Is infant dedication okay?

What is the status of infant dedication as an alternative to infant baptism in the United Methodist Church?

Is performing infant dedication frowned upon? Is it a reasonable accommodation for parents? Is it a chargeable offense?

At the UMC web site it says infant dedication is a no-no.

May we have our baby dedicated instead of baptized?

No. The theological understandings of the two services are very different. Dedication is a human act — something we pledge or give to God. Baptism is a divine act, a pledge and gift God gives to us. Baptism includes vows of dedication, but chiefly it celebrates what God is doing and will do.

By Water and the Spirit, a document adopted by the General Conference views infant dedication as a falling away from proper understandings of the sacrament.

5. In its development in the United States, Methodism was unable to maintain this Wesleyan balance of sacramental and evangelical emphases. Access to the sacraments was limited during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when the Methodist movement was largely under the leadership of laypersons who were not authorized to administer them. On the American frontier where human ability and action were stressed, the revivalistic call for individual decision-making, though important, was subject to
exaggeration. The sacramental teachings of Wesley tended to be ignored. In this setting, while infant baptism continued not only to be practiced, but also to be vigorously defended, its significance became weakened and ambiguous.

6. Later toward the end of the nineteenth century, the theological views of much of Methodism were influenced by a new set of ideas which had become dominant in American culture. These ideas included optimism about the progressive improvement of humankind and confidence in the social benefits of scientific discovery, technology, and education. Assumptions of original sin gave way before the assertion that human nature was essentially unspoiled. In this intellectual milieu, the old evangelical insistence upon
conversion and spiritual rebirth seemed quaint and unnecessary.

7.Thus the creative Wesleyan synthesis of sacramentalism and evangelicalism was torn asunder and both its elements devalued. As a result, infant baptism was variously interpreted and often reduced to a ceremony of dedication.

So, given these pronouncements, should United Methodist pastors dedicate infants?

22 thoughts on “Is infant dedication okay?

  1. John,

    I apologize that I’ve come to this conversation late, but after having lunch with some Methodist friends and an independent Christian pastor, I found this discussion and wanted to chime in. As a newly assigned student pastor with some background in the independent Christian churches, as well as time in the Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox Church, I believe that the reason Methodists may struggle with this question is that we tend to find ourselves stuck between worlds. We’re tempted to read the Scriptures like Baptists, but we don’t generally wish to deny our Anglican practice. I would submit that if we truly want to understand the why of infant baptism, we really need to reach back into a catholic hermeneutic of Scriptural interpretation rather than giving ourselves over to the command, example, necessary inference hermeneutic that our Baptist and ICC friends favor.

    The Methodist way is not to isolate a few texts, but to look for the grand narrative of Scripture, and in 1 Cor 10:2 Paul points to the Old Testament as a link to our New Testament baptismal practice. The question to ask, in my opinion, is who is doing the baptizing? Do the Israelites part the Red Sea, or does God? Are infants and children baptized with the adults, or are they left on the banks until they can make a decision to be Israelites? I ask rhetorically, but I believe this truly does introduce us to a first century mindset for baptism. For a first century Jew, everything must always go back to how God did the delivering, for there was no way in which the Israelites were saving themselves from Egypt.

    This tie-in to deliverance carries on throughout the whole story of Scripture, and we even know that during the inter-testemental period that the entire family of a Gentile convert received tevileh baptism. I personally believe this baptismal narrative makes infant baptism a slam-dunk, and I therefore believe infant dedication to send a very poor message. Through dedication, it seems we are giving in to the notion that that an infant is not truly part of our community, which would be roughly the Old Testament equivalent of saying that infants aren’t really Israelites.

    I apologize for taking up so much room on this, and I thank you for bringing this up. It’s apparently a much bigger question in the UMC than I would have expected or hoped.

    Blessings in Christ,

    1. Adam, thank you so much for this thoughtful post. Great insight and helpful distinctions between the different ways to approach Scripture.

      Thank you for this.

Comments are closed.