When to baptize?

This past Sunday I was confronted with a question and I’ve been surprised at the way I’ve responded.  Our family went to a gathering called Fifth Sunday (musical worship, baptism, and communion open to all the churches in Aurora (or anywhere for that matter)).  Michelle and the kids had to slip out a few minutes early so the kids could get to bed on time, so when I arrived at the casa they were already in bed.

Michelle told me about an interesting interaction she had with Isaiah.  They were sitting around the table while the kids ate their snack and it went a little somethin’ like this–

“Mommy,” Isaiah started, “why were those people getting wet tonight?”

“Well,” Michelle responded, “they were being baptized.”

“Why were they being baptized Mommy?”

“Well it’s a way of saying that they love Jesus.  They wanted to show everyone that they loved him and that’s a way the Bible tells us to do that.”

“I want to get baptized,” Isaiah said.

“Well, I’d love for you to get baptized someday, but you need to be a little older.”

“Why?”  Isaiah asked.  “I love Jesus right now.”

“I know you do honey, and I’m so glad about that.  But when you get baptized you’re saying that you always want to love Jesus and obey what he says we should do.”

“I will always love Jesus,” Isaiah said.  “I want to do what he says.”

It was time for bed, and Michelle moved them upstairs to brush teeth, but when she shared this with me I couldn’t believe my thoughts.  I’ve always thought kids shouldn’t be baptized.  My reason was primarily that they don’t really understand what they’re doing and that they aren’t capable of committing to following Christ with their life.  But without meaning to, I started talking myself into the possibility of baptizing Isaiah if he really wanted to.  Below are the reasons.

  • Mark 16:16 says whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.  Biblically baptism is a matter of obedience and you can’t find an instance where someone who believes is told to wait to be baptized (the opposite actually).  We allow children to believe in Jesus, so I wonder why we would deny them the second half of this command?  What kind of mystical power are we assigning to baptism if it is so powerful that we’re wrong to let a child, with a child’s understanding, participate?
  • Jesus said his kingdom bel0ngs to those who have faith like little children (Mt. 19:14; Mk. 10:14; Lk. 18:16).  Jesus welcomed the children who came to him with open arms.  By denying a child who wants to go to Jesus baptism, are we doing the opposite of our master?  I have seen so much evidence of faith in Isaiah.  I’m not naieve enough to think that this assures that he will continue to follow Christ his whole life or that he has a complete understanding of what that means (heck, I’m learning what that means everyday), but Isaiah has the faith of a little child, he is one, so why would I keep him from affirming that in baptism?
  • Acts 16:33 is an explicit example of a family being baptized when they put their faith in Jesus (we are only told explicitly that the father did).  There are other examples where it is difficult to imagine that children of some age were not present, though nothing is said for sure.  (Acts 10:23-48).  This is not the most convincing point for me, but interesting that if anything it seems to tilt toward baptizing children.  I know it is not conclusive.
  • If I won’t let Isaiah be baptized now, when he professes belief and asks to, when will I say it’s okay?  I know that he will have a better cognitive understanding when he hits his teens, but that certainly doesn’t assure that he will practice faith more completely than he does now.  And the reality is that if he is going to walk away from faith (thus in some way going against his baptism) he is not likely to do it when he is twelve or thirteen.  He is much more likely to do it as he leaves home in his late teens and early twenties.  Should I make him wait until he is 25 to assure that he will not leave the faith?  I don’t find it very convincing that we will be more assured that he will live in faith in Christ his whole life if he believes at 12 than believing now.

Those are the main points.  I’m very interested in feedback on this.  I’m interested in all feedback, but especially a biblical case against this position.  I really want to process it well and honor God in what we do.

About Big Tasty

Be better today than yesterday.

Posted on April 1, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Trevor,

    A couple of questions:

    1. Do you believe Isaiah is a Christian? Has he made the conscience decision to except Christ’s gift of salvation?

    2. If you asked him to define his relationship with Christ what would his answer be?

    3. Has he brought it up since then?

    4. If you told him that loving his Ayla was a way of showing love of God would he do it better? What I mean is, was he just wanting to show his love for Jesus and it happened that the conversation was about baptism versus any other way of expressing love/obediance to Christ?

    5. Does he understand that it is an outward expression of our salvation? Does he even believe he is saved? Can he point to the time he made a conscience decision to seek God’s gift (knowing the consequences of not being saved) of salvation or he is just wanting to love Jesus/God?

    Just some initial thoughts/questions…

  2. James, here’s what I’d say on each–

    1. I think he has done that to the extent he is capable of doing it as a 4 year old. He will understand it better at 6, and 8, and 12, and 20…
    2. What he has said is that he loves Jesus more than anything and he wants to follow him. Which I think to him, and in the context of our discussions with him about it, means doing what he says.
    3. No, and this is something Michelle and I have discussed. At the same time, there are adults who put their faith in Christ, hear about baptism, and don’t bring it back up. In that case I think it’s our responsibility to explain to them why they really need to make baptism a priority.
    4. That probably is true. How would that make it something he shouldn’t do?
    5. He knows he needs Jesus to forgive his sins. He knows what sin is. I’m not really a big fan of the “decision” salvation as the only way we’re saved. That is the experience of some, but especially for those who grow up in the church or around Christianity I think a moment of decision is kind of an artificial point where a person says what they already believe. I prayed for Jesus to forgive my sins when I was five, but I already believed in him for that before I prayed it, and I prayed for it again many many times after that.

    Good thoughts, respond to these, keep em coming!

  3. As I read that story about Isaiah, all I could think about was how much love he has for Jesus, and what a precious gift that is, especially at such a young age. Isaiah is such a special child, and the fact that he’s interested in being baptized and asking questions about it shows his genuine interest in it (after all, how long is a 4 year old’s attention span anyway)!?

    My thoughts on baptism would be to continue to talk to Isaiah about it, and see where those conversations lead…If you and Michelle think he’s ready, then I say, go for it! You’re right, there is no age given in the Bible about when you’re “ready” to be baptized.

    Jesus does say we need faith like a child, and Isaiah has certainly demonstrated that in so many aspects of his life.

  4. Ryan and Erika

    We don’t know where to land here. So these insertions of mind are not meant for one side or another, but for their own sakes of thinking…

    1. It seems to us, that to a certain point in their lives, a child’s worldview replicates that of their parents. This shifts at different times for different people, but is fairly universal (perhaps my father the human development expert could back me up with more than anecdotal evidence here). This is not a bad thing, but shows that you are good at following Jesus as parents cause that’s what Isaiah digs. Erika and I were both bapt’d at 12ish and this was still the case for both of us. Had we waited until we developed our own delicious brand of faith, I would have been h.s. graduationish and she would have been collegeish. Does this mean we were not disciples until late teens? N to the O. That was a major and sweet development in our discipleship, not the beginning of it.

    2. Ryan’s sweet question…I was mulling over some analogy building here and I thought of what could be a false analogy, but I don’t see it, so here we goooooooo…Baptism represents the embarking on the path of discipleship, which is a lifelong commitment. Getting a tattoo is also a lifelong commitment. Let’s pretend baptism is getting a tatoo. Soooo let’s pretend Isaiah wants to get a tattoo to show his love and discipleship of Jesus. Let’s also pretend that everybody is cool with tattoos. We got tattoos when we were pre-teens, and we don’t regret getting them because we are disciples who love Jesus now. We also will be disciples many years from now. Thus, perhaps it would be no biggy to tat it up, but perhaps it wouldn’t. I don’t know, and this analogy is not meant to dissuade you. It is simply a different way of seeing things perhaps.

    3. Back to both of us. We are both wondering about the exegesis of Jesus saying to have faith like a child and letting the little children come to him. I have heard a few different approaches. Here are a grab-bag of nuggety options:
    -Simple town: Jesus is saying children have a simple faith that is beautiful and they are disciples.
    -Occasional (not sometimes, rather it was for the occasion): Jesus is talking about this situation where the disciples are being lame-os to some kids and Jesus is accessible to everybody.
    -Inquisitive Faith: Faith like a child means asking questions and being full of wonder.
    -No young disciples?: Some have pointed out that Jesus makes these statements but does not make any mention of children following Him. Shaky, I know. I doubt Jesus would expect little kids to leave their parents to follow him. Also, some of the 12 disciples were probably mid-teens so boom.

    4. T-Picklez, I know we agree that Evangelical Christianity has reduced discipleship to a one-time prayer in exchange for a ticket to ride on the heaven train, which is lame. Sooo I think we can agree that our view of baptism is not that a person prayed a prayer, got saved, and now needs to get baptized because of that…But that a person (here, Isaiah) wants to be a disciple of Jesus in words he understands (love Jesus and be obedient) and baptism is the result of such a commitment (ala the Great Commission). He seems to understand that this is a commitment and not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

    5. It is hard for us to appeal to the Bible here, because when Jesus’ disciples/Acts folk were baptizing, nobody grew up with Christianity like now so there are no examples of a kid being raised by Christian parents and them wondering when to baptize. Plus the whole family had to do whatever the man did back then anyway so who knows with the family story in Acts?

    6. We think James’ question about bringing it up again is pretty solid…and so is your response. To bring something up repeatedly perhaps displays the willful commitment and understanding of that thing, whatever it may be, here being baptism.

    I think that’s about it. As we wrote this, we grew to lean more toward the side of yes to Isaiah’s youngish baptism. If we think of more nugz, we’ll open our email minds to yours. Peace out.

    Ryan and Erika

  5. Trevor – It’s an amazing thing for Isaiah to want to do, at age four. He may have more spiritual understanding than some teens at our church who’ve been baptized – some more than once – but have no idea of the commitment involved. If Isaiah continues to show the desire to be baptized, I think you should. It seems like a strong spiritual addition to the foundation he has now.

  6. I wouldn’t baptize him based on what you’ve said. This is just my opinion, based solely on a blog post and repsonse, so not a definitive judgement.

    I would want him to be at the point where he a better cognitive understanding of baptism and what it represents. A time when you wouldn’t have to remind him later of what it meant. Do you have have him take communuion? Does he understand what it represents?

    Jake loves Jesus, prays incredibly and knows God died on the cross for his sins but I wouldn’t definetively say he is a Xian or let him be baptized. As much as I yearn for his salvation and then baptism, I don’t want to force the issue and I want him to have the opportunity to make a conscience decision when he can make the logical argument that he is a Xian and feels called to be baptized. I think the Holy Spirit will convict/call him when it is time.

    Just my thoughts.

  7. Good thoughts y’all, keep it coming. Ryan and Erika, here are a couple thoughts on your thoughts.

    True about people not growing up with parents believing in Jesus at the time of Acts. The closest we could probably come pre-Jesus is circumcision and dedication at the temple, and in that case it was with infants born into Jewish homes. a.k.a. Covenant Theology. Zac Hicks would like me for that one.

    Isaiah hasn’t asked for a tattoo, just for the record.

  8. James, some thoughts on your thoughts on my thoughts on your thoughts…

    I don’t think the issue here is whether or not we’d have to remind Isaiah of what baptism means. The issue was whether he’d bring it back up without our prompting. Going back to my previous comments, I think he knows what it means, as much as a 4 year old can.

    Based on what you said about Jake, I think we may have differing opinions on when someone is a Christian. I don’t think the most important part of being a Christian is being able to give a logically reasoned explanation for faith. There are plenty of people who know the ins and outs of what Christianity is but it doesn’t impact how they live. I believe discipleship is a belief in Jesus and willingness to give your life to following him. What makes you think Jake isn’t a Christian now? Just curious.

  9. What an exciting thing to be considering and thinking through…I love this discussion. I’m really excited for you guys and thrilled that Isaiah is asking those kinds of questions and expressing those kinds of interests.

    I don’t know Isaiah, never met him, but I know his parents and some others in his extended family. I think an oft overlooked aspect of baptism is the responsibility of the community witnessing the event and the corresponding commitment. Despite his age, if his heart desires commitment to Jesus, and the community of believers (his awesome family) is ready to continue teaching, nurturing, and encouraging him to grow, then I say baptize away!

    Maybe a nice new tattoo wouldn’t be out of the question either? Maybe something in Greek or Hebrew to show how truly Christian he is.

  10. Having just been present to enjoy Isaiah’s 4th birthday party and spend some time with him, I am not surprised by his response to witnessing a baptism service, hearing what it means, and wanting to do it too. He thinks deeply and wants to experience and examine nearly everything he encounters (even everyone’s Christmas presents this year). That deep thinking and examination is part of who God created Him to be and it is done at a 4 year old level. God also created us to still be growing in mind, body, and spirit, we are in a process of growth throughout our lives. So when are we grown up enough for certain things?

    I digress to a personal example of growth and development. I was born into a Christian family where i loved Jesus, as far as I can remember, all my life. I also remember a very serious personal prayer in my bedroom at age 9 when I asked Jesus to take away my sin and live as part of me. I also remember very vividly walking forward at a service led by Evangelist Vernon Derkson, where at age 14 I rededicated my life to Christ with a new level of understanding. At age 15, as was custom in our community of faith, I chose to enter a year of catechism where I learned in depth about Christ, the Bible, and the history of the Christian church. Upon completion of the course I met with the pastor, shared my testimony of faith in Christ and asked to be baptized. So, at 16 years of age I shared that testimony publicly with my community of faith and was baptized (didn’t get all wet, since the pouring method was used!). It was a meaningful day from which I retain vivid pictures in my mind. Although I have questioned my faith at times, I can truly say I feel as though I have been a follower of Christ all my life and it is the solid rock of my life. I am very glad I waited to be baptized as I truly understood its meaning and I was ready to present to the world a life-long commitment. It is a relationship commitment. In that regard much like marriage and I don’t think you’d let Isaiah get married now if he asked, right?

    I feel baptism is a very deep meaningful ritual of the Christian faith that should not be trivialized, so I have always felt uncomfortable when people are baptized before they can articulate the faith commitment they seem to be making. After baptism I believe our community of faith becomes part of our lives and should be holding us accountable to our commitment. I know we don’t do much of that anymore and sometimes our faith community does not even know if or when we were baptized. That is true for me right now and there is a loss in those dynamics.

    I have been rambling and this is too long. While I love Isaiah’s commitment to Jesus, which is strong for his age, I also would like him to some day come to a point when he fully understands the surrender to Jesus and choose to make a public confession of faith and be baptized (or maybe rebaptized). I really wonder about the “theology” or possibility of having several baptisms at various junctures in our life of faith. That could be very powerful. If baptism just happens once then I would not want Isaiah to look back and wish you had influenced him to wait until he could make that decision when he understood more fully the commitment.

    What’s with Jesus waiting until age 30 to get baptized?

    How do you reflect on your own baptisms?

    Love, Mom (G-ma)

  11. Mom, lots to discuss here! I’ll try to take your points in order, though I know they overlap.

    First, on waiting for certain things, especially commitments. I don’t think it’s a fair comparison to relate baptism to marriage. They are both commitments, but one doesn’t naturally require puberty. I know baptism is a part of what hopefully is a life-long commitment, but the reasons for it and the level of maturity it takes are vastly different in my estimation.

    You get at one of the points that has become a crux for me in this discussion. You talked about praying for forgiveness of your sins when you were nine, and you also talk about being a Christian your whole life. When I look at Scripture it seems to me that belief and baptism are paired as one expression of faith and discipleship. In our culture we have separated them into two distinct acts, thus giving baptism some kind of sacred otherness that the Bible does not (in my estimation). I have become concerned that if Isaiah expresses faith and a desire to be baptized, understanding what that means as well as he is able, then I may be stopping him from doing something that is not only encouraged, but commanded, for all who believe by Jesus himself. We have done a similar thing with communion. With baptism and communion we have separated them and said that it is dangerous or wrong to allow children to participate, when biblically these are vital aspects of being a part of the Christian community.

    I agree that I don’t want to see baptism trivialized, but I see that happening more when people are baptized because they’re “supposed to be” instead of expressing a desire. Yes, Isaiah expresses that desire because of what he is exposed to being a part of our family, but I count that as a positive, not a negative. If we were forcing him it would be different than supporting him.

    You said after baptism our faith community becomes a part of our lives. I hope they are before baptism, but I agree that the community should become responsible for helping those who are baptized continue to grow in discipleship. I think our community does that and would continue whatever Isaiah does with baptism.

    I actually am not a fan of re-baptism at all, admittedly because of my own experience, but I don’t think there’s biblical reason for it either. You could argue that re-baptism is more likely if you baptize a child, but I was re-baptized and wasn’t baptized the first time until I was 14. As I’ve said in other parts of this conversation, I know he will understand more at 12, 18, 30, etc, but I don’t understand that as a reason to put off baptism, something commanded by Christ in conjunction with belief.

    As for Jesus waiting until 30, I think that’s because of the way the kingdom of God was being revealed. No children or adults were baptized until John came (at least not that we read about. I know there were some Jewish purity rituals where people might have been).

    I’m not going to write about my baptisms here, since this is so long, but we should talk about them sometime. Thanks mom, let me know what you think!

  12. Trevor,
    Interesting to read these entries. How many blog posts have you made that have prompted double-digit replies. Nice job.

    Given the input of previous posts, I won’t re-plow the same ground. I will simply make a few observations:

    1. The differences in perspective are falling interestingly along cohort lines. Those who hesitate to endorse moving forward are those who are older (James, mom) in contrast to those who are younger (“his faith is so exciting– I say go for it!”, as well as the perspectives on communion). (Not sure where “MJC” falls). That is a dynamic that has been noted in recent cohort research.

    2. Developmentally, I would challenge your understanding of his understanding. But that is for a lengthier conversation when we can actually talk.

    3. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that your mind is quite made up, as you tend to challenge most the comments that would suggest you wait, while seemingly being less inclined to do so with those who urge you to move ahead.

    4. In line with your own sentiment, I am also reticent about re-baptisms. That being the case, I hope Isaiah would not have regrets if he cannot remember such a momentous occasion.

    5. As parents responsible for Isaiah, you and Michelle have to be at peace about the decision you make. We have great trust and respect in you both, and can support whatever you decide to do.

    6. Lastly, reading blog responses has reinforced for me big-time why I much prefer actual conversation! (another cohort difference)

    Thanks for the chance to input. Now I’ll step back and watch the young crowd continue to go at it! 🙂

  13. Trevor,

    I guess I am old…:) I take this as a compliment and am agreement with your parents.

    Let come at one point another way. If you told Isaiah people did X because they love Jesus, he would want to do whatever X is. I don’t think he wants to be baptized because of the Biblical response to salvation is baptism, he does it because you and Michelle told him people who love Jesus do it. I think that Isaiah needs to have a better grasp of his faith.

    How many events do you remember from age four? How many decisions do you remember making at that age that shaped your life? You and I will probably have to agree to disagree. My 7 year old loves Jesus/God knows that Jesus died on the cross for him knows what sin is, prays eloquently and wants to do what is right. He told also told me that if you die without knowing Jesus you don’t go to heaven. He understands the concept but there is no way he owns. If he were to die it would be up to God to decide whether he is a Christian (always is but you get my point) because I in no way would say that he has stated clearly that he understands and has made a conscience decision about the salvation question.

    Here is a great example –> Jake has watched his video on flying/airplanes 50 times and he knows the video inside and out. He talks about the controls, the landing gear, wind currents, flight traffic control and knows the airport codes for 30 cities. He just told me again that he knows how to fly the plane. Trevor as best as he knows, he knows how to fly a plane…are you going to get on a plane with Jake flying. He believes with all his heart, that he can do it and he knows a lot about flying, do you want to fly with him?

    Trevor if you guys keep raising Isaiah and Ayla the way you are, the time will come when they will have a faith that demands baptism. I believe it is not the right time to baptize.

    Keep praying for wisdom and I am sure God will guide you. I love that God gives liberty of conscience and you will do what you think is best.


  14. Wow what a timely discussion. I do not know any of you folks, but I know that the love this child has for Jesus is way cool. I think that God’s Word is clear that Baptism is a matter of the heart. In fact, I know that you all would agree that Jesus was all about the child like faith and letting the little children come unto Him. I would hate for this discussion to lead to the little children being hindered from practicing their faith and what even mom and dad are trying to help them with.

    The Bible is clear — believing in Christ for salvation and baptism were always together. Thus, “when we believe” is the right time to be baptized.

    Acts 2:38 and 41 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….So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.’

    And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

    And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his household.

    Bet there were children there.

    With Jesus it has always been a matter of the heart. In fact, Jesus Himself baptized with the Spirit and fire. No water in that mix. We as humans who have figured God out in all matters try and legislate it for others. I like what James shared that the parents will allow God to lead them in their final decision.

    Not sure if you can tell, but I am all for it. What a great chance to continue to cement this wonderful decision to follow Jesus all of his days. Take lots of video and pictures to remind him of his commitment to Jesus and Jesus’s to him. I will never leave you or forsake you!



  15. I have a 7 year old that has recently asked to be baptised. I was 8 years old when I decided to give my life to Christ. I rmember that day like yesterday. My parents supported my decision.

    Like my parents, I asked my son what he thought it meant to be baptised. He said it meant to love God and do our best to live by the bible. I told him that if he wanted to it would be up to him to talk to my Dad (an Elder) and to our pastor about studying with them about the meaning of being baptised because it was pretty serious stuff. He need to do this to see if he was “ready”. Then I left it up to him. He thought about it for a couple of weeks and then asked me about it again. I told him, “if you are serious, you know what you have to do.” He has asked our pastor and his grandfather to start studying with him. He made a date for after school once a week. We will let you know how it goes!!!!

    Some children are “old souls” and really grasp the concept of the age of accountabliy earlier than others.

  16. I have a 10-year-old daughter who wants to be baptized and I came across your blog entry in my research. Thanks for opening up the discussion.

    I’m not really sure why I am hesitant to allow her to take this next step. Most likely it is because of my own testimony. I went forward during an invitation because I overheard a mom saying that the ones going forward did not want to go to hell. I was four years old. I had no clue what it meant to be a hopeless sinner striving to be rightly related to a holy and perfect God who demands my worship. Many years later, I reached a breaking point. This led me to trust in a Savior who had paid the price that no one else could.

    I am happy that my daughter has verbally indicated a trust in Christ. It thrills me much more when I see at least some evidences of the Holy Spirit working in her life. When I think of Baptism in the verses you referenced, I visualize a public “marking” so to speak – where people were willing to outwardly express their love for Christ. This expression could likely result in persecution and/or death.

    I think if I told any of my children that Baptism is something they should do if they love Christ (I also have a 4-year-old), everyone one of them would want to take the plunge. But what if I told them that if they get baptized, they risk being laughed at by all their friends and treated like a loser the rest of their life (it’s not true but you get the picture). I guess I am hoping they would be at the age where they could understand the great sacrifice that their spiritual forefathers paid when they made this public commitment and in a small sense be willing to make that same sacrifice for the cause of Christ.

    I’m not necessarily a huge John MacArthur fan, but here is a short 15 minute challenge that I came across on evaluating your child’s spiritual condition. He is a reform theologist so you would expect this opinion from him, but it still may be worth a listen. They don’t baptize until the early teens – which they think is the age where a person can really begin showing a true commitment to Christ by how they respond to peer pressure, etc. Not sure I agree but I though you might appreciate an informed opinion from someone who believes differently than you.


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