Are we confusing the two Covenants yet again?
Christening, Infant Baptism & Dedication
Some groups call it ‘christening’, others ‘baptism’ and others ‘dedication’. This article will not attempt an examination of the origins of this practice but rather focus solely on the last terminology above – ‘dedication’. Why am I ignoring the first two? My reason is because christening / infant baptism has been addressed many times down the centuries and has been ably shown to be unscriptural and it has long since been soundly rejected by the majority of the evangelical world. (By ‘evangelical’ here I simply mean people who profess to base their Christian faith solely on the teachings of Scripture; I shall also use the term ‘Protestant’ interchangeably with ‘evangelical’ in this article. Please also note: ‘NT’ denotes New Testament, as in The New Covenant, as opposed to The Old Covenant).
So what is different about infant ‘dedication’? In reality, nothing very much (except it doesn’t usually involve water), and that is the reason for this overdue article. The Protestant Church has had a knack for centuries of renouncing ‘Catholic’ doctrine but at the very same time continuing with its practices – only under different names. E.g… the Catholic ‘priest’ becomes the protestant ‘pastor’ (instead of the co-equal, unpaid collective of elders of NT times), the ‘mass’ has become a ‘communion service’ (in place of the shared meal / love feast practiced in NT times) and… infant baptism has (somewhere along the line) become child ‘dedication’. However, unlike the former examples there is not even a NT equivalent of this practice by any stretch of the imagination!
The Theology of Child Dedication
In the centuries of Christian thought there have emerged two main theological camps with regards to how a person can be ‘saved’. In very simple terms these two opposing views are often known as Calvinism and Arminainism. Let’s see the ultra simplistic summary of these views.
- Calvinism: The understanding that God has made choice of who will (and by implication, who won’t) be saved before the foundation of the world. It is God’s sovereign choice; nothing you do or don’t do can alter it. (There are variations on this theme).
- Arminianism: Men and women have freewill and our freewill is part of the process of our salvation. Whilst salvation is still a free gift of God men and women must choose to accept or reject God’s provision. (There are variations on this theme too).
Whilst my summary of centuries of theological debate might be simple, in reality there is no other alternative to the two above views (that I am aware of anyhow). So, let’s first take the Calvinistic position… God has already made his choice – before your child was born – will a ceremonial act change that – No! Now let’s take the Arminian position… Your child grows, rejects the Gospel of Jesus Christ, lives a life of sin and dies – will the fact that they were previously dedicated change their eternal outcome – No! Now let’s take the more positive view of the second position (as there is a choice)… Your child grows, accepts the Gospel of Jesus Christ, lives a life pleasing to God and dies – will the fact that they were, or were not, previously dedicated change their eternal outcome – No! One more point here… Did the fact that they were dedicated help in any way towards making that choice to follow Jesus – No! Not unless you believe that dedication is a kind of a magic spell affecting the free will of the child – I trust you do not put any faith in such nonsense!
Why Do Bible Believing Christians Dedicate Their Children?
I’m going to keep this answer short because the relevant point for me is not why does it happen but should we continue with the practice. The reasons it is still done are varied both in logic and motive so I am not judging anyone that has done this but I am more interested in getting people to return to the practices of the NT instead of man-made traditions. So, there’s the first reason, tradition, let’s list a few more:
- It’s Tradition
- It’s what everyone else does
- It’s expected of us
- It’s how we show we love our children
- It’s how we show the church that we’re good Christian parents
- It’s not so much for the children it’s really for the parents
- It’s an opportunity to share the gospel with our families
- It’s in the Bible (*this will be examined in the next section)
There are lots of nice sounding ideas above but with the exception of number eight none of the rest should ever be what dictates our beliefs and practices – not if we claim to be ‘Bible-believing’ and Bible-practicing Christians. If we blindly follow traditions and pressures from others we will invariably find ourselves contradicting God’s Word in all sorts of ways. If we are looking for a way to show love or evangelise those outside the church then we have good NT precedents for how to go about all of these things – none of which usually involves religious ceremonies. (Adult baptism is commanded in the NT and is indeed, in part, intended as a testimony to others about our faith in Christ but we cannot begin to examine this.)
But Isn’t Child Dedication in The Bible?
In answer to the above heading, “Yes,” it is mentioned in the Bible many times, along with dietary laws, purification ceremonies and infanticide! I refer to two different types of child dedication spoken of in the Bible, Pagan and Jewish (I’ll use Jew/Hebrew/Israelite interchangeably for the purposes of this section).
My reference to infanticide relates to pagan dedication of infants. Whist slaying a child was not the standard, everyday method of child dedication it was the ultimate act of offering to a pagan deity – usually practiced in situations of desperation. I don’t think dear reader that you will do this just because it is mentioned in the Bible and I don’t think we need to discuss here all of the practices of pagan child dedication. So that leaves us with Jewish/Hebrew child dedication.
God most certainly did command the Hebrew people to dedicate their children to him as part of a special national covenant, which Christians now call The ‘Old Covenant’ (now superseded by The ‘New Covenant’ for all followers of Jesus Christ). Child dedication under the terms of that covenant made with Abraham was perfectly theologically sound. An Israelite was part of the Abrahamic (and later, Mosaic) Covenant simply by being born into an Israelite family. When a child was born into the Hebrew community there followed offerings, purification rites and in the case of a male, circumcision. All of this was commanded of God, all of this was blest of God and it was all a part of the Abrahamic/Mosaic Covenant.
This is in stark contrast to the New Covenant, where being born into a Christian family does not make a child part of The New Covenant. In order for someone to become part of the New Covenant a person must be ‘born again’ (a spiritual birth as opposed to natural) – their natural lineage is utterly irrelevant. So, when children were dedicated under the terms of the Old Covenant, including Jesus (who was born into the Old Covenant nation), this was all in accord with God’s will. Child dedication as part of The New Covenant is not God’s will – if it were we would have instructions and/or examples of Christian child dedication in the NT – but we do not.
Most Christians seem to understand (in theory at least) that NOT doing (TAKING AWAY FROM) what the NT teaches is a bad thing and yet there is a baggage of religiosity that has been handed down through the generations that constantly ADDS TO what the Bible teaches. This ‘adding to the word’ is precisely what the Scribes and the Pharisees were guilty of. Adding to God’s word will always lead us further away from Him never nearer to Him. Religion always displaces reality and invariably detracts from the real spiritual message of the Gospel. If you are a real Christian then you are part of the New Covenant. You are not of the Old Covenant and certainly not part of any pagan tradition. It is a Covenant that does away with nearly all ceremonial acts (there are a few explicitly stated exceptions in the NT – each for a good reason).
By all means, give thanks for your children, pray for your children and, indeed, ask others to pray for your children but don’t turn simple genuine prayer into acts of religiosity. “Touch not, Taste not, Handle not” – we are not to be devotees of the ‘shadow’ (of things to come) but rather be partakers of the realities of the ‘body’ (which now is). There are many ways lovers of God can show their devotion to Him and others, let’s spend time on these things and keep clear of the things of religiosity.