Maybe this has already happened to you. Lord willing if it has not, it will eventually. Your child comes to you bashfully and says, “I want to be baptized”. Even though you are a Christian and you know that the “ultimate goal for any family is to arrive safely together in heaven”, a sense of confusion may emerge within you.
Perhaps you are stunned, asking yourself: “Is my child ready?”, “Baptism is for sinners; my child couldn’t be a sinner yet – could he/she?” This is a “touchy” issue and I respect this fact, but it is one that demands us to find scriptural and spiritual answers.
As for myself, I am a proud parent of three young children that as we have evaluated the situation, do not need baptism – yet. I know of friends who have “obeyed” the Gospel at a very young age only to be compelled by their conscience years later in their “twenties” to submit to baptism legitimately. On the other hand, I have seen mature younglings respond in faith and have never had their decision shaken.
It is hard to make a hard line for someone contemplating their need for forgiveness. This can make us uncomfortable because we want precise biblical answers that fit every single question we have. Sometimes, however, we are left with principles to apply after judicious meditation and prayer.
The following thoughts are offered as a few helpful guidelines. They are by no means exhaustive, but seem to be somewhat comprehensive enough to gauge our young one’s need or lack thereof for baptism.
Build on the Right Foundation
The New Testament is very clear that the purpose of baptism is to obtain forgiveness of sin (Acts 2.38), this is the reason for which Jesus shed his blood (Matt 26.28; Eph 1.7). Immersion (“baptism”; see series: “Investigating Baptism” 1, 2, 3) is a process which mirrors the Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection, marking the moment when sinners die to sin and arise to live new lives for God (Rom 6.1-11; Eph 2.4-6; Col 2.12; John 3.5).
Moreover, baptism is a decisive response to the gospel message (Rom 10.8-17; Acts 2.41; 2 Thess 2.14), where belief, repentance, and confession in Christ precede (Mark 16.16; 1 Thess 1.9-10; 1 John 2.23).
Such a response is not a passive process as the Catholic Church alleges on the analogy of circumcision, claiming that faith in the Lord “was not necessary for the children of believers”. The apostle Peter – their alleged first Pope – clearly affirms to the contrary that baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Pet 3.21). Was the apostle Peter misinformed? Hardly.
“Knowing” Versus “Needing”
With these thoughts, let us move to a critical distinction. It is one thing to know the purpose of baptism and another thing all together to come to the realization that one needs baptism (Acts 8.36).
Biblical knowledge is not enough; one must actually have the need to be saved. Ultimately, biblical knowledge will lead tender young souls towards salvation (2 Tim 3.15). However, when our children ask us about baptism, we must not overlook this distinction.
Finally, we would do well to take our time in evaluating the spiritual “need” of our children who are exhibiting signs of a budding faith in God (Heb 11.6). No need to rush this.
Gauging the Spiritual Need
In our hurry to evaluate if our children are ready for baptism, we should consider their concern as a sign of their spiritual development and their growing need for the Lord’s fellowship in Christ. This must not be overlooked in the process.
Here are some questions to ask that can help in gauging the spiritual need of your concerned child/children. They are a compilation from a conversation I had with my father-in-law Jim Tuggle:
What is the purpose of baptism (Acts 2.38)?
What spiritually separates us from God (Isa 59.2)?
Why do you think you need forgiveness of sins?
Do you believe your soul would be eternally lost because of this/these action(s)?
What constitutes the birth process? What is the difference between this and the “new” birth (John 3.5)?
Do you understand the confession of Christian faith: Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, as established by his resurrection from the dead (1 Cor 15.1-11)?
When a person obeys the gospel, what does God add them to (Acts 2.41, 47; Gal 3.25-29)?
An Expedient Safeguard
As Robert Coles frames it, our children are moving from awareness of morality and spirituality to turning into action. As we raise them through this challenge we must also be pragmatic. What if we “green lighted” them for baptism and they have doubts later in life? The “what if’s” can be peace killers.
One parent I know shared what he did with his children. He was faced with the dilemma at hand. Before his children were baptized, he had them write down on paper the sins that were going to be forgiven.
He held each note in a sealed envelope anticipating – if necessary – their doubts of the validity of their “baptism”; this way they may consult “their soul” for the reason behind their youthful baptism.
The “letter to themselves” will either satisfy their doubt, or it will cause them to take appropriate steps to be immersed for the right reasons. The New Testament clearly shows this to be the only solution (Acts 19.1-7).
As we conclude, there is always a danger in rushing our young children into the water. Then there is the other extreme that our children can never have done something sinful. We know we have not dealt with every aspect of this topic, but we hope we have offered some helpful guideposts for concerned parents.
In the end, if we do not consider this matter thoughtfully and prayerfully, can we honestly say this was a spiritual decision? Think it over.
- Jared Jackson, “Do You Have a Written Family Plan?” Christian Courier 45.3 (July 2009): 17.
- Robert H. Brom, “Infant Baptism.” Catholic.com. NIHIL OBSTAT: by Bernadeane Carr, August 10, 2004. IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827. Accessed: 18 Aug. 2013.
- Robert Coles, The Moral Intelligence of Children: How to Raise a Moral Child (New York, N.Y.: Random House, 1997), 24-25.