Believe and be baptized!

These words of Jesus (Mark 16:16), repeated at Pentecost by the apostle Peter (Acts 2:38) inspire Anabaptists and spur us to action. “Baptism” is in our very name – and our practice is a key marker in our formation as a group of Christ followers.

But what is our practice? Sprinkling, pouring or immersion?

When is a person old enough to make their own decision to follow their faith?

What are the consequences of baptism? Is it a personal declaration of faith or a rite of membership to become an official part of a local family of faith?

These are questions that challenge Anabaptist-Mennonite churches around the globe, and there are different answers influenced by our contextual factors.

Returning to the Scripture texts also show us diversity: we find both the spontaneous baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch after Philip’s teaching and a cross-generational large group baptism of Cornelius’s household. The early church continued to develop practices and symbols of baptism beyond the book of Acts.

Mennonite World Conference encourages its member congregations to remember the early baptisms that sparked our faith movement: each January, we celebrate Anabaptist World Fellowship Sunday around 21 January, recalling the courageous faith of Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz and Georg Blaurock who re-baptized each other in Zurich on that date in 1525.

This issue of Courier shares the presentations from the Renewal 2021 webinars held online in June 2021. These sessions reviewed Anabaptist history and looked at how we are now learning about baptism from other traditions – even the Catholics and Lutherans from whom our ancestors in faith so sharply diverged in 1525.

Baptism for those early believers was not only an act of personal faith but also a rebellion against political powers of the day. As we seek to reflect the faith and fervour of our spiritual ancestors, how do Anabaptists today live out bold commitments?

How does our baptism teach us to set aside self-interest and pursue the good of the community out of love for the other?

How does our baptism spur us to resist the powers of greed and domination, and instead live out the alternative values of peace and reconciliation in the already-but-not-yet kin-dom of God?

Karla Braun is editor of Courier and writer for Mennonite World Conference. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada.
This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier October 2021.

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