Baptism Rant

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Today’s post is by guest blogger The Teacher.

I know what you are thinking:  “You have a rant about baptism?”

Yes, I do.  One of my pet peeves is telling innocent little kids that they need to repent of their sins in order to get baptized.  You hear it with surprising frequency, like at almost every baptism service you attend, and at lots of Primary Sharing Times.  And take, for example, this line from the song “I Like to Look for Rainbows,” sung at every Primary-run baptism I have been to in the recent past:

I know when I am baptized, my wrongs are washed away, and I can be forgiven and improve myself each day

How did this get past correlation?  Did they not read the scriptures cited in D&C 29: 46-47 which tells us that little children are incapable of sin and are redeemed from the foundation of the world.  Moroni 8: 9-12 says that little children do not need repentance and are alive in Christ.

I would be hard-pressed to identify an LDS doctrine I like more than the redemption of little children.  It is beautiful and merciful, and intuitively true.  So, why do we find ourselves telling innocent little kids that they need to repent of their “sins” to get baptized?

I know that there are scriptures out there that say you have to repent in order to be baptized.  I know that there are scriptures that say that children have to be accountable and capable of repentance in order to get baptized.  But “capable of repentance” and “needing repentance” are two different things.

One of the most difficult scriptures on this topic for me is D&C 20:37, which says that candidates for baptism should “truly manifest by their works that they have received the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins.”  Oliver Cowdery tried to get this phrase removed from the Book of Commandments, but Joseph insisted that it remain in.  How does this qualification for baptism, which Joseph Smith felt was truly inspired, square with child baptism?

Don’t get me wrong.  I think we should teach our children about repentance and help them understand it.  I think they need to know what it is and how it works by the time they reach the “age of accountability.”  But to me, baptism for an 8-year old is different than for an adult.  It is about obedience.  It is about discipleship.  It is about entering the strait gate and joining the Lord’s church.  It is not about repenting and remitting sins.  What sins has an eight-year old committed?

But am I wrong here?  Am I misunderstanding something?

End of rant.

Comments 29

  1. Sure 8-year-olds (generally) can sin. They can, for example, be mean to other children, they can be disobedient to their parents, they can lie and steal. And they can understand that they’re doing something wrong, feel bad about it, and want to do better. IOW, they can sin and they can repent.

    Does that mean they’re as accountable for their little sins as a 38-year-old? That doesn’t seem likely. I think we often speak in the church of the “age of accountability” as if 7 years and 364 days = not accountable at all and 8 years = fully accountable. I don’t think it works that way. I think 8 years old is simply an age at which children (generally) have already begun to become accountable (cf. D&C 29:47). IOW, I think 8-year-olds are (generally) accountable enough for baptism, but far from fully accountable for their sins.

  2. Well, to bring up the obvious, not all children singing those primary songs are baptized right at 8. It seems like it could encourage friends or older children who haven’t made the decision to go ahead and get baptized. It might also be encouraging to children who are particularly devious, in their moments of conscience.

    But in our church as a whole there seems to be a strong focus on all the reasons why we’re sinners and all the things we do wrong. There’s always a “but” statement saying that we need to do something better or different if we want whatever blessings we happen to be talking about in Gospel Doctrine that day. It kind of bugs me sometimes too – every now and then it would be nice to hear “this time, you get a free pass.” (I do have some idea how much of a pass we’ve gotten through the Atonement, which is why I try not do argue and to do what I’m told.

    On one hand, you want to give hope. On the other, you want to do what you can to encourage good behavior for the right reasons. It seems that they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but they aren’t necessarily mutually inclusive either. Trying to strike the right balance is what I always feel is the hardest part of teaching Primary.

  3. kuri and J.Ro – Very well said. I have spent too much time on the speculation thread (deliciously ironic), and I have to run now, but I wanted to tell both of you how much I like your comments.

  4. I tend to believe that the 8-year-old age is not an inscribed dictum, forever existing in the mind of God. If we are to succeed as an organization, we need to have some streamlining. The only command we have in the scriptures is that we carry out the ordinance at this age. There is a report of a sermon of Joseph’s in DC where the reporter repeats Joseph’s teachings that children should not be baptized until they are accountable, adding a telling aside in parenthesis: “(say eight years old)” If this is a correct report (and nuances might easily be lost in such a reporting, I recognize), then even Joseph did not describe this as the time when every child officially becomes accountable. We probably baptize children who are not accountable. And there are others who are accountable before they are baptized. We stick with 8 b/c it makes for easy digestion in the Church as a whole.

  5. I was taught that all of us (especially children age 8) are baptized UNTO repentance, covenanting to live a life of repentance for all our future sins.

  6. Count me as one who thinks that young children cannot sin. That is not to say that they cannot make mistakes or be naughty. But I do not think that young children have the experience or understanding to disobey God’s will in a sinful way. But, does that mean that baptism for children means something different than for adults? Or is it, like Dave says, a sign of our commitment to always repent?

  7. I’ve always said that the order and proper wording of the 4th Article of Faith (the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel) for children is:

    First, faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ; second, baptism by immersion; third, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost; fourth, repentance.

    When it was written, there basically were no children getting baptized. It was written for adults.

  8. You’re seeing the word “repent” in such a negative light. I see it as just a “turning away from” our sins. I don’t see the harm at all in telling a kid that once they get baptized they need to turn from some of their childish things and start learning about the way we need to live our lives. The last thing we need is to attach a harsh, negative connotation to the word “repent,” so that as we grow older we see it as a painful, shameful process. I think it’s okay to tell a child they need to repent and I’m having trouble seeing what the big deal is, unfortunately.

  9. I may be a bit of a contrarian here, but (IMHO) not only are kids at age 8, 9, 10 capable of sin, they are capable of disturbing levels of hate, cruelty, and viciousness, and not always because “they were raised that way”. Do some studies into behavior of young children, particularly in developing and pre-industrial societies. Are they as culpable as a 38-year-old? No, but neither are 16-year-olds, yet we wouldn’t consider them incapable of sin. (Note that teenagers rarely go through formal Church discipline over, say, sexual transgressions that would earn post-mission young adults far more serious consequences.)

    Also, as per Arthur’s statement (#9), the verb “repent” as used in the New Testament (metanoeo) means to change the way you think or perceive, with the strong implications that your previous viewpoint was wrong and that your repentance leads to a different course of action (cf. John the Baptist: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance!”). I think that the goal of repentance is to change how we perceive things so that we come to think like Christ and thus act like Him. As such, it is a daily process, and one that will last our whole lives (hence the repeated refrain in the scriptures to “endure to the end”).

    So, no, I don’t think 8 is too young either for baptism or for repentance. It’s certainly not too young for the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is inseparably tied to baptism. Do we tell then our kids that they’re little sinners? No; we tell them that baptism allows them a continual ‘get out of jail free’ card so long as they keep striving to be like Christ. I think (and hope) that we’ll all be pleasantly surprised at how large a factor grace is (vs. our works) when we get to the other side, so long as we don’t give up on ourselves and/or God. ..bruce..

  10. #11. I appreciate that post, Ray. I tend to agree with it, and when repentance is seen in this light, I don’t see why an 8-year-old child can’t “repent” in order to prepare for baptism. For that matter, I think a 3-year-old or a 5-year-old can “repent” as well. If you see “repent” as synonymous with some kind of punishment, or penance, then of course, a child doesn’t need that to be baptized. But I think this all comes from a misunderstanding of what it means to repent in the first place.

  11. Highly technical (and satiric) analysis: nowadays, with the practice that stakes only hold one baptism each month for primary children, very few children are baptized the moment they turn 8. Therefore, there is almost always a time lapse (with at least one or two accountable sins) between the time the child turns 8 and becomes accountable in that moment and the date or time he or she is baptized to “wash away” those sins. Q.E.D.

  12. Thanks, DavidH 🙂

    I happened to fall just right so that I had to wait a whole month. To think of all the 8-year-old mischief I was accountable for . . .

    Actually, I remember being terrified a few months later (the first “sin” I remember being truly scared about) when my mom made this delicious dessert for a ward party and I, umm, messed it up a bit by sticking my finger in the middle and digging out some of the topping–and then lying to her about it!

    I couldn’t figure out how I was going to find my way out of that one, thus beginning my life of cringing just a little bit every time I hear something telling me to repent. I don’t know why, but it always seemed like repentance necessitated considerable pain. I have learned, not without some work, that it doesn’t always need to, and can be a joyful thing in at least some instances. I can’t say what it was, but as a child I saw repentance as requiring serious sorrow, and avoided it like the plague.

    That (to get to my point) is why I have to agree with The Teacher tonight as well.

  13. Okay, not to say that serious repentance doesn’t require sorrow that is serious (Godly sorrow?), but rather I felt that an inordinate amount of sorrow was required. I hope that made sense, because I don’t want to inadvertently say that I don’t appreciate the vast depth of the sacrifice our Savior made.

  14. #6 and #9 are right on.

    Baptism is definitely about repentence and having sins washed away. For adults, it represents having past sins washed away and covenenting with God to have future sins washed away based on repentence. For kids, it’s only about the covenant, since their past sins are swallowed up in the atonement.

    So if you’re teaching kids who are going to be baptized, don’t say, “It represents your past sins washed away,” rather, “It represents Christ washing away your sins for the rest of your life, as long as you keep trying to repent and do what Jesus wants you to do.”

  15. I was very capable of sin in the month or so between my eighth birthday and baptism. Not only was i capable, but willing as well. I needed my sins washed away at baptism.

  16. I like the idea that baptism is for the remission of sins, past and future. If you are an eight-year old, you may or may not be accountable for mistakes or sins. But, as Dave and adame e say, remission of sins is not a one-time thing; rather, it is the result of the covenant we make to follow Christ, which includes our commitment to repent of sins. I think I will forward adam’s suggested teacihing to our Stake Primary President!

  17. “I was taught that all of us (especially children age are baptized UNTO repentance, covenanting to live a life of repentance for all our future sins.”

    Dave. Adam. Teacher. Stake Primary Presidency. Baptism is not a covenant to repent, it is a covenant to obey. If you obey, then you can by pass repentance altogether but, no matter what, you can’t bypass baptism. If you covenant to repent then you covenant to sin.

    “the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little cchildren are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin;” (Mor. 8:8)

    Folks. This is not about – do little children do things that are wrong? Of course they do. They specialize in it. It is not – do little children know between right and wrong? They do to an extent. They know what displeases mortals with whom they have contact. They, however, know nothing about the withdrawal of the Spirit.

    “wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them;” (Mor. 8:8)

    By nature, little children should also be carnal, sensual, and devilish. (the curse of Adam) But they are not. Why? Because God said so.

    “And their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old,” (D&C 68:27)

    When God says eight years old, that is what He means. Which is to say that between 0 and 7 364/365 years they are not ‘sick’. They are whole. They are not capable of committing sin. To baptize a child during these years is solemn mockery before God. I don’t know, for sure, what that means but it sounds terrible. Understand! A discussion of baptism is a discussion about well defined law. So put away your psychology books.

  18. Children are the result of their parents. I hope that LDS parents will start to teach their children how not to “sin” as you call it. Please start being more polite to others: Make an RSVP when required for a party; send a thank you note for receiving a present for a birthday; go to a birthday party, even if the child is NOT LDS; say ‘Hello” to someone you may see everyday, even though they are NOT LDS. Your definistion of “sin” is not acceptable. How about being respectful, polite, nice, accountable, etc. to EVERYONE, even those who are not LDS.

  19. #21 – That is EXACTLY what Mormonism teaches. It is unfortunate that some members act as you imply, but if Mormons lived what the LDS Church teaches, they would be doing exactly what you are asking them to do.

  20. I think one thing needs to be cleared up about the age of accountability. One of the important aspects of it is that Satan is not “allowed” to tempt children until the age of 8. Children can make mistakes before the age of 8 and they understand even when they’ve done something wrong. They understand right from wrong before that magical birthday, but because they are still learning and growing spiritually, Heavenly Father doesn’t hold them accountable for their mistakes. When my kids have told a lie or done something else wrong before the age of 8 I tell them that they need to “repent”. They need to be practicing repentance long before they’re baptized. Back to the aspect of Satan…my memory isn’t the best, so I can’t remember who spoke about it, possibly President Packer, but he (whoever it was)said that before the age of 8 Satan cannot touch our children. After they turn 8 he is unleashed on them. Have you ever noticed that your child changed after they turned 8? The change in my oldest was so dramatic I wondered what had happened. It has been more subtle with my subsequent kids, but still noticable. I was grateful when I heard that talk for it to finally make sense. It becomes harder for them to do what is right! So I think that has more to do with the age of accountability than whether or not they’re capable of doing things wrong. When Mormon wrote to Moroni in chapter 8 I think he was talking more about infant baptism, and yes, babies are incapable of sinning. 5,6,and 7 year olds though? They can be stinkers sometimes!

  21. “After they turn 8 he is unleashed on them.”

    One of the more horrific and abusive of Mormon teachings and the straw that broke me. I will not have my children terrorized into obedience with fear of super-natural monsters. There is plenty of bad in the real world for them to deal with, and I do believe children are capable of choosing good without fear of Satan ‘getting’ them.

    Children do not need this kind of abuse to be good.

  22. re: “unleashed”

    That is quite a strong word, and I agree about it bordering on abusive. Fwiw, I think hormones as a boy in adolescence do a lot more “unleashing” than one turning eight. Personally, I think we are all capable of plenty of bad stuff without Satan being unleashed on us… and this is definitely speculation but I think Satan is limited to suggestions/thoughts, and we do the rest.

    I also believe that children can sin (i.e. do wrong/do something that stops or limits their growth), but the atonement covers them.

  23. “Fwiw, I think hormones as a boy in adolescence do a lot more “unleashing” than one turning eight.”

    I don’t know what happened, but my son made some drastic changes in his personality when he turned 6 months. It seemed like three months later it happened again. Once he was fifteen months then his personality really took a change. At that time the only thing that seemed to matter was doggies and Thomas the Train. Now, a year later he’s almost three and couldn’t care less about Thomas, these days it’s Mickey Mouse. His attitude is what alarms me the most however. He used to be so sweet, but now all he does is fight and complain. He’s also started to become dishonest. When I tell him not to do something, he waits until I’m not looking and then does it anyway, when I confront him about it he denies even though I watched him do it. I would like to believe that Satan is making him do it, but to be honest I just think his brain is forming and this a natural part of child development.

  24. Forget brain formation and hormones to explain the changes in boys. I have four girls, and sometimes Satan and temporary possession by evil spirits are the only explanations that make sense. 🙂 (Love you, girls. Dad)

  25. “Unleashed” to kids of age 8?

    How, exactly, are Satan’s forces leashed prior to 8? Spirit leashes? Signed contracts that evil spirits agree to leave these folks alone and play by the rules of heaven?

    Unlikely. Perhaps guardian angels could protect the younger ones, but that doesn’t seem right to then abandon them at age 8, why not just keep protecting them?

    I can’t follow that logic of mystical forces playing by worldly constraints like leashes or agreements.

    More logical is that the 7 year old can’t be held accountable, so it is not sin. I still think if evil ones did have strategies towards individuals, they’d still try to get 6 and 7 year olds on the internet, hook them on bad stuff as an investment in temptation for accountable years. Unfortunately, my son (age 10 now) is still dealing with things he was exposed to at age 5 that will probably be a test for him his whole life. It didn’t get washed away at baptism, and there were no leashes protecting him at 5. Instead, he now has to learn what accountability means, but he is old enough to understand that concept, bless his pea-picking heart.

  26. #25 Adamf

    “I also believe that children can sin (i.e. do wrong/do something that stops or limits their growth), but the atonement covers them.”

    Wouldn’t that be the definition of transgression, not sin?

    The Lord said, “They cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me” (see D&C 29:46–47)

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