APA style

Gross, Leonard and Christian Hege. (November 1989). Concept of Cologne (Anabaptists, 1591). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 7 December 2023, from,_1591)&oldid=146391.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 663-664. All rights reserved.

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