At a church I used to attend, I knew a couple whose daughter expressed an interest in getting baptized. Our church had recently had a baptism ceremony for a few adults and children, and apparently the ceremony had captured the attention of this little girl.

Over the course of a two or three different conversations, her mother gave me increasingly more details about the girl’s sudden interest. Her reason for wanting to be baptized was at first a little unclear. But eventually her mother figured out what the little girl found most interesting about baptism.

It was the baptismal. She was really excited about the possibility of getting into “the big tub” at the front of the church. Once her mother realized what was exciting the little girl, her mother decided that the little girl’s baptism ceremony should wait.

What’s the Earliest Age?

Of course, here’s the million dollar question: What is the earliest age that a child can be baptized?

First off, I think it’s fairly straightforward to show from the Bible that children can take part in meaningful spiritual activities. In Matthew 19:14, when some of Jesus’ followers tried to keep children away from Jesus, He said:

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Additionally, in Luke 18:17 Jesus proclaimed:

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

Wow. Faith that is acceptable to God is not hard to possess. It does not take deep understanding or intellectual prowess.

Rather it is a faith so simple that Jesus held up children as the best example of proper faith.

If children provide an example for proper faith, it’s clear that they can be capable of the kind of faith necessary to obtain salvation. And if a child can obtain salvation, then she or he can certainly be baptized.

What a Child Must Be Able to Understand

So then, what must a child understand to become saved?

I believe they must understand and accept 4 simple ideas:

  1. He or she is a sinner (Romans 3:23).
  2. Sin leads to death (Romans 6:23).
  3. Jesus died on a cross and rose again to take away our sins (Romans 10:9).
  4. Jesus gives eternal life to those who receive Him (John 1:12).

(If these ideas about salvation are new to you, I’ve prepared a more detailed look at what the Bible teaches is the first step to true spirituality).

A child is ready for baptism if he or she has embraced the four ideas above personally. This in turn requires a child to be mature enough cognitively to understand what these ideas mean and to be mature enough emotionally to make a genuine decision to receive Christ.

If a child cannot grasp these four ideas, the child is not mature enough to have obtained salvation personally and is not yet ready for baptism.

Age Guidelines

Here are guidelines (but nothing more than guidelines) that I think can guide us in determining if a child is old enough to be able to comprehend the necessary aspects of salvation:

  • Most four-year-olds are probably too young to be able to have a genuine conversion. Probably all four-year-olds will be perfectly capable of understanding that they sometimes do wrong things. However, very few will be able to understand in a meaningful way the seriousness of their sin; I doubt they can feel much real guilt and remorse. Without guilt and remorse, it will be impossible to understand our vital need for a Savior.
  • Some five- and six-year-olds are mature enough.
  • Most eight-, nine-, or ten-year-olds are mature enough, but a few may not be.
  • Even if a child is able to comprehend salvation, a child may be too young to make a genuinely committed decision for Christ.

We can see that the faith of a child can be adequate for salvation at quite a young age. However don’t be afraid to delay baptism for a child who may need just a little more time to mature. Each child will be different, and you’ll need to assess your child’s readiness individually. The ultimate test will be to see when your child has committed to a heartfelt and properly understood reliance on Christ to forgive her or his sins.

Coming Up: In our next mini newsletter article we will cover
How Can I Be Sure My Child Is Saved?.

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