By Berry Kercheville
Am I serious about the title of this article? Dead serious. 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. Oh, but he has been baptized! Parents are happy, grandma and grandpa are happy, everyone is happy. But God is not happy.
Josiah was eight years old when he became king. At age 16, he “began to seek the Lord” (2 Chron. 34:3). The Chronicler gives this description of his service to God: “And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.” The first thing Josiah did was seek the Lord. Next he removed the idols out of Judah and Israel. Then, when the book of the law was found, he dedicated himself to follow it with all his heart and all his soul.
The path to God does not begin with baptism; it begins with seeking the Lord. It begins with wanting to know the Lord, to learn from him, and to passionately give one’s heart and soul to him. The first commandment is to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is what Jesus pleaded when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden…Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). Parents need to get out of their minds the concern for whether their children have been baptized. The concern should be whether our children are seeking and passionately pursuing the knowledge of God and a relationship with him. As Jesus quoted twice from Hosea, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6). We could legitimately substitute the word “baptism” for “sacrifice” or “burnt offerings.” The Lord desires steadfast love and the knowledge of God, not just baptism. If a child is not seeking the Lord, baptism is the last thing he or she should do. And if a child has already been baptized and is not seeking the Lord, then what value was baptism?
Why is it that children are so aware of the danger of dying without baptism, but so unconcerned or unaware of all the warnings by Jesus that one will be lost if other greater commands are not obeyed? I have known many ten to eighteen year olds who were baptized because their guilt would not allow them to sleep, but now they sleep well even though they are disobeying more important salvation commands. Consider the following:
• “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). • “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24).
• “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
• “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).
• “So therefore, any one of you who does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
The above passages also reflect the same pattern followed by Josiah. After seeking the Lord, his next step was to remove the idols from the temple and from the nation. We do not come to the Lord without first renouncing the idols in our lives. When Joshua called upon the people to choose between the gods of their fathers and serving the Lord, the people proclaimed that they would serve the Lord. Joshua’s reply was, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord” (Joshua 24:23). Idols in the lives of church-going kids and adults are so obvious it can’t be hidden. There is at best a passive interest in learning about God, but excitement in what the world offers in pleasure and entertainment. Our idols today are evident when we are passionate for worldly things while passive about godly things.
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. An eight year old or even a five year old also feels guilty for their sins. Should these also be baptized? Where is the “born again” part? Where are the “take up your cross” part and the “forsake all you have” part? These are mature decisions that are generated from passionately seeking the Lord. Our concern should be that our emphasis on baptism is twisting God’s standard of salvation. In so doing, we leave the impression that we are measuring discipleship and faithfulness on this one act. Our children should know that God measures them and us on whether or not we are truly seeking him, loving him, and “striving to enter the narrow door.”
Let’s quit talking to children about baptism and instead teach them to seek the Lord and pursue the knowledge of God. God overlooks the sins of children because they do not yet have the maturity to understand the idols of this world or know how to “forsake all that they have” in order to be his disciple. Those who seek God with all their heart and soul will obey baptism at the proper time.