A Baptist church in Ohio set off a heated debate when it decided to baptize an infant. Most Baptists would maintain that only those able to make a mature confession of faith should enter the waters.
But hold on.
The Southern Baptist Convention – the nation’s largest Protestant denomination – routinely baptizes children age 5 and under. In fact, a task force report found that this was the only baptism demographic in the SBC showing growth. So while most Baptists don’t practice infant baptism, they seem fine with toddler baptism.
This isn’t about those faith traditions that embrace paedobaptism. That’s another conversation. This is about those who do not. And for those who do not, there is no excuse for those embracing a theology of “Believer’s Baptism” to baptize those who are clearly too young to understand what they are doing, much less remember it.
So why are they?
Two reasons jump to the front of the line: churches desperate for adding to the baptism notches in their belt, and parents desperate for a sense of spiritual security for their children.
Both are as juvenile as the child.
So how should children be handled?
I can only tell you what we do.
Meck has baptized nearly 700 people over the last 18 months. And yes, children were among them. But not as many as you might think.
The age requirement for children’s baptism at Meck is 2nd grade (basically 8-year-olds). All children from 2nd-5th grades are required to take the MecKidz Baptism Orientation class prior to getting baptized.
Even on the day of baptism when we offer up the opportunity for spontaneous baptism in response to a particular message or challenge to go public with faith, this is enforced. There are volunteers at the table where people must register for spontaneous baptism with a list of all children who have already taken the class. If a child's name is not on there, we have a pastor on standby who talks with the parent and child about the need for them to take this class and how they'll have to wait until the next baptism service to be baptized.
On our MecKidz webpage on baptism, we address 6 questions to help parents in knowing if this is the right decision for their child to make:
1. Why should Christians be baptized?
2. What is baptism all about?
3. Who should be baptized?
4. Why is baptism by immersion important?
5. Why does my child have to take the MecKidz Baptism Orientation class?
6. What if my child was baptized as an infant?
After delving into those questions, if the parent feels their child is ready, they are required to attend the baptism class with their child.
And the content of the class?
We review what it means to enter into a relationship with Christ. How Christ's death on the cross was a gift to us, and because it was a gift, we have to consciously choose to accept it. How nothing is actually "magical" about the waters of baptism, just that it is something we are all called to do once we have crossed the line of faith. That it is the way of showing the world that we have made this decision to accept Christ as their Savior and forever friend. We even offer up a time towards the end of the class for parents and their children to find a quiet place to talk and provide questions for them to discuss with their children to make sure it is something that they really fully grasp, and that it is a decision that they are making themselves.
Well, it is a sacrament.
And sacraments are to be stewarded.
Rumor has it that it’s kind of our job.
James Emery White
Heidi Hall, “Is it heresy for Baptist to baptize a baby?” Religion News Service, May 18, 2015, read online.
Jason K. Allen, “On Sprinkling Infants, Baptizing Children, and Recovering Regenerate Church Membership,” JasonKAllen.com, May 4, 2015, read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.