I have to admit, this is one of those questions that I have struggled with myself. I am a strong proponent of Lordship Salvation, but at the same time must balance that with the belief that children can come to the Lord at a young age as well. Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am not writing this to pit Paedobaptism (the baptism of infants) vs Credobaptism (the baptism of believers only). I am a Credobaptist and I am coming from that theological vantage point. The question that I have struggled with really is “At what time should my 7 year old (or any young child) who has professed faith take the next step of baptism?” In a land filled with easy believism, “just say a sinner’s prayer”, and “take Jesus into your heart” mentality, I believe we must preach and teach true conversion to our children. That is not to say that they will get it all at once, but sin, faith, repentance, the cross, and counting the cost of following Jesus are all necessary components of the gospel. If your child has a grasp on these things (both mentally and seemingly spiritually), how do you know when it is time for them to get baptized? Since the Bible does not give a complete guideline for this situation, I believe these are some helpful questions to ask before we agree to let them take of this holy ordinance.
What really saves us any way? According to Ephesians we are “saved by grace through faith and not that of ourselves. It is a gift from God.” We are saved by confessing with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10). So, if we are saved by grace through faith apart from works, what is the big deal about Baptism? First, we get baptized because we are commanded to (Matthew 28). Secondly because it is an outward sign of the inward change that Christ has done for us. Next, we get baptized to make a public profession that we are not ashamed to be called a Christian. It is a sign that we are a part of the church universal (I Corinthians 12:13). Baptism does not save us, but it does identify who we are and to whom we belong. Why be baptized? Because the Lord said to, and we want to be obedient.
Do they understand the gospel?
By this I mean can they tell you that God is Holy, and that they are not? That God has every right to condemn them for their sins. That Jesus came, was born perfect, and lived a perfect and holy life. That Jesus died on the cross, the Just for the unjust, and that if they truly believe in Him alone for forgiveness and salvation that they can be saved. That they must repent and turn from their sin, and if they do so, that the Lord will keep them and seal them until the day of redemption. If they understand their sin, and Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension then you can trust that they know the gospel in the most basic form.
Have you seen fruit?
When the child is young, grows up in a Christian home where the Bible is being taught, and makes a profession of faith, it may be hard to discern genuine fruit from simple “good raising.” Some of the best advice I have been given is to give this area time. Ask yourself, can you see your child growing to hate their sin more? Do they come to you and acknowledge wrongdoing before you ever knew of the offense? Do they seem to be more loving, joyful, acting more kindly to their siblings, and more respectful to you as a parent? These are some good indications that the Holy Spirit is at work in their life, but it takes time to see if this is a genuine pattern of Spirit-wrought fruit, or just good behavior modification. Look for lasting fruit, not just low-hanging ones that can make us hopeful but leave us disappointed when we find out it is bad.
Have others seen fruit?
It can be easy to fool Mommy and Daddy sometimes. If your child has made a profession of faith, tell others that are often around them about it. Let them observe to see if they can see a spiritual change in their lives. Don‘t overlook the blessing that comes from seeking input from those who are spiritually mature around you.
Are you putting words in their mouths?
It is easy for us as parents to put words in the mouths of our children because we want them to be saved. This is understandable because all Christian parents want their children to be in the faith, but this can be dangerous. Let them in their own words tell their grandparents, friends, and other family members, and even church leadership about their profession. It does no good to feed them the words if they have not truly come to the conviction of them themselves. Believe in the sovereignty of God. Believe that if this is not the right time, that the Lord will awaken their spirit when it is. Pray for their brokenness and their understanding . . . but please do not put words in their mouth just so as to pacify your anxiety about their salvation.
Do your elders/pastors agree it is time?
Baptism is an important step in a person’s faith. It should not be taken lightly. There should be a time of testing by those who are spiritually mature that are in their lives (II Corinthians 13:5). Let the pastor or elders from your church test them (without you giving them the answers for them). If all are in agreement, then it may very well be time for the baptismal waters to be stirred. If all are not, then it is okay to allow some time to marinate and keep looking for sign of regeneration. While salvation is an individual decision initiated and completed by God, when your child is young, it would be wise to make baptism a group decision. We want them to be sure of their faith. Having them baptized is a parent’s, pastor’s, and church’s acknowledgment that they see saving faith in them. It’s a big deal and pastors should always be involved in the process.
I write this not as someone who has all the answers. I write this as a parent and a pastor who is in the middle of it himself with 4 young kids. Ten months ago my oldest made such a wonderful profession. It has been almost a year since she did . . . and we are still in the “have you seen their fruit” stage. While we believe her profession was sincere, we are still waiting a little while longer to make sure. These are 6 questions my wife and I keep asking each other as we seek others to help us in the process. So, should your child be baptized? The answer is an astounding yes if they have truly professed faith, but I would caution you not to rush it and rest in the goodness of God to reveal when it is the right time.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Adam B. Burrell