John Howard Yoder often gets critiqued (the work of Oliver O’Donovan is a good example) for his alleged “voluntarism.” Yoder, being an Anabaptist is, of course, opposed to infant baptism and insists that membership in the church must always be a voluntary, free, and uncoerced reality. Thus, the baptism of children is suspect for Yoder as it is an act totally void of active participation on the part of the baptized.
Now, whatever we might think of this I just want to make one point. Yoder is not guilty of voluntarism in any sort of modern sense. Yoder and Anabaptism as a whole does not emphasize the voluntary nature of the church for the sake of enshrining the freedom of the individual to be self-determining. Indeed, this is impossible on the basis of the Anabaptist vision of ecclesial discipleship which always involves strong communal commitments and mutual submission.
The only point Yoder makes in emphasizing the voluntary nature of the church is that membership in the body of Christ cannot be coercively imposed. That is all. The church is voluntary in Anabaptist theology, not because the modern self requires it, but because unilateral coercion cannot be used to make disciples. The one and only point of speaking of the church as a voluntary community is to say that no one is either forced into it or born into it. Rather persons are drawn into it through Christ’s to discipleship.