baptism at age eight
Some parents are concerned about children as young as age eight making life-changing covenants when they decide to be baptized. I’ll address some of their concerns and also the advantages of baptism at age eight.

Questions of concern

When is a child too young to be baptized?

Isn’t baptism a lot of responsibility to lay on a child’s shoulders at such a tender age?

Are eight year olds really capable of making such a life-changing commitment?

Covenants are “forever” commitments. Are we pushing our child into something they may not want later on?

These are some of the questions I have heard parents voice over the years. I hope to answer these concerns and help parents who have any of these reservations lay those concerns aside and feel more confident that the baptism of their child at the age of eight is really a great thing for all involved.

Perspective makes all the difference

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How we feel about the events in our lives is always heavily influenced by how we look at and understand those events. Take a person’s wedding as an example. If you are the one about to be married, how do you think you will feel about the prospects of your upcoming union to another person if you feel you have found the best possible match for you, as a person. You feel comfortable with this person because the two of you know each other well. You have spent a lot of time doing things together, and you feel you understand how your spouse to be feels about all the important issues in life – or at least all the ones you have discussed so far. Your goals seem to align, your preferences are a match, and you know how to love them even when you disagree over something. Given all these parts of your perspective, do you feel pretty confident that you will have a good experience in your upcoming marriage?

Now look at an upcoming marriage, but you aren’t sure you are ready for such a commitment. In fact, you aren’t really sure why you agreed to this whole wedding in the first place. What if you find someone else and fall in love with them once you are married? What will happen then? What if you marry and find that the person you married has emotional problems you didn’t catch before the wedding? What if they have a habit you haven’t really seen yet, and you find it annoying? If you believe in a forever marriage, how do you deal with these disappointments?

Weddings can be either the most amazing or the most frightening things on earth. It all depends on how you look at them. If you have had bad experiences in your past that shows you that marriage is something to be feared, then you might have problems dealing with your feelings about your own wedding, no matter how much you feel you love the one you have agreed to marry. And if you have done everything you can think of to prepare for your wedding, and the life that extends beyond the ceremony, you may feel you are ready to commit to the challenges that will come up, knowing ahead of time that there certainly will be challenges.

Let’s go back to our questions about the baptism of eight year old children. Perspective, expectations, and levels of personal commitment all play a big part in what happens as we prepare our children for baptism. If we pass along our fears about baptism for children, we may find that our child (Surprise!) has reservations about being baptized. Most children will adopt the same attitudes they are seeing in their parents about upcoming events in their lives. I firmly believe that when we teach our children correct gospel principles and doctrines they will naturally be excited to get baptized.

Answers to the questions

When is a child too young to be baptized?

According to the Lord, the only time it is too early to baptize a child is when they have not yet attained the age of accountability. Accountability in most children occurs at around the age of eight years. At this age they are able to tell the difference between right and wrong. They also have the added benefit that they usually want to be good, so this is a great time to offer them the covenant of baptism. I’ll get more into this in a few minutes.

Those who have mental or emotional challenges that slow their progress may need to wait a little while before they are ready for baptism. Accountability is a judgment of the Bishop, the common judge in Israel. Life is full of special circumstances we need to take into consideration when dealing with our children. I personally feel that there are no negatives to baptism, so even if a child is baptized a little too soon (after the age of eight), the Lord has already declared that where there is no law there is no punishment. If a child simply doesn’t understand what they have committed to, they are not held accountable for that choice until the day comes that they do begin to comprehend. Again, this is best addressed by your Church leader.

Isn’t baptism a lot of responsibility to lay on a child’s shoulders at such a tender age?

Are eight year olds really capable of making such a life-changing commitment?

Let’s address these two questions together, because there is a lot of overlap. As I was reading the Come, Follow Me lesson for 2 Nephi 31-32, it occurred to me that the doctrine of Christ talked about in these chapters is really very simple. Actually, everything in the gospel is, in basic form, simple. I know of nothing that is so complicated in the gospel that anyone with even the most basic understanding can’t live it. That sentence was a double negative, meaning that everyone with even the most basic desires can live the gospel, if that is their desire. Again, life is full of complications, but each of us, when the restrictions of mortality are removed, will be able to live up to the Lord’s standards and requirements. He is no respecter of persons, so He can’t give us commandments that only some of His children can live. Unfortunately, there are some who will not be free to exercise much of their agency until after their mortal time is finished. But all will have the opportunity.

The gospel is simple. The doctrine of Christ is not complicated. So what is it we are really expecting our children to commit to in baptism? Here are the baptismal commitments as found in the Book of Mormon. Mosiah 18:8–10.

And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

To recap what is expected of all of us when we accept baptism – we agree to help others who need help (“bear one another’s burdens”), feel sorry or sad for those who are hurting and do what we can to help them feel better (“mourn with those that mourn” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort”). We are willing to acknowledge God as our leader/Father and be willing to tell others that we listen to Him and follow Him. That is basically it. Now think about how difficult those commitments are. Don’t we as parents tell our children all the time to be good to one another, to help their brother or sister, to share, etc.? If we expect them to do that because we told them to, shouldn’t we expect them to be willing and able to do that if our Father in Heaven tells them to? See? Simple.

Covenants are “forever” commitments. Are we pushing our child into something they may not want later on?

Book of Mormon

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This one was sort of answered in the answer above. But let’s look at it from a different perspective. How many people do you know who grew up going to church only to change their mind when they were older and stop going for a while? How many people do you know who were taught to respect their elders, but don’t actively now take care of their own parents? Are we really “pushing” our children into something they may regret in the future? Perhaps some will reject the covenants they have made with God when they are older. But what about all the years of happiness they derived from keeping those commandments? Should we avoid any possibility for happiness because the child might want to be less happy later in life?

Repentance

Accepting baptism is just the first step along the path to happiness. Once we have baptized our child they get to be confirmed a member of the Lord’s Church and given the gift of the Holy Ghost. This opens the door for them to be able to repent and become more like Christ, which brings greater daily happiness. Brian K. Ashton gave a Conference talk entitled The Doctrine of Christ. Here is what he says about repentance.

It is not just for big sins but is a daily process of self-evaluation and improvement that helps us to overcome our sins, our imperfections, our weaknesses, and our inadequacies. Repentance causes us to become “true followers” of Christ, which fills us with love and casts out our fears. …

Through repentance we become submissive and obedient to God’s will. Now, this is not done alone. A recognition of God’s goodness and our nothingness, combined with our best efforts to align our behavior with God’s will, brings grace into our lives. Grace “is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ … to do good works that [we] otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to [our] own means.” Because repentance is really about becoming like the Savior, which is impossible on our own, we desperately need the Savior’s grace in order to make necessary changes in our lives.

As we repent, we replace our old, unrighteous behaviors, weaknesses, imperfections, and fears with new behaviors and beliefs that draw us closer to the Savior and help us to become like Him.

The question we should be asking ourselves as parents is, Am I teaching these principles to my children? Am I helping them understand what it means to repent and try to be and act like Jesus? If a child feels that this is the goal of baptism, most of them will be anxious to get baptized. Bro. Ashton goes on in his talk to express what it means to accept the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

As our constant companion, the Holy Ghost gives us additional power or strength to keep our covenants. He also sanctifies us, which means to make us “free from sin, pure, clean, and holy through the atonement of Jesus Christ.” The process of sanctification not only cleanses us, but it also endows us with needed spiritual gifts or divine attributes of the Savior and changes our very nature, such “that we have no more disposition to do evil.” Each time we receive the Holy Ghost into our lives through faith, repentance, ordinances, Christlike service, and other righteous endeavors, we are changed until step by step, little by little we become like Christ.

I don’t yet see any downside to getting baptized at the age of eight. In today’s increasingly challenging environment, our children need the gift of the Holy Ghost more than ever to resist temptations and to get direction in their lives. If we don’t let a child get baptized we are leaving them defenseless in a world of ever increasing darkness to face temptations without proper aid.

In fact, with the companionship of the Holy Ghost and the new youth program of the Church, where the youth set their own goals, look how partaking the sacrament after baptism can help with their goal setting activities.

So how can we apply the doctrine of Christ more fully in our lives? One way would be to make a conscious effort each week to prepare for the sacrament by taking some time to prayerfully consider where we most need to improve. We could then bring a sacrifice of at least one thing that keeps us from being like Jesus Christ to the sacrament altar, pleading in faith for help, asking for necessary spiritual gifts, and covenanting to improve during the coming week. As we do so, the Holy Ghost will come into our lives to a greater degree, and we will have additional strength to overcome our imperfections.

As we demonstrate our own willingness to pray for help to make the improvements we need to make in our own lives, we teach our children how to set goals for improvement in their own lives. This gives us greater opportunities to support them in their goals, and to ask for their assistance in us reaching our own goals.

Final Thoughts

The offering of baptism at the cusp of capability is one of the greatest blessings our Father in Heaven can offer each of us. As soon as we are capable of setting our feet on the covenant path He has given us the most basic, and important covenant of all, baptism. It is the most important of all to those entering the covenant path, because baptism brings with it the gift of the Holy Ghost, the third member of the Godhead, and the revelator. God is willing to give each of us at the tender age of eight a member of the Godhead to teach us how to become like His Son, Jesus the Christ.

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Is Eight the Right Age for Baptism?