GRAPEVINE The “age of accountability” is one of the least understood historic Baptist beliefs, Steve Lemke, provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), said.
“All three Baptist Faith and Message statements (1925, 1963, and 2000) assert that children are not morally accountable until ‘they are capable of moral action’ (Baptist Faith and Message, Article 3),” Lemke wrote in an article on the age of accountability that first appeared in the Louisiana Baptist Message in 2010.
Since children mature at different rates, it is difficult to establish a specific age at which they become morally accountable, he wrote.
“It is therefore more accurate to speak of a ‘state’ of being accountable rather than an ‘age’ of accountability,” Lemke, also a professor of philosophy and ethics at NOBTS, wrote, adding that a state of accountability is normally associated with a coming of age “sometime in adolescence.”
Perhaps the best biblical support for the age of accountability, Lemke wrote, is found in Jeremiah 31:29-30 and the parallel passage in Ezekiel 18:14-21.
The texts, he wrote, make clear that children will “not suffer punishment for the father’s iniquity,” but rather “each one will die for his own wrongdoing.”
“This is precisely what the age of accountability teaches—that we are not responsible for the sins of others, but for our own sins when we reach the age that we are morally aware and morally responsible,” Lemke wrote.
In every New Testament case of baptism, Lemke noted, it is adults who come to faith in Christ. “Evidently, then, moral accountability and salvation by faith are applicable only for those who are capable of moral discernment,” he wrote.
Baptists have never believed, Lemke wrote, that a person could be saved by physical birth or by the faith of his parents. “Each person must make a personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord in order to be saved,” Lemke wrote.
“… Baptists do believe that we children of Adam ‘inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin,’ but it is not until we become ‘transgressors’ ourselves that we come under guilt and condemnation (Baptist Faith and Message, Article 3),” Lemke wrote. “So while we believe in an inherited sin nature, we do not believe in inherited guilt.”