Posts Tagged ‘Mark 10:13-16’

This is a presentation I gave to a ministers’ meeting in Franklin Mennonite Conference in 2007. See also Scriptural teaching on ministry to children

Seven reasons why we should not baptize children

1. Children are already a part of the kingdom of God. In Mark 10:14 Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

In the last part of this verse Jesus says of children, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” This teaches us that we do not need to worry about the destiny of children. They are a part of the kingdom of God; the realm of God’s blessing and salvation.

If we ask, “What is the age of these children who came to Jesus and who are a part of the kingdom?” I think there is an answer. The first clue is from Luke’s version of this story. He specifically notes that “they were bringing even infants to him” – Luke 18:15. The second clue is the word that Jesus uses for “children” = “paidion.” Based on its use in the New Testament this word refers to children between the ages of birth (Luke 1:59 – 8-days-old) and puberty (Mark 5:39-42 – 12 years old). So the reference here is roughly to any child 12 and below, or below the age of puberty.

Although children certainly are born with “the flesh,” our natural desires that lead us to do what we want and not what God wants, they are not considered to be “sinners” like adults who do what is wrong. So this calls into question the fundamental assumption of the child evangelism approach: that children are just like adults who sin and need conversion and baptism (that is, the adult pattern should be applied to children.) Jesus teaches that children are already a part of God’s kingdom

2. Children, by definition, are unable to make the kind of adult choice that baptism requires. A “child” in Scripture means one who is not mature. Along these lines it is used figuratively to refer to adults who are not mature in some way (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:1).

Literal children are not mature in many ways, but the focus here is on their inability to fully discern and choose between right and wrong for themselves.

  • Deuteronomy 1:39 talks about “ . . . your little ones . . . and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil . . ..”
  • Isaiah 7:15 speaks of maturity in these terms: “when (the child) knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.”
  • Hebrews 5:13-14 defines maturity in this way, “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Now there is such a thing as childhood faith, as we all know. This is when children express genuine and precious faith in God. This faith is loved by God and should be honored by the church. As Jesus said, God accepts and loves the praise of children – Matthew 21:15-16. But my point here is that we dare not make the mistake of confusing childhood faith with adult faith.

Childhood faith is dependent on what parents or others teach them and influence them to do. This is appropriate to their situation. Adult faith is a choice based on a person’s own discernment of what is right and wrong. Even though an adult’s faith will continue to grow and mature, the ability to discern for oneself and choose is what makes adult faith fundamentally different than the faith of a child.

Baptism calls people to adult decisions, to hear and choose for oneself faith and repentance in response to the gospel and to accept the hard teaching of Jesus – loving enemies, submitting to church discipline, sacrificing our lives for the kingdom. (That this is true can be seen in that Jesus connects baptism with discipleship, or “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” in Matthew 28:19-20)

So baptism calls people to adult decisions. But by definition children are not able to make these very kinds of choices, even if they have childhood faith.

3. The symbolic meaning of baptism does not apply to children. The symbolic meaning of baptism involves, among other things, leaving the world and sin behind in order to enter into the kingdom of God (like when Israel left Egypt and went through the Red Sea and became the people of God).

But children are not counted as sinners by God since they are not fully able to discern and choose for themselves. And children are not a part of the world who then enter the kingdom, they are already a part of the kingdom of God

So baptism is not an appropriate symbolic statement about where children are in their status before God.

Baptism is meant to be the marker of adult faith in Jesus, for those who have chosen sin for themselves, who are not a part of the kingdom of God, and it then becomes a symbol of transition from sin to forgiveness and from the world into the kingdom of God

4. A practical concern: Childhood baptism is often connected to a fear of losing our children if we let them wait. We fear that if we aren’t proactive we might lose our children to the world. We have to act before our influence over them wanes. As pastors we get caught in this fear and pressure. So we accept childhood faith for adult faith and baptize. We accept the smallest markers of childhood faith as sufficient for baptism. And the age of baptism gets younger and younger

But this is little different than infant baptism, in that we are trying to make the choice for them. We can’t make the choice for them, God doesn’t work that way. God wants each one to choose for themselves.

Each of our children will choose for themselves one day whether they will commit themselves to Jesus as adults. And they will make this choice regardless of whether we acted to give them childhood baptism.

Our task as parents and pastors is to prepare them for the day when they will make the choice for themselves, not to make the choice for them. And we should not act out of fear, but rather faith in God, entrusting our children into God’s hands.

5. A practical concern: Childhood baptism deprives people of the full meaning and experience of adult baptism. At least some have publicly lamented that they feel like they have never had a real baptism because they were baptized before they really knew what it meant or before they had an adult faith in and commitment to Jesus.

6. A practical concern: Childhood baptism creates confusion in church order. This happens when those with childhood faith grow up and choose for themselves in adolescence not to follow Jesus. We now have a person baptized based on childhood faith, who as an adult repudiates this childhood faith. (While it is true that adults can have a change of heart after baptism, at least here they made the decisions with full ability to discern and choose; with adult faith and unbelief.)

Do we exercise discipline in this situation? This would seem to be in order since baptism is connected with accountability and submitting to discipline. But is it really fair or right to hold them to this, since they were only children and didn’t fully understand what they were getting into?

What if this person later comes to an adult faith in Jesus. Should the person be re-baptized? If we say yes, then we acknowledge that their childhood faith was not an adequate basis for baptism; that it wasn’t a real baptism. If we say no, then the person is, in effect, left without a real, meaningful baptism.

7. Final thought: Childhood baptism dilutes the meaning of baptism and the Christian life. If we can baptize those who are not even able to understand, much less accept Jesus’ discipleship demands, it conveys a clear message: discipleship is not a necessary part of the Christian life. This is all the more true as the age gets younger and we baptize children who have just the smallest sign of faith.

 And this logic works its way into our criteria for adult baptisms also. All you need is a glimmer of faith to be baptized.

Conclusion: Baptism should be reserved for those who are able to have adult-faith; for those who are (roughly) 13 or older; for those with childhood faith, baptism should be looked forward to as the symbol of transition from childhood faith to adult faith.

The scriptural pattern of ministry to children

There are two Scriptural admonitions that are given to guide our ministry to children.

1. We are to train our children. Given that children are not mature morally and have an inborn tendency not to do what is right,  the task of parents and the people of God is to train, shape and form them in the way of the Lord. As Paul says in Ephesians 6:4, Christian parents are to raise their children in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

The church also has a role in this training of children given its commission by Jesus to “make disciples” of all peoples (Matthew 28:19). We do this through equipping parents and, more specifically, by offering programming to all children that teaches them the way of the Lord.

The goal of our training is that when our children are past the age of childhood acceptance before God they will be ready to begin to discern and choose to enter the kingdom of God for themselves. For those with childhood faith this may well be a smooth and seamless transition.

2. The blessing of children. Jesus is very clear that we are to “receive” children in his name. Jesus said in Mark 9:37 – “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” Jesus is also very clear that we are to “let the children come” to him – Mark 10:14. We are not to be like the disciples who tried to hold back the children from Jesus – who made Jesus angry.

But if baptism is not the way to do this as a church, what is? The Gospels answer this question by telling the story of Jesus blessing the children.  “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.. . . And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” – Mark 10:13-16.

 To “let the children come” to Jesus is defined in this story in verse 16, it means to pray for them and bless them. What it means to receive children in Mark 9:37 is explained here in Mark 10:16.

When Jesus ministered to children he did not baptize them or even give them the Lord’s supper, he took them, prayed for them and blessed them. He took the time to receive them and care for them and to minister God’s blessing into their lives.

This is also what we should do:

  • At birth, when our children are born and then presented to God, we should pray for God to bless them.
  • At the Lord’s supper, whenever we receive it we should provide a place in the service to recognize them and pray for God’s blessing to be in their lives.
  • Whenever a parent or child seeks it, we should take the time to minister to their need and pray for God to bless them.



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