ETN: Baptism and the Age of Accountability

ETN: Baptism and the Age of Accountability

INFANT BAPTISM AND THE AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

“The debate about infant baptism is fundamentally a debate about children, and not really a debate about baptism at all” (287, italics original). Such an approach is likely to perpetuate a glaring—and surely, intolerable—inadequacy of a great deal of Protestant theologizing on infant baptism, from Calvin’s Institutes 4:16 onwards, namely, its marginalizing a much of the NT’s explicit witness to baptism. The result is evident in Reformation orders of service for infant baptism from Edwardian England and Knox’s Scotland.
(Wright, D. F. (2005). Review of The Case for Covenantial Infant Baptism Edited by Greg Strawbridge. Themelios, 30(3), 116.)

Where to Begin?

God states in His Word: “The Wages of Sin is Death” Romans 6:23a

Is Romans 6:23 for everyone at every age?

Does a person has to reach an age of accountability for God sin to be counted towards him or her?

Is Romans 6:23 for everyone regardless of age?

Because of Adam’s sin, all of mankind is born in a sinful world separated from God.

  • Psalm 58:3 “The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.”babydedication
  • Ephesians 2:3 “…were by nature children of wrath…”
  • Romans 5:18 “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men…”

Let’s ask some questions and look at what the Bible has to say. Then you decide.

1. Can parents do anything to help ensure their child’s salvation?

“And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD’), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.” Luke 2:21-24

  • The parents of the baby Jesus taking Him to the temple “to present Him to the Lord”. Later the Gospels tell us that little children and infants were brought to Jesus for Him to touch them and bless them (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17).
  • Preachers and elders should encourage parents to publicly dedicate their children to the Lord. This is usually done in a church service, but it can be done in the privacy of your home. In dedicating a child, the parents acknowledge the child as a gift from God and vow before Him and the congregation to set a godly example for the child and a commitment to lead the child to Christ at an early age.

2. Did Jesus love the children and want to bless them and dedicate them to the Lord?

“And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all. And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.” Mark 10:13-16

“And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” Luke 18:15-17

  • Jesus’ practice was to touch them, speak of their eagerness to trust and obey, and explain that no one can enter the kingdom of God without becoming like a child. Jesus touching the babies shows His love and affection for them. Children are full of curiosity, excitement, and joy. These children noticed something special about Jesus and they wanted to come to Him. Jesus made it clear; if you do not come to Him as a child then you will not enter the kingdom of God. Scripture says that Jesus did no more than touch and blessed the babies and children. Jesus did not baptize them.

3. How was Jesus dedicated?

“And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.” Luke 2:21-24

  • Jesus was brought to the Temple to be dedicated as “holy to the Lord.”

4. How did Jesus receive His name?

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.” Luke 1:30-31

  • Jesus was named before His birth, circumcised on the eight day, dedicated as holy to the Lord and a sacrifice for sin was made—according to the Law. God wants and desires to communicate the names of babies directly to the parents not through a priest or through astronomy.

5. Why was Jesus circumcised on the eight day?

“This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” Genesis 17:10-13

  • Circumcision applied to all males who shared the promise. Circumcision would remind Abraham and his descendants of the everlasting covenant. (See also Genesis 17: 7, 19.
  • By this symbol, God impressed them with the impurity of nature and with dependence on God for the production of all life. They would recognize and remember:
    -that native impurity must be laid aside, especially in marriage;
    -that human nature is unable to generate the promised seed (Genesis 3:15);
    -that they must be loyal to the family;
    -that any Israelite who refused to be cut physically in this way would be cut off (separated) from his people (v. 14) because of his disobedience to God’s command.
  • Elsewhere, Scripture refers to circumcision as a symbol of separation, purity, and loyalty to the covenant.

6. Does outward circumcision mean anything?

“Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” Deuteronomy 30:6

  • God will circumcise the heart so that they could be inwardly set apart by the Spirit.

“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” Romans 2:28-29

“Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which 1he had while uncircumcised. For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.” Romans 4: 9-13

  • Paul wrote that by faith one is inwardly set apart by the spirit, which is pictured as “circumcision of the heart”. This life-changing (born-again) experience, with Jesus is the evidence of salvation and fellowship with God. Outward circumcision means nothing without faith in Jesus.

7. Israel’s unbelief is described as having an uncircumcised heart.

“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds.” Jeremiah 4:4

“…for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.” Jeremiah 9:26

“When you brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in My sanctuary to profane it, even My house, when you offered My food, the fat and the blood; for they made My covenant void—this in addition to all your abominations.” Ezekiel 44:7

8. What is the difference between the Old Testament covenant of circumcision and the New Testament commandment of baptism?

“And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.” Colossians 2:11-12

  • Like we have noted, circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with the Jewish people (Gen. 17:9–14).
  • Though it was a physical operation, it had a spiritual significance. The trouble was that the Jewish people depended on the physical and not the spiritual. A mere physical operation could never convey spiritual grace (Rom. 2:25–29).
  • Often in the Old Testament, God warned His people to turn from their sins and experience a spiritual circumcision of the heart (Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; 6:10; Ezek. 44:7).
  • People make the same mistake today when they depend on some religious ritual to save them—such as baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is the one who saves. It is not necessary for the believer to submit to circumcision, because he has already experienced a spiritual circumcision through his identification with Jesus Christ.
  • Baptism is not the New Testaments substitution for circumcision. The Jews that had been circumcised, when converted to Christ were baptized. Timothy was circumcised after he had been baptized.

9. Is a contrast here between Jewish circumcision and the believer’s spiritual circumcision in Christ?

       Jews ……………………………………………………….Believers

  • external surgery internal…………………………..the heart
  • only part of the body………………………………. the whole “body of sins”
  • done by hands done……………………………….. without hands
  • no spiritual help in conquering sin…………… enables them to overcome sin

10. Is a person saved by faith and not by the ritual of circumcision and/or baptism?

  • Notice the emphasis on “believed.”

“He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” Mark 16:16

  • Baptism without faith in Jesus is nothing.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

11. Why did Mary have to offer a sacrifice for Jesus?

“When the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. Then he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her, and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, whether a male or a female.” Leviticus 12:6-7

  • Having a baby was not a sin but instead was the fulfillment of a divine command (Gen. 1:28).
  • Thus, the need of a sin offering to make atonement was only a matter of ritual purification and not for forgiveness of sin.

12. The next time we hear of Jesus he is twelve. What is significant about the age of twelve?

“And when He [Jesus] became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast.” Luke 2:42

  • Devout Jews customarily attended the Passover at Jerusalem. Jesus, being twelve years old, was approaching the normal age for being received into Judaism as a “son of the law,” which would make him a full member of the religious community.

13. What does it mean to be a “son of the law”?

“So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” Romans 14:12

  • A son of the law was accountable for his actions.

“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” Hebrews 4:13

“But they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” 1 Peter 4:5

  • The Bible states clearly that “each of us will give an account of himself to God. Many believe that at the age of twelve and thirteen youth can understand right and wrong and consequences of actions. Therefore, this person is accountable to God for what they know.

“Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” James 4:17

  • This is an age when people know what to do and refuse to do it.

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

  • All people know what is right.

“For the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.” Romans 4:15

  • There is an age when people do not know the law and therefore innocent.
  • To be accountable means to be responsible for what one does, and thus subject to judgment or punishment. But accountability and responsibility are based on freedom. Where there is freedom, there is accountability. Where there is no freedom, there is no accountability.
  • Choices and actions are positively related to each other. On the one hand, when a person has freedom of choice, we expect certain behaviors in certain circumstances. If those expected behaviors do not occur, we hold the person accountable. On the other hand, the person who is not free to choose is also not required to act, nor is he held accountable when he does not act. Therefore, accountability sits on the foundation of freedom of choice.
  • The individual must be free to select from two or more viable options.
  • The individual must know certain things that pertain to the decision at hand. Misinformation or lack of information disables free choice. The fact that knowledge is a prerequisite of accountability is taught in the Bible.
  • Free choice is taken away when a person uses promise of a gift or fear of punishment. A young child still confuses fantasy and reality. He also lacks the ability to reason, analyze a situation, weigh alternatives, and predict outcomes.
  • A child has many psychological needs and is therefore quite vulnerable to many forms of manipulation. Thus, the child can be manipulated in positive ways to even by a loving parent who is unaware of how much power he has over a child’s thoughts and actions. Bottom line: A child is not accountable for things they have no capacity to understand.

14. What does it mean to be accountable to God?

“For before the boy [Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz] will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.” Isaiah 7:16

“Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor had the word of the LORD yet been revealed to him.” 1 Samuel 3:7

“Moreover, your little ones…who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.” Deuteronomy 1:39

  • YES, God realizes that there is a time of innocents.)

15.  Are there children who do not know the difference between good and evil?

“For before the boy [Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz] will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.” Isaiah 7:16

“Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor had the word of the LORD yet been revealed to him.” 1 Samuel 3:7

“Moreover, your little ones…who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.” Deuteronomy 1:39

  • YES, God realizes that there is a time of innocents.

16. At what age can a child distinguish right from wrong?

“And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few…” Luke 12:47-48

  • When the child is only one or two years of age, his grasp is limited to the immediate interpersonal situation with its psychological dynamics. His behavior is governed by a preference for comfort rather than pain, so his parents can use various psychological or physical means to influence his actions.
  • In other words, the child can be effectively socialized — he can learn to get along in his society, particularly his limited society, his immediate family. But the ability to distinguish right from wrong will not come for a few more years, when the child has more experience and insight.
  • At some point he will understand that there is some objective standard of right and wrong, which applies equally to him and all other children and all adults. His understanding will probably be rather simplistic and legalistic at first, but he will have a basis for making truly moral decisions.
  • A child cannot understand the gospel before he can distinguish right from wrong, for the concept of sin is basic to a proper understanding of the gospel.
  • The very concept of being saved, as well as the significance of the death and resurrection of Christ, both lose their meaning if sin and hell is left out of the picture.
  • On the other hand, there is an obvious problem if the child can distinguish right from wrong before he can understand the gospel, for this would imply that there is a period of time during which the child can be guilty but cannot grasp the gospel in order to be saved. Many leading psychologists (including Eric Eriksen, Robert Havighurst, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg) agree that a child’s ability to tell right from wrong begins to function quite early – perhaps between the ages of 5 and 10. If the psychologists are correct, and if the age of accountability occurs at the same time a child is able to grasp the gospel, it seems reasonable to think of the age of accountability as occurring somewhere around ages five or six for many children.
  • The age at which any particular child becomes accountable will vary greatly based on both internal and external factors. It might occur earlier if the child is precocious and the child receives clear and consistent instruction in right and wrong.
  • On the other hand, it may occur later due either to the child’s slower mental development, or due to influences from parents or society which confuse the child’s understanding of right and wrong or of the gospel.

**As a father of a fifteen and thirteen year old, I saw their ability to grasp right and wrong at age of six when they accepted Jesus and were baptized. I did notice at the age of twelve and thirteen that their understanding of eternal punishment, the Law, the free gift, and the importance of Jesus raising from the dead dramatically increased and caused them to dedicate themselves to God. Consequently, I tend to see the value of teaching children to place their faith in God and realize the importance of their mental and physical developments, which occur at twelve and thirteen.

  • It is important not to be dogmatic, but study and listen to God and raise up your child in the way he should go.

16. What happens to children who die before the age of accountability?

“But now he [David’s first child with Bathseba] has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” II Samuel 12:23

  • Some hold that all children who die before the age of accountability are saved because they have not yet knowingly committed sin—as noted above. As proof texts, these people will use 2 Samuel 12:23. However, this scripture seems to refer to the dead not returning to this earth.

“You shall also say to the sons of Israel: ‘Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel who gives [sacrifices] any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones.” Leviticus 20:3

  • Some will also use Leviticus 20:1-4, where God proclaims His punishment for anyone who sacrifices their innocent babies to Molech.)
  • Others hold that unbaptized babies who die are lost because they carry the sin nature and they never accepted Christ. While the first view would be more comforting to bereaved parents. The Bible does state that we are born estranged from the womb:
  1. Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I [David] was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”
  2. Psalm 58: 3 “The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.”
  3. Ephesians 2:3 “…were by nature children of wrath…”
  4. Romans 5:18 “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.”
  5. John 3:6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh…”

17. What does the Bible clearly teach about infants that die?

“For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.” I Corinthians 7:14

  • This one instance in the Bible where the status of children of one or both believing people is declared. Christian families will tend to regard this as a declaration of the Christian status of their children.
  • John Tombes, a seventeenth-century preacher, spoke of the privileged status of such children who are “born in the bosom of the church, of godly parents, who by prayers, instruction, and example, will undoubtedly educate them in the true faith of Christ.” The above verse seems to prove that the responsibility of children is lightened, if not abolished through their connection with their parents. It also seems to prove that infants and children are not held accountable for Adam’s sin!
  • Children with unbelieving parents who die will fall into the hands of a loving God who judges righteously!

18. Do infants of Christian families need to be baptized to have their sins washed away?

  • NO! The Bible clearly teaches that a person must be old enough to understand the effects of sin and why God had to send His Son to bear the consequences of sin so that they can repent, believe, and be baptized. See the teaching on Baptism in Jesus question number 15.

19. What about the elderly who loose their minds and those suffering from mental retardation? Can accountability be lost? What happens to a person’s accountability when he experiences either a gradual process, sudden trauma, or disease affecting his mental abilities?

If it is reasonable to assume that an individual’s accountability is based only on the period when he has adequate mental abilities, then it would also seem reasonable that accountability can in fact be lost. Since accountability depends on knowledge, those who suffer mental retardation do not become accountable as early in life as others. Their age of accountability is delayed until they are able to understand right and wrong and the gospel message. There are some who never reach the age of accountability.

20. What are parents doing when they dedicate their children to the Lord?

When Christian parents dedicate their child to the Lord, they are asking for God’s blessing on their child and declaring that they will teach and raise their children to know God and live for Him.

“…The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9

THE PARENTS PERSONAL LIFE IS CENTERED AROUND GOD AND HIS WORD:

  1. They believe that God came to earth in the form of a man and suffered the consequences (paid the full price) of their sin to offer forgiveness. (Philippians 2:6-8)
  2. They understand the value of His free gift. (Romans 5:8)
  3. The free gift has set them free and transformed their life. (Romans 8:29)
  4. They have repented of their sins. (Luke 13:3)
  5. They have been cleansed with the Holy Spirit and have been baptized. (Acts 2:38)
  6. God has confirmed in them that they are His adopted children. (Ro. 8:16)
  7. They love God’s Word like your favorite food meaning they have daily devotions. (1 Peter 2:2)
  8. They are living by faith (loving, trusting and obeying God). (Galatians 3:11)
  9. They have a concern for the lost world. (2 Peter 3:9)

 

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