ELDER’S STATEMENT ON CHILDREN, CONVERSION AND BAPTISM
“Daddy/Mommy, how do I know if I’m saved? When can I be baptised? When can I take Communion?” These are vital questions faced by every Christian parent and every church, so we want to shepherd our people biblically in understanding a child or young person’s profession of faith. (With grateful thanks to Pastor Jeffrey S. Smith’s sermon series, “Children & Church Membership”, from which this has been adapted, along with other sources.)
- Children need to be saved and can be saved.(Mark 10:13-16; Acts 2:38ff; Rom. 10:9-10, etc.)
We pray that none of our children ever know any lengthy period of conscious rebellion against God (Prov. 22:6; Psalm 78; Deut. 6:5-9). We acknowledge that in the early church, there may have been younger people in a “household” who responded to the gospel (Acts 2:39; Eph. 6:12). We teach any children who profess faith in Christ to obey all the commands of Christ, including that of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as soon as they are able and admitted by the church. We never want to remove any urgency and seriousness in speaking to the lost about the state of their soul and their eternal destiny, starting with our own children (Isa. 55:6-7; 2 Cor. 6:2; Prov. 27:1).
We echo Spurgeon’s wise biblical counsel:
May our dear children know the cross, and they will have begun well. With all their learning may they learn an understanding of this, and they will have the foundation rightly laid. This will necessitate your teaching the child his need of a Saviour. You must not hold back from this needful task. Do not flatter the child with delusive rubbish about his nature being good and needing to be developed. Tell him he must be born again. Don’t bolster him up with the fancy of his own innocence, but show him his sin. Mention the childish sins to which he is prone, and pray the Holy Spirit to work conviction in his heart and conscience. Deal with the young in much the same way as you would with the old. These boys and girls need pardon through the precious blood as surely as any of us.
- We hold to a baptistic position that the church should only baptise believers, based upon their own profession of faith. (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38-42; 8:26-39; Rom. 6:1-11, etc.)
(I.e., We are credobaptists, not paedobaptists.)
As stated in our Antioch Declaration of Faith (Section 10): “We believe that Christian baptism is the immersion of the believer in water in the name of the triune God and as a confession of identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.”
As also stated in our Church Covenant (1st paragraph): “Having been brought by divine grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to surrender ourselves to Him, and having been baptized upon our profession of faith, in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, we do now, relying on His gracious aid, solemnly and joyfully renew our covenant with one another.”
- We believe it is the responsibility of the local church to assess that profession of faith. (Matt. 16:18-19; 18:15-20; Jn. 20:21-23)
We believe that the age at which a believer is to be baptized is not directly addressed in Scripture, so it is a matter of Christian prudence and pastoral wisdom in how best to handle each profession of faith, discerning when one’s profession has become observable to the local church family. But Christ has entrusted the “keys of the kingdom” to the local church for receiving and removing members into His body based on credible profession of faith, so that must include children also.
During the 16th century Protestant Reformation, after centuries of darkness and false assurance (in the Roman Catholic Church), the Reformers laboured biblically to define true, saving faith. They carefully summarised it by saying that justifying faith must have three aspects:
(i) an intellectual component (knowing the gospel);
(ii) an emotional component (being persuaded & personalising the gospel);
(iii) a volitional component (obeying & living the gospel, submitting to Christ’s lordship).
We see all three of these components expressed in 1 John and in James, two books given expressly for the purpose of distinguishing true faith from false faith.
Here are the three biblical basics we look for in a credible profession of faith:
- Knowing the gospel: God, man, sin, Christ, repentance and faith. This doesn’t mean a comprehensive or mature grasp, but a basic grasp and ability to articulate the gospel clearly and independently (Rom. 1:2-4; 3:21-26; 5:6-10; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-5; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:8; 1 Jn. 2:23; 4:2; 5:1,11-13).
- Personalising the gospel:
- Does he/she display an independent desire for Scripture, prayer, and singing to God, unprompted by parents (Acts 2:42; Psalm 1:3; 1 Pet. 2:1-3)?
- Does he/she show a sensitivity to sin before God in prayer, and before others in an unsolicited seeking of forgiveness (Ps. 51; Prov. 28:13; 1 Jn 1:5-9)?;
- Can he/she give specific, personal examples of applying something learned from a recent sermon (Jam. 1:22-25; Heb. 5:13-14; Jn. 14:21)?;
- How is his/her independent (unsolicited) appetite for Christian fellowship and spiritual conversation among friends and others (Heb. 3:12-13; 10:24-25; 1 Jn. 2:10-11; 3:11-18; 4:7-21)?;
- Does he/she show a desire for baptism and for partaking of the Lord’s Table as soon as permitted (Acts 2:38-42)?;
- Is there an overall affectionate love for the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, as displayed in the abovementioned ways (1 Cor. 16:22; Eph. 6:24)?
- Obeying the gospel (Rom. 1:5; 16:26):
- Does he/she show a burden for the lost and desire to evangelise (Acts 1:8; Matt. 4:19)?;
- Does he/she show a resolve to separate from worldly habits, music, friends, and to make godly use of free time, etc. (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:17-32; 1 John 2:15-17; Jam. 4:4)?;
- Is there a determination to count the cost of following Christ in obedience (Mark 8:34-38; Lk. 14:27; Matt. 7:21-23; 1 Jn. 2:3-6; 3:4-10)?;
- Is there a decisive rejection of the reign of sin and evidence of holiness and the Spirit’s fruit (John 15; Rom. 6; Gal. 5:16-23)?
We acknowledge that conversion will be expressed differently in every person, and in a sometimes-stumbling, immature and fledgling way. We mustn’t construct some kind of experiential straight jacket or litmus test forced upon everyone, or imply that they should be so introspective that they study self more than Christ. Nor do we expect perfection, knowing we ourselves are far from attaining it (Php. 3:12-14). Baptism and membership are for the saved, not for the mature. But it is a supernatural new birth, a miraculous act of God, that should be undeniable and observable (John 3:8; 2 Cor. 5:17).
- Three reasons for exercising caution before baptising a pre-teen child from a Christian home:
- There is no clear-cut example of any but adults in the New Testament being baptised. The “household” baptisms of Acts consisted of those who themselves heard, “rejoiced” and “believed” the gospel (Acts 16:32-34). Plus, even though New Testament baptisms were usually immediate after salvation, all candidates “appear to be adults and coming from a non-Christian context. Both of these factors would make more credible a conversion, as with a new convert today in a Muslim or Hindu context.” (From Capitol Hill Baptist elder’s statement)
- The unique, God-given, transitional makeup of a child (intellectually immature; characteristically unstable; susceptible to deception; tending to trust their parents)(1 Cor. 13:11; 14:20; Eph. 4:14; Matt. 11:16; Exod. 30:14; Lev. 27:2-5; Num. 1:2-3; 14:29). God has designed for children to be malleable so that godly parents might train and mould them toward maturity in all of life (Eph. 6:1-4). But this should also give us caution about assuming the permanence of a child’s desires, dreams and ambitions.
- In church history (especially in recent decades) there have been serious dangers in prematurely receiving kids into membership, giving false assurance, and unintentionally fostering their hypocrisy and self-deception, thus weakening the future church from within. For example, the Southern Baptist Church in the USA currently claims 16 million members, yet only 6 million even attend church. In contrast, the Philadelphia Baptist Association in the 1790s recorded five times greater church attendance than membership. The practice of baptising pre-teen children is of rather recent development. Baptists in previous centuries were known for greater caution in waiting to baptize until the believers were viewed as adults.
- Five further principles that guide us in our practice at Antioch Bible Church:
- We cannot establish an arbitrary age-limitation, as there is no clear-cut demarcation between childhood and adulthood, and children differing greatly in their maturation process. Plus, we must allow for children who may display unmistakable signs of conversion, compelling us to obey Scripture and to baptise them (Matt. 28:19).
- Parents must realise that if their child is baptised, they will be subject to the full discipline and accountability of the local church. They would also be expected to attend members’ meetings, unless parental discretion advises otherwise with delicate church discipline matters. This is not an intrusion into parental authority, but is obedience to Christ’s command to His Church (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5). The church and the home are separate institutions and neither can subvert the other’s God-given authority.
- We advise parents to wait on their children taking the Lord’s Supper until after they have been baptised. We believe this is biblical, as seen in the practice of the early church (Acts 2:41-42), and implied in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19), and as historically practiced by Baptists.
- Normal Protestant practice has been that pastors/elders of the church perform baptisms, not because of any sacramental reason, but as the overseers of that flock entrusted with the duty of guarding the gospel and managing God’s household (1 Tim. 3:4; Acts 20:28).
- Regarding those who come to us already baptised by another church: We are not responsible for what other churches do, but must answer for what we do in our flock entrusted to our care as elders (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). We are not casting doubt about the legitimacy of the baptism of any among us, regardless of how young they were when they were baptized as believers. As long as they have continued in the faith into their adult years we assume the legitimacy of their initial profession made at baptism.
Below are two brief and very helpful resources:
- Your Child’s Profession of Faith, by Dennis Gunderson (Grace & Truth Books)