what we promise and why it matters
This is not a post about the debates surrounding infant baptism and baby dedications within Christian traditions. Rather, this is a post meant to encourage those serving families in the Church to examine the role of dedication/baptism in the life of their congregation. This discussion doesn’t exist in a vacuum and, as often is the case, the following thoughts were prompted by a recent real-life situation. As you read about it, consider what your response might be…
On Thursday morning, I logged into Facebook (you can find and friend me HERE) to find this message from a ministry friend of mine:
Hey all, we have a situation in our church where unwed (but living together) parents want to dedicate their baby in church. Mom also wants to get baptized. Mom is also already volunteering in Children’s Ministry. Our Sr. Pastor has decided not to dedicate the baby without talking to mom and dad first to make sure they understand that living together outside of marriage is a sin. Then he also brought up the point that he didn’t want mom volunteering in Children’s Ministry while living with a man outside of marriage. Have you dealt with any of these things? How did you handle them? Does your church have a policy on this yet?
Question 1: What is a baby dedication?
The first question you’ll have to tackle, when thinking through your response, has to do with what dedication is in your context. If dedication, at your church, is a moment when a congregation simply thanks God for the blessing of new life and offers a prayer for the family, then answering the question above becomes a whole lot easier. However, some churches see dedication and/or baptism as a covenant between the congregation and the family, which has the potential to make things a little trickier. So, in your context, what is a baby dedication? Would everyone in leadership at your church agree with your understanding of dedication/baptism?
Question 2: What are you willing to risk?
I believe that those of us called into ministering to families should have some idea of what our goals in ministry are. Simply put, it’s really hard to hit a target if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. Considering the situation above, a few of the risks associated with saying “no” in the scenario are clear: the family might leave the church, the baby won’t be dedicated, friends of the family may be upset, others in a similar situation could feel judged, etc. Though we should always try to handle situations like this with mercy and grace, it’s always good to consider the risks involved – we pray for best case scenarios, but want to take into account what could go poorly before we respond.
Question 3: What are your options?
If you church has never faced a similar situation, you may want to consider what options you’d have if this scenario presented itself. If baby dedication/baptism services aren’t open to unconventional families, has your church considered having a “celebration of new life” option as a way to celebrate a child’s birth without the formality of vows or the perceived “blessing” of a lifestyle that your church is uncomfortable with? Some churches take a weekend each fall to celebrate babies born during that year. An option like this gives a staff something to point to for a family who might not be ready for a dedication service but still wants to be a church that feels inclusive to those who want to honor the birth of their child.
A response, within a context
In our church’s context, infant baptism/dedication requires a family to make vows with the congregation as we promise to raise up a child in the faith together. For a single mom, these vows might be easy to say yes to. For a couple living together outside of marriage, it might be a little trickier. The questions we ask of parents, in front of the congregation, are:
- Do you trust in Jesus Christ and acknowledge that he alone is your lord and savior?
- Do you turn away from evil and sin and their power in your life?
- Will you be faithful and active members of the church?
- Will you bring your child up in the faith, opening the Scriptures with him/her/them and teaching them the way of Jesus?