Canadian Mennonite
Volume 11, No. 08
April 16, 2007


The accidental Anabaptist

According to Anabaptist scholar Walter Klaassen of Saskatoon, I’m a “modern Anabaptist.” In his Faith&Life reflection on the difference between Anabaptists and Mennonites, he lists two groups of latter-day Anabaptists.

The first are Mennonites who currently live in such places as Vietnam, Colombia and Ethiopia, where, Klaassen notes, they are being persecuted for their faith by repressive governments, “and therefore know what it is like to be Anabaptists back then [the 16th century].”

The second are people like me, who, he says, “came into the Mennonite Church from churches that still baptize infants, and have been rebaptized.” Actually I’m not “in” the Mennonite Church yet, as my wife and I are still taking membership classes at our local congregation. And I didn’t even know I was rebaptized until nine years ago!

After 12 years of living on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario, in 1999 our family packed up and moved back south so I could go to seminary in Toronto. One day, while going through boxes of stuff that had sat in storage for more than a decade, I came across my baptismal certificate.

Except it wasn’t the baptismal certificate I remember getting from Emmanuel Baptist Church when I was 17—after being immersed as an “adult” believer. This one was dated 1955, the year I was born, and it was from the United Church my parents had been married in. This was a shock because, from my earliest recollections, church for me was “Emmanuel” and baptism was “believers’ baptism” in cold water!

When I asked my mother why this secret had been kept from me all these years, she wasn’t sure, but figured her and dad had probably just forgotten. So I became the “accidental” Anabaptist. I guess if I had never discovered the certificate, I would still be the “unknown” Anabaptist.

To be Anabaptist, as Klaassen describes the term, is a high calling, one that I admit to feeling more than a little sheepish about having thrust upon me simply because I was unwittingly baptized a second time. For the original Anabaptists, and those who now practise their faith under oppressive regimes, there was nothing “accidental” about their decision to be baptized into a faith that might lead to their death. Not so for me, where, in 20th century Canadian society, my baptism has been largely ignored by the outside world and accepted within church circles in a spirit of inclusive ecumenism.

For someone like myself, who is walking down the Schleitheim Trail today, Klaassen provides both a sober warning about the dangers of Mennonites “being conformed to this world in our enthusiastic embrace of consumerism,” being “confused about what the truth is,” and “reduc[ing] Christian faith to social activism”; and a loving reminder of what Anabaptism is all about.

Acknowledging that the original Anabaptists were not perfect, Klaassen says that “without exception they knew that their faith basis was that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had come into the world to save sinners; that in his death they had forgiveness of sins; and that in his resurrection they had the light and power to live the Christian life. They had confidence and trust in God’s love and judgment that would see them through the darkness of their time to the light of God’s eternal kingdom.”

Are we ready to die for this, if need be? If that question is too hard to answer—or even contemplate, are we ready to live for it in the meantime?

—Ross W. Muir, managing editor

Back to Canadian Mennonite home page