Suffer Little Children…


Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
—Matthew 19:13-14 KJV

Earlier this week I posted a More Cowbell Award , handing out "The Award No One Wants to Win" to children's Christian education programs (including Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Christian summer camps). That Stained Glass of Jesus Blessing Childrenparticular post generated more comments than any other More Cowbell Award I've given out. When it comes to educating the next generation of Christians, plenty of opinions exist.

I suspect even more opinions exist about the nature of children and salvation.

My son is nearing six years old. He's quite intelligent, loves God, enjoys church, spontaneously prays for others and for his own needs, and has a decent knowledge of the general truths of the Bible for his age. He continually surprises me with his questions about God, and surprises me even more with some of his answers. He'll always answer positively when asked if he believes in Jesus.

But is he saved?

For most of my adult life, I've leaned toward credobaptism. I was baptized as an infant in the Lutheran Church, but grew convinced of the need as an adult to show my own faithfulness toward God by being baptized as a confessing adult. (I kept this secret for many years from my parents. My brother felt the same as I did, got baptized, and told my folks, bringing lots of grief down on him and them.)

Later on, I worked in ministry to children and grew increasingly distressed about the issue of whether or not a child under ten understood the Gospel well enough to be justified. Probing kids for any information that might shed light on their eternal status yielded few results. Kids are such natural mimics that it's hard to discern whether they truly believe or are just mimicking what they know adults like to hear.

Kids don't make it any easier when it comes to the fruit of genuine Christian belief. Kids whose parents adamantly claim are rock-solid, baptized kiddie believers can be as rotten as those kids whose parents make no such claims. If a kid shares his milk and cookies with his friends and can rattle off a few memorized Bible verses are those actions proof of a genuine conversion?

For adults, the issue isn't always clear, but it's still far easier to discern. The dope fiend in gothic drag who comes to Christ and then goes on the mission field—that's an easy one. But truthfully, as long as I've worked with kids under ten, I'm not sure what an honest-to-goodness conversion looks like in a young child.  And I don't think I'm the only one.

This whole sticky wicket poses enormous theological problems. A quick scan of the great Christians poised in every possible corner on this issue makes a less diligent believer like me feel extraordinarily uneasy.

Our inability to come to any unified answer on the topic of the justification of children clearly shows in our split on credobaptism (baptizing confessing believers) and paedobaptism (baptizing children, though without a profession of their own personal faith in Christ.) While I don't believe in regenerative baptism—and most Protestant's don't if they truly hold to the truth that justification is by faith alone in Christ—it's still clear that Jesus put an extremely high mandate on baptism:

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
—John 3:5 ESV 

Obviously, one can go too far with this, though. I once had a friend whose boyfriend got mixed up in the Boston Church of Christ movement. That group believed in regenerative baptism. After he'd made a profession of faith, there was a delay in getting him baptized, and he basically locked himself up in his room until that day, afraid he'd be killed accidentally before he got baptized.

We read that and shake our heads, but if we extend the baptism beliefs of many Christians out to their logical ends, some relatively normal denominations pretty much believe the same thing—or else have to do a lot of intellectual shimmying to make their beliefs fit. I wrote a piece last year that talked about this issue after Steve Camp wrote a blistering predestination piece that pretty much came right out and said that the infant who dies in childbirth is predestined to hell. I don't know about you, but as a parent it's pretty hard to take to think that any child of mine that might have died in childbirth went straight to hell because God predestined him/her to die in childbirth. That seems a rather strict limit on God's mercy and any covenants He makes with believing parents.

Whether you're a credobaptist or paedobaptist, the questions remain:

  • What constitutes a genuine conversion in a child? And isn't it only by being converted that we are saved?
  • How do we know a child truly believes and isn't just repeating what he or she heard in Sunday School (or is mouthing what receives the most attention and adoration from Mommy and Daddy)?
  • Is there a covenantal aspect in the faith of believing Christian parents that ensures God's mercy and grace upon their children, whether baptized or not, believing or not?
  • For paedobaptists: If we're truly saved by faith alone, what good is baptizing an unbelieving child? And doesn't your baptizing of that child before a profession of faith only later lead to a false confidence in that child for his/her salvation? And what about the murky area of being "rebaptized" after a full confession of faith?
  • For credobaptists: How confident are you in credobaptism that you would risk letting your children die unbaptized?

It doesn't give me much comfort that so many good Christian sources are split on this. I noted earlier this week that highlighted the split, with solid theologians occupying both sides of the baptism argument. Ironically, most Arminians are credobaptists, so you would think the Calvinist monergists would be 100% in opposition, falling completely into the paedobaptist position. But even Jonathan Edwards was conflicted on this issue, baptizing infants but giving that baptism no efficacy for salvation. (What's the point then, Jonathan?)

Apart from the issue of baptism, Jonathan Edwards presents another unusual case that takes us back to our original question of the salvation of children: he states he was converted at four (or was it his wife—I can never remember). I talked to a member of my wife's family who told me last week that his kids were converted at that age. Honestly, I don't know how anyone can tell that for certain in a child that young, and if one can't (and happens to be a credobaptist), I'm not sure that baptizing them is a wise move.

In the end, this issue troubles me greatly. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's bothered by it, though.

You can't go to the great Christians on this issue because so many diverge on their opinions on baptism. Others fail to give any standards for judging if a child is saved or not. And like I said in my post from two days ago, what do we do when the pantheon of Christian greats can't answer the question?  I certainly don't want to trust the opinion of a man on this one, either, if salvation is truly on the line.

If we go to the Bible, we can find plenty of verses that go either way on baptism, so I dunno. And as to telling when a child is saved or not, well, the age of accountability doesn't exist in the pages of the Word, nor is there a truly solid "age-related" guide for discerning whether a child is genuinely espousing the faith or just trying to win "mommy points."

Other ideas have problems, too. If we are to receive the Kingdom as a child does, is this implying that children are already in and they can only fall out? So much for original sin. And if Jesus readily healed children in the course of His ministry, why would He do so if those kids would only grow up to either forget Him or reject Him? What's the point of healing people who are only destined for hell? And what of the perseverance of the saints if a child comes to Christ innocently in their young childhood, then completely rejects Him in adulthood? How many people can each of us name who did exactly that?

I get (wrongly) accused of being a blogging Christian know-it-all, but I'll be honest: this issue has me stumped. If there was ever a topic that I wish the Bible was more explicit on, it's this one.

40 thoughts on “Suffer Little Children…

  1. Good post Dan, and timely, as I’ve just baptized the second of my five children this past weekend. = ) My wife and I always struggle a bit with figuring out how to “test” a young child’s salvation before we move ahead with the step of baptism. Although I don’t know that there’s an adequate test for salvation (for any age), there are a few basics that we review with them to get a sense of where they are. In our case, we’ve always felt like we could see the Spirit at work in their lives and have been comfortable with the idea of moving forward with baptism.

    By the way… I heard a story recently that had a ring of truth to it. Maybe it’ll ring with you as well. (?)

    A young boy was asked by his father how he knew that he was saved. The boy answered “Jesus knocked on the door to my heart and asked him to come in.” The father responded, “And how do you know that he did?” The child answered simply, “Well He said he would… Didn’t he?” = )

    Young, old, new, experienced… It’s always a walk and never just a destination. I’ve decided that if they profess it out loud, then I just have to assume that they’ve believed it in their heart. Our role in this baptism thing is to acknowledge the public display and come along side them to teach, rebuke, correct, and train them. If there are some missing pieces… God will work them out.

    After all, which of us can REALLY claim to have a complete handle on what exactly it all means? We have some vague ideas, expressed in earthly terms but — in the big picture — we’re all at about a 3rd grade level in this thing. = )

    • Jamin,

      The only problem with your story of the little boy is that “asking Jesus into my heart” is never listed as part of the process by which one is saved. If that’s someone answer for “Are you saved?”, I’d seriously have to question whether that person got the whole story and actually has saving faith.

      In fact, your example is one of the serious issues we need to come to grips with when we deal with educating young children in the faith.

      • Just a quick point of clarification… The boy didn’t “ask Jesus into his heart” — he heard Jesus “knock”, and responded to that call. By the way, the language used is taken (as I’m sure you know) from Rev 3:20:

        “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

        Sure, there’s more to undersand and definitely more to do but…

        Romans 10:9-10
        “If you confess with your mouth and belive in your heart that God raised him from the dead… you will be savid. For it is with the heart that you belive and are justified and it is with the mouth that you confess and are saved.”

        • Francisco

          Dear Jamin,
          Weren’t Rev. 3:20 Jesus’ words to a church? Yes, it was written to Laodicea. Should we excuse the little boy for poor exegesis? Actually that poor exegesis is perpetuated in many evangelistic manuals. I believe the other scripture you gave addresses with the issue clearly but in Rom 10:9-10 there is no mention of “doors”…

  2. I once thought as Steve Camp did, and argued just as vigorously (and more obnoxiously) for that very position. Since then, two things in my life have changed.

    1) I have come to appreciate the *relational* aspects of faith and the Gospel as opposed to focusing solely on the *rational*. Faith is not dependent on *how much you know* about your Savior, but *knowing that Savior*. And yes, you have to know the *right things* about the Savior, but come on, how much did the Apostles really KNOW about Him, even as they walked with Him?

    And therefore, cannot children know people?

    2) I started hanging around kids more. Watching my rector’s kids (and my other “nieces and nephews” being born and grow, I became amazed – *shocked*, even – about how *human* little children are, even infants. They have personalities, they can communicate, they relate. Just because they cannot give a systematic formulation of the Reformation forumulas, does that bar them from being related to God?

    3) I began to understand the *communal* aspects of being in the Body. Being a child of the Enlightenment, I saw my relationship with God purely from the “atomic” individual standpoint. And my spiritual performance as an individual sucks. But as I have moved towards Anglicanism at my local church, I have seen the nurturing effects of living as a *Body*. If worship and service are *corporate* as well as individual, does that not leave a wider space for the participation of those who are less able to “stand on their own two feet” – such as children?

    The upshot of all this was that, while my old arguments for the barring of intellectually undeveloped children from saving faith were (to my mind) supremely logical, they were only that. Logical. And heartless. So I now leave a little more room for the “little ones to come to Him”.

    • Doug,

      The “communal aspect” has indeed been watered down to nothing in most American Churches. We’ve totally lost what it means to be a corporate worshipping body. It’s always Christ in me, not Christ in us—and that’s a shame.

      The communal aspect, though, almost by definition, requires a paedobaptist position. Yet even in those churches, paedocommunion is verboten. I’ve never understood that random distinction.

      • “Random distinction”? Dan! At least allow a chance to answer before ya beg the question, guy! Does the Bible nice and plainly say that people should examine themselves before communion? Yep. A very young person may not have the mental faculties to undertake a meaningful self-examination. Now don’t get me started on whether the adults bother to do the meaningful self-examination, but that’s the reason for the distinction. As for the rest of this, I feel some posts coming on …

        Take care & God bless

        • Anne,

          A whole lot more examination needs to be done before baptism than before communion. Yet paedobaptists are willing to forgo the former while insisting on the latter. That seems a bit arbitrary a distinction on the part of paedobaptists. If the child’s too young to make a self-examination before communion, then what’s the logical conclusion about the position of paedobaptism?

          If paedobaptists are willing to say that the child’s confession is not important at the point of baptism, why make a big deal of it at communion? Just commune the child and maintain a consistency in principle.

  3. Philippaadult

    Wow. Dan, you seem to be reading my mind! 🙂 Long and rather rambly post coming up: I’m not sure what an honest-to-goodness conversion looks like in a young child.

    Dan, perhaps we should be asking instead what an honest-to-goodness conversion looks like in an adult. Is a young child a lesser citizen in the kingdom of heaven???? Jesus didn’t think so:

    “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. Matthew 19: 14

    Why is there this assumption in evangelical circles that only mentally competent, intellectually able persons are fit to fully receive and believe the gospel? I mean, that is what we really believe, deep down, and our evangelistic methodologies betray that assumption. How do we measure salvation in others? Because they are doctrinally sound? Because their life bears out the reality of what they believe? Because we can SEE how much they love God?

    I’ve known a few very rare souls who positively breathe out the fragrance of Jesus … in most other Christians, including myself, I see human fallibility writ large. I also see grace in their lives, of course – God’s.

    But what of the man who praises God loudly on Sundays and then goes home and beats up his wife? Here is someone whose actions grossly contradict what he professes to believe. (Matthew 7: 20, James 2: 14-26). How can this man claim to know grace? And yet all of us are capable of grievous sin, even those who have followed Jesus (apparently) for years. I’ve known professing Christian husbands who were so steeped in secret sexual sin that they wrecked their marriages through their foolish, cruel, destructive behaviour.

    How then, can any of us be sure that we are saved? Professing Christians can absorb the Christian culture in which they are immersed, but their hearts can remain completely untouched.

    “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith †“ and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God †“ not by works, so that no-one can boast. Ephesians 2: 8, NIV

    Re: baptism, personally I favour credobaptism over paedobaptism. But I certainly don’t regard paedobaptists as heretics: most of the church has been paedobaptist in her long history, and paedobaptists can produce as much biblical support for their position as I can for mine. I do not regard baptism as †˜fire insurance’, any more than I regard salvation by faith alone as mere †˜fire insurance’. Baptism is a command from Jesus and we should obey it. It’s a sign of our covenant relationship with God and a symbol of our new life in Christ.

    I read Steve Camp’s article and it made me go †˜woaaah’. Nothing like †˜double predestination’ to make us Arminians start frothing at the mouth, eh?. 😉 (Am I right in assuming that Calvin himself never taught double predestination and this is a doctrine that was developed later on?) I do believe that God is completely sovereign (how could He be God otherwise?!) but for me His sovereign will is more wrapped up in mystery than the Calvinist system seems to allow for.

    The fact that Scripture is (almost) silent on the subject of children’s salvation indicates to me that there is complexity and mystery here. How can we possibly understand everything about God, and how He draws men, women and children to Himself? And yet …He has told us enough in His word for us to go on. The gospel is wonderfully simple. Simple enough for little ones.

    When I was nine years old, at a children’s summer Bible class, I read Matthew 5: 3 in the Good News version: “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! It was like the Holy Spirit jolted a bolt of electricity through me. I knew I was spiritually poor. Oh, how badly I wanted to be good! I ached to be good with the goodness that only Jesus can give.

    Jesus receives the little children, Dan. He called me when I was nine years old. He kept on calling me when I turned deaf to His voice in my sullen teenage years. I own with a heavy heart that many times in my Christian journey I have strayed from the path and NOT been the pilgrim I ought to have been. I, too, have committed grievous sin. But He keeps on calling me, and I trust Him to keep me safe to the end.

    • Philippa, The Bible says that people can know that they are saved by the testimony of the Holy Spirit. We have to believe that to be true.

      The problem with little kids, though, is that they will often say anything they feel will get our approval, even if they don’t truly believe it. And let’s face it, the kinds of Christian questions we ask little kids are ASTOUNDINGLY leading. A kid sitting in a Sunday School class surrounded by posters of Jesus and a whole host of peers is not going to keep her hand down when the teacher asks, “Raise your hand if you believe Jesus is God and died to save you.” But a deeper discussion of that with the same child alone reveals no comprehension of what that means. The upshot is the teacher’s praise on that answer reinforces a belief in that child that doesn’t actually exist.

      I believe this is one reason why we lose so many kids in their teen years. We kept on telling them they were saved because they gave us the right answers to our questions, but there was never a personal connection to Christ in their lives. They were Christians culturally, but not personally.

      • Francisco

        Wow, that was a nail-on-the-head answer. I was struck by this: “…when the teacher asks, “Raise your hand if you believe Jesus is God and died to save you”..”
        1. I have not been in children’s ministry but once as a sunday school teacher assistant.
        2. Is the teacher responsability to ask such question? or is the responsability of the parents of that child?
        3. Well, I guess the very question might me off…
        I believer more emphasis in prayer should be given here…my two cents

      • How would the idea of ignorance (or immaturity) prohibiting true conversion be applied to mental retardation? Are you still comfortable stating that salvation requires correct exegesis or knowledge or are belief and confession enough in that case?

  4. All who believe in Christ have eternal life… or they don’t. One or the other. When a human being, regardless of age, makes a CONSCIOUS committment to Christ, they are SAVED – or they are not. Does a 10-year old make the same committment that a 45-year old makes? I think the answer is “Yes” – even though, the 45 year old may be able to get a bit of a jump start on Kingdom issues simply because of their intellect. Still, the committment is no different. My youngest son made a committment to Christ that is 100% rock solid. It is OBVIOUS by his actions, his lanugage, his passion for Chrsit. I don’t need to determine IF he REALLY is committed to Christ or not – because His salvation is not MY responsibility. Teaching him the things of the Kingdom IS my responsibility – but his actual salvation is between him and his Lord, Jesus Christ.

    What’s funny is – the same “proofs” must be in place for people of ALL ages… can we REALLY SEE the fruit of the Spirit in a believer’s life? If so, then I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about it. Might be better to check out any logs that might be in our own eyes before making the leap to “test” if those around us are “really” saved…

    • Does a 10-year old make the same committment that a 45-year old makes? I think the answer is “Yes – even though, the 45 year old may be able to get a bit of a jump start on Kingdom issues simply because of their intellect. Still, the committment is no different.


      Let’s take it younger. What does a four year old’s commitment look like? Ten is my cut-off and I’ve got a better handle on that—I think most of us do. But how about that truly young child?

      As to fruit, seeing fruit is one of the proofs of salvation according to the Scriptures. By their fruits you shall know them, right? Again, does sharing milk and cookies with another child make a child a Christian? No way.

      BTW, how old was your son when he made that commitment?

  5. Great thoughts, Dan, and very good questions. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know that lately I have been doing a lot of thinking about salvation as a state of being, not as a particular one-time act.

    It seems to me that these questions become more troublesome when we equate salvation with a particular point in time where we prayed a particular prayer, or at least verbally confessed a particular truth.

    If we view salvation as a state of being wherein we are putting our faith and trust solely in the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, then the questions change a little. Instead of “Did they truly get saved at such an early age?”, the question becomes, “Are they living a life that reflects a faith and trust in Jesus?”

    It is my feeling that the word “believe” as is often used in our English Bibles became unfortunately associated with the idea of rational, mental assent. However, the word “believe” used so often is related to the same word translated as “faith”.

    At least for me, that’s a significant difference in understanding the whole thing we call “salvation” or “getting saved”.

    On another note, you asked the question, What’s the point of healing people who are only destined for hell?

    I’m not sure I understand the point of that question. Do we know (or even assume) that every single person Jesus healed ended up getting saved and is now in heaven? I thought the Gospels indicate that many who received miracles ended up leaving Jesus later on. Or did I get that confused in my mind?

    steve 🙂

    • Steve,

      You bring up a good point about process. But nearly all Protestants reject the idea that salvation itself is a process. Sanctification, yes, but justification, no. Truthfully, “process salvation” is a far more Catholic idea than a Protestant one. The idea of “process salvation” is one I struggle with a lot.

      Your point about faith is also a tough one. My son spontaneously prays all the time, and I believe he’s doing it “faithfully.” However, the majority of those prayers are selfish. I don’t see saving faith as being selfish. In fact, saving faith as defined in the Bible results in an abandoning of self-centered ideals and becomes others-centered. And that’s not just a test for kids, either. Far too many adults who profess to be Christians fail that test of self-less faith, too.

      I could probably count on one hand the number of self-less kids under the age of ten that I’ve met in the course of ministry. What of all the others? Yes, we all have to start somewhere, but my own experience has been that truly converted people often start out their Christian walk extremely concerned for others, but grow less so over time. If a kid doesn’t start off that way after supposedly being converted, then were they?

      • Francisco

        did you ever try reading your favorite book with your son? Of course knowing about God is not the same as knowing God but most of times the first leads to the latter. I am not a child but when we begin to have a high view on God we are more aware of His holiness and how low we are with all our garbage of sinfulness. Then God’s grace makes so much sense to the sinner!

  6. Interestingly, I would not actually use the concept of “process salvation”. When I talked about a “state of being” saved, I didn’t mean “being” as in “becoming”. What I meant is a particular condition in the present, rather than just pointing to a time in the past.

    In other words, Jesus talked about abiding, or remaining, in Him. Scripture also uses phrases such as “hold fast” “continue in”, etc. with regard to our position in Christ. I see that, not as a process of salvation, nor as a point-in-time “conversion” (although arguably, it starts with that).

    Growing up, I was raised in the type of Christian environment that stressed knowing the date of your “salvation”. It was always emphasized that if you didn’t know the date you were saved, you had reason to doubt that you were actually saved, and therefore you needed to “get saved” right then and there.

    What was interesting is that I did know the date I had gone forward at the invitation call, but now, 32 years later, I question whether I really was saved for most of my childhood and teen years. I said all the right things, and even did a lot of the right things, including pastoring for several years, but was my faith and trust in Jesus? I seriously doubt it. I am certain now, though, of my position in Christ because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit within me. And that certainty has been a part of my life now for about 6 years.

    steve 🙂

      • Quite possibly so, Dan! 😉 Mostly because Scripture gives us ways of having assurance for ourselves, but doesn’t give us those same kinds of assurances about others. All we have with others is fruit, and from what you have described, if a child is living/behaving selfishly, that is not fruit of the Spirit of God.

        I have known some children who truly showed a lack of selfish motivation, and I have no problem viewing that child as saved. But just because one “prays a prayer” or “asks Jesus into their heart” doesn’t mean anything biblically speaking.

        steve 🙂

  7. I’m going to be a bit of a strange poster I suppose. See, I’m a paedobaptist, but my husband (and wonderful head!) is a credobaptist LOL. To be entirely honest, I think they can exist side by side – they do with us! Now, I’ve already consciously decided to make sure I follow my husband, meaning our children won’t be baptized as infants (as much as I would like it).

    I didn’t grow up paedobaptist and in fact, was credobaptist up until college. I was emmersed at the age of 10, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have some knowledge of Jesus. I can totally see someone being converted at the age of 4.

    Okay, first, why I’m a paedobaptist. Without getting into the really LONG drawn out discussion, basically I see it as a sign of the covenant like circumcision. Not all who are of Israel are Israel. Not all who are baptized Christians are Christian. I could argue there are just as many false believers being baptized as there are babies who won’t be regenerated. In the PCA church it’s supposed to be an outward sign that encourages an inward change (a witness, not regeneration) whereas a believer’s baptism, there is an inward change and the baptism is the outward profession of faith. As a parent, I would be saying that I am carrying out the command of Christ as a Christian parent because this child is my responsibility. If the child grows up and rejects his or her baptism (and prayerfully this does not happen) then that’s between them and God.

    :: shrugs :: But I don’t think it’s THAT big of a deal. My husband would rather have our future children profess and then be baptized. I’m okay with that because Scripture is ambiguous. Just like it doesn’t tell us how to arrange our worship services, maybe this is a bit of grace so what we may different and yet united in the Lord. I would love to see a church where people didn’t feel like if one person was on the otherside they were “wrong”.

    As for telling whether or not a child is regenerate… I would just trust God. Continue to raise the child in the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and pray repeatedly for the child’s continued path on the straight and narrow. I would say you can’t even tell that well with believers (sometimes you can say, YEAH they are saved, but saying they aren’t is a very, very different story). People go through hard bumps and sometimes they’re holding on barely. In that state maybe they aren’t memorizing as much Scripture or talking about God as much. Maybe their faith is small and tiny and they need encouragement.

    We can’t see the heart. So we trust God. If a child professes to understand Christ at four, why should be deny him or her? What message does that send to the child who desires baptism? That they have to continually prove their faith to everyone in order to be validated? If they claim it, why not teach that love trusts? Trust God. Let them carry out the command of baptism.

    As for re-baptism. I don’t really agree with that (there’s the sticky part of coming out of an apostate church, but I’m not even sure about that). Perhaps the command being carried out before was God’s providence that the command would be carried out. If you were born and baptized and then later one came to repetance, I would say that it was exactly as the PCA meant it to be, an outward sign that hoped for inward change. And I say you mean the same thing with a four year old’s baptism or a 30 year old’s baptism.

    Those are my thoughts anyway and in the end, everyone has to wrestle with their own conscience. 🙂

  8. Mr. Edelen,

    I tried to read your post all the way through, but always got lost among the paedobaptist and credobaptist stuff. Perhaps I should learn more about that theology before commenting, but due to the content of the rest of the post I almost wonder if it isn’t better this way.

    I am confident that I was saved at four. I didn’t know the theology, and it wasn’t even prompted by hearing about it in Sunday school (or at least not that I remember). I knew God loved me and I wanted to love him, so I went to my mom and asked something about that. She advised me to pray. I ran back to my room and told God that I wanted to love him too.

    From when I was 5 to when I was 9 I lived with my missionary parents in a remote village in Africa. God was my playmate…I would talk to Him all the time. He was as real to me as any human…even more real. Life was kind of hard, because my parents did not disciple me in the faith, but my mom did help me memorize bible verses. I had a beginner’s bible, and by the time I was 6 I had read it through so many times that I begged my parents for a “real bible. I received my first bible on my seventh birthday, and still treasure it to this day.

    When we came back to the states I had just turned 9, and the culture shock was hard on me, causing me to run even closer to God. This is when God began prompting me to get baptized. Just like it happened when I was four…it was not some lesson in Sunday school that prompted my interest in it, it wasn’t anything anyone said or even an opportunity I took advantage of. I simply knew God wanted me to get baptized…. and after a week of knowing that I worked up the courage to tell my parents. They told me if I wanted to get baptized then I had to go talk to the pastor.

    So after another week I had worked up enough of my 9 year old courage to approach my pastor, all by myself, and inform him I wanted to get baptized. When he asked me why my response was “because God wants me to.”

    He then told me if I really want to get baptized, I should go talk to the children’s director. After another week of prayer and working up my courage, I approached her, again all by myself (I get the feeling my parents didn’t think I was serious, because I didn’t really have their support). The children’s director said there are a lot of courses I have to go through, and it’s really difficult, and if I was really serious I had to start coming to the church three times a week to go through church workbooks before I can be baptized.

    So I started on the workbooks. Putting in about six hours per week, I was able to get it done in about three months. It was all sorts of stuff like memorizing verses, becoming familiar with all that that denomination stood for (it was a C&MA church) and being able to rattle off stuff like what it meant to be saved and how I should share Christ with others and all sorts of things like that. My 9-year-old brain struggled, but I would have not been able to do otherwise, because the voice that was calling me to follow Him was so much sweeter than everything else.

    Surprised that I had been able to finish the course, the children’s director then handed me over to the elders of the church. I remember several meetings where each elder would question me over and over again about why I wanted to be baptized and what I thought it meant to be baptized and all that stuff. I remember I stuttered and I don’t think I answered very well, but the one thing I could tell them was that God wanted me to get baptized.

    I should add that during the times when I was questioned, I was crying. Not because I was sad…I had the hugest smile on my face. I was crying because it was so wonderful…I was doing what God wanted. And even though I was a bit ashamed of and perplexed about my tears I could not stop them. To every question I did not know I could only answer things like “Jesus loves me and He wants me to do this.” and just smile with tears running down my cheeks.

    In the end they finally decided I could be baptized. It is only now as I look back that I realize it was an entire year of jumping through hoops before they allowed it. At the time I was not troubled in the least with all the things I went through…all the dubious glances, doubtful questioning, and complete lack of support. Because I remember every day I was getting closer to doing the very thing God was calling me to do, and that far outweighed any inconvenience on my part.

    I was baptized the day before my 10th birthday. My goodness, I’m tearing up just writing this. I was so small my pastor could have dunked me vertically. Of course he didn’t, though. I remember my pastor told me before I was baptized I was supposed to share my testimony. I replied I would say that Jesus wanted me to get baptized, and I loved Him and so I was getting baptized. My pastor changed tactics and asked me to quote John 3:16 instead.

    As I walked down the steps and into the baptismal, I was already crying, I was so happy. And after I came up the worship team sang, “Purify my Heart”, the song I had chosen. Even years later whenever I hear that song I am overcome with tears, so adequately does it describe the desire of my heart. The baptism itself was so sacred to me I even saved a bit of the water that was wrung out from my clothes… knowing, of course, that it was just ordinary water, but wishing to save a souvenir of it none the less. I still have it.

    I’m 17 years old now, and have never had an inkling of the notion that I should get baptized again. Oh, I know it was the day before my 10th birthday, so it could be argued from a something-baptist-whatever standpoint I was close enough to being “old enough to get baptized. I know it’s unusual for someone that young to be able to complete such a lengthy course without giving up. I also know that it’s a bit of an exception for a 9 year old to unwillingly cry for joy at the mere possibility of finally being allowed to follow my Lord in what He has asked me to do. In fact, I have not cried for joy with actual tears running down my cheeks since then, even though I certainly have not fought the tears of joy.

    Being baptized was like the launch pad of a deeper walk with Christ, and from that point onward I had a hunger for the bible that would not be quenched, even as I asked that it never be quenched but to increase tenfold! I started getting the sermon tapes so that I could listen to the adult sermons after I got home because I was required to stay in Sunday school. During worship I would sneak to the back of the church where I wouldn’t be noticed and raise my hands, lifting my eyes to the Lord in worship. That church was not really one for expressive worship, and it was more difficult to not be self-conscious after a few adults told me I shouldn’t be doing that. It was a lonely road for me, and I often wondered if there was something wrong with what I was doing. None of my friends cared about the bible beyond quoting the verse to get a piece of candy, and even as I entered my teenage years not much changed. What kept me going, kept me growing was Christ Himself, assuring me that I was on the right track, continuing to challenge me and teach me… to counsel me in the everlasting way.

    My apologies for the considerable length of this comment; I guess what I am trying to say here does not greatly differ from what I said so long ago to the elders of that church. I don’t know the extensive theology, but I do know what Christ did in me and what He is still doing in me to this day. He asked me to follow, and I followed. I cannot really say anything beyond that, and I’m not sure anything else needs to be said.

  9. Great post, Dan, although I was hoping you had more answers. 🙂

    No time right now to read all the coments or post an adequate comment myself, but I did want to say this:

    I ‘got mixed up in the Boston Church of Christ movement‘ myself back in Cinci in 1988 – and I still am (although the movement, now called the International Churches of Christ is much, much different than it was in those days.) It has made me much of what I am today, good and bad. If your friend’s boyfriend met up with us ICOC’ers in the late 80’s through early 90’s in Cinci, I may know him. (If so, email me with his name.)

    Suffice to say, I am of the ‘baptism for salvation’ camp. I’ve studied this many times over and can come to no other conclusion than that is what the early Chistians believed and practiced. Oh,and several faith traditions besides the ICOC believe in this so it’s not a credo or padeo only question.

    Anyway, I’ve already taken more time than I’ve got. I’ll try to come back later and give some more thoughts.

  10. Sometimes, I think we think too much for our own good. Don’t hear me wrong. Thought is GREAT! Let’s certainly think about things and make sure we making wise decisions, etc.

    But, there are also times when the simple reading of scripture is all we need to do in order to arrive at an answer.

    So, if the question is: “Can a young child (3, 4, 5) come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ?” then I believe the answer is “yes” if we agree that ALL that is needed is the understanding that we are sinners who are in need of a Savior, that Jesus Christ is that Savior, and that choosing to call Jesus our Lord = Salvation.

    If, however, we believe there is MORE needed, then I guess there would be variance all over the map as to who really IS and IS NOT “saved.”

    Regarding my own son, he was 6 when he made that committment and I am 100% convinced that it is authentic. There may come a time in his life where he feels led to re-affirm or re-commit. That’s fine with me. As we who lead worship are told so often, “Only God knows the heart.”

    I think I stand on that in this case.

  11. I replied way below on most of this – sorry… I get all confused as to which little box to use! LOL… I need to be “SAVED” from the anxiety of WordPress! Seriously – re: fruit… I kind of see two leves in a child’s actions… one level is just the typical “kid” stuff – always in a state of rebellion, always trying to test those limits, etc. This doesn’t change. It’s just always there… I don’t like it – but it’s a part of being a kid. I did it, you did it, my parents did it when they were kids – blah blah blah…

    then, another level I see is what I might call the “character” level – that part of all of us that rises to the surface in more subtle ways – for example, my middle boy, whom I believe is saved, though it is not OBVIOUS, maintains a core character values of CARING for others – it is very touching. This rugged, lacross playing, argumentative 15-year old has this side of him where, if you are in trouble, he is THERE for you. My youngest son is even MORE so this way (he is the one who made the bold commitment to Christ.) In fact the youngest one is so very sensitive to ANYthing that we would view as “inappropriate” or “unGodly.” This, too, is delightful to see. So, when thinking of the “fruit” of their lives, are they essentially living moral lives? Yes. Where does this come from? In part, it comes from the fact that my wife and I try to live moral lives – we are “modeling and teaching” what that looks like. But, I also think it comes from the infusion of the Holy Spirit into their lives because they HAVE made a commitment, at some level, to call Jesus their Lord and live as though He IS their Lord. Make sense?

  12. Just for clarification, in all of my Edwards’ reading, I haven’t read that he was (or thought he was) regenerated at the age of 4. He regarded “that change by which I was brought to those new dispositions, and that new sense of things” as his conversion and it took place after March 1st, 1721 (it probably took place in May or June of 1721). I’m not sure about Sarah. I do know that she struggled with assurance even up until the Great Awakening.

    • Elijah,

      I got that Edwards conversion year from a teaching tape from either Jim Cymbala or Leonard Ravenhill, I forget which. Both are great sources, but I can’t remember if it was Jonathan or Sarah they were referring to. Either way, I remember thinking that four was about the earliest age I’d ever heard of for a conversion.

      • Francisco

        I don’t want to diminish the importance of second sources. Those are great. Now with the wide availability of Internet’s resources we can find -at least for those old great Christians- first sources. Edwards in his own words say
        “On January 12, 1723, I made a solemn dedication of myself to God, and wrote it down; giving up myself, and all that I had, to God; to be for the future in no respect my own; to act as one that had no right to himself, in any respect. And solemnly vowed to take God for my whole portion and felicity, looking on nothing else as any part of my happiness, nor acting as it were; and his law for the constant rule of my obedience; engaging to fight with all my might against the world, the flesh, and the devil, to the end of my life. But I have reason to be infinitely humbled, when I consider how much I have failed of answering my obligation.”

        Now, considering that Edwards was born in 1703, that should mean that he was not converted at 3 if my math is right 😉

  13. Pastormac

    I’ve only read two of your blogs, the most recent two. You pose a lot of very important questions and obviously have thought a great deal about these issues. I appreciate your honesty to aknowledge the questions which still remain and are not clearly defined in scripture.

    I approach these comments tentatively as a newcomer not only to your site, but to the world of blogging. However, it seems to me there are a few things which do seem clear, and a few questions about your blog that I was unclear about. All this ultimately probably leads to more questions rather than answers, but at least they are different questions, and sometimes that is all that is needed for greater clarity. (not that I know this to be the case here..) As briefly and simply as possible, these are the factors that crossed my mind. You and your other commenters can perhaps help me see which of these are relavant and which not.
    1) It seems likely to me, based on the context of John 3 that being born of water, refers not to baptism but to the first birth–childbirth. Neither Jesus nor Nicodemus seem to connect it at all to baptism but only to that physical birth.
    2) the issue of discerning whether or not a child is saved seems to me a bit of a red herring. Jesus seems to indicate in the parable of the wheat and tares, that we are not truly able to make that discernment of anyone, but the Lord will at the appropriate time. The best we can do in any case is act on speculation based upon their own word and their visible fruit. Neither is proof however.
    3. Yet it seems necessary to act as if our speculation is likely right unless and until something else arises to make us seriously question our conclusion. Also it seems we normally make allowances according to “how far they have to come.” The dope dealer who radically changes usually has his fruit judged on a different standard than the someone with less deception to overcome. It’s arguable whether this is appropriate or not, but I actually think it is. In the same way oughtn’t we to judge children with the same misxture of speculation, allowance and their own words.
    4) You alluded, but didn’t state outright to the idea that we sometimes coerce our children into positive affirmations of faith in order to make ourselves feel better. I suspect this is true and I agree that this is not the right approach.
    5) Does not the entire premise of your argument rest upon the idea that salvation is primarily a propositional conversion? That is that it is an intellectual exercise in which ones understanding is key to ones salvation. Is this accurate? Is it possible faith , while it can be articulated in increasing clarity of verbiage as one grows in undertanding, may in fact be more or different than intellectual? I’m nactually not sure about this or all it’s implications, but I do think it’s somehow an important presupposition which we should examine as it relates to this whole question.
    6. It seemed that your main argument in favor of baptism having some regenerate power was an emotional one: would I be comfortable risking my child’s salvation by not baptizing him at anearly age. Precisely because I don’t see any stronger scriptural argument for baptism as anything other than a step of obedience, remembrance and recognition of the cleansing experience of justification, I see no risk in letting my child go unbaptized until they can at least articulate for me their faith in a way which sounds like the faith I understand. But because of this, I also don’t see great risk in them being baptized “too early” and then again when conversion actually does follow. Perhaps I am missing something in the argument.

    thanks for your blog. Very thought provoking.

    • PastorMac, Thanks for the lengthy comment!

      A few responses: 1. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the idea that Jesus was referring to amniotic fluid rather than baptism in his conversation with Nicodemus. I don’t see a lot of evidence for that especially since the previous chapters in John featured John the Baptist prominently. The whole area was hopped up on the baptism issue. Also, Jesus’ own comment about having John baptize Him (“It is necessary to fulfill all righteousness”) clearly reinforces the John 3 text.

      2. When it comes to judging that salvation of anyone else, I think we must show due care. But we must also be able to do that to some extent or else we can never appropriately teach anyone. I think the Bible makes that clear. Also, the Bible clearly states that each of us must examine himself to see whether we are in the Lord or not. The Holy Spirit’s accounting makes that clear. Now that’s a personal assessment and not a public one, but still, it’s an assessment nonetheless.

      5. I don’t think the entire idea is propositional. But in assessing the salvation of children, it’s remarkably hard to discern the true change that comes through conversion. This forces the whole discernment issue into pumping up the propositional aspect of it. As we’ve seen through the comments here, there are a lot of opinions, but no real consensus on the topic.

      6. I’ll go back to John 3:5 and Matt 3:15 (Jesus is showing by example here.)

  14. Mike Oliver

    First a question. When did the thief on the cross get baptized?
    Joh 20:29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. Because of the circumstances of my salvation I fall a little closer to Thomas than those who have not seen usually do. My prayer for salvation wouldn’t pass the muster with any of the lawyers here and it made the pastor of the church I showed up at the day after my salvation more than a little nervous so he had me pray a more traditional one. For God though, my few words that didn’t fit the format were all it took and because of those circumstances I could percieve the arrival of the Holy Spirit. God cares about the heart not the wording.

    • Mike,

      Better question: when was Moses circumcized? Read Exodus 4:24-26.

      Exceptions are exceptions and God is God. He can do what He wishes.

      However, when he specifically commands us to do something and we disobey, well the Lord said that now that we have heard we are without excuse. Clearly, the thief on the cross did not get the whole story as he was dying on the cross.

      I’m worried about what we know. Do kids know it all? Well, if we’re teaching them right, they should. Are they then without excuse? I would say they are, but then comes in that issue of what they truly understand and whether we can see the Holy Spirit in their lives.

      • Dan – if a family in your church came to share with you the great news that their 4-year old accepted Jesus as their personal Savior, what would you say to that family? And what would you say or ask of that 4-year old child?

        • Dan,

          I don’t take anyone’s word on salvation unless evidence exists for it. The leaders of the early church didn’t take Paul’s word on his conversion until they had some real evidence. Yes, I know he was a persecutor, but the fact remains. By their fruits you will know them.

          If we were all a bit more skeptical, maybe we wouldn’t have so many cases of people “falling away” in time. We need to be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves, even on this issue. I think that we can rejoice with that family, but the proof is always in the walking out of supposed belief.

  15. Mike Oliver

    Ex. 4:24-26 deals with the circumcision of Moses son. Is your point that God took very seriously Moses failure to circumsize his son?
    The thief on the cross had admitted to being a sinner, recognized Jesus innocence, lordship and coming kingdom and asked to be remembered. Apparently that was enough for him to be saved.
    Would a native in a jungle who prayed to his “Great Creator God” saying God I know you are there because I live in the midst of your creation and I know that I have done evil, please forgive me for the evil I have done, be saved?

    • Mike,

      Moses knew what he was supposed to do, but he didn’t do it. This kindled the wrath of God.

      If we know we are to be baptized and we don’t do it, why should God treat us better than Moses? Once we know, we are without excuse.

      I try to stay away from the whole “jungle native/ desert islander” scenario. How one answers that depends greatly on whether one is a Calvinist, Arminian, or another viewpoint. All I know is that God wants the Gospel to go out to the jungle native or desert islander. That’s where I stand on that issue.

  16. I understand the idea of needing to see some proof of conversion. At the same time, do we REALLY NEED to SEE that proof? I mean, it’s not really up to us, is it? Becoming a follower of Christ is between the person and their Lord.

    My father was very abusive, both emotionally and physically, to me, my sister and my mother, as I was growing up. He was a very angry, violent man who was bitter and selfish. Obviously, we grew apart (that is an understatement!) We were civil with each other – but it was VERY superficial, at best.

    About 6 years ago, he had some major medical issues. I went to see him (he lives several states away) and made the decision on the plane that I was going to forgive him and tell him I loved him. Which is what I did. And it was very, very, very difficult to do. But I did it. During that trip, I also shared the gospel with him. He grew up Catholic and was “done” with God. I shared it anyway. And returned home.

    About 2 years ago, he was back in the hospital. I went to see him again. And, again, I shared the gospel. He told me that he had received Jesus into his heart. BOING!!! Huh? But, he said he had.

    He is still gruff, a bit prideful, stubborn, etc. AND he says he knows Jesus. Is his fruit revealing this new life in Christ? Not entirely. Neither does mine. (psst – neither does it for ANY of us if we honest.) But he SAYS he knows Jesus as his Lord. Who am I to judge that? Really, that’s between him and God.

    I guess I’d rather err on the side of believing – rather than suspecting, if that makes sense…

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