Two brief arguments for the baptism of children

I’ve heard all the pragmatic and (weak) Scriptural arguments for adult-only baptism, but still can’t get around the fact that you are potentially denying baptism to someone who has made a credible profession of faith. Baptism is not the Lord’s Supper. I don’t see any evidence of the apostles “fencing the pool.” Quite the contrary, in fact.

No evidence for fencing the pool? No, but neither is there any evidence for baptism of children. Every recorded NT baptism where the identity of the candidates is clear involves an adult. If you appeal to household baptisms, you yield to the position of infant baptism where infant children are included by reasonable assumption. It would have been very helpful if the NT had recorded at least one baptism of a minor individual with a credible profession of faith, but no such record exists. That leaves us without clear direction, and both positions (to baptize professing children or not) is forced to rely upon deduction, which assures that the different positions will never be resolved short of heaven.

G. N. Barkman

Looking back over years of experience I have encountered too many adults who were baptized as children and were sure they were saved because their church/pastor would never baptize someone who wasn’t born again, even though their current lives had no evidence of regeneration. I was one. I’ve also know people who were saved and baptized as children and have lived lives consistent with their faith.I married one. I have seen far more of the former than the latter.

I have never seen a child walk away from the faith or church because they were told to wait until they were older for baptism. (Those were my sons.) I have seen parents get a little testy when I expressed my personal hesitancy to baptize their children.

This is just where I am after all these years.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Both sides of the debate have an issue with the earliest age:

Riley from his article = “By children, I especially mean those from, say, 5–12. They are of sufficient maturity to understand, explain, and presumably believe the gospel”

Parenting is in the past (my youngest is 34!) but grandparenting is the present! We have 2 grandkids 3 & 5 and we see them frequently. Today the 3 year old grandson is coming to see grandpa for the afternoon (a weekly thing). I play with him (marbles, puppets) and eat lunch with him. I observe that 3 is too young (his God-conscientious is that we hold hands and pray at before lunch. I wouldn’t baptize a 3 year old! Our granddaughter is 5½. I see her at least monthly (tomorrow night she and her brother are coming to have pizza with us and spend the night. I wouldn’t baptize a 5½ child!

I just completed a 8 week new members class and joined a new church. There were 4 teens (15, 2 @ 17, and 18) in the class. They seemed mature enough. But in the case of the teens, 3 of them come with their parents and when the parents don’t come, they don’t either.

Perhaps the answer is found in the time of emancipation - when a young person can truly decide for himself!

My profound theological answer is … “It depends.”

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

My daughter was saved at 4 or 5 and wanted to be baptized. Our pastor at the time wanted to wait, which I supported. Over the next several years as my daughter saw others (adults) saved after her and subsequently baptized while she was waiting, she eventually became discouraged. Although we explained the reasons for waiting in her situation, it appeared to her that her salvation was not viewed with the same validity as an adult’s salvation. She understood the concept and purpose for baptism and she didn’t really see biblical support for her to wait (though granted she was no theologian at 6 or 7). I couldn’t really give her a strong Biblical reason for waiting, nor could our pastor, so she was allowed to be baptized. In contrast to my daughter, my two sons had no problem with waiting until they were older.

I don’t think every child is ready to be baptized at a young age. I also don’t think lack of baptism is a reason for children to walk away from the faith. I do think it’s important not to push children toward salvation or baptism, but rather teach them and allow them to reach those decisions themselves. My wife and I have tried to do that with our three kids. In answer to the question of what age a person should be baptized, I’d probably have to agree with Tyler and say it depends.

I know this risks being offensive to some parents, but there is no way to know if a child is “saved” at age four or five. We can say they have made a profession of faith, that’s all. What exactly is a credible profession of faith at such a young age? I’ve known too many children who made childhood professions who walked away from them during their teen or early adult years. Now that will test your theology. Did they lose their salvation? Of course not! We are Baptists. We believe in once saved always saved. Are they backslidden? Clearly they are, but how can we know that they were every truly saved until they return to the Lord? And if they return, how can we know if they are returning or actually turning to Christ genuinely for the first time?

I used to testify that I was saved at age four. That’s when I first “prayed to ask Jesus into my heart.” I had doubts for years, so I used to pray, “Lord, if I wasn’t saved before, please save me now.” Eventually, midway through my teen years, I came into a settled peace about my relationship with Christ. When was I saved? Who can tell? I don’t know, and nobody but God does. I was baptized at age twelve. That was probably too soon, but again, I really don’t know if I was regenerated at that time or not. I think I probably was, but its pretty difficult to tell. And so it goes.

G. N. Barkman

I’ll throw in a caveat that I won’t baptize anyone under 10. It’s my own arbitrary number, I admit. Definitely not 4 or 5.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

My hypothetical age would be higher, but I don’t have a definite number. What I’m looking for is faith that has been tested in the crucible of peer pressure and worldly temptations. If it stands true in those situations, it is probably genuine.

G. N. Barkman

[Andrew K]

I’ve heard all the pragmatic and (weak) Scriptural arguments for adult-only baptism, but still can’t get around the fact that you are potentially denying baptism to someone who has made a credible profession of faith. Baptism is not the Lord’s Supper. I don’t see any evidence of the apostles “fencing the pool.” Quite the contrary, in fact.

To me the key word is “credible.” How can we tell if a child’s testimony is credible? Children who are growing and maturing may very well be evidencing spiritual growth, or they may simply be growing toward adulthood. This is why, imo, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the baptism of children.

From the ‘Didache’ to confirmation (non-Baptists) to baptismal classes:

  • Recently joined Grace Church in Otsego (I’m the old guy in the green shirt in the photo)
  • I was in a membership class of 13 which included (as I mentioned above) 4 teens - all candidates for baptism
  • All of us went through 8 classes each with homework
  • The classes were an hour long and lead by our pastor
  • We used a workbook that more than 60 pages long
  • There was plenty of interaction. No one could have slept-walked through it
  • No 5-12 year old could have done the work.
  • This is the way to go!
  • Finally each was interviewed by a deacon w a retired pastor!

That was a helpful description of your church’s membership process. I like it. Ours is different, but likewise could not be accomplished by a young child. Reasonably mature teen, yes. Grade schooler, doubtful.

G. N. Barkman

Not sure how we went from baptizing children to membership classes, as baptizing of believers is scriptural, membership classes to join a church is cultural/practical (and in my thinking, the baptism should precede any membership classes, since membership should be only for saved and baptized believers).

I also think the answer is “it depends,” but flat out denying a child the possibility of baptism seems to go against the principle that Jesus appears to emphasize in Mat 19:14, Mk 10:14, Lk 18:16, that they be allowed to “come” to Him. Now I grant that passage is not about baptism, but it does seem to be about receiving Christ’s message (Mk 10:15, Lk 18:17) and having faith in Christ. So don’t deny children the opportunity to learn of Christ and believe in Him.

And if believing, then what prevents baptism? Acts 8:36-37 would appear to argue “nothing.”

So it seems to me that it should all boil down to whether the adult analyzing the child’s faith comes to a conclusion that the child understands and believes with all his/her heart (as best as is discernable). Though let me say, I have seen parents “lead” their children in a confession of faith, which I do not think is viable. A child ought to be able to articulate on their own, without clear leading questions, their faith.

It is still important, as the child grows, to be sure they examine themselves (2 Cor 13:5; i.e. as a parent, don’t let them rest in the “I did that!” if they have doubts, and don’t continually reinforce the conversion/baptism: “Don’t you remember, dear, that you trusted Christ when you were X years old?”). There is nothing wrong, in my mind, if later on they come to believe they did not believe then, but do now, and get re-baptized as a true believer (which of course would then really be the first believer’s baptism they have, so in that sense, they are not even being re-baptized, but simply following believer’s baptism). Not even every adult baptism ends up being “right” to do (that is, there are still adult unbelievers that end up baptized, despite best efforts otherwise; it ultimately comes down to what is really in the heart, not just the confession [Rom 10:9-10] , and the heart is not easily discernable by us mere mortals [1 Sam 16:7] ).

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

I’ve noticed that those who argue for baptism of young children usually end up using the same texts that Presbyterians use to support infant baptism. “Allow the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not” etc. Even after conceding these have nothing to do with baptism, the deduction is made that denying baptism is somehow discouraging them from coming to Christ. Hmmm.

I remember what Charles Spurgeon said about pedo-baptist proof texts falling into three categories. 1) The texts that mention water but no children. 2) The texts that mention children but no water. 3) The texts which mention neither water nor children.

G. N. Barkman

… if we baptize our young people as they profess credible faith in Jesus Christ, we ought to expect that our Lord will use his church in the way he has commanded to help those children continue to follow him.

Does he mean “if” or “if and only if”?

Why is it that the Lord will use His church in that way for a baptized 8 year old?

To me, the answer is that we raise our children in the Word of God and the admonition of the Lord because they are our children and we are told to have faith that the promise is for us and our children. And the church community does the same thing for the same reason.

My Presbyterian friends baptize their infants partly because this promise tells them to have faith that their child is elect and will come to personal faith later. So the Presbyterian treats his child as elect by baptizing them and by treating them as a believer (who wants to obey and learn God’s ways). And as a Baptist, I also treat my child as elect (and I depend on God’s promise to me and my children as Biblical support) and I expect my church to treat him as elect.

Therefore, whether baptized as an infant, child, or adult, I expect Biblical parents and churches should treat children as presumed elect, simply on the basis of their being in our families.

Also, choosing baptism is an act that should properly give the parents and church more assurance that the person who chose it is elect. Still treat them the same. Of course, more privileges should come as one expresses faith more and more. Baptism is just one example. We exhibit the “faithful servant” when we show up for ministry. And as we do (child, teen, or adult), others see and give us more privileges and responsibility.