Is Child Dedication Even A Real Thing?
In the last 2 years I’ve had more questions about child dedication than in the previous 20 years combined. Lots of my “young, restless and reformed” friends are wondering about this old Evangelical tradition. I think that is a good thing – the church gets into trouble when no one is asking why we do the things we do. Habit can be deadly and traditions – even seemingly harmless ones – should never go unchallenged. But Evangelicals are famous for over reaction. We have a tendency to outlaw whatever is presently being abused; we discard more often than we repair, we demolish more often than we renovate and we run the danger, in this case literally, of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. So let’s slow down and ask some important questions:
What is child dedication? Is it basically “infant baptism without the water”? Is it merely a nod to the many former Anglicans and United Church folks in our midst? Or is it a real thing?
It might be helpful to begin with what child dedication is not. It is definitely NOT a sacrament and it is definitely not an ordinance. It may be helpful to define those terms. The word “sacrament” is generally understood to refer to “a sign and a means of grace”. The word “ordinance” refers to the fact that Christ commanded certain rites “as a means of visibly portraying the Gospel”.
Child dedication is neither of those things and it should never be presented as such. Child dedication is not a Jesus commanded picture of the Gospel. Child dedication is not a means of grace. Neither is it an act of corporate prophecy declaring the child in question to be among the elect. If you have been communicating any of those things, brother pastor, while conducting child dedication, then you should stop. Immediately. Child dedication is not a sacrament and it is not an ordinance of the Christian church.
Then what is it and why do we do it?
We do it first and foremost because we worship a Jesus who, quite transparently, loved little children. He spent time with them, he cared for them and he laid hands on them and he blessed them. The Bible 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.
At its heart that is what child dedication is. Mothers and fathers bring their beautiful blessings to the front of the church where pastors and elders meet to fuss over them, congratulate them, rejoice with them and pray for them.
How in the world could we quarrel with that?
The Bible says:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15 ESV)
The same verse that authorizes funerals authorizes baby dedication. A church should celebrate with moms and dads and should pray with them over and for their babies. It would be difficult to think of anything more biblical than that.
Child dedication also generally involves a pledge from the church to the parents of the child. Our pledge reads as follows:
“In the presence of God, the Author and Giver of life, we the Body of Christ in this place pray for you parents, in the great and joyful responsibility God has entrusted to you. As individuals, we pray that as you grow in Christ you may bear the fruit of wisdom and godliness day by day. As a church, we promise to fulfil our responsibility to you and your children in teaching, serving and loving them, that from their earliest days of memory, they may see the face of Jesus mirrored in us. We pray this in the name of Jesus, who became a child that we might become the children of God. Amen.”
Parenting is hard and it seems to get harder every day. This pledge represents the promise of our church to help brothers and sisters in this sacred duty. Again, it would be hard to think of anything more biblical than this. The Bible says:
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 ESV)
We are commanded in the Bible to help each other do hard things. This is how we love one another. This is how we fulfil the law of Christ.
Child dedication is not an ordinance or a sacrament but it is a real and beautiful thing. I would encourage my brother pastors in their zeal to reform the worship of God’s people – I join with you in your concern and in your quest – but please, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Jesus prayed for babies. Jesus carried burdens. He told us to do the same.
Child dedication is beautiful, its helpful, its loving and its biblical. I say we keep it; for the glory of God and the good of little people.
Pastor Paul Carter
The website for Into The Word is now up and running though still under construction. Check it out: www.intotheword.ca
 Wright, Shawn D. "Five Preliminary Issues For Understanding The Ordinances". Baptist Foundations. Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman. 1st ed. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2015. 88.