I recently posted a brief statement on “Children at the Table” in which I suggested that the practice of sharing table communion with our children might be a good idea.
One question this raises, among others, is the relationship of children to the kingdom of God. For our paedo-baptist friends, it is obvious. Children are baptized into the community of faith based on the promise of God to the children of the covenant and through the faith of their parents. For those who do not practice infant baptism the question is rather different. Both traditions, however, struggle with the problem of “accountability,” that is, when does a child own their faith as their own (thus “confirmation” or other rituals in paedo-baptist traditions).
Within Churches of Christ we have historically held that children are “safe” (without sin) until they reach the “age of accountability” at which time they own their sin and become sinners (guilty). At that point, as I generally understood the theology, they are not only unsafe but also outside the grace of God. They do not belong to the kingdom. Consequently, children (ranging from ages 9-13 generally) are instructed about baptism, their sin, and their need for Jesus. As a result, Churches of Christ usually reap a baptismal harvest from among their children between the ages of 9-13 (I myself was 11 when I was baptized by my father).
This approach assumes that children move from “safe” to “lost” and then are “saved” when they are baptized. The tricky point, however, is how to identify the exact moment, time and circumstance when they move from “safe” to “lost.” Existentially this is an important question. If one’s child dies at the age of ten unbaptized is the child “safe” or “lost”? What if the child is thirteen or fifteen? It is a harsh question but a living one.
I would hope that we might all have the grace and mercy to say the deceased child now experiences the embrace of the loving Father covered in the mercy of Jesus. But on what theological or biblical grounds do we say that if we believe that children within the church move from “safe” to “lost” at some point which we cannot identify.
When I baptized my daughter at the age of eleven, I can say with absolute certainty that if she had died the night before I would have ”preached her into heaven” (as the saying goes). Existentially, in my mind at least, my daughter was not baptized to move her from “lost” to “saved.”
So what do we do with this theological impasse? I suppose one could argue that my love for my daughter blinded me to her “lostness.” I suppose one could suggest that she was not ready for baptism if she was not “lost” and perhaps she was baptized too early. But I question the theological underpinnings of the notion that our children move from “safe” to “lost” to “saved” (once baptized).
My daughter always believed in Jesus. There was never a time when she did not believe. She always believed according to her capacity to believe. Her faith developed through various levels of faith and discipleship but her faith was present throughout. From her first singings of “Jesus loves me” to her confession of faith at her baptism–faith was a constant in her life.
What do I do with that? I believe that through faith she was not merely “safe” but “saved,” that is, living in communion and relationship with God as her faith developed and her discipleship matured. As our children grow up in faith and live within a faith community, they enjoy a relationship with God through family, community and their own childlike faith.
Their growth in faith is marked throughout their family and communal life. Some faith communities have rituals to mark the various moments of faith, even something as simple as reciting the Lord’s prayer or as dramatic as a “graduation into the Youth Group.” The most dramatic, biblical and initiatory ritual is baptism.
When our children who have been nurtured in faith and have expressed their faith in a multitude of ways come to baptism, I do not believe they come as “lost” people. Rather, they come as children of the church, children of the faith community. They come already belonging to the kingdom of God–they are not “lost” nor “safe” but already in communion with God.
They come to baptism to declare their faith. They come to publically embrace their discipleship. They come to become full participants in the life of the faith community through owning their own faith and committing themselves to following Jesus to the cross. They follow Jesus into the water in order to follow him to the cross.
Baptism for our children is a climatic act of faith. It dramatically initiates them into a life of discipleship.
I think the baptism of Jesus is a model for this. Jesus did not come to his baptism as one who was “lost.” He came to his baptism to declare his discipleship–a follower of the Father who intended to do the will of the Father, even to cross. His baptism began his public ministry, his public life as a disciple. But he had been a disciple long before his baptism. He had been nurtured in faith by Joseph and Mary, he had been taught at the synagogue, he had celebrated Israel’s redemption at the Passover, etc. In effect, he had matured as a disciple through his first thirty years and owned his mission at his baptism in obedience to the Father.
Our children do something similar. They have been nurtured by family and community. They have walked a path of faith and discipleship throughout their years. And when they come to their baptism, they do not come as “lost” little people. They come as believers–people who have lived in relationship with God since their birth–ready to own their discipleship, declare their allegiance to the Father, and commit to the way of the cross as followers of Jesus.
That view of baptism is a bit higher than just moving from “lost” to “saved.” To convince a child they have done bad things and they need forgiveness is much simpler task than to wait for them to own their discipleship and commit to the way of the cross.
Perhaps if we thought that our children lived in communion with God through faith we would not rush them to the water as soon as they become aware of some distinctions about good and evil. Perhaps if we thought our children were saved by God’s grace through faith we could patiently wait for the moment when they are fourteen or sixteen or even eighteen for them to declare their discipleship and take up the mission of Jesus.
I am not suggesting a particular age for baptism. I don’t know what that should be; everyone must decide for themselves. But what I am suggesting is that to pressure our children into baptism in order to soothe our own worries and fears about their salvation is rooted in a misguided theology.
While I do not know if David Lipscomb would agree with what I have written above, I do know that he believed that a child was sufficiently prepared for baptism if she believed that she was acting in obedience to the Father whether she believed she had sin or not. In conclusion, I offer a few selections from David Lipscomb which I think share the principle I applied to this discussion. I offer them for not only historical perspective, but for careful reflection as well.
It is not an accident that those whose hearts and lives were most deeply steeped in sin, like the slayers of Jesus Christ and Saul seeking the death of all Christians, were told how to be freed from sin; while nothing of this is said to Timothy, trained and nurtured in the religion of the Bible to understand and obey its teachings, or Cornelius and Nicodemus, seeking to know the will of God, or Jesus Christ, willing to die to honor his Father’s will. Each was taught as his condition required, and God was well pleased with obedience of all classes. 
The spirit in which one should come to Christ is that of a little child, knowing but little, but trusting in God, and glad in his ignorance and helplessness to follow God and do what God desires him to do, and because God desires it. “Ye are my friends, if ye do the things I command you.” A better motive to do than because God commanded it never moved a man. 
When one reared in the training and instruction of the Lord like Timothy desires to enter Christ, his case is divine inspiration to guide him. The little girl’s wish to be baptized because Jesus wanted her to be, is as much the direction of the Spirit of God as for the murderers of the Lord to “be baptized into the remission of sins.” Those desirous to learn and do the will of God while children cannot be oppressed with a heavy weight of guilt, but find direction into the body of Christ, where all evils are banished and all blessings abound. Were one as faithful as the Son of God to be found, it would only be necessary that he be baptized to fulfill the will of God. 
 David Lipscomb, “What Must a Man Know to Fit Him to Enter Christ?” Gospel Advocate 55 (27 November 1913) 1156.
 David Lipscomb, “Query Department,” Gospel Advocate 52 (6 October 1910) 1109.
 David Lipscomb, “A Summary. No. 2,” Gospel Advocate 56 (1 January 1914) 11.