The "Age" of Accountability
by Matt Hennecke
published in Sentry Magazine, September, 2005
I wrote the following when with the Sycamore, Illinois, congregation serving as an elder with Al Diestelkamp. We had lots of children and we were concerned some might be prematurely baptized. Parents in our congregation may be having some concerns about when a child is ready to become a Christian. Perhaps some of you are in discussion with your children about baptism. To assist you in your discussions, I am providing some things to consider:
Age of accountability is not an age at all, but a level of readiness and maturity. Parents, you must determine your child's level of maturity. Al and I cannot do it because we spend limited time with your children. You have the most contact with them and can best evaluate their readiness to make a life long commitment. Here are some questions to ask or ways to help you determine if your child is ready:
- Is your child only afraid of going to hell at night? Or, do they express their fears and need during the light of day as well? Someone truly convicted will have concerns beyond the "night fears" that are common to children.
- Does your child want to put off getting baptized until some future day--at worship, for instance? If so, then they may not see the urgency of baptism. Someone truly convicted will not want to delay. (Acts 22:16 "And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized....")
- How long have they discussed the subject? Do they bring it up on their own or is it prompted by you or some other event (like someone else being baptized)? We need to be wary of the "bandwagon" effect.
- What sins do they claim to have committed? Have them write down all the reasons they feel they should be baptized. Keep their reasons for some future datewhen they may question whether they were baptized for the right reason.
- Ask them what would have been the Ethiopian's reaction if Philip said he could NOT be baptized? (Acts 8:36) If they realize he would have had to have done it anyway, then ask them, "What if I said 'no' to you about being baptized?" Do they feel as if they would have to do it anyway? Are they willing to do God's will before their parent's will? Interestingly, Jesus at the age of 12 determined that he needed to be about his Father's business. At the age his Father's will was more important to him than the will of his parents (Luke 2:49).
- Ask them, "how will your life be different when you become a Christian?" Do they have an "old man of sin" they needs to be crucified? (Romans 6:6).
What follows are some other thoughts from various preachers and Christians. You may agree or disagree with some of what is said. It is only offered to help you to consider some things you may not have considered before.
What would most parents do if their 9 or 10 or 11 or 12 year old came home and said, "Mom and Dad, I believe in Jesus Christ and I want to be baptized"? I think most parents would be thrilled beyond words! They would rush that child down to the building and upon their confession of Christ, the child would be baptized. But now consider this:
If that same child came home and said, "Mom and Dad, I do not believe in Jesus Christ and I won't be going with you to church services anymore!"
How would most parents respond?
"You're not old enough to make that decision! You're going to church with us!"
Now parents, consider very carefully: If children are not old enough to decide against Christ, are they old enough to decide for Christ?
Often we preach about baptism and children feel compelled to respond. They know the answers but can they live them? Too many children later get "re-baptized."
Ask yourself this question: Would you let your 13 year old get married? No? Why? Because marriage involves a lifelong commitment. In much the same way, one commits for life to the Lord. A child does not yet understand the nature of such a commitment. Just as we would not approve of their marriage at a young age, we should seriously think about allowing them to commit to the Lord when they don't know the nature of that commitment.
A Word From a Coach
Having spent 16 years coaching foot-ball and wrestling, I have noticed that there is significant change that occurs around the 10th grade. When I get 9th graders (14-15 years olds) they typically are still children, more concerned with playing and playing around and having fun. Around 10th grade many are making significant changes toward accepting personal responsibility toward pre-paring for the contest, their place in the team, and teamwork. Before it was about playing and fun. Now becomes more about the team and the contest and the work involved to get better. Some kids make the shift earlier than others, some later, but is seems to methat across the board, its about 15-16 that the change occurs. At 9th grade I'm still coaching kids, at 10th grade I'm starting to coach young adults.
Some surveys reveal interesting information about those baptized around 15-16 as opposed to 10-12. According to the survey, far more are still faithful among those baptized at 15-16 than at 10-12. Of course, we have to be cautious about the use of surveys.
For those kids who feel compelled, even though they are not ready (8-10 year olds especially), they often seem satisfied with the idea that young'uns like themselves are safe with the Lord, and not yet lost.
If your child should surprise you by responding to the invitation, do not feel as if there is nothing you can do. If you believe they are not yet ready, then simply come up and join them on the front pew. Tell me that they have been expressing an interest and you want the congregation to pray about the matter. We will express their interest to the congregation and ask for prayers in the matter. We do not have to baptize them at that moment. We can conclude services and discuss baptism with them and you in a classroom to better determine readiness.