Child Baptism and Actual Discipleship

dan delzell opinion page

Throughout the history of the Christian church, millions of parents have chosen to have their children baptized. In fact, these six extraordinary theologians even supported infant baptism: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards.

While these men certainly were not infallible, there is no question that each one of them was used mightily by the Holy Spirit to advance the Christian faith around the world, as well as right here in America. As Stephen Gorham noted, "Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is considered by many to be the greatest mind that America has ever produced, and he is certainly this country's greatest theologian and was a leading figure in the First Great Awakening."

God obviously knew in advance that Christians over the centuries would differ somewhat in their approach to baptism. And yet interestingly, the Holy Spirit did not inspire the authors of Scripture to write much about baptism. Christian parents are left to make honest and prayerful decisions when considering an appropriate age for baptism. They seek to remain true to their biblical convictions, while also not going against their conscience.

After all, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (2 Cor. 3:17) For example, some Christian parents send their children to a public school; others to a Christian school; and some choose to homeschool.

Likewise, some Christian parents have their babies baptized, while others have them dedicated. Some parents have their preteen children baptized upon their profession of faith in Christ, while other parents encourage their children to hold off on baptism until later in their teen years.

Catholic and Protestant parents have a similar challenge. Each one of their children needs to learn about Jesus during their formative years. The souls of these precious littles ones need to be grounded in the Gospel message of forgiveness through faith in Christ.

What happens if a child is baptized, but then not discipled in the Christian faith on a daily basis? The results speak for themselves, as multitudes of teenagers and adults around the world who were baptized at a young age are not living for Christ today.

Interestingly, Martin Luther was baptized as an infant in the Catholic church, but it took two or three decades before he came to trust in Christ alone for salvation. The Holy Spirit worked mightily in Luther's heart through the Gospel message, and especially Romans 1:17: "The just shall live by faith."

Prior to his spiritual conversion, Luther attempted to earn God's acceptance and work his way to heaven. He discovered that such a feat is impossible. In fact, "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse." (Gal. 3:10) In other words, trying to earn your way to heaven keeps you outside of God's family.

If children who have been baptized are not taught about Jesus at home and at church, how will they learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus? After all, baptism itself does not guarantee that a person is going to live for the Savior and rely upon the cross for salvation.

Parents are certainly free to baptize their young children if they wish to do so, but teaching children daily about Jesus and God's Word is what leads to a life of discipleship. It is only the grace of God that leads children and teens to trust, love, and follow Christ as their Savior.

Christian parents do not all share the same convictions about baptism. And that shouldn't surprise us, especially since baptism isn't mentioned very often in Scripture when compared to how often the New Testament presents the doctrine of justification through faith, as well as all the instructions for holy living.

And in addition to spending far more time in his epistles on those critical issues, the apostle Paul went so far as to make this stunning statement about baptism: "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel." (1 Cor. 1:17) And that came from the man who was used by God to write much of the New Testament.

No wonder there are a variety of perspectives among believers concerning baptism, whereas justification through faith is accepted by every Christian parent. Paul wrote, "We know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ." (Gal. 2:16)

Catholic and Protestant parents typically have noble motives when raising their children. But motives alone are not going to lead a child to trust the Lord. Christian parents must teach their children about God's love for them, as well as how to walk in a way that honors the Lord.

Whether you identify yourself as "Catholic," "Protestant," "evangelical," "spiritual," or with some other moniker, the far more important issue is this: "What am I doing to raise my child(ren) to love and trust Jesus, and to know that forgiveness of sins comes through faith in Christ's death on the cross rather than through our sincere efforts, works, and moral behavior?

If you are led as a Christian parent to have your child baptized, so be it. But just remember what it takes to make a disciple: years of prayer, dedication, instruction, encouragement, guidance, love, and spiritual strength. And only God can empower us to lead our children into a close and personal relationship with the One who died for their sins on the cross.

No wonder Jonathan Edwards refused to baptize infants of parents who could not "profess saving grace." He understood that much depends upon what parents do after a child is baptized. And parents can only give a child what they have first received from God.

Martin Luther is a prime example. It's what he was taught growing up that led to his wrong ideas about salvation, and what he later learned in Scripture that eventually led to his spiritual conversion through faith in Christ. Luther wrestled his way through works righteousness in order to ultimately discover within Scripture the gem of the Gospel.

Have you discovered this gem yourself? Are you trusting in Christ alone for salvation, or are you living under the delusion that you can work your way to heaven? It's not too late to make the switch from the "wide road that leads to destruction," and to get on "the narrow road that leads to life." (Matt. 7:13,14) Jesus spoke often about the eternal destinations of heaven and hell.

It is God's desire for you to repent of your sins and trust Christ alone for salvation, (1 Tim. 2:4) whether you were baptized early in life or not. "Today is the day of salvation." (2 Cor. 6:2) There is still time for you to embrace the good news Martin Luther came to believe decades after his parents chose to have their newborn son baptized.

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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