Nine? Try NoMarks: A Response to Jonathan Leeman (Part 2)
Yesterday, I began responding to a 9Marks article on delaying the baptism of professing children. Jonathan Leeman was defending his church's view on deferring baptism until their confession is proven. This is highlighted early in his church's statement:
Though the baptisms in the New Testament seem largely to have occurred soon after the initial conversion, all of the individuals we can read of are both adults and coming from a non-Christian context. Both of these factors would tend to lend credibility to a conversion. The credibility of the conversion is the prime consideration.
While this sounds like piously sticking to the Scripture, it is wrought with reading into the narrative certain presuppositions about children. I have written only briefly via book reviews on the subject of enlightenment and post-enlightenment presuppositions on children (Christianity & Development Psychopathology and Give Me Children or I Shall Die). I would refer readers to the introductions of these two books for more substantial study on the following issues.
Child psychologists of late have attempted to push back against enlightenment thinking which determines human maturity almost solely in reference to mental capacity. This standard of mental maturity has allowed societies to project naivety, innocence, and moral inability upon children. The rejection of children as moral and spiritual agents has had devastating results for society and the church. Leeman's church statement reeks of this mindset. So while they might in earnest belief to be simply reflecting on the Scriptures they are working within a philosophical context that the church must reject. For them it is adulthood and conversion against one's nature that confirms a profession. This certainly is a responsible thing to read from the Biblical narrative but to then drop it upon children of the church is beyond foolish. Put simply the church is more likely to accept a falsely repentant pagan than their covenant children.
At best this results in the church's fascination with an "age of accountability." At worst their children are more thoroughly treated as pagans than non-believers. Leeman seems to think that "the question raised by baptism is the ability of others to be fairly confident of that conversion." This is nowhere taught explicitly in Scripture (though Paul affirms we should test ourselves). His further assertion that it is the church's responsibility to be confident is even more of a stretch. But it is nearly impossible when they have standards of mental maturity instilled in them from the enlightenment. I commented previously on Leeman's incompatible use of Matthew 16 & 18 to defend his assertions. What is worse is the list of points highlighted afterwards as things their elders emphasis (quoted in full),
No one questions whether or not children can be saved. God can save at any age.
The question is whether or not a church has the ability or competence to affirm a child’s profession of faith.
Let me explain that last point. Baptism requires two parties to make a public statement, not just one: the baptizee and the baptizer (the church). The baptizer, for its part, needs to be able to state with integrity, “Yep, best we can tell, this person’s profession of faith is valid and he or she should be identified with Father, Son, and Spirit as a Christian.” And insofar as children are under their parents’ authority, and have been designed by God to want to please their parents, it’s difficult for a church to discern whether or not a profession of faith is genuine (we assume it’s sincere). (When children come without Christian parents, we tend to baptize younger.)
Best we can tell, most churches who have practiced believers baptism throughout history did not baptize until something closer to adulthood. It’s a relatively new practice to baptize children.
The problems of nominal Christianity in our country, and the number of children who leave youth group and abandon the faith in college, have been created, in part, because we’ve given so many young children the assurance of salvation sooner than we should have.
I want to give my children the ability to make this public profession when they are standing on their own two feet closer to adulthood, if not as adults. (I personally found this to be a source of much joy in my experience.)
Let's begin. Point #1 is a useful admission. It is ultimately undermined by the fact that they teach the very children who make professions to question if they are saved. Basically, "God may have saved you but we are not sure yet." Point #2 is in fact the gross overstatement of church authority. It is neither commanded nor described in Scripture. To presume it can be done is merely a reflection of enlightenment philosophy. Point #3 continues this incorrect position of the church. Those with a God-centered understanding of baptism see God's speech in baptism as the most important element. In this man-centered understanding, the only person not speaking in this baptism is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yes, point #3 is logical given a man-centered understanding of baptism but it is not Biblical. Point #4 is potentially useful but so highly qualified as to be irrelevant. Who cares what the church has done if it isn't Biblical? ... That's what they tell me about infant baptism anyway ...
Point #5 is a statement of fact and stupidity. First, it is an important statement from a practical and pastoral perspective. The church should be concerned with individuals falling away. But is it really the confidence in their salvation that plays a role in the rejection of the doctrine that provides them that very confidence? You do not fall away from something you're assured about. Nevertheless, it is ironic to see the fear of assurance within Baptist churches. Ultimately though the answer is not fewer or delayed baptisms. The answer is thorough teaching. If our concern is the mental maturity of our children then perhaps our children's church needs to be enhanced. If churches are concerned about the doctrinal understanding of their youth then they should study every week the creeds while teaching a catechism.
With respect to Point #6 I can only stand by my namesake, "And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh 24:15). Or perhaps I can quote a proverb, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart [not decided to make a profession] from it" (Prov 22:6).
Only an excessive emphasis on mental maturity explains such egocentric obsession with professions and their validity. The Scriptures teach moral responsibility from the womb. They teach faith from the womb. God can save at any age because salvation is a restored relationship to God not one's mental comprehension of Him. As the Scriptures and church testify, there is no better sign of this than infant baptism. But at the very least we should baptize our professing children immediately.