Aug 10, 2016

When Should a Child Be Baptized? (Here's the Answer)

When should a child be baptized?  Let's take a look at what the Bible says.

Should children be baptized when they are a baby?  Every time someone in the Bible was baptized, it was when they were old enough to make the decision for themselves.

Acts 2:41 says that "those who accepted His message were baptized."

There is no Biblical basis for baptizing no...babies should not be baptized.

Children should be baptized after they have made a clear faith commitment.  It is vital to have a clear process for sharing the Gospel with kids and then take the time to make sure they understand the decision they are making.  We have developed a class for this called Starting Line.  It has been used to lead hundreds of kids to Christ and is now being used by churches across the country and around the world.  You can read more about it here.

The age of accountability is not a specific varies from child to child as God works in their life.  I have found that for most children they begin to understand abstractly around the age of 7.5 to 8 years old.  For some children, it might be earlier than this and for some they might be older than this.

Children should be baptized after they have a clear understanding of what baptism means.  Kids should be able to articulate why they are being baptized.  Many churches have a minimum age for baptism.  For us, the minimum age for baptism is kindergarten and again, that is only if the child has made a clear decision and understands what they are doing.  The vast majority of the time kids who are baptized in our church are 2nd grade and older.  Each church must decide for themselves what the minimum age for baptism will be.

The important thing is to take the time to make sure kids understand what they are doing.  Each child who is baptized at our church must first go through the Starting Line class and then a baptism class where baptism is clearly explained.  Kids then write out why they are being baptized and read it at their baptism.  You can read more about it here.
Kids should be baptized when their parents are in agreement.  God has called parents to be the primary spiritual leader of their children.  It is vital to partner with them when their children begin asking about baptism.  Our job is to provide parents with the tools and resources they need to lead their children to Jesus and then see them follow Him in baptism.  Parents should be involved each step of the way.

If a parent says their child is not ready to be baptized, then you should wait.  On the flip side, if a parent says their child is ready to be baptized, but the child clearly doesn't understand what he or she is doing, it is an opportunity to come alongside the parent and help them see why the child should wait. 

When you partner with parents in this, the great thing is you will see many parents come to Christ and follow Him in baptism with their child.  We see this happen every month. 

Children should be baptized when they move from "wanting to" to "needing to."  There is a difference.  A child who wants to be baptized because their friend got baptized or because it looks like fun, is not ready.  A child should be baptized when he or she has a sense of Holy Spirit urgency that causes them to know they need to be baptized.

As parents and children's ministry leaders, our role is not to push kids to be baptized nor is it to hold them back.  Our role is to simply walk alongside them and have the conversations.  As we share with them what God's Word says, He will work in their lives in His time. 


Great article! However, I'm curious. You mentioned the age of accountability. What's the biblical basis for that? I totally agree that the child should understand it before taking the plunge (pun intended) and the parents need to agree that they think their child is ready. I'm just curious on the biblical basis for the age of accountability.

Great question Vince. Though the words "age of accountability" are not used specifically in Scripture, it is a term used to describe the teaching of the Bible that a child is held innocent before God until he or she is able to willfully understand and reject the Gospel.

I appreciate that in a brief article it is hard to convey all the nuances of a debate that is almost as old as Christendom itself. But this is such a muddled & inconsistent article. How can a child in kindergarten have possibly "made a clear decision and understands what they are doing"? And you say that parents are the primary spiritual leaders of their children, but you think you should over-rule them if you judge their children aren't ready? And other than one verse, relating to one very specific incident, there is no theological reasoning given for your conclusions. What about the equivalence of the act of circumcision - done on infants as a symbol of the covenant the parents were entering the children into on their behalf? What about the significance of Jesus' own demonstration of maturation at the age of 12? Where in the Bible does cognitive understanding is necessary for Baptism - there is no record of people going on preparation courses in the NT, they were often saved then baptised almost immediately. Sorry, to be so critical. I would agree with the conclusion however, "A child should be baptized when he or she has a sense of Holy Spirit urgency that causes them to know they need to be baptized. As parents and children's ministry leaders, our role is not to push kids to be baptized nor is it to hold them back".

Hey Rebel Saint, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Here's a little more clarity on some of the questions you raised.
-How can a child in kindergarten make a clear decision? As I stated, most kids will probably be older when they reach an age of accountability but there are some who understand in kindergarten. I am one of them. I came to Christ when I was 6 years old. The Spirit drew me and it was a very real, clear experience. 43 years later its just as real to me as it was then.
-Should you over-rule a parent who thinks their child is ready but is not? When you do real ministry with real families (not just sitting behind a computer typing) you interact with families who have no church background. Sometimes parents will bring children as young as 2 years old wanting them to be baptized. This gives you the opportunity to share with them the Gospel and help them understand that baptism is for believers.
-Circumcision? Not sure what your point is with this? Totally different than baptism.
-Where in the Bible is cognitive understanding necessary for baptism? It's called common sense. People who got baptized in the Bible had made a decision to follow Christ. That is cognitive understanding.

Appreciate you taking the time to reply. Sure neither of us want to get into a long debate. But just to clarify a couple of my points:
- I too made a childhood commitment to follow Christ (age 4). But it was child-like faith (the sort Jesus loves). I wouldn't have been able to articulate any doctrinal truths. And at the same age I'm sure I would have given a clear & heartfelt decision to love my teddy for ever too ... see the danger?
- Being a vibrant & active Anglican church we do exactly the real ministry with real families that you talk of, so I know exactly what you mean. Parents bringing their babies for infant baptism is a great opportunity to share the gospel with the parents. But at the end of the day if they say "I'd still like to get my child baptised" what would you say? How do reconcile making the parents the ones ultimately responsible for their child/babies spiritual leadership and then saying, "Actually, I know better than you what's best for your child?"
- I was trying to raise some of the theological issues pertinent baptism/age of accountability etc Re: Circumcision was an outward sign of the covenant, just as baptism is an outward sign of our new covenant. It was done on babies who had no choice or say in the matter.
- If making a decision to follow Christ is enough then why is it necessary for them to go to two different sets of classes? Again, in the New Testament people believed and then were baptised. Job done. Not believed, attending a preliminary class to check they understood their decision, then a follow-up class to understand the significance of baptism, then baptised. If we are doing the real ministry you talk of then surely we should know if a child was responding through "need" rather than "want"?

I haven't got answers to all these questions. And I don't want to come across as being provocative or unduly critical. I just think the article seems to be based on what you might call "common sense" more than on Biblical/theological reasoning.

Yea! I've really enjoyed the last comment of Rebel Saint. I hardly get the point, accountability age at kindergarten and decision from parents. Scripturally, non of the believers were accompanied with second person's decision before baptism. For instance, the Ethiopia Eunuch took his own decision act.8:34-39. I believe we shan't be found wanting when our teachings are biblically based instead of arbitrary conclusions. So preacher, kindly revisit the lesson and let's have facts to also explain to others. I think "common sense" does not come in here when dealing with biblical issues. I want to under the baptism well and the one who qualifies.

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