Question and Answer

What is the appropriate age for a child to be baptized?

Question:

I would like to ask:

1) What is the appropriate age for a child in a Presbyterian household to be baptized?

2) Should Presbyterian parents tell their children that they (i.e. the children) are Christians? Or would they only be Christians once they are old enough and have made a confession of faith?

3) What would be an appropriate age (or perhaps earliest age) for a child to make a confession of faith?

4) Should Presbyterian bring up their children as if they are already Christians from the time they are born to the time they make a confession of faith?

5) Should children of Presbyterians be told refer to themselves as Christians even before they make a confession of faith? Should they be treated as though they are Christians even before they make a confession of faith?

6) If not, wouldn’t this confuse the children?

How could they identify themselves amongst others when they first start school with other children saying they are Buddhist or Jewish etc.? Are they supposed to say they are not a follower of any religion until they make a confession of faith?

Answer:

Thanks for sending your questions to the OPC website. I will try to give you some biblical answers, although certain things like a specific age are difficult to pin down.

1) What is the appropriate age for a child in a Presbyterian household to be baptized? I can be fairly specific here. The OPC Directory for the Public Worship of God (III.A.2) says that parents should bring their infant children for baptism as soon after birth as is reasonable and convenient. People who join a congregation with unbaptized children in the family normally will have them baptized either at the time of the parents’ public reception into membership or as soon thereafter as is convenient. It is generally understood that children who are in their late teens or who have left home will not be baptized until they have made a profession of faith for themselves. The appropriate age will have to be discussed with the Session (elders) of the local church.

2) Should Presbyterian parents tell their children that they (i.e. the children) are Christians? They should tell them that God has claimed them for himself and that only unrelenting rebellion against him will void that claim (Acts 2:38–39, Heb. 6:1–8). They are provisionally considered Christians until they publicly repent of their sins and profess faith on the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. But they live as Christians before the world by taking up the lifestyle and piety of their Christian parents and therefore can self–identify as such. By teaching them the Bible parents can help them make the distinction between living as Christians live and actually being a Christian.

3) What would be an appropriate age (or perhaps earliest age) for a child to make a confession of faith? The Bible specifies no age, but based on Jesus’ own “coming out” (Luke 2:41–49), which is consistent with traditional Jewish practice, age 12 or 13 seems to be a good norm. Some precocious children are capable of a credible profession of faith before age 10. Some adolescents need to be prevailed upon. Parents and church elders should be looking for evidence of the new birth (John 3:3) before proceeding to hear such a profession.

4) Should Presbyterians bring up their children as if they are already Christians from the time they are born? Keeping in mind what I have already said, we should not bring up our children as if each were already saved but with the expectation that each will surely be saved through the grace of God and faith in Christ. To be a covenant child is to be treated as a Christian but (again) on a provisional basis. We have to evangelize our children, calling on them to trust the blood of Christ alone for their salvation and warning them not to trust in their family status or good works. Taking this care does not mean that we treat them as “little heathens.” Rather, we continually acknowledge them as belonging to the Lord and therefore “holy” (1 Cor. 7:14). At the same time we are most definitely to teach them what Christians believe and how to honor the Lord. By their baptism they are committed to these things, and God will hold them accountable with respect to them. We set before them covenant obligations and responsibilities and urge them to claim their inheritance and reject the path of Esau, who despised his birthright (Gen. 25:34, Heb. 12:16).

5) Should children of Presbyterians be told to refer to themselves as Christians even before they make a confession of faith? Should they be treated as though they are Christians even before they make a confession of faith? We tell them they are members of the Christian community, having all the temporal rights and privileges of that company apart from participation in the Lord’s Supper. Interest in the Supper should be an encouragement to make a profession of faith. But we do indeed treat them as Christians. In terms of everyday life, they are, until proven otherwise, the chosen ones of the Lord, and we ask them to join us in the Lord’s worship and service, and we believe that “of such is the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:14).

6) If not, wouldn’t this confuse the children? Well, the challenge is to make them conscious of their provisional status. The worst confusion would be for them to think they have no need of repentance (Luke 7:22–23).

But they are perfectly free to identify themselves to their friends as “Christians” for the purpose of distinguishing themselves from members of other religious communities. They belong to the people of God on earth. They just should be aware in their own minds of their need to have a personal faith. They do not need to explain the nuances to their friends.

I hope you find this helpful.


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