Should Young Children be Baptized?



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  • Should Young Children be Baptized?

    The question about whether a parent should allow their children to be baptized at a young age has always been sensitive, and the views vary from denomination to denomination. From the evangelical stance, leaders who take conversion and church membership seriously often take a conservative stance by implementing a certain “Age of Accountability” (age 10-15) before baptizing a child in order to guard against interring a young child via an induction ritual thus baptizing someone who isn't truly converted. The age range is not tied to specific chronological age since development naturally varies from person to person.

    The Bible teaches personal responsibility for sin and the nature of salvation. Until we know what sin is by guilt, and then be able to comprehend the substitutionary work of Christ through grace, salvation cannot be grasped. This raises questions about when a person becomes capable of understanding sin and the nature of salvation, thus becoming answerable or accountable to God for sin. Under the Old Testament, the Jews recognized that children could not be held personally accountable to the Law of Moses. They set the arbitrary age of twelve as the year when a child assumed adult status in religious matters. This was the exact age when Jesus was taken by His parents to Jerusalem for the Passover and the Feast, and there He was in the temple questioning the doctors.

    Theologically, the evangelical faith has understood it to be the non-depraved status (innocence) of infants, preadolescent children, and persons who are incapable of recognizing or assuming personal responsibility due to developmental, mental or emotional disability. Essentially, anyone who had not reached a sufficient level of abstract reasoning is considered covered by this grace of innocence. 2 Samuel 12: 22-23 sets the stage for the understanding of innocence when David was confident that he would see his infant who died, in heaven.

    Another interesting fact that occurs numerous times in the Old Testament is that children (including those who die) are referred to as innocent. The Hebrew word that is used for “innocent is used numerous times in the Old Testament to refer to not being guilty. In fact, the Old Testament refers to the babies that were passed through the fire to the Ammonite demon god Moloch as the innocents, therefore evangelicals hold that God, prior to the "age of accountability treats them as innocent. This doesn't mean that they are not fallen or not sinful, but it does mean that God mercifully treats them as innocent, and He has exercised abundant grace, just as He pours out grace on those who accept His son.

    The Canon of Scripture teach that salvation is an intentional act of faith on the part of individuals. To exercise this choice, a person must be aware they are sinners before God and be able to repent of choices and lifestyle that are diametric to God’s perfect holiness. Evangelical Christians typically believe that a person must be capable of transferring trust for their salvation to Jesus as personal Savior and Lord. They must be able to understand that their lifestyles should be patterned after the example of Christ (Romans 10:9-14). Baptism is ultimately an outward sign of the inward change.

    Proponents of instant baptism without evaluation or delay often refer to the baptismal scene presented in the Gospels. In Luke 3:1-22, we read that John baptized the multitude under the baptism of repentance. In Matthew 3:1-2 we read “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” This type of baptism required Jews to repent of their sins, then do good works to prove their repentance. This baptism of repentance was merely an act that pointed toward baptism of redemption in the name of Jesus Christ unto salvation, which would come later. John's purpose was to ready people for the coming of the Messiah that he knew was at hand. Isaiah said of him, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:“Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). It is important to note the difference in the two baptismal types. The baptism of redemption is of a serious nature, requiring reflection and sober consideration before action.

    Trevin Wax of the “The Gospel Coalition” recently brought up the question and makes the case that “there is wisdom in delaying baptism for young children”. He follows the lead of W.A. Criswell, who encouraged and affirmed childhood decisions for Christ, but postponed baptism until a child was around 10-12 years of age. Some churches wait longer, even until the child is out from under the direct influence and authority of parents, to be assured that it is a personal decision. This delay is largely due to a marked tension in an age of “easy-believism” where salvation is treated cheaply amidst a consumerist culture. Cleary, we should not encourage the baptizing of children merely at the impulse of emotion or even verbal profession of believing in Jesus. A child will intellectually believe whatever they are indoctrinated to believe; Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, Tooth Fairy... illustrating just how problematic it is trusting a child to weigh the intimate details about eternal matters.

    One pastor named Justin wrote, “This is a question that I am currently wrestling with at my church. At the church I now pastor, we have a long history of baptizing children on a "profession" of faith. Often it is a profession that consists of sub-biblical terminology like "accepting Jesus into my heart" and the like. The results have been devastating! It seems an entire generation has been baptized and provided assurance through baptism without any true understanding of the gospel or any fruit of the Spirit. They are, seemingly, now inoculated to the gospel through their illegitimate baptism. At this time, I tentatively believe that the verbal articulation of the gospel must be accompanied with evidence of forsaking the world and choosing Jesus to be found credible, usually occurring around junior high-senior high school. I've grown up in a church that baptized children without discernment and now I pastor a church that has. In both situations, I see the devastating consequences it has brought.”

    Looking back in Church history, around A.D. 150 Christians generally agreed that becoming a Christian involved three stages. The first stage was an initial assent to the faith—what we would call today "accepting Christ as your personal Savior." The second stage was a probationary period during which the new believer was expected to show the sincerity of his or her new faith by a real change in life patterns. Justin Martyr delineates three requirements for this stage: sorrow for sin, learning and accepting biblical teachings, and proof of one's transforming life. The third stage was the baptismal period: believers were required to fast and pray for several days before Easter and were baptized on Easter morning. Through baptism on Easter the new convert participated in the consummation of the Lord's passion and entered into the new life as a Christian sealed in Jesus' resurrection.

    By the early third century this pattern had become firmly established. The first stage of coming to faith involved an examination of the circumstances under which the convert came to faith, the testimony of people close to them, and the convert's devotion to live as a believer. The second stage involved a full three years of biblical training. And the third stage, beginning with another examination to determine whether the candidate was now living as Christ instructed and was active with spiritual deeds, took the form of a full week of daily exorcisms, services, prayers, fasting on the final Friday and Saturday, and an all-night vigil of prayer and Scripture reading leading to baptism at Easter dawn. While these requirements might seem extreme, the early church placed extensive importance on genuine conversion before baptism. No child would be able to comprehend much less pass through such a regiment of testing. The Didache also called The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles goes into these detail, an early Christian treatise dated around A.D. 80-90, around the time the Book of Revelations was written. The Didache is not inspired, but is valuable as an early church document, followed then as a manual for spiritual guidance. I don't think it is necessary to consider these extremes under normal circumstances, but it aids in understanding how serious the early Church took confession and baptism.

    James 2:19 illustrates the serious nature of heart conversion verses confessions, “You believe that there is one God; you do well: the demons also believe, and tremble.” Believing alone is not enough, where the demons believe in the Triune (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) more than any human, but their end is the lake of fire. They are bound by eternal darkness in deception of sin, even though they have full and accurate knowledge of God. True salvation is found in the heart that is transformed by the very hand of God. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44. Salvation is not an intellectual ascent, but a supernatural event. While confession requires the mind and thought, true salvation involves a changed heart, from love of self and world to a firm dedication to Christ. Confession by any other reason than by a genuine heart transformation has been the ongoing cause of false converts plaguing the Church since at least the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313.

    Another pastor wrote, “I think the idea of a credible profession of faith is a key. As children grow from infancy to adulthood there is development in all kinds of areas (physical, mental, emotional, etc.). Our position on believer’s baptism needs to take this into account. Just like we expect a certain amount of development to drive a car or to get married, we need to expect a certain amount of development for a child to make a credible profession of faith. Research shows that only when children reach the age of 12-15 are they able to assess the consequences of different courses of action. Scripture affirms this idea in Deuteronomy 1:39 and Isaiah 7:15-16.”

  • #2
    The issue is "Can young children believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved?" If they can be saved, they can also be baptized. Many children have been spiritually damaged by withholding baptism when they desired it.


    • #3
      Much of church literature does not teach that children are sinners under God’s wrath and in need of salvation in Christ. In short, the gospel is indeed being withheld from the children. So the question arises, “How can we know WHEN to baptize children and young people?” Such questions have often concerned Baptist churches, especially when the paedobaptist brethren wrongly accuse others of believing in adult baptism exclusively, versus infant baptism. Each pastor and church inevitably deals with this matter both in their own practice and in accepting membership transfers of children and youth from other churches whose practices may differ.

      One pastor recently takes up the question of baptizing children and young people in churches. Clearly, he strongly opposes the premature baptism practiced in many churches. He also argues for close examination of a young person’s confession of faith and life by discerning parents and elders. Moreover, he offers sound questions and principles for so doing. However, appealing to “the baptism of disciples alone” from the Great Commission, he also pleads for love toward children and young people in accepting their good confession toward baptism - the same love we give to adults.

      In a conciliatory fashion, the pastor draws out a principle from our Lord’s correcting the disciples for “hindering” the children from coming to Him. He then lovingly challenges the set practice of some churches not to baptize until a certain age. Rather, he argues, if a child or young person exhibits a sound confession and reasonable evidence of a life of faith, he or she should be considered for baptism and church membership in the same way as adults. This our he contends, is a necessity from the Great Commission. I might add that Acts 2:38-41 gives the same promise of baptism upon genuine repentance both to “you and your children.”

      What then is more biblical, to withhold baptism from young people (even where there is evidence of conversion) simply because of the possibility of a false profession, or to exercise the ordinance and deal with such a possibility by church discipline? Obviously, there are differences among denominations on this subject. However, all are constrained by providence to face this issue in pastoral care and all of us should be willing to examine the Scriptures humbly for the regulation of our practice.

      On at least one occasion, it was insensitivity and lack of spiritual compassion toward children that produced holy emotions in Jesus. Concerned parents were bringing their little children to Christ, hoping that He might lay His hands upon them and pray for an early blessing upon their lives. The disciples, not possessing the same kind of compassion for children, miscalculated their Master’s attitude and callously rebuked the parents for infringing upon His precious time. When Jesus saw what they were doing He became indignant. The NKJV says He was “greatly displeased.” Instead of appreciating their apparent favor, He admonished His disciples for their ignorance and insensitivity and said, “Permit the children to come to Me; and do not hinder them” (Mark 10:14). The Authorized Version reads, “Forbid them not.” He then went on to say that “the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

      In no way was our Lord teaching that these children, just because they were children, were already in the Kingdom or saved. In no way was He suggesting that children are innocent until they reach some ethereal, nebulous, indefinable “age of accountability.” He knew and understood perfectly that all children are not only born accountable, but are indeed conceived accountable in their fallen federal head, Adam. Nor was He teaching that since these children were brought to Him by believing parents, they were thereby “covenant children.” He was simply using the occasion to illustrate that all who are graciously ushered into the Kingdom of God become childlike in their hearts and demeanor. His words were not “for the Kingdom of God belongs to these,” but rather “such as these” (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16).

      Having affirmed all of the above, we must still understand what caused our Lord’s righteous irritation. The simple explanation is that it grieved Him to see the children so easily despised and neglected by His disciples. The disciple’s lack of compassion and desire to see children spiritually encouraged at the earliest age possible, produced in Christ a holy frustration. By way of contrast, how encouraged He would have been with the twelve if they had rather come to Him with an earnest inquiry about childhood conversion.

      It is possible to hinder our children by perceiving them as either too young to experience true conversion or too young for us to be sure their conversion is genuine. Hence, where there appears to be actual conversion, we have often been reluctant to allow these young believers to declare their discipleship in baptism. Further, because young disciples are not mature enough to carry out the adult responsibilities of church membership, we have often forbidden them to become part of the visible covenant family of God. Therefore, while acknowledging the possibility (and in some cases the actuality) of childhood converts, we have often forbidden them several vital means of grace.

      To be sure, the motives for withholding baptism and church membership have been pure and honorable. This cannot be doubted and should not be questioned for they emanate from the hearts of those who are deeply committed to the authority of Scripture, the lordship of Christ and the purity of the Church. The problem is, the apostles also had pure motives in their inadvertent hindering of the children. Out of a realistic sense of the demands upon their Lord’s time, they simply wanted to safeguard it so that He could meet what they perceived to be the higher priority needs. The point is, honorable motives do not in and of themselves keep us from wrong practices. Hence, for slightly different reasons than those of the disciples, perhaps the time has come for us to soberly contemplate all of the implications of our Lord’s words “forbid them not.” We must make certain that our well-motivated practices are indeed pleasing to Him.

      When it comes to the baptizing of children, there exist (in the wide and eclectic world of Evangelicalism) several different “theologies” of practice. The word “theologies” is placed in quotes because some of these practices seem to be rooted more in pragmatism than the Word of God. For example, Arminian Baptists of the fundamentalist sort tend to baptize very young children upon the slightest profession of faith. Often, in the case of these children, there seems to be little content to their understanding of the Gospel. Not surprisingly, with the mere passing of time, a very high percentage of these “converts” prove themselves to be graceless and either trouble the church or leave it.

      Reformed paedobaptists baptize their infant offspring on the grounds that they are (by virtue of their Christian parents) “covenant children.” Many of these children eventually prove themselves to be the elect of God. They demonstrate the certainty of their election by coming to faith in Christ and living godly lives. The Gospel comes to them not “in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction” (I Thessalonians 1:5). Unfortunately, however, they are not baptized post-faith as disciples, according to the Savior’s command (Matthew 28:19) and the universal pattern found in the book of Acts. The reason, of course, is simple. They were already “baptized” in their infancy as potential and hopeful disciples. Other children of our Paedobaptist brethren (like children of any denomination) eventually prove not to have been chosen by God. Sadly, they demonstrate their reprobation by remaining in unbelief and living in sin until their dying day. For them, the sign and seal of their “baptism” never came to reality.

      Reformed Baptists, however, are distinct in their practice from both their Fundamentalist and Paedobaptist brethren. In contrast to the latter, they rightfully wait to see objective, life-transforming evidence that one has come into the orbit of New Covenant blessings before they place the “sign” upon them, i.e. before they baptize them into the visible New Covenant family. Some of these evidences are clearly defined in that wonderful prophecy concerning the New Covenant, e.g. a heart-inscribed love for God’s moral law, a true knowledge of the Lord, etc. (Jeremiah 31:34).

      For this same reason, the practice of Reformed Baptists is distinct from their non-Reformed Baptist brethren. They see the danger of baptizing professed disciples where there is less than solid, convincing evidence of true conversion. They are understandably fearful of filling the ranks of their church membership with those who are unregenerate and deceived. They long to preserve the lump of faith from the leaven of unbelief.

      From this perspective, the practice of Reformed Baptists is to be commended. Their theology of baptism grasps the necessity of faith and repentance preceding the ordinance in an observable and credible way. At the same time, however, we Reformed Baptists may have an Achilles’ heel when it comes to our own practice of baptism. From sincere motives, some of us have practiced the custom of withholding the initiatory ordinance and church membership from childhood and youthful converts. As was acknowledged earlier, the practice is obviously rooted in noble motives and based upon a rational apologetic, but it calls for serious rethinking nonetheless.

      In short, it regrettably “forbids the children” who are truly converted to obey the Great Commission. It forbids them membership in the church. It forbids them the Lord’s Table. It forbids them the pastoral oversight that rightfully belongs to all members of the church. It forbids them the sense of belonging to the family of God, even though they do in fact belong to Christ.

      The New Covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31 not only identifies the members of the New Covenant community, but it also characterizes them as a people ranging from the “least to the greatest” (vs. 34). As well as having socio-economic implications (servants to kings), the contrast surely includes gradations of spiritual maturity much like the Apostle John’s use of “children,” “young men” and “fathers” (I John 2:12-14). The church needs to remember that even the least of those who truly know the Lord, in fact, belong to the New Covenant community.

      With regard to baptizing young people or children, the challenge lies in discerning true discipleship. The difficulty of this task is often (but certainly not always) in direct proportion to the youthfulness of the professing convert. Nevertheless, where there is convincing evidence of genuine conversion, that disciple, irrespective of age, ought to be baptized. Furthermore, because of the biblical purpose and significance of baptism, such a person thereby should become a visible member of the local church before which that profession of faith was made. Every means of grace ordained for the edification of the saints should now be extended to this young disciple – worship, teaching, preaching, fellowship, pastoral care, the Lord’s Supper, even church discipline. Stated differently, there is no means of grace that should be withheld from such a convert.

      It has been emphatically asserted that “every person who gives credible evidence of true conversion should be baptized irrespective of age.” The first twelve words of the assertion actually make the last three superfluous. If it can be demonstrated biblically that “every person who gives credible evidence of true conversion should be baptized,” then such a criteria necessarily includes children as well as adults in the same way that it would include black, white, educated, uneducated, rich, poor, employer, employee, American, Chinese, etc. In fact, the Bible does clearly teach that all who give credible evidence of true conversion not only may or ought to be baptized, but with regard to obedience to Christ, must be baptized. The Great Commission cannot be misunderstood. Words could not be clearer. “Make disciples…baptizing them” (Matthew 28:19).


      • #4
        Originally posted by SERay View Post
        As was acknowledged earlier, the practice is obviously rooted in noble motives and based upon a rational apologetic, but it calls for serious rethinking nonetheless.
        That's for sure. When we study the Scriptures, the moment a person professes faith in Christ is the moment he or she is baptized. And in the case of the apostle Paul, there was no public profession of faith. There is no scriptural authority for examining the lives of people before they are baptized. If Simon the Sorcerer made a false profession, God dealt with him, but he was baptized nonetheless.


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