This is an important question for every Christian parent to answer—and an exciting one when it comes up! I wish I could say that there is a clear-cut, one-size-fits-all answer, but important things are rarely that easy. In the Bible, there is no “age of accountability” or prescribed requirement for these things except for believing in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and salvation. So, parents, wisely navigating this with your children will require you to provide ongoing discipleship and communication with them.
Before offering some suggestions of questions to ask your children, let’s be reminded that neither baptism nor communion are a means to salvation. Instead, they are commands given by Jesus to be obeyed after salvation (Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 22:19-20). They identify us as believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, and they proclaim and remind us of his death and resurrection. So they are not required for salvation, yet they are vitally important, and God’s Word knows [nearly] nothing of an unbaptized follower of Jesus.
With that in mind, what should we be looking for and discussing with our children who are considering baptism and communion?
First, as stated, has the child made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ? Can they articulate that to you? How about to someone else? Parents, we can easily give our kids a pass, so I suggest asking another believing family member or friend to ask your child what the Bible says about being a Christian, and then solicit their feedback. I would strongly encourage you to ask for more than “yes” or “no” answers. We should never communicate to children that they are too young to understand the gospel or must wait before trusting in Christ, but those who are baptized or taking communion must be able to make a credible profession of faith.
Second, are they showing fruit and evidence of conversion through obedience to and love for Jesus? While the Bible lays out some pretty clear behaviors for Christians, the answer to this is going to be subjective based on the age and maturity of the child. Parents, you know your child and you will have to exercise discernment. Again, you might consider asking other Christians outside of the home who know your child.
I realize that in the Bible there is no prescribed waiting period for participating in baptism or communion. After all, the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 asked to be baptized immediately following his response to the gospel. And Peter preached to the crowd at Pentecost to repent and be baptized, and they did (Acts 2:38, 41). Paul only spoke of the meaning of communion and one’s conduct in taking it (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). But there seems to be good wisdom in first making sure a child (or everyone for that matter) understands the capacity and gravity of their sin and need for repentance and pursuit of holiness as they follow Jesus.
Third, does the child have a clear understanding of the symbolism in baptism and communion, and the reasons for participating? This is a teaching opportunity for you, the parent, to go through the Scriptures together and answer what, why, and how.
Based on these factors, some churches have made the choice to wait until children are at least in middle or high school before allowing or encouraging their participation in these ordinances. But because Scripture does not shackle us to a certain age or make clear prescriptions in these areas, we must exercise restraint in making dogmatic assertions regarding the “proper age” for baptism and communion. So, we have chosen not to draw that line but rather allow parents freedom in making these decisions. But don’t rush it. Waiting and holding off for understanding, maturity, significance, anticipation, and meaningful memories can be a good thing for your child. We should be very careful in how we handle the precious little ones that the Lord has entrusted to our care—neither discouraging them from believing in Jesus nor giving them false assurance of their decision by speedily baptizing them or partaking of communion.