At Berean, some parents choose to dedicate their infants or small children to the Lord at the normal conclusion of the Sunday morning preaching services, but what does it mean to “dedicate” a baby to the Lord? Is this a “photo op,” or is it something much more serious and important? Is this baby dedication the same as infant baptism? Is a baby dedication a church sacrament? Does it dispense grace? Since various Christians would answer these questions differently, the purpose of this article is to clarify what I believe and we practice at Berean.
In the Jewish religion, male infants are circumcised in obedience to the Mosaic Law. In Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other reformed churches, infants are baptized into the church; however, Baptists do not baptize infants, nor do they believe that circumcision is necessary from a biblical perspective. Moreover, Baptists believe that only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ can a child become a part of the body of Christ.
Some suggest that the practice of dedicating a baby to the Lord is simply a matter of praying for the infant’s health and salvation. This is based on the example Matthew presents in his 19th chapter where Jesus lays hands on small children and prays for them in verse nine. The trouble with this understanding of the text as the basis for a baby dedication is that it elevates the pastor to a position of being able to convene a “blessing” through a prayer, an unbiblical assumption.
A few suggest that Hannah’s dedication of her toddler son, Samuel, to the Lord in I Samuel 1:19-28 is the basis for the modern day “baby dedication” ceremony. However, the difficulty with using this passage as the scriptural basis for a baby dedication ceremony is that Hannah left Samuel with the High Priest Eli to serve the Lord all the days of his life at the “house of the LORD in Shiloh” (v. 25). The church is not prepared to rear a child in the house of the Lord forever. Nor are most parents truly giving their child at birth to the work of the Lord in the house of the Lord.
Therefore, it seems best to conclude that we are unsure of the origin or tradition of a baby dedication ceremony. We cannot say that the “baby dedication” ceremony is biblical unless we view Jesus being brought to Simeon (Luke 2) as an act of fulfilling a Mosaic Law requirement (see Leviticus 12)—in which case, a child’s dedication would be an old covenant expectation for Jews. We are also unsure if baby dedication was practiced by the early church. There isn’t anything in the New Testament indicating that babies of believers are to be dedicated to the Lord in a special church ceremony.
Some churches conduct special baby dedication Sundays or special services where all who had a child within a specified period of time collectively dedicate themselves before the church. Berean does not hold such special services; instead, a few minutes are used at the end of the normal time of invitation to recognize the parents, the child, and most importantly the commitment to raise the child according to God’s Word. In reality, our ceremony should be called a parent dedication.
According to Psalm 127:3, children are a gift from God; and parents have a responsibility to rear their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4). Moreover, Deuteronomy 6:4-7 provides even more specific guidance concerning parental responsibilities toward their children.
4Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 6And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
Parents are to be the primary teachers of the fundamentals of the Christian faith, beginning with the most orthodox truth that the “The Lord our God is one Lord” who has always existed as three Persons–the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—and that every man, woman, and child is to love the LORD their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength (Matt 3:16-17; Mk 12:30-31).
Therefore, instead of dedicating a baby, it seems much more appropriate for each parent to dedicate themselves to both God and their child to be obedient to their God-given parental responsibilities. Doing this before the body of Christ is a sign of the parent’s commitment to fulfill these responsibilities within a community of believers.
These parental responsibilities include but are not limited to:
1. Staying married in recognition that God’s plan for the biological father and mother to rear their children in the same home is the best plan. (This is not meant to exempt single parents.)
2. Being the spiritual leader(s) of their children—which includes setting the example in their relationship with Christ and the church as well as teaching their children the gospel and the whole counsel of the Word of God and its application to life.
3. Maintaining the health, safety, and welfare of their children.
4. Praying without ceasing for their children’s salvation and sanctification to the glory of God.
5. Shepherding their child’s heart toward a full relationship with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel by God’s Sovereign grace.
At Berean, the “baby dedication” is special time at the end of a worship service in which parents recognize that their child is a gift from God and publicly affirm their commitment to fulfill God’s expectations. In essence, each parent who participates enters into a covenant with God and the body of Christ to do what they have been called to do as parents. As such, those who are not truly committed to doing what God expects, by His grace, should not present themselves before the church for a baby dedication. Although photos are often taken during this public proclamation of a commitment to the Lord, it is much more than a photo op; it is a solemn commitment to obey the Lord as parents.