Baptists, and many other Free Churches, hold to the biblical principle of a regenerate church membership. In other words, they believe that the church consists only of truly converted people. This is the main reason why such churches do not practise infant baptism. Another reason for this position is the complete lack of evidence for infant baptism, and the Scriptural emphasis upon faith as a prerequisite for baptism.
Some people imagine, wrongly, that such churches neglect children and have no place for them in their church practice. This is, of course, a complete misunderstanding of the biblical teaching and of Baptist practice.
In the first place, the Bible teaches that parents are primarily responsible for the teaching and training of their children.
In the second place, Baptists and other Free Churches run Sunday Schools and other meetings aimed at winning children to Christ and teaching them the Word of God.
In the third place such churches have a very long tradition of presenting children to the Lord in a public service, sometimes called an infant dedication service. Some may jibe at the word ‘tradition’ but it is important to remember that there are good traditions as well as bad ones. Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians exhorted them to ‘stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.’ Later he wrote commanding them to ‘withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.’ (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6). The tradition of infant dedication is biblically based, theologically sound and historically practised.
This service, of infant dedication or presentation, can be a most impressive and moving service. Of course, like the Lord’s Supper and baptism, or any other service, it can become a mere formality. But this should not happen if the parents’ hearts are right and they are properly prepared for it.
Although the majority of Baptist and similar churches have such services, sometimes parents either through lack of teaching, misunderstanding or a misplaced conviction, neglect or decline to present their children to the Lord in the congregation of the saints.
Lack of teaching or biblical knowledge can be dealt with by instruction, but the objections of others need to be considered. The objections are mainly twofold.
First, some object on the grounds that the infant dedication service may be mistaken as a ‘surrogate baptism.’ This is a very weak argument which does not show either the church or the minister in a very favourable light. How can an infant dedication service be misunderstood as a ‘dry baptism’ if the parents’ hearts are right and the minister has taught the church and explained the service? One might as well object to the Lord’s Supper on the ground that it might be mistaken for a ‘surrogate Mass’! Why is it that the Lord’s Supper held in an evangelical church is not mistaken for a Mass? Surely it is because of the church’s doctrinal position, the understanding and intention of the congregation, and the teaching of the pastor. Similarly, in a well-taught church, if the parents’ intentions are right and the pastor’s explanation clear there will be no possibility that a properly conducted infant dedication could be understood as a ‘surrogate baptism.’
Of course, you will always get some non-Christians, or badly taught Christians, who will wilfully misunderstand the meaning of any church practice. For example, in the days of the early church some pagans charged the Christians with cannibalism because they spoke of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood. However, the early church did not discard the Lord’s Supper for fear of what people might think! This is why, in a properly conducted baptismal service, for example, the person conducting the baptism will explain what believer’s baptism is and what it is not. The objection that a properly conducted infant dedication might be seen as a ‘surrogate baptism’ does not hold water!
A second objection to the historic practice of infant dedication is that there is no New Testament warrant for it. This objection is due to lack of Scripture knowledge and of historic development, for there is New Testament warrant for such a service. Moreover, this argument would apply even more strongly to a Christian Marriage service as there is no example of a Christian wedding service in the Bible. Have you ever attended a Christian burial service? If you were consistent you would not have done so, for there is no precedent for a Christian funeral service in the New Testament.
In fact, there is far less evidence for a Christian wedding service or funeral than there is for an infant dedication as we shall see. All of Scripture is written for our learning (1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
Also we are exhorted to follow Christ’s example (Matt. 11:28-30; 1 Peter 2:21; John 13:15).
Now let us turn to Luke 2:22ff. Here we read that Jesus was taken up to Jerusalem to be presented in the temple. This was nothing to do with his circumcision which had taken place previously, eight days after his birth, in his home town (v. 21). The presentation in the temple took place forty days after the birth and was partly a thanksgiving for safe delivery from child birth (See Leviticus 12:1-8).
Notice in this account in Luke the number of references to ‘the law’.
In verse 22 it is the law of Moses, in verse 23 and 24, the law of the Lord, as it is also in verse 29. Notice particularly the phrase in verse 27, ‘the custom of the law’. The very least we can say about this emphasis is that it was obviously the regular custom among God’s people to present a newborn child before the Lord.
They offered a sacrifice of two doves, which the priest took care of. We no longer have to do that as all blood sacrifices are fulfilled in Christ. But we do have to offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (Heb. 13:15, 16). At that stage in redemption history there were no Christian pastors. The priest would have taken care of the sacrifice, but he is not mentioned as that aspect is unimportant under the New Covenant. Instead, the Lord used a Sprit-filled, just and devout man who was obviously in touch with God, and clearly was fulfilling God’s will. He took the child in his arms, blessed God and gave thanks to God. Simeon also prayed for Mary and Joseph. Anna also gave thanks to God for the infant Jesus. As this was in the temple, a public place, there would have been other devout people present. Here is a clear example of a child (Jesus) who is to be our example, being presented publicly to God in the company of God’s people. Is it any wonder that millions of Christians down the centuries have followed Christ’s example, and the example of his parents? The introduction of infant baptism in the second century certainly muddied the waters, but we should not fail to follow biblical precedent because others have gone astray.
Just as churches have developed a communion service, a baptismal service, wedding services and funeral services, so Free churches have followed this biblical precedent and developed a dedication service. Provided that adequate teaching is give beforehand, clear explanation is provided during the service, and the parents’ hearts are right and their understanding clear, there is no danger of misunderstanding this biblical service. It is surely significant that both Baptist and FIEC churches publish a Service Manual which contains an Infant Dedication Service.
Today a properly conducted infant dedication or presentation service usually includes the following elements:
1. Thanksgiving to God for the safe recovery of the mother.
2. Thanksgiving for the safe delivery and the gift of the child.
3. Acknowledgement that the child belongs to God and is given on trust.
4. A consecration of the parents to the sacred task of parenthood.
5. Prayer for child and parents.
6. A recognition of the Christian community of their responsibility in setting a good example and in prayer.
It should not be overlooked that such a service, as with many other special services, affords a very important opportunity to give teaching. As the minister explains the meaning and importance of the service, what it is and what it is not, the church, parents and visitors are informed and instructed. Such a service can also be an evangelistic opportunity if unconverted relatives attend.
Among the many signs of declension in the church and the nation, is the increasing biblical illiteracy, along with the neglect or abandonment of various godly practices and biblical traditions. Among such are the habit of daily devotions or ‘Quiet Times’, the practice of conducting family worship, and the service of infant presentation in the local church.
APPENDIX: A TYPICAL INFANT DEDICATION SERVICE (Where both Parents are Christians. A modified form of service is available for those cases in which one parent is a believer and the other is willing to go through with the service. Where neither is a Christian it is not appropriate to hold such a service).
Reading: Deut. 6:4-7.
Introduction: Before commencing the actual service an explanation is given regarding the following for the sake of any (relatives, friends) who might not understand: First, this is not a baptismal service; secondly, Jesus was presented as a child, even though He was baptized later as an adult; Third, in this service we (a) give thanks to God for the life of the mother and baby, safe delivery, etc., (b) acknowledge God’s interest in the child, (c) seek God’s blessing on the child, (d) recognize the parents’ responsibilities, and give them an opportunity to express their intentions publicly, (e) recognize the local church’s responsibility to aid the parents by prayer and practical help.
(To the Parents) In presenting this child to the Lord, do you recognise that he/she belongs to God and is given you on trust? (Or, Do you acknowledge the claim of God upon this young child whom He has entrusted to your care?)
PARENTS: “We do.”
Is it your desire that he/she should be given wholly to the Lord, and is it your intention to bring him/her up to know and love the Lord?
PARENTS: “It is our desire and intention so to do.”
Do you then promise, that in dependence on divine grace and in partnership with the Body of Christ her, to teach him/her the truths and duties of the Christian faith, and by prayer, precept and example, to bring him/her up in the ways of the Lord?
[Alternative wording: Do you therefore promise that by God’s grace and strength you will surround this child with your love and prayers, that you will endeavour to give him/her all the benefits of a Christian home, that you will instruct him/her in God’s Word and ways, setting forth Christ in your own lives by word and deed, in the hope that by His mercy, God will in due time lead him/her to repentance and faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?]
PARENTS: “We do.”
MINISTER reads one or more of the following Scriptures: Deut. 6:4-7 – “Hear O Israel…”. Psalm 103:17,18 – “The lovingkindness of the Lord…children’s children.” Psalm 127:1,3 – “Unless the Lord builds the house…children are a gift from the Lord.” Matthew 18:1-6, 10,14. – “Except you become as little children…” Matthew 19:13-15 – “The Kingdom of heaven belongs to such.” Mark 10:13-16 – “Permit the children to come to me… and He blessed them.”
MINISTER to the HUSBAND: Will you seek to be the proper head and leader of your home, leading both by your life and by your words? Will you exercise true and proper discipline according to the Scriptures, and be a comfort, shelter, and covering to this child as you are to your wife?
HUSBAND: “I will endeavour so to do, God being my helper.”
Minister to the WIFE: Will you endeavour to make your home a haven of peace, and by your godly example teach the child to submit to their father’s authority, and to follow the Lord Jesus Christ? Will you give full support to your husband in his leadership role, in his exercise of discipline, and in his covering care?
WIFE: “I will endeavour so to do, God being my helper.”
MINISTER takes the child in his arms and, laying his hand upon the child’s head, says, “[NAME], the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
The Minister gives the child to the father, symbolizing the latter’s responsibility for the child.
A Hymn is sung, usually chosen by the parents or the minister.