Is It OK to Dedicate Babies Instead of Baptizing Them?

A couple in our church is unsure about infant baptism and has asked for their child to be dedicated instead. Is that OK?

Dedicating our children to God’s care and promising to raise them in the Christian faith is definitely something to be encouraged, but it should not be a replacement for the sacrament of baptism. Parents who are unsure about infant baptism should be welcomed to ask their questions and to learn why the Christian Reformed Church has always practiced infant baptism, as have most parts of the historic Christian church. Most parents will be pleased to learn that baptism is a sign and seal of what God has already done in choosing their child to be part of God’s own family, and in placing this child in a family of believers. They may find comfort in the belief, grounded in our Reformed confessions, that baptism signifies God’s gracious action and is not dependent upon our own ability to choose. A helpless infant demonstrates the truth of baptism—that God chooses us—in a way that is less apparent when adults are baptized because it may seem from adults’ testimony that they, not God, are the primary actors in their salvation. But the truth (which those adults often acknowledge) is that they were chosen by God to enjoy the riches of God’s grace, and they come before the church as helpless “infants” too even though they recognize and affirm God’s work in their lives.

The truth is that when infants and children are baptized in a Christian Reformed congregation, the parents and the congregation make promises to raise the child in the faith, which really is a form of dedication. So we do encourage infant dedications—in combination with the celebration of the sacrament of baptism. But synod has said that ministers should refrain from performing infant dedications instead of infant baptisms. We need to disciple people toward understanding and affirming infant baptism, not only because our confessions and church order call for it, but because this beautiful doctrine is taught in God’s Word.

About the Author

Rev. Kathy Smith is senior associate director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, adjunct professor of church polity at Calvin Theological Seminary, and adjunct professor of congregational and ministry studies at Calvin University. She is a member of First CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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