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What Age Is Too Young to Baptize?

by on March 1, 2011

Here is an interesting article over at 9Marks in response to one written by John Starke over whether or not it is prudent to baptize children around 6 or 7 years of age and younger.

Have we become Paedobaptists? Mike Gilbert-Smith says,

If we as baptists are going to baptize 2,3,4,5 and 6 year olds, I truly believe that it would do less pastoral damage to become paedobaptists. 

It’s definitely one of those issues you probably have not thought through, especially if you don’t have children. But shouldn’t we consider these issues as members of the church? Gilbert-Smith give 9 reasons why he thinks it is a bad idea to baptize people before they are at least approaching adulthood.

  • 1. Undermining the family: Church membership of children confuses the responsibilities of discipleship between the family and the church. The instruction is given to fathers to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, not to the church. This confusion can go two ways. Either baptism becomes a ‘family ordinance’ when it is up to parents to discern when a child is ready for baptism, effectively removing the ordinances from the pastoral oversight of the church. Or, the church ends up toaking over the role of the family, where the Sunday School teacher becomes the primary discipler of a child rather than the parents.
  • 2. Discipline: the child becomes subject to the discipline of the congregation rather than merely the discipline of the parents: a relationship where he should be learning within the intimacy of a family the relationship between love and authority. The family might be fulfilled in the church, but the child should experience discipline not publically in the church but privately in the family.
  • 3. Implementation of discipline: among other ‘adult’ responsibilities of church membership, being involved in the implementation of erring church members (including one’s own nuclear family members- one’s 11 year old sister, or father or mother) is entirely inappropriate for a child. One of the ways I’ve tried to delay baptism being requested by the (parents of) children at Twynholm is a little ditty… “Unless they are ready for church membership they are not ready for baptism”. This usually puts people off until the kids are 15/16. Even then, I’ve noticed that the 15 year olds are not often present at church members meetings.
  • 4. Baptizing children encourages hypocrisy. We tell a seven year old, “Yes, we think that your faith is credible”. It then becomes very hard for them to express doubts in the future.
  • 5. There are reasons that it is harder to discern the genuineness of the faith of the child of a believer than an adult. (the next three reasons).Firstly, Children are supposed to take things on faith from their parents. We don’t need to try to discern whether the professed faith of a nine year old is genuine precisely because they are a nine year old. We are to encourage faith, and warn against unbelief, but we don’t need to sit down with our nine year old and have a conversation about our assessment of the genuineness of their faith. That’s going to be pretty damaging either way. When my nine year old tells me that she is sure she’s a Christian I tell her that I’m delighted that she is sure; if she asks me whether I’m sure she’s a Christian, I’ll tell her things that I find encouraging and things that I’m concerned about, and tell her that time will tell. That’s way better than baptizing her and saying “yes I think you are right to understand yourself to be a Christian”. She really doesn’t need to be getting assurance of salvation from her earthly father, but, I tell her where she can find it, if indeed the Lord is her heavenly Father.
  • 6. Children are changing and developing more quickly than adults and are ‘unsettled’ in many of their convictions until much later.
  • 7. Children have not felt the pull of the world to anything like the extent that adults have. This is a good thing, but makes it much harder to discern whether they are living for the kingdom or for this world.
  • 8. The Lord’s supper is a privilege, but also a huge responsibility. One is drinking judgement upon oneself if one takes it in an unworthy manner, without examining oneself. This is a heavy responsibility to place on the shoulders of a child. At least even paedocommunionists think they can grow into such self-conscious faith as covenant children. As credobaptists we are saying that they are having to do this self-consciously from the off.
  • 9. There must be another reason I can’t think of, as I can only think of 8 off the top of my head. Oh yes… the historical reason: might the lowering of the age of baptism through the 20th century be due to the growing individualism, impatience and decisionism that has dogged the church since the second great awakening?
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    Here’s a link to the full article: When did Baptists become Paedobaptists?

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