Q. Churches started by westerners often baptise, "Christen" or "dedicate" babies. Where did this come from and is it normal?
A. As such God has not called for any ceremony or rite of infant dedication for New Testament believers.
Many Centuries ago, the group we know now as the Roman Catholic Church, noted the Scriptures referring to baptism, forgiveness and becoming saved, and wondered what would happen to unbaptised babies of believing parents.
For example:- 1 Peter 3:18-22
18 "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,
19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison
20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,
21 and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also-- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
22 who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand-- with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him." (NIV)
25 "Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,
27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (NIV)
These Scriptures and ones like them caused people to be concerned as to what might happen to their unbaptised infants.
The Roman Catholic priesthood decided to use infant baptism, or sprinkling.
Sprinkling was carried out as their practices had already deteriorated to the point that baptism was no longer being practised for believers.
When Martin Luther and others moved or were thrown out from the Roman Catholic group, they carried on the Christening or sprinkling procedure with out pausing to consider deeply enough what it's roots were. These Protestants, as they became known, developed a whole theology to explain Christening and sprinkling.
Most of their reasoning focuses upon Christening taking the place of the circumcision covenant ritual performed on Jewish male babies as required by God of Abraham, his descendants, and in the Law of Moses.
They also point to an ocassion where a whole household of people (all said to have believed the gospel) was baptised in Acts, and suggest that there might have been babies.
Then in the last century or so the evangelical movement arose in the western world. Such people correctly identified that God had not called for Christening of infants, but moved towards replacing the ceremony with a dedication service and rite.
Now in this century Pentecostal groupings have carried on that tradition.
However ever since the first days of the Christian faith there had been very large bodies of people who endeavoured to keep to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles as recorded in the New Testament.
Through the centuries the Roman Catholic group and others have sought to repress these Christians killing them by the tens and even hundreds of thousands at a time. (Broadbent, E.H.; The Pilgrim Church; Pickering & Inglis London UK, 1935).
From 1526 onwards very many early "Baptists" in Switzerland (particularly in the City and Canton of Zurich) were drowned merely for preferring to follow the Lord's commands on repentance and baptism, and refusing Christening to infants. They were drowned by the Protestant followers of a man called Zwingli.
So what does happen to 'un-dedicated' infants whether their parents are believers or not?
King David faced this dilemma when God took his first son illegitimately born to Bathsheba. The baby was born out of wedlock in adultery after David had arranged the murder of Bathsheba's husband. David had first brought the man Uriah back from a battle he was fighting along with the Israeli army, so that he might sleep with his own wife and every one would think that she was pregnant to her own husband.
But Uriah carefully followed the requirements of Moses, as the army was in camp at war, he would not sleep with his own wife. David even tried to make him drunk to get him to go to his own wife. But all failed, the man not even born a Jew would not compromise.
14 "In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah.
15 In it he wrote, "Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die."
16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were.
17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David's army fell; more over, Uriah the Hittite died.
18 Joab sent David a full account of the battle.
God sends Nathan
12 God reveals David's sin to his servant the prophet Nathan. Nathan comes and rebukes David and God declares a judgement upon David. David repents:-
13 Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD."
Nathan ..replied, "The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.
14 But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die."
15 After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife had borne to David, and he became ill.
16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground.
17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.
18 On the seventh day the child died. David's servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, "While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate."
However David takes the news of the babies death better than expected. He gets up to have a big feed!
21 His servants asked him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!"
22 He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, `Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.'
23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."
24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon.
David's understanding is profound. He knows that he will not "die" from the sin as said to him by Nathan. David knows that he will pass on to the bosom of Abraham after leaving this life and into the presence of the Lord.
David says here that he knows that the baby, though born in sin, will go ahead of him into Paradise. Yet this baby died at seven days. A baby boy was to be circumcised at eight days under the Law of Moses. Without out having taken the sign of God's Covenant (then circumcision), the baby will go 'to be with the Lord' if you like.
From this assurance that David had of God's ways, many have come to understand that an individual is innocent until they reach an age of conscience. The age where they choose to do right or wrong. Even under the law an individual was not accountable to the Law of Moses until 12 years of age. And that is why Roman Catholic and Anglican (Episcopalian) groups perform a rite of confirmation for the earlier infant christening, at about 12 years of age.
However if we understand David's hope correctly, there is obviously no need for any such hokus pokus.
There could be no doubt that any prayers offered from the heart and led by the Holy Spirit for the growth and development of any infant or child could only be beneficial.
However when the rite concerned follows a formula or requires certain people to officiate almost as defacto priests, then we are moving into some dangerous religious territory. And many Christian Counselors have found the need to pray with people for deliverance of one form or another, concerning having been part of religious practices not actually called for by God.
Justifications for dedication rites based on the Old Testament requirements of God of His Jewish people, can and must not be used to create rules or guidelines for New Testament believers. Or we would undo some of the primary purposes of the decisions the Holy Sprit led believers to in Jerusalem concerning just this kind of thing as recorded in Acts 15. And go on to lead ourselves on into the errors warned about in Colossions 2 and the letter of Galatians.
It might all be well summed up with the thought that, if God has not called for it, then don't presume to make a practice or tradition of man about it.
Behind this question also lies the matter of who are the priests in the family.