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Question and Answer

Maximum Age of a Baptized Child

Question:

What is the maximum age that the OPC will baptize a non-believing (no confession of faith) child of Christian parents?

Answer:

The matter would need to be resolved by a local session within the following two parameters. First, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) believes, teaches, and strongly encourages all those within her membership to present their infant children for baptism. The situation you describe exists because the OPC does not require this for parents with scruples against infant baptism. In fact, whether parents with such scruples would be allowed to join a particular church is a matter left to the discretion of the local session.

John Murray, writing for a committee of the General Assembly, reported as follows to the thirty-third General Assembly, 1966. Included is the introductory paragraph to provide the context and the conclusion of Mr. Murray, which was approved by the Assembly.

REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER THE MATTER PROPOSED TO THE ASSEMBLY BY THE PRESBYTERY OF THE WEST COAST

The Presbytery of the West Coast overtured "the Thirty-second General Assembly to render a decision in the following matter: Does the Constitution of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church permit church sessions to receive into communicant membership those who refuse to present their children for baptism on account of scruples concerning infant baptism?" (Minutes of the Thirty-second General Assembly, p. 7). The Assembly elected "a committee of three to consider the matter proposed to the Assembly by the Presbytery of the West Coast" (ibid., p. 101).

The committee has complied with the directive of the Assembly. Although no request was included in the action of the Assembly that the committee should report to the Thirty-third General Assembly, yet the committee respectfully submits to the Assembly the report that herewith follows.

This member would refrain from making a blanket statement as to the reception into communicant membership of those refusing to have their children baptized. The decision may in some instances be affirmative, in others not. And this just puts the problem where it belongs, back to the session of the local church. This is not sidestepping the issue but placing the responsibility where, according to the genius of Presbyterianism, it belongs. Historically such questions have been left with the local session. It is noteworthy that in J. Aspinwall Hodge's What Is Presbyterian Law? it is asserted again and again that it is the session that must resolve such matters. For instance, on page 143, of the 8th edition we read: "And in 1872 the Assembly asserted 'that the admission of persons to sealing ordinances is confided by the Form of Government really and exclusively to the church Session.'" On page 140 of the same volume Hodge says: "Parents declining to present their children for baptism are not to be refused on account of scruples concerning infant baptism, yet in every such case the Session must judge of the expediency of admitting them."

I direct your attention to this, because whether parents who refuse to present their children for baptism may join a local OPC is dependent upon the discretion of the session. Therefore, if the session approves parents for membership in the church without presenting their children for baptism, the parents would be received as communicant members, but their children would not be received as non-communicant members. The latter classification is limited to children who have been baptized. Their children would therefore need to be received by baptism at a later time.

I can imagine a couple of different scenarios. First, the parents may come to the conviction that their children should be baptized. They might then approach the session with the request that the children be baptized. If infants, there would be no question. Second, however, if the children were older, then the session would need to address another question, which leads to the second parameter to consider.

A baptized member of an OPC congregation must be approved by the session and give a credible profession of faith prior to admittance to the Lord's Supper. There are no age requirements. The only questions are: Has this person "come to years of discretion" which assure a proper understanding of the sacrament? Does this person give a credible profession of faith? (cf. Directory for Worship, Chapter V). The session must exercise its discretion on this matter.

Therefore, to answer your question is there a maximum age that the OPC will baptize a non-confessing child (don't confuse non-confessing with unbelieving, because they are not synonyms)? The answer is, "yes."

If the session determines that the non-confessing child has come to years of discretion and should therefore make a public profession of faith, then they would most likely require the non-confessing child to meet with the session to determine the credibility of his faith. Upon approval, the child would be baptized, publicly confessing his faith in Christ. Following this, the child would be a communicant member of the church. If the child had not come to years of discretion, then a session may baptize, though they may have other reasons preventing such.

I close in the words of John Murray quoted above in a different context, but equally applicable in this context: "The decision may in some instances be affirmative, in others not. And this just puts the problem where it belongs, back to the session of the local church. This is not sidestepping the issue but placing the responsibility where, according to the genius of Presbyterianism, it belongs," that is, with the session.

Thank you for your question. I pray that I have been of some help to you. You may write if you have further questions.


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