Infant Dedication Issue Raised in British Columbia

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At a recent meeting of Classis British Columbia South-East, a regional group of churches, it was noted that several congregations are offering infant dedications, which is contrary to Christian Reformed Church polity.

Over the years, synod (the annual leadership meeting of the CRC) has addressed the issue of infant dedication several times. On every occasion it has affirmed the practice of infant baptism as taught in the Reformed confessions and outlined in the Church Order. Synod has asked churches to refrain from performing infant dedications in public worship services and find other ways to celebrate the birth or adoption of those children.

Most recently Synod 2011 expressed the importance of a “faithful, encouraging, pastoral response” to parents who do not present their children for infant baptism, saying that “teaching on the subject offers a rich opportunity to promote greater biblical understanding.” Synod also raised concerns that the ritual of infant dedication may cause confusion about the meaning and purpose of baptism. The recommendations of Synod 2011 were again affirmed by Synod 2012.

Gateway CRC in Abbotsford raised the issue at the classis meeting after a church newsletter printed a notice of a dedication performed at nearby New Life CRC.

“It seems to us that it would ultimately be reasonable to expect that New Life either conform its practice and policy to our Reformed confessions and the decision of synod, or follow the process provided by the Church Order in challenging a decision of synod,” Gateway said in its submission to the classis.

That process consists of sending an overture requesting that synod change its decision, while proving that there are sufficient and new grounds to reconsider the matter. Rev. Henry DeMoor, an expert on CRC church polity, noted that pastors, elders, and deacons sign the Covenant of Officebearers when they take office, signaling their affirmation of the Reformed confessions and committing to communicate any differences of belief through those proper procedures.

New Life CRC has never communicated with synod on the matter of infant dedications, yet it offers them. Eric Van Egmond is the chairperson of New Life’s board of elders. “New Life established itself over 27 years ago as a community outreach church, and as such has welcomed members from a variety of denominational and theological back grounds,” he said. “Although New Life teaches, practices, and defends infant baptism, we acknowledge that children who are not baptized are no less children of the Lord and part of his covenant than those who are baptized. We recognize these children publicly and give parents the opportunity to dedicate them to the Lord.”

Rev. Bert Slofstra, pastor of Gateway, the church that raised the issue, said that New Life has been doing infant dedications for a long time without being challenged. “We love them, but we need to be accountable to each other,” he said. Classis agreed to send church visitors to New Life to discuss the issue but also noted that the practice of infant dedication extends to other churches in the region.

Paul Lomavatu, pastor of Cariboo Community CRC in Williams Lake, said that his church performs both baptisms and dedications because it was not a CRC church plant but began with a multidenominational group of Christians from the start. “We joined the CRC because of its kingdom and missional emphasis, and although we do teach about infant baptism, we leave the choice to the parents,” he said. He also explained that a good number of First Nations people attend Cariboo CRC. “We are sensitive to their history with the Roman Catholic Church . . . and some continue to have a negative view of infant baptism,” he said.

In Abbotsford, Lee Hollaar is a member and former council member of Hillside CRC, where infant dedications are performed along with baptisms, based on parental preference. “Hillside values the richness of the CRC’s history, but we do not force what our tradition has deemed to be the only appropriate response, which others may not embrace,” he said. “Our church believes that sometimes we need to move beyond the rigidity of doctrine to see how God is moving in the world today. We want to meet people where they’re at, just as God does, and find a way to enfold them into the body.”

Not everyone sees it that way. Dan Meyer briefly served as an interim pastor at Hillside but left the church partly over this issue. “I am all for being relevant and flexible, but I find doing both dedication and baptism to be confusing for people and at odds with the Reformed theological distinctives,” he said. “The greater issue, however, is the church’s unwillingness to submit to the greater body and its clearly defined polity.”

About the Author

Tracey Yan is the Banner's regional news correspondent for classes British Columbia North-west and British Columbia South-east.

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Comments

It is encouraged in the CRCNA confessions with words like "ought" and "should" that infants be baptised, "not commanded."  However, It is commanded in the Scripture that those who come to faith in Christ be baptised. 

....I feel sad to see arguing about such a thing......Rejoice  ....be happy ....love....support  these  comitted parents who are choosing to dedicate their children to the Lord.....I have sat under the teaching of infant baptism and now am in a church where  babies are dedicated and older children and adults choose  when they would like to be baptised.   I have been  baptised both as an infant and as an adult .... As an adult I felt a desire to respond to Christ's invitation     . . .  "Believe and be Baptised".  I do understand the teaching of infant Baptism, but I choose to  go the way of adult Baptism...I find it much easier to understand and explain... It is how I  interpret what I read in  scripture...and I believe that Scripture is intended  to be understood by everyone...not just scholars.  That said, I don't think any less of one who believes and follows  in the "Covenant of Baptism".   I just don't respect the bickering/pointing fingers at sister churches about  an issue like this...finding fault with very sincere people for following and obeying what they are hearing their Lord saying to them. Criticising Sisters and Brothers in Christ for trying to meet the needs of people who have been broken by Church practices in their past, or making it easier for people to respond.    Our lives in Jesus are not based on Law, rules and regulations, but on unconditional love!!   I am not a member of a CRC  any longer....though I still love the church I grew up in and the church where I met the Lord in!!   The salvation of these children does not depend on their Baptism...God meets them where they are....and I am sure He is smiling when Parents present their children in Baptism or Dedication,   Im sure He is smiling as well when  His child , however old, obediently wants to be baptised.   It's that simple for me...I don't want a lot of doctrinal explanation or argument.....I've heard it all before...Just want to embrace and accept  each others differences and most of all celebrate our Salvation in Jesus Christ!!  Why not rejoice in every promise made by Parents  to raise their  Children for Jesus and every descision children and adults make  to follow Him and overlook the differences.    

There can be sensitivity to this issue on both sides.  The "both/and" model is, in my estimation as a layperson, not so much a challenge to the doctrinal stance and history of CRC as it is a permission for parents and those of other denominational backgrounds to articulate, solely for their own families, what they can commonly affirm.  To the extent that the CRC pastors who care for those families deem it appropriate- shouldn't they have liberty in this matter?  Unity would be better achieved through education, open discussion, and modeling rather than bringing the full force of polity to bear.  Or do you ask those congregants who are not yet fully convinced in their own conscience to act as if they are?  What is the benefit to be had from that?  A dedication is not a baptism.  I don't think anyone is going to confound the two- given some shepherding care prior to either event. 

Whether through iInfant baptism or dedication the ritual only testifies to the parents' confidence in presuming that their children are God's elect and that when they're older they will commit their lives to Christ and are born again.Nobody is baptized into Christianity. 

Because Christ commands baptism [Matt. 28.19], our response to that command cannot be, “whatever.” Child Dedication is not practiced according to any biblical paradigm, nor is it commanded. It would be to the glory of Christ to discern his commands and follow his intentions instead of confusing sacrament with sentimental rituals. If Jesus means for us to baptize believers' kids as disciples, great! Let's do it. If Christ means to baptize only verbally-confessing disciples, great! Let's do that. But, to make up our own sacraments or ignore the ones that are there to avoid dealing with our own issues, Christ is not glorified...we are.

This is really only an issue if your congregation is picking up lapsed, nominal or church shopping evangelicals. Is it a goal of the CRC or your CRC to compete in the shrinking evangelical church marketplace by picking up evangelicals and Baptists? I understand it as a way to grow your local church but it really isn't kingdom growth. Religious consumerism seems perhaps more of the issue here rather than missional impact among the unchurched. 

In my experience the unchurched without strong sectarian commitments like resistant to infant baptism don't have a problem with it. If your church is picking up stray evangelicals and they are making demands to change some fairly core identity statements (like sacraments) then I think the conversation you probably want to have concerns the mission of your local congregation. Who are they trying to reach and to what end?

We pick up Baptists and Pentecostals from time to time and they may decide not to baptize their children even after we explain our position, but to pressure a council to the effect of "you really need to cater to our sectarian sensitivities" seems not so much a mission issue but a religious consumerist issue. Maybe the local CRC leadership just wants to keep these former Baptists and is willing to compromise, again for consumer culture reasons. Religious consumers exercise their shopping or grazing habit often. "I like the preaching here, the small group there and the Christmas program over there, they have real donkeys..."  As a pastor I recognize the practice in the broader evangelical culture and I make decisions about the degree that I will tolerate or participate in it. 

Maybe the councils and the classis should have an identity and a mission conversation that takes a critical look at religious consumerism. 

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