The Radical Reformation that began Anabaptist history was a time of aligning back up with Scripture on many points. The early Anabaptists desired to radically follow Scripture on all points regardless of persecution. And just like the earliest persecution of the Church, their persecution came from the religious groups that were in power at that time.
If Anabaptists would have practiced their faith and their re-baptizing of adults quietly, they probably could have avoided a lot of persecution. But they went out and preached, trying to convert and baptize as many others as they could. They took Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 very seriously:
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Emphasis added)
They wouldn’t be quiet! (The title “quiet in the land” definitely would not have described them) They went to Scripture to see how Jesus and the early church did it and they followed what they read. When a new believer converted, he was baptized immediately and publically.
The religious leaders were against the re-baptizing of adults (which is generally all we ever hear about). But even if they would have accepted that, the fact that the Anabaptists were not examining the converts enough (or letting the leaders do the examining) or waiting for the right time would have been a problem as well.
Anabaptists pointed back at Scriptural accounts of baptism. When Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:14-15), He asked John to baptize Him and John questioned it. But Jesus said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (NKJV emphasis mine)
This account and all the other baptisms recorded in Scripture followed immediately upon the request of the converts.
But as time went on, the church changed things, especially during the Dark Ages. The church began a policy of examining a convert seven times before baptism was allowed. They also would baptize converts at only two specific times: Easter and Pentecost. 1
Anabaptists, on the other hand, would give teaching and instruction for several hours, or in some cases, several days. But when the ones being taught came to believing faith, any new converts were baptized immediately.
Early Anabaptists saw no conflict between pouring or immersion. They did both. Where the baptism happened did not matter either– in rivers or ponds, barns, caves, mills, forests, or where ever they happened to be.
Anabaptists tied faith, repentance, and baptism together and did not postpone any of the three. They couldn’t wait to baptize until a more convenient time because there was no convenient time. They baptized at once because they believed baptism is the outward testimony of the inward new birth itself. 2
Anabaptists believed strongly that the new birth and baptism were both incomplete by themselves. So they always tied both together in one event.
It wasn’t that they thought if they baptized a sinner, it would immediately make him a saint. Nor did they wait until someone had proven themselves to be a saint before they baptized them. They just baptized people who confessed faith in Jesus as their Savior and expressed a desire to follow Him. Only repentance and faith were necessary for baptism. And then from this Anabaptists expected the Christian life to spring forth. 3
Anabaptists and Baptism Today
Flash forward five centuries later… Anabaptist beliefs today look a bit more like those of the religious leaders that persecuted the early Anabaptists for their beliefs than they look like the beliefs of their Anabaptist forefathers. Most conservative Mennonites today only baptize about once a year. Even then, baptism is only for those that have gone through instruction class and meet all the requirements of church membership. Conversion and baptism have been conveniently separated again. Converts must, once again, prove their worthiness of baptism (today by their dress standard and lifestyle) before they can be baptized.
How did this lapse happen again? I believe it came about in part a couple centuries after the first Anabaptists, when Instruction Class was first introduced. Originally, Instruction Class was not intended for new converts. It was a class started for the purpose of bringing young people to conversion. 4
I can easily see that from there it began to be a requirement for all young people because the churches wanted to be sure the young people all understood well. And soon it became a requirement for all converts, young and old. Something that was started with perfectly good intentions easily became an extra-Biblical requirement for all believers– just as it did in the Dark Ages.
We do want converts to understand what repentance and faith are before they are baptized, but does it need to be a three to six month class? Could it not be explained in a couple hours? And those young people who have been taught by their parents already are ready for baptism as soon as they choose to make the decision to follow Christ. Even those who don’t have a life long teaching can ask questions if there is areas they don’t understand. And who of us understood everything when we converted? Does that not come in the weeks, months, and years following conversion?
Did not Jesus Himself say, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”? (John 14:26)
Anabaptists used to stand out from the rest of the religious groups mainly because of their radical willingness to baptize or re-baptize any new believers immediately upon conversion. But today they are known to be the opposite of that. We want people to prove that they are “true Anabaptists” before we will baptize them. And the only thing that seems to make us Anabaptists is our dress and separated life style. And we equate that outward look and separate lifestyle to be evidence of true faith.
History has a tendency to repeat itself. Who will be the Radicals this time? Who will turn back to Scripture and re-align themselves concerning baptism– regardless of religious persecution? Will this be the generation of Anabaptists to again take a Biblical stand?
1. Menno Simons, Dat Fundament des Christelycken leers . . . 1539 “We are informed by those who know history that baptism and the time of its administration was changed. In the beginning of the holy commune, people were baptized in ordinary water. They were baptized as soon as they professed the faith and on the confession of their faith, according to the writings. Afterward a change was made. Church leaders began to examine people seven times before baptizing them. After that they were baptized only at two special times, at Easter and Pentecost.”
2. Peter Hoover, The Secret of the Strength, chapter 12 “On to Commitment”
3. Peter Hover, The Secret of the Strength, chapter 11 “On to Baptism”
4. Peter Hoover, The Secret of the Strength, chapter 12 “On to Commitment” In the footnotes (number 3) of this chapter “No Anabaptists held ‘instruction classes’ for converts. Instruction classes for the young people (Jugendunterricht) did not develop until centuries later. Even then they were not intended to be classes for “converts.” Their purpose was to bring young people to conversion and baptism. This is still their stated purpose in Old Order Mennonite churches.”
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.
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.
The Long Preparation For Baptism
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.
WHO Should Baptize?
I recently heard of a conservative Anabaptist father who asked if he could be involved in the baptism of his son. Even without knowing the details, anyone of a conservative Anabaptist background knows that he was, of course, turned away. He was told that in our tradition, only the ministry can do the baptizing.
This is the tradition of our people, and in most of our congregations, we limit it even further to saying that it should be only the bishop who can do the actual baptizing. It brought some questions to my mind. What is our tradition based on? Is there Scriptural reasoning behind it? What does Scripture say about those that baptize? Are there Biblical qualifications that must be met before one can be involved in a baptism?
What does the Bible say?
Jesus never baptized anyone, but He Himself was baptized and He spoke of baptizing. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and by that account we can draw two conclusions. First, the One being baptized approached the other and asked to be baptized by him. Second, the one doing the baptizing did not need to be greater than the one he was baptizing– although John initially protested about that.
The book of Acts gives the most accounts of people getting baptized, but who is doing the baptizing is not usually emphasized as much as the name of the One they are being baptized in.
– Acts 2:38-41
Peter preached and the people asked, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ…”
In verse 41, it says that “they that gladly received his word were baptized…about three thousand souls.” No mention is given of who did the baptizing.
– Acts 8:12
Philip preached in Samaria, and when the people believed Philip “concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized”. Again, no mention of who was doing the baptizing.
– Acts 8:30-39
The account of Philip baptizing the eunuch is the only time in Acts that it says specifically who did the baptizing.
– Acts 9:17-18
Even when the Apostle Paul got baptized, it never says specifically who it was that did the baptizing. Only that Ananias laid hands on him, he received his sight, and was baptized.
– Acts 10
In this account of Peter taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, the “Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word”. Peter then commanded them to be “baptized in the name of the Lord”.
– Acts 16:30-36
When Paul and Silas were in prison, the jailor got saved and “was baptized, he and all his, straightway”. There is no mention of who did the baptizing.
– Acts 19:1-8
Those who had been baptized by John in Ephesus were re-baptized in the name of Jesus. There is no mention of who did the baptizing.
It is safe to assume, however, that those involved in presenting the Gospel were then also involved in the baptism.
However, it is also safe to assume that the writer of Acts thought who was getting baptized and why they were getting baptized was more important than who did the baptizing.
We know that Paul did baptize people because he talks about it in 1Cor. 1:11-17. However, he makes it clear that who did the baptizing was of no importance and says that he’s glad that he didn’t baptize very many “lest any should say that I baptized in mine own name.”
Why do we baptize people?
Jesus spoke of baptizing when He gave the great commission to the eleven disciples. He said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:” (Mat. 28:19-20a)
This is understood to apply to all followers of Christ, not just the apostles. This is evidenced by Philip the Evangelist and deacon– not to be confused with the apostle Philip– who baptized the eunuch and others in Acts 8.
If we believe that the Great Commission applies to all Christians, is it wrong to apply only part of it to all Christians and assign the rest to only the bishop or ministry team? Jesus simply said “Go”, “Teach”, and “Baptize”.
Could I be so bold to say that either all of it applies to all believers, or all of it applies to only specific believers that hold a ministry position?