The usual objection to all I have said thus far is “what if they’re not really saved?” or “what if they’re just saying what we want to hear?” or something along those lines. My response to anything like that is: “that is the reality for any adult too.” Let us not set double standards.
Sometimes the hesitancy comes in the form of “but they’re just not ready.” And I just want to know what people mean by “ready.” The only “readiness” needed for Christian baptism is faith in the Lord Jesus (remember this is a Baptist post). So if what people mean by “not ready” is “I don’t think they’re a Christian,” fine. But surely we cannot wait until we are 100% sure. Or even 95% sure. Or even 90% sure.
We can only go by someone’s profession of faith and corresponding credibility of that profession. And if there is no obvious, unrepentant sin, then how can we withhold the baptismal waters? If a child sits under the preaching of the gospel for even a year, hears about the holiness of God, hears about their own sin, hears about the glorious work of Christ, and then constantly hears the call to faith and repentance and baptism, is it a shock that a six year old will desire baptism?
For the rest of this series, let me propose to you why the Reformed Faith offers the best context for baptizing young believers. The Reformed Tradition should be a comfort to any parent who is hesitant about their child desiring baptism. To be clear, here is the type of scenario I am envisioning: a child under 10 years old has been sitting in the entire worship service for about a year, his/her family has been committed to this church for a little longer than that, and over the last few weeks the child has been asking mom and dad if they can be baptized too. How do I know if this is prompted by the Holy Spirit or not?
Let me tell you why you can have much more confidence this is of the Lord if this is a Reformed Church. It is because of the Reformed Tradition’s emphasis on:
- the right preaching of the gospel every single Sunday
- a careful administration of baptism
- a careful administration of the Lord’s Supper
- a serious and explicit teaching on church membership
- children in worship
- family worship
- theologically rich worship
All these taken together made us not only comfortable, but eager to have our 8 year old baptized last year. Let’s tackle each of these one by one
We should baptize people of any age upon a credible profession of faith. That means there is an openness we should have to even very young believers. And that means there is a binding upon the church’s conscience to make sure that every believer is indeed baptized. Three passages should help us see that:
Romans 6.3-4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him therefore into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Paul expects we can appeal to any believer’s baptism to help motivate them in repentance. The fact that every believer can remember their baptism is an argument for believer’s-only-baptism; but the fact that every believer should have a baptism to remember is an argument for baptizing every believer, so help us God.
Galatians 3.27: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This again is an encouragement to all believers about what their baptism meant. Separating a child’s baptism too far from their initial faith in Christ (putting on of Christ) really takes a lot of punch out of this passage.
1 Peter 3.20-21: “…while the ark was being prepared…Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Just as Noah and his family expressed faith by going in the ark and being ‘saved’ in the ark, those who go down in baptism are ‘saved’ in baptism. Baptism saves by virtue of what it means when you do it–it is the New Covenant initiatory act of faith in the resurrection. Any who believe in the resurrection should express it (and be allowed to express it) in baptism.
If you’re just not sure if your child has faith, I get it. It’s not easy. But make sure that is all you are wrestling with. I have heard “they’re just not ready” a lot over the years. If what you mean by “they’re not ready” is “I don’t think they believe in the resurrection,” fine. Just keep preaching the gospel to them (and calling them to repent). But if you mean anything else, that has got to be one of the worst double standards we can possibly set for our kids.
From the Baptist perspective, we should baptize believers of any age upon a credible profession of faith. The emphasis in these posts is that we should not put a minimum age on baptismal candidates. And the obvious reason is because the Bible never does. Let me speak to the fairly obvious inclusion of children in baptism:
Mark 10.14: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Paedobaptists wrongly use this verse to argue for infant baptism. Baptists wrongly respond that this passage says nothing about baptism. Yes, it does not say anything explicit about baptism. But it is commanding us to allow children to come to Christ! So the question is “can a child desire to be a follower of Christ?” And if the answer is ‘yes,’ which it is, then we must think about how to help a child rightly respond to that faith.
Acts 2.38-39: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Paedobaptists wrongly use this verse to argue for infant baptism. Modern Baptists appear to ignore this verse: instead of “repent and be baptized,” in most Baptist churches it is “pray this prayer” or “walk this aisle.” So sad. The historic Baptist use of this verse seems right: if you or your child or anyone in the world hears the gospel, and desires forgiveness and eternal life, what should they do? Repent and be baptized. It does not get much simpler than that.
Acts 16.31-33: And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”…and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” Paedobaptists have then wrongly used all the “household”-type baptisms to assume that infants were included. Baptists have wrongly responded that we cannot assume infants are in these households. But if our understanding of Acts 2 is correct, then every “household”-type baptism in the NT should be understood as ‘everyone in the household who believes in Jesus repents and is baptized.’ It is a fairly simple hermeneutic. The command need not apply to infants, but to anyone who can hear and understand the gospel, including children of many ages.
Granted, much of the way we read these texts is based on our presuppositions and hermeneutics. But that is pretty much always the case. However, the above way of understanding these passages appears to not have to “force infants in” or “force children out” of any of the texts. Our only concern should be “what should a human being do when they hear the gospel and they want to respond in faith?” The biblical answer is ‘repent and be baptized.’
I hope these texts show a rightness to baptizing every believer with a credible profession of faith. Next time let’s look at the urgency of doing so.
This is a post that assumes the Baptist position on baptism. If you are someone who has never understood why some traditions baptize infants, you should read up on that first. I don’t believe you have really understood baptism until you have first wrestled with whether or not you should sprinkle your newborn. Perhaps start here
In my circles, because we believe God commands believers to be baptized, we wrestle with when is the appropriate time to encourage our kids toward baptism. Often our children ask to be baptized, and we are left telling them, “not now.”
Mark Dever, who I consider a virtual mentor, is on record many times as teaching that we should not baptize young children. It is not that he does not think they could become Christians; he believes it is too difficult for the local church to discern real conversion in young children. He has also seen too many times people come to his church, having been “baptized” earlier in life, then realize they only now believe the gospel, and then having to “re”-baptize them.
I TOTALLY understand his concerns. We have members in our church who are extremely mature in the faith who basically have the same approach. But over the next few posts I want to walk through our decision to allow our 8 year old to get baptized last summer. She had just turned 8 at the time. She is the youngest person we have ever baptized at our church. And I am totally open to her not being the youngest ever.
I believe we should baptize believers of any age upon a credible profession of faith.
But because of where we are in church history, there are so many different factors to think through regarding this. But one thing I want to be clear from this first post: Baptists do not believe that only adults should be baptized. If you know a Baptist who speaks like that, they are speaking wrongly about the Baptist position. We do not believe only adults or older children should be baptized. We do not see a minimum age in the Bible. We believe only believers should be baptized, and that all believers should be baptized (Matthew 28.19). It is the implications of “only” and “all” that are very complex in our day and age, but it at least gives us a direction to walk towards. In the next post, let’s first think about some of the biblical data.
The Lord seemed to use this sermon in particular from a couple weeks back. We are going through the Proverbs at Kailua Baptist right now. I’ve chosen to preach through chapters 10-30 topically, trying to highlight themes that God seems to highlight in those chapters. This sermon theme was on the tongue. Hope it blesses you:
I am all for upholding distinctions within Christian theology between primary and secondary, and even tertiary issues. That kind of clear thinking leads to clear teaching and are great helps in sanctification.
However, I would caution you about making too much of the distinctions in our day. A secondary issue (and for that matter a tertiary issue, but for the rest of this post I will refer to anything that is not primary as secondary) becomes a primary issue if the real issue is submission to God’s Word. A secondary issue becomes a primary issue if the real issue is submission to God’s Word.
I will give you three examples to illustrate what I am talking about:
- About 5 years ago our church began discussions about changing our leadership structure from single-elder to plural-elder leadership. It caused lots of conflict. Many people left over the issue. I tried the whole time to say “church polity is a secondary issue.” And because I was clear about that, a member asked me, “if it is secondary, and if it is causing people to leave, why not drop it?” My answer: It would be one thing to be patient and have more discussions, but if God’s Word says we should have plural elders, we do what God says. You do not “drop” anything that God says. Yes, I might be wrong in my interpretation, but let God sort that out later; or let’s have more bible discussions about it to see what the Bible really says. But we do not have the option to ignore anything God says, just because an issue might be secondary in our minds.
- I have known good Christians who have gone to churches with women pastors. Some of them have told me they do not really think the Bible allows women pastors, but these women are godly and close friends and there are all kinds of things to commend about these women. In their minds, women in ministry is a secondary issue, not something to divide over. My response: women in ministry is secondary to the gospel. But Lordship of Christ is not! And if Jesus says “women should not be pastors” then you submit to Jesus. Case closed.
- My wife was once asked to work at an Arminian school. They told her “you can teach anything you want as long as you don’t teach ‘once saved, always saved.'” So she respectfully declined. Why? Because we believe God wants us to preach the gospel in such a way that the believer understands Christ’s finished work secures them for all eternity. Can someone be saved without believing in eternal security? Yes. John Wesley is in heaven! But if I think God says to preach the gospel one way, and I deliberately preach it another way, all of a sudden, my submission to the Lordship of Christ is called into question.
So uphold the centrality of the gospel of our Lord Jesus– the crucified, dead, buried, and risen Savior, the one in Whom all who trust in Him will be saved. Uphold the centrality of the Trinity– one God, three Persons; the Father who plans, the Son who accomplishes, and the Spirit who applies redemption. Uphold the primary doctrines as primary. And then submit to the God of those doctrines in all things primary and secondary (Matthew 28.20).
The more I have thought about this, the more I realize that discussions about applications and questions and objections could go on forever. So this is my LAST post on Sabbath stuff…for now.
The 1689 Confession says on the Sabbath, Christians should “give themselves over to the public and private acts of worship for the whole time, and to carrying out duties of necessity and mercy.”
On “public and private acts of worship,” I have heard pastors and Christians say Sunday is the least restful day for them, because of all that goes in to the Sunday morning gathering. I want to challenge that notion. I never heard an Israelite priest complain about Saturday. I think any stress on Sunday flows from a wrong view of “rest” and fear of man:
- Sabbath rest is not physical rest (see Genesis seventh day!!!). It is spiritual reflection on who God is and what He has done. It does not matter how much you have to do on Sunday, that is great refuge for your soul.
- I wonder how much stress on Sunday comes because of a fear of man- having to put on a good face, having to sing, pray, read Scripture, or preach/teach in front of others, or just having to manage your kids in front of others. What causes stress, Christian?
- As far as private acts of worship- I think if your church does not have a Sunday night service (which ours does not), you should try to make a habit of having a second “quiet time” or adding more to the normal family worship, or something of that nature. Make it a habit. It is awesome.
On “carrying out duties of necessity and mercy”:
- God does give us a lot of freedom with Jesus’ interpretation of the Sabbath in Matthew 12- it is of great help to us. One principle is: use common sense! If your sheep falls in a ditch, get it out. If your child has to go to the emergency room, take them!
- If your job “requires” you to work, it is a work of necessity. But if your job does not “require” you (picture me pointing a finger at your face) to work on Sundays, it is NOT a work of necessity.
- “Mercy” really is a broad category with lots of freedom- this would be similar to the fruit of the Spirit: “against such things there is no law” (Gal 5.23). You do not have to worry about “should I be doing this on the Sabbath or not”– against such mercy, love, and good works, there is no Law.
Remember that Sabbath is mainly about worship for the Christian, spiritually reflecting on who God is and what He has done for us in Christ. So as I have held to for years now, guarding the Lord’s Day worship gathering is prime and central to guarding the Sabbath. I just heard Lig Duncan preach on how the Pharisees made the Ceremonial Law more important than the Moral Law, and that they should have heeded “obedience (Moral) is better than sacrifice (Ceremonial)”. I fear Christians in our day have chucked obedience to the 4th Commandment in favor of looking for some excuse to sacrifice the Lord’s Day–even some seeing that as virtuous. God help us.