Primer on Baptism and Children
The issue of baptizing children involves the intersection of a number of different areas of theology:
1) our view of the church
2) our view of the meaning of baptism
3) our view of child-rearing
Among Baptists, there are a number of different ways of putting these pieces together. It’s important for us at Cities to think carefully about these issues since every church develops a cultural expectation with respect to children. In other words, this is an area where wisdom and prudence demands that we set a certain expectation for our people and help them to understand our practice. If a church baptizes young children, then parents and young children will develop an expectation that normally children are baptized young. If a church doesn’t baptize until children are older, then parents and children adapt to that expectation. Thus, we want to think carefully about how to put these pieces together, and not simply leave it vague and undefined. Given the number of young children in our church, this is already a pressing issue and will only become more so.
At this point, we have two initial commitments that guide us as we move forward:
- We are credo-baptists. That is, we believe that baptism follows a profession of faith.
- We are congregationalists. That is, we believe that the final authority under God is the local congregation as a whole. Thus, we are elder-led, but congregationally-ruled.
I’ve already weighed in on this question last year at desiringGod.org (I include my article below). The article was my attempt to thread the needle and offer a perspective that I hadn’t seen offered elsewhere. At the same time, it is not my settled position. The conversations provoked by that article have clarified some things for me, and thus I am still undecided on what the best way of proceeding is as a church.
The following is a list of the three main positions as well as a handful of articles for each position. Most of the articles are very short and readable.
Tim Challies identifies the three main positions: http://www.challies.com/articles/at-what-age-should-we-baptize
Baptize Young Children (as early as 4 years old)
Basic Position: Baptize children as soon as they make any kind of meaningful profession. Thus, we don’t expect children to offer adult professions, nor do we scrutinize children’s professions and pick them apart.
1) Fits well with our approach to child-rearing, in which we treat children like Christians so that they become Christians and we encourage and affirm their seed-like faith rather than scrutinizing it.
2) Fits with the New Testament example of immediate baptism (no probationary or waiting period)
3) Allows us to welcome our believing children to the Lord’s Table
1) Danger of giving false assurance
2) Difficulty of scrutinizing any childhood professions
3) Creates two tiers of membership (since it is unusual to allow and expect 4 year olds to vote in congregational meetings)
4) Does this practice functionally differ much from paedobaptism?
- John Starke: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/should-we-baptize-small-children-yes
- Patrick Schreiner: http://patrickschreiner.com/?p=12730
- Justin Taylor: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2012/03/21/the-fear-of-baptizing-children/
- Taylor again: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2012/03/23/once-more-on-the-baptism-of-children/
Baptize Young Adults (15+ years old)
Basic Position: Withhold baptism until children make a credible profession of faith, with credibility usually understood in terms of maturity and autonomy. When the church is prepared to treat a child as an adult, they are now able to be baptized.
1) Fits with congregational polity and avoids the two tiers of membership
1) Some versions (Capitol Hill) adopt a “We’ll see” approach to a child’s faith, which can make them feel like trusting in Jesus isn’t enough (there are other hoops to jump through)
2) Other versions (Rigney) are forced to withhold baptism and the Lord’s Supper from those we believe are Christians.
3) Seems to run counter to NT practice of immediate baptism
- Capitol Hill Baptist (Wait and See Approach): http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/ministries/children/baptism-of-children/
- Follow up: http://9marks.org/mailbag/mailbag-5-not-baptizing-children-small-groups-elders-and-porn-again/
- Rigney (Covenant Child-rearing Approach): http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/when-to-baptize-our-believing-children
In Between (11-12 years old)
Basic Position: Don’t wait until children are adults, but also don’t baptize 4 and 5 year olds. Instead, wait until there’s sufficient maturity to count the cost and stand on their feet, but don’t require the full adulthood.
1) Allows us to scrutinize professions to some degree, without excluding 12 year olds from baptism and the table
2) Emphasizes the need for maturity and knowledge for a profession of faith
1) 11 or 12 years old seems arbitrary. Why not earlier?
2) Has the danger of teaching our kids to doubt by making “true” faith seem impossible
- Challies: http://www.challies.com/articles/when-should-my-children-be-baptized
- Bethlehem (Why BBC waits until children are 11): http://www.hopeingod.org/sites/hopeingod.org/files/documents/Why%20Wait%20for%20Baptism.pdf
Since our view of children and parenting is intricately wrapped up in this question, I’m including two articles that have helped me to think through how we should view our children.
- Andrew Wilson: Fifteen Theses on Children http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/a_theology_of_children_fifteen_theses
- Vern Poythress: Indifferentism and Rigorism (a long but important article that wrestles with both the theology and the shepherding aspects): http://frame-poythress.org/indifferentism-and-rigorism/