Today I read a paper written by Roy Garza, the pastor/planter at Pillar Church of Stafford. He tackles a question that most pastors and planters wrestle with at some point in their ministry. I posted on this subject early last year HERE and provided some helpful articles from other pastors on the subject. Roy has done a good job simply presenting both sides of the debate.
SHOULD WE DELAY BAPTIZING CONFESSING CHILDREN?
Roy Garza Jr.
As Southern Baptists pastors, we agree when an individual is baptized he or she should be a Christian. We also believe the mode of baptism should be full immersion. For the most part, we also agree that baptism precedes membership into a local church. For us, baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality. As Romans 6 informs us, the inward reality is that we have been crucified with Christ “in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” and that we have been buried and raised with Christ “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.”
Therefore, baptism is a visible display and confession of identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The person being baptized having fully understood the Gospel, having repented from sin, having placed their faith in Christ for salvation and the forgiveness of sin, and having displayed evidence of true conversion is telling the world and promising the church, “Jesus is my King and I will always follow Him.” Baptism is a sign of initiation into the Church, however, unlike our paedobaptists friends, we believe it is a sign for confessing believers and not entire families of confessing parents. With this in mind and a basic understanding of a Baptist’s view on baptism, the question for today’s discussion is, “At what age should a professing Christian be baptized?” To be more precise, should we baptize children and teenagers who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior?
What Does the Bible Say?
- The Bible actually does not directly speak to this issue, however, it’s clear that baptism is only for professing believers.
- and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:6 ESV)
- Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16 ESV)
- And Peter said to them, “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. (Acts 2:38 ESV)
- But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:12 ESV)
- As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water! What would keep me from being baptized?” [37 And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] (Acts 8:36-37 HCSB)
- “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. (Acts 10:47-11:1 ESV)
What Does Church History Say?
Church history is littered with debate over infant baptism; however, finding information on the subject at hand was a little difficult. Although, in the first two centuries of the Church we do find documents, such as Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, which describe the process of prepping a candidate for baptism. These candidates included children. Other than this document, baptisms of children were rare or even unheard throughout Church history. Charles Spurgeon, for example, preached and practiced the importance of leading children to conversion. However, he waited to baptize his own sons (evidently Christians for years) until they were 18. It wasn’t until the 20th century that we saw an increasing amount of young people who were getting baptized. Tony Hemphill has concluded that between 1977 and 1997 there was a 250 percent increase in the number of baptisms in Southern Baptist churches of children under the age of six. John Withers, who has written on this trend, has suggested increased social pressures on the pastor have resulted in the decreasing age of those being baptized. Concerning this issue, Mark Dever has said, “Whatever the reason for the change in practice, Christians today should be careful about participating in a well-intended but ill-fated baptism that seems to have tragically resulted in the confirmation of millions of people in conversions that have evidently proved to be false.”
The case for – Do Not Delay
If a child or teenager professes faith in Christ and demonstrates the characteristics of a born-again believer, there should be no hesitation in baptizing that individual because doing so would be a violation of the commands in Scripture. Also, there is no place in Scripture that we find baptism being delayed. Most times baptism immediately took place following repentance of sin and a confession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Who are we to judge what has taken place in a person’s heart? Whether it is an adult or a child we should not jump to conclusions regarding their salvation. If someone says they are Christian, we should believe them until they prove otherwise. God does not require anyone to prove him or herself before accepting them and neither should we. Delaying baptisms will also produce discouragement, confusion, and a sense of rejection amongst the candidates wishing to be baptized. This would seem to be a violation of Matthew 18:6 which is a strong warning against those who cause “little ones” to sin.
The Case for – Delay
If we believe the Elect will come to Christ through the irresistible calling of the Holy Spirit, we have to rest assured knowing that delaying baptism will in no way effect a person’s salvation. Those who belong to Christ are his forever. Waiting to baptize professing children until they are adults will make it apparent whether or not they belonged to Christ in the first place. In a sense, this seems like the most loving thing a parent or pastor can do for a child. If a child professes faith in Christ to please their parents, or to fit in with the other kids at church, or because they feel left out when it’s time for the Lord’s Supper and then we baptize this child, what we have potentially accomplished is the sealing a false convert in his or her sin. The results are tragic: a false convert standing before God on judgment hearing the words “Depart from Me, I never knew you,” a world observing the life of a false convert and wanting nothing to do with Christianity, a growing number of churches led by false teachers placed there by the false converts who want their ears itched, and the list could go on and on. These examples are extreme but they are in fact true of false converts. Waiting to baptize a professing child or teenager demonstrates your love for that individual and name of Christ.
It is difficult to determine what age is appropriate for baptism. The age one is able to fully comprehend and act on the message of the Gospel is differ
ent for every person. Nevertheless, it seems delaying baptism for months or perhaps years is the most wise, prudent, and loving thing a parent or pastor can do for a child or teenager wishing to be baptized.
Download the Document Here: THE AGE OF BAPTISM