Infant dedication, Baptist style

Let the little children come to me … (Mark 10:14)

Just under a year ago, we welcomed a baby to her first service and gave thanks for her safe arrival. Now her parents are ready to dedicate her, which we will do at her birthday this weekend. For those of you from non-Baptist backgrounds, it may look a little different to what you are used to: there is no water, and she will not be christened. So what, then, are we doing?

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” We understand this to mean that children do not need to be baptised as infants: God’s culture is already theirs, and they do not need a rite to participate in it.

This is not because they are particularly spiritual or particularly in touch with the ultimate realities. Instead, God’s culture belongs to children because they are deeply vulnerable and rely completely on others to live. In this they model Jesus’ perfect life, ministry, and death. For Jesus relinquished all power and took on vulnerable human form. He relied absolutely on God for love and guidance, and the ministry of angels, women, and men for his needs. He also relied on religious institutions and the state for justice and mercy, although he did not receive them; and so, like far too many children even now, he experienced their violence on his own body, even unto death.

In her vulnerability, and in her utter reliance on her family and others for love, food, shelter, kindness, education, justice, mercy, and safety, this little one is already part of God’s culture and embraced by Jesus. We perform a rite of dedication, then, to remind her family and her faith community – us! – of our responsibilities to her, and to commit to raising her in the patterns, practices, language and worldview of faith.

We do so in the hope that, one day, she will recognise and accept for herself God’s promise of abundant life through God’s life-giving culture, and will choose to enter the waters of baptism. As Baptists, however, we want her to have some idea of what it costs and what she is giving up when she makes this choice. Too, we expect her to manifest some signs of an integrated, dynamic, lived faith and, because we are baptised into the church, to be able to participate meaningfully in the life of the church when she makes her baptismal vows. In the normal course of things, we would expect she will be ready to do this in her teenage or young adult years.

This is not to say that christening a baby is wrong. Different denominations have different practices which place different emphases on grace, faith, and belonging. In Baptistland, we acknowledge that nothing can separate a child from God’s culture, and so when it comes to baptism we focus on personal freedom, owned faith, and individual commitment. In this view, baptism is seen as a mature response to the gift of God’s grace, a gift which has already been given. This focus has its strengths and weaknesses, just as christening an infant also has strengths and weaknesses; perhaps the fullness of baptism is glimpsed when we recognise and celebrate variations in baptismal practice.

Other family and friends will be present at this baby blessing and so, in the name of hospitality, please bring a plate to share. But most especially, please come ready to commit to helping her know the Gospel of Christ in her life, and to encourage her, through our words and deeds, to find her home in the household of faith – just as we do these things for every child in our midst.


Emailed to Sanctuary 12 April 2023 © Sanctuary, 2023. Sanctuary is based on Peek Whurrong country. Acknowledgement of country here

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