But when one of your heroes in the faith asks, you make an exception. And, for me, Justin Peters is one of those heroes in the faith (even more so because I’m sure he wouldn’t want me calling him that).
I introduced Justin this way in my article, A Few MORE Good Men: 10 Doctrinally Sound Male Teachers:
“Justin Peters Ministries exists to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost and to help equip the saved to ‘speak the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15). Great care is taken to preach and teach God’s Word in its proper context and simply let the text speak for itself.”
The first thing I ever noticed about Justin Peters is his striking example of biblical meekness. Justin is soft-spoken and peaceable, but firm in his gospel convictions and aflame with the desire for the lost to come to salvation. You must read Justin’s testimony of coming to know Christ after years in seminary and ministry as a false convert. What Justin is perhaps best known for is his teaching and discernment ministry exposing the Word of Faith movement. It started with a trip to a faith healer as a teen to have his own cerebral palsy healed and grew into Clouds Without Water, a seminar designed to educate the church on the history, growth, and metastasization of the Word of Faith heresy.
But Justin doesn’t limit himself to discernment ministry, and his new book, Do Not Hinder Them: A Biblical Examination of Childhood Conversion, opens the door to another of his theological interests- salvation and baptism, especially as they pertain to children.
A simple, yet fundamental, point of theology which needs to be understood in order to grasp the concept of the book is the difference between credo-baptism and paedo-baptism. Credo-baptism is also called “believer’s baptism.” This means that a new believer stands before the church, professes her faith in Christ, and is then baptized out of obedience to Him- to demonstrate that she has passed from death unto life and now wishes to be identified as a follower of Christ. Credo-baptists believe strongly that baptism is only to be administered to professing believers.
Paedo-baptism is infant baptism. It is administered to all babies and children (by definition, unable to profess faith in Christ) by a number of Protestant denominations as a symbol that a child has been born into a covenant (believing) family who will raise her in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and the knowledge of the gospel.
There’s an angst that Bible believing credo-baptist parents often experience, which, undoubtedly, is foreign to paedo-baptist parents:
My young child has come to me claiming to have asked Jesus into her heart and wants to be baptized. How can I tell if she’s really saved and that it’s right for her to be baptized at this age?
It’s a long standing dilemma for Southern Baptists like Justin…and me. My mother happened to mention in passing a few years ago that I had begged to be baptized when I was about six. It made sense because that’s about the time all of my little friends were being baptized, but, I was very surprised to hear this story because, as an adult, I had no recollection of it whatsoever, and I can guarantee you I wasn’t saved at the time. My parents wisely said no.
As parents ourselves, my husband and I have faced the same struggle. Five of our six children were baptized as young children. One is not currently walking with the Lord and two of them were re-baptized later at their own request when they realized they had not been saved the first go round.
This is the central issue Justin tackles in Do Not Hinder Them.
But don’t be fooled by the title of the book. While it’s a must read for Christian parents, pastors, and those who work in children’s ministry, you also need to read this book if…
…you’ve ever wondered if you’re really saved.
…you’re wondering if that loved one (of any age) who claims to be a Christian is really saved.
…you’re a paedo-baptist wanting to get a better grip on credo-baptist beliefs and struggles
…you’re brand new to the study of theology and are looking for a resource that will easily help you to “dip a toe in the water” (so to speak)
In other words, though Justin addresses the issue of genuine conversion as it applies to children seeking baptism, the question of “How can I know if I/my loved one is really saved?” is one we all face at some point in our walk with Christ. So, while there may be a few parts of this book that don’t apply if you’re not a pastor, children’s ministry worker, or parent, most of it is helpful for every Christian.
One of the foundational issues Justin cites as having gotten us into the muck and mire of baptizing unregenerate children, only to have them “walk away” from the Lord (though, indeed, they were never saved in the first place) as teens or young adults – sullying the name of Christ and His church – or to seek a second baptism once they realize they were unsaved the first time, is the fact that we have so watered down the gospel and the soteriology our churches subscribe to and practice. “Getting saved” has been reduced to parroting a sinner’s prayer, or mental assent to a simplistic set of facts that even the demons believe. There is little to no presentation of sin and rebellion, guilt before a holy God, God’s wrath toward the sinner, and the eternal punishment of sin. And when was the last time you heard a pastor urge someone contemplating following Jesus to count the cost of being His disciple? Instead, it’s, “Don’t you want to go to Heaven when you die?” or “Just believe A, B, and C, and you’re saved!” or “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” Rarely are young children mature enough in their thinking to be able to grasp the true nature and meaning of why they need a Savior and what repentance, regeneration, and discipleship really entail.
And that’s largely our fault. As Christian parents, we understandably want our children “in,” safe from an eternity in Hell. So we make it as easy as possible for them to complete the transaction. Instead of raising our children up to understand and attain to the high bar of the demands of the gospel, we lower the bar so far that even the youngest child can toddle right over it. In the end, the problem is not that we’re baptizing unsaved babes as our paedo-baptist brothers and sisters do, but that we’re presenting a false gospel that creates false converts who hang their eternity on having repeated a prayer and passed through the baptistry.
The second key issue Justin says has contributed to the epidemic of baptizing unregenerate children is the fact that we base our decision to baptize them solely on their verbal profession of faith rather than on the fruit of a changed life.
I remember all too well the worry over my own small children’s salvation in this regard. How could I tell if they were really saved or not? They had been in church and raised in a Christian home all their lives- they knew all the right answers to give when we questioned them about their salvation experiences.
As Justin wisely points out, this is often the case with “church kids.” They know how to repeat back what they’ve learned in Sunday School, and, because they’ve been raised in a godly atmosphere, they’re likely already good kids, outwardly behaving in what looks like a Christlike way. When they come to us and say, “I’ve asked Jesus into my heart,” how can we tell if it’s genuine saving faith?
Most of the time, the answer is- we can’t. Until, that is, that faith has been tested and their testimony proven true through the refining process of trial, temptation, and persecution. Until he is able to bear fruit in keeping with the repentance he claims. Does your child freely choose obedience to Christ over giving in to temptation? Does he cling to Christ during times of difficulty? Does he visibly stand for Christ when ridiculed for doing so by his peers? What five year old even faces such situations?
And that’s precisely Justin’s point. We rush our children through the baptismal waters as soon as they claim to have received Christ rather than waiting to see their faith prove out over the ensuing years. Your five year won’t face the temptation to use drugs or engage in sex. But your teenager will. It’s unlikely a gang of kindergartners will surround your child and mock his belief in Christ and biblical values. Sophomores and juniors do so gleefully. How does your young adult, who claims to be born again, handle these types of situations? When it’s his choice, not yours, does he consistently and unrepentantly go along with the worldly crowd or does he bear up and walk faithfully with Christ? Justin suggests, and I can’t help but agree, that the testing of our children’s faith that comes with age and independence, and the fruits of Christlikeness they bear – such as: godly sorrow over sin, personal holiness, hunger for the Word, and increasing discernment – are a much more reliable barometer of their spiritual state than the “right answers” they are able to give as small children. It is for this reason that Justin suggests postponing baptism until the late teens or early 20s, while encouraging and nurturing our children’s faith as they grow and mature.
Do Not Hinder Them so effectively addresses these matters of concern to the church that I unhesitatingly recommend it to all Christians. Justin writes in a simple, unassuming style that even the newest believer would be comfortable with, and explains complicated theological terms and issues with ease. The book is chock full of helpful footnotes rife with Scripture references and supplementary resources, and is only 112 pages long, making it an easy evening’s read. Do Not Hinder Them is available in soft cover format (not available in e-book format at this time) and is endorsed by Dr. John MacArthur. You can purchase a copy at Justin’s web site or on Amazon.
All brown “pull quotes” in this article are taken from:
Peters, Justin. Do Not Hinder Them: A Biblical Examination of Childhood Conversion. Justin Peters Ministries, 2017.