Baptism: For All Mormon Eight-Year-Olds?
Like Baptists, Pentecostals, and many other evangelical Christian denominations, the LDS Church practices baptism in the form of immersion (rather than sprinkling or pouring) and does not baptize infants or small children. These points of commonality between LDS baptism and the practice of baptism of many evangelical churches will be taken for granted here. A unique position taken by the LDS Church, however, is that all eight-year-old children of church members should be baptized. There are at least two problems with this claim.
A. Not all children become accountable at the age of eight.
The LDS Church teaches that children should be baptized at the age of eight (D&C 68:27). According to Gospel Principles, “Every person who has reached eight years of age and is accountable (responsible) for his or her actions should be baptized” (117). This teaching assumes that children prior to that age are not accountable for what they do, but by that age and thereafter they are accountable (compare D&C 20:71). For example, LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that “baptism is performed at the age of accountability, when people are old enough to know right from wrong” (“The Great Things which God Has Revealed,” Ensign [conference report], May 2005, 82).
There is, of course, nothing in the Bible that specifies that children become accountable to God for any wrongdoing they commit once they turn eight years old. In fact, the Bible gives no specific “age of accountability.”
Mormons may suppose that this is one of those lost truths that somehow got dropped or excised from the Bible. However, a moment’s reflection will raise a troubling question for this claim. The hard fact is that children do not mature at the same rates. Anyone who has children knows that children go through growing “spurts” as well as “plateaus” and that they do so at different times. Thus, one child may learn to walk at eight months but another at twelve months. One child may learn to read at age three and another at age five. Likewise, children reach moral awareness at different ages; they become morally self-reflective at different points chronologically. This fact is especially noticeable in the case of children who are developmentally delayed (as is one of my own children).
Thus, the Bible wisely gives no precise information concerning an age when children become morally and spiritually accountable to God for their behavior, because there is no such age that applies to all or even most children. Nor does it specify an age at which children should be baptized. Some five-year-old children are morally mature enough to know that they are sinners and are ready for baptism, whereas some ten-year-old children are not.
B. Not all children who are accountable for their actions are ready or proper candidates for baptism.
The practice of baptizing all eight-year-old children in the LDS Church not only mistakenly assumes that all children become accountable at age eight, it also wrongly assumes that anyone who is accountable should be baptized. The Bible teaches that anyone who confesses his or her sins and publicly confesses faith in Jesus Christ according to the gospel is a proper candidate for baptism (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 36-38; 10:47-48; 16:31-33; 18:8; 1 Peter 3:21). It makes no sense to withhold baptism from seven-year-olds who know they are sinners and trust in Christ as their Savior, while baptizing eight-year-olds who may or may not yet realize their need of salvation and who have not yet put their faith in Christ. If people are personally accountable to God for their sins, then they are also personally accountable to God for their faith or lack of faith. Thus, it makes no sense to teach, as the LDS Church, that only those who are accountable should be baptized, but then baptize all supposedly accountable children whether or not they have expressed repentance and faith in Christ.
For Further Reflection:
- If some children do not become morally or spiritually accountable until later than eight years of age, does it make sense to baptize all eight-year-old children of church members?
- Do you agree that some eight-year-old children, even if they are morally accountable, have not yet repented of their sins and trusted in Christ? If so, why should they be baptized?