Riverside will be having several child dedications this upcoming Sunday and then again in a couple weeks. I thought it would be helpful to briefly explain the difference between child dedication, infant baptism, and believer baptism. Riverside chooses to respect the biblical positions of both infant and believer baptism equally. Devoted followers of Christ have held each of these views and there is room for both in the Body of Christ. These explanations are very brief and may prompt additional questions. Please speak to me if you have any questions or would like to discuss dedication or baptism further. Each is vital to the life of the church and our relationship to God.
Child dedication is a service for parents who want to acknowledge the blessing of God upon their child, but reserve baptism until their child is capable of choosing to be baptized on their own. They believe that baptism is a sign of an individual’s choice to follow Jesus Christ. In dedicating their children to the Lord, parents are asking God and Riverside to help them raise their children in faith so that their children will choose a life dedicated to Christ when they are older.
Baptism in General
Child dedication is different than baptism. Riverside recognizes that baptism, along with communion, are the two sacraments commanded in the Bible by Jesus. We do them because Jesus commands us to do them. The sacraments (Baptism and Communion) are often referred to as outward signs of an inward and invisible grace.
In infant baptism, the focus is on the initiative of God. Infant baptism communicates through Word and symbol (water) that a decision has been made by God from the foundation of the world that a way be provided for everyone to be in relationship with God. When an infant is baptized the water that is sprinkled over them symbolizes God’s grace and how even before we are capable of making any decisions, God has offered us an opportunity to be in relationship with Him. Long before we were even here, or thought of, even while helpless like an infant, the Lord knew our need, and has already done what is necessary for our spiritual life. The hope in infant baptism is that as the infant matures they will choose to accept God’s offer of forgiveness and eternal life. The infant’s baptism is only fully significant if the child in their older years accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
In believer baptism, the emphasis is on the decision of the believer to accept God’s gift of grace. In believer baptism, the believer acknowledges their sinfulness, that Jesus Christ died so that they might be forgiven, and that if they acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord and accept his offer of forgiveness, that they are forgiven and will be with God forever. The believer demonstrates not just their belief in Jesus Christ, but also pledges to live a life of obedience to God’s commands and seek to forever deepen their relationship with God. Since believers who are being baptized have already committed their lives to Christ, the church has the advantage of hearing how they came to that decision through their witness to God’s work in their lives.
Those who choose infant baptism place more emphasis on Christ’s grace present on behalf of the child and on the faith commitments made by the parents and the congregation.
Those who choose believer baptism place more emphasis on the believer’s decision of faith and the public affirmation of that faith through baptism.
Selection of Bible References:
Mark 10:13-16 (Jesus welcomes the children)
Luke 2:21-24 (Jesus is presented in the Temple)
Matthew 28:18-20 (Go and make disciples . . . baptizing them)
Acts 2:38-39 (promise is for you and your children)
Ephesians 4:4-6 (one baptism)
Galatians 3:27-28 (baptized into Christ)
Romans 6:3-4 (baptized into [Christ’s] death)