Baptism and the Age of Accountability

The church I grew up in was a variant of the Church of Christ, Independent, I think.  I can’t find specifics on their website, so I’m not sure.

But one of the things I grew up believing was what I think they call Believer’s Baptism, or credobaptism.  This essentially means there is some “grace period” until a child reaches the age of accountability (between 8 & 12).  At that time, the child is mature enough to determine whether he or she accepts Jesus, and this is the point where he or she fully becomes a Christian.

The church I go to now is Calvinist, and if I understand correctly, believes people are born sinners, and are extended grace by God in an irresistable way.  It appears the little ones are not saved and there is no “grace period”.  Some solve this dilemma by baptising infants.  Some solve it by looking for signs of “regeneration” in their children, as proof that God has chosen them.  Some evangelize heavily to their children.  Some, I have read, have the minister dedicate their children to God when they are born, and consider them as part of the covenant.  Not sure if they want them to reaffirm anything later.  There are probably more options…I don’t know.
It’s very confusing and disheartening to me.  I grew up one way, understood at least that part and was baptised as a believer.  I assumed my children would be taken care of until they were the age of reason.  Am I wrong?  Even if I were wrong, what would I do now?  They’re 6 & 9.  A little late for infant baptism.  Although they are both in or near the age of reason, they are both new to the church (as I have been away for most of their life), and they don’t know enough about Christianity to make an informed decision.

I wish there was a neat wrap-up of this blog post, but no clarity as yet :/



Filed under Apologetics

3 responses to “Baptism and the Age of Accountability

  1. Scott

    The question you have to ask yourself is, from where does baptism come? Is it a “work” that you do, or is it a gift from God? Scripture teaches us that it is God who saves. It is God who thru his son Jesus Christ gives everlasting life and forgives sins. We dont need to understand how this works, only that God can and does give this to us by his grace. Through baptism, we are brought into the Church and made children of the heavenly king. Since it is God that claims us and not vice versa, it is entirely approprate to baptise childern, infants, and adults regaurdless of age. I would say that if the Holy Spirit is working in you (and you would not be asking these questions if it were not), then you should baptise your children, and take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus has marked you and your children with the cross of Christ forever.
    Grace is an amazing thing!

  2. A couple thoughts.

    The first is that we assume infants are “innocent” or “good.” People get that impression because infants can really do much of anything. Seen any infants convicted of murder lately? Embezzlement? Drunk driving? Shows they’re pretty law-abiding citizens, no? (Likewise, I’m sure quaruplegics have lower rates of assault, proving their moral superiority also, right?)

    You can’t examine actions in order judge a person as morally good (or bad) if there was no opportunity for action. And most people only look at coarse-grained criteria: Why, little Egbert would never hurt a fly. (Of course not. He can’t even grasp things yet.)

    I have a more cynical/realistic view of children and infants. They (of course) are completely self-absorbed. If goodness includes an element of selflessness, then there’s no particular reason to believe this is present in abudance — and less so, the younger we examine them.

    And yes, babies do some nasty things. I’ve long thought that God ensures children are weak and helpless because they’d be brutal thugs if their minds or egos were place in adult bodies. The only thing that makes it cute is that they’re so danged ineffective, and that we’re programmed to love them anyway, rather than eat them, like fish or male bears do.

    So I don’t buy this whole “babies are innocent” line, and do indeed believe, based on a dozen empirical evidences I could point to, that children are indeed prone to sin; e.g. under “original sin”, to use the theological parlance.

    + + +

    So what of it? We’re horrified that God might sent infants to hell, right? That’s the unnamed elephant in this particular room, is it not?

    But the truth is that unless we’re some kind of egotist, we’re generally not very comfortable with the idea of God sending anyone to hell, and the question about children is no different than the question about anyone else who has never heard of Christ.

    Let me ask you a few questions first, to help you clarify your view of God. Do think a just God would allow the following:

    (1) Hypothetical scenario #1: Alice has grown up in a Christian culture, but never understood what the gospels said. If someone had only answered one particular question correctly, she would have believed. But they didn’t before she died, so she was condemened.

    (2) Hypothetical scenario #2: If Bob would have lived to have been 30, he would have had experiences which led him to repent and be saved. But he died in a car accident at 29, so he was eternally condemned.

    Wouldn’t such judgements be abitrary? Essentially, Alice is not being judged for her essential character, but for what events happened to her. The same for Bob.

    Right. So a just God does not act this way. So how does he act?

    + + +

    Abraham never heard of Jesus, as best we know. He never read the gospels. Other than the possibility of a miraculous revelation, he never heard of crucifixion. Yet here is what Jesus said of him, indicating he was indeed “saved”:

    “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56)

    Jesus taught that Abraham was the kind of person who, if he had heard about Jesus in some detail, would have been glad, and would have rejoiced. See especially the context of this verse, where Jesus is saying the Pharisees were the “children” of the devil, not the “children” of Abraham — he is talking about their nature, as manifested (exposed) by their reactions:

    “If you were Abraham’s children… then you would do the things Abraham did…. If God were your Father, you would love me.”

    And indeed, after dead, Abraham DID see Jesus’s day (“he saw it”) and was indeed glad. God is the god of the living, not the dead.

    So the dead live on: they don’t die. And I believe God judges some as righteous because they would have been open to hearing about Jesus. And indeed, that is their reaction when they see him in death: “Ahah! Yes! This makes sense! Of course!!! This is what I’ve been longing for!”

    “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead…” (1 Peter 4:6)

    Likewise, the condemned recoil in horror: “Oh no! Not this!” The thing they wanted pushed out of their lives, while they lived, will be standing there, facing them. I have heard Stalin died with a look of horror on his face, screaming in fear at what he was seeing. He didn’t have bad character because he killed millions. Instead, the murders were an outgrowth of the nature of the man: the slaughter was a horrifying symptom, not the core problem.

    In the case of Alice and Bob, I believe in this day, with the Gospel so available, God does arrange so that everyone who is interested can hear about it, however would be necessary, during their lifetime. If Bob would have believed at 30, God would keep him alive, or arrange a presentation earlier. If Alice would have believed it when presented X way, I believe God will arrange that.

    I often wondered, for example, about Muslims who live in a gospel-free culture. But I then I heard many stories (also in the mainstream press) about Muslims who have come to Christ through visions — even in places like New York City. It’s an interesting phenomenon: God reaches out to those willing to respond to him, and circumstances are no barrier.

    And for those with no such opportunity even possible — perhaps including infants, well, then see Abraham. He would have been glad to see Jesus. So I personally suspect that infants enter life as adults, the adults they would have been, and, like those who had died before, react however they would have reacted.

    + + +

    I’ve never heard a view like mine articulated before, so I’m aware that I might be a theological anomaly. Why this should be, I don’t know: it seems biblical enough. Perhaps I’m missing something.

    But I also know this view might open a can of worms, so I’m going to protract this already-lengthy comment just a bit further with a clarification.

    Mormons, for example, hold the view that when people die, they will be presented with “a choice”. So even if they didn’t believe in Jesus, they will have another chance in the afterlife. Generally, I reject such an idea.

    Jesus told a story about a rich man and a beggar. The rich man (who has no name, indicating God does not “know” him) is sent to hell, while the beggar enters heaven. The rich man pleads with Abraham:

    ‘I beg you, father [Abraham], send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

    Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

    ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

    [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

    The rich man grew up in an environment which was rich with potential evidences for God. His problem was not ignorance, or that he couldn’t believe it — it was that he placed no importance on it, spending his time accruing wealth and comforting himself.

    Abraham’s answer is basicly that the rich man’s brothers already had enough information to believe, if they wanted to. They personally would not have repented if they’d seen an additional vision. All such a vision would have done was condemn them further, since they would be guilty of ignoring even more evidence.

    So I believe we don’t get to repent in heaven: we are who we were when we died. If that person was open to the idea, they rejoice. If not, they are given what they wanted: a long, long time away from the force they’ve loathed and rejected: goodness.

    Well, I hope there was something helpful here.

  3. It does help, Tim. I guess it comes down to the sovereignity of God. He doesn’t accidentally forget Alice or Bob or my monkeys for that matter. He says he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27). And that if we seek him, we will find him. (Matthew 7:7). And I finally get the issue of “if I had more time…”. The answer would be the same, si? So yes, those things help.

    As a side note, after reading this, I was pondering he story of Abraham and the rich man and the beggar other day in the car. I thought it was interesting – even though Abraham tells the rich man there is a fixed chasm between them, they can still have a conversation.

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