As a pastor in a Presbyterian church, I am often asked the question, “How old should a child be when they make a profession of faith?” In my own church, the practice was to go through a pastor’s class. Then I had to be able to knowledgeably answer the five questions of membership.If a child can answer the five questions of membership knowledgeably, then they are ready to join the church.
In a Presbyterian church, in most Presbyterian churches, the five questions of membership are something like this: “Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving his displeasure, and without hope save through his sovereign mercy?” If a child doesn’t really understand that question and can’t give a knowledgeable answer that they can own, that child is not ready to come to membership in the church.
The second question is: “Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the son of God and Savior of sinners and do you receive and rest on him alone for your salvation as he’s offered in the gospel?” If a child isn’t able to understand that question and give a meaningful, biblical answer that he or she owns, that child is not ready to join the church.
The third question is: “Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?”
The last two questions have to do with the church: “Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the church and promise to study its purity and peace?” Again, you’ve got to know a few things before you are able to answer that question. That is a churchly question that requires a certain level of understanding of what is going on.It is a combination of the pastors, elders, and parents in discerning a child’s understanding and faith.
Lastly, “Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?” That’s a commitment that not only involves understanding, but an intention to be a giving, serving part of the body.
If a child is able to answer those questions biblically and knowledgeably and own the answers to that question, that child is ready to join the church.
The age at which that child is going to do that is going to vary. In my church, that I pastored for 17 years, most of the time children were 12 years old or older when they made that commitment. On occasion there were younger children. Here is the thing: it was a combination of the pastors and the elders and the parents coming together to discern, as best as they could, where these children were in terms of their own understanding and faith.
Think about this: If it’s just a parent making this decision, think of the enormity of the pressure on that parent. What if a parent wants to rush a child to making that commitment? What if a parent is the only one between a child and making that commitment? Both of those things can be really hard on a parent. When it is not just the parent alone, but the parent and the pastor and the elders—all knowing that child and knowing that child from different angles, and able to help that child understand himself or herself—there is a wonderful kind of synergy going at this vitally important, spiritual question.
I think my dodge kind of answer to that question is not to give you an age, but to say that if you can answer those five questions knowledgeably and meaningfully, then you are ready to join the church. If you can’t, then you’re not.