I saw the following video and it made me laugh. It was a nervous laugh, weighted heavily by the realization that for some children, their baptism is like signing an adult contract, with repercussions they cannot comprehend.
There are two schools of thought in the Greek Scriptures regarding baptism, and Christians generally fall into one or the other. The first school looks at baptism as community and covenant. They baptize infants as a sign of them being part of the community or the covenant. Because the parents are members, they declare the child to be part of the community, part of the promises, and part of the covenant. (The promises and covenant being what all is possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; that which is new and replaced the old promises and covenants handed down through Abraham.) An example of this in Scripture is when the Philippean Jailer of Acts 16 is baptized with his whole family. (Read more here.) The idea being that the adults will nurture the young person in the community of the kingdom. The baptism is a sign of the covenant.
The second school of thought follows the example of Jesus who was baptized as an adult of about 30 years of age, and who is said to have set the example for us to follow. The baptism is seen as an outward sign of an inward belief; a participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.. This school calls it a believer's baptism. (Read more here)
There are a lot of arguments about the meaning and style of baptism. But the issue of concern here, is not what is the right doctrine about baptism. What is of concern is: what happens to children who make a decision to be baptized?
In spiritually abusive groups, baptism is as a contract, and a violation of the contract can result in discipline. The group is concerned with growth and unity. If a child grows up, and studies their faith,and comes to a different conclusion, they will experience discipline, up to and including complete exclusion from the group. If a child sins and is deemed to have not repented, they will be disciplined up to and including complete exclusion from the group.
Believer's baptism is especially problematic and subject to spiritual abuse for children. Science studies of the human brain show us that the brain is not fully done growing until sometime in the early twenties:
The prefrontal cortex at the front of your brain. This area is important for decision making, reasoning, inhibitory control & personality. In fact the prefrontal cortex is the last area to finishing developing in you. It will be mature by your 20s, later for boys.
The video above is a good example of how little a child may know when deciding to be baptized. He does not know the process or ritual. He dunks himself because he is giddy with delight. We do not know what led up to this, but I propose that he wanted to make his parents happy.
For a child or teen who is baptized in an abusive context they probably have some of the following motives:
Baptism for a child or teen probably has little to do with identifying with the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Those are deep theological constructs that are difficult for an intelligent adult mind to grapple with and understand.
The child has had no time to grow, learn, make mistakes, or do research. They have limited experiences and limited exposure to world religions. In essence, they are choosing the only choice they think they have, for reasons they do not even comprehend.
It is abusive to withhold information while at the same time indoctrinating children. It is abusive to hold baptized children or teens accountable when they are older and more informed and make mistakes or make another decision based on new information. It is abusive to push children to make decisions they cannot understand.
It is loving to provide community and to provide instruction. It is loving to allow children to question and formulate their own beliefs. It is loving to allow children time to be children, and time to grow into adulthood, while nurturing their confidence and faith development. Abusive groups do not do this.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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