Are We Asking the Wrong Question?
Last week Tim posted an interesting collection of articles relating to the issue of baptism. Specifically, the issue being debated was, ‘At what age should we baptize?’ That in itself is an interesting question, because it is one that the Bible never asks or answers. Age is never given as a prerequisite for baptism, nor is it listed as even being a hindrance to baptism. It’s simply a non-issue.
The wrong question is, ‘What age?’ The right question is, ‘Does this person make profession of repentance and faith?’
What Are We Afraid of?
Nevertheless, wisdom and pastoral experience must be brought to bear on an issue that has certainly brought some level of difficulty and pain into the lives of many people. Right?
In all of the discussions I’ve read over the years on this topic, one of the nagging questions that keeps coming back to me is this: ‘What are we afraid of?’ I think that the answer is sadly, not a biblical one. Oftentimes it appears that we’re just afraid of being wrong. We think, ‘What if we baptize someone who ends up not really being converted? Then what?’ Our minds turn then to problems of ‘re-baptism’ and giving false assurance.
Isn’t This a Healthy Fear?
But we ought not be afraid of this, I think, for at least two reasons.
First, we should not be afraid of getting it wrong, because even the apostles did. Have you ever noticed how many people apostasize in the New Testament? How many of Paul’s partners in ministry turned away (1 Tim 1.18-20; 2 Tim 4.10, 16)? And what of the disaster that was Simon Magus (Acts 8.9-24)? Certainly all of these had been baptized.
Second, we should not be afraid of getting it wrong because we are not charged with ‘getting it right’ in the first place. We’re never called to be the police of baptism, ensuring that only those who give good enough proof get in the pool. We’re called to baptize and disciple all who give profession of faith in Jesus as the risen Lord and Master of their lives.
Think about it; how much credible evidence could the people in Acts have given who heard one gospel message and were saved? Yet, they were baptized. Then discipled. And those who, in the process of discipleship, proved that their conversion was not genuine were disciplined out of the church. The answer is not to make sure people are converted before baptism, but after, in the context of local church membership, where they can be discipled and taught to obey King Jesus, with a strong dose of accountability, as part of a community.
What We Should Be Fearing
Rather than a fear of ‘getting it wrong’ with someone (and then introducing somewhat arbitrary qualifications of age and genuine proof of conversion), we should be fearing suffocating baby Christians. And this is a real danger.
Here’s what I mean: The enjoyment of means of grace in the life of a Christian are like breathing and the grace itself is the believer’s oxygen. Without means of grace there will be no intake of oxygen. What we seriously need to ask ourselves is this: Is baptism a means of grace or not? Because if it is, we’re essentially telling the youngest of baby Christians (new converts of whatever age) to continue living without breathing, without taking in grace through God’s appointed means.
And it gets worse. Since proper baptist doctrine withholds participation in the Lord’s Supper, membership, and pastoral oversight to those who have already been baptized as believers, we’re withholding just about every corporate means of grace from this infant believer. And then we tell them to ‘prove’ their life in Christ, all the while denying them the oxygen their growth and life so desperately needs.
That is something we should genuinely fear.
Presumption Is Not the Answer
It’s not okay at this point to simply say, ‘Well, if they’re genuinely converted, they’ll grow anyway and prove their conversion and we’ll baptize them in time.’ That’s the same reasoning hyper-calvinists use to not evangelize: ‘God will save them either way.’ It denies the reality of our call to use the means of grace that God has provided.
Life is the Goal, Not a Problem-Free Church
Yes, willingness to let younger people be baptized makes some tricky pastoral situations. And yes, there will be false professions along the way. But church was already messy by Acts 6, so you can rest assured it will be in our day too. But our calling isn’t to make the church not messy. Our calling is to obey the great commission of our King, making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey all of our King’s commands. Even if they are young.
And if we want them to live, we must let them breathe.