This evening I want to consider something difficult to think about or to discuss. These things are difficult to think about for two reasons. First, thinking about them asks us to examine ourselves to see if we are being true in our basic concepts and understandings. Second, thinking about them focuses us on some of the most important people in our lives, our children.

It is difficult to discuss these things because they touch our deepest emotions. In powerful emotions, the heart overrules the mind.

As parents and grandparents, one of our fears is our fear for our children. We fear everything that threatens our children. To Christian parents and grandparents, our greatest fear for our children is the fear that they will reject God.

This fear combined with a fuzzy focus has produced an explosion in the church in the last decade. More and more children seek to be saved before they are lost.

This is a complicated, complex matter to discuss. I am not asking you to agree with me. I do not ask you to accept my conclusions. I ask you to think. I ask you to become aware of a serious spiritual problem developing in the church.

  1. First, I want to focus you.
    1. There are concepts that I personally reject because I do not conclude that these concepts represent the total teachings of the Bible.
      1. I do not accept the concept that children need forgiveness at birth.
      2. I do not accept the concept that we are evil from birth.
    2. There are also concepts that I accept for biblical reasons.
      1. I accept the concept that a child is born in a guilt free state of innocence.
      2. I accept the concept that a childlike attitude and heart should be the goal of every person in God's kingdom.
    3. But those concepts are not our focus tonight.

  2. Let's try to think from a common perspective.
    1. If a child has no guilt, if a child lives in a state of innocence and condition of safety, if a child does not need to repent, does that child need to be baptized?
      1. If I asked you as Christians if a person who genuinely had no sin needed to be baptized, your answer would be quick and automatic.
        1. You would say, "No," without hesitation.
        2. Why? Because the combination of faith, repentance, and baptism results in God forgiving us of sin.
        3. If there is no sin, the person does not need repentance or forgiveness.
        4. You say, "But, that is a hypothetical situation--there is no such person."
      2. In the past, we affirmed that there are such people.
        1. In the past we declared the person whose mental or emotional capacity prevented him or her from distinguishing between good and evil did not need forgiveness.
        2. Because that condition produced childlike innocence, the person did not need baptism.
          1. This person was not accountable.
          2. This person had no guilt.
          3. This person had no reason to repent and was incapable of repenting.
          4. This person was without sin.
          5. Therefore this person did not need baptism.
        3. For that reason we used this phrase: the age of accountability.
          1. What was "the age of accountability?"
          2. It was the age when a person acquired and felt guilt because:
            1. This person by conscious choice rebelled against God.
            2. This person felt guilt for his or her specific evil decisions and actions.
            3. This person knew that he or she needed to redirect life.
            4. Because the person consciously made evil decisions, he or she needed to repent and be baptized.
          3. Therefore, the age of accountability occurs when a person understands what evil is, chooses to do evil, chooses to rebel against God, and acquires the knowledge and feeling of guilt as a result.
            1. Before that point, the person was not accountable and did not need repentance and baptism.
            2. At and after that point, the person was accountable and needed repentance and baptism.
        4. In what year of life does the age of accountability occur? 15? 12? 8? 6?
          1. Spiritual accountability is not produced by chronological age.
          2. Spiritual accountability is produced by the combination of awareness, decision, and actions that create guilt.
          3. Accountability is not a matter of chronological age; it is a matter guilt.
    2. We need to add to an understanding of accountability an understanding of some specific biblical information.
      1. The gospels and the book of Acts contain no record of a child being baptized.
        1. All specific accounts of baptism are adult baptisms; adults who believed or repented and choose to be baptized.
        2. Some baptism accounts mention the response of the "household," but inferring "household" includes young children is a debatable assumption and certainly not clearly established.
        3. The lessons were given to adults, the situations were adult situations, the teachings were on an adult level, and the responses were adult responses.
          1. The responses came from men and women who understood the significance of Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection from an adult perspectives.
          2. They consciously turned from ungodly lives or actions to accept the Christ and his forgiveness.
      2. An understanding of baptism was commonly preceded by a call to repentance; baptism was to begin a changed life.
        1. Both John and the disciples of Jesus baptized people who responded to the message of repentance.
          1. Matthew 3:1,2,5,6 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand..." Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          2. Immediately following the wilderness temptations, Matthew 4:17 states, From that time Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          3. John 3:22,23 states of Jesus' early ministry, After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized-- (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          4. John 4:1-3 further states, Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), he left Judea and departed again into Galilee. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        2. This seems evident to me:
          1. Repentance was fundamental to John and Jesus' message.
          2. People responded to their message by confessing their sins.
          3. In response to the call to repent, they were baptized.
        3. Mark 1:4 clearly states, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      3. Consider the context and the specific message of the verse that we commonly use regarding baptism: Acts 2:38.
        1. Acts 2 is the first time people were baptized to respond to Jesus as the God declared Lord and Christ.
        2. To this Jewish audience, Peter proved that Jesus' death and resurrection were promised in Jewish scripture.
        3. Those who understood Peter immediately realized their situation and their guilt for Jesus' death.
        4. Their fear of God's wrath motivated them to ask, "What are we going to do?" By the Mosaic law, they would have been killed.
        5. Peter's instructions (verse 38): "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        6. These Jews who understood that Jesus was Lord and Christ, and not a criminal pretender, must repent.
          1. Baptism should occur only if they repented.
          2. Believing Jesus' identity and position was not enough.
          3. Baptism would result in the forgiveness of sins only if baptism was based on belief in Jesus and the repentance of sin.
          4. They would receive the Holy Spirit only if they repented and were baptized.
      4. In only one situation do we set aside those conclusions without question: in the baptism of children.
        1. We reject the baptism of infants because they cannot choose, or have faith, or need to repent.
        2. If a child can make a simple choice, has a simple faith, but has nothing for which to repent, does he or she need baptism?

  3. In the church, why are the number of children requesting baptism rising?
    1. There certainly are readily identified, old reasons.
      1. They are afraid.
      2. They have seen other children baptized.
      3. Friends in other religious groups have been baptized.
      4. They come from a family where everyone has been baptized for generations.
      5. They have heard that God wants us to be baptized, and they want obey God.
    2. I call your attention to some additional reasons that, in my judgment, are significant factors.
      1. Many Christian homes are either deeply troubled, very unstable, or broken.
        1. Many of our children are in insecure environments.
        2. Between troubled homes, separated homes, broken homes, one parent homes, homes in which there is abuse, and homes that are too busy to nurture and care, many of our children crave adult attention.
        3. One of the few things a child can do to secure immediate, positive adult attention is be baptized.
        4. One of the things that a child can do to seek security is to be baptized in insecure circumstances.
      2. Children are responding to an oversimplified concept of obedience.
        1. Our fear that someone might not understand the importance of obedience often makes our teaching on obedience biblically unbalanced.
        2. So children learn that if you love God, if you believe that Jesus died for you, you need to obey God.
        3. A five year old can understand that, and a five year old do that.
        4. "I love God. I believe that Jesus died for me. I understand a person must obey God. God wants people to be baptized, so I want to be baptized."
        5. Someone says, "That sounds fine to me."
          1. Does it?
          2. It has nothing to do with conversion; it has nothing to do with repentance; there is no concept of redirecting life; it reflects no understanding of evil; there is no mature concept of guilt.
          3. How can a person be saved if he or she is not lost?
      3. Parents are scared for their children.
        1. These are wicked times, and our children face wicked environments.
        2. In fear, we never want them to experience the sense of being lost.
        3. We do not want their conversion; we don't want them to go from sinner to Christian; we want them to go from innocent to saved.

I talked with a young person who wanted to be baptized. We talked one on one maybe 20 minutes. His attention span was 5 minutes. He had no concept of evil. He had no sense of guilt. His most urgent question was, "Can I go play now?"

Communion was being served. I was visiting. A small girl was coloring in a color book. After the prayer, Mom told her to put her coloring book down. She took the bread, then picked up the coloring book, and resumed coloring.

When you read the book of Acts, would you call that conversion?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 11 October 1998
next in series

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell