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The age of accountability. I have a friend who pushes against the church’s policy that children are baptized at eight years old. He claims that he won’t let his kids get baptized until they can really make the decision for themselves. He is adamant that eight year olds aren’t ready for that big of a promise.
It’s hard for me to argue with him from a personal point of view (obviously, I believe the church knows what it’s talking about); I actually don’t remember my baptism. At all. I try to think back on it, but there’s nothing there. I think I have a vague recollection of getting confirmed, but even that memory is a little hazy.
So are eight year olds truly ready to make a promise that will affect them the rest of their lives even if they end up leaving the church later? Let’s talk about it. And though this post is about eight year olds, it has surprising implications for us all.
Doctrine and Covenants 29:46-47
46 But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten;
47 Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me;
Did you catch that phrase in there? It’s a phrase I’ve never consciously noticed before. Children begin to become accountable. This phrase caught my attention over and over as I studied, but I was afraid to teach it because I wasn’t sure it was solid doctrine. Then I was directed to this lovely quote by Bruce R. McConkie.
“Accountability does not burst full-bloom upon a child at any given moment in his life. Children become accountable gradually, over a number of years. Becoming accountable is a process, not a goal to be attained when a specified number of years, days, and hours have elapsed…There comes a time, however, when accountability is real and actual and sin is attributed in the lives of those who develop normally. It is eight years of age, the age of baptism.”
Accountability grows as our knowledge grows. So though an eight year old child has reached an age of accountability, this eight year old will not be judged by the same standards as an eighteen year old or eighty year old. The levels of accountability differ.
So if the levels of accountability differ according to what we’ve been given, should every child be baptized at eight?
Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions about baptism.
What does a baptismal covenant do for us?
When we are baptized, we promise to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. Those are big promises; we can’t deny that. However, if our levels of accountability differ, then Heavenly Father is still only going to hold us accountable to that level that is appropriate. We’re not going to be hurt by this promise; the expectations He holds for us are always appropriately balanced with our abilities, dispositions, and knowledge.
So the promise isn’t going to hurt us. How will it help us? Here’s what Preach My Gospel teaches us.
“Keeping covenants brings blessings in this life and exaltation in the life to come.”
So baptism sets us up to receive more blessings in this life and it’s how we enter the gate towards exaltation. Baptismal promises enable our Heavenly Father to bless us more than He was able to before because we’ve entered into a contract with Jesus Christ.
“By keeping the commandments and serving others we receive and retain a remission of our sins.”
So just previous to this, I mentioned that we entered into a contract with Christ. What does that even mean? Christ often compares this covenant to a marriage covenant. Traditionally (not always) in marriage, finances of both parties merge. It’s okay if that’s not the case for your marriage, but I’m still going to use it to teach a principle. When we enter a “marriage” covenant with Christ, His acts can pay for ours. We can be cleansed by Him just like we were cleansed before we reached the age of accountability.
“Through sacred ordinances, such as baptism and confirmation, we learn about and experience God’s power.”
The quote I used earlier from Preach My Gospel taught us that baptism can bring exaltation in the life to come. Baptism is another tool that teaches us about Christ, and learning is part of the process of exaltation. In that way we will be held more accountable than before because we’ve learned something, but the level of accountability will still be appropriate.
So baptism is really just a way for Heavenly Father to bless us more. We don’t need to be baptized before because little children are already perfect in Christ and baptizing them mocks His sacred Atonement. Getting baptized at the beginning of our accountability allows us to continue on with more blessings
The learning process of exaltation
Heavenly Father often sends us on journey’s before we’re “ready.” I can tell you right now I wasn’t ready to serve a mission. Even at the end of my mission, I still wasn’t “ready.” Geez if only I had the knowledge I have now. The same goes for marriage in so many ways. My husband and I knew each other pretty well when we got married; we had dated for a year and a half and so I was fortunate enough to not really have any unpleasant surprises about him. I got all those unpleasantries over with while we were dating (just kidding, babe!). But really. Despite knowing him really well, I still had immense amounts of weaknesses. There are a lot of things I’ve had to learn about myself, and there are a lot of ways I’ve had to grow in order to make a happy relationship.
But that’s just the point isn’t it? The world teaches that we have to be ready to go out and conquer some big journey. Heavenly Father teaches us that the journey is what will help us grow. There is no way I would have ever been truly “ready” for marriage. Getting married is one of the best ways to learn how to be a good spouse.
Baptism, and its consequent receiving of the Holy Ghost, enables us to grow easier. As we mature, as we develop higher levels of accountability, we have these amazing gifts available to us because of our baptisms that occurred at a young age. We have the Holy Ghost to lead us along and learn things the easy way instead of the hard way.