This Sunday we will be celebrating Baby Dedication at our church. While this may be a familiar tradition to many, to others it may not be something that they have ever seen. Regardless of what we have seen in our respective pasts, it is important for us to understand why we do what we do (lest we become guilty of meaningless liturgy – going through the motions with no real understanding of why – which is empty religion).
For that reason, I’d like to explain why we celebrate baby dedication as opposed to the baptism of babies.
First of all, there are a couple of views of baptism that we need to consider. The first is
the practice of paedobaptism – the baptism of infants. This tradition is often misunderstood by the evangelical church that practices believer’s baptism, because often we confuse the Presbyterian view with the Roman Catholic view.
The Roman Catholic view teaches that infant baptism saves or regenerates the baby by infusing saving grace into the soul of the infant, which in turn washes away original sin without any faith on the part of the baby.
On the other hand, Presbyterian infant baptism has to do with God’s covenant relationship with Christian families. In this view, baptism does not have any regenerating benefits. Further, it also does not mean that every baby who is baptized will be necessarily saved. Salvation is still by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from any works of man (including baptism).
The second view of baptism, and the one which we affirm here at NewBranch, is that baptism is a sign that one has come to faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, baptism is for those who have an understanding of their salvation and are publicly professing their faith before the Lord and the congregation. As they are immersed they are illustrating their death, burial and resurrection as a new creature in Christ, which has come to them by faith through grace. This is called credo-baptism.
Since the view of baptism we affirm requires a baptism candidate to demonstrate individual faith in Jesus Christ, and since babies are not developmentally able to do so, we do not baptize babies. Instead, we prefer to celebrate a child’s entrance into a Christian family with whom God has a covenant relationship, by allowing those parents to dedicate their children in a Baby Dedication service. In this service, parents are in essence saying to the Lord:
We understand Lord, that our child has been given to us by You as a precious gift, but we recognize our inability to raise this child as You would ultimately desire, so we present our children to You and ask that You would bless, protect, provide for, and save our child – and guide and lead us as parents to raise them in a home that is pleasing to You and glorifies Your name.
The foundation of both the Presbyterian view of infant baptism as well as our view of baby dedication is the covenant. In fact, the covenant is the basis of all of God’s dealings with man. It is the basis of all that God has done, is doing, and will do in time and on earth. Nothing can be understood rightly apart from an understanding of God’s covenant with man. The covenant is the means by which man has communion with God. It is a living bond between God and man wherein God pledges to be our God and claims us to be His people. The common formula by which God describes this relationship is, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”
At NewBranch Community Church we believe that children of believers have a special place in the covenant community. We read in Psalm 127:3 ‘Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him.’ And then Jesus said in Matthew 19:14 ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
Children are indeed special gifts from the Lord and are highly valued by Him. God certainly saves His elect as individuals – one at a time – but little children are a part of something bigger – the family – and the family is to be a part of something bigger – the local church or covenant community – and the covenant community at NewBranch is a part of something even bigger – the universal church of Jesus Christ – the Body of Christ.