I recently read an article proposing that we should “Quit Telling Children about Baptism.” The author was concerned about the long-debated matter of when a person is old enough to be baptized. I appreciate his heart, and where he is coming from, however I think the article is a little misdirected. Several of my friends have shared this article so I wanted to present another perspective for consideration.
The article opens with this:
How many times have you seen this scenario: a child is baptized (10, 11, 12-year old, whatever), but nothing really changes. There is no “rebirth.” There is no driving desire to know more about the Lord. In fact, within a few weeks you see this child in Bible class, slouching with arms folded, no Bible, and irritated that the teacher is calling on him to answer a question or participate.”
I’ve heard similar comments many times when discussing the appropriate age for baptism, and nobody thinks this is a good thing. But what does AGE have to do with this??? I’ve seen just as many adults that have failed to continue with a “driving desire to know more about the Lord.” By that reasoning, should we stop teaching anyone about baptism? Of course not! So let’s analyze the issue a little more.
WHAT DOES BAPTISM ACTUALLY DO?
Perhaps a part of the problem is a failure to really appreciate what baptism does and does not do. Over the years as I have talked with those who are considering this important step, I’ve seen a good deal of confusion from them (as well as from their relatives who have already been baptized). So let’s do a quick run-down.
What baptism DOES:
- It DOES wash away sins (Acts 22:16)
- It DOES place a person in Christ (Gal. 3:27)
- It DOES place a person in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13)
These things make baptism a critical part of the Christian life. We must be careful to not throw the bathwater out with the baby, as it were. It is certainly not the only thing that should be taught, but it must be taught. As the story of the Ethiopian eunuch confirms, a part of preaching Christ is preaching baptism. It is irresponsible to omit this from our teaching.
What baptism does NOT do:
- It does NOT magically enhance physical maturity – A 10 year-old boy does not become a man through baptism. He becomes a Christian, not an adult. Therefore some childish behavior will remain. This is normal and to be expected. Childishness is not necessarily immoral.
- It does NOT magically enhance spiritual maturity – It will not automatically make you a better person, regardless of your age. Repentance and obedience make your behavior better, not baptism.
- It does NOT make all of your problems go away – I’ve encountered a surprising number of people that had this expectation.
We must be careful to avoid believing that you must be “good enough” to be baptized, and placing restrictions to the kingdom that God has not. Remember, we are saved because of how forgiven we are, not because of how good we are. Our goodness is our grateful response to the love and mercy shown to us, not the basis for it. A failure to understand this concept leads many in the world to struggle with how “good” people with basically moral behavior could possibly be lost.
The author went on to say, “We should be seriously concerned when the sole reason for a child wanting to be baptized is that he or she feels guilty for sins committed.” I am much more concerned when people are baptized WITHOUT feeling guilty for sins committed. This lack of guilt is a key sign that someone is not ready to be baptized in my understanding
THE RIGHT AGE?
Honestly, what gives us the right to condescendingly withhold baptism to an individual without considering their ideas and level of understanding simply because of their age? We can see a pattern of ideas that baptized individuals in the Bible understood before they were baptized, but there is no age specified.
People mature at very different rates. We understand this physically. I’ve known people with a full beard in 9th grade and others who can’t grow one in their late 20’s. Anyone who has spent time around youth sports has witnessed a wide range in physical development among children of the same age. We understand it academically. Some children have skipped ahead to school material far beyond their grade, while others sometimes have to repeat grades in order to grasp the material being taught. There is even a television show that challenges adults with the question, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” Many adult contestants come up short.
Why then, is it so hard to understand that spiritually, children of the same age may be at very different points? They may even be more spiritually mature than some adults. My experience is not representative of all childhoods and neither is yours. Each child is unique. Just because you weren’t ready at ______ age, doesn’t mean that nobody is. Just because ______ was the right age for you doesn’t mean that it is for everyone. Therefore, I believe we should focus on what a person understands or doesn’t, rather than on how old they are. The proper debate is “what should a person understand before baptism?” not “How old should a person be before they are baptized?”
THE REAL PROBLEM
In his conclusion, the writer says, “Let’s quit talking to children about baptism and instead teach them to seek the Lord and pursue the knowledge of God.” Why is that mutually exclusive??? Any thorough teaching of seeking the Lord should include baptism.
The real issue that causes the situations that trouble the author is not that we are teaching baptism. It is that there may be a failure to teach and properly understand repentance, obedience, and discipleship. This applies to children as well as adults.
Teaching baptism does not relieve us of the obligation to teach repentance, obedience, and discipleship. Nor does failing to teach baptism mean that we will give proper attention to these ideas. It would just mean that we have failed to teach yet another important doctrine.
Should we quit telling children about baptism? Absolutely, undeniably, unequivocally, indisputably not. We just need to make sure that it isn’t the ONLY thing that we are teaching them.