Pathways Week Six: Baptism in the Believers’ Church

Journey Forward is Mennonite Church USA’s churchwide renewal process of engaging in Scripture, storytelling and sharing how God is at work in the lives of people and congregations across MC USA. Its purpose is for us to renew our local and denominationwide identity and affirm our core beliefs as we live out the mission to which God calls us as the church. It is a process, not a conclusion. The process invites you to connect how you’re living God’s call to broader church mission and draws our attention to how the Living Word is moving in our midst.

The Renewed Commitments concisely name core values orienting MC USA toward a faithful future.

God invites us to experience and bear witness to the belovedness of all creation. We yearn to know and share in the mystery of God’s unending love. But we live in a broken world. The Holy Spirit beckons us toward the restoration of all things in Christ, and on this journey together, we commit to:

 

  • Follow Jesus

  • Witness to God’s peace

  • Experience transformation

The Pathways study guide is a resource for individuals and groups across MC USA to use in exploring how they might live out these values in their particular contexts. In preparation for MennoCon19, we invite you to use this study guide and consider how these commitments are at work in your life and community.

Session Summary

This session explores the distinctive Anabaptist commitment of believers’ baptism in terms of Spirit, water and blood. Drawing on biblical passages about baptism, small groups will compose a verse for the song “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” Participants will consider their own moments of baptism and the potential consequences of baptism that go beyond the spiritual and religious realms.

Gather

Gather the group by singing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” Use these lyrics, or others that are familiar to you:

I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
No turning back, no turning back.

Invite the group to read aloud this unit’s theme:

“We commit to follow Jesus. As an Anabaptist community of the living Word, we listen for God’s call as we read Scripture together, guided by the Spirit. Through baptism we commit ourselves to live faithfully as Jesus’ disciples, no matter the cost.”

Encounter 

Introduce today’s session as “Baptism in the Believers’ Church.” Some Mennonite baptisms include these words: “As long as you abide in his Word, you are Christ’s disciple indeed and shall be acknowledged as a brother/sister in the church” (Minister’s Manual, Faith & Life Press, 1998). Ask if anyone present recalls these words being spoken at their baptism or a baptism they witnessed. This statement links discipleship, the Word and baptism — the three topics of this theme.

Most of today’s session will take place in small groups. Divide into small groups of three or four persons each. Invite them to share stories of their own baptism and ask each other, “What did your baptism mean to you and to your faith community?”

Anyone baptized as an infant in another tradition could share the story told to them by their parents or guardians, who had them baptized as a child of God who has already received God’s grace, which differs from the Anabaptist meaning of baptism. Those who have not been baptized may choose to listen or to share a story of a baptism they have witnessed. Each person should have three to four minutes to share and respond to their group’s questions.

Discern

Assign the following passages to the small groups and give each a sheet of paper and a pen. You may need to split some groups into pairs or individuals, or assign the same passage to multiple groups, so that everyone has a passage to read and all passages are covered:

Matthew 3:13-17

Matthew 28:16-20

John 4:1-3

Acts 2:38-39

Romans 6:1-4

Galatians 3:27-29

Ask each group to compose a new verse for the song “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” that captures an important idea about baptism from their Scripture passage. These will be sung at the end of the session.

Embody

Identify believer’s baptism as one of the distinctive characteristics of Mennonite theology and practice. Though most of the baptisms recorded in scripture involve adults, baptizing people as conscious believers — upon their own confession of faith — was not always practiced in the Christian tradition.

When the first Anabaptists baptized each other as adults and refused to baptize their newborns, who could not profess faith on their own, they defied both the religious and political authorities. They stood in radical opposition to the governing church, which alone claimed the authority to baptize and protect infants’ souls in the event of premature death. The early Anabaptists also stood in active opposition to the local government, which relied on infant baptism records for census and tax purposes.

Invite the small groups to discuss how believer’s baptism could be seen as something that distinguishes you from your cultural context. How might it even be an act of resistance? After 7-10 minutes of discussion, ask each small group to share one key insight with the larger group.

Explain that Anabaptists have traditionally understood baptism in three movements mentioned in 1 John 5:7-8: spirit, water and blood.

  1. The first is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is the movement of God within a new believer that involves repentance and grace.
  2. The second moment of baptism is the most familiar, the symbol of water baptism. Read this description from “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective”: “Baptism by water is a sign that a person has repented, received forgiveness, renounced evil, and died to sin, through the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Thus cleansed, believers are incorporated into Christ’s body on earth, the church. Baptism by water is also a pledge to serve Christ and to minister as a member of his body according to the gifts given to each one. … Baptism is done in obedience to Jesus’ command and as a public commitment to identify with Jesus Christ, not only in his baptism by water, but in his life in the Spirit and in his death in suffering love.”
  3. The third moment of baptism is baptism of blood, or the willingness to die as a witness to Jesus Christ should circumstances come to that. Jesus called his followers to take up their cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24-25) and was straightforward with them about the suffering that could result. This is the “no matter the cost” aspect of discipleship.

Lead the large group in reflecting on these three moments of baptism.

Which of these are emphasized most in your congregation, conference, agency or constituency group

How might you take more seriously those moments of baptism that are less emphasized?

Send

Lead the group in singing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” this time using the new verses created by each small group. Pause after each verse for the next group to read their verse aloud so everyone can sing it.

Close by reading aloud the theme, one final time:

“We commit to follow Jesus. As an Anabaptist community of the living Word, we listen for God’s call as we read Scripture together, guided by the Spirit. Through baptism we commit ourselves to live faithfully as Jesus’ disciples, no matter the cost.”

May it be so. Amen.