About Baptizing Children | Dr. Tim Barnette

July 20, 2014

Of Baptisms and Children

by Dr. Tim Barnette, pastor
Oakdale Baptist Church
Rocky Mount, N. Car.

 

“Let the little children come to Me, and don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Jesus in Luke 18.16-17 (HCSB)

The Pastors’ Task Force on SBC Evangelistic Impact & Declining Baptisms released the findings of its research just before the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, MD. Among other things, they noted “The only consistently growing age group in baptisms is age five and under.” While I believe the report offers valuable insights that can and should be used to spur greater evangelistic effort on the part of Southern Baptists, I am somewhat troubled by the response that particular line has received.

I have read several posts online and through social media joking (albeit with a tinge of sarcasm) about this statistic. “We should apologize to the paedobaptists,” wrote one. Another wrote, “We don’t practice infant baptism, but apparently we’re great at toddler baptism.” While I would love to see an increase in baptisms throughout the various age strata represented in the report, I am concerned about demeaning the baptism of these younger children without knowing the circumstances represented.

Let me explain. I am a Southern Baptist pastor who has been in vocational ministry for nineteen years. I am a graduate of three different seminaries. I have shared the gospel throughout the Eastern United States as well as Canada and South America. I am forty-one years old, and have been a Christian for thirty-eight years. Yes, that means I came to Christ at the age of three years old. One of the earliest memories I have is of sitting on the steps of Lower Falls Baptist Church with a children’s church volunteer and praying a sinner’s prayer to receive Christ as Savior. And I am so glad no one at my Baptist Church in 1976 said I was too young to be saved.

Is my story characteristic of the average Southern Baptist? No, and I am not suggesting that my experience will be the normative one. But I also realize the following:

Matthew Henry was 11 when he trusted Christ.

Jonathan Edwards was 8 when he trusted Christ.

Polycarp was (according to church tradition) 9 when he trusted Christ.

Charles Spurgeon was 12 when he trusted Christ.

W. A. Criswell was 10.

Stephen Olford only recalled it was “as a very young child.”

And Billy Graham’s wife, the late Ruth Bell Graham, was so young she said she could not remember a time she did not love Jesus.

Spurgeon’s quote from chapter two of his book Come Ye Children is apropos: “I believe that of children is the kingdom of God, both on earth and in heaven.”

I also like this quote attributed to one of Spurgeon’s sermons: “A child of five, if properly instructed, can as truly believe and be regenerated as an adult.”

So it is interesting to me that Jesus says that whoever “…does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18.17, HCSB). Oftentimes, we completely reverse Jesus’ teaching, wanting children to have more adult understandings. I have heard stories of children who have made professions of faith and then have later been unsure. People said, “They didn’t really mean that.” My observation, however, is that it is more often the adults dealing with them who didn’t know what they were doing. That’s why we as Southern Baptists should place such a value on individually counseling each child who wants to come to Christ. If we disciple them properly and they meant that profession of faith, then we can nurture and grow a budding faith before the world has a chance to tear it down. I know that from experience, and I can tell you for sure that my experience was valid.

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Thomas P. Johnston

Dr. Barrette,
Thank you for your excellent article.
I also struggled with this issue when an eight year old boy came forward for baptism. I then made certain that he understood repentance and belief in Jesus for salvation, and asked him to write down his testimony (with the help of his parents). Before he was baptized his Sunday School teacher read his testimony and I baptized him. It was a joyous event for this young man and his family.
As far as infant baptism, the most disconcerting issue to me is the theological presuppositions behind it in various denominational groupings. I have linked to a chart that I made on “Eight views of Baptism” FYI.
Gratefully Yours,
Tom.
http://evangelismunlimited.com/charts.php
Scroll to the bottom of the linked page to see the chart.

    Tim Barnette

    Thanks for the comment, Tom! I’ll have a look at the chart, and I agree with the problems you suggest with infant baptism. Young children who have made a profession of faith can be followed-up with on an individual basis, but an infant making and “unconscious choice” as some denominations are fond of saying, is not Biblical.

Tim

Thanks for the post Dr. Barnette.

I thought that the post was going to be about the age of baptism among us Southern Baptists, but it shifted to the age at which one can be saved. As I understand the concerns of many Baptists in regards to the task force report, the concern is over the age of baptism which has the issue of making a credible profession of faith tied to it, not so much about determining whether a young child can trust Christ and be saved. Most of the proponents of setting the age of baptism to being at least above toddler hood (Criswell set the age around 10) still believed that a child can be saved at an early age. I don’t condone the demeaning anyone’s baptism, however the concern of some is a serious and practical one. The concern I’ve encountered the most is over what rights and responsibilities (membership in a local church and all the rights and responsibilities that entails) are taken on by a person in baptism, and are we comfortable with a 5 year (for example) having full voting rights in business meetings (calling pastors, engaging in church discipline, deciding doctrine of the church) and/or being subject to church discipline?

Also, your article gave the facts of the recent trends in the age of baptism among Southern Baptists and was clear about a child’s (even at 3 years old) ability to repent, believe, and be saved, but you didn’t draw any implications. Given a child can believe and is counseled and disciple well, do you think we are permitted to baptize a three year old who makes what we take to be a credible profession of faith?

This is a genuine question, simply trying to understand better the main point of your post. God bless brother.

    Tim Barnette

    Tim, thanks for the reply. In answer to your questions, first of all I wouldn’t draw a distinction between an age of salvation and an age of baptism. Since the Biblical norm is one of virtually instantaneous baptism following regeneration, it seems that salvation is the only necessary element. Since baptism, as a Biblical norm, ought to closely follow salvation, it stands to reason that a child old enough to genuinely trust Christ should be old enough to genuinely give evidence of that through believer’s baptism.

    As far as voting privileges within the local church body, I see that as a constitutional issue, and not a Biblical one. Since some churches set a voting age for their children, that might be an appropriate venue in which to address that concern. As far as church discipline, I would actually not be comfortable performing church discipline on a child under 18 anyway. Since they are under the legal and moral guardianship of their parents, it is the responsibility of their parents to bring any necessary discipline in their lives at that time. This seems to be the argument the author of Hebrews makes in Hebrews 12 when appealing to these believers as “sons.” Over 18 is obviously a different matter, but that’s my take on the issue of discipline.

    As far as the larger question, I am concerned that we might be setting up (at least informally) a catechetical school like the 2nd-4th centuries of the church, in order to “prove” the sincerity of the baptismal candidate. If a child is old enough to repent and believe in Christ, and verbalize that belief in the form of a personal testimony, to borrow the words of the Ethiopian eunuch, “What hinders” them from being baptized?

    Thanks again for the comment!

Tim G

Dr. Barnette,
You accurately nailed a huge problem faced by people for some time. The adults who share with children are often not prepared – church fail – and though a child receives Christ, later as their understanding grows, they must deal with areas that were improperly (or short) shared theologically.

This is a great post. Beyond the information, it is a reminder that as we become more evangelistic we must also equally grow in our discipleship and training of those doing the evangelism.

    Tim Barnette

    Thanks so much for the response Tim! I appreciate the encouragement.

Jerry Smith

I’m 67 going on 68 & I have never heard a preacher, teacher, nor church member ever set an age a person must be before being saved, I just heard them use the words, “age of accountability.”

I’ve know many who were saved at a young age them when they left home they never looked back at any church nor Jesus, & a few who later on admitted they were not saved at a young age & repented, confessed, accepting Jesus as Savior & were baptized.

If we are not careful on this, “try & be sure as we possibly can that the young person is saved,” can’t we give them a false hope that they may never overcome?

    Tim Barnette

    Jerry,

    Thanks for the response, and I think you bring up some good points that require good follow up counseling and discipleship with a child that is making a profession of faith. I have spoken with multiple children that certainly exhibit a love for Jesus, but do not yet understand repentance and belief. However, I have also dealt with many who do.

    Interestingly, we never look at the converse of the danger you bring up. We seem to focus on “What if they didn’t really mean it and then carry a false profession their entire lives?” But what about this question: “What if they genuinely want to come to Christ, we tell them it’s too hard, and they turn their backs on Him forever?”

    Either possibility is equally something to avoid.

    Thanks again for the response!

Jerry Smith

Thanks for replying.

“What if they genuinely want to come to Christ, we tell them it’s too hard, and they turn their backs on Him forever?”

Your 100% correct, we must be careful of that too. And this article you wrote, as well as all the comments made will be helpful to all of us. Its nice to think about such things for it will help us when we come face to face with it.

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