Is My Child Ready for Baptism? Probably Not.

In yesterday's post, I gave an overview of what baptism is and who it is for. Today, I will try to give direction for how this applies to parents of young children.

A young child's faith and belief system are very interlocked with that of his parents. However, as the child ages, his thinking becomes less dependent on the parents. For example, we almost never find a healthy and mature 7-year-old who has immature or dysfunctional parents, but we see it much more often with teenagers. Older children have more opportunities to struggle, to sin, to love, to pursue their own things. These opportunities give parents the chance to assess where the child is spiritually, or even for the child to make their own decisions about spiritual growth.

In the previous post, I made the case that a candidate for baptism must have an understanding of the Gospel, a living faith and trust in Christ, and a conscience that cries out for cleansing. The important thing to note is that all three factors must be present, not just the first two. My experience has been that:
  1. Virtually all children can learn the Gospel message, as long as they have sufficient training and discipleship.
  2. Most children (again, those who are being discipled) are growing in trust, wisdom, and obedience.
  3. Very few children (especially before around middle school age) have come to a point where they are crying out in repentance. 
This third point is crucial. For salvation and baptism, one needs more than mere theological understanding, and more than a simple response to these facts. After all, even demons believe in one God, and they have an emotional response of fear (James 2:19). It is noteworthy that the first two factors listed above depend heavily on parents and other adults to disciple (although the Holy Spirit must also be at work). However, the third factor -- a conscience that has been pierced -- is completely a work of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism should be a meaningful experience for all believers, and it is my experience that most young children should wait until at least middle school age (or late elementary school, at the earliest) before becoming baptized. But even if your child is preschool- or elementary-age, now is a great time to begin discussing salvation and baptism with him. For additional information about this topic, see the website for Grace Church (Greenville, SC).

You can find additional resources for parents in the section regarding children age 12 and under. In particular, you should listen to the two audio recordings from an event we did a few years ago, about Shepherding Your Child Through Salvation and Baptism.

And especially for young children, if he has never seen someone being baptized (because of involvement with Children's Ministry programming or Children's Church), make sure you let him sit with you sometime. It will be a great aid to your dialogue.

I'd love your thoughts, comments, and questions.

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  1. I'm glad you wrote this is something we've been working on as well. Cami professes to believe that Christ died for her sins and says she's a follower in Christ, but she does not yet "cry out for repentence"...she says she does not want to be baptized yet, so that, I believe, is a good thing. It's nice to have at least a general idea of the appropriate age of understanding in this area. Thanks!

  2. I think the fact that she knows the facts about Jesus speaks a lot to both of your leadership and parenting. And yes, that she says she doesn't want to be baptized makes it easy; this is not something that we want to push our kids into.

    However, our kids also need to understand that following Jesus also means following Him in Baptism. Don't need to push the issue to much, but definitely use opportunities when you read about baptism in the NT, to talk about it with her.