This past Sunday there was a baptism at my church. Traditionally, we go to a large nearby creek for all of our baptisms. It’s part of the charm of our little country church. However, recently, the community dredged the bottom of the creek to prevent local children from swimming in it and our church had to move our baptism spot to a small nearby lake.
There stood all of my church family on the dirty sandy beach under a cloudy sky on this Sunday afternoon. My beloved pastors knee deep in the water helping fulfill Jesus’ commandment to baptize. As the elderly woman came up out of the water, there was a smile that seemed to stretch from ear to ear to the thundering applause of our congregation. I love baptisms.
It was at that moment that my 3 years old looked up at me with those big green eyes and asked, “Can I get baptized now? It’s my turn. I want to.”
My heart instantly swelled but my tongue seemed to as well. For starters, my husband wasn’t present. I didn’t have a change of clothes or towels. Above all the practical reasons why she couldn’t, there was the obvious question- Is she old enough to make that decision?
Of course, I believe that Holy Spirit can draw the youngest as well as the oldest and as for my children I would prefer them to have lived fully dedicated to The Lord. My beautiful little girl just asked the question that I was hoping would happen early on.
However, wide eyed like a deer trapped in headlights, I looked to my mother-in-law. “What do I do?” I asked. She shrugged.
“Sweetie, you can get baptized but you have to wait. Mommy knows that Daddy would like to be here and I would also like to talk with you before you go in the water about what this means.”
So here I sit with the question that every Christian parent will eventually face: How do I help my little one understand the commitment that they’re about to make? How can I take a relatively large and life altering subject from God’s Word and help them to make a sound decision?
Did Jesus command us to be baptized? Absolutely. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus commands the disciples to go out and make more disciples. He commands them to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That means when my little one wants to be baptized, she may be tuned in more finely to what Holy Spirit is telling her than what I thought.
The word baptize or baptism occurs over 100 times in the New Testament. The majority of the usage is metaphorical and means to overwhelm. Otherwise, the meaning is to cleanse with water or to submerge in water. If you dig into the Greek, the word baptizo means to ceremoniously dip. Some time ago I found out that the Romans when going off to war would dip the tips of their spears into a pool of the enemy’s blood. This would ceremonially familiarize their spears with the enemy and represent the goal that they were after. This is the same way that when we dip down into the water as Christians it is symbolic of the commitment that we have already made and we are familiarizing ourselves publicly with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
So the first question I had to ask my daughter was, “Do you want to make the commitment to follow Jesus the best you can for the rest of your life? That’s the thing that you have to do before you can get baptized.”
The Bible says that the gospel is so simple that even a child or a wayfaring man can understand it. To simplify the topic of salvation we need to go to Romans 10:10 (KJV), “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” We tend to complicate and confuse so many things that come from God but this… this is so simple. You need both your heart and mouth for salvation. With your heart, you believe which results in righteousness and with your mouth you confess which results in salvation.
So there, on the floor of my bedroom, my daughter prayed the sweetest prayer I had ever heard. “Lord, Jesus, I’m sorry for lying. I don’t ever want to lie again. I want to follow You. Can you come into my heart so I can do that, please? Amen.”
I have thought a lot since I started writing this post about my daughter imitating what she sees in my behavior. I want to raise salt and light, not a cleaned-up Pharisee, and it’s vitally important to me that my children understand the gravity of making commitments at this young age. I want them to understand the why as well as the what.
Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when He put the two ideas together in the same thought.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:18-20
We can’t have baptism without firstly a commitment to follow Christ or the baptism is pointless. Baptism is, after all, just a ceremonial display of what has already happened with the heart and the mouth. As parents, it falls to us that we should continue to teach before and even after the baptism occurs. This Christian walk is a life-long process that should include baptism if possible. We should support and encourage even the smallest ones to participate in such a holy thing if God lays it on their hearts. I am privileged to be able to assist anyone with this step of the walk but I am honored and blessed to be able to help my beautiful 3-year-old.
Next weekend we head down to the water and she can hardly wait. I think ultimately we made the decision that was right for her. Time will tell, but when she walks down in that water I will also be dedicating myself to teaching her the ways of God as long as I can.