When Should We Baptise Believing Children? And Why?

Here's another thought on the theology of children, following posts by Mark Jones, Jonathan Leeman and me. It's from an article by Joe Rigney at Desiring God, and Joe makes a good case that we should distinguish between mature and immature professions of faith, rather than between credible and not credible ones. The implications for the age of baptism and its relationship to church discipline come at the end:

For me, the solution came through thinking more carefully about “credible” professions of faith. I think we Baptists should move away from the language of a “credible” profession of faith when it comes to our children and teens, and instead speak in terms of a “mature” profession of faith before baptizing.

The difference lies in this: A credible profession means simply a believable profession. But when my young sons confess their sins, when they profess faith in Jesus, when they sing our hymns in church, I believe them. I think they are as sincere as six- and four-year-olds can be. Thus, I cast no doubt on their professions of faith ...

Why, then, as their pastor, do I withhold baptism? Because while my sons have indeed made credible professions, they haven’t yet made mature professions. A mature profession is one made by a responsible adult. Why require a mature profession? Because, as a Baptist, baptism is the entrance into church membership. Baptized members, in a congregational polity, must be qualified to rule the church. They must be able to stand in the assembly of saints on their own two feet. This means that they must be ready to both submit to and administer church discipline. That is why maturity is required for baptized members. They must be able to judge and be judged.

Think of it like this: My young sons have already given what I regard as a credible, childlike profession of faith — one that I, as their father, accept, embrace, and encourage. If they sin, it is my responsibility as their father to correct and discipline them. They are under my jurisdiction, and any authority the church has over them is mediated through me and their mother.

When they are baptized, they will come under the church’s authority directly. Then the church will have the responsibility to correct and discipline them for their sins. Thus, in my view, we should wait to baptize until children are ready to assume that mantle of responsibility.

Now: I don’t do church membership like that, and as such, I can’t just steal Joe’s argument and pretend that my ecclesiology doesn’t matter. But I think his distinction between maturity and immaturity holds, even if I don’t think the issue is whether someone is qualified to “rule the church.” We could express the principle this way: if you wouldn’t exercise church discipline over a person directly, but instead would go through their parents, then you shouldn’t baptise them. I think there’s a lot to be said for that.

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