Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Baptism and Dedication

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of attending worship as a vistor with my in-laws to support their family in two significant life events -- the baptism of their oldest child and the dedication of their youngest. In addition to the significance of sharing in these moments with their family and the enjoyment of being a visitor in worship for a change, I was left with some food for thought on some issues I have been wrestling with in recent years related to baptism and child dedication.

Basically, the question boils down to this: is there really a significant difference between the baptism of a child and the baptism of a pre-adolescent or adolescent teen? Here are some of my thoughts:

  • For those youth who have grown up in the church and in Christian families, is not their"believers'" baptism as much or even more about the faith of their family as their personal faith? Most of the youth I have baptized have indicated among their reasons for wanting to get baptize the desires of their family. Some in fact, have done it only under compulison.
  • When is the age of accountability for such a decision as wanting to follow Christ? How old does one have to be for us to be able to say they know what they are doing when they "say yes to Jesus"? One of the easiest metaphors for me to understand when thinking about believer's baptism is that of a marriage -- in the sense of making a serious life commitment. But I know that for most of those youth I have baptized and seen baptized in recent years, I would never say they were ready for marriage. So why do we accept that they are ready to make a commitment to be a Christ-follower?
  • On both sides of the spectrum of infant/believers baptism, I have heard people recount how significant that event was in their lives and in their faith. And I have heard countless younger adults (and some older adults) question why they got baptized as a youth when they had no idea what they were doing and only went through with it because their Sunday School class/friends were doing it and/or mom or dad or grandma/pa wanted them to do so. So I feel conflicted in counseling with such persons, who desire a "menaingful" / chosen baptism experience after a more or less compusory youth believer's baptism.
  • What is the true difference between infant dedication/believers baptism as it is currently practiced in most of the COB and infant baptism/confirmation as it is practiced in many other faith traditions? Is it simply the deferral of using water until later? In many respects the liturgies are similar and many youth baptism/membership classes follow a confirmation pattern or curriculum. Is it a difference in name only?

These are only some of my thoughts on the subject which reflect years of wrestling that were brought into focus in my family this weekend. In some respects, I honestly wonder if the question really matters in the end. But it has a deep and volatile history in our faith tradition, and it is something that I consistently need to address as a pastor working primarily with youth and young adults. So it is on my mind and I have to make decisions and take action one way or the other on it.

I'd be interested on any thoughts any of you who are reading might offer...


  1. My dad can relate the story of his baptism, by his father, and his sisters'; I think they were at the young ages of 6, 7, and 8! Dad has his father's pastoral journal, listing all the baptisms he performed, with his comments about questioning them about making this decision at this young age. You might enjoy talking to Ginny and Dad about these memories sometime!

  2. Chris, there seems very little difference between baby dedication and infant baptism. The major difference is that in infant baptism, the parents agree to assume responsibility for helping to persons to affirm what happened at the time of confirmation. In "believers" baptism, the person, however young, assumes the responsibility to grow into fuller knowledge of what their baptism means. From my perspective, why withhold it when a young persons requests it, for whatever reason. Isn't an accomplished feat (symbol) more of an invitation to live into it, then a postponement which places very little urgency on anyone? I asked to be baptized at the age of 7. Did I know what it meant. No. Did I feel it was my responsibility to try to grow and live into what it meant. Yes. Do I fully understand it today. Probably not. But I'm glad I have a foot in the door. Earle

  3. Continuing to wrestle with these issues is a healthy position because trying to nail it down too tightly will not allow for the flexibility that is needed for the uniqueness of particular persons and families and congregations. ~ Roger

  4. Yes, my baptism at the age of 13 was a little "forced" by peers and parents. At the same time, it was an important step in my personal faith journey. It caused me to question a lot of things, to sit up and take notice of what was going on and ask why it was important to the church, my family and my friends. In my preadolescent mind, it was a decision that I made with help and encouragement.

    This sacrament is an important part of church life and I think the Brethren have a good way of handling it. Encouraging our youth to sit up and take notice of their faith and start to question the community of believers is the essence of our faith. I encourage it whenever I have a chance.