by Debbie Bumbalough
Bible class teachers and parents are often asked by young children, “Am I old enough to be baptized?” or “How old do I have to be before I can be baptized?”
Because of the importance of this basic question and also the sensitivity of a child’s heart, our choice of words can have everlasting impressions. Because it is difficult to pinpoint an age when a child reaches the proper maturity level to make the decision to become a Christian, answering the question with a specific age would not necessarily be right or wrong. A middle of the road answer to the child might be, “When you have studied God’s Word, and talked the decision over with your parents or loved ones, then you’ll know when it’s time to be baptized.”
Because this is the most important decision any of us can make, further study on the question is needed. Statistics show that more than 80 percent of people make the decision to become a Christian before the age of 21. All of us know that the longer the decision is put off, the harder it is to make.
How do we know that a child is old enough to be baptized? What criteria can we use to measure when a child is ready to obey the gospel? How can we as parents and teachers encourage children to not make decisions based on fear or peer pressure?
Through teaching in the home, the pulpit and in the Bible class, each child is exposed to the Scriptures and to the belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. They learn to memorize the steps to salvation and quote verses about
baptism. But are they ready to make the commitment to a new life?
These guidelines may help you determine if a child is
ready to be baptized:
• Has the child moved from a literal understanding to more abstract concepts? For instance, a 7- or 8-year-old child would not be able to grasp the full symbolism of baptism, the blood of Christ, or even the Lord’s Supper.
As children mature, they more easily understand the meaning of Romans 6:3-4 that states, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (NKJV). By the age of 12 or 13, a child will better understand that baptism is not just a ritual. As LaGard Smith* says in Baptism, The Believer’s Wedding Ceremony, “The true significance of baptism is not what happens on the outside of the package. It’s what happens on the inside that makes the outer act important.”
• The child is actively participating in the worship service. Listening, singing, praying and being attentive during the Lord’s Supper are strong indicators that a child is maturing and wants to be a part of the body. Encouraging children from an early age to carry their Bibles, turning to passages and listening to the Bible reading are positive patterns for learning.
• The child repeatedly feels guilt when approached about wrongdoing. He also begins to understand forgiveness and reconciliation. Conversation reflects that he does not easily forgive himself of sins committed. Just as David felt the burden of his sin in Psalm 51:10,“Create in me a clean heart, O God,” so will a child begin to talk about the pain of guilt. For a child to fully understand the blessings of baptism, he needs to understand the depth of sin.
• The child understands the meaning of commitment. True conversion is a commitment to Christ and His teachings. Allowing a child to participate in other activities such as scouts, sports or a part-time job may indicate that he/she understands the meaning of commitment. If the child takes responsibility and follows through with these tasks, then he will have a better knowledge of commitment.
• Children at the age of 6 to 8 want to please adults.As adults we talk about baptism in a hopeful light. We tell them, “We hope one day that you will want to be baptized.” They overhear us say to others, “We are praying that [someone] will obey the Lord.” Children who grow up in the church absorb good feelings about baptism from other members. As a child grows older and matures, he has less need for adult approval. Because of this, a child at the age of 12 or 13 is less likely to be just pleasing his parents when he talks about being baptized.
Of course, we must realize that all children are different in maturity levels and understanding. We would certainly not want to discourage a child who was truly convicted in his heart to become a Christian, but at the same time we need to consider prayerfully each individual situation. Studying some of the books suggested in the editor’s note at left (below) may help parents determine a child’s readiness to be baptized.
Our hope and prayer is for the child to mature to the level where he does not need to ask the question, “Am I old enough to be baptized?” Rather, with confidence and conviction he can confess “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and I want to be baptized!” With joy, we’ll respond with a resounding, “Yes!” And just as the eunuch did in Acts 8:39, your child will go “on his way rejoicing.”
Editor's note: This editorial is by no means a thorough or complete study of baptism. After studying the Scriptures, you may want to consult these additional resources*:
Becoming a Christian by Wayne Monroe and Mike Peters;
Baptism,The Believer’s Wedding Ceremony by F. LaGard Smith; Basic Training: A Manual for Teens by Randy Simmons; Good As New! A Child’s Guide to Becoming a Christian by Doug Gibson; Am I Old Enoughto Be Baptized? byJim McDaniel; Now That You’ve Obeyed the Gospel by Delton Haun; Now That I’m A Christian by R. B. Sweet;
and “Is Baptism Really Necessary?” by Dan Chambers.
The foregoing editorial article was written by Debbie Bumbalough, while she was editor of the Gospel Advocate’s publication Ideashop. Note the License Agreement below.
*Disclaimer: Not having read those references, we cannot necessarily endorse the authors or the books recommended above (Betty Jackson).
Jackson, Wayne. What About the Baptism of Young Children.
Jackson, Wayne. Lagard Smith’s New Book, “After Life.
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