Swatting Flies: Credo-Baptism and Young Children

I am a paedo-baptist. That means I believe that children of believing parents are born into the Covenant and therefore have a right to the covenant sign, baptism. However, I know many of you at Christ Church are Baptist and disagree with me on this particular point. Earlier this week Tim Challies posted a list of when baptist churches allow a child to baptized. I encourage you to read the post here. As I read the quotes from various churches questions began to buzz in my mind like so many flies.  So here is my attempt to swat at those flies. By the way, I love my Baptist brothers. This is not an attempt to start a fight, but rather I am trying to help you think more Biblically about your position. 

First and foremost, what is the biblical basis for putting off baptism until well after a profession of faith? Most churches on the list said they would not baptize a child solely on his profession of faith. (Ted Christman’s was the exception. My guess is that Christman’s church is not the norm in Baptist circles.) There must be a period of time until the child matures. Mark Dever’s church in Washington D.C. implied that baptism should be put off until a child is out from underneath their parents’ authority. Both John MacArthur’s and John Piper’s church said that a child must be eleven or twelve until they are baptized, no matter when they make a profession of faith.  My question is: Do they have a Bible verse for that? In the Bible as soon as a profession of faith is made the person is baptized. There is no waiting period for anyone. Peter and Paul were apparently not worried that a man’s profession of faith might not be real. (See Acts 2:41, 8:12, 8:38, 16:15, 16:33, 18:8) Even Paul’s baptism was only a few days past his conversion. (Acts 9:1-9 and 18) So again, why wait?

Second, what does this particular practice say about the Kingdom of God? I want to be very careful here. I love Pastor MacArthur, Pastor Piper and many others who have similar views. They have taught me much. But still the question buzzes around in my head: Does pushing off baptism until a child has shown sufficient maturity or fruit give an accurate picture of God’s Kingdom? Is God’s Kingdom only for the mature, for those who have shown sufficient fruit? Why then did Jesus say you must become as a little child? Is intellectual understanding and holiness the way we get into the Kingdom? Or is it what happens after we have arrived? To me, this practice undermines grace by implying that the Kingdom is earned through maturity.  I know these men would disagree, but their baptismal practice works against their views of grace. By the way, I also think it is wrong to put off an adult baptism until they have had a membership/baptismal class. When a man professes faith he should be baptized. Teaching is what happens after the baptism, not before.(Matthew 28:18-20)

Third, any argument against baptizing children upon their profession of faith is also an argument against baptizing adults upon their profession of faith. One church worried that a child might be coerced by the parents? But can’t the man at the mall be coerced by the street preacher?  Some worry that the child might not know what they are committing to? Did Lydia know what she was getting into? (Acts 16:15) Some worry that a child might not understand the cross well enough? Did the Philippian jailer understand the cross? (Acts 16:33)  Now of course, Paul preached to both Lydia and the jailer, but a four year old in a typical Christian home has probably heard as much, if not more, about Christ and the cross as those two people did. So again, why wait? 

There are more questions that will have to wait to a later date. Like what would happen if Baptist churches baptized solely on a profession of faith? How would that change Baptist culture? Does waiting breed doubt or assurance? Does waiting on baptism actually make it statistically more likely that a person will persevere to the end? Are children in Baptist churches treated as unbelievers until they profess faith and if not why not? Is there Biblical justification for the age of accountability, which seems to be underneath this type of thinking?

4 thoughts on “Swatting Flies: Credo-Baptism and Young Children

  1. We believe in a believer's baptism and attend a church that is part of the baptist denomination. But, we agree with many of your concerns. So many churches seem to say that it takes more than salvation to be qualified for baptism.

    Our oldest was baptized at 6.5. He was able to articulate the gospel in an age-appropriate manner. He wanted to be baptized after having thought it scary for the longest time. He was a changed person in a very short time, most noticeably in a dramatic change in willingness to receive correction. He was a new creation and was baptized in the house church we were part of.

    Recently, our 2nd and 4th children were baptized in the church we now attend. They were 8.5 and 4.5. We honestly felt a bit uncomfortable with the young age of our 4 yo when she first said she believed in Jesus and wanted to be baptized. We explained that young children don't always really understand what they say and sometimes just repeat it, and that we'd be praying for God to give us wisdom. She isn't one who perseveres, and we prayed that if it wasn't the right time, that she would lose interest. She didn't; she prayed for the next couple months that God would show us that she could be baptized. We no longer had any doubt about her sincerity and the change in her, and thankfully, the pastor was willing to baptize her, though she was the youngest he ever had.

    As for the 8.5 year old, she had had head knowledge but had been unsure of her salvation and unwilling to be baptized for months. In a short time, she gained that confident, we saw a changed heart, and she desired to be baptized though it scared her.

    They may not be able to articulate every subpoint of a detailed creed, but children can having saving faith. There's a reason God praised the faith of a child.

    We are also blessed that, in our church, there isn't a saving up of candidates for baptism at a once or twice a year service. The pastor will talk with them several times to be sure they understand what they are doing, but you can be baptized within a couple weeks of expressing that desire.


  2. “The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Spirit, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.” Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXVIII (VI). The thing signified is of infinitely greater importance than the sign. John Calvin recognized this in commenting on the Ethiopian eunuch’s profession of faith: “This is the perfect faith … which receiveth Christ … with the earnest affection of the heart, as Paul will not have this faith be feigned. Whosever hath not this when he is grown up, in vain doth he boast of the baptism of his infancy. For to this end doth Christ admit infants by baptism, that so soon as the capacity of their age shall suffer, they may addict themselves to be his disciples, and that being baptized with the Holy Ghost, they may comprehend, with the understanding of faith, his power which baptism doth prefigure.” The imprecise concept of the age of discretion is well recognized by the orthodox Reformed Christian and its discernment is of far more importance than the timing of baptism. “Bring me giants!”


  3. Jeff, glad you read the post and had some thoughts about it. My main point was that there is not any biblical warrant for waiting years after a profession of faith to baptize a child. Yet that seems to be common practice in Baptist Churches.

    In Christ,


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