The Problem With Baby Dedications

So, baby dedications: perhaps the most widespread yet biblically inexplicable phenomenon in the contemporary evangelical church (with the possible exception of drinking fruit juice from shot glasses). Are they harmless? Useful? Cross-cultural? Evangelistic? Biblical? Celebratory? Quasi-sacramental? Even magical? And what should we do about it?

Let me start with a couple of disclaimers. Firstly, we have dedicated both of our children so far, and I have presided (?) over the dedications of various other babies over the years, so this is a self-critical exercise as much as anything else. Secondly, there is clearly nothing wrong—and indeed there is an awful lot very right—about gathering to give thanks for the gift of children, and/or pray for parents. So for all those people whose Wednesdays I have ruined by suggesting that baby dedications are unbiblical, let me offset the outrage by pointing out that services of thanksgiving and prayer are probably very good ideas.

Nevertheless, here are a few reasons why baby dedications are not.

1. Exegetically, the practice is without foundation. Yes, Jesus was sort-of-dedicated in Luke 2, but he was a) Jewish, b) male, c) circumcised, d) the firstborn, e) presented at the temple in Jerusalem, and f) accompanied by animal sacrifices.

2. Theologically, to dedicate something or someone is to set apart something as holy to the Lord. To dedicate a baby, then, is to act as if the baby is already holy, which presumably is precisely what the baby’s credobaptist parents (and pastors) do not believe—because if they did, they would be happy to baptise them.

3. Liturgically, as I tweeted in February, “baby dedications are perhaps the most obvious symbol of credobaptist cultic deprivation.” (And no, the irony of tweeting this just before disappearing for Lent is not lost on me.) That is, in many local church settings, they are nothing more or less than baby baptisms without water. They make it look and sound like something is happening to the baby, which it isn’t, rather than like something is happening to the parents (in prayer) and to God (in thanksgiving).

4. Pastorally, they are confusing. It has astonished me, on opening up this conversation in recent months, how many people—both those who have dedicated their children and those who haven’t—don’t really know what dedications are supposed to do. The elements of thanksgiving, celebration and prayer are clear; the dedication bit is at best vague and at worst confusing.

So if baby dedications are exegetically, theologically, liturgically and pastorally problematic, but you still want to have a context to give thanks for new life, honour parents and pray for wisdom, what’s the alternative?

Simple: baby celebrations. (Or baby thanksgivings, or whatever you’d rather call them.)  You still get the church together to celebrate the gift of children. You still invite friends and family members. You still express thanksgiving and honour to God. You still pray for wisdom for the parents, whether or not they come out to the front of the meeting and present their children like Simba in The Lion King. You still have a little party afterwards, should the family want that. You do everything, that is, bar calling it a dedication.

And if you’re not convinced by any of that, bear in mind that “dedications” is an anagram of “noise addict.”

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