When is a Child Ready for Baptism?

May 04, 2023

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In this episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast, we discuss the contentious topic of baptism and how to know when a child is ready for it. We also explore how to handle family animosity that may arise from differing views on baptism. Tune in as we dive into understanding the differences between infant baptism and believers' baptism and provide advice on how to approach this sensitive issue with wisdom and grace.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical Worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Now, today's question says, "I was baptized as an infant, but I felt that I want my children to decide for themselves. How do you know when a child is truly ready for baptism? Is it when they say they are? This decision was met with a lot of animosity from our families. Baptism is a big conflicting point in our churches here in South Africa." This is such an important question because I think that baptism is one of those issues within the Christian community that frequently divides people and specifically can divide families. So an important one for us to dive into today.

But before we do that, I would just like to remind you that if you have found this content beneficial, it's great if you can like and subscribe to make sure that you never miss a future episode and also ask that you would consider writing a review and sharing this content with those within your sphere of influence so that we can equip as many adults as possible to get the kids in our care carefully evaluating every idea they encounter.

Now, this issue of baptism, the questioner is from South Africa and said that this is a huge point of contention in the churches down there. And I know that baptism can be contentious in many areas of the world. Just as a slight bit of encouragement, I know that the issue of baptism has become much less contentious than it was 500 years ago, because in the 16th century, there were more Christians killed by other Christians over their view of baptism than the amount of Christians who were killed by the Romans in the first, second, and third centuries. Now, that's a sad, sad truth, but just one for us to remember if we're feeling like this issue is particularly contentious, to be able to thank God that there are no longer killings over this issue.

Now, the first thing that I think we need to make sure that we're understanding is that baptism is not a primary doctrine. It's a secondary doctrine. And what I mean by that is primary doctrines are the doctrines that someone must believe in order to be a Bible believing Christian. That doctrines talking about the deity of Christ, that Jesus died for our sins, that salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ. So those primary doctrines that someone must adhere to actually be a Christian. Secondary doctrines and tertiary doctrines are doctrines over which Christians have big differences, but they still recognize that those on the other side of the issue are genuine believers with whom we will spend all of eternity.

So secondary issues are those issues that are important enough to guide the type of church that you go to, but not important enough to get into an argument over with someone. You can debate back and forth ideas but shouldn't have real contention. And then tertiary issues are issues that even people within the same church can hold different views on them and still worship side by side. And so baptism is one of those secondary doctrines. Baptism is probably going to guide the type of church that you go to, but you can recognize that people who adhere to a different form of baptism can genuinely be believers.

If you're interested in more information just on how do I discern what's a primary doctrine, what's a secondary doctrine? What's a tertiary doctrine? There's a great book called Finding the Right Hills to Die on by Gavin Ortlund. It's a pretty short book. It's under 200 pages, but it just goes through why is it important that we have unity over primary doctrines, and then what do you do with secondary and tertiary issues? So highly recommend that book.

Now, just as a brief overview before we dive into decisions based on baptism, I think a lot of times within the Christian community there's a confusion over what the different modes of baptism are and what people believe. Now I'm not going to go into an extensive teaching on the different forms of baptism, but we will link some articles in the show notes if you want to do some more research on this on your own. But just as a really quick overview, the two main forms of baptism that are used within Protestant denominations are infant baptism, also known as pedobaptism and adult baptism, which is also known as believers baptism or credobaptism.

Now, these two forms of baptism Christians view as symbolizing two very different things. So most Protestants who adhere to infant baptism, they view it as the New Testament equivalent of Old Testament circumcision. Now, there's a lot of confusion sometimes over this that sometimes Christians who adhere to adult baptism think that those who practice infant baptism think that somehow the child is saved through that baptism, where that's not what most Protestants who practice infant baptism believe. Most Protestants who practice infant baptism, they don't view it as saving the child, but they view it as symbolically bringing a child into the covenant community of faith. Just as in the Old Testament circumcision would symbolically bring a child into the covenant community of faith.

Now, for those Protestants who adhere to believers baptism, they tend to view it as an outward symbol of inward regeneration of being born again. They don't view it as baptism, saving someone, but as a symbolic representation of a person's death, burial and resurrection to new life in Christ. So both those who practice infant baptism and those who practice believers baptism view it symbolically, but they view it representing a different symbol. Again, in the show notes, we'll send links to more helpful articles on this topic.

Now, the question had to do with animosity in families over different forms of baptism, and then how to make sure if a child is ready for baptism. So first, looking at animosity between families, and that's such a hard thing and that's such a difficult thing, especially when it's over some area that has to do specifically with the Christian life. So my encouragement to the person who wrote into this with this question, along with anybody else who's struggling with animosity and families over some decision that you've made with your children is that you can be faithful to God's call to be tenderhearted and forgiving of one another, to model Christ's love by listening to your family, by asking questions on their perspective, by listening to them and thanking them for sharing their perspective. You can very intentionally model Christ's love in this way.

As the parents of your children. Ultimately, God has put you and your spouse in authority over your children. He has not given that primary responsibility to your parents or to your in-laws or to your siblings or to anybody else. He's given you that primary responsibility. So ultimately, the baptism decision will come down to the decision that you and your spouse have made, and you need to make sure that that decision is based on your understanding of scripture and your conscience.

And so when you've made that decision, it sounds like the person who's written in this question has decided that they believe in believers baptism. And so then the next question is, okay, when is a child ready to be baptized? And I don't think that there's a cut and dry answer for when a child is baptized because the New Testament model of people being baptized when they come to faith in Christ is that as soon as they profess faith in Christ that they are baptized.

I know most churches have someone go through a class and they do specific training and they have an interview to make sure that the person is genuinely a believer before they're able to be baptized. And I can see the value in that. But the New Testament model is someone professes faith in Christ and boom, immediately they're baptized. So I could see value as soon as a child professes faith in Christ that they have the opportunity to be baptized. I can also see the wisdom in waiting until a child is older to make sure that this is a decision that they have genuinely made, that they're genuinely following Christ.

And so I know this is probably a frustrating answer because I'm not giving you cut and dry wisdom, but my advice to anyone who's wondering, is my child ready to be baptized? What should I do? My advice would be to go talk with the elders at your church to get their thoughts on this. This will be helpful in two ways. In one, they'll be able to tell you what parameters your church puts around baptism and why. Because I could give you specific advice on baptism, but then that might not be the parameters that your church has set. And if you have chosen to become a covenant member of your local body of Christ and have submitted yourself under the authority of the elders there, then you've submitted yourself under their view of baptism. So that's why I would recommend first go and talk with the elders at your church and ask, what is the church's view of baptism? What parameters has the church put around baptism?

The second reason I would encourage you to do that is the elders at your church know your family in a way that I don't. When I'm speaking wisdom into this situation, I can give some general guidelines, but I don't know your children. I don't know if your children have professed faith in Christ. I don't know what their lives look like. And so I would recommend that the elders at your church can speak wisdom into your life in a way that I can't just staring at a screen maybe thousands of miles away from you.

So I know that this can be a tricky issue, baptism, but I think it's really important first that we recognize it's a secondary issue. It's not a primary issue, that there are people on both sides of the aisle who are genuine believers in Christ and who with whom we will spend all of eternity worshiping Jesus alongside them. Then we need to recognize that there are differences in what infant baptism and believers baptism symbolize. And so if you don't know a lot about that, highly recommend that you just do a little bit more research on that to understand both sides of the issue.

And then when it comes to your children, if you have chosen that believer's baptism is the route that you're going to take. Once your children do profess faith in Christ, would highly recommend that you go to the elders at your church, talk to them more about baptism and whether or not they believe that your child is ready to be baptized.

Well, that's a wrap for today's episode. As always, my prayer for you as we leave this time together is that God would richly bless you as you continue to faithfully disciple the children that He's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.

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