When should a child or young person be baptized? How do you go about discerning the readiness/preparedness of that young person?
Ted L. Christman addresses this pertinent and important doctrinal and pastoral issue in Forbid Them Not: Rethinking the Baptism and Church Membership of Children and Young People
Christman serves as the founding pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, Owensboro, KY. In this booklet, he makes a case to fellow Baptists to rethink how they view the conversion, baptism and means of grace provided by God in the lives of children and young people. One of his major concerns is that Baptists postpone baptism too long, preventing young people from obedience to the Great Commission and the corporate means of grace provided by God. This certainly raises good questions, and though I don’t necessarily agree with all he has written, I do appreciate his attempt at acknowledging critical questions and answering them biblically and pastorally.
As I looked through the booklet, I was struck by the series of questions he recommends asking of children and young people. I include the paragraph preceding and following the list of questions (pp. 20-22; though he included them in a paragraph form, I will bullet them for the sake of clarity. If I used these, I would rearrange them a bit.).
A loving and faithful shepherd will ask the young professor many critical and penetrating questions. While he tries not to be unduly technical or profoundly deep, he cannot avoid being theological. He is seeking to discern if this young soul understands the heart of the Gospel. He is also looking for a transformation of life. Questions such as the following should be asked of the young professing Christian – in a way that is pastoral and not overbearing, overwhelming or intimidating.
- What is a Christian? How does one become a Christian?
- What is the Gospel?
- Why do you need Christ?
- What did He do for sinners? Why did He have to do that? Who required Him to do that?
- Could God have just forgiven us? If not, why not?
- What is there in God the Father that required Him to punish His Son?
- What was Christ doing on the cross?
- Who was He making a payment to? What if He didn’t make that payment? Who are the only two persons who can pay for our sins? If we pay for them, how long will it take?
- When do you believe you first trusted in Christ?
- What specific sins do you need Him to pay for?
- Which sins in your life have made you most aware of your need for Christ’s atonement?
- How do you feel about your sins? After you realize you have sinned, when do you ask God’s forgiveness for that sin? Do you try to do that immediately or do you usually wait until the end of the day? What do you say to Him?
- What people has God used the most to show you your need for Christ?
- Are there any sermons or Sunday school lessons that God especially used to convict you of sin?
- What verses of Scripture give you the most hope and comfort? Why do they give you comfort?
- Do you believe that your life is changing? In what ways is your life changing?
- Has your attitude and behavior changed toward your brothers or sisters? In what ways?
- How has your relationship changed with your parents? Are you more obedient to mom and dad than you used to be? In what ways?
- How do you feel about going to church?
- Do you ever get anything out of the sermons? Do you ever feel that God is talking to you during the sermons? Could you give an example? Do you ever find yourself praying during a sermon because of what you have just heard? Could you give an example?
- When you see your father and mother observing the Lord’s Supper, do you desire to be doing it with them? Why do you desire to participate in this ordinance?
- Do you ever pray during the day? What do you say to God?
- Do you read your Bible? What do you get out of your Bible reading?
- What sins do you presently struggle with the most?
- Do your friends know that you are a Christian?
- Do you want to be baptized? Why do you want to be baptized? If Dad and Mom and your pastors feel that it’s too soon for you to be baptized, how will you feel about it?
Obviously, a youthful convert will possess only a limited understanding of many of these subjects. Nevertheless, there must be some true knowledge of why he or she needs Christ, what He has done for sinners and how the benefits of the atonement are appropriated. Such knowledge, though limited, is theological. There must also be some observable evidence of conversion in the young person’s life. Hence, the need for careful inquiry with parents, Sunday School teachers and others who know the candidate well. Usually, such interviews with the young person are not limited to just one. Ideally, there should be several over an extended period of time. This will give the elders a broader context for their careful evaluation.