Five hundred years after the first Anabaptist baptisms in Zurich—and the wrenching divisions that followed—is it possible for the Catholic, Lutheran, and Anabaptist descendants of those groups to heal the wounds of those debates? Aided by a Teacher-Scholar grant from the Institute for Christian Worship at Calvin University, the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism (ISGA) will help to foster ecumenical conversations about baptism within the global Anabaptist-Mennonite family. The project will both strengthen historical and theological understandings of baptism in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, while also encouraging open conversations about pastoral issues related to baptism in various cultural contexts.
Between 2012 and 2017, representatives of the Catholic Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Lutheran World Federation, and Mennonite World Conference (MWC) met for a series of substantive conversations about their understandings of baptism. The final report of those trilateral conversations summarized the main areas of theological affirmations, “gifts received” from the other two groups and “challenges accepted” for on-going consideration. The report—titled “Baptism and Incorporation in the Body of Christ, the Church”—recently appeared as a special issue of The Mennonite Quarterly Review.
In December 2020, ISGA Director John D. Roth received a Teacher-Scholar Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship that will enable the ISGA to prepare a study guide that will make “Baptism and Incorporation in the Body of Christ, the Church” more accessible to lay leaders. The grant will also fund the translation of the study guide into Spanish and French, and support several webinars and seminars that will enable a wide range of people—including Catholics and Lutherans—to participate in conversations about baptism and its relevance to the life of the church today.
The Teacher-Scholar grants are designed to help make the knowledge and expertise of those doing academic study accessible to lay people in congregations in order to infuse new life into congregational worship practices. “I’m deeply grateful to the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship,” said John D. Roth, “for enabling projects that are intended to deepen understanding of the rituals of worship. Baptism is central to Anabaptist-Mennonite identity, yet many pastoral questions persist around baptism and it continues to be a major point of division within the Body of Christ.”
Working with both conference leaders in Mennonite Church USA and with the Faith and Life Commission of MWC, the ISGA is now mapping out a timeline to prepare materials and schedule webinars and seminars. Roth has already begun collaboration with Tom Yoder Neufeld, chair of the MWC Faith and Life Commission, on the text of the study guide. He is also collaborating with Anicka Fast (Burkino Faso) and several others in organizing a series of interviews with church leaders throughout the global Anabaptist-Mennonite family on their understandings and practices around baptism. In addition to serving as an archival record of MWC perspectives on baptism, the digital library of interviews will be a helpful resource for videos that may emerge from the project.
Stay tuned for more information!