What About the Baptism of Young Children?
[We encourage you to read some of the other articles on baptism in this website. This will show the vital importance of trusting Jesus for salvation, having some comprehension of the gospel of Jesus Christ, decisively turning away from sin, and taking up the cross of discipleship. Nothing in the article below should lead one to the conclusion that there is any saving merit in the act of baptismeither for children or for adults! RH]
Article description: How old should a child be before he is allowed to be baptized? Are we immersing some who are too young? What are some of the guidelines by which responsible decisions can be made? This article probes this issue.
A young child (in this case, seven years old) wants to be baptized because he heard his mother say that those who are not baptized cannot go to heaven. He is an intelligent little boy with a wonderful, pure heart, and he cried when he heard his mother say what she did. He is serious about this issue and keeps bringing it up. When he is not in a serious mood, he acts like a typical seven-year-old kid, getting into anything and everything. How should a child like this be counseled on this subject?
This is a very thoughtful and serious question; unfortunately, no one can provide a definitive answersimply because there are too many variables to be considered in a case of youth baptism.
First of all, it is a mistake to generalize, and assert that all who are not baptized will be forbidden entrance into heaven. There will be many in heaven who never were baptized. For instance, thousands upon thousands of infants and young children die before reaching accountability. They will not be lost (nor enter into limboas alleged in Catholic theology). Many others are mentally handicapped, and thus are not in need of Gods law of pardon. Young children need to be assured that God loves them and that they are in no danger of being lost. Careful language on the part of mothers and fathers would help prevent some of the problems encountered in this area.
That aside, we need to raise, on our own behalf, some thought-provoking issues for serious reflection.
- Exactly when does a person become accountable to God for his conduct? This question cannot be answered with chronological precision. Children mature at different rates. Genetics, environment, educationall these factors contribute to ones spiritual development. Even Jesus grew in intellectual awareness (Lk. 2:52). No one can x-ray anothers soul and determine his level of responsibility.
Our children should be taught the word of God from their very earliest days. However, they must be allowed to mature sufficiently so that any commitment they make to Christ will be solely theirs, and not that into which they have been ledindependent of adequate personal comprehension. It is not uncommon for parents to gently push their children into making decisions they are far too tender to appreciate. Remember this: The choice to become a Christian is the gravest, most consequential decision a person will ever be called upon to make.
- No one is in need of immersion unless he or she is lost, and, therefore, in danger of hell. Baptism is not a mere ritual for sincere people, tender people, devout people, etc., it is for condemned peoplefolks who will spend eternity separated from God if they die without forgiveness.
Being intellectually qualified to obey the gospel entails far more that being able, in rote fashion, to cite the elements of the plan of salvationwhich many children can do. It involves more than just a tender little heart who tells mom he wants to get baptized, like others are doing. It involves more than just feeling guilty for sneaking a cookie that had been denied. It means being lost! Let this point sink in.
One of the most influential arguments an atheist could make would be to call attention to the sweet youngsters that some accommodate with baptism, and then charge: These people believe that hell is full of these children; otherwise they would not be immersing them for the forgiveness of their sins. Do we actually believe that a seven-year old child will be separated from God forever in the event of his death?
- No one is amenable to the gospel of Christ who is incapable of assuming the responsibilities connected with conversion. Jesus taught that those who wish to follow him must be willing to separate from loved oneseven parentsif necessary. He must be daring enough to forfeit his own life if it should come to that (Mt. 10:37; Lk. 14:26; Rev. 2:10). How could a small child possibly be held accountable to such a rigorous standard? Is a young child physically, emotionally, or socially capable of accepting such a challenge?
- The New Testament symbolically represents our union with Christ as a marriage (see Rom. 7:4; Eph. 5:22ff). Ones relationship with the Son of God is the most important commitment he will ever have upon this earth. Why is it that some parents, who would never dream of allowing their small children to enter into a physical marriage, will, nonetheless, permit them to get baptized simply because they are afraid that disallowing that urge would discourage the youngster from developing spiritual interests in the future? When we tell our immature children that they are too young to date, do we entertain the illusion that such will deter them from ever wanting to marry? When a youngster prematurely asks for baptism, if his parents handle the matter gently and compassionately, the child will not be damaged spiritually.
- The revered Gus Nichols used to point out that belief in Jesus, as the virgin-born Son of God, is essential to being baptized in a scriptural fashion. He would then observe that one cannot endorse the concept of the virgin birth unless he is able to comprehend the process of a natural birth. His major point was this: Becoming a Christian depends upon being adequately taught, understanding what is taught, and being committed to a threshold level of very significant doctrinal truths. And this goes beyond a mere recital of certain oft-rehearsed phrases.
Finally, I would conclude with a couple points that deserve some degree of emphasis.
First, no one can make a sweeping generalization regarding anothers baptism. No one is able to judge, based upon mere age, whether or not someone else sufficiently understands the deeper issues of life, e.g., sin and salvation. We are not prepared, therefore, to draw an arbitrary age-line, below which one is not qualified to submit to immersion. There have been many occasions, however, when adults have questioned their own baptism at a very tender age. Some wish to remove all doubt; they submit to the command againwith a full knowledge of what they are doing. Safe is better than sorry.
Moreover, occasionally a minister will encounter a case that, to him, appears to be beyond the bounds of propriety. In such a situation he may strongly feel that he cannot, in good conscience, participate. No one should be pressured to become involved in a baptism that violates his personal convictions.
Second, there is no doubt but that small children will, on occasion, request baptismwhen it is readily apparent that they do not comprehend the gravity of the situation. A little boy once responded to the invitation at the conclusion of a church service. In his conversation with the minister, he said he wanted to be baptizedand also to ask Jesus for a new pair of roller skates! The minister put his arm around the little fellow, commended him for his sincerity, and told him they would study more as he grew a bit older. The child was perfectly happy with that recommendation.
We should not be fearful of lovingly restraining immature children from making the serious mistake of going through the motions of something they neither need nor truly understand. We must remind ourselves that it is just as serious to practice semi-infant baptism, as it is to practice outright infant baptism. To baptize someone who is not lost, is to do them a serious injustice that could have eternal consequences.
© 2002 by Christian Courier Publications. All rights reserved.