Members-Only Baptism

Shelly grew up in a non-Mennonite church. One of her closest friends from school was Mennonite and she invited Shelly to visit her church. So Shelly went and really enjoyed it. She continued to attend and made lots of friends.

When she got saved, she wanted to get baptized. She told her parents that she wanted to get baptized and become a member of the Mennonite church. Her father was unhappy with her decision. “It’s one thing to attend there, but as long as you live under my roof, I will not allow you to become a member of a Mennonite church.”

She countered with, “Well can I get baptized there at least? I’ll just wait to become a member until I am old enough to be on my own.”

So her dad agreed to allow her to get baptized there.

When Shelly talked to the ministry about her desire to get baptized, she was dismayed to hear what their response was. “I’m very sorry, Shelly. We can’t baptize you unless you are willing to become a member of our church. That is just our policy here.”

“But why?” questioned Shelly. “I don’t want to go against my dad’s wishes but I also don’t want to wait to get baptized until I’m old enough to move out.”

“We’re sorry, Shelly. We only baptize people who become a member of our church. How can we hold someone accountable if they don’t become a member?” the ministers told her.


Henry’s wife turned her back on God, left him for another man, and took their two children, a son and a daughter, with her. She got custody and Henry only got to have them every other weekend. So Henry brought them to church every other Sunday and taught them about God every chance he could.

When they reached their teens, his children both gave their lives to God. Henry was so excited. They wanted to get baptized and his daughter wanted to wear a head covering. When their mother heard about this, she refused to let her.

So Henry asked if their church could make an exception for his daughter and baptize her anyway even though she did not wear a covering.

But the church refused. What kind of an example would that set for other girls in the church if this one was allowed to get baptized but did not wear a head covering?

So Henry’s children were turned away and they had to find another church to baptize them.

Both of these examples, and others like them, happen occasionally in Mennonite circles. People are turned away because of circumstances that they can’t control. I’ve seen it happen in my church and I’ve heard enough bitter complaints against Mennonites from others who have experienced rejection from Mennonites, that I know it has not been just a few isolated incidents.

I have wept over the hearts that have been wounded and turned away by our dogmatic approach to keeping our church rules. If our traditions hurt others and turn them away from obeying the Bible (we are commanded to repent and be baptized), maybe we need to repent of our traditions and align our theology back to what God’s commands are.born of water

Does Scripture give requirements that must be met before baptism?

Baptism is not salvation, but baptism does represent what happens during salvation. Is becoming a member of a church a requirement for salvation? Must you be walking in obedience to every command before God can save you?

Baptism is to follow our salvation experience as a outward statement of what has happened inwardly. If it is only a symbol of our salvation experience, why do we place more expectations for baptism on the new believer than we do for salvation?

If our reasons for church membership are for accountability, than should that be something separate from baptism? Is accountability ever a requirement for baptism in Scripture?

Romans 6:3 says “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”

Are we baptizing converts into Jesus Christ, or into “Faithful Mennonite Church”?

By requiring membership in order to get baptized, we are saying that we will not baptize anyone who is not Mennonite. So since baptism represents salvation, we are also saying that we don’t believe that anyone can be saved unless they are Mennonite.

Acts 10:44-48 gives us an example of a time when something like this occurred.

“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.

These Jews were not sure that the Gentiles (who had just received the Holy Ghost) should be baptized with them. Peter’s response to them was, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”

Is our Mennonite versus non-Mennonite belief any different than the Jew versus Gentile belief here? Do saved non-Mennonites not have the same Holy Ghost in them that we do? Who are we to “forbid water”?

Paul also addresses this in 1Cor. 12:13.

“For by one Spirit are we ALL baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

And in Ephesians 4:4-5

“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of you calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

“…Baptized into ONE BODY.”

“ONE faith, ONE baptism.”

There doesn’t appear to be any wiggle room here. There is only one kind of baptism. There is only one faith and only one Body of Christ that we are baptized into.

If it’s wrong to refuse baptism to someone who has the same Holy Ghost in them that we do, then it is time for Anabaptists to repent and reform. When church tradition and Biblical commands contradict, we need to do like our forefathers did and make a radical reformation back to alignment with Scripture.



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