This question is very relevant for me, since I have four kids and two of them have expressed interest in baptism. Now, for our Presbyterian/Reformed readers out there, the question is a no brainer: you baptize them when they’re infants, since they are part of a covenant family.

I really don’t want to get into the debate about infant vs. believer’s baptism, though I will say that I see a lot more merit in the former than I used to. Most of the arguments lobbed at those who practice infant baptism are terrible and not rooted in Scripture. In any case, I still see more merit in believer’s baptism, largely in light of the discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants, but that’s for another post.

So, for you Baptists out there (or you who hold to believer’s baptism), when do you baptize your kids?

Most Baptists I know are quite hesitant to baptize their kids too early. They want to wait until they have some assurance that their kids are genuine believers. I used to think this way, but then I re-read the New Testament and realized that nowhere is baptism withheld from a confessing believer for the sake of having assurance that the person is a genuine believer. If you know a text that I’m missing, please let me know. But as far as I can see, the criteria for baptism is: 1) a public confession of Christ as the Messiah, and 2) a rudimentary knowledge of what baptism is. I just don’t see any passages in the New Testament that suggest we should wait to see some fruit or perseverance before someone is baptized.

Or think about this. Baptism, most would agree, does not save you, but it is the first act of obedience from a confessing believer. If this is true, then I’ve got a real dilemma on my hands. By not baptizing my kids who have made (as far as I can tell) a genuine confession, I’m actually preventing a genuine Christian from obeying Jesus. I may actually be causing another brother or sister (my believing kids) to stumble by not allowing them to obey Jesus in light of a man-made criterion (i.e., perseverance) for baptism. Plus, I tell my kids to do all sorts of things that Christians do, such as pray, share, be selfless, give money, read their Bibles, and even tell others about Jesus. These are all acts of obedience. Why haven’t they obeyed Jesus by being baptized?

Furthermore—if I can mentally wrestle out loud for a moment—what would be so wrong about baptizing an 8-year-old child who confesses Christ, if they end up falling away? Well, one potential danger is that the child will later trust in their baptism as confirmation of their salvation regardless of how they are living. And 1 Corinthians 1 may hint at a similar situation, when Paul reflects on his baptizing of several Corinthian believers who became over infatuated with baptism. But I only did something wrong if I forced them to think this way. (Taking my kids to church every Sunday could inevitably provide the same false assurance.) But there really is no clear warning in Scripture along the lines of: “you’d better darn well make sure this person remains a Christian long after they are baptized; otherwise, you may be committing the sin of baptizing a pagan.” John the Baptist was clearly cautious about the genuineness of the confession and was clear that following the Messiah necessitates repentance (Matt 3; Luke 3). But again, I’m talking about a person—a 6 or 8 year old child—who for all I can see is making a genuine profession of faith, and yet has not demonstrated years of perseverance.

Perseverance is not a precondition of baptism, otherwise Philip really jumped the gun with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8).

Lastly, I keep telling myself: “Wait until my kids come to me with a desire to be baptized.” After all, I don’t want to force them to do something that they don’t feel like doing. And there’s some truth here. I don’t want to turn my kids into empty shells of religiosity. But think with me for a second. Since when are feelings the basis for obedience? If I went to church only when I felt like it, you’d probably only see me there at Christmas and Easter, and if I only gave money away when I felt like it, I’d be able to buy that new Jeep I’ve always wanted. And then there’s that stubborn old problem we often run into with this blog: the Bible. Where in the BIBLE does it say “come be baptized if you feel like it?” If it’s an act of obedience—commanded by God—then our feelings shouldn’t dictate whether or not we respond. Jesus, not our fallible feelings, is the basis for obedience.

Of course we want the act to be genuine, but this doesn’t mean that I remove all parental influence in the act. I can (and often do) contribute to the authenticity of their obedience. And again, I don’t consistently apply the “obey when you feel like it” logic to the rest of my parenting. Otherwise, my kids would probably be playing out in the middle of the street somewhere right now, and they certainly wouldn’t be sharing their stuff with each other. Ever.

And so all in all, biblically, I see more harm in withholding baptism (the first act of obedience) from a confessing believer, than in baptizing someone at a young age who has not yet proved through years of following Christ that they have been born again.

But I’m posting this because I’d love to hear your thoughts. What am I missing?


  1. For me, baptism was a no-going-back action. I was a “Christian”, but only in the sense that I didn’t want to go to hell, and I knew it. I waited for years after becoming a Christian to be baptized because I wanted to make sure I was really, truly serious about this whole Jesus following thing. I had many opportunities, but I turned them down, knowing I wasn’t completely ready to surrender. So, when I finally did get baptized the summer after my junior year of high school., it made it mean more to me I think.

    I don’t know if that helps you, so…my opinion: If a kid is sure, then let them get baptized. Make sure they understand what it is, but don’t hesitate to let them. If they’re not sure, then encourage them to think about it more and decide later.

    • Very good question. I would tend to say that you don’t need to be baptized again, but I know it’s a grey area. Again, if you publicly confessed Christ and had a basic understanding of what baptism is, then you’ve met the criteria for the act, even if you end up falling away later. I don’t think Peter got rebaptized, even though he verbally and publicly denied Jesus!

  2. I definitely agree with you, Preston. I think I would also add that we should baptize confessing Christians because it is not only an act of obedience, but a means of grace for them. It is a means of grace because it symbolizes the truth that they have died with Christ and have been raised to new life “in Him”.

    I’m becoming more and more convinced that the “key” to the Christian life (if there is one)is to abide in Christ, i.e., live in light of your new identity (which is in Him). If we wish to overcome the power of sin, we have to walk in the truth that our old self has died, and our new self is hidden with Christ in God. This means we are free to be slaves of righteousness and not have to succomb to the yoke of sin.

    Baptism is a tangible act that the Christian can look back to and remember that he is a new creation. When testing comes and the desire arises to walk according to the flesh, the Christian can look back to his baptism (as well as God’s word) and remember that the old nature is dead, and in it’s place is Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. We deprive the new Christian of this visible affirmation of the truth of our union with Christ when we don’t allow him or her to be baptized immediately.

    On a side note, I wonder if we emphasize the “obedience” aspect of baptism (“this is what you must do now that you’re a Christian”), and don’t give enough emphasis to the fact that baptism is really meant to be a picture of God’s grace (in reconciling us to Himself in Christ). What I mean is, if we make baptism too much about “our” obedience we can lose sight of the fact that it is a represenation of what Christ has accomplished because of “His” obedience. Any thoughts about this?

    • Very good thoughts, Lance! Ya, I think we “non-demoninationals” de-emphasize the power of baptism. We fight so hard to say that it doesn’t save, it’s just a symbol, do it when you feel like it, that I think we’ve not read as closely as we should those NT passages that seem to elevate the act above this.

      And I love your “God-direction” of baptism! I hadn’t thought of it like that before, but my first hunch is that you are spot on. And this would make more sense of why Jesus was baptized as well. We are participating in Christ’s obedience. I like it!

  3. Hi Preston,

    I love your contributions to this blog and appreciate that you have taken time to write a number of good articles on this site.

    I have a number of young children as well so this question is of interest to me. Those of us in baptistic circles would agree that the normal pattern in the NT was for baptism to be administered only on those who had made a profession of faith. I agree that an eight year old can make a public profession, but is their profession truly their own? After all, I don’t know of too many eight year olds who grow up in strong Christian families who reject the Gospel. At that age, children will believe virtually anything their parents tell them, whether it be Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or anything else. So I’m wondering if baptizing children is actually quite similar to baptizing infants due to the influence of the parents. In both instances the case could be made that the individual has not made a critical and independent evaluation of the faith and are being baptized as a result of their parents’ faith. Are you following me?

    • Ben,

      Glad you’ve enjoyed the blog. Thanks for stopping in and commenting! You raise a really good question: shouldn’t we wait until we are more certain that our children’s faith in their own?

      I’ve thought about this, but let me go out on a limb and suggest that our (hyper-)concern for our kids having faith as their own is influenced largely by our individualistic Western culture. (Again, I’m speaking to myself as well.) Point being: nothing our kids do is wholly detached from our influence, and this isn’t a bad thing.

      Think about it. My kids pray because I lead them to do so. My kids share, because I tell them to. My kids are into missions and pray for orphans and hungry kids in Africa, because I instilled in them not only the information about Africa and also the passion to care. And on and on and on. So I really don’t think we can separate their desires from my influence, and so if their desire to obey Jesus by getting baptized is, in part, the product of my own influence, then I don’t see much of a problem here.

      Plus, again, there’s no warning in the Bible about making sure your kids become independent believers. I raise my kids to be disciples (Deut 6; Eph 6) and therefore lead them to be obedient Christians. For most cultures in the world (S. America, most of Asia, most of Africa), the separation between parents’ faith and kids is not nearly as sharp. Again, I wonder if ours is more driven by our culture than the Bible.

  4. Thanks, Preston.
    My wife and I have struggled with the exact same questions and we’re still on the fence. I feel as if it were I who wrote the article. Anyway, for those of us who aren’t paedobaptistsic, it’s a plaguing question: When? I’m leaning in the same direction that you are (for the same reasons): early is better. However, I still haven’t baptized my 7 year old who has shown the fruit of faith for several years. Vern Poythress,a paedobatist (as you know), has written a good article on “Indifferentism and Rigorism in the Church: With Implications for Baptizing Small Children.” He makes some great arguments in favor of baptizing young children as he discusses child-like faith. He also wrote another article in order to attempt to link his conclusions to paedobaptism. Interesting, but I’m still not a paedobaptist. I’ll post the link to the two articles on you fb page.
    Thanks for writing,
    Adam Shank

  5. Preston,

    Greetings. There is a lot that can be said here, but fresh on my mind is a talk I gave to a (mostly unbelieving) troop of Boy Scouts this morning in which we looked at Luke 9, 13, and 14. Jesus really tried to turn people away, telling them that his was a hard life, that they had to hate their own life, and that they must count the cost. Can an 8-year-old count the cost? I don’t think so. (To them the “cost” is earning their parents’ favor which is not the real cost of following Jesus.) I don’t know of a single example of a baptism in the NT of a person who could not count the cost. Using adults to argue the case for child baptism is apt to lead us astray.

    >>So I really don’t think we can separate their desires from my influence, and so if their desire to obey Jesus by getting baptized is, in part, the product of my own influence, then I don’t see much of a problem here.

    When your kids get older, they’ll separate their desires from yours quite easily. At that point, it’s easy to tell if the decision is their own or not. Before that point, you’re baptizing them on account of *your* faith.

    >>If I went to church only when I felt like it, you’d probably only see me there at Christmas and Easter

    I would suggest that in most cases where someone says this it is an indication that they are not a believer. Jesus loves his body and those who have the Spirit of Jesus living in them love gathering together with his body (as imperfect as it is). God’s work in our lives does impact our feelings, even though we can resist his work and not always feel as we should. I suspect you don’t really mean this.

    There’s more to say, and you’ve probably seen the recent articles on various blogs, but I’ll leave it here. In my experience with my two older kids, nothing was lost by telling them to wait for their baptism and at this point it seems as if there is gain. I don’t care if any of my kids are believers when they are 10; I will do all that I can so that they love Jesus when they are 20.

    • Thanks Todd for dropping in. It’s not everyday I have one of my mentors comment on by blog! So I’m thrilled to see your name in the comment box.

      Since I’m very late in responding (I’ve been, and still am, out of town), I’ll keep my reply short.

      Very quickly, yes, the statement about not wanting to go to church was overstated to make a point. I do think the point still stands, however.

      As for your main argument about the cost of discipleship, here’s how I understand your logic:

      A: You can’t be a believer until you count the cost
      B: Kids can’t count the cost
      C: Therefore, kids shouldn’t be baptized.

      I’ve got two problems with this line of reasoning. First, I think your “B” assertion cannot be supported biblically, only experientially and therefore is not a biblical argument. If anything, Jesus uses the faith of children to critique the lack of faith in adults. And to say that they can’t count to cost sells our children too short. Second, it doesn’t address the arguments I gave in my posts. In short, the NT advocates for baptizing those who have made a genuine (as far as we know) confession that Jesus is the Messiah and has a rudimentary knowledge of what baptism is. And in the actual passages that talk about baptism (I don’t believe the ones you mentioned in Luke do), we don’t see your logic applied. The emphasis is on a confession (Acts 8, 16, et al.), not a concern that they have counted the cost.

      You said: “When your kids get older, they’ll separate their desires from yours quite easily.” I don’t agree with your statement, or at least, it really depends from person to person. I’ve met plenty of adults who still care very much about what their parents think of their decisions. Moreover, I don’t think this is inherently a bad thing (it can be, but it depends). None of us are completely independent (intellectually, morally, etc.) from our culturally influences, whether it be parents, friends, church, film, music, grocery store checkout lines–you name it. There are tons of voices that condition our decisions everyday. So why not speak into my kids’ lives with a positive influence, informing them on what Jesus (not just I) desires of them if–or since–they have made a public and ongoing confession that Jesus is Lord?

      I also don’t feel like you dealt with the main points in my points. What about the danger of withholding baptism from a genuine believer? Your fear of baptizing too quickly is only one sided. I think we should have an equal fear (especially in light of Rom 6 and other passages) of not baptizing someone who is a believer.

      I’ve got more to say, but I’m not sure if you (or anyone) are still following this post, so I’ll leave it at that.

      Thanks for dropping in!


  6. Preston,

    Great stuff. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I was baptized as an eight-year old (I grew up Southern Baptist), and later as a twenty-year old (does that make me an Anabaptist? 😉 ). One thing is for sure: this is an odd issue. Something I came to realize, upon thinking about the theology of baptism, is I (being a Protestant) didn’t know how to articulate the purpose/meaning of baptism intelligibly. That is, I simply collapsed the ‘reason/purpose/meaning’ of baptism into a discussion of ‘obedience.’

    For instance, my rationale was along the lines of:

    ‘If you made a confession that Jesus Christ is King of the world, that means you should obey everything He commands, and He, first and foremost, commands baptism. Therefore, as an ‘obedient’ follower of Christ, you should be baptized.’

    This was the logic that led to my second baptism, believing I wasn’t being ‘truly’ obedient in the first (favoring the Luther-like anxiety that was ever-present in his works of Penance).

    However, as you have pointed out, Scripture refers to baptism as something more than a mere act-of-obedience declaration (Rom 6). Above, the fellow chiming in used the words ‘means of grace.’ This is the terminology I use, but I notice it is warily received by Protestants. Many Protestants, at least in my circles, don’t like the idea of using a sacramental act as a means of grace, believing it undercuts the unilateral agency of God in salvation.

    In sum, seeing that baptism is more than just a ‘symbol’ of obedience, what is the best way to articulate its purpose/meaning? In my mind, this question/answer could then provide a way forward in the discussion of ‘conscious’ children baptisms.

    Thanks for the post,

    • Ya, Colby, I think I’m headed in the direction of seeing baptism as more than just a symbol, but beyond that, I don’t have it all sorted out. I don’t love the phrase “means of grace,” because it’s very ambiguous.

      Rom 6 does seem to suggest that baptism is at the very least a means of empowerment for obedience. But I haven’t really looked into it to sort all this out.

  7. Preston,

    Lovely post my friend. A few comments and questions (in no exceptional order). In our current context of North India, baptism is a very complicated matter. Baptism (as traditionally understood in the West) is THE defining act/ritual of institutional church. A person born into a Christian family must be baptized as an essential duty of his family and church, without regard for confessions, beliefs or actions (pre or post-b). A child born into a “Christian” family IS defined by all legal, social and caste definitions as “Christian” at birth, and baptism is the formal declaration of that identity. It has nothing (or, in isolated and unique churches, very little) to do with any individual faith statement or proclamation. In fact, it can be argued that the Indian sense of faith and duty (dharma) even prohibits such individuality. Thus, a traditional Christian, regardless of faith or creedal belief, must be baptized b/c as a matter of social identity.

    Let’s say you came over here on a fly-by-night “teaching trip” at a traditional church, and the subject of Baptism came up: would you suggest that the traditional church keep on baptizing all their children regardless of faith or confession or “visible fruit”? Recognize that all of their children MUST say, “Yes I believe in Jesus” as a condition of their family, caste and duty; they cannot answer anything else. Also note that most of them–traditional christian children–in my experience, cannot distinguish significantly between Krishna and Christ. The majority of baptized “Christians” in our area were baptized as children, and even now, as adults, have no understanding of the goodnews or of Jesus Christ.

    On the other hand, consider the great and varied masses of the Hindu religions. When someone professes faith in Jesus, in accordance with the Scriptures you mentioned above, we ask them to take a “water ritual” of identification with Jesus (we don’t use the word baptism). India has a long and storied history of water-based rituals, some of which are quite similar to a NT water “baptism.” As soon as they make a clear identification with Jesus as their Lord/Master, they also hear about being initiated as his disciple by water. This is not a strange thing for them. If they truly see Christ as their only master and lord, they will submit to His command to be immersed. Only a disciple can be initiated–and biological offspring does not make a person a disciple.

    But, let’s say, on your fly-by-night trip to India that you meet some of these Hindu Believers in Christ. They ask you, “When do we give our kids the water ritual?” Would you say, “When they profess Christ?” Would you say, “When they begin following Christ as their Guru and Lord?” Verbal faith proclamations are almost meaningless here. What would you take as a sign or statement that a child is ready to be a “disciple of Jesus?”

    I know this is all a bit off-mark from your article’s intent. But I’d still love to know your thoughts. Thanks.


    • TJ,

      Ha! Wow, I’m not sure I have any wisdom here! (You must laugh at some of our American conditioned discussions on these blogs.)

      My short and quite vague answer is that I think there must be some contextual sensitivity applied to this topic. As for your “confession” vs. “beginning of discipleship,” I would equate these two. So in the case of my children, I’ve seen evidence that their confession is a commitment (the best they know understand) that they are a follower of (not just believer in) Jesus. So I wouldn’t have any problem with wanting an eagerness to be a disciple as part of the confession. I would hold this standard over anyone.

      Also, with my first criterion that they must confess that Jesus is the Messiah, I’m assuming some basic understanding of what this means. They may still struggle with polytheism (as we in America struggle with idolatry every single day), but there should be some basic but clear understanding of Monotheism and Jesus as the ultimate expression of it.

      I don’t know. Just thinking out loud. I’d love to hear your thoughts! You’re in a very intriguing and challenging situation.

  8. Preston,

    Great post. A question related to this came up last night and I thought I would see what you thought. The question is can a father baptize his child. If the father is a born again, Bible believing Christian who is a member of the church can he perform the baptism himself or is that the sole responsibility of the pastor? Any scripture to back up your thoughts would be great. Thanks and keep up the good work. Lamar

    • Lamar,

      Preston has been internetless for a few days, so I’ll jump in here until he reconnects.

      There’s nothing in the Bible that would prohibit any Christian from baptizing any other Christian. By the same token, there is nothing in the Bible that reserves the performance of baptism for a certain type of church leader. I personally think a father baptizing his child is a beautiful thing. Many churches allow any member of the congregation to baptize new Christians. This seems to be the example in the book of Acts, though Acts gives us stories of what happened without interpreting why things were done the way they were or prescribing that we should follow their example in every detail.

      The only caution I would add is that the Bible is also commands us to submit to the leaders of the church (see Hebrews 13). So if you’re in a church that reserves the performance of baptism for pastors, then you should respect their desire to fulfill the command to baptize (which is biblical) in the specific way that they have chosen to do it. But if you’re in this type of church, this could make a great discussion with the church leaders.

  9. Preston,
    Would you apply the same principles for children who profess faith in Christ and the ordinance of communion? My son is six years old and argues with me that he has accepted Christ and that he desires to participate in communion. He can give me the right answers, but I hesitate in allowing him to participate.

  10. I was born in the church and I had the opportunity to get baptized when I was 7. But it was a decision I can barely recall and I sincerely feel no commitment. I don’t at all regret the decision, but I regret the time that I made it in.
    When sin lurks by and I am tempted to give in, I’ve realized that not once did I look way back to that moment when I was baptized and restrain myself from doing whatever I was going to do remembering what my pledge was with Christ. I had a fake lukewarm sensation that I was “ok” with God and that my commitment was “real”, so I in a sense, would calm and silence my conscience as I saw others get baptized. But these past few months I’ve received conviction from the Holy Spirit that struck the very core of my being, such that I couldn’t deny no matter how hard I tried. It is as if you’re in the middle of a mine field in a war and you see and hear all the traps going off and you try to look away or shun it as if it were not happening. But as the fear of God began to give me wisdom I realized how I really was, a lost sinner, with a fake sense of assurance, from a broken pact, one which I now clearly see wasn’t deeply rooted in Christ. I have realized one thing, everything works in two ways, so if you are going to make a solemn pact with Christ, you’d better be rooted in Him or you’re not rooted at all, there is no in between, you are either for Him or against Him.
    Up until now I knew not much about what baptism really meant. But praise be to God, I have come around to increase my knowledge through my deeper walk with God, and realized that to me, the act of baptism at my early young age almost meant nothing to me. I’ve listened to pod cast after pod cast, sermon after sermon, and last week I clearly couldn’t hold back the Spirit’s power in me, and I decided to it was time for me to get baptized again and meant it in my heart. Praise to our mighty and everlasting God for he is the only God, and He is great in His abounding mercy by graciously giving us second chances.
    I contacted my Pastor and sent him this:
    Hey Pastor, it’s me Andy, Carmen’s older son. I have been convicted of sin in my life for a while now and I realize that being baptized at seven years old served me no good, all it did was give me and false sense of assurance that I had been baptized and I thought that I already have died to myself and I had no need to do it again, but I never realized what it was that I did when I went down to the water. At that time I was too young and didn’t know as much as I do now. I have had the battle inside myself for quite some time now and I have come around to the inclination of the Holy Spirit convicting me that now it is time to do it for real and mean it with my heart. And for that reason I fully realize and have come to understand that I MUST be baptized again, now that I know what it is to emerge from the watery grave and really be Born Again dying to myself and truly becoming a new creature in Christ.
    He called me and I confirmed my decision and he was happy too. Then I told my mom, then my dad, then my brother.
    But my faith being so little, I began to wonder if it was really God moving me towards my sudden decision, because after all I am a young deacon at my church and this may make me look bad, or if it was just guilt. But after all I know that scripture says, (James 4:17)” Whoever knows the good and does not do it, to him it is sin. And I realized I was worried of what other people thought of me rather than what God thought. I then immediately was convicted and realized on the final day, I will not answer to just any “man”, but “The Son of Man.” So I turned to the Lord and prayed. Immediately a bible verse was spoken into my mind, it was 1Thessalonians 2:3, but I, for a divine reason, turned unknowingly to 1Timothy 2:3 thinking I was in Thessalonians. And this is what I read in my New Living Translation Bible: “This is good and pleases God our Savior.” I smiled and was greatly comforted at the thought that God sent me a very powerful message when I needed most at a crucial point in my Christian life.
    Praise be to our God! He answered me. I saw the words in the verse and those words, along with faith, have pushed me beyond doubt, and into more faith. It is a growing faith, even as I am at this moment writing this, my hope and faith is renewed by sharing what God has done for me.

  11. I think we should not be so quick to dismiss a child’s profession of faith. Jesus called the children to Him. They follow blindly, sweetly, innocently. They tend not to over complicate matters and take things at face value. I have a six year old daughter who professed her faith when she was about four. I have recently been thinking about baptism but have not discussed it with her. For one reason, she is very shy and would not be comfortable jumping in the ocean with a Pastor she hardly knows that is about to dunk her under water! For another, I see no hurry. It’s not like that is the security of her faith. That is not the contract. Her profession with her mouth and her belief in her heart was the contract. So, as her parent, I will trust The Lord to revelal to me when and how to suggest it to her. He will show me when she is ready. I will teach her about it and I do believe it is an act of obedience and really is designed to intensify the intimacy and the depth of our walk with Jesus. If she is ready to take this step as a 7 year old or not until she is 20, I think it is up to her and she and a Jesus can work it out. I kind of think that if she has been truly saved then The Holy Spirit, alive in her will nudge her toward this step in her faith. It will be part of her Story.