“I think my child is ready to be baptized.” Regular pastors hear these words regularly. Little Johnny has asked a question about heaven, angels, death, or something remotely spiritual, and now Johnny’s parents think he’s ready to be baptized.
Setting all skepticism aside, this is an encouraging and exciting development in the life of any child. If you are teaching your children the gospel at home, it’s normal that they would be inquisitive. If your children watch the congregation celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it’s natural that they would want to participate. If you bring your children to church and they witness the celebration of baptism, it’s natural that they would ask questions. These are all encouraging developments!
Nevertheless, questions alone don’t mean a child is ready to be baptized. Regular pastors in the credobaptist tradition have to decide when a child is ready to obey Christ’s command to be baptized.
Over the years, too many have simply taken the path of least resistance. This path involves baptizing any child who makes a profession of faith. One reason this is the path of least resistance involves the wishes of little Johnny’s parents. Many times parents aren’t actually coming to get your professional opinion. Rather, they’re coming to get you on board with their plans for the baptism of their child. Another reason this is the path of least resistance involves the ever present temptation to “pad” your baptism numbers. Let’s be honest, children are an easy sell when it comes to baptism.
The path of biblical faithfulness requires a bit more discernment, and regular pastors and parents need to make sure they don’t practice a delayed version of paedobaptism – uncritically baptizing unregenerate children.
Regular pastors must help parents remember the following truths about salvation – truths that apply to adults and teenagers and children, alike. First, salvation is a work of God, not a result of human ritual (Jonah 2:6, John 1:13, Phil 1:6). Second, salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, not through baptism (Habakkuk 2:4, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9).
Regular pastors and parents are essentially trying to discern whether or not a child has been converted. Children are converted just like adults. True conversion involves comprehension, conviction, commitment, and church (The Four C’s of True Conversion). Comprehension and church are fairly easy to diagnose. The tricky part for most pastors and parents is gauging the conviction and commitment aspects of conversion.
In my conversations with parents of children who want to be baptized, I’ve found the following diagnostic questions helpful. Assuming comprehension and church are not areas of concern, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does my child have a genuine, persistent hunger for the things of God? Are they excited to attend church? Do they want to read the Bible? These questions are rooted in 1 Corinthians 1-2 where Paul contrasts those who see the gospel as folly and those who see the gospel and power and wisdom. A child who has no interest in the things of God is not ready to be baptized simply because they have an intellectual comprehension of the gospel message.
- Does my child have an appropriate response to their own sin? Does my child recognize sin as offensive to God and hurtful to other people? Or does my child think of sin in terms of “getting in trouble?” Are they sorry they did something wrong, or are they sorry they got caught? These questions are rooted in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul contrasts godly grief that leads to repentance and worldly grief that produces death. Worldly grief is not enough.
- Does my child submit to the God ordained authorities in their life? Does my child submit to parental authority? To teachers? To church leaders? These questions are rooted in Exodus 20, Ephesians 6, and Colossians 3, all of which call children to be submissive to the authorities God has placed in their life. A child who consistently and persistently defies parental authority is a child who does not understand what it means to submit to God’s authority.