In the not too distant future I will enjoy the privilege of baptizing my middle son. However, it isn’t because he recently converted to Christ; quite the contrary, it’s because he received the gospel about a year ago.
Wait a minute! I thought you were supposed to baptize new believers sooner than later? Look at all the examples we see in Scripture – like the Ethiopian eunuch, the Philippian jailor, etc. You believe then are baptized.
That’s true. In the New Testament we see a pattern: belief then baptism (I kindly disagree with my Christian brothers and sisters who come from traditions which practice infant baptism. Hey, you can’t be right about everything 😉 ). Simply put, in order for someone to be baptized they should possess saving faith in Christ. Therefore, when a child desires to be baptized, the parents (who are the spiritual guardians of the child) should make a concerted effort to discover if authentic belief is in place. Some denominations refuse baptism for children under 12 years of age, others say 16, still others give a different number. For me, I am less concerned about age and more concerned about genuine conversion. That’s why installing a self-imposed waiting period of a year after my child’s conversion has been our family’s practice.
While the desire to honor your child’s wishes of being baptized immediately may be strong, I believe the grace of waiting for a set period of time is the better course to set. Here are some reasons to wait:
- It flees from giving false assurance. There are fewer things a parent can do as damning as baptizing their unsaved child. Yet I’m confident that happens in churches every Sunday around the world. When an adult can neither articulate what they believe about Jesus nor demonstrate any fruit of regeneration throughout their life (e.g., godly repentance over sin, love for God’s people, sense of gospel mission) but thinly points to a time where he ‘said a prayer’ and ‘got baptized’ as a child, it only further insulates him from genuinely embracing the gospel in the future. These are the things of which dead religion is made.
- It allows time to see gospel growth. Kids can make a ‘decision for Christ’ for all kinds of reasons. Maybe they got manipulated by some well-meaning camp speaker (“Hey kiddos, who doesn’t want to go to hell? Raise your hand!“). Maybe they wanted to join their friends who walked down the aisle one Sunday. Maybe they wanted to make mommy and daddy proud because ‘becoming a Christian’ is the right thing to do. Maybe they thought baptism is cool and wanted to get dunked as well. Or maybe the God of the Universe opened their eyes by the power of his Spirit to see Jesus as Lord and Savior and they believed the gospel and now want to proclaim their faith and identify with the Bride of Christ by going under the waters of baptism. How can you know? While you can never be entirely sure, giving space to see the work of the Holy Spirit in their life over a dedicated stretch of time can’t hurt.
- It reminds you salvation is God’s work. If your child genuinely received the gospel then he or she is God’s possession no matter when they get baptized. Far too often I’ve seen parents give a sigh of relief when their child is baptized as if to say, “Phew. Now I know my kid’s going to heaven!” Baptism is treated like some magical rite which opens the doors to Paradise regardless of the trajectory of the child’s life in the future. But true faith is a gift, given solely by God. It can’t be cajoled from the Almighty by stepping into water. Waiting for a period of time before you baptize your professing child should remind your heart that genuine faith is something only God does. And if he has done that good work in your child, he “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6b)
- It communicates to your child the heart-nature of faith. Waiting tells your child you believe Jesus really does change people. In fact, with each of our kids who professed faith in Christ, we sat them down immediately and shared our plan to wait a year before we baptized them. It gave us an opportunity to speak to them right from the beginning of their newfound faith about what God does in the heart of someone who believes. They understood faith is a great work of grace God begins inside of us – changing our passions, lifting our affections, directing our hopes – “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)
As I noted, waiting for an extended period of time between your child’s profession of faith and his or her baptism isn’t a panacea for false faith. It won’t guarantee that the young boy or girl who passes under the waters has truly been born of the Spirit, but it may help you better fulfill your God-given mandate to watch over the spiritual growth of those very children. Waiting to baptize your professing kids may be exactly the grace they need.