By Johnnie Godwin
In the Baptist & Reflector earlier this summer, I wrote a two-part series on the age and stage of accountability for salvation. My conclusion was that God alone knows that for each individual.The spiritual understanding and decision-making ability of each person may vary because of context. I got saved and baptized when I was 7.
But I was literally enrolled into the cradle roll of First Baptist Church, Midland, Texas, so I grew up in the church with all its age-appropriate biblical teaching, songs and explanations. Every part of Baptist life was a part of my life.
At age 7, when I felt convicted and came to understand salvation and baptism was a personal decision, not a family decision, I was ready. I followed my family’s heritage and decisions, but they did not — and could not — make my personal spiritual decisions.
Responses to articles on age/stage of accountability: I got two responses by e-mail. One brother differed with my understanding but did it in a kind spirit, and I replied in a kind spirit: namely, he could be right; and I could be wrong. But a more interesting query came to me about the age for receiving Christ and being baptized. A person wrote to ask what he should counsel parents who told him their 4-year-old daughter wanted to be baptized. What would you have replied if you were me? The church has been almost silent on the front-end age of spiritual accountability. In seminary, a general teaching I learned was to be silent where the Bible was silent and to speak where the Bible speaks. That’s good, general teaching, but it does not answer what the parents of a 4-year-old asked.
Some people might suggest an answer that would say to go ahead and baptize the 4-year-old. Later, she can get baptized again if the first one wasn’t in sequence with her faith and maturity. Maybe. But I don’t like that answer. My conviction about biblical baptism is that you can be Scripturally baptized only one time. Anything else is just dunking. Baptists follow the Bible in teaching believer’s baptism. So a person has to first receive Christ as Lord and Savior. Then a biblical and logical first step of obedience is Scriptural baptism (Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 6:1-10).
At age 7, I gave God in Christ all that I knew to give Him: namely, all of myself. And when I got Scripturally baptized — thanks to my mother — I understood the explanation of the picture of baptism itself. Baptism pictures a conversion or repentance [change of mind and heart] that is like dying to the old self and coming alive to Christ. The picture of baptism is like death, burial, and resurrection. A person breathes in a final time and breathes out a final time. Then he is dead! The dead person gets buried. Then, at God’s appointed time, Christ will return. And just as God the Father raised God the Son from death, God will also raise believers from the dead. Any symbol of baptism that doesn’t complete this whole picture of death, burial and resurrection isn’t Scriptural baptism from my understanding of the Bible.
But what about the age factor in baptism? The Bible doesn’t spell out the age factor. So, what was my reply to the parents of the 4-year-old? I chose to give testimony rather than counsel. I told how at age 7 I had shared with my mother my desire to be baptized. She received my desire with gladness but also with questions. Her questions paused me for a few weeks. She asked if I wanted to get baptized because some of my friends had gotten baptized. I thought the right answer was yes, so I replied yes. Mother gently helped me to see that just imitating others wasn’t the biblical reason for being immersed. She explained the biblical teachings of salvation, and then the biblical step of baptism to obediently picture what had spiritually occurred in the heart. She told me in simple language that baptism was a picture or spiritual symbol of death to sin and self-will; it was a coming alive in Christ and His will. She explained the picture of baptism so that I was able to understand it. With her questioning, teaching and encouragement, I began to think about what she had told me and what I needed to do. Then, of my own free will, I did receive Christ as both Lord and Savior and was Scripturally baptized at age 7.
Conclusion about my own salvation and baptismal experience. My testimony didn’t fix an age for baptism. Rather, it identified a process for clarifying both the salvation experience and the obedient picture of baptism. At age 15, I felt a deep sense of God calling me to preach. My sense of calling was so strong that I might have felt and doubted that I really was saved and Scripturally baptized at age 7.
But I didn’t have any feeling of doubt or any sense about the nature of my salvation and baptism being genuine — it was the real thing! My baptism wasn’t out of sequence with my conversion. It was right in sequence and on time. So anything after that would have been a baptism to satisfy my feelings and doubts rather than to know I didn’t need to get immersed a second time. Really saved and Scripturally-baptized people don’t need a do-over if they got it the first time.
But, if a person gets saved at one age and has doubts or an uneasy conscience about it at a later time, I sure wouldn’t discourage the person from finding a new peace about both his conversion and his Scriptural baptism.
On the other hand, God alone knows at how early an age and stage a person can get saved and can get Scripturally baptized. So I left the writer with my testimony I’ve shared with you. And I leave it with you to study the Bible, pray, ask the leadership of God’s Spirit and then apply all this in testimony and teaching. If I’ve erred, forgive me. If my testimony has helped you, blessings on you. In all things, be biblical. B&R — Copyright 2018 by Johnnie C Godwin. Write firstname.lastname@example.org.