When should a child participate? (baptism)
In my previous article, I suggested that the age a child could participate in the Breaking of Bread (i.e. partaking in the emblems) could be, for some, quite young. In this article I would like to put forth the suggestion that a child should not be considered ready for baptism until they are mature.
Two disclaimers before we get started. Number one, we will perhaps not all agree on what “mature” means and that’s okay. If you think your child is mature, or if the elders think a person is “mature” enough to make this decision, then that is what matters. I do not subscribe to a magical age that people have to be before they can get baptized.
Number two, like my previous article, I am only offering my opinion and could very well be wrong, since the Scriptures are silent on this subject. Some people like to use the mantra “where Scripture is silent, we are silent” but on this subject we are forced to make a judgement call if at some point our child asks if he or she can be baptized.
What is baptism?
I believe baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality. That is to say, when a person receives Christ as their Saviour from sin, they are born again. They are on their way to heaven. They can never lose their salvation because they never earned it. Christ died and rose again on our behalf (Romans 6:1-4). If we accept His sacrifice, we are saved, we are forgiven, and we are in His family forever.
Baptism is the “sign,” or witness, to the onlooking world that we have made this decision. By being baptized we formally declare to the world that we believe we have died with Christ and that we have been raised with Him from the dead. Baptism is something we do publicly in order to testify and proclaim Christ.
At this point, perhaps an illustration will help. At an altar on January 6, 2001, I said “I do” to a young lady and have remained married to that same woman for 18 years now. Some of you attended my wedding and may remember. Some of you didn’t. For those who didn’t attend, I wear the symbol of that decision on the ring finger of my left hand. I want to declare to everyone I meet the love and commitment I have to my wife, and I am not ashamed for anyone to know it. In fact, I am quite proud.
Baptism works the same way. It is the “ring” we wear to declare that we belong to Him, that we want to live for Him.
Only two criteria for baptism
First, when a child shows interest in getting baptized, do they understand the ramifications of such a decision? Do they know what they are doing, what it symbolizes and what it means to a watching world? If a child understands these things, then they are almost ready to be baptized. Perhaps they can talk to the elders, or take a class, in order to better understand what it means to be baptized. A mature person will want to learn these things.
Second, why does a person want to get baptized? “Because I want to live for Jesus and show the whole world that I belong to Him,” they may say. Good answer. A few more questions: are you living for Him now? Do people know you belong to Him? Do you base your decisions on His Word? Are you trying to show and tell others about Him?
Remember the wedding ring example: if you are not acting like a married man or woman, then why put on the ring? Does your life and your lips agree? If you are living committed and connected to Jesus, then, by all means, let the your light shine. The Lord Jesus Christ commands you to be baptized in His name.
No magic number
There is no magical age for baptism. To be sure, everyone who believed in the book of Acts was baptized a few days or weeks after coming to know Him. But they were adults, not children. We assume they were mature and they understood what they were doing (Acts 8:36,37). In the early church, and in some countries even now, baptism can be a matter of life or death. We need to understand the seriousness of such a decision.
I also assume that we shouldn’t baptize anyone too young, for fear that they do not understand the magnitude of what they are saying and doing by getting baptized. The symbolic meaning behind baptism is abstract and historical in nature, and young minds do not always understand abstract and historical things until they approach puberty, which is another reason I believe baptism should wait until maturity.
A final thought
It is a solemn privilege to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We should never rush, force or manipulate that decision in another person. God is exalted when He is exalted individually in a person’s heart. To be baptized for any other reason other than that is a false one.