Two brief arguments for the baptism of children

There are 25 Comments

Andrew K's picture

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.

G. N. Barkman's picture

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

Ron Bean's picture

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

Jim's picture

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!

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

My profound theological answer is ... "It depends." 

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

Ken S's picture

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.

G. N. Barkman's picture

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

TylerR's picture

Editor

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.

G. N. Barkman's picture

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

pvawter's picture

Andrew K wrote:

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.

Jim's picture

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!
G. N. Barkman's picture

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

ScottS's picture

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

G. N. Barkman's picture

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

Dan Miller's picture

... 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. 

ScottS's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

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.

If that is what you got from my posting, then you obviously misread it. I did not indicate in any way that "denying baptism is somehow discouraging them from coming to Christ." The connection I made is that children are to be allowed to become believers and express their faith (and that adults ought to have that same type of simple faith), and then the passage in Acts 8:36-37 clearly indicates that being a true believer (as determined by the individual's self-reflection and confession of such) is what qualifies one for baptism: no arbitrary age qualifications apply.

This is world's apart from infant baptism. Infants cannot even communicate their needs verbally, much less any "beliefs" they may or may not have; and without language, they cannot mentally self-reflect to determine if they really believe in Christ. So there is no grounds for infant baptism.

But some young children have the capacity to do self-reflect and communicate (and each gains that capacity at different ages), so when they show that capacity, I see nothing scriptural to deny them baptism, and in fact a clear statement of the opposite that they should not be hindered from it. So regarding baptism, I appeal to the clearest text that states the qualifications for baptism, the one that best represents why baptists hold to a believers baptism, which leaves age out of the equation.

But if one wants a passage that strongly hints at believing children not being denied baptism (i.e. it mentions both baptism and children in context), then Acts 2:38-39 would seem to qualify there (NKJV):

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

The promise is as much to the children as to the adults, but the children must also "repent." This fits with the Acts 8 statement about what denies water baptism or not.

My only point is that we should not impose arbitrary age limits on something the Bible has given clear direction on what does qualify as making one eligible: belief. The only thing we need to be sure of is that a person, whatever age, can articulate, on their own, the basic grasp of their sinfulness (Acts 2:38) and Jesus (the true version of Him in relation as both Christ and Son of God) as the answer (Act 2:38, 37), with such belief based on God's testimony (which both Peter preached before in Acts 2, and Phillip instructed the eunuch on in Acts 8).

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

ScottS's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

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. 

I have to say I presume otherwise. That is, I presume all children are sinners (which is not really in need of presuming, since I know so: Rom 3:23) in need of salvation. And once they evidence direct rebellion, they have become willful sinners (Jam 4:17). So I see them as all lost in need of finding (Lk 15:4-7), all children of wrath until faith comes (Eph 2:1-9). I don't "presume" anyone is elect until they evidence belief.

But I also don't categorize people as elect/non-elect. I categorize them as unbelieving sinners and believing sinners, the latter having spiritual advantages (i.e. a renewed spirit and the Holy Spirit dwelling in them) over the former in overcoming their sinful tendencies.

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

Philip Golden Jr.'s picture

I am currently working through my own thoughts on these issues as we have 2 young children in the church who have recently professed faith in Christ. I have a few thoughts.

First, the contention that you should not baptize a child because there is a high percentage of apostasy in baptized children as they become adults really does not hold water with me because I imagine there is also a high percentage of individuals who apostatized even though they were baptized as adults. I appreciate the desire to limit baptism to "credible" professions of faith.... but what exactly makes a credible profession of faith? If you look at the baptisms in Acts, there are no classes or sit-downs with the elders. No discipleship books that need to be finished first. There is faith and then, very soon after in fact, there is baptism. I don't see the church as having a biblically defined role of evaluating the credibility of a person's profession of faith as regards baptism. Certainly in other areas the church has a role in evaluating genuine faith, but, when it comes to baptism, the natural flow is confession then baptism.

Second, and I may perhaps be in the minority here, but I think we cause some issues when we link baptism and 21st century IFB church membership. For many practical reasons, church membership in our day and age looks different than church membership in the early church. I believe in church membership and encourage it in my congregation (even have a class once a quarter), but I think our modern conception of church membership is shaped by our institutional and organizational mindset. So when someone expresses their faith in baptism, they then automatically become a member of an organization (an organization with rights, responsibilities, and procedures). Now this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be problematic when we speak of adding children as members of that organization by virtue of baptism. Especially as concerns church discipline (which was one of his reasons for allowing children to be baptized). I don't have the answers here but I think we maybe need to rethink the organizational connection between baptism and membership, especially as it concerns the baptism of children.

Phil Golden

Ron Bean's picture

Imagine this conversation:

I believe that only believers should be baptized.

Is this child a believer?

I think so. 

What makes you think so?

Well, they want to be baptized.

(Would this work for you if it was an adult instead of a child?)

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

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I think I understand what Dan is getting at on how children are "treated" as believers.  In my church, children who are too young for any sort of profession, or older children that have made a profession and there are no warning signs that they are simply trying to deceive are treated as believers, and considered a full part of the life of the church, even to platform service.  That doesn't mean we try to give them any false assurance, and our pastor preaches fairly often on our doing self-examination to see if we really are a part of the faith.

Once children turn 16, we ask them to join the separately from their parents, to confirm that they are indeed believers and that they want to be part of our church.  We call it associate membership, and it has no voting rights for legal purposes, but we do want them to think about and experience what real church membership is like before they are away from the church, which usually happens about the same time as their majority.  We obviously ask the parents to agree, but our policies state that without joining at 16, the child's opportunities for church service are limited, and although we don't say it, to all intents and purposes, we "treat" them as if they are non-members.

Regarding baptism, we have no hard and fast rule on the age, but we don't generally baptize children who are very young.  Personally, I'm of two minds on the subject.  My youngest daughter gave every sign that she was regenerate, and was able to cogently answer questions from the pastor on her conversion, what it entailed, what it meant, and how it affected her(without any prompting from either him or her mom and I), so the pastor at our previous church baptized her.  When she was about 16, she decided she hadn't really been a Christian before, so she asked to be re-baptized, and after counseling and meeting with church leadership as we do for all who want to be baptized, the pastor at our current church baptized her.  This experience would certainly give weight to the idea of waiting for some period.

However, like Scott, I see no good biblical reasons to deny baptism to a child who as far as we can tell truly understands and gives every indication of being regenerate.  I'm curious how those of you who wait until the teenage years explain it to one who wants to follow Jesus and do the right thing.

Dave Barnhart

ScottS's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

Imagine this conversation:

I believe that only believers should be baptized.

Is this child a believer?

I think so. 

What makes you think so?

Well, they want to be baptized.

(Would this work for you if it was an adult instead of a child?)

In my view, it would not work for either an adult or a child. In order for me to affirm "I think so," about them being a "believer," it would not be based on "they want to be baptized" (whether child or adult). It would be based on whether they can articulate (without explicit leading questions) their need for a savior, their acceptance of Jesus as the only one who can save them, and the desire to follow in obedience in baptism.

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

Dan Miller's picture

I have to say I presume otherwise. That is, I presume all children are sinners (which is not really in need of presuming, since I know so: Rom 3:23) in need of salvation. And once they evidence direct rebellion, they have become willful sinners (Jam 4:17). So I see them as all lost in need of finding (Lk 15:4-7), all children of wrath until faith comes (Eph 2:1-9). I don't "presume" anyone is elect until they evidence belief.

Yeah, and I would agree that our greatest confidence in the eternal destiny of those we know and love comes from external evidence of belief. I’d include in that verbal expressions of belief as well as actions that show faith. But I also believe that there’s a level of trust that we are called to have that God will extend the promise to our children 

I have prayed every night since he was born that God would bring my son to faith. That’s because I believe that God must bring him to faith. 

I get that you don’t think elect/non-elect. But I think you should :) 

My son is 9 and even though he has professed faith, I have not baptized him. I tend to see Baptism as a choice of faith individually AND a choice of the family/church on the basis of observing credible faith. Like you, Scott, I don’t believe we should declare that level of credence in the faith of a child until he/she is old enough to separate his own desires from his desire to please his family and until he/she is old enough to be making independent decisions, which show true inner faith more credibly.

TylerR's picture

Editor

This isn't very hard, in my opinion. It depends on whether the child can explain the Gospel, and why he has accepted Christ. Riley wroote:

But it seems quite self-defeating, for fear of seeing a child profess faith and then walk away, to deny him the discipline that might save his soul.

Here's my approach:

  • Does the kid have spiritual fruit (ask parents, friends, observe at church)?
  • Can the kid explain what "sin" is, and whether he's a "sinner?"
  • Can he explain the three things Jesus did for him (perfect for him, died for his crimes, raised to life to defeat Satan)?
  • Can he explain what repentance means? 
  • Does he know who Jesus is (e.g. co-equal, co-eternal Son of God)?
  • Does he know what Jesus will do to make everything right (e.g. He'll come back, destroy Satan, punish the wicked, and rule as our king)?

If the kid can explain this, and the pastors believe he really gets it, then I'll baptize. The age is irrelevant, but the complexity of the questions means they'll be older before I baptize. 

What if the child realizes later he really wasn't a believer when he was baptized? Oh, well! What else should I have done? My list (above) is pretty comprehensive. We'll just baptize him again, then! All we can do is try. We aren't all-knowing. I think God is happy is we try our best to make sure the kid "gets" it. Beyond that, all you can do is try. 

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

josh p's picture

Tyler I like that approach. That seems like all we can do. Both of my kids had very credible professions of faith around the age of nine or ten. Both seemed to show a desire (although somewhat inconsistent) to honor the Lord so after a year or so they were baptized. Both openly apostatized in their late teen years. If I had it to do over again I think I would have possible waited a year or two more but as far as I could tell it was legitimate. It’s really only time that will tell: “For if they had been of us they would have remained.” Even a man like Demas who served along side Paul ultimately abandoned the faith. We are working with limited knowledge so we just have to do the best we can and leave it to the Lord.

Ron Bean's picture

I've always encouraged children wanting to be baptized to wait. I cannot recall a single time that the child showed any objection. They were fine with waiting. None of them walked away from the faith. I did often , however, receive a bit of pushback from parents and grandparents. Many of these parents were also actively involved in the interview process, clarifying and coaching answers form their children.

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