This week NAMB released the results from its baptism task force. A key study, the desire was to find out why Baptism rates in the SBC are plateaued and declining.
Over the last few years, accusations and suspicions have flown from different sections of the convention. Some laid the blame at the feet of Calvinists; others at failing discipleship or a lack of Biblical preaching.
But it never was that simple. With 45,000 churches, a rapidly shifting culture and a denomination sorely in need of revival, the new study actually highlights some of the most disturbing trends. On the 2012 Annual Church Profile:
· 25 % of SBC churches reporting had ZERO baptisms.
· 60% reported no baptisms of young adults (12-17)
· 80% reported either none or only 1 baptism in the 18-29 age group.
Thankfully, there was one area of growth. But don't celebrate just yet. The one major category that saw an increase in baptisms tells an even more tragic story. The one area of growth is the 5 and under group.
That’s right. Preschoolers.
We have become incredibly adept at baptizing preschoolers.
Brothers and sisters! This should not be!
At its best, baptizing so many who are very young, we run a high risk of minimizing the significance of baptism and at its worst, we have become semi-pedobaptists.
Historically, Baptists delayed baptism of children for a myriad of reasons. From a Scriptural standpoint, Baptism demonstrated a renunciation of the former life and a clear commitment to follow Christ. Delaying baptism of children until they could demonstrate clear thinking on the subject was not uncommon. Especially when the choice of baptism was costly. Our Baptist brothers and sisters around the world delay in baptizing children until they are old enough to firmly stand and make a clear confession of faith. It costs them dearly to hold to the truths of Scripture. In addition, Baptism placed you in the full membership of the church. Most SBC Baptist churches understand (read the church constitution) that baptism is one of the means of joining the church. Thus, when a child is baptized, they are placed on the membership roles of the church. This has significant implications:
Perhaps even more importantly, Baptism of very young children often confuses an ordinance for a sacrament. Baptists believe in two ordinances of the church: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These ordinances are to be obeyed, but they do not contain any means of salvation in and of themselves. Many children I talk with who desire to be baptized actually conflate the gift of salvation in Christ with the act of baptism making baptism sacramental. Often parents or grandparents will make the same mistake seeking to “do the deed” so they have one less person to worry about.
So what are we to do? I believer there are some some serious pastoral considerations to take into account:
Do not prevent children from coming to Christ! A child can respond to the clear teaching of scripture and the call of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me!” (Matt. 19:14 and Luke 18:16) We should celebrate every child who comes to Jesus!
Consider discussing this issue with your congregation and set into place some helpful safeguards:
I am sure this baptism report is going to create some intense discussion over the next months as we begin to wrestle with the ideas this report contains. Ultimately, it should drive us to our knees in weeping and crying out to God! We need a fresh movement from our God in our churches to see the salvation of souls.
*** edited 17 May at 7:45pm to include Scott Maze's article.
John Mark Yeats