Child Baptism, Let’s Think It Through

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By Berry Kercheville

Since my last article, “Quit Telling Children about Baptism,” there have been quite a bit of “chatter” on the subject as well as emailed comments to me personally. I have appreciated every response, most of which have been positive. Some have asked how to better talk to their children about salvation. Others, were interested in a more thorough explanation. And still others wondered why I felt the need to address the subject at all. Allow me to begin with this last question.

Why Address the Subject of Child Baptism?

First, the practice of baptizing young children has become quite common. In fact, the responses I received revealed a wide acceptance of baptism of children as young as 6-8 years old. We should be concerned about this if for no other reason than the Bible never speaks of baptizing children. Out of the whole city of Samaria, only “men and women” were baptized (Acts 8:12). Though we would be hard-pressed to identify an exact age at which we would define adulthood, there is little disagreement about what every society refers to as a child, especially when we are talking about these young ages.

Second, just as with infant baptism, child baptism can create a false sense of security as the child grows into adulthood. Having done the “act,” the true meaning of becoming a disciple can easily be missed. “Conversion” of young children can just mean becoming “Church of Christ.”children baptized

A Closer Look at Conversion

Think about what it takes to “convert” a child. Truly, it is much easier to convert a child to Christ than it is an adult who has the knowledge of sin from an adult perspective and must choose to turn away from the desire of the world to a life of self-denial. A child knows nothing of such decisions. Children quickly believe what they are told, especially if it comes from a parent or a person in authority. For example, a child in a Baptist Church who chooses at a young age to become a Baptist is too young to know how to question whether his decision is based on truth or error. Can you imagine a child in a Baptist church questioning whether baptism is to show his salvation or is for his salvation? He just superficially accepts the scriptures he has been shown. Children choose what they were raised to do without the ability to weigh what is truth as opposed to error on more than parental do’s and don’ts. Children must come to an age where they can “refuse the evil and choose the good” on an adult level (Isa. 7:15-16).

What Is That “Accountability” Age?

Paul states in Romans 7:7-9: “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known lust unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” Even though Paul was born and raised a Jew and raised learning the law, there was a time when he was spiritually alive without the law (thus not accountable for sin). Only in Paul’s childhood could he have considered himself “without the law.” Well, when did Paul “die” spiritually and become accountable? When the “commandment came” and when “all manner of evil desire” and “lust” were produced in him. The commandment clearly identified this evil desire and lust within him as wrong. When Paul came to an age where he was able to comprehend the commandment and the lust was present, “sin came alive” and he died. This passage explains “accountability” and how accountability happens at a mature age. Paul’s “lust” and “all manner of evil desire” were not on the same level as a child wanting another child’s toy.

child baptismWhen Adam and Eve were in the garden they were both naked and not ashamed. Later, when they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked and they were ashamed. Their time of innocence was over and now they could see the potential for sin all around them. Each of us can remember when our own eyes were opened and we began to see the potential for sin around us. Desires were awakened in our hearts that we had never known before. Suddenly we were aware of thoughts that needed to be controlled. We understood more than the law of our parents and began dealing with adult desires not just childish whims.

Consider also the questions we ask prior to baptizing a child – questions we rarely ask an adult. When our children give us the right answers we think they are ready. But the right answers depend on the right questions. Young children cannot even give a simple explanation as to why they believe Jesus is the Son of God, why they believe God exists, or why they believe that the scriptures (upon which their faith is to rest) are the inspired words of God. A five-year old can learn to “answer” the questions we are normally asking. The conversions in the book of Acts were of people who could question what was being taught, “searching the scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Do we really believe children are in the same category as those who were baptized into Christ in the book of Acts? The fact is, if children are amenable to the gospel, I’m going to start knocking on doors asking if I can have Bible studies with people’s children. Forget the parents, they are too difficult to teach! Children would be a piece of cake. But why would children be so easy to teach? Because they do not have the ability to weigh truth and error, good and evil, except on a superficial level, and then only as defined by their parents. Children are easily swayed and therefore are not making an adult decision.

Where can we make some corrections? 

  1. We must not leave children with the impression that simply recognizing they have done things wrong means they should consider baptism. Two-year old children know when they have done wrong things and can feel guilty. Baptism is one part of becoming a disciple, but it is not even the most important part.
  2. We should show our children Acts 8:12, “When they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.” Let’s say it this way: if it is scriptural for children to be baptized, show me the scripture.Above all, we must not panic and begin to pressure and question our children just because they have past a pre-determined age and haven’t responded yet.
  3. The “five-steps” of salvation reviewed quickly at the end of a sermon, can mislead children into thinking too simplistically about what it means to become of disciple of Christ. Therefore our focus should be on helping our children see the difference between a child’s faith based on what they have grown up believing and an adult faith that is able to weigh the evidence before coming to a conclusion. Jesus said that children embody the very nature of the kingdom (Luke 18:16). We should read this text to our children and comfort them with it. I dare say it would be incredible to be at the funeral of a child and hear a parent or preacher say they were concerned about the child’s eternity. So why are we so concerned about baptizing a child? If a child is baptized, we must be willing to admit he or she would have been lost if death had come the day before. But not many would admit this.

In conclusion, please consider the motives of my heart as I have written on this challenging subject. My purpose has not been to accuse parents of poor child-raising, nor has it even been to get people to reconsider their own baptism. My sole purpose has been for us to think again about the common practice of baptizing children and to get a more complete picture of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.