In my short time (8 months) at UBC, I have made a few comments regarding the baptism and conversion of young children that may have been misunderstood. I’d like to clarify a few things here.
First of all, I do apologize for introducing some relatively unusual “language” on this matter without greater clarification. It really is somewhat irresponsible of me to say things like, “I encourage parents to wait until their children are older to see them through baptism,” or “Sometimes I find that parents want little Johnny baptized more for their own assurance than his understanding or benefit,” without further explanation. Afford me that explanation (in part) here.
Let me go on record to clearly say that I BELIEVE CHILDREN CAN BE SAVED! I will also go clearly on record to say that BAPTISM SAVES NO ONE! In that vein, I do not want children to be confused about what decision is being made or what conversion really looks like. I am not the Holy Spirit and neither are parents, but parents have the best observation of genuine conversion in their own households. That’s why I seek to help parents patiently observe their children to see if they appear to be “in the faith” as best as they can tell.
There are so many things to weed through with young children. 1) Saving faith is a child-like faith in its simplicity and solidarity toward Christ; 2) Children essentially want to please parents and other adults; 3) Children appear to us to be so innocent and sweet and we forget that ALL are born into this world as sinners by nature and eventual choice. So, we have to be good stewards of the gospel to help young children understand the gospel and the obedience of baptism to publically profess Him and associate with His bride, the church.
One of the problems we have is that although the gospel is very simple, we simply make it less than it is. With children we too often have just said to them to ask Jesus in their heart and he’ll come in. We act as if all the sweet things need is Jesus added to an inherently good life. Look, our children are given the general light of Christ in creation to understand right and wrong (John 1) and we as parents are to help them understand that doing wrong (sin) produces consequences (spankings, or whatever you choose for a particular disciplining action). Eventually, the children have a chance to understand the nature of sin and punishment (Romans 6:23). Then we are able to communicate more clearly to children that Jesus did not just die as some good example, He died in our place, taking our punishment (wrath of God on sin–death) in our place. We then tell them of the keeping power of God to “keep us saved” because of the resurrection and the promise of eternal life being secured in Christ. Then, when we accept Christ’s sacrifice in our place we are given the Holy Spirit to “guarantee” that we are His own (Eph.1:13). The EVIDENCE of the Spirit’s presence is fruit (Gal.5:22-23) and changing desires (Gal.5:24). In the clearest of terms children can understand this, but we need to help them understand it for longer than a moment.
Once we get the gospel right, we help them understand that following the Lord’s commands is right and good. Baptism is one of the first things we obey to show the church that we are one of His and a brother / sister of the believers witnessing the act. It is NOT salvific, but it is significant.
Now, all that said, I do believe that my 6 year old can begin understanding this (in part or in whole). However, I am going to patiently guard the trust of my daughters by observing their lives and helping insure in their minds that the truth of the gospel is understood, not only the outward manifestation of it (baptism). Since baptism doesn’t save (and it doesn’t) then what fear do I have? Is it MY assurance of THEIR salvation I’m going after? God forbid. If water (not fruit) becomes our assuring factor, then we have ceased to believe the Bible and what it says confirms that we are His (ref. 1 John…the WHOLE book).
Perhaps this has not been an historical problem at UBC, but it has in our convention. I have personally read accounts of 3,4,5 year olds being baptized on a regular basis in our SBC churches. How can this be good stewardship of the gospel? What biblical basis do we have for these decisions? This is about as twisted as confirming our salvation by dates rather than behavior; by prayers prayed rather than lives changed. Again, I’m just simply a “chapter and verse” guy on this point, and the weight of scripture all says that in order to be saved we must have repentence and faith as evidence of the grace we’ve received. Our children can understand this, but we must be patient to help them understand it in such a way that it “sticks.”
Of course, this requires a true partnership between parents (particularly fathers as the spiritual head) and the church. There is no priest in our offices at 333 W. Maple St. We are called to equip the saints for works of service, yet we have been trained with a particular instruction that can aid the father (where he is present) to shepherd the children into all truth. So, we must work together. Right now, we are working on a procedure to follow that will help parents cover the essentials with their children to help insure that they understand the gospel and baptism’s role. I am truly excited about this and think it will help us tremendously.
I am truly sorry if along the way I have offended some with my statements without appropriate further explanation. I will work on communicating my views, but my views remain firm. I thoroughly enjoy meeting with families regarding their child’s baptism because we get to talk about the gospel and its amazing power, even over the young. But one power of the gospel that I do not fear is its KEEPING power. So, I will be patient and often encourage parents to be patient with their youngest children. While I have no age mandate, I feel that 8-10 is the most common age range to begin serious discussions (just been my experience – including my own baptism) and training and, perhaps, even baptism itself. Of course, many feel they were converted and have a legitimate baptism at earlier ages than that. That is not mine to judge. But as pastor of this flock who has an accountability before God (Hebrews 13:17) for you, I just seek to be prudent and faithful. As a result, we will meet (perhaps even have classes) with EVERY parent and child desiring baptism. We will not just schedule them.
Children being saved is one of the sweetest and most powerful testimonies we get to observe, but it is not because of the sweetness of that sentimental moment or that child. It is because God has poured is wrath on His own Son for that little one as well and in order for us to celebrate in a God-honoring way, we must help insure that the child understands that fact and is willing to follow Christ the rest of their days.
I do love you all and hope that you understand my passion here. Some of you may differ with me very much, but please bear in mind that I strive to express my passions as I believe they are consistent with scripture and how the scriptures are communicated in our Statement of Faith. And I believe that my view of this is most consistent with both. Here is what our Statement of Faith says of baptism…
Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord Jesus, commanded by Him for every believer. It is the immersion of the believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. New Testament baptism is a prerequisite to church membership.
May we see the generations that follow come to Christ in great numbers, in full knowledge of the gospel and may their fruit last for their joy and the glory of God!