All three of our children have made a profession of faith in the last three years. None of them are baptized. Since we’ve had children, we’ve not been in churches that baptize children easily. There’s an understandable desire to make sure that children are making a genuine decision to follow Christ (we share this desire!), but witholding baptism seems to have some unintended and undesirable consequences. Some day I’ll talk about those consequences, since I’ve had opportunity to watch my children interact with the local church in matters of salvation and baptism. Today I want to talk about our conversation that we’re having at our house now.
On one hand, we tell our adults that baptism is a step of obedience:
Then those who gladly[a] received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them Acts 2:40
But on the other hand, we tell our children that baptism is NOT a step of obedience. You’re not old enough. We want to make sure we see fruit of salvation. We’re afraid that baptizing you might make it harder to know if you’re really saved later on.
Does it surprise us that we parents who emphasize obedience as the first lesson of childhood should rear children who are ready to be baptized simply because the Bible says we should? And why does it surprise us that if we tell our children “not now,” that they get the idea that baptism isn’t a matter of obedience after all, but something that’s a good idea later on when they feel like it? (This response has actually surprised me, then I am surprised to be surprised.)
When we told the children that we were having a baptism service at our church, and that children were welcome to be baptized, as long as they were sure that they were saved, their response was surprising. One said, “Yes, I want to be baptized.” One said, “I don’t think I’m ready to be baptized.” When I poked a little and asked why, the response was “Because I will be embarrassed to give my testimony in front of people.” Another just said, “I don’t want to because I am afraid.” I was particularly surprised at the hesitation, but it reminded me that we haven’t talked about baptism in awhile, and we probably needed some review. So we talked about baptism, my three children.
I told them my testimony. I asked them for their testimonies. I’m learning that telling their salvation story is important to them because it reminds them that they are saved. Tonight Laurel was in tears because she couldn’t remember WHY she got saved. After we talked about salvation and baptism I asked her about her tears, and she was surprised I asked. Oh, I’m not afraid any more. I remembered why I got saved. Trusting in Jesus is something that began at a point in time and continues to the present. When they rehearse what God did in their lives, they are reminding themselves about what God is doing presently.
I asked David and Bethel to find me verses about baptism and/or salvation. They found several (Bethel found Romans 1:12– I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; David brought up Matthew 28:19.)
I read from this discussion of baptism. I particularly like the discussion of the wedding ring and its relationship to marriage. I want to be cautious. While I don’t want my children to choose to be baptized because I expect it, or will be disappointed if they don’t choose baptism, I also want to communicate that baptism is a command for believers every bit as much as obeying parents or showing kindness to siblings.
Here are some questions I asked. Some of these questions don’t have a Bible answer, but they’re good to think about:
- Can you baptize yourself by yourself? Baptism is a way to tell others about your decision to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
- Why do people have to be there? Why does a pastor baptize you? Maybe because baptism is a picture, we show that we cannot save ourselves when a pastor baptizes us. We can’t be saved without Jesus drawing us to himself.)
- Does baptism save you? (Of course not!)
- What do we use water? (Dirt would be too messy, water also is something we wash with– a double metaphor)
We’ll see what they decide.
Jon Gleason says
Hi, Michelle. I like your point, is this a question of obedience or isn’t it?
I will baptise any child which:
1. Makes a clear profession of faith.
2. Understands clearly that this is not the way we get saved, but a way we tell people we are saved, and a way we obey God.
3. Has parental permission. If the parents are unsaved, I want to meet with them and make sure they understand #1 & 2.
I do some teaching first.
One of my children was baptised at the age of 5. Her understanding was very clear.
Thank you for your feedback, Jon. I like your approach very much. It is good to hear from you. Trust your family is all well. (haven’t gotten a prayer letter in awhile!!!)