His name was Burke. He was eight years old. He wanted to be baptized, and he was in earnest about it. He was a bright boy, but with his 10-15 minute attention span, I knew I had my work cut out for me. We scheduled a weekly appointment at the church. His Mom would bring him over after school, and I would try to make the most of our short time together. It took nearly six months, but I felt confident Burke was ready.
Other children I have studied with have only required three or four hours of my time over the course of a month or less. What makes the difference? A willingness to study, commitment to Jesus, and basic understanding of Seventh-day Adventist teachings.
Sometimes young children wish to be baptized, but they want to do it immediately. Often it’s because friends or family members are being baptized. One nine year old just thought it looked fun to get in the water and "swim" in front of all the church. When she found that she needed to spend many hours preparing for something as special as baptism, she was no longer interested. Whenever possible, I believe it is best to spend time one-on-one with children preparing for baptism. It takes away the element of peer pressure, develops a stronger bond with the child and makes the event more special.
I believe the most important factor to consider when determining if a person, regardless of age, is ready for baptism is: Has this person come to the point that they honestly want their relationship with Jesus to be their highest priority? If they have come to this point of commitment, I’m not concerned if they can’t explain all the details of the time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. These things will come in time.
It is important, however, that people understand basic Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. I say, if one can have a clear conscience about joining another denomination, do it! Why be out of step with the world without conviction to support the lifestyle? I spend time thoroughly explaining the baptismal vows in my own words, and require that children also be able to explain them in their words. In addition, I review our teachings on the afterlife (death, resurrection, millennium, heaven, and hell), and do a brief overview of church history, including an introduction to Ellen White and her role in the church. Children with this understanding rarely have problems with parents or church members thinking they are not ready.
Last week I received a "Thank You" card in the mail from Burke for the high school graduation gift I sent him. The card closed with these words, "I’ll always remember the pastor who baptized me!" Thanks, Burke. You made my day!
Glenn Holland is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor.