Who do you say that I am?

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:18-20)

A strange passage, perhaps, for an Anabaptist scripture-of-the-day, since it has been used to support a centralized papacy of those in the line of Peter, which holds the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

It its context, the above commendation, found only in Matthew, is given by Jesus to Peter for getting the answer right to a very basic question. In all three synoptics, Jesus asked: Who do you say that I am? And Peter responded, “You are the Christ.” (Mark has “the Christ of God,” Luke, “the Christ” alone, and Matthew, “Christ, the son of the living God.”)

Perhaps Jesus was setting up Peter to be the head apostle. This doesn’t argue that others in a succession of leaders claiming descent from him still hold the keys to the kingdom. The early Anabaptists, as part of the whole protestant movement, saw clearly the problems of the 16th century Catholic church. Part of the Anabaptist dissent was to recognize how infant baptism failed to bring about true Christian disciples; it requires an adult decision, they argued, to become a Christian. On this, the Catholic church, and the Lutheran and Calvinist protestants all disagreed, and led to persecutions of the Anabaptists for many years.

The Anabaptist asks: Can a baby answer the question, Who do you say that I am?

Having said that, I have no particular problem with infant baptism per se. I think it will vary from individual to individual whether, in crude terms, the baptism “took,” and whether someone becoming a Christian in a Mennonite church, or transferring church membership to a Mennonite church, needs rebaptising. And I think this is the practical norm of Mennonite churches we’ve attended. My wife, baptised as a baby in the Presbyterian church, has never been asked to be rebaptised. The key question remained of who she said Jesus was. On this, all the flavors of Christians basically agree.

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