you to read some of the other articles on baptism in
this website. This
will show the vital importance of trusting Jesus for
salvation, having some comprehension of the gospel of
Jesus Christ, decisively turning away from sin, and taking
up the cross of discipleship. Nothing
in the article below should lead one to the conclusion
that there is any saving merit in the act of baptism—either
for children or for adults! RH]
What About the Baptism of Young Children?
Article description: How old should a child be
before he is allowed to be baptized? Are we immersing some
who are too young? What are some of the guidelines by which
responsible decisions can be made? This article probes
“A young child (in this case,
seven years old) wants to be baptized because he heard
his mother say that those who are not baptized cannot
go to heaven. He is an intelligent little boy with a
wonderful, pure heart, and he cried when he heard his
mother say what she did. He is serious about this issue
and keeps bringing it up. When he is not in a serious
mood, he acts like a typical seven-year-old kid, getting
into anything and everything. How should a child like
this be counseled on this subject?”
This is a very thoughtful and
serious question; unfortunately, no one can provide a definitive
answer—simply because there are too many variables to be
considered in a case of “youth” baptism.
First of all, it is a mistake
to generalize, and assert that “all who are not
baptized” will be forbidden entrance into heaven. There
will be many in heaven who never were baptized. For instance,
thousands upon thousands of infants and young children
die before reaching accountability. They will not be lost
(nor enter into “limbo”—as alleged in Catholic theology).
Many others are mentally handicapped, and thus are not
in need of God’s law of pardon. Young children need to
be assured that God loves them and that they are in no
danger of being lost. Careful language on the part of mothers
and fathers would help prevent some of the problems encountered
in this area.
That aside, we need to raise,
on our own behalf, some thought-provoking issues for serious
- Exactly when does a person become accountable
to God for his conduct? This question cannot be
answered with chronological precision. Children mature
rates. Genetics, environment, education—all these factors
contribute to one’s spiritual development. Even Jesus
grew in intellectual awareness (Lk. 2:52). No one can “x-ray” another’s
soul and determine his level of responsibility.
children should be taught the word of God from their very
earliest days. However, they must be allowed to mature
sufficiently so that any commitment they make to Christ
will be solely theirs, and not that into which they have
been led—independent of adequate personal comprehension.
It is not uncommon for parents to gently “push” their children
into making decisions they are far too tender to appreciate.
Remember this: The choice to become a Christian is the gravest,
most consequential decision a person will ever be
called upon to make.
- No one is in need of immersion unless he or
she is lost, and, therefore, in danger of hell.
Baptism is not a mere ritual for sincere people, tender
people, devout people, etc., it is for condemned people—folks
who will spend eternity separated from God if they
die without forgiveness.
intellectually qualified to obey the gospel entails far
more that being able, in rote fashion, to cite the elements
of the plan of salvation—which many children can do. It
involves more than just a tender little heart who tells
mom he wants to “get baptized,” like others are doing.
It involves more than just feeling guilty for sneaking
a cookie that had been denied. It means being lost! Let
this point sink in.
of the most influential arguments an atheist could make
would be to call attention to the sweet youngsters that
some accommodate with baptism, and then charge: “These
people believe that hell is full of these children; otherwise
they would not be immersing them for the forgiveness of
their sins’.” Do we actually believe that a seven-year
old child will be separated from God forever in the event
of his death?
- No one is amenable to the gospel of Christ
who is incapable of assuming the responsibilities
connected with conversion. Jesus taught that those
who wish to follow him must be willing to separate
ones—even parents—if necessary. He must be daring
enough to forfeit his own life if it should come
to that (Mt.
10:37; Lk. 14:26; Rev. 2:10). How could a small
child possibly be held accountable to such a rigorous
Is a young child physically, emotionally, or socially
capable of accepting such a challenge?
- The New Testament symbolically represents our
union with Christ as a “marriage” (see Rom. 7:4; Eph.
5:22ff). One’s relationship with the Son of God is the
most important commitment he will ever have upon this
earth. Why is it that some parents, who would never dream
of allowing their small children to enter into a physical
marriage, will, nonetheless, permit them to “get baptized” simply
because they are afraid that disallowing that urge would
discourage the youngster from developing spiritual interests
in the future? When we tell our immature children that
they are “too young” to date, do we entertain the
illusion that such will deter them from ever wanting
When a youngster prematurely asks for baptism,
if his parents handle the matter gently and compassionately,
the child will not be damaged spiritually.
- The revered Gus Nichols used to point out that
belief in Jesus, as the virgin-born Son of God, is essential
to being baptized in a scriptural fashion. He would then
observe that one cannot endorse the concept of the virgin birth
unless he is able to comprehend the process of a natural birth.
His major point was this: Becoming a Christian depends
upon being adequately taught, understanding what
is taught, and being committed to a threshold level of
very significant doctrinal truths. And this goes beyond
a mere recital of certain oft-rehearsed phrases.
Finally, I would conclude with
a couple points that deserve some degree of emphasis.
First, no one can make a sweeping
generalization regarding another’s baptism. No one is able
to judge, based upon mere age, whether or not someone else
sufficiently understands the deeper issues of life, e.g.,
sin and salvation. We are not prepared, therefore, to draw
an arbitrary age-line, below which one is not qualified
to submit to immersion. There have been many occasions,
however, when adults have questioned their own baptism
at a very tender age. Some wish to remove all doubt; they
submit to the command again—with a full knowledge of what
they are doing. Safe is better than sorry.
Moreover, occasionally a minister
will encounter a case that, to him, appears to be beyond
the bounds of propriety. In such a situation he may strongly
feel that he cannot, in good conscience, participate. No
one should be pressured to become involved in a baptism
that violates his personal convictions.
Second, there is no doubt but
that small children will, on occasion, request baptism—when
it is readily apparent that they do not comprehend the
gravity of the situation. A little boy once responded to
the invitation at the conclusion of a church service. In
his conversation with the minister, he said he wanted to
be baptized—and also to ask Jesus for a new pair of roller
skates! The minister put his arm around the little fellow,
commended him for his sincerity, and told him they would
study more as he grew a bit older. The child was perfectly
happy with that recommendation.
We should not be fearful of
lovingly restraining immature children from making the
serious mistake of going through the motions of something
they neither need nor truly understand. We must remind
ourselves that it is just as serious to practice semi-infant
baptism, as it is to practice outright infant baptism.
To baptize someone who is not lost, is to do them a serious
injustice that could have eternal consequences.
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Publications. All rights reserved.