INFANT BAPTISM and INFANT DEDICATION
One of the expressions of our Free Methodist “via media” is to bring together both Infant Baptism and Infant Dedication giving the parent(s) the opportunity to choose for their own child(ren). To do this the Study Commission on Doctrine created this educational document expressing the support of each theological position.
Study Commission on Doctrine
In the Free Methodist Church, both divine grace and personal decisions are considered integral to the Christian life. The practice of two seemingly contradictory rituals in the church is a witness to this reality. While infant baptism highlights divine grace infant dedication emphasizes personal decision.
The two rituals share much in common. In both, families present their children to the Lord in the presence of the community of faith. Prayers are offered for these children, especially as concerns their spiritual development and personal salvation. The families and the church acknowledge their responsibilities and make commitments as regards the bringing up of these children ‘in the Lord’s discipline and instruction’ Prayers are offered for the families as regards their special role in this process.
Both rituals reflect a prayerful expectation of the children’s role in personally experiencing and affirming God’s grace in their lives “at an early age.” God’s help and blessing are invoked.
The Scriptures do not state explicitly whether infants should be dedicated or baptized, or whether baptism should be reserved until one is able to respond personally in faith to God’s grace (as a mature child, teen or adult)
- Male children born to believing Israelites were circumcised on the eighth day as a sign of belonging to God’s covenant-people (see Genesis 17:12-14). Similarly, when the New Testament refers to the baptism of “entire households” (Acts 16:1533; 1 Corinthians 1:16), children were included.
- In the cultures of biblical times (and throughout most of history) parents made decisions, including spiritual commitments, for their children. The extreme emphasis on individualism which identifies a ‘personal decision’ as the essence of faith,] is peculiar to our culture, the western world in the modern era.
- The infant-baptizing tradition emphasizes the continuity of the church as a community of faith. Redemptive grace (according to this view) extends to the children of believers (see 1 Corinthians 7:14), as they are surrounded by Christian love, example and teaching.
- Infant baptism is a sign and confession of believing families and the church,] that their children also belong to the people of God,] because of God’s grace, Christ’s atonement, and the Spirit’s presence. During the service, the adult participants commit themselves to nurture each baptized child to “confirm” Christian faith personally (as a mature child, teen, or adult),
- The observance of the sacrament of infant baptism has a rich heritage. It was the common belief and practice of the Christian church prior to the Reformation. While some Protestant groups did away with this sacrament, Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian and Anglican churches retained it. Of particular significance to Free Methodists, Wesley affirmed infant baptism during the Evangelical Revival of the eighteenth century and it was the common belief and practice in the Free Methodist Church until 1974 (when allowance was made for infant dedication as well).
- Several instances of infant dedication are recorded in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, Samuel’s mother brought her infant son to the temple (after weaning him, at about two years of age) and gave him back to God. On that occasion, she offered a special prayer to the Lord and lifted her praises in worship (1 Samuel 1:24-2:11). In the New Testament, Jesus’ parents brought Him to the temple on the eighth day following His birth to “present him to the Lord.” In accordance with the law, they offered a sacrifice on this occasion. Others (Simeon and Anna) offered prayers and spoke prophecies concerning this child (Luke 2:22-40).
- In the New Testament, the normative sequence for converts entering the church is repentance, faith and baptism (see Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38; Hebrews 6:1-2). Since infants are not capable of exercising repentance and faith, baptism (according to this view) should not be administered to them, but reserved until they are able to respond to the gospel personally.
- The infant dedicating tradition emphasizes the importance of personal decision. In dedicating their infant to the Lord, the family is making a commitment to nurture him/her in the Christian way, with the prayerful expectation that as a mature child, teen or adult he/she will make a personal decision to follow Jesus and be baptized,
- The practice of dedicating infants in the Christian church has its origins in the Protestant Reformation. Appealing to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, some (known as “radical’) reformers concluded that baptism should be reserved for those capable of taking that step of faith thereby excluding infants. They substituted for the sacrament of infant baptism the ceremony of infant dedication, which suited better their understanding of faith and the Christian church (as a body of believers).
5. The modern practice of infant dedication may be traced to three major influences.
- a) The influence of the ‘radical” Reformation — especially Baptist groups — is very strong in some areas (such as the United States).
- b) In other instances, there is a concern to distance oneself (and the church) from Roman Catholic practice.
- c) The emphasis in western civilization, especially in the modern era on the individual (versus community) is often a major influence. For some, infant dedication may be the preferred ritual because it fits better their situation and/or worldview.
Because the Scriptures are not prescriptive in this matter, the Free Methodist Church allows parents to make this decision for their own children.