One of key factors in the way Mennonites practice Communion today can be traced back to the meeting that took place in 1693, when Jacob Ammon called for a meeting with the other Anabaptist ministers of that region (Switzerland). The issues that he wanted to discuss were mostly all agreed on by the other ministers. Only the issue of social shunning was met with such confrontation and disagreement that it caused a schism.
One of the things that Ammonn wanted to discuss was whether those that did not “follow God’s Word could be saved”. During this time, there was still persecution, but many were sympathetic to the cause and helped them. But even while they were sympathetic, they were not willing to join their group and get re-baptized –whether out of fear of their lives or lack of belief. Jacob Ammonn believed they could not be saved if they did not join the Anabaptists– thus should not partake in Communion with them.
So the conclusion of that discussion was, if you are not Anabaptist, you can not be saved.
Today most Mennonites would cringe at that. Most of us don’t believe that we are the only ones that will be in heaven. Some of us would even say the conclusion of that discussion was wrong.
But taking a closer look at what that discussion entailed brings some understanding as to why they came to that conclusion. What set Anabaptists apart from the rest of the world at that time? They were the only ones that practiced adult baptism upon the “confession of their faith”.
Jacob Ammonn may have had a good point in questioning whether someone who claimed to be a believer in Christ but was afraid to get baptized was really saved. That, after all, is the whole point of baptism. It is an outward symbol of what has happening inside. It is stating publically that “I am a follower of Christ”. But today in America that is not really an issue. Believers get baptized without fear of persecution and it is a normal occurrence.
So now we still hold to the tradition of withholding Communion from anyone who is not Anabaptist –even though those circumstances have changed. What sets Mennonites apart today from the rest of the world? It is usually the dress and head coverings that most conservative groups focus on today. So when we still come to the same conclusion of withholding Communion from those who will not join our group, we make our decision according to the head covering and our dress. And we draw that conclusion because that is our tradition.
But now, we no longer have a valid point in it all. Though we still withhold Communion from those who don’t believe as we do, most of us would never view those people as being unsaved or think they should be excommunicated. Yet we treat them as such by refusing to give them the Communion cup. We have carried our tradition for so many centuries without stopping to ask ourselves why we do this because we just naturally do what our fathers have always done.
Withholding Communion from someone who refuses to get baptized makes sense. Withholding communion from someone who doesn’t dress like us does not.
Could it be that it is time for a some new reformation in our conservative circles on the issue of communion? I believe it is time we align ourselves with what Scriptures say about Communion and repent for the areas that we have fallen away from truth.