Mailbag #85: Should I Baptize Young People in My Congregation? . . . Is Intinction a Biblical Practice?

Mailbag
06.28.2019

Should I baptize young people in my congregation? »
Is intinction a biblical practice? »

Dear 9Marks,

As the senior pastor, I have taught and expressed concern for baptizing youth (say 16 and under) on a principal level. But at the same time, three youth of varying ages have come forward at the same time to be baptized. I have two concerns: 1) Baptizing youth is not a good practice in general, and 2) the profession of faith of these particular young people is, at best, in serious question.

What do I do if I’m the only elder of three who sees the circumstances this way and the other elders are urging baptism? Is this a hill worth dying on?

Thank you.

—Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

I think it could be a hill worth dying on, though what “dying” looks like might depend on circumstances.

Let’s examine your two concerns. First, you believe baptizing children and young teens is an unwise practice. I happen to agree. However, your elders don’t agree, and I’m assuming from your question that your church doesn’t have a policy on the matter. Therefore, at this point the question of age falls into the category of a debatable matter—not only biblically and theologically, but also policy-wise.

In the case of debatable matters and questions of prudence, elders ideally provide leadership for the church. They should debate and decide. And if your fellow elders decide to baptize, you should submit to their decision.  Plural eldership is God’s design for local church leadership. By submitting to a decision with which you disagree, you model humility and you affirm the biblical authority structure. Submitting to fellow elders builds people’s trust in you and boosts their confidence in the authority of Scripture. And besides, it’s good for our souls to lose votes! Sometimes, instead of dying on a hill, we need to die to ourselves.

However, if even after submitting to the elders’ decision you still struggle in principle with the thought of performing a baptism due to the age of the candidate, you might ask if another elder can do it. This would honor the elders’ decision, but also not cause you to violate your conscience. That could be one version of dying on the hill.

In my opinion, your second concern is far more serious. We shouldn’t baptize anyone who lacks a credible profession of faith, regardless of their age. In baptism, the church publicly says, “We believe this person is a regenerated follower of Jesus.” A church shouldn’t say that of someone who isn’t.

Of course, we can’t know with 100% certainty who belongs to Jesus and who doesn’t. But we do need to look for credible evidence of conversion: trust in the comprehensive gospel message, love for the triune God, love for brothers and sisters, and growth in Christ-like character. By their fruits you shall know them, Jesus says.

If these young people have questionable professions of faith at best, then sound the alarm among the elders. Baptizing unsaved people creates nominal Christians and sows weeds among the wheat of the local church. It’s bad for the one being baptized and it’s bad for the church. That’s why it’s a hill worth dying on.

So, what does dying look like? It should involve conversations with the parents explaining your concerns and urging them not to push the children forward for baptism. That may cost you something, because parents sometimes respond poorly to being told that their child is possibly not a true Christian. Again, dying might involve refusing to perform the baptism yourself.

Finally, if you’re in a congregationally ruled church where members vote on membership and baptism, you would obviously want to vote your conscience on their membership, and perhaps even voice your concerns publicly. That could be some serious dying.

But it would be worth it. Because the clarity of the gospel and conversion are at stake. The purity of Jesus’ church is at stake. And the eternal destiny of those kids is in question. It would be very unloving to them to tell them they are Christians if serious doubts exist.

May God grant you wisdom and courage.

—Jeramie Rinne

Dear 9Marks,

Have you ever addressed the practice of intinction in evangelical churches? It seems to be gaining some popularity and I’m wrestling with the practice. Should my convictions on the mode of Baptism as expressed in Scripture be applied to the mode of the Lord’s Supper as expressed in Scripture, namely, seemingly taken as two separate elements?

Am I overthinking this? If the teaching is the same, does it matter between intinction and partaking with separate elements? Should I reconsider joining a church if they practice intinction?

Many thanks from a brother that wants a well-formed conscience on this matter.

Adam

Dear Adam,

For the sake of the reader, let’s first set the table. Intinction refers to the process of dipping the bread into the cup and therefore, simplifying the process of the Lord’s Table from two stages (eating the bread and then drinking the cup) to one stage with two aspects. One could certainly see some pragmatic reasons why this would be appealing, but is this taking too many liberties? Brother, I do not think you are overthinking this and am grateful that in a time when so many are playing fast and loose with church matters, you are pausing to give this attention.

It’s true that in the Passover meal, Jesus dipped bread in a dish (Matt. 26:23; John 13:18–26). But this was earlier in the meal and not when he instituted the Lord’s Table. The text is clear that the dish (trublio) he dipped his bread in is not the same as the cup (poteirion) that he passed. According to Matthew 26:26–29, Jesus took two distinct steps.

1) He took bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to the disciples, and told them to take it and eat it.

2) He then took a cup, gave thanks, gave it to the disciples, and told them to drink of it, all of them.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul gives careful instructions to the church (v. 17). He underscores the weight of his words by saying, “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…” (v. 23). He then describes the proper observance of the Lord’s Table to be a two-step process of taking the bread and then taking the cup. Later in verse 27 Paul warns us about participating in the Lord’s Table in an unworthy manner and reiterates this clear two-step process.

To summarize: Jesus instituted the Lord’s Table with a two-step process and Paul’s instructions underscore this. Therefore, I do not think we should practice intinction. When we modify clear instructions, we always lose something, not the least of which is careful attention to God’s Word. As to whether you ought to leave is a matter of what your conscience allows and how healthy you consider the church with regard to other matters.

—Bob Johnson

By:
Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan.

Jeramie Rinne

Jeramie Rinne is an author and the senior pastor of Evangelical Community Church of Abu Dhabi in the UAE.