When should children be baptized?

I recently received the following question: “When should children be baptized? Please explain why a child’s baptism should] lack coercion. Helpful tips, suggestions, things to avoid. This would be helpful. Sounds like the approach we definitely want to use.”

Here’s my response…

I hate to sound harsh, judgmental (or arrogant, since my oldest of five is still only eight), but one of the most common mistakes parents make is having their children baptized at a young age. At that time the baptism could be more a product of the parents’ encouragement than the child’s heart to obey Christ. When children are young they generally desire to please their parents. If parents want a child to be baptized, most likely the child will have that desire. This leaves the parents wondering, “Was my child trying to please me or God?”

Children know they should be baptized

If children are in a biblical church they will witness baptisms, hear teaching on baptism, know baptism is commanded; therefore, they won’t need their parents to tell them they should be baptized.

Assuming parents are discipling and catechizing their children, baptism will be a topic. As children are taught to follow Christ, inevitably questions will be asked. At that time parents should refrain from trying to talk their children into being baptized. Here’s what parents should do instead:

  • Answer any questions.
  • Let their children process the answers they hear and teaching they receive.
  • Pray for their children’s salvation and spiritual maturity, including a desire to be baptized out of obedience to Christ.
  • Trust the Holy Spirit to work in their children’s hearts.

Then when children seek out their parents and say, “I really want to be baptized” parents can have greater confidence God brought this conviction about and is truly working in the heart of their regenerated child.

One other important consideration: since baptism is for believers parents should have confidence in their child’s salvation. While parents can’t know for sure that their child is saved, there are some things they can look for.

Four evidences of salvation

  1. Spiritual fruit: while works don’t save, they are one of the strongest evidences of salvation. I’m amazed by the number of people confident in the salvation of a child, parent, friend, sibling, etc. that lacks fruit. James is clear that a faith without works is dead or non-saving (Jam 2:17, 20, 26).
  2. An interest in spiritual matters: while even the most godly children aren’t always going to want to pray, read their bibles, go to church, etc., saved children should have at least some interest – a hunger and thirst – in spiritual practices and disciplines. Assuming children have put their faith in Christ, they should desire to worship the Lord that saved them.
  3. An understanding of spiritual matters: since the Holy Spirit is the Divine Teacher, a child indwelt by the Holy Spirit will have at least some grasp of spiritual truths. We’re not talking about children being deep theologians, but we’re talking about children who have some spiritual illumination as opposed to being spiritually blind.
  4. Perseverance through trials: James 1:3 says trials “test our faith” and 1 Peter 1:7 says trials “prove” or “reveal the genuineness of our faith.” Matthew 13:21 says the seed on rocky ground doesn’t survive “when trouble or persecution comes.” While no parents like to see their child go through trials, trials do contain the blessing of testing and proving the sincerity of a child’s faith. When a child’s faith survives trials, parents can rejoice regarding the faith being tested and proved.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the post? Why?
  2. What approach have you taken to baptizing your children?
  3. Is there any advice you’d like to pass along?

3 thoughts on “When should children be baptized?

  1. These are good thoughts and helpful for parents; thanks for sharing.

    My thoughts on this have developed over time to consider also whether or not my child is ready to be active member of the particular church we are in at the time.

    Baptism is not just a personal identification but also a public proclamation. In the same way that circumcision was the mark of those belonging to the old covenant, baptism is the mark of those who belong to the new covenant. Baptism, ideally, should be done before those to whom the one being baptized is committing him or herself. They are saying, “I am a Christian, too; please help me to grow in my faith; I want to help you, too!”

    For this reason, with our children who are not yet believers, we will delay baptism until such time that that particular child is old enough to also understand their responsibilities as a member of the local version of Christ’s body.

    1. Good thoughts, thanks Brother. Salvation is the requirement for baptism, but salvation produces fruit, one of the most obvious being a commitment to the body of Christ.

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