Anabaptist literally means to re-baptize. This was a nickname given to a group of radical reformers in the 16th century. A denomination or two has sprung from this movement. Adult believers baptism was seen as the primary exterior sign of separation from the Christendom Empire of that time. Times are different now. Should churches that practice believers baptism [Mennonite, Baptist, Alliance, Pentecostal, etc.] still insist on re-baptism for Christians who come to our churches from pedo-baptist [Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Roman Catholic, etc.] traditions?

Within the Mennonite churches I’m familiar with there are very different perspectives. Consider the [edited and paraphrased] perspectives of two well-known scholars:

Newcomers who are attracted to [Mennonite] faith and practice should recognize that the community they are about to join has an identity rooted in the central symbol of believers baptism. Non [adult] baptized believers who have fellowshipped with Mennonites and want to formally join a congregation might think of their baptism as something analogous to a naturalization ceremony that foreigners undergo to become a citizen of a country. Even though they may have been living in that new country for many years, the naturalization ceremony marks a clear, public statement about the seriousness of their commitment. Even though it seems as if not much has changed in the basic character of the person, the event carries with it a new set of privileges and responsibilities that do indeed have meaning. In a similar way, believers baptism fixes our commitments to God, the church, and daily discipleship in a moment of time that is accessible to public memory. It celebrates and anchors a pattern of life already long in formation. [John Roth]

Consider the case of one who has been baptized as an infant and has been nurtured in the faith by church and family. At the age of fifteen, after studying the church’s catechism for a year, this person makes a personal confession of faith affirming the earlier baptism done in their name at birth and commits themselves publically to Christ and to their church through a confirmation ceremony. This person moves to a new community, choosing to affiliate with the local [Mennonite] church, and makes the case that the act of the mother [pedobaptist] church was a legitimate baptism affirmed by the present confession of faith. By accepting this person, we are making an exception regarding one detail—the order in which the water is applied to the body. We are encouraging greater unity in the body and emphasis on major issues, not details. This is not to deny the significance of the historical Anabaptist rejection of the state church filled with reprobates, since both churches in our hypothetical case are “believers churches” for all practical purposes. [Lynn Jost]

What do you think?

Although both are valid arguments, I have changed my position and have come to embrace the latter practice, along with my present congregation. I agree with another Mennonite scholar who said:

Baptism was not the defining issue [even] at the beginning of the radical movement… it was a symbol of discipleship or the following of Jesus [which] became the normative way to discuss the nature of the Christian life, which [in turn] made rejection of the sword a central focus in Anabaptist identity. [J Denny Weaver]

Advertisements