I can’t be faulted for how I understood Communion. I was a kid and I readily processed things concretely. Several years would pass before I understood that the crackers and juice weren’t a snack at all. They represented something else, something important.
Baptism, like Communion, is a rite that is rich in symbolism. Baptism is a sign that points to inner spiritual realities. The concrete act of baptism doesn’t save us, doesn’t wash away our sins, and doesn’t make us part of God’s family. It represents those things. A child should be mature enough to grasp the symbolism.
Baptism Should Express Their Faith-Story
Although being able to navigate concrete vs. abstract notions is a needed step, it is not the most important step. What is critical is that the inner spiritual realities to which baptism points are personal and real for the child. They should be able to articulate their own faith-story. It is a story in which they have come to recognize they are a sinner, who is separated from a good God. It is only because of what Jesus has done for them through his death and resurrection that they can be washed clean of sin. Being forgiven by Jesus isn’t the end of the story but the start of growing and learning to be like Jesus. Jesus doesn’t leave them on their own to grow, but he helps them.
In the above paragraph, I tried to give a summary of the highlights of a faith-story. Our children do not need to be conversant on the finer details of theology, but they do need to be sure and sincere about the highlights of faith. Baptism is an expression of trusting Jesus as Lord and Saviour. It won’t be a meaningful experience if they don’t understand or don’t truly believe.
Baptism Should be an Anchor
One of the values of baptism is that it serves as an anchor point. When our children get older the world will challenge their faith. I believe in those tough days, it would be of great help if they can look back on their baptism and recall it with clarity and conviction. They will be strengthened in the battle to know that on a particular day they publicly professed their faith in Jesus and meant it.
Avoid These Two Ditches
In supporting our children there are two clear ditches to avoid. The first is coercing them to be baptized. For sure, we should desire it for each of our children and pray to that end, but it would be tragic if a child got baptized just to appease mom and dad.
On the other hand, we don’t want to be guilty of putting up a stop sign. What do we do if our child is interested in being baptized but their understanding of the symbolism and/or their experience of the spiritual realities is lacking? Instead of saying ‘No’ (i.e., stop sign), say ‘Sounds great, let’s start to get ready for that important step’.
Pastor Tracy has a great resource to help you disciple your child toward and beyond baptism. The book is called God. Should I be Baptized? by Laurie Donahue and Ralph Rittenhouse. It is available at amazon.ca here.
What other questions come to your mind about supporting your child in their journey toward baptism?