Baptisms: How to Handle Young Children Who Request Baptism
Written by Rob L. Whitacre

Baptizing children can be a highly charged emotional matter. As a full-time gospel preacher for over 25 years, I know these opportunities can be joyful but also anxious. When dealing with children, parents often approach the preacher with excitement, tears, and urgency. It is a pressure situation that creates difficulties in examining the readiness for baptism. The standard line is, “Well, if they are not ready, do it anyway; you don’t want to discourage them. Besides, they can do it again if needed when they are older.” I have never liked this approach, and I question its wisdom and spiritual benefit. Perhaps we should consider what Jesus would do.

Shortly after I started full time work in Poole, Kentucky, I faced a situation when a new convert’s daughter wanted me to baptize her seven-year-old son. I tried to have a conversation with the boy but considering his attention to the Tonka trucks on the front pew, he was not interested in what I had to say. I knew he was not ready. I did not know how to communicate this to his mother, and it closed an evangelistic door. It was a learning experience, to say the least.

This situation prompted me to make phone calls to older and more experienced preachers. Their advice was valuable and has served well throughout the years. I would suggest using the following story and application. Direct the story to the child, but make sure parents and any others who are present listen.
“Suppose a baby, you, and I all got into a car and started to drive home. As we drove down the road, a drunk driver swerved to our lane and hit our car. We all died. I want you to think about what would happen to each one of us as we passed into eternity.”

  • First, what would happen to the baby? Why?
  • Second, what would happen to me? Why?
  • Third, what would happen to you? Why?

In many situations, young children cannot answer these questions with understanding. Further, it is likely that the young child answers the third question as follows: “I think I would go to heaven.” In those cases, turn to the parents and say, “I think that is exactly where your child would go right now. Encourage your child to continue to study and learn from the Bible until the day comes when your child believes he/she would go to hell without baptism.”

Correct teaching is the answer to misunderstandings and wrong answers. Baptism is for the lost, not the “saved” or the “safe.” Children do not need to be saved as they have no sins from which to be saved. “Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).

Baptizing those who are not ready is really not baptizing at all. There is only one valid baptism in the eyes of God (Ephesians 4:5). The solution to baptizing children is to educate both the child and the parents. In some cases it also means educating the preacher and elders. Baptizing out of pressure to appease, or succumbing to an emotional appeal from parents is not the will of God. Training is the key to success. Think about how you will handle these situations before they arise, and remember, Jesus was 12 years old before He was about His father’s business!

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