Guest voice: Lessing on infant dedication

Pelham LessingThe Church of the Nazarene allows for the practice of infant baptism, but does not believe it is a saving sacrament. Rather, we believe it is a covenant sign showing the child’s acceptance into the church, with promises made by parents and congregation to bring up the child in the fear of the Lord. This is the same promise made by parents during dedication, which is offered as an alternative to infant baptism.

The theology around infant dedication is thin. I appreciate how Pastor Lessing handles the topic, adding new insights.
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A Time for Clarity: Child Dedication

by Pelham Lessing

Having a new baby in a family is one of the most exciting times for most parents. Many believing Christian parents decide to publicly dedicate their child to God. Nonetheless, there has been a lot of confusion and theological debate as to the purpose of child dedication.

It must be understood, however, that child dedication and infant baptism are not exact equivalents. Infant baptism (sprinkling) is understood in various terms to grant or symbolise salvation, to cleanse away sin, or to confer saving grace upon a child. Infant baptism is believed to be a means of grace. Infant baptism revolves around two arguments: [1] the New Testament ordinance of baptism parallels the OT ordinance of circumcision (Col 2:11-12) and [(2] the early church baptised whole household (Acts 16:15). The scope of this article does not afford me the opportunity to discuss the argument that infant baptism equates to baptismal regeneration.

Child dedication on the other hand based on the view of prevenient grace is seen as the divine or unique mercifulness that precedes human decision. Child dedication therefore is the recognition and sign of God’s special covenant with humankind, which he initiated in eternity past and demonstrated through His Son Jesus Christ. Prevenient grace also refers to the first of the threefold relationship between God and the believer represented by the Greek preposition para (para). God through the third person in the Godhead, the Holy Spirit dwells with a person prior to conversion. Convicting the person of sin, righteousness and judgment and convincing the individual that Jesus is the only answer.

The author believes the Shema (the Jewish Confessional Creed based on Deut 6:4-9) forms a crucial part in understanding child dedication. Wiersbe divides the Shema into 3 sections:

  1. Confession – verse 4, this is a declaration of the supremacy and oneness of God.
  2. Commandment – verse 5, highlights the commandment for Israel and by extension the church to love God with everything.
  3. Communication – verses 6-9, the remaining verses then outline what we are to do with God’s Word, take it into our hearts and communicate it to our children, families and community (1999:46-48).

Further to the above, in the field of practical theology and pastoral ministry, child dedication is understood in five broad ways:

Firstly, when we dedicate a child recognition is given to God as the giver of life (Psa 36:9). Secondly, parents are offered the opportunity to make a parental promise to rear the child in accordance with God’s Word. Thirdly, dedicating a child presents the parents, the [immediate] family, and the local church the honour to bless the child, that is to pray for the manifest or tangible presence and power of God upon the life of the child (Matt 19:13-15). Fourthly, it depicts the prophetic imagination of the church to which the parents belong to express its anticipation and expectation that the child will experience a high quality spiritual, intellectual, social, and physical life (Luke 2:52). Lastly, the reason we dedicate children is to give expression to our aspiration to experience God’s fullness in life: his protection, preservation, and providence.

Evangelicals acknowledge that the practice of child dedication is not a major doctrine of the faith nor is it a sacrament as taught in some churches. Although not practised in the same light as in both the Old and early New Testament period (the Law of Inheritance), dedicating a child to God in the contemporary church presents us with a wonderful reason to challenge the church at large to create child friendly communities and local churches where JESUS IS LORD. It also brings great blessing to the parents and congregation and presents opportunities to minister to extended family and friends who otherwise would not come to church.
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Pelham Lessing completed his Bachelor of ARts in Bible and Theology at Global University. He completed postgraduate degrees in ethics, theology and education and holds professional qualifications as a teacher and counselor and is registered with the relevant professional and accredited bodies. He currently serves as a full time lecturer at the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) and as an adjunct faculty in the Development Studies Department at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) where he lectures at both the undergraduate an postgraduae levels. Pelham also serves as lead pastor of Crossover Community Church of the Nazarene in Turffontein, Johannesburg.

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