“Anabaptist” literally means to rebaptize. This was a nickname given to a group of radical reformers in the 16th century. A number of denominations have 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 rebaptism for Christians who come to our churches from pedobaptist — Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Anglican, Roman Catholic, etc. — traditions?
Within the Mennonite churches I’m familiar with, there are a variety of 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.
Adult believers who were baptized as infants who have fellowshiped 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 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, professor of history and director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at Goshen (Ind.) College.
Consider the case of one who was baptized as an infant and nurtured in the faith by church and family. At the age of 15, 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, professor of Old Testament and director of the Center for Anabaptist Studies at Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University.
What do you think? Although both are good arguments, I have come to embrace the latter practice, along with my present congregation. Anabaptist scholar J. Denny Weaver has said that “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.”
Gareth Brandt is professor of practical theology at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B.C. He blogs at garethbrandt.wordpress.com, where this post first appeared.
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