Many people are surprised to hear I was just seven when I was baptized. I still remember the night – I was lying in bed, thinking about the cross and Jesus’ love for me. I decided I wanted to be baptized. I went into my parents’ room, where they were sound asleep, and woke them up to tell them the news. They were very happy, but told me we could talk about it more in the morning. Looking back, I guess there was no reason to wake them up in the middle of the night. I knew I wasn’t going to baptized that night. I wanted my friends to be there, and there was no way we could arrange all that in the middle of the night.
I only had one meeting with the pastor. He went over the baptismal vows with me, and every time I said “yes,” he seemed to roll his eyes. I sensed he thought I was a little young. Forty years later my suspicions were confirmed when I met him again and asked him if he remembered me. “Yes,” he said, “we baptized you a little young, didn’t we?” I assured him I was not too young and knew exactly what I was doing. Forty years later I am a lay pastor and full-time paid Bible worker, elder and former literature evangelist. I did not tell him that to boast. I just wanted to reassure him, that at seven years old, I knew full well what I was getting into, and ever since then I have remained active in the church.
I have never forgotten and will never forget the day I was baptized. I was walking on air all day long. I knew God was with me. I also will never forget the night I was thinking about the cross and decided to be baptized. I think about it whenever I am put in a situation where someone wants me to compromise my passion or convictions. Over the years I have had people make both threats and promises in an attempt to get me to compromise. I always think about that night, when I was alone with Jesus and the cross, and I remind myself, Jesus is the one who died for me, not these people who are pressuring me to compromise. I gave my heart to Jesus, not to them.
So, when a parent tells me their seven-year old wants to be baptized, this is what I do: I give them a baptism workbook. No baptism workbook was ever given to me, or Bible studies, for that matter, and I guess there is no Bible command to finish a workbook before being baptized, but it is an important step.
“Parents whose children desire to be baptized have a work to do, both in self-examination and in giving faithful instruction to their children. Baptism is a most sacred and important ordinance, and there should be a thorough understanding as to its meaning. It means repentance for sin, and the entrance upon a new life in Christ Jesus. There should be no undue haste to receive the ordinance. Let both parents and children count the cost. In consenting to baptism of their children, parents sacredly pledge themselves to be faithful stewards over these children, to guide them in their character building.” –Ellen White, Child Guidance, Pages 499-500
When I give the child the workbook, I also visit with them and their parents, and ask the child why they want to be baptized and what baptism means to them. The answer they give helps the family and me determine how seriously the child is taking this step. By giving them the workbook, I am also giving them time to grow and mature during the several weeks or even months it takes them to complete it. I encourage the parents to help them with the workbook, but I am also available any time to study with them, and I check in on them to see if the child, or parents have any questions. Parents often like their children to attend my baptismal classes at church or at the church school.
I find it somewhat frustrating, and maybe even amusing, when parents expect their children to understand everything and be perfect when they are baptized. Come on, adults don’t understand everything either, and they are not perfect when they are baptized. We have room to grow after baptism too. It hurts me, when I see parents, hanging it over the head of a newly baptized child, that they should not have made this or that mistake, because they are baptized now. Speaking of newly baptized children, Ellen White tells parents,
“If they err, do not scold them. Never taunt them with being baptized and yet doing wrong. Remember that they have much to learn in regard to the duties of a child of God.” – Ellen White, Child Guidance, p. 500.
“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 alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matthew 28:19-20
This verse makes it clear that teaching comes before baptism, and after baptism as well. Neither children or adults know it all when they are baptized, though they should be adequately prepared. This is a very important and special step, in which everyone wanting to participate should be both properly encouraged and prepared.