By Robert F. Turner
Every conscientious gospel preacher with some years of experience has faced the troubling decision about very young people who ask to be baptized. We are happy to see them walk resolutely down the aisle; our hearts are warmed by their innocent confidence; we feel a tie to our own childhood as we put our arms around them and hear them express their desire to become a Christian. But as we consider their tender years we wonder if they are subject to and capable of understanding and making this momentous decision.
We know the error of infant baptism. “Go teach all nations, baptizing them. . .,” i.e., the “taught” (Matt. 28:19). Baptism is not a ritual that, of itself, removes sins or puts one into Christ. It is an obedience of faith, deliberately chosen as a result of learning our lost condition, and submitting our will to the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “Repent, and be baptized. . . ” is commanded of sinners (Acts 2:38). It calls upon them to regret and truly turn from their past ways, to embrace life as “new creatures.” I recall trying to talk to a very young girl who had requested baptism, and being repeatedly interrupted by the girl’s mother who had accompanied her to the front. When I asked the young child if she felt she had sins that needed to be forgiven, the mother was outraged. “Sins?” she blurted. “Why, she is much to young to have sins, and you should know that.” I suspected it, hence the questions. But neither of us believed in inherited sin, so, why should she be baptized?
We can not know the heart or the initial accountability of another. We do not “administer” baptism by some priestly authority, so there is no “official” decision to be made. It is probably the wiser course to assist all who come of their own will, requesting baptism; and this is my usual practice. But there are times when one can not help but wonder if we practice infant baptism. Those “brought up in the church” may learn by rote and example certain conducts, including baptism, which they do not understand and therefore can not “obey from the heart.” And many of us have seen peer pressure bring to the baptistry young children, who later will acknowledge they “did it because Jane, or Bob, did it.” All of us better understand the gospel as. we grow in grace and knowledge; but does this warrant “infant membership” with “confirmation” years later?
Make no hasty answer, for there is yet another side to the story. I have also seen the super cautious approach cause tender young hearts to despair. Their request may be an early indication of maturing, a beginning of the individuality and independence we wish to encourage. We must be careful lest we squelch the very spirit on which we must build full grown Christian character. Furthermore, the tender heart which is easily impressed with right and wrong, responds readily to ideals. That heart which is so very impressionable now, will one day be burdened by the crass materialism all about us. Do not expect the public schools, or the streets, to guide this plastic mind in God’s direction. The child we persuade to “wait,” will later approach the gospel with a more calloused heart, and may never come.
Amid the many unanswered problems of our subject are some clear lessons. There is room for improvement in our teaching, and for more careful application of the gospel to our hearers. Little children may learn “believe, repent, confess, be baptized” by rote, and not grasp the more basic concept of truth in the Lord, or the real meaning of obedience. But is not this also true of adults who have little or no religious background, and who are being introduced to Bible teaching? In our haste to “close the deal” may we not practice “infant” baptism on them also. Our film strip home studies, in the hands of inexperienced teachers, may stir emotions and push for baptism before the subject is truly penitent and the “old man” ready for burial (Rom. 6:6-11). We must somehow dig below the surface and produce genuine dedication to Christ as Lord.
We have no quarrel with “make it simple”; the big question is, make what simple? We must stress the real meaning of sin, of Christ as Savior, and of faith in Him. Catholicism gave the “church” the role of Savior; and denominations gave it the role of Social Club. Both these roles must be negated and our hearers made to understand that Christians are a, “called out” people, wholly given to the worship and service of their king in every aspect of their life. It will take straight intelligent preaching to make the gospel understood, and applicable to proper subjects of its message.
Nor do we advocate catechism or specific indoctrination courses prior to baptisms. As previously stated, all come to Christ as babes in some sense, and are expected to grow thereafter. Rather, we would emphasize that in this day “Christianity” and “church” have been so perverted in the public mind we may be deceiving ourselves when we report “converted to Christ.” We might give a more honest report by including a section in our Directory headed, “Infant Membership.”
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 5, p. 135
March 5, 1987