Why I Often Delay Baptism
Baptism is a big deal. It is a public profession of faith in Jesus and an expression of a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus. It is a person saying to the church and the world, “I identify with Jesus” (Rom. 6:3-4). It is a church saying to a person, “we see that you believe.” And most importantly, it is commanded by Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20).
Pretty serious, right? But let’s remember, baptism does not save someone. There is nothing magical in the baptismal water. At the Journey, we fill the tank using a hose out back. If someone trusts Jesus and dies before they are baptized, they are saved and going to heaven. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9).
We also see in the Bible that faith precedes baptism (Acts 2:38). One must be a believer in Jesus before they are baptized. This excludes infant baptism, because an infant cannot understand and believe the gospel.
This leads to a tricky situation. A 6-year-old says, “I believe in Jesus, and I want to be baptized!” What do we do? The Bible does not give a simple answer to this question; there is no single verse or passage we can go to for an answer. This is why Bible-believing pastors and Christians can disagree on this. It is a secondary matter.
We would all agree that some kids are too young for baptism. My three-year-old son can say, “Jesus died for my sins,” but he also may not know the full difference between Jesus and Superman. Very few churches would baptize my three-year-old. He might be saved, but no need to rush him to the water.
So where do we draw the line? The simple answer: I don’t know exactly. But I think someone’s expression of faith needs to have a degree of thoughtfulness and maturity in order to proceed with baptism, especially for kids growing up in a Christian family and in the church. Slowing down the baptism process is often wise and beneficial for the child. Here are some more points to consider:
- They need basic theological understanding. We don’t want to baptize someone (kid or adult), only for them to say later, “What??? You believe Jesus is God?! That’s not what I believe!” This doesn’t mean they need to define “penal substitutionary atonement” or perfectly explain the main meaning of the book of Nahum. But they should at least understand the basics, like what we outline in our statement of faith.
- We don’t let six-year-olds even choose their own bedtime or what to eat for dinner. I definitely believe a six-year-old and even a three-year-old can be saved and have a meaningful relationship with Jesus. But I’m hesitant to believe they can understand the depth of the commitment that is connected with baptism.
- I have met many people who were baptized at a young age, who later said, “I had no idea what I was doing,” or “I didn’t understand the gospel,” or “I did it because the other kids were doing it.” And they desire to be baptized as a true believer.
- Though I believe I was saved at age 6, I was baptized when I was 14 or 15, and I’m so glad! It meant so much more to me to make that decision without any pressure from my parents, and with a strong sense that it was my decision that I can remember clearly.
- In Jewish law and tradition, a child was made accountable to the Law at age 12 or 13. This is why Jews today have a “bar-mitzphah” celebration. There is something significant around those ages where kids are maturing and thinking for themselves more. In America, kids aren’t officially adults until they are 18!
So, what do I tell a six-year-old who wants to be baptized? I say something like, “that’s amazing! Tell me more about who Jesus is. It’s so great to see God working in your heart and life. Keep following him! But it may be best to wait until you are a little older for baptism, so that you can really understand what it means. Keep growing in Jesus and let’s talk again in the future!”
Now, you may be thinking, “I was baptized when I was a young child. Does it not count?” It’s not for me to judge that, but my main question for you would be: “Did you understand and believe the gospel when you were baptized?” If yes, then it counts. If not, then I would encourage you to consider being baptized as a true believer.
Brothers and sisters, these are complicated matters, and I’ll admit I could be wrong on some of the details of what age is appropriate for baptism. But I hope you understand my heart as to why sometimes I want to slow down the process. Ultimately, I think it’s best for the child and will produce a deeper, more meaningful baptism in the future.