Questions From Readers
● First Corinthians 7:14 states that children of a believing parent “are holy.” Is baptism involved in such a child’s ‘holiness’ in God’s sight? What if the child is retarded?
The apostle Paul is here discussing problems in a divided family. He encouraged the believing mate not to leave the unbeliever and, as a strong reason for keeping the marriage intact, said this: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in relation to his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in relation to the brother; otherwise, your children would really be unclean, but now they are holy.” (1 Cor. 7:14) This shows that God views such children according to the principle of family merit. By family merit is meant the holiness that God credits, or imputes, to minor children who are obedient, to the extent that the child is unaccountable. This comes about due to the valuable record of holiness and good deeds that “parents in union with the Lord” have in God’s sight. (Eph. 6:1) This family merit applies even when only one of the parents is a believer, as Paul’s above-quoted words indicate.
What, then, of baptism? A young child who is faithfully taught God’s Word will no doubt progress in knowledge and understanding, and in time reach the point where God’s spirit motivates him to make his own dedication to Jehovah and to request baptism. (1 Pet. 3:21) To be prepared for baptism, he must appreciate his need to repent, be converted and come into a proper relationship with God. (Acts 3:19; 8:34-36) After baptism, he would no longer be under family merit, but would be viewed as “holy” on his own account, being responsible before God to pursue a life of dedication.—1 Pet. 1:14-16; Col. 1:21-23.
Should parents of retarded children feel that baptism is in all cases a requirement for children to be viewed by God as worthy of his protection in times of judgment, as in the foretold “great tribulation”? The degree of retardation is clearly a determining factor, since some of such children remain with the mentality of a four- or five-year-old even when fully grown. The child may be able to grasp certain basic teachings of God’s Word and repeat these when asked. He (or she) may be obedient to the parents and abstain from doing certain things that have been pointed out as wrong and contrary to God’s will. But is the child able to make personal decisions, able to decide from his own mind and heart (not that of the parents) the course in life he wishes to take? Is he capable of comprehending and seeking a personal relationship with God, one that is not dependent upon his parents? Is he able to stand before a judicial body, accountable for any wrongdoing he may commit? If not, then such child is evidently not in position to be baptized but would continue under family merit in God‘s eyes, counted by him as “holy” in that sense.
Hence, the matter should not be viewed emotionally but on the basis of Scriptural teachings. If the retardation is not great and the child is indeed capable of becoming a disciple of God’s Son, serving God with his own ‘heart, soul, mind and strength,’ then he could be aided to reach the point of baptism. (Mark 12:30) He then should be able to “carry his own load” of spiritual responsibility. (Gal. 6:5) The parents could seek the counsel of the elders if they are in doubt.
How faith-strengthening and comforting to know that young children, as well as mentally retarded older ones, may be regarded as “holy” due to family merit!