As parents who are followers of Jesus Christ, we love our children and want them to follow Christ for all of their days. For our children to follow Christ means everything to believing parents as it is the difference between heaven and hell itself (yes, there’s still many people who believe in this “old-fashioned” idea). And baptism is a big step for anyone’s journey with Christ, including children.
The Significance of Baptism
Baptism is the time when grandparents, extended family, and friends come together to celebrate God’s goodness and mercy. Baptism is a celebration of your personal spiritual journey because it pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:1-4). Baptism is special because it advertises your faith in Christ to everyone around you (Matthew 28:19-20). And baptism is serious because is the entrance into the Lord’s Supper and many of the meaningful practices of the church, including church membership for many churches.
Many children raised in a believing home profess faith in Christ at an early age. Yet, just because your son or daughter professes faith in Christ doesn’t mean that you should automatically baptize him or her immediately. Baptism is a big deal and it is important for children to know why they are being baptized.
Baptized Too Early?
To baptize someone when they do not profess faith in Christ seriously undermines the entire sweep of the New Testament. For many young adults today, their memories of being baptized are fuzzy because they happened when they were so young. While some children are truly converted to Christ and baptized as early as five or six years of age, for most children this has more to do with the parent’s faith than the child’s faith. We must remember that the brain and psyche develop with age where some of our youngest memories fade over time. While many of the stats of young adults leaving the Christian faith are overhyped, many young adults do drop out of church. No doubt they drop out for a variety of reasons and no parent can do anything to absolutely guarantee that their children will continue with Christ into adult years. Nevertheless, parents should shepherd their children carefully, intentionally, and thoughtfully. And one of the primary places a believing parent should pay attention to is their child’s baptism. I’m afraid some people have experienced baptism when they didn’t fully express faith in Christ.
While the Bible doesn’t present a one size fits all position on baptizing children who are raised in believing households, the Bible does present red lights and green lights when it comes to baptizing your children. Let’s start with the red lights first as I’ll be advocating a middle-ground approach to two extremes of practice in working with children.
Why a Parent Should Wait Before Baptizing their Child
1. Wait if You or Your Child Thinks Baptism Saves. Only faith in Christ and turning from your sins saves a person (John 3:14-15; Acts 2:37-38). Saving faith is this: trust in Jesus Christ to save you from the penalty your sins deserve (Romans 10:17).
If your child thinks baptism saves, you should definitely wait and teach your son or daughter about the importance of faith. If you think baptism saves, I encourage you to read Scripture passages such as John 3:1-21, Acts 2, and the book of Galatians.
2. Wait if Your Child is Simply Wanting to Please You. Younger Children often want to please their parents (if only this was constant during the teenage years!). During these younger years (often when a child’s age is nine years old or younger), they are more susceptible to fear and pressure from authority figures. Genuine conversion can happen when a child is young but so can manipulation. God forbid something as important and precious as faith in Christ be manipulated.
3. Wait if You Are Going to Stop Discipling Your Child After Baptism. There is a natural joy when your children express faith in Christ. Yet, for many parents, they do very little to encourage their child’s practice of Christianity and the spiritual disciplines (e.g. Bible reading, praying, stewardship, etc.) after their baptism. It’s as if “the finish line” is baptism and there’s nothing important to do with your faith after you “cross the tape.” Keep pursuing Christ alongside your child after she is baptized. Too many parents take their foot off the pedal when it comes to their children’s discipleship after baptism.
4. Wait if Your Child Thinks Santa Brings Christmas Presents. If your child thinks Santa is responsible for bringing the gifts under the Christmas tree, then your child is probably too young too be baptized. There is an age when children are too young to make an authentic and credible profession of faith. And one of the best markers I’ve discovered is to wait until after your son and daughter no longer think Santa is real.
I don’t pretend to know for sure when children reach maturity, but I know they’re too young to comprehend the cost of following Christ at this stage. Give yourself and other believers at your church sometime to see independent thinking in your child’s life.
Why a Parent Should Baptize their Child
1.Baptism is Commanded by Jesus Himself. One of the last things Jesus said before leaving the earth was to command His followers to evangelize, baptize, and then continue discipling people of all colors, ages, and tribes (Matthew 28:18-20). Baptism pictures a person’s union with Christ (Colossians 2:11-12). So parents are commanded to follow through with baptism as they would any other command in the Bible.
2. When You’ve Consulted Your Pastors. Many churches have a special class to help your child in expressing his faith in Christ. Take time to consult your church’s children’s pastor, your child’s Bible study leader, and other mature believers who interact with child regularly.
Be careful though that you do not overly depend on the class to tell you when a child is ready. Conversion happens at the Holy Spirit’s timing and not at a certain age (John 3:8). Do not trust in a class but trust in the Holy Spirit to save your son or daughter.
3. The Bible Doesn’t Present Unbaptized Christians. When you read the New Testament, you see that believers are immediately baptized upon professing faith in Christ. To say that another way, when people receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord they were baptized right away (see Acts 2 as an example). And this should be our model today.
Take care at this point for the New Testament doesn’t show us specific examples of an elementary school aged children who come to receive Christ. While, we need to be careful not to set up “probationary times” for believers where they feel they must prove their faith to others, we must also take specific care not to green light every child’s whimsical notion to be baptized simply because their cousin was recently baptized. Parents and pastors must take steps to not squelch a child’s genuine expression of faith by not demanding from children more than can be reasonably expected at their age.
4. When There’s Evidence of Conversion. Parents should look for evidence of their child’s conversion. And when it’s possible, wait to see if other believing and trusted adults confirm the presence of God’s Spirit as well. All parents have blind spots when it comes to their kids. Parents should recognize baptism is for believers only and only the passage of time shows that anyone (young or old) is a true believer (Luke 8:4-15).
Here are some helpful signs to look before baptizing your child:
1. Do they read their Bible without being told?
2. Do they have a burden and conviction because of their sins.
3. Do they trust God even when life is bad?
4. Do they pray for people on their own?
5. Do you see humility in their lives?
6. Do they display a love for Christ.