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.