A Strategy for Delaying the Baptism of Young Children

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I've baptized children who were, upon reflection, too young. On the other hand, I know some Christians who have never been baptized. This seems more about prudence than plain Biblical teaching. I get the concern. I really do. I'm uncomfortable with taking a perfectionist approach to church membership and baptism. There's something to be said for teaching children to grow into their responsibilities to the Lord's Supper and service as they grow older. The fact that they came to faith at age 9 isn't their fault (rather, it's God's sovereign work in their lives!); why should we withhold baptism if we truly believe they're regenerate?

I'm just not comfortable going there.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Andrew K's picture

TylerR wrote:

I've baptized children who were, upon reflection, too young. On the other hand, I know some Christians who have never been baptized. This seems more about prudence than plain Biblical teaching. I get the concern. I really do. I'm uncomfortable with taking a perfectionist approach to church membership and baptism. There's something to be said for teaching children to grow into their responsibilities to the Lord's Supper and service as they grow older. The fact that they came to faith at age 9 isn't their fault (rather, it's God's sovereign work in their lives!); why should we withhold baptism if we truly believe they're regenerate?

I'm just not comfortable going there.

I fully agree, Tyler. 

And since we're basing our arguments on the silence of the New Testament, as is the author of the article, I don't see anywhere the category of someone who has made a credible profession of faith and is denied baptism, regardless of age.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Andrew wrote:

I don't see anywhere the category of someone who has made a credible profession of faith and is denied baptism, regardless of age.

Well, that says it all! Well said.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jeff Howell's picture

There is a challenge here for pastors and churches when it comes to following through on the mandate to make disciples. On the one hand, I am commanded, as one charged with making disciples, to baptize them (immersion being the biblical mode). The correlating truth to this is obviously that the one who desires to be a disciple must submit to the same process that previous disciples have, which is to be identified with Jesus as the one he/she is following, and to do so through the mode of baptism by immersion. No problem so far. Perhaps we can glean some wisdom principles from other passages that do help. I like to consider the maturity of the child saint (my term-reflecting an "as far as I can know" credible profession of faith) based on how Jonah was responded to by the Lord in Jonah 4, which is the "not knowing your right hand from your left passage." It is instructive in the sense that it helps us recognize levels of development and understanding. I  also think that parents have a role in helping a pastor or church in recognizing whether or not the child saint is truly understanding of what they are doing. It is easy to want to do something because a friend or sibling is doing it, especially if the action were to be encouraged or receive praise. My approach with parents has been to have their child wait until they are persistently pursuing baptism because they know that is what the bible tells them to do. This becomes an indicator of genuine conversion and also of right motive, and provides the platform for ongoing teaching and instruction in their lives. Finally, in terms of correlation, if it is possible for one to partake of the Lord's table in an unworthy manner, would it also be possible for a younger saint to participate in baptism in the same unworthy way? Maybe the baptism is being insisted upon by the parents, in violation of the child's individual soul liberty. Maybe the younger saint is simply responding to pressure from an older sibling or other child, and truly does not understand what is going on. Acts 2 makes the case that the regenerate responded with understanding when Peter commanded the waters of baptism. Just some thoughts. It seems that there does need to be some understanding of what is happening, what is being pictured, and why it is being done. 

G. N. Barkman's picture

Paedo baptists read infant baptisms into passages where they are not found.  Some baptists read childhood baptisms into passages where they are not found.  Perhaps there is a good reason why every recorded baptism in the NT that indicates anything about age, records the baptism of adults.

G. N. Barkman

Larry Nelson's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Paedo baptists read infant baptisms into passages where they are not found.  Some baptists read childhood baptisms into passages where they are not found.  Perhaps there is a good reason why every recorded baptism in the NT that indicates anything about age, records the baptism of adults.

In the ancient Near East, what age signified adulthood?  Would you say 18 (the age of legal adulthood in much of present, Western culture, for many, but not all, intents) then, or today?  Or some other age, then or now?  Or is legal adulthood too strict of a requirement?

In my case, I was baptized at age 17.  Is my baptism therefore somehow invalid?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Nope.  Not as you have manifested evidence of the new birth since then.  As to what age is adulthood?  There is no defining age.  Jewish boys were given a secondary level of adult status at age 12 or 13.  

My comment was not meant to be definitive.  It was designed to make us think.

G. N. Barkman

Ron Bean's picture

I have lost count of the number of people I baptized who were baptized as children but were saved later in life. (I'm one.) Sometimes they said they were baptized because their parents wanted them to and sometimes because of peer pressure. I've also encountered more than one adult who, when I asked them about their salvation, began with "I was baptized by Pastor_____ in ______ Baptist Church."

I wasn't converted until I was 28 years old and the basis of my faulty profession of faith was a baptism I received when I was 12 by a Godly pastor whom I knew wouldn't have baptized me unless he was convinced I was saved. 

 For that reason I hesitate to baptize children, especially when it's the parents who are strongly requesting the baptism.

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

Don Johnson's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

I have lost count of the number of people I baptized who were baptized as children but were saved later in life. (I'm one.)

wait... You baptized yourself????

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ron Bean's picture

I actually preached my own baptismal service  although another pastor administered the ordinance.

I was in seminary and preaching once month at a Baptist church. When I shared my testimony (profession at 5, baptized at 12, but truly converted at 28) the pastor asked me if I had been baptized since I was saved. I told him that I hadn't so the next time I preached there I preached my own baptismal service. I'm independent but not so independent that I'd baptize myself. (SMILE)

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

Don Johnson's picture

Well, I was just poking fun at your word order in that sentence. I should have made that more clear.

Praise the Lord for your testimony.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don,

We got your humor just fine.  I had nearly the same reaction when I read Ron's words that you did, but just dismissed it as word-ordering while missing the opportunity for humor.  You were obviously quicker on the uptake! Smile

Dave Barnhart

Ron Bean's picture

I enjoy laughing at myself and am always glad when you brothers join in. 

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

Greg Long's picture

I've given a lot of thought to this based on what Dever's and Piper's churches have said and taught. The question is NOT can children be saved (I was saved at age 5 and have never doubted), but rather can most young children give a credible profession of repentance and faith, and have they demonstrated evidence of regeneration in a way that gives pastors assurance of their salvation in order to baptize them? 

Based on material from Bethlehem BC, I developed a study for fathers (or other spiritual mentor) to do with their children in preparation for baptism in order to help determine readiness. It has chapters on the Gospel, on evidences of regeneration (a study of 1 John), and the meaning and mode of baptism.

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Greg Long's picture

Here are some questions a pastor can ask at a baptism interview of a child:

Questions for Parents

  • Has your child trusted Christ?
  • What evidence of conversion have you seen in his life?
  • Does your child want to be baptized?
  • Are you confident that he understands baptism and is ready to be baptized?

Questions for the Child

  • The Bible says a person must be saved before being baptized. Have you ever trusted Christ as your Savior? Tell me about that.
  • What does it mean to be saved? If someone asked you how to be saved, what would you tell them?
    • Why do you need to be saved? Saved from what?
    • What did God do in order to make it possible for us to be saved?
  • Are there any verses that helped you understand what it means to be saved?
  • Why do you want to be baptized?
  • What does baptism mean?

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Ron Bean's picture

I've used and recommended similar questions to the much better ones you have. What  do you do when your questioning the child and the parents are coaching the child to the correct answers? I've asked parents to not say anything but to let their child answer in their own words, but some parents just want to "help".

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

Greg Long's picture

That to me is a very good indication who actually wants this baptism to happen--the parents, not the child. If a child can't answer for himself but the parent has to give the answers I would generally not be comfortable moving forward with the baptism.

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

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Don Johnson's picture

I require our children to come talk to me about it, apart from their parents (always in a public setting!). We've had a number of young ones come to me over the last couple of years and I've had the joy of baptizing them and seeing spiritual fruit in their lives.

Another thing to watch for is siblings... as soon as one kid gets baptized, the brother or sister think they want to also, just to keep up. They have to learn that baptism isn't a contest or an achievement!

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3