Baptism of Children, part 9

You can be confident about a child’s profession of faith in a Reformed church because of the Reformed Tradition’s emphasis on children in worship. I don’t care what kind of revisionist history you come up with, if you grew up in the late 20th century or the first decade of the 21st, unless you were in a Reformed church, you did not think much about this issue.

I am thankful for the Family-Integrated Church movement. Though I disagree with them on several things, they did help me in particular to think about this issue when I had not been doing so before. And what I found out was that the Reformed tradition has always believed children of all ages should be involved in corporate worship.

The biblical evidence is overwhelming for children (even infants!) being involved in corporate worship: Exodus 12.1-28, Deuteronomy 4.9-11, Deuteronomy 6.1-9, Deuteronomy 31.9-13, Psalm 78, Ezra 10.1, Nehemiah 12.43, Joel 2.12-17, Acts 2.42, Acts 16.33, Ephesians 6.1-3.

What you most definitely will not find in the Bible is any teaching on “Make sure you get the children away from the room when the sermon starts!”

I’m not saying there is not some wiggle room for freedom. I’m not saying this is easy. I’m not saying I have it all figured out.

I am saying that Christians should teach their children to worship God and listen to the preaching of the Word. It takes training and hard work and discipline and prayer. But if a 7 year old has sat under the preaching of the Word for almost 5 years, has seen the preacher’s pleas, has heard the songs and prayers of the saints, has become acquainted with the creeds and confessions and catechisms of the Church, has seen the Lord’s Supper observed each week, and week by week, month by month, year by year, has grasped a little bit more of who God is, what sin is, who Jesus is, and how we can be saved– is it really that surprising they may express faith, and that faith be real?

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Baptism of Children, part 8

In a Reformed church, we can be fairly confident that a child who desires baptism is desiring it for the right reasons because of the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on a serious and explicit church membership. This is actually completely overlapping with the emphasis on the Lord’s Supper, but because there really is more to church membership than participating in Communion, it is worth pointing out.

Church membership is really the meaning of church discipline. The Reformers all saw the right preaching and the right administration of the Sacraments as the marks of a true church. They mostly all saw church discipline as the third mark.

Church membership is an area in which I would say Baptists in particular (and even more particularly, Reformed Baptists) have made the greatest contribution in the Reformed tradition. We believe God marks the Church off from the world. There is a “who is” and “who is not” when it comes to the church.

The Church is marked by a confession of faith in Jesus as Lord, marked by regeneration, marked by fruit of the Spirit, marked by forgiveness of sins, marked by holiness, marked by all kinds of evidences of grace. The church is the workmanship of Christ Jesus who walks in good works. The church is the household of God.

And the world is not marked by those things.

This is the main reason I have settled on the Baptist position versus the Presbyterian position (and I think I like more Presbyterian preachers than Baptist preachers)- but we believe every single person we baptize has all those things in the previous full paragraph. In that way, baptism is God’s way of marking off His people from the world through the hands of the Church.

So if every single week we are teaching that the church is a defined people (as defined above), and if you’re not a part of the church you are going to hell (which is what not having all those things means), and in light of all that a child says they want to obey Jesus as Lord in baptism, how strange to tell them “not yet.”*

*I hope at this point it is clear that if your church is not being clear about all these doctrines, then even I might tell the child “not yet”

Baptism of Children, part 7

We can be confident in a Reformed church about a child’s profession of faith because of the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on a careful administration of the Lord’s Supper. Any church that makes clear that the Lord’s Supper is for believers and only for believers is way ahead of the ballgame in the evangelical world.

I remember visiting a mega-church once (I do not remember the occasion, we must have had a friend doing something during their service). And not that every mega-church is like this, but this experience was eye opening because I thought of this mega-church in particular as pretty faithful. We were late to service and were about to open one of the 20 doors to enter the auditorium, but one of the ushers carrying the Lord’s Supper elements came bursting out, as about 19 other ushers came out the other doors. They had just got done serving the Lord’s Supper inside. And just as we were passing each other the first thing out of his mouth was, “hello, you want communion?”

Thankfully, we declined (not even having as much clarity on this issue back then as we do now). Without us having been in the room when the explanation for Communion happened, without ever having met us before, without any explanation to us about how to revere the Lord’s Table, we were offered bread and juice as if, in the words of a preacher I just heard, this was just “church snack time.”

Paul says to the Corinthians, because of the way they were unloving towards each other during Communion, “it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.” It is possible to mess up Communion so badly, that it is not even Communion with Christ anymore!

By God’s grace, Reformed churches have consistently tried to “fence the Table,” promote the Table as a real means of grace, and explain how those who take it in an unworthy manner are living like unbelievers, and are worthy of death. It helps to guard against any child possibly only wanting to get baptized because they want to participate in “church snack time.”

And yes, you might fence the Table properly each week, and a kid might just ignore it and still desire baptism for the wrong reasons. But is that not possible for any human being?

The flip side is: if you call people to come to Christ each week, and call Christians to the Table each week, and make unbelievers feel like they are outsiders because they are not welcome to the Table each week, and a child in your church who hears the gospel, is convicted of their sin, and wants to commune with Christ in that way comes to you and says, “I want to follow Jesus in baptism,” how odd to say “let’s wait.”

Baptism of children, part 6

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).

Baptism of children, part 5

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?

Baptism of children, part 4

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

Baptism of Children, part 3

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.