Children who are very young can come to genuine saving faith which is the only biblical requirement for baptism. However, College Park elders recommend that children wait until at least age eleven before considering baptism—not because we doubt that a young child can be truly born again but because of a larger discipleship strategy that we have for young people in the church.
By waiting until at least this age we can maximize the spiritual benefit that the baptism experience can have for children. What follows are some of the benefits we have discovered:
- The older age allows more time for the candidate to be thoroughly prepared. Understanding baptism and its implications can be an intellectual stretch for most eleven-year-olds and requires substantial simplification for younger children. Children may be able to articulate a basic understanding of the gospel and express a genuine desire to trust Christ, but we believe there needs to be enough time for their understanding of the gospel to mature.
- Even though very young children can come to Christ by faith we want to allow time for the genuineness of their faith to be tested and for others to witness some fruit of true repentance. The promises we make in baptism are weighty and thus should be carefully considered before we make them. We should thoughtfully consider the implications of what it means when Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Thus, we want every candidate for baptism to have maturity and understanding sufficient to count the cost of following Jesus.
- The younger children are when baptized the more likely, when they are older, to doubt their understanding of the significance of baptism. The older children are when baptized the more likely they are to look back on the experience with the confidence that it reflected a conscious and sincere resolve to follow the Lord.
- Baptism can be a very meaningful experience and we want it to be one that a person remembers. The older a child is, the more likely it is that he/she will remember and cherish the experience.
- Our baptism preparation process is designed to help strengthen, deepen, and in some cases establish the young person’s relationship with the “mentor” or spiritual leader in his/her life. A strategic time for the parent/mentor to establish a regular pattern of connecting and communication concerning matters of the heart and of faith is just before the young person enters the teen years. In Philippians 1:6, Paul assured his fellow believers that God had begun a good work in them and he would be faithful to “bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” We believe that this work begins long before a child takes his first breath. When that work yields saving faith is different for every person, thus there can be no perfect age for a person to be baptized. Some children may be ready by age eleven, others will be years into adulthood before they are ready to follow the Lord in baptism. Our earnest prayer is that whether young or older, all our children embrace Christ as their treasure, trust in him with all their hearts, and faithfully walk in all his ways for his glory and for their everlasting joy.