Infant Baptism or Dedication: What Should We Consider?
June 2, 2016
11 comments 1788 views
Did you happen to catch the question recently asked in The Banner about infant baptism?
In case you missed it, the author of the question writes, “A few years ago the CRC synod warned against replacing infant baptism with dedication. Since then, has the denomination lightened up at all and at least considered giving parents of newborns the option?”
To find Rev. Henry De Moor’s response to the question, click here. In summary, Henry clearly states that “no” the CRC has not changed its position on baptism. Henry affirms the call of Synod 2012 “refrain from leading rituals of infant or child dedication.”
Rev. De Moor goes on to say, “I do understand that many evangelical churches offer folks the option of infant dedication and that they and our culture generally want us to move away from “rigidity” in this matter. But I experience our adherence to baptism as liberating. Dedication speaks of our believing approach to God. That’s all. Infant baptism goes far beyond that to speak also of God’s faithfulness and promises to us.”
I’m curious, do you view the CRC’s adherence to baptism as liberating? Has your church wrestled with this topic? Are there other factors to consider? If so, what are they?
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Great questions. In a nutshell, I would say that the presuppostions behind dedication or infant baptism are as follows:
a. The first big question. Are we dedicated enough to pull through in our commitment to God with this child, or is God dedicated enough to help us pull through?
b. The second big question: Are we as parent(s) giving someone who already belongs to God back to him via dedication or are we making a declaration that this child by virtue of being part of a covenant family in a covenant community already belongs to him and this is simply our faithful response.
c. The third big question: Are we as the parent(s) dedicated enough to pull through for this child, or is the entire covenant community dedicated enough to pull through?
In my opinion, dedication is largely--though not entirely--a human-centered response to a gift from God and infant baptism is largely--though not entirely---an affirmation of what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do. A read through the Canons of Dort will also demonstrate the divide between a largely human driven type of theology and a God-centered type of theology.
As to the liberating part, yes. It does not all depend on the faithfulness of me and my family to raise this child, but rather depends on the faithfulness of a promise-keeping God. The first can easily lead to striving and anxiety, and the second to a steady restfulness. Of course, some Reformed people can get rather presumptuous here, and that is always the ever-present danger, as some live like hellians and think that their baptism will cause God to turn a blind eye.
Thanks for asking the important question.
Thanks for sharing these additional questions, John. I think you did a great job of framing the case for baptism, especially with how it may be liberating for the faithfulness to depend on more than just "me" or the family.
I'd love to hear if other reformed folks have done dedications or would be open to them as well. Got a story?
For me this is not an issue at all, and I'm not aware that it is for our congregation either because the topic has never come up in congregational meetings that I can remember. I've never heard anyone complain that they could not dedicate their babies. What I have heard, however, is our former pastor saying that people who had been baptised in the Roman Catholic Church as infants asking if they could be baptised again because their first baptism meant nothing to them, and they were not sure of the faith of the priest who baptised them as babies, and he had to turn them away because he did not have the permission to do it. That we hear about here in Québec. But dedication...? Not really.
Christianity has long taught that it is the sacrament, itself, that produces the desired effect, not the adult who preforms the act.
Infant baptism is a requirement of the Christian Religion, and a uniting factor. The rest of the world uses baptism as the line of demarcation between "them" and "us."
Thing is Staci, infant baptism doesn’t really fit into the overall Baptist theology. Baptist theology and Reformed theology are very different at many points. A Baptist theologian works hard to build or put together an altogether consistent Biblical theology in which the whole package is consistent throughout. So to drop infant baptism (the Reformed practice) into that Baptist perspective will make the picture inconsistent. The same will be true if someone tries to drop infant dedication (the Baptist practice) into the Reformed theological perspective. Just as infant baptism isn’t consistent with a Baptist theological view, nor is infant dedication consistent with the Reformed theological view. That is why neither Baptists nor Reformed are quick to mix their theologies. One inconsistency leads to another and then to another and so on.
This is a helpful distinction, Roger. Wondering about people who grew up in the Reformed tradition that may have left and gone to another church. Is there still a desire for baptisms? Or how about people who came into the CRC/Reformed tradition but grew up in a different denomination. Are they doing baptisms if they have older children or for themselves as adults? Or is it just profession of faith at that point?
Hi Staci. You ask a good question. And of course, the answer varies from person to person. Many people are not overly vested in the theology of their particular denomination. So changing from a Reformed denomination to a Baptist can easily feel rather refreshing, especially seeing that Baptists groups tend to be more experiencial in their faith expression. Faith within Baptists groups tend to be more exciting (some would say more uplifting). Sometimes Reformed folk long for a more experiential faith that they see in Baptists or Pentecostals. So coming from a Reformed persuasion, a person might like the idea that baptism testifies to my experience of faith, rather than the Reformed idea of baptism testifying to God’s leading and choosing in salvation. The Reformed expression of faith and salvation tends to be more “head” focused (recognizing what God has done and then being grateful), whereas the Baptist tend to be more “heart” focused (enjoying the experience of salvation). Seeing as babies cannot (not possible) to have that faith experience, the Baptists refuse baptism for children and opt for dedication. The Reformed folk, acknowledge a covenantal perspective (Old Testament carried through to the New) in which God envelopes our children within the family of believers and therefore give the covenant sign (Baptism in the New, Circumcision in the Old) to believers and their children (even though the children are not believers at that point). As part of the Christian family, the (Reformed) church takes seriously its obligation to train up their children in the Christian faith and pray for their salvation.
Depending on the direction of migration, whether from a Baptist to a Reformed church, or from a Reformed to a Baptist church, and also depending on how important the finer points of theology are to such a person, the move can either be quite smooth and easy or, on the other hand, can be quite difficult.
For an interesting source that explains the differences in the way Reformed and Baptist churches look at salvation, you might want to consult “The Canons of Dort,” in the back of the CRC hymnal. It presents the Reformed (Calvinistic) view, but also criticizes the Arminian (Baptist) view. Most Christians, it would seem, prefer the Baptist view over the Reformed. But the bottom line is, which is more Biblical? That might be where the Reformed have the edge.
I hope this is helpful, and of course this is my take on the topic. Wishing you well. Sorry for the length.
This is incredibly helpful, Roger. Really good background and food for thought. Appreciate it very much.
I know this topic was posted 2 years ago, but still...
I just came to the CRC from a different denomination. There are lots of things I love, and lots of ways my faith has been enriched and my relationship with God grown. I really appreciate how Reformed theology has impacted me.
But I just can't wrap my head around infant baptism. I grew up witnessing and appreciating dedications and believers baptisms. I've read pages and pages of arguments both for and against paedobaptism. And it still makes no sense to me.
I see nothing wrong with it, but my main issue is that I also see no compelling reason for it.
Everything that the CRC celebrates as being truths about God towards the baby via baptism are true regardless of whether baptism takes place or not. If I join a CRC church and I don't get my baby baptized, does that mean God's promises do not apply to him? Does that make him any less a part of the church or covenant? Obviously not, which, in my mind, makes infant baptism irrelevant and unnecessary. Add in the lack of any scriptural passages prescribing infant baptism... and makes it seem essentially pointless. I am familiar with the argument of 'you can't say it's not true just because it isn't in the bible'... but when every occurrence of baptism in the New Testament is a believer's baptism, and not one single baby baptism is mentioned... It does make one wonder - why are we doing this?
On the flipside, believers baptism is clearly prescribed in scripture and celebrates both a confession of faith, and the promises of God.
I got my 3 boys dedicated in our old church. In my new church, which I love, I was pressured (lovingly and politely) to have them baptized.
In the end, I did get them baptized. Not because I agree with the theology, but because it was important to this local church (kind of like Timothy getting circumcised even though it was not necessary).
If there is anybody who can help me understand why infant baptism is necessary at all, and why it is such a big deal to the CRC... I'd really be interested in hearing it :)
Hey Rob, sounds like you have a good and valid concern. I’ll try to answer as I understand the concern. You asked if the promises implied in infant baptism apply only if infant baptism is performed. Of course not. Just as the promises of believer’s baptism don’t impart anything (a grace) to the believer, so also with infant baptism. To both, they are just an outward sign, a symbol. So you don’t have to get hung up on that.
You ask why we don’t see examples of infant baptism in the New Testament. Remember, in the New Testament period, Christianity was a new and developing religion. Even though Christianity piggy backed on Judaism, it didn’t accept all the principles of Judaism (as Jesus made clear), and also were developing new principles of their own (such as the Trinity). Baptism was one of these developing areas. The advent of churches as we know them today took a very long time to develop. Church took place in homes, involving very small congregations (if you could even call them that). With time, individuals, husbands and wives, started bringing their families to church, a whole new dimension to church.
The early church began to see their church communities take on a broader perspective, of including children and families. They no longer thought of the church as made up of only believers, but of believers and their children. How could they include children in the believing community? So they began to see children as belonging (not in sense of possessing salvation) to the church, as their very own and having a great responsibility to train them up in the Christian faith. You may have noticed in many Christian Reformed Churches, the minister will walk down the aisle of the church with the newly baptized baby in his arms, telling the congregation that this child is now a member of the covenant community. And as such the congregation has a tremendous responsibility for the training of this child. And then the congregation affirms their responsibility to this family. Baptism is a corporate thing, a covenant community thing.
This perspective was also seen in the Jewish faith, where the children of the Jewish community received circumcision as a sign of being a Jew, a sign of belonging. Of course our children still have to come to faith, but with the faith community’s encouragement and training, they have a leg up. So baptism is not just about the child, but also about the faith community. I think it is affirming to the parents to know that there is a whole community who promise their love and support in the daunting task that lies ahead.
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