We can be confident that a child who professes faith in a Reformed church has true faith because of the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on the right administration of baptism. This might sound a bit circular or truistic or redundant (I don’t know what the right adjective here is). But it is true.
I have heard many stories about a popular church on island that does not carefully administer baptism. Said church has baptism services at the beach where people have signed up last minute to be baptized, sometimes because of being peer pressured by friends to sign up, many baptism candidates have not been interviewed before the day of the baptism (I have no idea what the conversation with the candidates are like on that day), and once I even heard a candidate came drunk to the service, was refused by one pastor, but allowed by another pastor on the same day.
By God’s grace, we try to be very clear with the gospel each Sunday, and very clear with a call to repentance and faith in response to the gospel. And with repentance, we actually try to find actual sins the baptism candidates can actually repent from. If there is an unwillingness to repent of anything, we would delay baptism. In my mind, that is pretty careful, and at the same time, pretty simple.
We also make baptism entrance into church membership. I repeat: it is entrance into church membership. It is not pre-requisite to membership; it is membership. The church and new member make a covenant with each other in their baptism. They are a member the moment they come up out of water.
Therefore, we do not baptize anyone who is not willing to be a committed member of the church. That goes for kids too. They must open themselves up to the accountability of the church, they must be willing to confront others about sin (or at least talk to their parents about another member’s sin), they must be willing to submit to the elders, and they must be willing to serve. In other words, we only administer baptism to those who are ready to become followers of Christ. So if there is a basic understanding of what it means to be a part of a local church, and they still want to be baptized, I do not really know how much more careful you can be (except for too careful).
When a young child in a Reformed church desires baptism, you can have more confidence it is prompted by the Holy Spirit than in any other type of church. The main reason is because of the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on the right preaching of the gospel every Sunday.
I have heard so many testimonies of people who got baptized early in life, but when they got older they finally understood the gospel, and then got baptized for real. Because of that common “testimony,” it causes many good Christians to be hesitant to encourage their child if their child desires baptism.
But there’s a huge difference between a child in a Reformed church desiring baptism versus a child in a broadly, evangelical church desiring baptism. That main difference is the gospel!!! It is totally possible to go to church for years in America, and never hear the gospel.
I’m in the middle of a Facebook debate with a few people about the need to trumpet the doctrine of sin. And these are professing Christians! If there are professing Christians who do not think the doctrine of sin is that important, you can be sure the gospel is not that clear to many professing Christians.
But it is so different in a Reformed church! Every sermon, every prayer, every song, every Communion– it’s all gospel-centered! Especially in preaching- every sermon in a Reformed church is supposed to show man how they have broken God’s Law, and how Jesus Christ solves that problem in His saving work. Every sermon is somehow showing how Jesus has fulfilled some promise of God to His people. Every sermon, children are hearing how Jesus is the only way to salvation. Every sermon they are being told “you are a sinner– here’s how you have sinned. Here’s what you deserve for that. But now here is who Jesus is. Here is what He has done! And now, repent and be baptized in response to that. Do you believe? Then repent and be baptized.”
They hear that in some way, shape, or form week by week, month by month. They see a minister of the gospel up front give that message, they hear the pleas, they can see the urgency in his face. On top of that, we know that preaching is precisely what the Holy Spirit uses to save (Romans 10.13-17)! Is it any wonder that a child hearing Reformed preaching on a regular basis will desire baptism?
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: