This question is very relevant for me, since I have four kids and two of them have expressed interest in baptism. Now, for our Presbyterian/Reformed readers out there, the question is a no brainer: you baptize them when they’re infants, since they are part of a covenant family.
I really don’t want to get into the debate about infant vs. believer’s baptism, though I will say that I see a lot more merit in the former than I used to. Most of the arguments lobbed at those who practice infant baptism are terrible and not rooted in Scripture. In any case, I still see more merit in believer’s baptism, largely in light of the discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants, but that’s for another post.
So, for you Baptists out there (or you who hold to believer’s baptism), when do you baptize your kids?
Most Baptists I know are quite hesitant to baptize their kids too early. They want to wait until they have some assurance that their kids are genuine believers. I used to think this way, but then I re-read the New Testament and realized that nowhere is baptism withheld from a confessing believer for the sake of having assurance that the person is a genuine believer. If you know a text that I’m missing, please let me know. But as far as I can see, the criteria for baptism is: 1) a public confession of Christ as the Messiah, and 2) a rudimentary knowledge of what baptism is. I just don’t see any passages in the New Testament that suggest we should wait to see some fruit or perseverance before someone is baptized.
Or think about this. Baptism, most would agree, does not save you, but it is the first act of obedience from a confessing believer. If this is true, then I’ve got a real dilemma on my hands. By not baptizing my kids who have made (as far as I can tell) a genuine confession, I’m actually preventing a genuine Christian from obeying Jesus. I may actually be causing another brother or sister (my believing kids) to stumble by not allowing them to obey Jesus in light of a man-made criterion (i.e., perseverance) for baptism. Plus, I tell my kids to do all sorts of things that Christians do, such as pray, share, be selfless, give money, read their Bibles, and even tell others about Jesus. These are all acts of obedience. Why haven’t they obeyed Jesus by being baptized?
Furthermore—if I can mentally wrestle out loud for a moment—what would be so wrong about baptizing an 8-year-old child who confesses Christ, if they end up falling away? Well, one potential danger is that the child will later trust in their baptism as confirmation of their salvation regardless of how they are living. And 1 Corinthians 1 may hint at a similar situation, when Paul reflects on his baptizing of several Corinthian believers who became over infatuated with baptism. But I only did something wrong if I forced them to think this way. (Taking my kids to church every Sunday could inevitably provide the same false assurance.) But there really is no clear warning in Scripture along the lines of: “you’d better darn well make sure this person remains a Christian long after they are baptized; otherwise, you may be committing the sin of baptizing a pagan.” John the Baptist was clearly cautious about the genuineness of the confession and was clear that following the Messiah necessitates repentance (Matt 3; Luke 3). But again, I’m talking about a person—a 6 or 8 year old child—who for all I can see is making a genuine profession of faith, and yet has not demonstrated years of perseverance.
Perseverance is not a precondition of baptism, otherwise Philip really jumped the gun with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8).
Lastly, I keep telling myself: “Wait until my kids come to me with a desire to be baptized.” After all, I don’t want to force them to do something that they don’t feel like doing. And there’s some truth here. I don’t want to turn my kids into empty shells of religiosity. But think with me for a second. Since when are feelings the basis for obedience? If I went to church only when I felt like it, you’d probably only see me there at Christmas and Easter, and if I only gave money away when I felt like it, I’d be able to buy that new Jeep I’ve always wanted. And then there’s that stubborn old problem we often run into with this blog: the Bible. Where in the BIBLE does it say “come be baptized if you feel like it?” If it’s an act of obedience—commanded by God—then our feelings shouldn’t dictate whether or not we respond. Jesus, not our fallible feelings, is the basis for obedience.
Of course we want the act to be genuine, but this doesn’t mean that I remove all parental influence in the act. I can (and often do) contribute to the authenticity of their obedience. And again, I don’t consistently apply the “obey when you feel like it” logic to the rest of my parenting. Otherwise, my kids would probably be playing out in the middle of the street somewhere right now, and they certainly wouldn’t be sharing their stuff with each other. Ever.
And so all in all, biblically, I see more harm in withholding baptism (the first act of obedience) from a confessing believer, than in baptizing someone at a young age who has not yet proved through years of following Christ that they have been born again.
But I’m posting this because I’d love to hear your thoughts. What am I missing?