Baptizing children at younger and younger ages has contributed to “unregenerate church members”

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Jonathan Charles's picture

In the SBC, the number of baptisms you produce is the key to being recognized and moving up the ladder to bigger churches.  Attached is an article on S.C. Baptists getting recognition for the number of baptisms they produced.  When a pastor moves from a smaller to larger SBC church, the number of baptisms he produced is usually the number touted as indicative of his ability to lead a growing church.  In such an environment, it is hard for some to resist not baptizing a lot of children, to not do so will inevitably lead to lower baptism statistics and hence fewer opportunities for advancement.      

https://baptistcourier.com/2010/08/south-carolina-lauded-for-baptism-gro...

http://legacy.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/religion/070310/speak.shtml

Bert Perry's picture

I can see how we could believe this, but I wonder if the bigger issue is that children's church, VBS, and Sunday School are not teaching the Gospel to kids.  All of my kids save the youngest have come to Christ at a young age, and they are perservering--yes, an anecdote, but it illustrates that people can come to Christ for real while young.  

Not that it doesn't have to do with people building their earthly kingdom (Jonathan Charles' comment), but what does He mean when He says "Let the Little Children come to me"?  Come to Jesus.....but don't get immersed?  Come to Jesus....but don't start serving Him?  

This illustrates a second problem we have; all too often, we let kids be everywhere in church but in the service, serving, and the like, and.....then we wonder why they've gotten the hint by age 20 and leave for good.  So I think the author is on the right track, but he may be missing a bigger issue or two.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

This really strikes to the heart of how to evangelize children. I'm not sure if this is the best approach, but I don't push kids for decisions at all. I urge them to repent and believe the Gospel, but I never confront them and ask, "so, do you wanna accept Jesus!?" I explain:

  • The fact of their sin ("you think and do bad things all the time, and can never be good enough for God")
  • The command for repentance ("God demands that you tell Him you're sorry for what you think and do, because He hates it - and you have to actually mean it")
  • The command to believe the Gospel ("you have to believe who Jesus is and what He did - He was perfect in your place and was punished in your place, so you don't ever have to be punished for everything you do wrong unless you want to be!")
  • I urge them to do it ("You have to obey this command, and it's the most important decision you'll ever make!")

However, I won't grab kids and nudge them towards a salvation decision. We let them come to us:

  • If you really believe in election, you know that no kid will "miss out" on salvation who has been given to Christ, so you shouldn't feel pressured to make them "pray a prayer"
  • If you really believe in effectual calling, you know that the Holy Spirit will convict, call and draw the kid in His own good time - and you or a Sunday School teacher will be in their lives to help

Having said all that, I won't wait to baptize at all. Baptists don't believe baptism actually accomplishes anything objective with regards to salvation, With baptism the command in Scripture is clear - folks are saved, baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:41). 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Greg Long's picture

We have discussed this on SI several times before, so my comments may sound familiar to some. This is an important issue, but we need to understand what the issue really is.

It is NOT whether we believe children can be truly saved or not. Mark Dever, who won't baptize people until they are 18, believes children can be saved.

The issues are twofold:

1) Baptist pastors/elders should not only be sure to baptize, but they should make every effort to baptize believers. In other words, there are two dangers: 1) not baptizing genuine believers, and 2) baptizing unbelievers. Obviously no man can know someone else's heart and the absolute genuineness of their salvation. But people should not be baptized in haste or without some kind of examination.

2) Given #1, how can we be reasonably certain of the genuineness of a child's profession of faith so that we can properly baptize them as believers? While to many Baptists to even ask this question is heresy, just think of the many, many people who 1) get "saved" and baptized as a child, but then 2) have doubts as a teen or adult and then either walk away from the faith or get "really saved" and then baptized again. Why does that happen so often? Perhaps because while children CAN be saved with their limited understanding (I was saved at age 5 and have never doubted it), sometimes children can also make a profession of faith without truly understanding what they were professing, or because of peer pressure, in order to please a parent/teacher, etc. Also, consider how many children say "I am going to be a fireman when I grow up" or "I'm going to marry Johnny someday" and they have no idea what that really means.

Now, I think Dever's minimum age requirement of 18 is a little extreme. But there is a lot of validity to what he says (please also listen to the Q&A session before making judgments about his position: http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/sermon/children-and-baptism-qa/).

The thing I hope we can all agree on, whether we set a minimum age requirement or not (and at the church at which I serve we do not), is that there should some kind of process or examination of baptismal candidates to determine their suitability for baptism.

  • At a previous church at which I served, I developed a Bible study that a father would do with his child who expressed interest in baptism to help determine his/her understanding of the Gospel, assurance of salvation, baptism, etc. It would also require him/her to write out his/her testimony of salvation. The pastor would then work in conjunction with the father to determine his/her suitability for baptism.
  • At the very least (and I'm guessing most pastors on SI do this), a pastor/elder should interview the child before baptizing them. But here is the key: don't just ask "When did you get saved?" Also ask, "If your friend asked you what it means to be saved, what would you tell them?" (or some variation on this question) This will give you a good idea of their understanding of the Gospel. AND YOU MUST BE WILLING TO SAY "NO" OR "WAIT," EVEN IF A PARENT IS PRESSURING YOU TO BAPTIZE THEIR CHILD. I had one child who couldn't really answer a single question I asked and just looked at his dad, who answered for him.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Crystal's picture

Count me as one of the "Saved at 4, baptized at 5 and doubted for years until I was 14."  Yup.  Didn't help that the church I raised in until I was 11-12 was a Hyles, "do you wanna go to hell?  No?  Say these words.  YAY!  Now you get to go to heaven.  End of story" type.  Peer pressure (and the pressure of the invitation) was a big time factor.  I honestly don't really know if I was saved at that point or not.  All that matters is that I know I am saved now.  

I'll be following this thread with great interest.  We have a 7 yr old who has made a profession of faith.  He answered all of the questions right here at home without our prompting but when he spoke to the deacons from our sending church he got all flustered and wasn't able to clearly communicate the gospel.  We all decided to wait.  At that time he was asking us regularly if he could be baptized.  He hasn't asked once since that meeting with the deacons.  Part of me wonders if he viewed it as a pass/fail thing and gave up.  I don't know.  We continue talking about the gospel and baptism does come up now and then but like I said, he hasn't asked since.  I do NOT want my story for our boys--those years of doubt were horrible.     

Mark_Smith's picture

We have kids 8 and 6 (and twins who are 2...but we'll wait on them). My wife's sisters kids are the same age, and the oldest was baptized 2 years ago. I didn't think baptizing her at 6 was a good idea because I knew the situation, but I didn't say anything because I have said things before and that didn't go over well with them (I know you readers are shocked Smile ). So, the two oldest cousins who are 8 are really close. Since her cousin is baptized my daughter asks about it, not often, but regularly. Here is how I deal with it for now. My daughter can answer all of the questions, but that doesn't mean anything really. She has just been educated. What I am looking for is a genuine sign of repentance. When she sins, is she genuinely repentant? Does she have remorse at sin? When she say has a fight with her brother, does she show awareness of sin without being asked by me or her Mother? That is what I am looking for.

For the record, my wife was, I believe, genuinely saved at 6. She had a specific moment where she became aware of sin and repented exhibiting faith in God. She was baptized at that time, and continued in that faith.

One final thing, I think it is important to affirm faith affirmations of kids. When my six year old tells me he loves God and Jesus more than me, I say "good" and encourage him in believing. I don't think that he is expressing believing faith however. But I don't reject his affirmation by saying he isn't a believer yet. I encourage his growth in believing the gospel without squelching it for not being complete.

Jim's picture

At just a couple of months short of 66, I have just a handful of memories from being very young (I remember generally the birth of my brother in 1953 and my Dad buying a 1954 Ford). But I remember vividly being baptized at the age of 21. . 

pvawter's picture

I was just shy of 4 years old when I repented of my sins and trusted in Christ to save me. Several times over the course of a number of years I remember going forward in an invitation to ask about being baptized. My father, who was my pastor, spoke with me every time and just told me to wait. I don't know if he had a policy about it or not, but he made me wait until I was 10 or 11 to get baptized. At the time I didn't understand why he wanted me to wait, but I think he was just watching to see if I was serious about getting baptized and following Christ before he (and the church) affirmed my testimony of faith through baptism.

While I don't believe there has to be a set age at which a church will baptize, it is certainly the church's responsibility to make sure that anyone who comes for baptism understands the nature of genuine faith and the weight of their Christian testimony. It grieves me to think of using baptism statistics as a measure of success because of the temptation to treat it as nothing more than a tool for pastoral recognition. 

Greg Long's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

We have kids 8 and 6 (and twins who are 2...but we'll wait on them). My wife's sisters kids are the same age, and the oldest was baptized 2 years ago. I didn't think baptizing her at 6 was a good idea because I knew the situation, but I didn't say anything because I have said things before and that didn't go over well with them (I know you readers are shocked ). So, the two oldest cousins who are 8 are really close. Since her cousin is baptized my daughter asks about it, not often, but regularly. Here is how I deal with it for now. My daughter can answer all of the questions, but that doesn't mean anything really. She has just been educated. What I am looking for is a genuine sign of repentance. When she sins, is she genuinely repentant? Does she have remorse at sin? When she say has a fight with her brother, does she show awareness of sin without being asked by me or her Mother? That is what I am looking for.

For the record, my wife was, I believe, genuinely saved at 6. She had a specific moment where she became aware of sin and repented exhibiting faith in God. She was baptized at that time, and continued in that faith.

One final thing, I think it is important to affirm faith affirmations of kids. When my six year old tells me he loves God and Jesus more than me, I say "good" and encourage him in believing. I don't think that he is expressing believing faith however. But I don't reject his affirmation by saying he isn't a believer yet. I encourage his growth in believing the gospel without squelching it for not being complete.

Great thoughts, Mark, thanks. I like your approach.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

jhorneck3723's picture

I have a soft cut off at age 12. I do work with the parents to make sure that there is genuine conversion. Of course, parents desire for there to be genuine conversion can cloud their judgment. The way I deal with this is by saying, "are you confident enough in your child's conversion that you are okay with them doubting their salvation in their 20s and using the fact that the church affirmed the genuineness of there faith as a means of dealing with doubt?" I think that baptism should play a role in assurance, and I think an honest parent will be very concerned not to give false assurance.

Shaynus's picture

Jonathan Charles wrote:

In the SBC, the number of baptisms you produce is the key to being recognized and moving up the ladder to bigger churches.  Attached is an article on S.C. Baptists getting recognition for the number of baptisms they produced.  When a pastor moves from a smaller to larger SBC church, the number of baptisms he produced is usually the number touted as indicative of his ability to lead a growing church.  In such an environment, it is hard for some to resist not baptizing a lot of children, to not do so will inevitably lead to lower baptism statistics and hence fewer opportunities for advancement.      

https://baptistcourier.com/2010/08/south-carolina-lauded-for-baptism-gro...

http://legacy.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/religion/070310/speak.shtml

This is partly why Capitol Hill Baptist (where I was a member for 3 years) does not report baptisms or attendance to SBC higher ups on the principle that it's none of their business as a cooperative missions organization rather than a denomination. They encourage other churches not to report either. Faithfulness is faithfulness and is the main measure of success. 

Bert Perry's picture

Slightly off topic, but it strikes me that you can use church statistics properly.  Most churches that use statistics use some variation of the Jack Hyles "round to the nearest target" approach.  You say you want 100 kids in youth group, you get 21, round to 100, whatever.  That, or you have a huge emphasis on "conversions"--with "once saved always saved" or "perserverance of the saints", they're bound for Heaven, right?--but not on other facets of life in the church.  If you trusted this method, you wonder why the whole world isn't saved several times over, really.

My take is that if you tracked baptisms, new memberships, membership growth, members released for sin/lack of faith, marriages, number of people serving by capacity, baby dedications, funerals, and the like, you would get a much more comprehensive picture of the spiritual status of the church.

The bummer would be that at too many churches, you'd see a ton of "conversions" and not much else, and you would have to confront the reality that the "fruit" of your ministry is rotten.  It would be a great gut check that would require a great deal of maturity to make.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

I trusted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was five years old. My dad, Joe Brumbelow, was pastor and baptized me at five years of age at Doverside Baptist Church, Houston, Texas.

That was over 50 years ago. I’m far from perfect, but I’m a pastor and still serious about following Jesus.

I, and my dad before me, also have believed in doing our best to make sure a person knows and understands the Gospel before they are baptized. They don’t have to have a seminary degree, but they need to know and accept the basics of salvation.

No particular age limit, but don’t manipulate children just to get a few more baptisms.

David R. Brumbelow

Ron Bean's picture

I grew up in an independent fundamental Baptist church. When I was 5 years old I told my mother that I wanted to be saved and she explained the Gospel to me and I asked Him to save me. My mother told me that's what happened but I have no recollection of the event, but I trusted my mother's word. When I was 12, I was baptized as that was the minimum age in our church. I was in every service and actively involved until I left for college. Over the next 10 plus years, my life was far from that of a Christian but when I was confronted, I would tell people that "I was saved when I was 5, I was baptized when I was 12, and that I was backslidden." That, and a tremendous amount of Bible knowledge was enough to silence most people who confronted me. Whenever I got in trouble, I would ask God to forgive me, go to church for awhile, and then go back to the sinful life in which I was happy and comfortable.

Finally, a friend told me that if I was really a Christian, I shouldn't be happy with my sinful life and that God would be chastening me.

It was then that God opened my eyes to my true spiritual condition and I repented and trusted Christ and gave up trusting my mother's memory and my false profession.  A few years later I actually preached my own baptismal service.

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