A number of years ago I attempted to baptize a five-year-old. Big mistake. Big. The parents, though zealous for their son to follow Christ (which I appreciated) underestimated his ability to “get” what baptism really meant (which I failed to stand up for).
That won’t happen again.
Attempting to baptize this young man turned into something of a fiasco. And unfortunately it was a fiasco that EVERYONE could see, since it happened in our elevated baptistery. We took everything into account but one: How do you make a five-year-old enter the water when he doesn’t want to? Oh, I could have manhandled him and picked him up. I was five or six times his size and weight. So then what? Carry a screaming child into the water and dunk him beneath it with the church looking on?
So, we let him win. But actually, we all won. That child was too close for comfort to being an infant, and very likely far too young to have trusted Christ or to have need to do so. Certainly he could not understand the implication of baptism. And besides all that, we don’t do infant baptism…
According to seminary president Jason Allen, we do something worse. In recent demographics studying the Southern Baptist Convention, our baptisms (translate that “growth” statistics) were slipping in every area, every age demographic…but one. Can you guess which one?
Five and below.
I studied with a seminary professor named Findley Edge who was a stalwart advocate for a regenerate church membership, meaning, let’s make sure the person has really become a follower of Christ before we baptize them. He believed that a person shouldn’t be baptized until they were at least 13! Now while I disagreed with my respected prof, I think he was trying to correct what has become a real problem for our Southern Baptist tribe. We reject infant baptism (credo-baptism for you budding theologians out there). We reject the denominational positions that would practice such a thing. But what we are doing in baptizing children without instructing and ascertaining the truth of their conversion to genuine, life-transforming faith in Christ is nothing short of sacrilege. And ultimately, it is a fatal error for our church and mission to place in membership and, ultimately, into leadership those who have never known true faith in Christ.
It is wrong, we believe, to baptize an infant inferring that one day they will become a Christian. It is far worse, Dr. Allen contends, to baptize a child believing they HAVE become one. This is a much needed word, and a needed corrective for churches in our day, Baptist or otherwise. I can only speak to my tribe. And what I need to say loudly and clearly is….
This must stop.