I believe it is time for me to outline my personal baptism philosophy as it pertains to children who have professed faith in Christ. The reasons for the clarification are twofold. First, there is a growing discussion/debate among evangelical pastors as to whether or not churches should be baptizing children, and if so, at what age? Second, we have thankfully been baptizing a few children at GBC lately and my hunch is that some church members and parents are curious as to why I might be baptizing one child at a certain age but not baptizing another child who is the same age.
Should We Baptize Children?
Baptist churches have historically stressed the necessity of a personal encounter with God through Jesus Christ as the means by which conversion, baptism, and church membership are experienced. Because of this, Baptists reject infant baptism, confirmation classes, rites of initiation, and a variety of other avenues that are employed by some denominations to bestow and announce a person’s salvation, baptism, or full church membership.
This creates a difficult and sensitive issue when children are asking to be baptized, or as the case may be, parents are encouraging and even expecting their child’s baptism. The fear among many pastors, understandably so, is that baptism is misunderstood as the means of salvation or as a magical passageway to faith, providing false security for children who have been prematurely baptized. How many times have you heard a testimony that went something like this: “I was baptized when I was young, but didn’t really know what I was doing. It wasn’t until I was out of college that I realized my need for Jesus Christ.” We celebrate these testimonies for God’s continuing mercy, but these are nevertheless the kinds of stories we want to hear less of as the church continues to preach the gospel.
In order to avoid this, some churches have implemented a specific baptism policy for children. Typically, the policy will prohibit baptism until a certain age, such as 10 or 15 years old. So, if a child professes faith at 8, they must wait until they are 10 before they are baptized. This provides the church opportunity to witness the fruit of repentance and to affirm the child’s profession of faith.
I do not follow this model. Although I unapologetically place myself in the Reformed Baptist camp, I do not agree with every movement within that camp, and this move away from baptizing children upon their profession of faith seems to be growing in popularity. I very much identify and am sympathetic with the concerns of premature baptism, the consequences of which are devastating, but I do not believe Scripture teaches a probationary period between a person’s confession and their baptism. Therefore, I will baptize children.
When Will I Baptize Children?
So where does that leave me? If I am concerned about baptizing too early but I also believe a probationary period is not biblical, how do I handle children who profess faith?
I look for two clear markers of a child’s (and adults for that matter) desire to be a Christian. First, they must understand the gospel. My concern is that far too many children have been immersed in water without understanding sin. Without understanding the importance and necessity of both the crucifixion and resurrection.
My favorite gospel presentation for children is called, “Who will be King?” You can view an online version here. This presentation incorporates a visual representation of the written truth being discussed. The full picture of the Gospel – God, Man, Christ, Response – is offered. Children will hear about creation, God’s Kingship, man’s fall, sin, God’s love, Christ’s death and resurrection, and the free offer of salvation.
So, my first marker is understanding.
The second marker I look for is conviction. Understanding the gospel is necessary, but not enough. The child must believe these things are true and have a desire to repent so that their sins will be forgiven. Understanding the gospel does not necessarily correlate with a genuine belief in it and desire for it. Conviction is a mighty act of God by which our darkened hearts receive the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6). It is a supernatural act of mercy.
These two things work together. When a child understands the gospel message and demonstrates a desire for forgiveness because they are convicted of their hopeless situation apart from Christ, I am then comfortable baptizing that child. At that point for me, baptism is not only acceptable but necessary.
Some children at a young age, like 7 or 8 or 9, might demonstrate a clear understanding of the gospel and show genuine conviction of their sin. Another child at the same age might not yet be there. It isn’t a race. A baptism does not “speed up” the process. As a matter of fact, when a child is baptized too soon before they understand and believe, the process is slowed down. Usually for many, many years.
So that is my position on baptizing children. I do not believe in a probationary period, but I do believe we should make sure there is clear understanding and conviction before we baptize.
*I recommend a little booklet called “Forbid Them Not” that explains in greater detail need to baptize children without a probationary period. I have also written a lengthy, more detailed of my position (20 pages) that I am happy to share with you if interested. Just shoot me a message and ask.