How Young Is Too Young: Some Thoughts on Baptizing Young Children

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Baptism Pool (A Holy Hot Tub)
source: Jared Cherup

Sometimes I’m grateful that when I was very young, we were Methodists.

I joke sometimes that I’ve been baptized both ways – as an infant and by choice, as a feverishly religious 10-year-old.

But why, you ask, would I be grateful for that? Well, I didn’t have the chance or the pressure to “ask Jesus into my heart” as a very small child. We moved to Virginia when I was 8, where we visited every single Methodist church in a 20-mile radius. My parents didn’t like any of them, and that is how we ended up Southern Baptist, attending a church a few miles down the windy road.

I fully believe in “adult” baptism – that is, baptism that is a symbol of a choice made in a person’s heart to accept Jesus’s crucifixion, resurrection, and saving grace. We have our children dedicated as infants to show our commitment to raising them to know Jesus, but not sprinkled as some denominations do.

So let me tell you a story.

impactgirls

I was a camp counselor the summer after my freshman year of college, along with three other precious and equally insane girls my age. We led worship at weeklong mission camps, where the students participated in home renovation projects for those in need. In between weeks of camp, we also worked at a traditional cabin-in-the-woods kid camp, re-cooperated at a sketchy, ancient church in downtown Richmond, or were allowed a few days at home.

But the endcap to our summer was assisting at the Youth Evangelism Conference, a statewide event for middle and high-school students. It consisted of a few nights of revival-type services – only with rockin’ Christian music instead of the Gaithers – and a day at an amusement park with a big-name concert at the end. (I think that year it was Audio Adrenaline.)

I’d been to the conference as a youth but never experienced quite the flavor of preacher as they had those few nights. “Repeat after me,” he would instruct. “Friends … don’t let friends … go to hell.” That’s all fine and dandy, but he also insinuated that no one in the room was actually saved because they were probably so young when they asked Jesus into their hearts they didn’t mean it. The counseling rooms flooded with students, and I was left to talk to kids who had all the sudden been forced to doubt their salvation. It sucked.

I didn’t know what to tell those kids then, and I’m not sure I would know what to say today. I’m glad I was an older kid at 10 when I was baptized after a very clear calling from my Heavenly Father. No, I didn’t know all the minutiae of the Bible – who does? – but I had a firm idea of Jesus and His sacrifice.

Fast forward 12 years and yes, I still think that pastor was way too aggressive. He scared me and had me doubting my own salvation at the time. I had to shake my head of the hoopla and examine my heart. But I do get a little bit what he was conveying.

It made sense for me when I read Katie Orr’s post today at Inspired to Action. She writes,

Our kids want to please us, so desperately. If we talk about becoming a Christian enough, most children will ultimately come out and say that they want to be one. I’ve witnessed many parents put a ton of stock in the fact that they prayed with their child once, but this is the only “evidence” they have of their salvation.

 

Salvation is and isn’t a one-time deal. Once the “deal is done,” the Holy Spirit is sealed inside you. But there’s also the continual growing. As parents we are responsible for the spiritual education of our kids – not the schools, not the church. And teaching your kids about God doesn’t stop when they accept Christ. That’s the beginning!

Maybe all these youth who flooded the conference rooms of the amphitheater in Richmond, Virginia, circa 2001, had parents who were doing nightly Bible studies with them, praying for them ceaselessly, showed interest in their spiritual well-doing. But I think maybe, like in a lot of things, it’s easy for parents to get lazy when the going looks good. (Hello, preaching to the choir.)

I don’t want my kids doubting their salvation at 12, 16, 30. I want to provide them with a background so they know how desperately Jesus loves them and pursues them, but I can’t make their decisions for them. I pray fervently that they will know the height and depth of God’s love, but I can’t make them believe it. And I pray that I won’t pressure them into anything they aren’t ready for – even baptism.

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6 thoughts on “How Young Is Too Young: Some Thoughts on Baptizing Young Children

  1. Amen. We’re right there with you. We pray fervently for our children, but unless the Holy Spirit does the “work”, then nothing has really happened. I have two children that would most likely say anything I asked them to so we are very careful about that.

    (P.S. My husband is Children’s Director at our church. We NEVER, as in NEVER EVER, pressure children to “repeat after me”, or pray any specific prayer or anything like that. And a child is never baptized without their parents’ consent and after much counseling and consultation with adults the child trusts – teachers, my husband, our pastor, etc. That really gets me when I hear about so called churches doing stuff like that.)

  2. So, I think I start out on the defensive when it comes to this topic. Being Catholic, I’ve had some really disparaging things thrown at me regarding our tradition of infant baptism. Sadly, I think many people saying these things (and I’m not including you in this, certainly) don’t have a strong grasp of all the sacraments and the importance of Confirmation for Catholics, which doesn’t happen until sometime between 8th and 10th grade, typically. ANYWAY, all this to say, I’m not knowledgable enough about how other churches operate to speak with a voice of experience. However, I agree with what you say about how important it is to ensure that a child doesn’t make such an important decision/declaration merely out of a desire to please a parent. My kids would totally do that. I’m glad they won’t be confirmed until they’re 15, to be honest.

  3. Have you ever thought about becoming a Roman Catholic? You may find it interesting to learn about the Catholic sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation to understand how Methodists and Baptists departed from the original Christian Church. God bless you and yours.

  4. I’m also Catholic and to us it is very important to have a child baptized as an infant. In the Catholic church it is the cleansing of the stain of original sin from the child. It is also when the parents make a promise that they will raise that child in the Catholic faith. My mom was Baptist and she kind of compares the age when most Baptists are baptiszed is comparable to confirmation for Catholics. It’s a time when you go through a lot of classes where you are taught anything and everything you ever wanted to know about the Catholic faith. At the end of the course you have to decided whether or not to confirm your faith. I am proud to say that I was fortunate enough to be the sponsor for one of my cousins and it is an experience that I will never forget! Have a blessed day!

  5. I am a practicing Lutheran, and we also Baptize infants (or any age older than that). I’m definitely no expert, but the reasoning is that Baptism is a gift from God, He is claiming you into His family at Baptism. The parents and sponsors also make a promise at the the time of Baptism to bring the child to church regularly and teach him/her the Commandments and the Scriptures. Salvation is a gift from God, rather than a human made choice. Baptism is also only done once.

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