Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 01/28/2011 by Leslie Wiggins.
Recommended. An important book for all thoughtful Christian parents, specifically those who subscribe to credobaptism.
As a mother of four children, the days of my children's professions of faith have been a matter of prayer and planning from before they were born. Books penned by well-known Christian ministers and authors about having a godly family, being a godly mother, having a godly home, line my shelves. Almost every act and routine revolves around the goal of helping them love Jesus Christ and follow Him all of their days. But none of the advice in those books, none of my routines and habits really amount to much if I'm not prepared to thoughtfully answer questions regarding repentance, faith, and baptism in a biblical manner.
It is common to see children who are raised in Christian homes demonstrate an understanding of the gospel and a reverence for Christ at an early age. As a member of Southern Baptist churches (in Alabama), I have been witness to the regular baptism of children. Waiting a period of time following "asking Jesus into your heart" is nearly unheard of. As soon as a little one expresses a basic understanding of the gospel and prays to "receive" Christ, the baptism is scheduled. It was only a few years ago that I began to question this practice. When I waited a year following my youngest child's profession of faith, I faced pressure and incredulity from family members: "Why would I make her wait? 'Do not hinder the children,' Jesus said." But is avoiding manipulation and parroting answers, helping a child learn what it means to walk with Christ, and waiting in order to avoid a false assurance of salvation equal to "hindering" children?
Rev. Dennis Gundersen says no. In fact, his book Your Child's Profession of Faith is "not about making less of an effort to evangelize our children. But it is about being in less of a rush to hurry them into a profession which we prompt them to, in our own words, and not from their own heart." It is about helping parents and their pastors who are responsible for "faithfully guarding your child's soul." He warns against two extremes: accepting it without question, and taking a child's profession lightly, thus scorning it.
As a parent, he understands the importance of shepherding our children's souls. As a pastor, he feels the weight of being held accountable by God for his pastoring of adults and children. "So we must be always ready to learn how we may better guard ourselves, and our children, from false hopes based on unbiblical thinking. For us to fail to learn this is to risk failing them on the most important matters we know." Therefore, when it comes to baptizing children, Gundersen's advice is simple: wait.
Using Scripture's own words regarding children and childishness, Gundersen offers three reasons for why it is better to wait on baptizing children. First, children are intellectually immature. Children cannot be expected to understand the costs of the gospel and commit to a lifelong commitment. He doesn't say that children cannot understand the gospel; rather, he says that children are not intellectually mature enough to understand and do all the things that Christ says are required of his followers. Jesus compares discipleship to hating father and mother, hating your own life, living like a soldier, and living married to Christ. "When these are what genuine discipleship is compared to, we have to agree that decisions of this magnitude are usually only noticeable in adult life."
Second, Gundersen shows that the scriptures describe children as changeable and unstable in their thinking. "What thrills a child one moment may mean nothing to him the next...what is mostly lacking is resolve. For the adults in a child's life to recognize this lack of consistent resolve must factor into how seriously we take even the clearest and most outstanding profession faith which a child gives." Third, he explains how the scriptures show that children are susceptible to deception. Simply put: children are naïve. "It is most certainly possible for children to enter the kingdom of heaven, at even a very tender age. There are no limits on who the almighty grace of God can reach. But the concern of this chapter has been to point out the obstacles which exist in the very nature and makeup of a child which make discerning a true profession from a false one a difficult task."
Gundersen simply encourages thoughtful parents to wait. Instead of rushing a decision and baptism, he writes that childhood is a time for patient cultivation. "Childhood is a time of preparation, not a time of completion; a season of immaturity, not maturity; a time of seed-planting and not mature fruit-bearing." He encourages parents to train children to obey, encourage children's faith, challenge children's faith, and teach children to fix their eyes on Christ rather than on their own profession. Much of his instruction for parents is based on Andrew Murray's "The Children for Christ."
"A genuine believer in Christ is always one who has turned from his sin (repentance) and has rested his hopes for eternal life entirely on Christ’s accomplished work on the cross (faith). Adult and child alike are reduced to becoming the trustful children of the heavenly Father; without this, no one enters the kingdom of God." The basic indicators of salvation, according to Gundersen, are: a sound profession of belief in our Lord Jesus Christ; affectionate love for Christ; determination to obediently follow Christ; and decisive rejection of the reign of sin. No one would baptize an adult who did not demonstrate these things. Ought we to take the same care when it comes to children? This does not necessarily mean that a person's baptism would have to wait an inordinate amount of time, however.
Finally, Gundersen offers brief counsel on how to know when your child is ready for baptism. The appendices include excerpts from Andrew Murray's writing about children and parents, common question parents may ask regarding the baptism of their children, and a list of recommended reading.
On a personal note, I feel like I've experienced both ends of the spectrum regarding childhood baptism. My husband and I excitedly scheduled our oldest daughter's baptism not long after her profession of faith. For my youngest child, however, we waited so long that she finally came to me in tears asking why I was making her wait. Each child is different; a person's profession of faith and baptism are not one-size-fits-all. Gundersen does not advocate setting age limits or rushing baptism. Instead he advocates that parents and pastors must understand their responsibility to encourage faith, but exercise wisdom when it comes to a child's profession and baptism.
I think this is an important book for all thoughtful Christian parents, specifically those who subscribe to credobaptism. The consequences of a false assurance are great for individuals and the health of a church. You will find some encouragement for parenting and understanding your important role as parent and evangelist. I would encourage church elders to consider this question and prayerfully decide under what parameters their church will baptize children. Furthermore, and this may come as a shock, I am convinced that heavy-handed invitations at vacation bible schools should be banned. Summer after summer, children make professions of faith at vacation bible schools without the presence of their parents, without adequate follow-up and discipleship, leading to many false assurances of salvation. Plant the gospel seed, but wait and trust God will make it grow.