A Theology of Children: Fifteen Theses image

A Theology of Children: Fifteen Theses

I've been thinking aloud about a theology of children over the last couple of months, and benefited hugely from interacting with friends and writers like Alastair Roberts, David Gibson, Mark Jones, John Starke, Jonathan Leeman, Joe Rigney, Justin Taylor, Mike Roca-Terry and Patrick Schreiner. (Of those, three are paedobaptists, two are credobaptists, three are paedocredobaptists, and one isn't sure, so I think they represent a pretty good cross-section.) With their arguments in mind, and hat tips to all of them, here are fifteen theses of mine on the subject. Even where you disagree, I hope the process of laying them out like this will be clarifying:

1. Children in Israel were part of God’s covenant community, and recipients of the covenantal signs, meals, teaching and promises.
2. Jesus’ welcome of, and teaching about, children conferred huge dignity on them (Matt 18:1-6; 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17), and his view of children is largely responsible for the rights and privileges they now enjoy, in contrast to the way they were regarded in the ancient world. It also stands in contrast to the way in which many churches have treated children.
3. When Jesus says that the kingdom belongs to a particular group, whether children (as above) or the poor (e.g. Luke 6:20), this does not eliminate the need for faith in members of that group. There is no indication in the Gospels that salvation comes through youthfulness or poverty, irrespective of faith.
4. Household baptisms took place in the New Testament (Acts 10:2, 33, 48; 11:14; 16:15, 31-34; 1 Cor 1:16; 16:15). Since it would be unusual for households in the ancient world not to include anyone under the age of sixteen, we may assume that at least some of these these included (what we now think of as) children.
5. These texts also describe household members as fearing God, hearing the word, speaking in languages, extolling God, and rejoicing in faith. Again, we may assume that these things were also true of children.
6. Baptism, symbolising burial with Christ and rising again with him, takes place through faith in God, and accompanies the appeal for a good conscience (Col 2:11-12; Rom 6:1-4; 1 Pet 3:21).
7. The children of prospective elders are expected to be believers (Tit 1:6).
8. Believers should be baptised (Acts 2:38; 8:12; 11:15-17; 16:31-34; etc).
9. Therefore children who are repentant believers should be baptised. The way such repentance and faith are identified requires discernment, but does not necessitate postponing baptism for many years.
10. However, since baptism involves faith in God, repentance of sin and the appeal to God for a good conscience, a child who is not old enough to do these things should not be baptised until they are.
11. Children are addressed directly by Paul, rather than being communicated to via their parents (Eph 6:1-4), and as such can meaningfully be thought of as subject to the instruction, correction and membership of the church.
12. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are signs of the same covenant, and therefore we would need clear biblical reasons to give one to a person while withholding the other. (The connection between circumcision and Passover is probably relevant here.)
13. There do not appear to be any such reasons.
14. As such, of the four sacramental options when it comes to children - (1) baptise children and give them communion, (2) withhold both baptism and communion until teenage years or adulthood, (3) baptise children and delay communion until teenage years or adulthood (usually following confirmation), or (4) give children communion and delay baptism until teenage years or adulthood - only the first two are consistent.
15. On the basis of all the above, believing children should be baptised, given communion and treated as members of the church. Which, I guess, you could call paedocredobaptist paedocredocommunionism.

If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. If you’re not - well, you’ve probably got more important things to be doing.

← Prev article
Next article →