By Jason Soroski, Crosswalk.com
“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”- Matthew 19:14
Children and families are at the heart of the Kingdom of God and the gospel message itself. The story of Jesus began in the family of Joseph and Mary; this young couple had to stand against opposition, community gossip, and grow together spiritually while trusting fully in the promises of God. During his final moments on the cross, Jesus continued to show the deep meaning of family as he made certain that Mary was taken care of by giving John the role of 'her son’. The home, the family, and the place of children in it are undeniably foundational to the Christian faith. Baby dedications, therefore, are not just for the baby; they are for the parents, the family, and the Church as a whole.
Baby dedications are beautiful moments in the life of a church during which parents present their young children before the church and devote themselves to raise that child in a godly home. These ceremonies may occur during a regular church service or they may be separate events. In larger churches, there will likely be multiple families represented and in smaller churches possibly just one family. In either setting, gathered church members agree to join in covenant with the family to encourage, assist, and equip them in raising their children as within the body of Christ.
Where Does the Bible Mention Baby Dedications?
There is no specific Scripture reference to baby dedication as modern-day Christians know and practice it, but there are abundant references to the family unit and the need to train up children in “the way they should go” so that, “ when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). In reading the New Testament, it is difficult to tell if or how baby dedication would have been observed. However, is it clear that the raising of children is undoubtedly important in the life of the Church:
- “Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him” – Psalm 127:3.
- “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” – Matthew 19:14.
- “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” – Deuteronomy 6:6-7.
Other places in Scripture that mention the idea of dedicating children are 1 Samuel 1:11, where Hannah vows to dedicate her son Samuel to the Lord, and Luke 2:22, where we see Mary and Joseph at the Temple presenting Jesus to the Lord. These are just a few verses that apply to the dedication of children and verses that are often part of a baby dedication ceremony. There are many, many more.
The practice of baby dedication seems to have come about as a response to the infant baptisms practiced by the Catholic Church. In these churches, the idea of infants being baptized was rejected, but the idea of a ceremony dedicating those infants to the Lord was not. To note there are several Protestant denominations that also practice infant baptism: Episcopalian, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, and some Reformed denominations among others.
What's the Difference between Infant Baptism and Baby Dedications?
Infant baptism and baby dedication are not the same. Both ceremonies involve parents presenting their infant children before the church, but there is a different theology at work between the two. Generally speaking, Baptist, non-denominational, and some other Protestant churches practice baby dedication, while Catholic, Orthodox, and other Protestant traditions (several mentioned above) hold infant baptism ceremonies where infants are ‘christened’ into the faith through the sprinkling of water. According to the Baptist view, baby dedication is not an act of salvation, baptism, or church membership. It is seen as a symbolic way to present the child to the church and make a covenant to raise the child in a godly home. There is no water involved, as according to this view salvation and baptism are events that will come later when the child grows and accepts Christ personally. This is often called ‘believer’s baptism,’ as it happens when the child makes a profession of faith.
For those denominations that practice infant baptism, water is involved, and infants become members of the church when they are baptized. Churches that practice this form of baptism view it as a sacrament of the church. In the Catholic tradition, infant baptism is viewed as an act of salvation, cleansing original sin and initiating the child into the Catholic Church. The Protestant denominations do not view infant baptism as an act of salvation and rather view infant baptism as a biblical sacrament akin to circumcision that requires faith whether at the onset or later. It is noted at the time of infant baptism that the parents are responsible for bringing up the child in a godly home and the covenant community of the church; the church also agrees to support the parents and the raising of the child in the church.
One further thing to note is that gospel-centered churches agree that baptism is the sign of the new covenant in the Church established by Jesus Christ. Faithful Christians can thoughtfully disagree, however, on the terms of baptism: infant baptism vs. believer's baptism. Proponents for infant baptism will link scriptural examples of circumcision and the inclusion of children and families in both the Old and New Testament for their theology of baptizing infants, while proponents for believer's baptism will cite scriptural examples of adults being baptized in John's baptism and in the early church accompanied by a profession of faith. The Bible neither commands nor prohibits the baptism of children in the New Testament, therefore, it is up to churches to discern how they will structure the sacrament of baptism. Regardless of which theology you align with, faith is necessary for either type of baptism - an infant who is baptized is brought into covenant community to be raised with the teachings of Christianity, where it is hoped and prayed for that they will have a regenerate heart (their heart will be transformed by the Holy Spirit and they will profess faith). Proponents of believer's baptism will wait for a profession of faith before baptizing, therefore, baby dedication is a way to present children to the church (outside of sacrament and membership) with the purpose of raising them according to Christian beliefs.
The practices of infant baptism and baby dedication may seem similar, but they hold different theological implications. Neither involves an act of salvation (except in the Catholic Church), but one is a sacrament of baptism that will require faith later and the other is a dedication (not a sacrament) also set in the hope and prayer that faith will be produced leading to baptism later.
Why Do Churches Still Do Baby Dedications?
Is there enough meaning in the ceremony to continue having baby dedications? Absolutely! Most churches hold baby dedications, and it can be a memorable and meaningful event when viewed as a way to strengthen families and pour into the lives of parents and children. One of the best ways to think of baby dedication is not just as a single event, but the first in a line of events that define our life in Christ. Pastor Brian Haynes calls these events Legacy Milestones. In this book, ‘The Legacy Path’ he refers to this not as a baby dedication, but as a ‘family dedication’. According to his website,
“the first step on the legacy pathway is Family Dedication. This is a seminar and a ceremony that normally occurs for parents who have children between birth and one year of age. Parents, through a two-hour required seminar, learn how to become primary faith trainers for their children and accept the responsibility. Resources and learning opportunities are provided for the new parents desiring to dedicate their child to the Lord. During the ceremony, the church body commits to partner with the parents in the faith development of the child for the duration of the journey”.
This is an in-depth and beautiful approach to all that a baby dedication can be: not just a symbolic ‘cute’ event, but a truly meaningful and affirming covenant event through which the church agrees to support and encourage families as they seek to raise their children in Christ.
Even the best of us will struggle, especially when it comes to raising children! It is heartbreaking when we see families honestly trying their best to raise children in a godly home, then make mistakes, and feel judged for it. It is far worse when they actually are being judged for it. Baby dedications (or family dedications) ask churches to move away from judgment and into discipleship. We are the body of Christ, and all of our families are extensions of his larger family! We are designed to guide and pray for one another, and this is one part of doing just that. Just like a Christian wedding ceremony, baby dedications are more than just a pretty event, but the initiation of a covenant relationship. Some might argue that baby dedications are a silly thing that churches don’t really need to do anymore, but when practiced correctly and thoughtfully the opposite is true. When we consider the depth of meaning that comes from such a covenant, baby dedications are no longer just ‘things we still do’, but instead place among the most meaningful moments in the life of a church.
We live in a culture where children, families, and faith itself continue to be under attack, and we must embrace these milestone moments to dedicate ourselves and our children to the Lord. The future of our families and the future of the Church depend on it. Welcoming children into the world is one of our greatest joys and agreeing to engage in their lives and the lives of their parents as the body of Christ is among our greatest honors.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/kzenon
Jason Soroski is a homeschool dad and author of A Journey to Bethlehem: Inspiring Thoughts for Christmas and Hope for the New Year. He serves as worship pastor and in Colorado and spends his weekends exploring the Rocky Mountains with his family. Connect on Twitter, Instagram, or at JasonSoroski.net.