restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


What I Have Learned from the Anabaptists (Part 7)

 David Alan Black  

One Sunday evening in a church in Nikolayev, Ukraine, I witnessed baptismal candidates being interviewed for membership. It was a sight to behold. I promised you I would give you a brief report. This is it.

The candidate is asked to stand on the platform in the front of the church building. She (or he) is given a microphone. Standing next to her is one of the church elders, also with a microphone. He begins by introducing her to the congregation. He states her name, date of birth, and date of conversion. Usually the candidate has been a believer for about a year. Then anyone in the congregation can ask the candidate any questions they like.

I recorded a few of the questions I heard:

“What is faith?”

“Do you like our church or would you want to change it?”

“What is baptism?”

“What are the fruits of the Spirit?”

“Does anything from your previous life keep you from following Jesus?”

“Would you marry a non-Christian?”

“Do you have to be baptized to be saved?”

Then the candidate is dismissed while the congregation discusses her testimony, openly and frankly. People who know her well (especially relatives and friends) are asked to testify about her character. This discussion can last a very long time. Finally the church is asked to vote by a raise of the hand as to whether or not the church should accept the candidate into membership. The candidate is brought back, informed of the decision, and then asked to pray aloud.

Eternally security — the doctrine that a person once saved is saved forever — is not widely held among Ukrainian Baptists. Arminian tendencies could easily lead to a preoccupation with legalistic attention to external appearances to the neglect of weightier matters. All of that seemed obvious to the church leaders I spoke with. I do not agree with their Arminian theology, but I do not judge them. In fact, I applaud them, and I believe the great masses of nominal Christians would be far fewer if our own churches expected their members to concern themselves with the good Name they bear in common.

I suppose disagreements are inevitable as to where to draw the line, and legalism can always raise its ugly head in such a setting. In my reading about the Anabaptists I’ve noticed that Marpeck and Ridemann were Augustinian, while Hübmeier and Menno were more Erasmian. But all Anabaptists believed that if the door of entrance into the church were closely watched, a strong and true church would be maintained. Likewise, Ukrainian Baptists teach that Christians are accountable to each other. They are convinced that there can be no true church where there is worldliness and immorality. Without such concern for genuine repentance, a slipshod practice of spiritual laxity results. I share that concern. I believe that a commitment to a vigorous internal ethic is a laudable thing and a mark of a vigorous congregational life. Churches today need to light their light —  the light whereby others may see their good works and glorify the Father in heaven.

Perhaps the Arminian John Wesley said it best:

I will not quarrel with you about my opinions; only see that your heart is right toward God, that you know and love the Lord Jesus Christ; that you love your neighbor, and walk as your Master walked, and I desire no more. I am sick of opinions; am weary to bear them; my soul loathes this frosty food. Give me solid and substantial religion; give me a humble, gentle lover of God and man; a man full of mercy and good faith, without partiality and without hypocrisy; a man laying himself out in the work of faith, the patience of hope, the labor of love. Let my soul be with these Christians wheresoever they are, and whatsoever opinion they are of.

August 17, 2007

David Alan Black is the editor of

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