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.”