One of the most common questions parents and kids leaders ask is whether or not a kid is ready to be baptized. In this post, three ways to answer this question will be explored.
How do we know when a child is ready to be baptized? This is a difficult question for many parents, kids leaders, and pastors, one that we all want to get right. How we answer this, though, hinges on our doctrine of baptism. If we don’t have a clear view of that doctrine, then this question will be incredibly difficult to answer. But once we determine that doctrine, the right question to ask to determine if a child is ready to be baptized comes into clearer focus.
What follows is three views of baptism—all coming from the presupposition that baptism is not an act of salvation, but rather an act of obedience done by believers. These views, then, are distinguished from each other by the precise role that baptism is understood to play in affirming a person’s salvation. For simplicity, I will call them delayed, quick, and immediate baptisms, defining them by when baptism is best believed to occur. We will interact with them from most complex to least complex.
Question to ask: Has there been any fruit of faith? This view stresses the importance of believer’s baptism and seeks to safeguard it as much as possible. The thinking is that a child does not need to be baptized to be saved, so a delay between a confession of faith (such as raising a hand or walking forward in a worship gathering) is not harmful. However, what is often harmful is when children who have not genuinely placed faith in Jesus are baptized, giving them the false notion that they are good with God.
This understanding of baptism then produces a goal of seeing evidence of salvation in a child before he or she is baptized. The hope is that if the child one day in the future questions his or her salvation, parents and leaders can point to a public confession of faith and evidence of conversion to affirm his or her salvation as best as possible.
The question then becomes what sort of fruit is to be seen and how much fruit is sufficient? The latter question depends on how long the delay between confession of faith and baptism is. The longer the time, the more fruit might be needed. Spiritual maturity generally occurs in ebbs and flows, but over time, marked progress should be seen. The former question usually draws parents and leaders to look for the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) as well as a deeper desire and practice of the spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading and prayer. Some parents and leaders also abstain from talking about baptism during this delayed period to see how much the child mentions it—a possible sign of a true desire to obey God.
Baptism in this view, therefore, is a critical marker in verifying a person’s salvation.
Question to ask: Has there been a confession of faith? Like Delayed Baptism, this view also stresses the importance of protecting believer’s baptism, but it is not as rigid in requiring to see fruit before baptizing. Rather, this view looks for a confession of faith (again, such as raising a hand or walking forward in a worship gathering) which is usually followed by an interview with the child before he or she would be considered for baptism.
During this interview, the goal is to identify an understanding of salvation in a child before he or she is baptized. Generally, the parent, leader, or pastor will seek to hear the child articulate the gospel, without coaching, and also to hear the child’s personal assent to the gospel—an awareness of sin, repentance of sin, recognition of who Jesus is and what He did on the cross, and a decision to trust in Jesus. If the child seems to have an appropriate understanding of the gospel, he or she is baptized soon after.
Baptism in this view, therefore, is an important marker in affirming a person’s salvation.
Question to ask: Has there been a profession of faith? Like Delayed and Quick Baptism, Immediate Baptism also affirms believer’s baptism; however, this view doesn’t see baptism as following a confession of faith, but as that confession of faith. In other words, faith is not confessed in a raised hand or by walking to the front of a worship gathering, but rather in baptism itself. A person professes faith in Christ and confesses that faith in Christ in baptism. The two are tied closely together, more than in the Quick Baptism view and much more than in the Delayed Baptism view.
Proponents of this view would answer a future question of a person’s salvation by pointing him or her to baptism. Baptism is held up as the time when a person took a public stand to associate with Christ and His church. That in itself is evidence of salvation. (This association is seen more clearly in the New Testament when being a follower of Christ was risky, as well as in places of the world today where persecution exists. Being baptized in that context is not taken lightly, adding weight to the act.) Those who hold this view, then, would baptize anyone who professes belief in Jesus and desires to be baptized. A brief interview may occur right before the baptism, or the questions asked of the baptism candidate in the baptism waters just before baptism would serve as such an interview affirming belief in Jesus prior to the baptism.
Baptism in this view, therefore, is an important marker in affirming a person’s profession of faith.
Brian Dembowczyk is the managing editor for The Gospel Project. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to Lifeway. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.