What Is Your Church's Policy About Baptizing Children?

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think-childrens-ministryThis post continues a new feature called Children’s Ministry Think Tank. The aim is to get different perspectives and help everyone to learn (including me). Please read through the responses and share your own ideas below.

Think Tank #2 Questions About Baptism & Kids

What is your church’s policy about baptizing kids? Is there any age absolutely too young? If you had to pick a “typical” or “ideal” age what would you say? What happens when a kid comes back for re-baptism as a teen?

Response From Glen Woods

In my church we practice believer’s baptism. By that I mean that the persons being baptized are doing so as an expression of their choice to follow Jesus Christ, trusting him for their salvation. While many of our parishioners come from backgrounds which practice infant baptism, we graciously affirm believer’s baptism as our theological and practical conviction.
As a result, we generally (there are exceptions) do not even entertain a child being baptized until they are at least eight or nine years old. If the child is in a believing home, then we are more open to younger children (7-10 years old) being baptized, understanding that it really is a borderline form of infant baptism which requires integral parental support. Even then, we interview each child to ascertain readiness. We also dialogue with their parents about it. I have personally found the Step-by-Step resource by Art Murphy of Arrow Ministries to be helpful in learning how to determine the readiness of a child for water baptism. http://www.arrowministries.com/store/index.php?l=product_detail&p=4 Accessed: 6 May 2009.
I hesitate to suggest an optimum age for water baptism because each child is unique. Some children will be ready at the age of eight, others a few years later, and still others will be better off waiting until their mid-teen to late teen years. The key is to determine why they want to be baptized. Is it a matter of obedience to God’s command and a desire to follow Jesus? Is it a question of pleasing parents and other family members? Do they want to do it because their friends have done it? Is it seen in the family as more of a cultural rite of passage than a sacred act of obedience? I also try to determine their level of higher reasoning, and their ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. For example, is Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny as real as their Mom and Dad for them? Then they may need to wait awhile. In these cases I am always positive, pointing out that soon they will be baptised, but not quite yet.
If a person desires to be baptized a second time after being baptized as an infant, or as an older child, I again try to determine the rationale, the motive. In my church, we would not require or even suggest that second baptism is necessary. Other groups in the believer’s baptism stream of tradition differ with this view, as is their prerogative. Yet, if a person sincerely believes that a second baptism is a matter of obedience to God, then I am sure we would entertain the possibility. I believe there have been a few instances where this has occurred. On a closing note, I encourage those in the believer’s baptism camp to remember God’s involvement in the water baptism. It seems to me that there is something more going on than a mere outward assent to an inward work. It is not merely symbolic, in my view. If we consider Jesus’ baptism, we see Jesus being an example for us in all things in terms of obedience, humility, dying to self, pleasing the Father, and publically staking his claim in the face of state-sponsored idolatry, thereby putting his life at heightened risk (the same was true for the disciples in the first century, and for many new believers in the Majority world today; we in the West have a very hard time relating to the risk which water baptism generates for increased persecution). The Father manifested audibly from heaven in that event while the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove. God was invested in Jesus’ baptism. I believe he also is directly involved in the baptism of each and every believer who submits to this act of obedience.

Glen Woods is a Children’s Pastor and warehouseman in Portland, Oregon. He writes at Children’s Ministry Conversation.

Response From Jared Kennedy

It is a joy to speak with parents that desire to tell the gospel to their kids and encourage their faith. There are lots of tensions that weigh on our hearts when we approach the issue of childhood baptism and church membership. With parents, we long to see our children saved and not discouraged. We also long to have a policy that will not compromise our church’s witness to the culture by accepting and baptizing a child too quickly.  Sojourn has put together a full policy booklet that helps parents navigate these tensions.  You can download it here [ http://sojournkids.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/childhood-baptism.pdf].
Here is our policy in brief:

  1. Sojourn strongly recommends that parents wait until their child is at least twelve years old before presenting them for a baptism interview. This is a recommendation and not a mandate. Children will be interviewed, and their readiness for baptism will be considered on a case-by-case basis.  We recognize that the New Testament example is for baptism upon a valid profession of faith. Therefore, baptism ought to follow conversion immediately upon the appearance of discernable signs of conversion.  Time, however, is sometimes the only course of action for determining, as much as is humanly possible, the validity of a child’s profession of faith in Christ. For this reason, we strongly advise parents to wait.  Evidence of faith often becomes clearer as the child grows and shows the fruit of a changed heart.
  2. Conversion is God’s work in the believer. It is not simply a decision on the believer’s part. We strongly encourage parents to look for evidences or signs of conversion (such as conviction of sin, understanding of truth, and a renewed life in their child before presenting him or her for baptism.
  3. Since parents are responsible for instructing their children and overseeing their spiritual development, it is imperative that the church teach, instruct, and guide parents in this task. Parents of seeking children are paired with a representative from Sojourn’s leadership,who meets with these parents to discuss the tensions involved in discerning a child’s heart.  Parents are also be paired with mentors-typically parents with children who have been through the process before-who will counsel and advise the parents as they seek to lead their children in spiritual things.
  4. Over a period of time, the seeking child is led by his or her parents through a study that clarifies the gospel such as Who Will Be King by Matthias Media, A Catechism for Boys and Girls by Reformation Trust Today, or something similar.
  5. At the conclusion of this study, the child meets for an interview (or series of interviews) with his or her parents, the parents’ mentors, and a representative from Sojourn’s leadership. The purpose of these studies is for the mentors and leadership representative meeting with the child and parents to discern if the child understands and has embraced the gospel.   During these meetings, the pastoral and mentorship team also help the child to craft a testimony which, as with all baptism candidates, is read at the baptism service.
  6. Mentors and parents then jointly present the child to the elders for church membership and participation in the ordinances at the conclusion of their teaching/mentorship meetings.
  7. If the elders are convinced that a child has given evidence of a genuine conversion, the child is baptized and accepted into the fellowship and discipline of the church. The child, under the authority of his or her parents, is without voting responsibilities until the age of eighteen.
  8. At the age of eighteen, the child attends Sojourn’s membership classes and interviews, like adult candidates for membership, with an elder. The voting responsibilities given to adult members are exercised only after the completion of this interview.

Given our policy, most young people are not baptized until their teens though many come to faith at an earlier age.  We do not believe in re-baptism, but, if the teen, his parents, and Sojourn’s elders believe that a previous baptism occurred before the child was genuinely converted, we would allow the teen to participate in a second baptism service and receive a true baptism as a believer.

Jared Kennedy is a husband, a father, and the Director of SojournKids (http://sojournkids.com), the Children’s Ministry of Sojourn Community Church in downtown Louisville, KY.

Response From Brenna Phillips

The ideal age for children to be baptized is the age of understanding, approximately ages 7-10, the age in which children understand the concept of a Spiritual water burial and being raised to a new life in Christ.
During those elementary years, children have gotten acclimated to school and have worked through recent transitional periods, such as preschool to kindergarten to grade school, therefore, easing the Spiritual transition. At this mid-elementary school age, they are able to understand more difficult concepts. However, the Bible states that people must come with “faith as a child” so the concept of salvation and baptism is not completely out of reach for a young child.
Parents and Children’s ministry leaders must allow children to begin the question process towards baptism. When they begin asking questions that shows they are beginning to think and understand salvation and baptism.  At that point, leaders must ask children open-ended questions and let them explain the process and the concept back to them. If they can explain it, they understand it and know the reason behind their decision.
If a child who was baptized as a child and comes back during the teen years for re-baptism, churches must spend time with this teen, asking questions about his first experience. Through a relationship, the CM leader will be able to determine if this teen is asking questions regarding re-baptism or re-dedication. Through a personal discipleship program, study, and discipleship with others, one can strengthen his/her Spiritual walk.

Brenna Phillips is the Children’s-Family Minister at Mission Fellowship Church in Middletown, Delaware, and teaches 3-4 year old students at an early childhood learning center. www.brennaphillips.com

Response From Terry Delaney

While we do not have an explicit written policy for baptizing children, we, as a staff, are extremely cautious when it comes to baptizing children.  When we talk to the children, we make certain that they understand first what the gospel is.  That is that God created us good but we rebelled.  Consequently, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live the perfect, sinless life that we cannot.  Yet, He still paid the penalty for sin through His death on the cross.   On the third day after His death, God raised Jesus from the dead.  He then lived on the Earth 40 more days and ascended into heaven.  Through our faith in Christ’s work on the cross and the repentance of our sins, we will be saved.
Second, and this is extremely difficult because of its subjective nature, we make sure that the child understands his or her need for the gospel.  Here, we look for an acute awareness of their sin.  The problem we have discovered is that repentance becomes a means to an end–baptism.  Most of the children I have talked with want to be baptized because, for them, it is a status symbol.  I have counseled a couple kids who knew the right words to say, but it was obvious that it was only head knowledge.  However, I am talking to a young lady right now who has been asking more and more questions and becoming more and more aware of her need for repentance.  Even in her case, she views baptism as a status symbol.
Third, we strive to teach that the baptism itself does not save.  I have been known to say that there will be many “drying off in hell” because they put their faith in their baptism and not in Christ alone.  We teach that baptism is an outward action to an inward change.
Finally, we watch to see if there is a life change in the child’s life.  If anything, I would say that I personally am more cautious because I want to protect against a false sense of security.  I come at it this way because I thought (and believed) I was saved and going to heaven until I was 23 years old and God graciously showed me I was neither.
I do not think there is an age too young–assuming we are not discussing infant baptism but believer’s baptism.  I think each child’s readiness for baptism must be judged based on Scripture and his or her individual situation and context.  However, this is why I personally hold off on baptizing children so that in 10 years they are not coming back to “rededicate” their lives to Christ.  Insofar as I am able, I want those children being baptized to be a true son or daughter of God.

Terry Delaney is the Children’s Minister at Carlisle Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He writes at Christian Book Notes.

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