Christians around the world differ on what they think the fitting age should be for full initiation into the church. For those who practice infant baptism, the question centers on when somebody is ready for confirmation and their first Communion. Others think that the appropriate age is age 12, because it’s the age at which Jesus encountered the teachers of the Law and most likely had His bar mitzvah. When He did this He could only then participate fully in Jewish worship.
For those who believe that baptism should only be reserved for believers, the question centers on when one is capable of truly repenting and embracing Christ in wholehearted discipleship. They emphasize the adult character of this decision, making baptism a right only after they have advanced past puberty. For others, the age is much lower. Some even baptize toddlers.
Acts 16:33 (NIV)
33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.
I personally, have been baptized twice in my life. My parents had me baptized when I was only months old. I was baptized as an infant in the Lutheran church. I am so thankful to my parents for doing this. It shows how much they cared for my well-being. The problem is though, that I did not make the choice to be baptized. They made this decision for me. After I stepped over the faith line a few years ago, it was important for me to get baptized a second time. This time I wanted it to be my decision. I wanted to make a public declaration of my faith in God. I was baptized a second time a few years ago in the Evangelical Free church I attend.
So what is the right age? Who is right and who is wrong?
Here are a couple of guidelines that I think we should follow when determining what the right age is:
We should not impose some arbitrary age. God works in the lives of each person He makes in His image. That is each one of us. He does not treat us all as one big group, but treats each of us as unique individuals. Each child should be dealt with individually and encouraged to take their own “steps toward Jesus” at their own pace, not some set age. We should not try to manipulate the children into making an early decision to follow Christ.
We need to develop a proper understanding of God’s relationship with children. The Bible seems to indicate that the children of believing parents stand is a special providential relationship to the people and promises of God. We find this in the following verse:
1 Corinthians 7:14 (NIV)
14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
It is the responsibility of parents and the church to lead children by prayers, instruction, and to set an example toward a true faith in Christ. You can help guide a child, but you can never make the decision for them. Each person comes to God in their own time. That time is a personal thing between them and God. Nothing we do or don’t do will ever ultimately change that.