By Rev SEIK PITOI
I had two good friends who often shared with me their strange views about church.
One day, one of them said, “Pastor, I will bring my children and you will baptise all of them. The married ones with their children, plus the smaller ones. Baptise all of them, whether they like it or not!”
The other friend, on the other hand, told me that he didn’t believe in child baptism/dedication.
“I don’t believe we should force our kids to be baptised as babies. When they are big, they will decide. In the meantime, just leave them alone. Don’t force them to go to church.”
As a pastor, I too have my views which I believe are consistent with the Bible. To my first friend, I told him that I would dedicate only the smaller kids. Child dedication is for them. The overgrown ones were already at the age of reasoning so they must place their faith in Christ first, then they will be ready for water baptism!
For my second friend, his beliefs were in line with how he lived his life. He destroyed his own life and his offspring today are the most hopeless and destitute young men you can find. Sadly, their end was already determined!
So what can we do with our kids? What are things Christian parents can do? Kids are special gifts. As the Psalmist says, “Sons (and daughters) are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.” (Psalm 127: 3). In these joyful moments, pastors have the honour of partnering with parents in their journey of raising that child. In the church, this partnership begins mainly with the child dedication service.
Child dedication, or baptism as some call it, is in response to the faith of parents – not the child! It demonstrates the parents’ acknowledgement of God as the giver of that gift (child) and demonstrates their desire to lead the child – with God’s help – in His ways.
Therefore, when parents present their children before God and His people in a dedication service, they are asking primarily for two things:
• For God’s grace, strength and wisdom in carrying out their parental responsibilities in the life of the child, and,
• That their child might one day personally trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
The act of dedicating our children is found in the Bible, e.g., the child Samuel’s dedication in 1 Sam 1:11; 24-28. The fervent prayer of his mother, Hannah, resulted in God answering. Then, she dedicated her child back to God. “… I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I dedicate him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be dedicated to the LORD.” (verses 27 – 28).
Similarly, the Baby Jesus was dedicated by Prophet Simeon: “When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God” (Luke 2: 27-28).
So we can see that it is biblical to dedicate our children to God. What about childless couples? For childless couples who adopt, the truth is still the same. We must dedicate our adopted children to God also. In every case, whether natural or adopted, we must thank God for the gift of children!
How old should a child be when we dedicate him? The Jews dedicate their sons on the eighth day after birth via the ceremony of circumcision. Pastors dedicate/baptise babies any time after birth, with the limit being when the child reaches the “age of reasoning”.
The “age of reasoning” refers to a time when the child will have an understanding of what is good and bad, right and wrong, sin and salvation, etc. That age will vary from child to child.
Some children are known to have made a profession of faith in Christ as early as age 6, while others have come to believe in their late teen years. The ages of 7 to 12 are good times to start challenging our children about their own salvation.
Child dedication is only starting the child off on the road of life. He will have to grow in his knowledge about God until one day, he personally trusts Jesus for his salvation. Parents are the key people to influence their children in that regard. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 explains:
6 These commandments that I give you (parents) today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
This text simply says parents must take God’s commands (words) in their own hearts first. Then they can teach them to the kids. We cannot teach something we don’t have. The kids will detect our hypocrisy.
Our faith must be genuine in order for us to pass it on to the children. Deuteronomy also makes clear that the duty of teaching children belongs primarily to parents – not Sunday school and RI teachers, nor the pastor! They can only assist with weekly instruction, but as parents, we must seize the teachable moments that arise daily throughout the normal grind of life, and tell them about God.
It is so crucial for us to introduce God into the lives of our children. With so much law and order problems happening in our communities, it is a clear indication that parents do not have godly influence on their children.
Many parents do not go to church, especially fathers, which is why their kids don’t bother as well. The spiritual climate in the home is set primarily by the father. He is the head (Eph 5:23), and the head must lead.
God looked for the man, not the woman, when they were missing from fellowship in the garden (Gen 3:9). Today, He still searches for men in churches. I believe when we men get our priorities right, our wives and kids will follow. When our kids walk in the ways of God, we will see respect, integrity and good conduct in our communities.
Recently, I had the joy of meeting a young lady who deals with kids weekly at her church and community.
Gwen Gima Koupa is the Sunday School Superintendent at Tokarara United Church. In her experience, she has seen the opposite of what we have discussed above.
“We have kids come to Sunday school whose parents do not go to church. When the children get transformed by the power of God, it makes an impact in the home. Soon the parents follow the children to church. So it is through the children that the parents begin to come to church.”
Such is the importance of children’s ministry in churches.
Finally, as a minister who dedicates children, I am emotionally moved by single mothers who stand with their babies for dedication, with their own fathers standing alongside them in proxy for the absent husband.
He is either too busy, not interested, or has run off with another woman so he cannot witness his baby’s dedication. My heart goes to these single mothers who are setting the right foundations for their babies.
Thankfully, I also take my hat off to the growing number of men who decide to stand as men – leading their families from the front. They are those who bring their wives and babies out for dedication. We certainly need more of these ‘real men’ in our nation!
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.