Child Dedication: A Brief Reply To My Friend Paul Martin
When Paul Martin approached me about my willingness to engage in a public disagreement on the appropriateness of child dedication I immediately embraced the idea. Iron sharpens iron and faithful are the wounds of a friend. I didn’t intend my original article to spark a debate, but I am very happy that it has done so. No tradition should go unchallenged among God’s people. We must be constantly reforming our practices in light of the Word of God. As I said in my first offering, I applaud and identify with the efforts underway in “reformed” Evangelical churches to pull everything out of the shadows and under the light of Scripture. However, as I said, there is a danger, in this case literally, of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Having read Paul’s critique I must confess that I did not find it convincing. Paul laid great stress upon the use of the word “dedication” in 1 Samuel 1:28. However, I cannot recall ever hearing that verse cited or alluded to during a baby dedication. D.A. Carson warns us in his book Exegetical Fallacies that word searches are not the best way to conduct theological inquiry. If a pastor made a direct comparison between the act of child dedication as it is commonly practiced in the church now and the distinct event narrated in 1 Samuel 1:28 then I would agree that an error of application had obviously occurred, but since that doesn’t happen - or hasn't happened in any child dedication I can recall - I fail to see the relevance of the citation.
Paul also made the case – and it is a case I agree with – that dedication is not baptism and that it should not be treated as such. Hear hear! He also made the case that we should try to restrict ourselves in corporate worship to things we see commanded or instanced in the Bible. Once again I would heartily agree and in that spirit I would point my brother to Matthew 19:13-14 which says:
“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”” (Matthew 19:13–14 ESV)
Jesus laid hands on children and prayed for them and he did it in front of the disciples; as I tried to communicate in my article, that is the heart and substance of child dedication.
Most of Paul’s argument addressed hypothetical abuses and the potential for miscommunication and a fair bit of that was covered in my original article. However, the abuse of a thing is not the negation of a thing, if it were then who would dare climb into the pulpit? The most abused gift in the church is the gift of preaching and yet we do not outlaw preaching we merely insist that it be done well. I can’t see why we don’t apply the same logic in this case.
Reformed evangelicals run the risk of being less generous and more orthodox than Jesus. Jesus laid hands on children and prayed for them. Help me figure out why we shouldn’t do the same.
Let us be careful, brother pastors, not to go beyond what is written. The Bible says:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15 ESV)
There is no commandment in the Bible that directs us to conduct funerals and yet I know of no reformed Evangelical church that would refuse to do so. Why is that? Because we are called to love the truth and to love God’s people. We have a warrant to celebrate their births and to mourn their deaths. How that is done, precisely, should be left to churches to decide. I respect Paul’s decision not to have child dedications in his church, but I worry that he may be rejecting something that could very easily be fixed.
We reformed folks already look grim and forbidding to the outside world and sometimes even to our own people. Whenever and wherever we can be loving, joyful and affirming - without contradicting Scripture - I say we do it.
For the glory of God and the honour of His Name,
Pastor Paul Carter