The Free Church or Anabaptist tradition dedicates children because those churches will only baptize those who have personally confessed their faith in Christ. Dedication in such traditions is an expression, on the part of parents, to raise the child in the nurture of the church. The child is not a member of the church until he or she confesses faith and is baptized, so the nurture of the church necessarily focuses on converting the child.
The Reformed tradition begins from a different place. A child of believing parents is understood to be a part of the covenantal community and thus is baptized as a sign and seal of the covenant. The child is understood to be a member of the church and is nurtured to confess Christ as Lord and Savior personally. Baptism is a symphony blending grace and faith. The dominant melody line is one of grace, but without the faith of congregation, parent, and finally child, the sound is discordant and off key. God's grace seeks us out when we are unable to help ourselves, and plants the seed of faith deep within our souls. Through the faithful nurture of God's Spirit through the witness of the congregation and family, the seed grows and finally bears fruit.
Consequently, to provide for the option of dedicating a child in a Reformed church is confusing to the parents and covenantal community. Dedication builds the church's educational program on a foundation of conversion rather than covenantal nurture. It encourages families and church schools, pastors and elders, to convince a child to enter the covenantal community when in fact she already lives and learns within it.
What does the Reformed Church think about child dedication? Follow Up
My answer to this question, which also appeared in the June issue, prompted a strong response from a few readers. One thought I had missed an opportunity to encourage our children to seek a personal faith. Having re-read my response, I hope that no one else was left with such an impression. The gracious act of baptism finds its fulfillment in the personal response of faith of the one baptized. In my response I wrote "the child is from the earliest days understood to be a member of the church and is nurtured to personally confess Christ as Lord and Savior." The covenantal theology of the Reformed Church finally emphasizes the primary role of grace in the sacrament of baptism and the necessary response of a personal faith that grows through the commitment of faithful families and congregations. At its core, child dedication finally focuses on faith, while infant baptism emphasizes God's grace.