How To Handle Baptism for Children?
A reader asked me a question about handling baptism for children.
Out of curiosity (you don’t have to answer), how did you handle baptism for the children?
I know families that say, Oh, well, we will let the children decide when they are old enough.
Next, I know families that baptize their babies in the belief that “they can’t decide! they’re children! If they don’t want to do their chores, we make them. So much more so when it comes to their souls.” Those children go through Confirmation when they are old enough, where they declare their vows for themselves.
Finally, I know families that believe that children cannot be baptized until they are old enough, but they must be so strictly trained that they (the children) worry about what happens if they die before they are old enough to be baptized into their church.
No one ever thinks about how much the parents wrestle with this decision, only with the children wrestling with it.
Thank you for your question!
My wife and I wrestled with this decision with our daughter. I’m sure when my 3 year old son is old enough we will wrestle with it again.
My daughter got baptized when she was 12 years old, but she started asking about being baptized around 8 or so. Both my wife and I were baptized before our 9th birthdays. I have often wondered how authentic my early conversion experience was, and I have rededicated my life to Christ on at least three other occasions. I still struggle with the decision to be baptized again.
What is baptism at its core?
It’s an outward sign of inward, spiritual change. It is declaring to the world that the person being baptized has chosen to be a follower of Christ.
Chosen.That’s was the key element to us. Our daughter had to be of an age where she could understand the decision she was making.
Let me qualify that in two ways.
- I’m not sure anyone truly understands what a decision to follow Christ will mean for their lives when they first come to faith. Grace and salvation are free, but they will cost you everything.
- I also don’t believe you have to have every point of doctrine completely understood when you get baptized. The Christian life is a journey. The Apostle Paul likened it an Olympic race.
Having given those caveats, what we needed to see from our daughter was an understanding of what she was doing.
- She had to be able to explain to us and to our pastor that she understood the difference between doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing.
- She also had to admit that she sometimes did the wrong thing.
- She had to clearly state her belief in the divinity of Christ (Jesus is the Son of God and Jesus is God).
- She had to say with authority that she believed he died and came back to life three days later.
- She had to explain to us what it meant to live the rest of life in the way God wanted her to. That she would study what he said in his word and do her best to obey it
It took a couple of years for my daughter to get to the point where we thought she understood her choice well enough to proceed. Most of her early interest was driven by seeing friends getting baptized. If you are on the fence, my advice would be to to err on the side of grace and allow them to be baptized.
Babies being baptized / Parents deciding for their kids
I don’t think anyone can decide on salvation for anyone else. God has no grandchildren. When we stand before God, we will do so either with Christ at our side or totally alone. Mom or Dad won’t be around.
Each person must come to a moment in their life when they decide to follow Christ or reject him. These are the moments where they are presented with the gospel and the Holy Spirit is tugging on their heart. They can accept, and become followers of Christ, or they can reject God.
We do dedicate babies and have dedicated both of our children, but baby dedication is much more about the parents dedicating themselves to teach their kids to love Jesus than it is about the baby.
What if they die before they are old enough to be baptized into their church
Every child comes to what is commonly referred to as the “age of accountability”. This usually happens somewhere between 10 and 14, sometimes earlier, and sometimes later. Certain medical disabilities may prevent someone from EVER reaching this age.
What happens to children who die before the age of accountability?
The story of David losing his infant child (2 Samuel 12) clearly shows they go to heaven. After the infant dies, David says, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” The context is clear that David wasn’t talking about seeing his child again in the grave, but about seeing the child in paradise/heaven.
What is someone dies after they are saved but before they baptized?
Baptism is not necessary to complete the transaction. The moment the person places their faith in Christ they are saved. The baptism is a outward sign of that inward change. But it is not strictly required as the Thief who was crucified next to Jesus shows.
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:40-43 NIV
If you are a parent struggling with this decision or know someone who is, this would be my advice.
- Talk to her and see what her level of understanding is
- Have her talk to a trusted elder / pastor / priest/ another adult
- Continue to point her to a relationship even after she is baptized. Baptism is not the end of the journey, it is the beginning. We constantly strive to know Him more, and become more like Christ every day. It is likely she will come to a moment in early adult life where she rededicates herself to Christ and maybe even gets baptized again.
All of us, Skeptics, God seekers, and God followers are on a journey either closer to God or further away from Him. Encourage your kids every day to take one step closer.
Also remember, that as parents, it isn’t our job to ‘save’ our children. That job is always God’s alone. We have the responsibility (and may I call it a privilege) of guiding our kids towards faith. Fathers have a special responsibility. Our children’s conception of God the Father will be deeply influenced by their relationship with us, their earthly fathers. Pray for wisdom to teach your kids about God in a way they will understand. We can only do this with God’s help. He loves you (you are after all, His child) and He loves your kids.
Image: SouthBrook Baptism by Michelle Makar Parker Licenseed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)