Baptism of Children
BAPTISM OF CHILDREN
When an individual responds to the gospel in repentance and faith, the Bible is clear the next step ought to be baptism (Acts 2:38). However, the Bible is not altogether clear on how old a person should be before the church affirms that profession by baptism. At Christ Church, we do not think the command to be baptized settles the issue that any person who professes faith ought to be baptized. While New Testament baptisms seemed to occur soon after conversion, those baptized were adults who were coming out of a non-Christian context. For these reasons, we think it appropriate in Christian wisdom to question whether or not to baptize children.
In God’s good design, he has given children a trust and dependence to appreciate and be drawn toward many the same things as their parents, e.g., sports teams, movies, and music. While Jesus commends all of us to pursue and exhibit a childlike faith, very often children profess faith in the Lord Jesus because their parents also profess faith. This is a good thing and praise the Lord! In fact, based on many testimonies from our members, it seems likely that this childlike faith as a young child was indeed saving faith.
However, in baptism, the church is recognizing and affirming that a person has indeed been “buried with Christ” and “raised with him through faith”, so we do not desire to offer a child (or their parents) false assurance because of an affinity for Jesus that may be not altogether different than their affinity for their parents’ favorite Major League Baseball team.
For these reasons, we are in agreement with the Elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (used with permission):
“We believe that the normal age of baptism should be when the credibility of one’s conversion becomes naturally evident to the church community. This would normally be when the child has matured, and is beginning to live more self-consciously as an individual, making their own choices, having left the God-given, intended child-like dependence on their parents for the God-given, intended mature wisdom which marks one who has felt the tug of the world, the flesh and the devil, but has decided, despite these allurements, to follow Christ. While it is difficult to set a certain number of years which are required for baptism, it is appropriate to consider the candidate’s maturity. The kind of maturity that we feel it is wise to expect is the maturity which would allow that son or daughter to deal directly with the church as a whole, and not, fundamentally, to be under their parents’ authority. As they assume adult responsibilities (sometime in late high school with driving, employment, non-Christian friends, voting, legality of marriage), then part of this, we would think, would be to declare publicly their allegiance to Christ by baptism.
With the consent and encouragement of Christian parents who are members, we will carefully consider requests for baptism before a child has left the home, but would urge the parents to caution at this point. Of course children can be converted. We pray that none of our children ever know any lengthy period of conscious rebellion against God. The question raised by baptism is the ability of others to be fairly confident of that conversion. The malleable nature of children (which changeableness God especially intends for the time when they are living as dependents in the home, being trained in all the basics of life and faith) is a gift from God and is to be used to bring them to maturity. It should also give us caution in assuming the permanence of desires, dreams, affections and decisions of children. Nevertheless, should the young person desire to pursue baptism and membership in the normal course set out by the church, we will examine them on a case-by-case basis, with the involvement of the parents.
In the event of young persons from non-Christian families coming to the church for an extended period of time, professing faith and giving evidence of the reality thereof, requests for baptism and membership would be considered without the involvement of the parents. While all the previous comments on the nature of immaturity still pertain, the fact that such a young person would be doing so despite indifference, or even opposition from their parents would or could be evidence for the reality of their conversion.”
The example from Capitol Hill Baptist Church of a young-person from a non-Christian family is helpful. Of course in his providence and his grace, God often surrounds young people with godly parents who train them in the ways of the Lord, so it is often unthinkable to imagine our children professing faith in Christ apart from their parents, but one hypothetical test might be:
If my child were growing in a non-Christian home with unbelieving parents, would he/she approach the leadership of the church under his/her own initiative and volition in order to make a public declaration of faith through baptism?
Another test might be:
If we (the parents) hypothetically left the Christian faith for another religion, would my child likely stand fast in his/her faith in Christ, or would he/she likely follow us into apostasy because of their childlike trust and dependence?
Nothing above is meant to imply that God cannot and does not actually save young children in genuine repentance and faith. When our young children are professing faith in Christ, we desire to affirm them in their young and growing faith—“Keep believing! Keep trusting him and stay near to the cross!” Nor do we intend to imply that a child must endure a long period of exhibiting “good fruit” before we would be willing to affirm their faith. No one reaches a point of godliness and holiness where they finally become appropriate candidates for baptism—only miserable sinners are invited into the waters of baptism. It is Christ alone who saves, not good works.
It is the unfortunate likelihood that we will baptize an adult at Christ Church who later leaves their faith in Christ, thus showing their faith was not genuine at the time they were baptized. In that sense, the adult was able to make a profession of faith that was just as “credible” as a five-year-old. The difference, of course, is the adult was able to make a mature and individual profession, fully able to weigh the costs of making such a decision.
Two final notes in conclusion, again from the Elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church:
“First, we realize that this issue is an issue of great emotion for some, and we in no way are trying to lead anyone to disobey their conscience on this matter; we simply are trying to inform and educate our consciences from the Scriptural necessity of a credible profession of faith for baptism. Second, while it is not generally known among American evangelicals today, the practice of baptizing pre-teenage children is of recent development (largely early 20th century) and of limited geography (largely limited to the United States, and places where American evangelicals have exercised great influence). Baptists in the past were known for waiting to baptize until the believers were adults. Baptistic Christians around the world are still much more cautious than modern American Christians, often waiting in Europe, Africa and Asia to baptize until children are grown and are in their 20’s.”