This week, I am posting a forum with several Romanian Baptist pastors and theologians on the problem of “rebaptism” in the SBC. (Click here for information about the participants, and here for yesterday’s forum.)
Trevin Wax: How do you deal with children who repent and believe?
Corneliu Simut: Usually, we explain that it is better to wait until they are a little older to be baptized so that the church can see the evidence of their faith. Baptism does not save, and yet its place on the path of repentance is important. Children, generally, have no problem accepting this explanation and are fine with putting off baptism until they are a bit older. The problem is that many times, the parents are the ones pushing for their children to be baptized at fragile ages.
Marius Cruceru: We hold off baptism until we see greater maturity in a child. Usually, we wait until they are about 14 years old. In some cases (they are rare), we will baptize children under 14.
A child must be able to show a great level of maturity and a clear understanding of biblical teaching. They must also prove that they are very conscious of what they are doing. If the teenager is under 18, and if the parents are believers, we speak also with them to see if the change in their life is real.
Doru Hnatiuc: Children are encouraged to believe in Jesus. We teach them that they are saved through genuine faith in the Lord Jesus, and they must follow him in a life of obedience. Obedience involves prayer, Bible reading, participation in the life of the Church, witnessing to others, etc.
In this process of growth, some will “re-declare” their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord a few years later, after they have come to understand the moral implications of repentance and walking with the Lord through faith. Usually, they will say that they received the Lord at ages ranging from 15-20. They do not refer to their earlier years of prayer and Bible study in Sunday School.
Rarely, but occasionally, a teenager will place their conversion experience earlier in life. My personal testimony goes back to a conversion experience around the age of 8 or 9. I do not remember exactly what touched my heart and caused me to invite the Lord into my life, but I remember diving into the Scriptures with great zeal.
No one encouraged me then to be baptized, but I knew, just like other children my age who had grown up in the Baptist church, that I belonged to the Lord, that I was in Christ, and that he wanted me to put away sin and put on holiness, even if I did not understand the full moral implications of a life of holiness.
When I was 16, I expressed a desire to be baptized, and after a full year of catechesis, I was baptized. I considered myself “saved” beforehand and knew that if I were to die, I would be with the Lord, but I understood that baptism is an act for those who can understand the gravity of such testimony and its implications.
Up until around 1972-74, the Communist authorities did not give pastors the freedom to baptize people under 18. Because we affirmed that repentance is a personal decision on the part of a mature individual, the Communists forced the 18-year mark as the definition of “maturity.” Only then, at the age of 18 – by signing a personal request and by showing the authorities your identification (and thus assuming all the consequences that baptism would bring) – only then could a person be baptized.
In the mid 1970’s, the age of baptism was lowered because a group of 52 pastors signed a petition to Ceausescu in which they asked that state authorities no longer be involved in approving baptism.
Likewise, in that period of time, the Navigators and Campus Crusade began to encourage large-scale evangelism. They brought along the idea that conversion takes place in the very moment someone indicates any decision at all. They also strongly encouraged the evangelism of children. At that time, evangelistic invitations appeared in which people eventually got the idea that what matters is if you raise your hand, etc.
Trevin Wax: The Bible doesn’t specify a minimum age for baptism. On what grounds do you choose to refrain from baptizing young children?
Marius Cruceru: We base this decision on three factors: maturity, responsibility, and evidence of faith. Romans 14:12, 2 Peter 1:5, etc. show us that we must have knowledge for faith, correct understanding, maturity in our grasping of Christian truth (Romans 10).
Doru Hnatiuc: I think that we base this idea on the same basis for which we conclude that a child is not yet mature enough to vote, to marry, to be involved in sexual activity, to work, etc.
At our church business meetings, all members participate. Some of the discussions there deal with certain subjects that would be inappropriate for young children.
Are baptized children to be considered members with full rights? It’s hard to respond to that question with a simple “yes” or “no.” Can a child be a candidate as an elder? We would say “no.” Why? Simply because the child does not show the necessary maturity to make difficult decisions, debate certain problems, and is not yet responsible for certain actions.
It is true that the internet, the educational system, the decadence of society have all brought new problems: girls pregnant at 11, boys having sex at 13, early understanding of sexual activity, etc. Do these problems make children more mature, more responsible, or healthier psychologically, physically, and spiritually? Of course not. They remain children who are easily manipulated, easily directed toward error, children who prefer toys instead of work tools and have a still-unformed view of life.
Corneliu Simut: Baptism is the testimony of the believer who has chosen to testify before the church and the world his/her faith in Jesus Christ. Adults and children can do this; and yet we must not ignore the reality of sin.
People develop as persons throughout their teenage years. The distinction between a teenager and a child is not merely in the capacity to comprehend one’s faith, but also the capacity to understand the sinfulness of one’s life (in specific manifestations). A 7-year-old perceives his/her sin differently than a 16-year-old. This perception has repercussions in how we understand our faith and walk with God.