How long should a believer wait before being baptized?
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16) doesn’t teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. Unbelievers, not “the unbaptized” will be damned. Faith is Christ is sufficient for salvation. Baptism, however, is the expected evidence of such faith. Peter commanded the converts in Cornelius’ house to be baptized (Acts 10:48). Clearly, those who guide new believers are responsible to encourage and direct them to be baptized. New believers receive enrichment by learning the meaning of baptism, but obedience to Christ does not depend on understanding doctrine. Did baptized believers in Acts understand union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection?
Even in Acts (Cornelius, the jailer, Saul of Tarsus), evidence of conversion preceded baptism. Currently, a person who professes to be saved and is baptized occasionally discovers he was not saved. If he is saved subsequently, he must be baptized a second time. It is very doubtful if the testimony of the second baptism is as effective as the first. We need wisdom to avoid unnecessary “second baptisms.” Allowing adequate time for a new believer to prove the reality of his salvation is wise. Our conditions are different from those in Acts; of the thousands of converts in Acts, perhaps only one (Simon, the sorcerer) was false. In our day, we need ample evidence that those we baptize have divine life.
Prematurely baptizing those who later prove they were not saved never helps the work of the gospel; furthermore, it dishonors the Lord Jesus by giving skeptics cause for mocking the life-transforming power of the gospel. As in so many matters, balance is needed. A prolonged time between salvation and baptism implies that we support optional obedience to Scripture. Too short a time can endanger our gospel testimony. A person’s personality, past, and depth of character, added to our experience with occasional “fireworks Christians” (launched with a flash of light and noise, but fade into the night), affect how soon after conversion we are willing to baptize him.
What is the minimum age for baptizing a believer or receiving him into the assembly?
Being baptized “into (literally) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19) involves a public identification with divine Persons. It is a public and personal testimony. Being in the assembly is a public and collective testimony. Although the Word of God doesn’t prescribe a minimum age for assuming public testimony, we could put an unfair burden on those who are too young for such a responsibility. Of those whose miracles were a public testimony to Israel, the youngest recorded is the maid of 12 (Mark 5:42). The first act of public testimony by the Lord was at the same age (Luke 2:42). By Jewish tradition, children assume public responsibility for keeping the law, becoming “sons (or daughters) of the law,” at about that age. This does not set a specific age for our practice, but it gives some guidance. While many wonderful Christians started for heaven in early years and while it is a great blessing to see our children saved in their youth, we are embarking on a dangerous course if we emphasize and highlight youthful conversions. Nurture professing children sufficiently to encourage growth where there is divine life, without making it more difficult for them to be forthright, if they discover they are not really saved. Parents who promote their children for early baptism and reception are helping neither their child nor the work of God.
The teen years present many difficulties. While assembly reception may preserve some, others need time to sort through the challenges of those years.
Is becoming Christian behavior a prerequisite for baptism?
Four cases come to mind. If a believer expects himself to be perfect before being baptized, he will wait for the Rapture. At that point, it will be too late to obey the Scriptures. Willingness to unreservedly obey the God’s Word is a sufficient condition for baptism (Acts 2:41). If a believer carelessly persists in self-will, he is not giving evidence that he is a Christian. For that person, baptism is inappropriate. If, in the third case, a person is obviously unaware of New Testament teaching regarding some aspects of Christian behavior, then patience, support, and counsel are appropriate, but not baptism. If he gladly receives further teaching, baptize him. Fourth, if a person still struggles with an addiction, such as smoking, baptizing him seems inconsistent. Baptism declares that the believer has died with Christ and been raised with Him to walk in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). This newness of life is not merely a life that has changed, but a life energized by a different kind of power; it is resurrection life. To suffer under the power of a visible, addictive sin denies the power professed in baptism. Apart from daily salvation from the power of sin, any believer could founder. However, to baptize a person who is smoking, for instance, publically states that smoking is acceptable Christian behavior. Some think being baptized will help break their habit. That’s seldom the case. Breaking the nicotine habit is admittedly difficult for some, especially when they have suffered other “more serious” addiction. Perhaps the real difficulty is in confronting the fact that this “lesser” addiction is as unacceptable and sinful as the “more serious” addiction is.