On Children, Baptism and David Lipscomb (1914)

While there are many variations along a continuum, credobaptists (that is, those who baptize believers) approach children within the faith community in two major ways. On the one hand there are the revivalists, but on the other hand there are those who emphasize nurture.

Revivalists believe that children within the faith community, at some point, become sinners (some might think they are born such or at least guilty of Adamic sin) when they reach an age of accountability (however that is defined). They believe children are objects of evangelism. So, many credobaptists encourage children to say the “Sinner’s Prayer,” and those among Churches of Christ baptize only those who confess they are sinners. The latter are baptized in order to be saved, and they would (according to many) be lost without that baptism, though identifying the age at which they became lost is ambiguous (and often worrisome for parents).

Those who emphasize nurture believe children grow up in faith as part of a faith community. They are maturing disciples rather than lost sinners. They are baptized, then, in order to affirm their faith, own their discipleship, and receive God’s promised blessings. They are baptized because Jesus was baptized and because Jesus told them to be baptized.

I have previously argued in a couple of books on baptism, an article in the Christian Standard, and on this blog that the latter approach is the better one. I will not rehearse those arguments here, but I did want to point to a historical precedent within Churches of Christ.

David Lipscomb did not think one had to impose “a heavy weight of guilt” upon those who were “reared in the training and instruction of the Lord.” When those so nurtured want to be baptized, it is sufficient that they want to obey the Lord.

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, "A  Summary. No. 2," Gospel Advocate 56 (1 January 1914), 11.]

I think Lipscomb offers some godly advice for parents, ministers, and youth leaders.



5 Responses to “On Children, Baptism and David Lipscomb (1914)”

  1.   Jeff McVey Says:

    So:

    1. The implication is that “nurtured children” are saved prior to their baptism, and that they are baptized only to “fulfill all righteousness.”

    2. Thus, what happens if one of these “nurtured children” for some reason decides not to be baptized ??? The implication is that they are still saved, even without baptism.

    • Avatar of johnmarkhicks  johnmarkhicks Says:

      Yes, the point is that nurtured children, raised within the family of faith and exhibiting faith throughout in ways appropriate to their age and understanding, live in communion with God–saved by God’s work in Christ.

      These nurtured children, like Jesus himself, will one day own their own faith, integrate into their own psyche, and commit to the way of the cross through baptism. If, in their development, they come to reject faith, disown Christ, and refuse baptism (more importantly, the way of the cross), without faith it is impossible to please God (as the writer of Hebrews says).

  2.   Brennan Says:

    Thanks, John Mark! These are very timely observations for the father of three young sons. I remember having many nightmares as a child of dying and going to hell. I remember one in particular where Jesus was returning to earth (the sky was on fire and stuff) and my dad and I were running like crazy through the field behind our house so I could get baptized in the creek before the Blessed Lord fully destroyed the earth and my young soul was lost forever.

    At the same time, I was too shy and timid to go forward at church and request public baptism. It was 2-3 years of tension, fear, and guilt in my life that my boys thankfully won’t have to go through.

  3.   rich constant Says:

    YEP YEP YEP
    JUST TOO SIMPLE for my complex mind
    or
    to complex for my simple mind.

    although

    i really think you got a handle on development of kids in a family covenant relationship
    through faith.
    NO FEAR
    BLESSINGS rich

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