July 8, 2012
Our Lord Jesus Christ has commanded two ordinances for His church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As a church, “we believe that Christian Baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Savior, with its effect in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life; that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a Church relation” (Andover Baptist Statement of Faith). The Scriptures teach that baptism is a symbol of new life in Christ: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).
We, the elders of Andover Baptist Church, believe, then, that we must be very cautious in the exercise of this ordinance, especially in the case of children. We fully acknowledge that the Scriptures do not set an age at which a person may or may not be baptized. While we understand that the Gospel call to faith and repentance goes forth to all without distinction, that the followers of Jesus are commanded to be baptized, and that Christ Himself rebuked His disciples for hindering the little children from coming to Him, we also understand that a lack of care in the administration of this ordinance has the potential not only to cause confusion in the lives of those who are baptized but also to damage the witness of the church before the world. This means that the baptism of children is a matter of Christian wisdom.
We are encouraged and rejoice when children place their faith in Christ, but we believe that it is wise to be slow and thoughtful before proceeding with baptism. Our main reason for this is because of our desire to baptize only those who give a credible profession of their faith in Christ. The credibility of a child’s profession can be difficult to discern, especially for children from Christian families. We have seen in others or even in ourselves the confusion that being baptized as a young child can bring later on in life as Christians look back and wonder if they had truly understood the Gospel and been born again when they were baptized. Many of those whom we interview for church membership who were baptized as children look back and question the validity of their baptism because they are unsure if they were believers at that time.
While we do not set an age limit below which we will not baptize, broadly speaking, we encourage both parents and children to be patient and to wait for the fruit of the Spirit to become more and more clear in those who have professed faith. As children show greater maturity leading to godly independence, we become more and more open to discussing the issue of baptism with children who profess faith. Since baptism entails the serious responsibilities of church membership, including prayer and faithfulness to the church covenant, those desiring baptism must count the cost (Luke 14:26-33) and should be preparing themselves for these responsibilities. The church covenant requires all members to be mature enough to “exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness” among the other church members, to “faithfully admonish and entreat” their fellow members, and to accept admonishment and entreaty to a degree independently of their parents.
At the same time, we do not want to discourage anyone from legitimately obeying the command to be baptized. We recognize that ultimately these matters must be handled on a case by case basis. Children who profess faith and desire to be baptized are encouraged to speak to the elders about their profession of faith and their desire to make that profession public. Also, the elders will gladly discuss any questions that children or their parents may have.
In accordance with our understanding of the Lord’s Supper as a church ordinance, we believe that baptism should precede one’s participation in Communion. Baptism is the ordinance that is associated with joining the church, as it marks out those who outwardly identify themselves with Christ. Communion is the ordinance given to those who have identified themselves with Christ, as they proclaim the Lord’s death and their union with Him as they await His return. One of the great responsibilities required of those who participate in Communion is that they examine themselves (1 Cor. 11:28). We understand the desire on the part of children to participate in Communion, but we ask that they abstain until they have joined the church as a baptized member.
Since baptism and Communion are ordinances of Christ administered by the church, children with a sincere desire to obey Christ should recognize that they are not being disobedient to Christ if the elders of the church are cautious in the administration of baptism. In keeping with their authority in the church, the elders bear responsibility in this matter. To the best of our ability, we keep watch over souls as men who must give an account to God. Though we do this imperfectly, this statement on the baptism, church membership, and Communion of children is our humble attempt to faithfully shepherd the flock of Christ in this regard.