A Strategy for Delaying the Baptism of Young Children

Article
08.24.2018

It doesn’t get more nerve-wracking than flying with young children. Now let’s imagine you’re on a flight with your fussy two year old and, right before takeoff, the flight attendant comes over to inform you that you and your daughter will have to switch seats. You would probably assume this “request” was due to your daughter’s bad behavior—and so you might find yourself getting defensive: “Mrs. Flight Attendant, I understand why you want us to move, but she’s just had a long day and she’s only two and a half, and I really think she’s going to calm down once we’re in the air.”

But imagine she stops you mid-sentence and says, “Oh, it doesn’t have anything to do with that. You’re sitting in an exit row and she’s simply too young to carry out the responsibilities required of her.”

Relief, right? The flight attendant wasn’t saying anything bad about your daughter or your parenting. Simply, to no fault of her own, your daughter is too young to perform the required task for her position.

Now let me explain what this has to do with explaining to young children and their parents why they should hold off on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church membership until their child is older.

I’ll unfold the explanation in three steps.

STEP #1

The New Testament is clear that church membership, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper all go together. In other words, the person who participates in one should participate in the other two, and the person who isn’t ready for one isn’t yet ready for the other two.

Baptism brings someone into church membership (Matthew 28:19–20, Acts 2:41). The Lord’s Supper maintains that membership (1 Corinthians 10:16–17). This explains why there’s no New Testament category for someone who is baptized, but not a church member—or someone who’s a member, but isn’t taking the Lord’s Supper. All three go together.

STEP #2 

The New Testament gives a single, one-size-fits-all description of church membership. There’s no female membership vs. male membership. There’s no Gentile membership vs. Jewish membership. There is no slave membership vs. free membership. And there’s no young children membership vs. adult membership.

There is, simply put, “membership.” And here’s the rub: New Testament membership includes tasks that are an unnatural fit for children. For example:

  • Submission to elders (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:1-2)[1],
  • participation in the church discipline process wherein someone not only submits his own life and doctrine for congregational oversight (which can always lead to excommunication), but where he’s expected to be part of this process for others (which oftentimes requires hearing a certain degree of detail about these situations)
  • participation in the more common situation wherein a member is commanded to point out sin to another member (Galatians 6:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

These tasks and more are commanded by the New Testament for all church members.

STEP #3

Therefore, if someone isn’t yet ready for the New Testament’s understanding of church membership, then they’re also not ready for baptism or the Lord’s Supper.

So, pastor, when a set of parents wants their child to be baptized or to receive the Lord’s Supper, don’t put the parents in the position of having to defend their child (the same way you’d have defended your daughter to a flight attendant). Instead, go the church membership route.

Along that route, you simply don’t have to make any judgment about their child’s relationship with Jesus. You don’t have to make a judgment about his or her spiritual maturity or love for the church. All you’re saying is that he or she is simply too young to carry out the responsibilities required of church members in the New Testament.

My flock is small, and I’ve only been pastoring for four years. But I hope you’ll find this approach to be as helpful as I have. If you approach the conversation with pastoral care and patience, then it’s likely families will come to the same conclusion as you.

FOOTNOTE:

[1] Notice that, even though the Lord loves the way he’s set up the family where the husband is in charge of the household and the husband and wife are in charge of the children, he doesn’t paint a picture where pastoral care for certain members is mediated through a husband or father. Every church member is connected to the elders with a straight line, not one that zigzags through a parent or a spouse.