At what age should we baptize our children?

A case for baptizing those who make a credible profession of faith

July 6, 2021

If you have cross-denominational friendships, you might have come across the teasing meme, “Baptize yo babies.” Paedobaptists will sometimes lob it at their credobaptist brothers and sisters, alluding to the doctrinal difference between them. What was once a source of deep division — so deep that it included propaganda campaigns and even persecution — is today nothing more than gentle ribbing. During the recent gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention, for example, one Ben Anthony egged on the sibling rivalry on Twitter, promising “If anybody yells ‘baptize your babies’ at SBC on video while it’s quiet, I’ll Venmo you 20 dollars.”

Like all good-natured teasing, this particular jibe works because it’s built on a mutual trust and accepting of each other as we are, while also recognizing and discussing our differences. Your Presbyterian friends will baptize infants, and your Baptist friends will baptize those who make a credible profession of faith.

Ironically however, Baptists sometimes have greater disagreement among ourselves about the exact when and how of baptizing those who confess Christ. Recently, Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and co-founder of 9Marks, drew attention to the cover of the Spring 2021 edition of Baptist Life. It carried the caption “Building and Rebuilding Healthy Churches” along with a picture of a young child being baptized. “The irony of this cover,” Dever tweeted, “when the widespread baptism of children may be the leading cause of Baptist church rolls being filled with unconverted members.”

Dever is understandably concerned by the threat that an unregenerate membership poses to a congregation; and that is nothing compared with the false hope some members themselves risk when they trust in their baptism for salvation more than Christ’s saving work. But is the baptism of young children to blame for Baptist rolls being filled with the unregenerate? Should we delay baptism until a child is grown? What makes for a credible profession of faith? While godly pastors and parents differ on how to answer these questions, I’m convinced that you should — to riff of our Presbyterian friends — “baptize yo children.”

Childlike faith

In God’s providence, I was born into a Christian family and made a profession of faith at a young age. When my mother explained the gospel to me, I responded to the Holy Spirit’s conviction, and I remember the joy I found in claiming Christ as Savior. I was not baptized immediately because my parents wanted to give space for my faith to show itself, which it did in different ways — including my attempts to evangelize my younger brother by promising to buy him a cap gun if he prayed the sinner’s prayer (Clearly, I had much to learn).

A year or two after my profession, our pastor closed the morning worship service with a call for those who wanted to be baptized to come forward. I turned to my mother and asked if I could go, and she nodded that if I believed God was calling me to this act of obedience, then I could. I did and at the next baptismal service, I confessed my faith in Christ before the gathered congregation and was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. I was no more than 7 and so young and tiny that my pastor had to lift me to the microphone to give my testimony.

My own history is evidence neither for nor against baptizing young children, but it does raise a significant question about how we evaluate the credibility of a child’s profession. Pastors and parents who delay baptizing children until they are teens or young adults often do so because they want to ensure that the child is acting out of their full volition. They want to both test the child’s profession as well give them time to understand the significance of what they’re doing by publicly identifying with Christ. As laudable as this goal might be, I think it might overlook a fundamental test of a true profession.

In Matthew 18, the Scripture records a time when Jesus called a child to himself in order to teach a lesson about the nature of the kingdom. “Truly, I say to you,” he said to his disciples, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Part of what makes a profession of faith credible — whether of a child or adult — is that it is childlike. It is a faith that is humble, dependent, and ready to receive the Savior’s offered sacrifice. Looking back, I realize that I responded with this kind of faith in part because I was a child. I didn’t face the same spiritual hurdles or mental objections that I would eventually wrestle through as my faith matured. Instead, there was a purity and single-mindedness to my submission to Christ as my Savior.

But perhaps just as many people can offer up a similar testimony that doesn’t run as smoothly as mine does. What are we to make of professions of faith that eventually wither? More to the point, does child baptism lead to false assurance of salvation?

A faith that grows

Pastors are right to be concerned that some sitting in our pews have a false sense of assurance. But this often happens when our profession of faith and baptism are understood as ends in themselves, something to be checked off a list. If a confessing Christ is primarily about “getting saved” or “going to heaven when you die,” it shouldn’t surprise us when we see false professions among both children and adults alike. But in these cases, the source of the false profession is not rooted in the age of the individual so much as falsely framing the gospel as personal rehabilitation rather than a choice to come under the care and authority of King Jesus. 

But when a child or adult is taught that their profession of faith (and subsequent baptism) is the first step in a lifetime of submitting to Jesus, it reframes the question entirely. No longer is the focus on how old a child is when they come to faith in Christ; the focus now shifts to discipleship regardless of whether the individual is 5 or 35.

In this sense, the problem may not be childhood baptism, but a failure to disciple believers in every stage of life. Like our physical bodies, faith that is living must also be growing. And just like our bodies require proper care and sustenance, our faith does as well. Because here is the inescapable truth: The faith of a 5-year-old will have the same essential quality as the faith of a 35-year-old, but a 5-year-old’s faith must still develop into a 35-year-old’s faith.

I am not suggesting that a child can lose faith once implanted. I am suggesting that as we grow, our faith must grow with us, meeting new challenges and doubts with the timeless answers and promises of Scripture. That adult members of churches act in unregenerate ways may be the result of false childhood professions, but it might as easily be the result of a faith that is on life-support.

The risk of not baptizing

I am sympathetic to the concerns of serious-minded pastors and parents, but I wonder if there is another concern that they’re overlooking. If there are risks to baptizing children, are there risks to not baptizing children when they profess faith?

As much as baptism identifies the individual believer with Christ, it also identifies him or her with the body of Christ. In this sense, baptism brings newly regenerate members into community with other regenerate members. But what happens when we keep a professing child at arm’s length until we are convinced of their sincerity?

Children are not easily fooled. They will quickly recognize our cynicism and take it to heart. Some children will do everything they can to overcome our skepticism and please us. They will learn, among other things, that they must earn their inclusion into the household of God by performance. Still others will learn that the adults around them cannot be pleased — that nothing they do can convince us of their sincerity — and they’ll become discouraged. In the one case, we risk raising pagans and in the other, Pharisees.

It is entirely legitimate to want to see fruit from a child’s profession of faith before baptism, but we must ask ourselves exactly what would convince us? What good works must they perform and how long must they perform them until they are accepted by the body? After all, there is a profound difference between calling a child to obedience on the basis of their profession of faith and calling a child to obedience in order for their profession to be accepted.

First steps

Given all this, what are faithful pastors and parents to do?

First, honor and accept your child’s faith. While we should not pressure, coerce, or manipulate a profession from young children, we also shouldn’t be surprised when they respond in childlike trust to the Jesus we claim is so beautiful. As you teach and present Christ to them, do so believing that if he is lifted up, he will draw all people — including your children — to himself.

Second, if your child does make a profession of faith, recognize that they do not naturally know the next steps. Remember how limited a child’s scope of reference is. As parents, we are the ones introducing the world to them — whether it’s trying a new food, starting school, or understanding the ordinance of baptism. So when there is a baptismal service at church, talk with your children about what you’re doing together as a community, and explicitly tell them that this is symbol is available to them. Do not assume that your child knows this, especially if they’ve not seen other children baptized. You can say something as simple as, “The Bible teaches that those who want to love, follow, and obey Jesus will show this by being baptized. If that’s something you want to do, let me know and we can talk about it more. I will help you.”

The reality is that children face hurdles to baptism that have nothing to do with the validity of their faith or their desire to obey Jesus. But just as we’d never ask a child to sign themselves up for school when they are ready to learn, parents should feel the freedom to direct children to baptismal waters when they see signs of faith and repentance.

But finally and most importantly, recognize that when a child professes faith and is eventually baptized, their journey is only beginning. As my husband and I have explained it to our own children, this is the first step of a lifetime of walking with Jesus. 

Hannah Anderson

Hannah Anderson lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with her husband, Nathan, and their three children, ages 12-17. They have been married for 20 years and have spent much of that time in local church ministry in rural communities. Hannah is the author of multiple books including Humble … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24