Baptism has been a key component of the Christian faith since Jesus Himself walked into the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. Jesus was baptized to set an example for us and to bring glory to His Father. We know from the Scriptures that God the Father was pleased with Jesus when He was baptized.
A major question that I am often asked in my work with young people is “when” a person should be baptized. A growing number of Americans have never been baptized at all. Obviously as those young people discover Christ, we joyfully baptize them.
But there is a whole other group of young adults who were baptized as infants or small children into some church that their parents or grandparents were connected to. While this was might have been a very meaningful moment for parents and grandparents, it seldom had much meaning to the person who was baptized as an infant or small child. It was their parent’s choice instead of their choice. It was a ritual instead of religious experience. It happened before they could remember it. It is also quite common for those who were baptized at a very young age to want to participate in a different kind of church when they are older. They often have feelings of great guilt about “changing churches” from the one they were baptized into as an infant. Sometimes parents or grandparents try to discourage a young person from changing churches or being re-baptized into a church that fits their religious views better. How do we respond to young people who express the desire to be re-baptized by their own choosing?
When we look into scriptures we do not see a single instance in which infants or small children were baptized at the request of their parents. There is one passage in Scripture where parents brought their children to Jesus to be blessed, and based on that it would be completely acceptable for parents to dedicate their children to God and ask God to bless them. But that is not the same thing as baptism.
In every example of Scripture in which baptism is mentioned, baptism was only for those who were old enough to make a conscious decision to repent of their sins and make a commitment to follow Christ. There is no set age in which baptism should happen, but we understand from Scripture that baptism should not happen until the person being baptized is old enough to make this decision for themselves. This is often sometime during the teenage or young adult years, though I have baptized adults as old as 80 years of age. Waiting until a person understands this decision and is ready to make it for themselves is the only biblical time frame for baptism.
Many churches have baptism rituals that they have created through their own church traditions. While I respect all churches and do not want to stand in judgment of any of them, the reality is that Scripture is clear on this issue. If church traditions conflict with Scripture, then we really have no choice but to follow the Scripture instead of the church traditions.
If you have a teenage or young adult child or grandchild and they express interest in being baptized, please encourage them to follow through on this important spiritual experience. Even if you had them baptized when they were an infant or small child, don’t discourage them from making their own choice to be baptized. This is a very special moment in their lives and they deserve encouragement and support, not discouragement and judgment.