Baby Dedications vs. Church Covenants: A Lesson From Baptist History

Who doesn’t love a baby dedication service? Cute babies wiggle, cry, and coo while their parents self-consciously attempt to maintain a level of decorum. After the parents utter a brief vow filled with biblical language, they all scurry back to the nursery. Though mom and dad appreciate the communal recognition, most parents would confess that the blue Bibles, pink flowers, and paper certificates that mark the day lacked transformational power. So why do Baptists do the dedications?

A Quick History of Baby Dedications

Baptists drifted into parent-child dedications to keep pace with their Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran friends who practice infant baptism. Paedobaptists sprinkle their infants because they think the sacrament enables the children of believers to experiences “some benefit” of God’s blessing. The waters do not save or guarantee salvation, but they do make the salvation of the child more probable. John Calvin believed infant baptism placed a “tiny spark” into the heart of the young soul which could lead the child to “future repentance and faith.”

Baptists desire to grant their children access to their tradition’s deposit of spiritual blessing. But Baptist cannot baptize their infants. They believe that baptism has been reserved for souls who willingly and knowingly affirm that they have repented of their sins and believed on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for salvation. Though Baptists like Spurgeon may concur with Calvin’s and Martin Luther’s assessment that God can and does save children who die in infancy, Baptists cannot baptize these little ones because they cannot testify of their experiences.

To find alternative way to bless their children, Baptist churches embrace baby dedications, pulling from the Old Testament Law which required parents to dedicate their “firstborn” child to the Lord (Ex. 13:2). Despite this biblical justification, Baptist’s dedications still borrow both language and symbolism from the Reformed peodobaptist tradition. Following Calvin’s order of baptism, Baptists pastors ask the infant’s parents and then the congregation to affirm the child’s, the parents’, and the church’s commitment to the gospel, incorporating the ceremony into the church’s liturgical experience. In short, parent-baby dedications often amount to causal, waterless infant baptisms that fail to achieve the spiritual and emotional significance of paedobaptism.

Why Church Covenants?

Baptists pastors should not feel compelled to mimic their pedobaptist friends. According to the Scriptures, baptism and by extension baby dedications provide no saving benefit to the lost. Salvation comes not through church sacraments, sprinkling, or dedication certificates. Salvation comes through the preaching of the Word. Paul writes, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The children of believers do not get fast tracked to heaven because they took part in a ceremony. Parents who desire to point their children towards Christ need to expose their children to the Bible. As the Word flows over young hearts, children gain the opportunity to repent and believe. The Holy Spirit saves souls through the Word. Baptists need to diligently teach their children that the Jesus saves sinners.

Sometimes parent-baby dedications facilitate the advancement of the gospel, encouraging parents to disciple their children. But pastors often commit pastoral malpractice when they attempt to remind parents of their duty to teach their children the gospel while the new moms and dads struggle to change diapers, follow bottle feeding schedules, and lose weeks of sleep. Pastors will better serve young parents when they locate their church’s family discipleship instructions in the church’s covenant and new members class.

Baptist churches until the 1900’s typically required their members to sign a church covenant which touched upon many doctrinal issues including family discipleship. To join a local Baptist church, men and women had to promise to teach their families the gospel. One covenant from a 1783 North Carolina Church required members “To live orderly in our families in keeping up the worship of God.” Another covenant from 1790 reads, “We who are heads of families will maintain the duty of Worship of God in our houses, and endeavor to instruct those under our care, both by our words and actions.” The New Hampshire Convention of 1833 required its member to promise that, “we will not omit closet and family religion at home; nor to allow ourselves in the too common neglect of the great duty of religiously training up our children.” Historically, Baptist pastors and churches have used covenants to ensure that family discipleship became part of their church’s culture.

If Baptists want to expose their infants to the blessings of the gospel, they should follow the example their forefathers in the faith and make family discipleship part of their membership process. If pastors place family discipleship at the church’s front door, children will be more likely to be exposed to the Word. Every member from the teenager, to the senior adult, to the newlyweds, to the established parents will know they are called to teach the next generation the truth. They can freely discuss their failures and their successes. Moreover, they will be more likely to disciple, praying with their children, singing with their parents, and reading the Scriptures with their spouses. As discipleship moves forward through the church’s culture, children reap the benefits of gospel exposure. The great Baptist Benjamin Keach summed up the sentiment of his day which should also be the sentiment of our day writing, “O neglect not Prayer, Reading, and Meditation! Take care also to Educate and Catechize your Children.”

To bless our kids, we do not need to sprinkle them or dedicate them. We need to equip parents and church members with the tools they need to teach the gospel to the next generation. How are we doing?

Should We Disciple Preschoolers?

preschool-blogOften, our family devotions are not a thing of beauty. Tears are shed, screams can be heard far outside our front door, and every other word of the Bible story ends up being, “no” or “stop that.”  At times, April and I feel like the whole thing is one pointless endeavor. But we keep pressing on. We keep setting aside time in the evenings to share the gospel with our 2 year-old and soon to be 6-month-old because we want them to love Jesus.

In Deuteronomy 6:6-7a, God commands all parents to follow these instructions.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children.

As parents, we are called to teach our kids about the Scriptures. We are charged with putting the gospel before them. We are responsible for evangelizing our kids.

So why start so early? Why exhaust ourselves trying to reach kids who struggle to form complex sentences? We start early because our kids are always learning.

Our son and daughter cannot grasp the doctrine of progressive sanctification. But they can begin to grasp the idea that the Bible is important to their parents. They can begin to know that God is real and that we can communicate with him. They can begin to realize that there is a time to worship God. And they can begin to see the need to be self-control. In short, even as babies, our kids can learn much about God and their world. The famous pastor J.C. Ryle once said,

I suspect we have no idea how much a little child can take in of the length and breadth of the glorious gospel.

And so, we seek to fulfill God’s command in Deuteronomy 6 by having a family worship time. We read a little kid’s devotion book, pray, and sing a song. Some nights, our family worship time begins with, continues onto, and eventually ends in discipline. And  at times, neither my wife nor I feel like going through the ordeal. But we press on, knowing God’s calling on our lives, knowing that more is at stake then our comfort and feelings.

And we are happy to report, that God has blessed our efforts in some small ways. In the last few weeks, we have been able to stretch our devotion time from about 3 minutes to 5 minutes. On occasion our son will even ask to read the devotion book. He now says, “Ey…men” when we finish praying. And our little guy has even begun asking April to pray for his food.

We know that our son does not fully grasp the significance of the spiritual terminology with which he is interacting. And we are ok with this reality because as one author said, “We give our children big truths they will grow into rather than light explanations they will grow out of.”

We are excited to see that our son is ever so slowly growing into these big truths. Before our son can embrace Christ, he must first grasp who our savior is. As J.I. Packer said,

And where there is no clear knowledge, and hence no realistic recognition of the real claims that Christ makes, there can be no repentance, and therefore no salvation.

Knowledge is the prerequisite for salvation.   

Thankfully, our preschoolers can learn gospel truths. We do not have to wait till they are six or seven before we turn on the hose of Biblical instruction. Because God knows this, he commands us to expose all our kids even our preschoolers to the gospel. If you are not actively teaching your kids, I encourage you to start today. It probably won’t be a picturesque family moment since your kids (like mine and like us) are sinners prone to rebellion. But it will be fruitful. Our kids will learn. The seeds sown today will eventually grow and blossom.  

And at the end of the day if we are willing to dress our preschoolers in our favorite team’s colors, should we not also be willing to expose them to our life giving God at the earliest of ages?  

You’re The Key To Great Parenting

blog keysMost everyday my son loves to grab my keys, stretch as far he little toes will allow him, and touch a door knob. And I think he’s attempt at being a night watchman can be traced back to yours truly. For the past year or so, my son has regularly walked the halls of FBCE with me locking and unlocking doors. And now he wants a turn.

I mention the story because it illustrates just how much influence we parents have on our kids. Whether we realize or not, we are shaping our kids.

Now there are great coaches, inspiriting teachers, and godly pastors, but none of them can compete with a parent’s influence over their kid. Teachers and the like get our kids for a few hours. We have our kids for a lifetime.We are hold the key to our kids success.

God designed us as parents to lead our families. We read in the Deuteronomy 6 that we are supposed to teach our kids about God from the time they time we flip on junior’s bedroom light till the time we flip it off. And we are commanded to teach our kids about God because God knows that we are always teaching. We are either teaching our kids to trust in the power of the flesh and to love the world or we are encouraging them to obey God. Class is always in. And God wants us to make it about him.

To succeed as Parents, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength. We must be growing in our faith, changing our attitudes, actions, and loves to align with scripture. To be good parents, we must have hearts ruled by God’s word.

Admittedly, becoming more like Jesus is a serious and at times arduous endeavor. We daily fight against selfish impulses, pride, arrogance, and laziness. We top spiritual mountains full of joy and we fall into valley of death filled with sorrow. We need help at times. And even if we are doing well, we can always benefit from godly encouragement and teaching. We can never be so blessed that we don’t need God’s word. Thankfully, God’s gives parents an awesome resource that does all these things. It’s called the church.

The church exists to encourage and to help everyone (adults included) grow in their understanding of God. Through the preaching of the word, the fellowship of other believers, and the admonishment of friends, we can have hearts ruled by God’s word.

Parening Conference FacebookThis weekend (August 29 and 30) FBCE will be hosting its bi-annual Biblical Parenting Conference. We realize as a church staff that the best way to reach your kids is to encourage and build up parents. If you are able, we greatly encourage you to be a part of the conference. And if you can’t be a part of it or other conferences, make your spiritual growth a priority. Study the word, commit to a local church, and study a book or two on parenting (see the must reads page for some great suggestions).

Just by watching me, my son came to love keys and door knobs. What else are our kids picking up?