The Age Of Accountability

Keith Newell

Mark 16:16 - He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

The road was wet, and, in my opinion, my wife was driving too fast for the conditions. “SLOW DOWN! ... before you drive off the road and kill us all,” I said in a half-joking manner. The comment drew some unexpected responses from the back seat where our three children (Alyssa 11, Brittany 9 and Ty 6) were safely buckled in. “Yeah, slow down Mom. I’m afraid that someday I'll die in a crash and won't go to Heaven because I haven't been baptized yet,” said Brittany. “I know, me too!” exclaimed Alyssa.

Thus began another opportunity to teach our children more about God's word. The ensuing conversation caused me to look deeper at the “age of accountability” (a non-Biblical term suggesting when a youth is ready for baptism). Though the phrase is not Biblical, it is still a question worth asking. When is a child old enough to be baptized?

First and foremost, the child MUST know the gospel plan of salvation. However, this should not be the lone measuring stick used to determine if a child is ready for baptism. Children can often recite scriptures and other important information from a very young age. That does not mean they truly understand them.

Second, each child matures differently - not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and, yes, spiritually. I know a brother in Christ who baptized his 8-year-old son. I also know a preacher who baptized his 9-year-old daughter. Both men assured me their children knew the scriptures and fully realized the importance of their decision. Quite frankly, who am I to judge? These parents know their kids better than I do.

A warning: Some parents make the mistake of pushing their children into baptism. No parents want their child to be lost, but some prod, force, or even scare their child into baptism. Parents, be careful what you teach your children about baptism. It is the biggest decision they (or anyone) will make in their lives. It is bigger than their possible marriage, future children, or eventual career all combined. Do not force your child into something he or she is not ready to do! Baptism is a serious commitment.

Third, is the child in need of baptism? We have no problem disagreeing with the false doctrine of infant baptism because (1) babies have no sin, Mark 10:13-16. (2) They cannot hear/understand the word of God, Romans 10:17. (3) They cannot believe the word, Hebrews 11:6. (4) They cannot verbally or emotionally repent, Acts 17:30 (see also point 1). (5) Neither can they confess Jesus as they cannot talk, Acts 8:36,37. (6) Even if infant baptism were scriptural in mode (full immersion) Acts 8:38, the baby still had no say in the matter. It was not of the child’s own free will. 

Can we be guilty of unscriptural infant baptisms? Our baptized children are not babies, but could we be baptizing small children who are not lost? Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. Children who desire baptism need to understand what He has done and realize they are lost. If you are not lost, why are you being baptized? 

Fourth, children often follow the pack. If one is baptized, others the same age may “come forward.” We warn children about the dangers of bad influences, so we should be happy when they are swayed by good. My concern here is simply a matter of the heart. We do not want kids to be baptized just because their Bible school buddies are all being baptized. It has to be a personal choice or it is the wrong choice.

There is no “magic number” when a child reaches the age of accountability. However, as mature Christians, it is our responsibility to make sure children completely understand this great decision. If they are not ready, commend them for their desire to obey God and ask them to study a little more. Most youngsters will be fine with that response. -501 Orient Ave., DuBois, PA 15801.

Return to West Virginia Christian