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5 Reasons Why We Don’t “Dedicate” Our Little Children

"Hannah presents her son Samuel to the priest Eli" by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (ca 1665)

“Hannah presents her son Samuel to the priest Eli” by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (ca 1665)

When reading our website, one who’s not familiar with Reformed doctrines will discover that we baptize, not “dedicate,” the little of children of the members of our church. Most Baptists perform this ritual instead of baptism because they acknowledge that their children, being children of believers, have to have some relationship with God.

So why doesn’t our church dedicate  infants and little children? Here are five reasons why.

1. As stated above, we regard our little children as members of God’s covenant community, and baptism, not dedication, is the only sign and seal of entrance into it. Our children do not merely have some sort of relationship with God; they are members of God’s people! In the Old Testament, the sign of inclusion into God’s people is bloody circumcision (Gen 17:7, 11). In the New Testament, the sign and seal of inclusion into Christ’s church is water baptism (Acts 2:38-39).

2. “Dedication” doesn’t distinguish our children from children of unbelievers. This is why we don’t baptize children of unbelievers (and unbelievers!) (Acts 10:47; 1 Cor 7:14). They are “holy,” set apart from other children, who are unholy. Without the sign and seal of membership in God’s covenant people, they’re outsiders, just as pagans are outsiders.

3. Never were ALL children in the Bible dedicated. Only a select handful were: Samuel, Samson, John the baptizer, and Jesus. However, there were special reasons why they were dedicated. Samuel was dedicated by his mother Hannah to the tabernacle service before he was conceived (1 Sam 1:11, 24-28). Samson was promised by the Lord to his parents, and set apart to be a judge and redeemer of Israel (Jdg 13:3-5). John was also set apart by God as a forerunner of the coming Savior, also before he was conceived (Luke 1:13-17). Note that God specially consecrated them for special tasks in his redemption plan. Note also that all these three children were circumcised; their dedication did not exclude the sign of their membership in God’s covenant nation.

Did God consecrate your children before they were conceived for a special purpose in his redemption plan?

4. Jesus’ “dedication” as an infant was not an example for us of “What Would Jesus Do?” Is infant dedication today the same as the presentation of Jesus at the temple 40 days after he was born? Certainly not! This passage does not speak of the idea of “dedication” according to the contemporary understanding of offering your child to the Lord with the hope that he will one day be a Christian and serve the Lord Jesus. As Luke says, this occasion of “presenting Jesus to the Lord” (v. 22) was in fulfillment of the Law, as stated three times in Luke 2:22-24. The firstborn sons of Israel deserved to die even as the firstborn sons of Egypt were killed (Ex 12: 2,11-12). But they were “redeemed” by the LORD through the blood of the Passover lamb splashed on their doorposts (Ex 13:2, 12). “Every firstborn male shall be called holy to the Lord” (Ex 13:2), so their “redemption” was commemorated every Passover feast with sacrificial firstborn animals (Ex 13:12, 15). In short, by “presenting Jesus to the Lord” in connection with His circumcision, Joseph and Mary were confirming God’s gracious saving covenant with them and Jesus’ role in this covenant.

Moreover, Mary also went to the temple for her ceremonial purification from her uncleanness from childbirth (Lev 12:37).

So when you dedicate your little infant like Jesus, think about these things: Is he/she being consecrated to “save God’s people from their sins”? Why do you dedicate your other children, since only the firstborn son is to be “redeemed”? Are you, the mother, being purified for your uncleanness from childbirth? And why are sacrificial animals not involved, because you’re obeying an Old Testament ceremony?

5. “Dedication” ceremonies focus more on the parents, not the child. In a dedication ceremony, it is common for the parents to make a vow, “We dedicate our child to God, and promise before our family and this congregation that we will bring him/her in the knowledge and discipline of the Lord.” In water baptism of little children, the focus is on God’s promises forgiveness of sins and all the other benefits of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. These promises are given to the believing parents and to their children (Acts 2:38-39).

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