Thinking Out Loud

February 25, 2011

Believer’s Baptism: How Young is Too Young?

She couldn’t be seen over the rail of the baptismal tank. Despite having a clear line of sight, the best we could do is listen to the audio as the pastor explained that at nine-years-old, she was the youngest person ever baptized in that church, and was doing so only after a great deal of discussion with her, her parents, and the pastoral staff.

I couldn’t help but think she was too young…

I was thirteen when I was baptized in the Peoples Church in Toronto by Dr. Paul B. Smith, the son of iconic missionary statesman Oswald J. Smith. It was a Wednesday night, but most of the 2,200 seats in the auditorium were filled. I was given a number. There were over 100 people baptized that night and it was done alphabetically. I think I was 119.  We each filed through the platform and gave a 30-second testimony. Then the actual baptisms started.

There’s no way the pastor knew everyone he baptized that night. So as we entered the water a small name tag was pinned to our inner sleeve.  Then it was over.

I was glad it was over. I wanted to get it over. I was baptized out of guilt.

For some reason, I felt that I had completed all my obligations to the church and to God once I had had “accepted” Jesus as “my personal Savior.” So when a traveling Evangelist rolled in when I was eleven and gave several invitations for people to, as he said it with his accent, be ‘bap-i-tized,’ I suddenly realized I was spiritually incomplete, and thereby spiritually inferior.

With the baptisms conducted on weeknights, I didn’t get the exposure to it that those growing up in other churches did, growing up where a baptism could occur in the context of any particular Sunday service. As the evangelist asked people to raise their hands if they’d never been baptized as believers, I raised my hand, but when he asked how many of those would like to commit to being baptized, I cowered into something best described as a sitting fetal position.

My parents wisely decided that I should postpone this important event for at least a year, but I spent the better part of church services in what turned out to be about two years — especially when the invitation was given, as it was every Sunday night — feeling like a prisoner who is about to be taken out to be shot. Guilt is not a great motivator for spiritual decision making.

To compound things, I have a gift with words and with speaking, so when it did happen a couple of years later, my 30-second soundbite so impressed the leadership that I was asked to give a much longer testimony in Sunday School a few weeks later.

I spoke well. My spirituality was firmly established in the minds of the people who mattered. I was a rising spiritual superstar.

But I was only thirteen.

In hindsight, eighteen would have been the perfect time for me to be baptized. At that point, I wasn’t just capable of giving a testimony, but I was inching toward living a testimony; and not just before the church crowd but at a very secular university. I was choosing my friends and my activities on the basis of my faith, and was going public with my beliefs in a much larger way than many.

Between thirteen and eighteen, a few things happened to indicate that I was not quite established on the spiritual trajectory where I now find myself. Looking back, I wish I could have been baptized at twenty-one, or thirty-one, or even last week. It’s one of those, “If only I knew then what I know now” situations. But for me, waiting until after high-school graduation would have been most meaningful.

So how young is too young?

…Things worked out for the nine-year-old baptismal candidate. She married a youth pastor and they have a couple of kids and are faithfully serving the Lord. But what about the rest?

I really wanted to be part of the discussion of this at Kingdom People last week, but as mentioned yesterday, thanks to an impersonator, I’m now blocked from commenting at all my favorite sites.  Be sure to read his very brief article and the comments which follow.

I recognize some of you have a ‘sacramental’ view of Baptism and some have view it as an ‘ordinance.’  I also realize some of you believe that infant baptism is sufficient, though the New Testament appears not to support this.

What are your thoughts on this?  Does your church mandate a specific age? Leave a comment, and then in a few days, we’ll look at the parallel issue: Younger children partaking of Communion, aka Eucharist, aka Lord’s supper.

Like birth, baptism means life. It is done once, yet it is for all of our life….we need to discover ways to communicate baptismal living. If I say, “I was married,” you will likely assume that my wife has died or I am divorced. But if I say, “I am married,” you will assume I have a wife and that on a certain date I was married and still am. Although it is true and essential to say I was baptized, it is also necessary to assert, “I am baptized.”

~Thomas H. Schattauer

The first picture, of the Mormon Baptism is apparently everyone’s default child baptism pic. If you’ve seen it one website, you’ve probably seen it on fifty. The second picture is from a Baptist Church. The third one may be taking in place in potentially chilly waters in British Columbia, Canada.

Related post at this blog: The Lord’s Table: How Young is Too Young?

Only marginally related story if you need a smile!

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3 Comments »

  1. I find nowhere in Scripture to suggest an age for baptism, except for the essential that it is believer’s baptism – that is, that only ones who have been adopted into the family of God are to be baptised.

    Since no one can say with certainty that anyone is a Christian – other than the person and God – how can we set an age?

    I personally believe a child is too young and prefer to see someone wait until at least mid-late teens.

    I know of one young man who was about 12 at the time he asked for baptism. He was quizzed at length by the pastor who couldn’t fault the boy’s understanding and he was baptised. Knowing the pastor, I am sure he was thorough and accurate in his counselling. That boy was plunged into despair because he had expected a dove to rest on his head and to hear God speaking (even though he had witnessed other baptisms and not seen that) The boy went downhill spiritually after that.

    I must also add that I have known children to be baptised and they have gone on to be sincere Christian workers who love the Lord.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — February 25, 2011 @ 10:35 pm

  2. I was baptized at 12 in the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Although I remember feeling the seriousness of it, I also feel as if I had not grasped the depth. Recently I had the joy of attending a baptismal service for three adults that I had led through a discipleship class. As I looked at their faces and heard their words, I found myself wishing that I had been just a little more mature (age and Christian walk)when I was plunged beneath the waves. But even with that, I had understood that my baptism was a life altering event. I continued on to a life in ministry and a committed walk with Christ. I cannot think of a way to set an age for baptism though. As the previous comment stated, the Bible doesn’t make the suggestion

    Comment by Cynthia — February 26, 2011 @ 1:55 am

  3. [...] describes the situation I saw firsthand last Sunday.  As with yesterday’s piece here — Baptism: How Young is Too Young? — I think we are rushing our children to have ‘done’ certain things that perhaps [...]

    Pingback by The Lord’s Table: How Young is Too Young? « Thinking Out Loud — February 26, 2011 @ 11:08 am


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