Should there be a minimum age set for those requesting baptism?
The only guide we have to assist us in responding to questions relating to spiritual things is the word of God. Such a statement may appear to be a very obvious thing to say, yet in practice there are times when we add to the scriptures regulations of our own making. The reasons for these additions may be laudable, and sometimes necessary, but we must ensure that they do not take precedence over the Bible; neither should we expect them to be binding on all believers.
One issue where we have to exercise care relative to these matters relates to the above question. Some may believe that it is not suitable for children to be baptized until they have reached a certain age. Others may feel it is more appropriate for them to wait until they have completed secondary school education, by which time they will have acquired some experiential awareness of the pressures of teenage life.
What a thrill it is to see young believers developing, irrespective of their age, and it must not be expected that these ‘novices’ will know as much about the implications of baptism as those who have been saved for many years. I doubt whether the eunuch who Phillip met in the desert had a full understanding of the doctrine relative to baptism, yet he knew enough about it to realize that it was a commitment expected of all who believe. The same principle is true concerning salvation and assembly fellowship. Few, if any, of us had a full grasp of the doctrine of salvation at the moment we were converted, but we knew enough to realize that as guilty sinners we stood in desperate need of God’s undeserved forgiveness. When we were received into fellowship there was probably a considerable amount of ‘church truth’ we did not know but we had sufficient understanding to accept that there were privileges and responsibilities associated with our decision. Just as we had to increase in our understanding about salvation and fellowship after both had been experienced so it will be concerning baptism.
To the best of my knowledge we have no specific instances in the New Testament of the conversion of children, although we are aware that Timothy had been taught the scriptures from his infancy. However, this does not mean that children were not saved in the 1st century, and I am also sure that many readers of this response will have been saved very early in life. That being so, what should we do when someone very young asks if they can be baptized?
The primary requisite is to be as certain as we can that the child is a believer. Philip’s answer to the question ‘What hinders me from being baptized’ was direct: ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may’, Acts 8. 37. Having established the genuineness of the profession of salvation the next priority would be to determine their motive for wanting to be baptized. Parental or peer pressure are insufficient reasons to proceed; the young person must have some measure of understanding that the scriptures clearly teach that all who are saved should be baptized.
Whoever speaks to them about their desire to be baptized would also want to set out some of the basic implications pertaining to baptism as presented in the epistles. Whilst the act of being baptized happens once only, it is meant to regulate our conduct throughout the remainder of life. Peter describes it as ‘the answer of a good conscience toward God’, 1 Pet. 3. 21.
Although the New Testament indicates that all who are in assembly fellowship must be baptized, it must not be expected that every applicant for baptism will want to join a local church immediately. This will be true in many instances but particularly so in the case of a very young person. However, we must not think that a lack of suitability for fellowship precludes them from complying with the Lord’s instructions to the disciples, ‘Go … and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’, Matt. 28. 19.
Rather than implementing a specific policy governing the point at which someone can be baptized, the wiser course of action would be to examine each case individually and to respond to it in light of the New Testament teaching.