Danny was sixteen years old when he began to regularly attend a Mennonite church. He had felt so welcomed during his years at their VBS and wanted to be a part of this congregation. As he studied the Word, he became convicted of sin in his life and wanted forgiveness. John, a brother from the congregation, explained God’s plan of salvation to him, prayed with him, and Danny gave his life to the Lord.
Danny read that in order to be saved, he must “repent and be baptized”, so he requested to be baptized.
The ministry team asked him if he was ready to become a member of their church. He was a bit confused and asked questions about what all that entailed. They explained that he would need to follow the rules and standards of the church. Danny was okay with that; it seemed to make sense.
They explained that he could join the next instruction class that was scheduled to begin in a few months. Then when he had completed the class, he could get baptized.
Danny was confused again. “So how long will that be? Can’t I just get baptized right away?”
The ministry explained that they wanted to be sure he really understood what being saved was all about. Danny said, “Brother John explained it all to me already. That’s why I prayed and gave my life to Jesus. Can’t I just get baptized right away?”
They explained that instruction class would also expound on how to live life as a Christian. Danny said, “But I learn about that every time I come to church. Couldn’t I just get baptized right away?”
But the ministry stood firm so Danny reluctantly agreed that he would join the next instruction class.
Meanwhile one of Danny’s brothers also got saved and was baptized in another church. So Danny went there instead and asked to be baptized. He was baptized the following Sunday. His desire to get baptized right away prevailed over his desire to join the instruction class where he would have to wait to get baptized for another year. Danny then continued to attend the Mennonite church, but never did join instruction class.
So what do you do with Danny? Does he need to be confronted for the way he insisted on being baptized immediately? If we really believe that Scripture has an answer for every practice that we teach as Mennonites, what verse on baptism can we find to confront him for his actions?
Are there any examples in Scripture of the disciples or the early church making someone wait to get baptized?
In Acts 2 we see Peter preaching to a crowd. They are “pricked in their hearts” and ask, “What shall we do?” Peter answers, “Repent and be baptized.” Those that received his words were baptized and 3,000 souls were added to the kingdom. (Acts 2:37-41)
That’s a lot of people! How could they be sure that all 3,000 really understood what they heard?
In Acts 8, we read about some Samaritans who had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but had not yet received the Holy Ghost; so Peter and John went to lay hands on them that they would receive the Holy Ghost.
Wait, shouldn’t they have waited to baptize them until they were sure they had been filled with the Holy Ghost? What about Simon (who had just gotten baptized), who immediately after witnessing the Holy Ghost fall upon the Samaritans, offers to buy this power to receive the Holy Ghost? Shouldn’t he have had a little more teaching before he was baptized?
In Acts 8:26-39, we can read the story of Philip and the eunuch. Here a man who apparently knew nothing about Jesus previously, but learns about the plan of salvation, believes on Jesus, and is baptized by Philip –all in one day.
I guess this story won’t work for confronting Danny either.
The story of Saul/Paul’s conversion is found in Acts 9. In verse 18, we see the scales falling from his eyes and he receives his sight. He then “arose, and was baptized”. This was one of the Church’s greatest enemies and even he received baptism the day he gave his life to Jesus.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were thrown in prison and the jailer asked what he “must do to be saved”. They spoke to him and his household “the word of the Lord” (verse 32) and the same hour baptized them all.
Over and over, every scripture reference shows people believing, repenting, and getting baptized. Not one example shows a waiting time to learn more about all the aspects of Christianity or a time to prove salvation.
In Acts 19:1-8, Paul re-baptized some of John’s disciples, then stayed for three more months “disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” So from this example, it could be presumed that baptism comes first, then more teaching could follow.
Maybe Mennonites just have the order of things mixed up. Maybe instruction class should follow baptism?
Raised in Church
What about those who have been taught Biblical Doctrine and Mennonite Principles all their lives? What reason can we give them for why we make them wait to be baptized? We can’t really give them the same reason that we give an “outsider”. I personally don’t know of anyone that came out of instruction class (after being raised in a Mennonite church) saying that they finally feel ready for baptism. That’s not saying it couldn’t happen, but I personally don’t know of anyone.
I have met many people who joined instruction class because that’s when everyone else in their age group did. And I have heard a lot of these same people tell how they got baptized after taking the class with still no heart change and no salvation experience.
So taking the class does not guarantee true salvation either.
Sometimes it seems that instruction class has become a dry ritual that we must endure to be accepted as “good enough” to be baptized now. It is an extra-Biblical ritual that we have turned into spiritual “proof of salvation”.
But what proof of salvation does the Bible require before baptism? Was a prayer of repentance and belief of Jesus as the Messiah not enough?
Whether we take instruction class before baptism or not, God sees the heart and only He knows whether true conversion has taken place. There is nothing we can do to assure ourselves completely that someone else is truly saved before we baptize them. But then, that’s not our job, is it? Our job is to present the Gospel, but whether the seed takes root and grows is between them and God.