Last Sunday’s class (October 21) focused on the statement in the first of MC USA’s Three Renewed Commitments: “Through baptism we commit ourselves to live faithfully as Jesus’ disciples, no matter the cost.”
The question and controversy over whether to baptize infants or only those who could make an informed, personal confession of faith was a major factor leading to the split of Anabaptists from the state churches in 16th Century Europe. “Anabaptism” means “re-baptism” in Latin. In the Medieval state churches of Europe, re-baptism had long been a capital offense.
We looked at baptism as a public sign of readiness to make a voluntary commitment to follow Christ in this life. We discussed our own personal experiences of baptism, and what it meant for the faith community in which we were baptized. Since most of us had grown up in the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition, our faith communities understood baptism as just described above. Some of us wondered, however, if we were truly ready for baptism when we took that step, and understood it fully. But isn’t that true of most of our other vows, covenants and commitments, like our wedding vows, if we’re married?
We looked at some of the Bible passages related to baptism, and from them found inspiration to compose new verses to the song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus:”
- Romans 6: 1-4, “Though I’m still tempted, I live a new life…..”
- Matthew 28: 16-20: “I have decided to make disciples…..I have decided to baptize believers…I have decided to teach his commandments….”
- Matthew 3: 13-17: “If I decide to follow Jesus, someday I will see his glorious face.”
- John 4: 1-3: “I will baptize all who will follow”
We talked briefly about The Three Baptisms of historic Anabaptist thought, according to I John 5:7-8: “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” In Anabaptist history, those have been understood to we testify about Christ to the world through 1) water baptism, 2) our renewed, recreated lives through the Holy Spirit, and 3) martyrdom.
A few questions we did not get to, but for which I would appreciate feedback on this blog, were:
- What should we do for those who wish to be baptized but don’t wish to join a church? Anabaptist belief has typically connected membership in Christ with membership in the church; the latter is not an afterthought to the former. But when someone once called me and asked, “It’s about time I got baptism out of the way and accomplished; Would you please baptize me?” but rejected all recommendations to first come and get to know us and learn what it means to follow Christ in community (is there any other way, except in rare, emergency cases?), what should I have done?
- What should we say or do whenever people say, “I need to more fully understand what I’m committing to, figure out all what I believe, and know that I’m ready to follow through on my vows before I do so?”
- What should we do in those times and places where the family and community effectively say to a new believer in their midst, “If you believe in Jesus, fine, but keep that to yourself, and by all means, don’t do anything public and irrevocable, like baptism, or then they’ll be hell to pay!” This is often the case in some majority Muslim, Hindu and Marxist communities and cultures. Should new believers then do public baptisms if their faith is at least tolerated short of that?