I was recently present at a baby dedication. Throughout the entire ‘ceremony’ I was struck by several things that seemed quite strange. Indeed, it was the first such event I have witnessed since I have become Reformed that evoked this sort of reaction in me. To those who grew up in a Reformed church, the idea of a baby ‘dedication’ as opposed to baptism probably seems strange enough!
I grew up in a Pentecostal church, so it’s taken me some time to get used to the idea that we are supposed to baptize our babies. I understand the theology behind the doctrine of the covenant, so I am no longer baffled by the applying of a “sign of faith” to one who has no capacity for faith. Baptism is not a “sign of faith.” It is the sign and seal of God's covenant of grace, an acknowledgement of the child's place in the covenant community. Plus I understand that the children of believers have always been included in the covenant of grace.
I could go on into an elaborate defense, but that isn’t really my point. What struck me was the language used during the ceremony. Reformed believers baptize their babies for the aforementioned reasons, among many more, but also to mark their children out as different from the children of unbelievers. We are God’s covenant people and our children should not be as the children of unbelievers, cut off from the covenant community. Anyway, language to this effect was used repeatedly by the pastor during the dedication ceremony. The whole tenor of the ceremony was more fitting or applicable to a baptism anyway.
Then it occurred to me: what is happening here is a man-made substitute for the sacrament of baptism that is trying its hardest to retain and confer all the covenant blessings of baptism.
For those who are interested in the subject, I recommend Robert R. Booth’s book, “Children of the Promise.” Of course any of the standard works on the subject are excellent reads as well, such as those by Samuel Miller and John Owen