When I served, a few years ago, as an associate pastor at a church in northern Alberta, I became friends there with the pastor of the local Baptist church. He was an interesting fellow: gifted in evangelism, able to study the New Testament in Greek, enjoyed hunting—a man’s man and a preacher’s preacher. But he was stubborn and close-minded to practices and beliefs that did not fall neatly into black / white categories. Baptism was one of those practices.
In the Mennonite context I was working in there, many of the members of our congregation had been “baptized” as young adults as a prerequisite to getting married. Then at some point along the way they heard the Gospel and got saved and in time came to be members of the church which I was serving at that time. My senior pastor was pretty clear in his teaching on baptism: if you get saved, you should get baptized, preferably by emersion (though I think pouring was an option in some cases). But this was in spite of the fact that a large portion of our congregation were baptized before they were born again, not after. Yet the senior pastor would not require those individuals to get baptized because to do so would likely cause them to be shunned by their extended families for whom re-baptism was scandalous. Being Mennonites, they were “ana-baptists” (Greek: re-baptizers) who rejected “ana-baptism” (Greek: re-baptism). Ironic.
My friend, the Baptist pastor, could not understand my senior pastor’s position of “letting things be”. That particular Baptist preacher saw things as black and white: if the Bible said believers had to get baptized, that was the end of it. Therefore, in his mind, any member who refused to be baptized after conversion should be disciplined and potentially expelled. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those two men, my senior pastor at the Mennonite church and my friend, the Baptist pastor, and about their beliefs and practices concerning baptism. It seems to me that the Baptist pastor, though too rigid in many things, was right about this. It seems to me that the Mennonite pastor, though gentle and well-meaning, was in the wrong about this.
The issue seems to boil down to fear. Those Mennonites in that church who refused to be “re-baptized” (though their original “baptism” was really no baptism at all since it happened before they were born again) refused out of fear for what others (in most cases, members of their extended families) would do or say. And granted, those are difficult situations: a Christian’s rebaptism would probably be perceived by family members still living under the old ways as a repudiation of their heritage and at least as a denouncement of the value of their original baptism. These sorts of decisions would no doubt involve lots of hurt feelings and strained relationships for all involved. So the Mennonites there who chose not to get baptized again after coming to personal faith in Christ understandably preferred to not rock the boat. They wanted to believe in Jesus without offending their relatives.
Luke 9:26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
The problem with this compromise is that it really isn’t about rules for Christian baptism but about the Gospel. The problem is that these born-again-but-not-re-baptized Mennonites wanted to believe the Gospel but not proclaim it. They wanted a passive Christianity without an active witness. To put it plainly, they wanted to receive the Good News but not spread the Good News. And that’s what the Gospel is: News. And that’s what baptism is supposed to do: spread that News. Declare it. Proclaim it. Visibly, in the outward sign and drama of baptism.
Maybe some of the older, more traditional enclaves of Mennonites have come to believe that baptism and church membership is what saves a person. I don’t know. But I do know that some people think it is the act of baptism that achieves salvation—like the most recent Lutheran pastor in the town I’ve recently moved from. But the whole reason the Gospel is “Good News” is that it announces what Jesus has already done to save us so that in hearing this news and believing it, we are saved. That’s what faith is: trusting in what Jesus has done. And so the sacraments—baptism, the Lord’s supper, preaching—announce and proclaim that Good News so that Christians are reminded and strengthened in our faith in the Gospel. I use the term, “sacraments” as the traditional heading for these practices of the Church in much the same sense that Augustine used the term to refer to “the visible form of an invisible grace”. In other words, practices that help you hear and picture God’s grace in the Gospel to help you believe.
With that rather long introduction, then, here is part 8 of my statement of faith:
I believe that God has given the preaching of the Word, baptism and the Lord’s supper as gracious instruments for the establishing of faith in Christ, the edification of the Church and the glorification of Himself.
I believe that God has commanded that each believer be baptized upon the profession of faith in Jesus Christ, that baptism is rightly understood from the Bible to be by emersion in water, and that it is the grace of Jesus alone, through faith, that saves the believer and not the act of baptism itself.
I believe that the Lord’s supper was instituted by the Lord Jesus so that the Church would celebrate and commemorate His Gospel regularly and perpetually through the tangible means of bread and cup until His second coming.