Published on August 13, 2014 by Fred Zaspel

unknown, 2014 | 33 pages

Reviewed by Fred G. Zaspel

Brian Najapfour grew up in a Baptist church that observed the common practice of “child dedication,” and now as a paedobaptist pastor (Dutton United Reformed Church in Caledonia, MI) he writes to expose the lack of biblical support for that practice. His approach is simple and straightforward: first, he defines child dedication according to those who observe it (chapter 1); next, he traces its historic origins (chapter 2); then he examines its proposed biblical support (chapter 3); and then he concludes with some pastoral observations and counsel.

It is not likely than anyone will ever have the “last word” on this sensitive subject – this side of the parousia, anyway – but overall Najapfour does provide a brief but helpful examination of the subject, particularly as it relates to its proposed biblical support and origins.


The Question of Definition

In chapter one Najapfour is careful to define the practice of child dedication as per the understanding of Baptists who observe it. This is only fair, of course. Yet I suspect that there would be many Baptists who would be surprised at some of the details Najapfour provides (from Baptists). For example, I myself do not observe the practice, but in witnessing it I have never heard it described in covenantal terms that Najapfour highlights, although the ideas of “vow” and “promise” do certainly come close.

More seriously, I doubt there are many Baptists at all who would use the language of “incorporating [the baby] into the family of faith,” even though Najapfour cites these as the words of a Baptist pastor. This is language Baptists are usually very careful to avoid – certainly language I have never heard in Baptist churches. And in any case, the general tenor of child dedications, as I have observed them, at least, is simply that of a promise of parents to bring up their children for Christ as God enables them.

I’m not sure my concern here affects Najapfour’s case at all – his larger concern is to examine the biblical warrant for the practice. But the “Baptist” definitions he provides do strike me as more “Presbyterian” in language and in tone than most Baptists would be comfortable with.


Historical Origins

The exact origins of child dedication are probably impossible to determine with exact precision, as Najapfour recognizes, but he is probably right to say, as he seeks briefly to demonstrate, that the practice arose both as an “alternative” to infant baptism and out of Christians’ “instinctive” desire faithfully to present their children to God. Yet, as he briefly establishes, it is a rather new practice in the church.


Biblical Roots?

Najapfour rightly notes that Baptists who practice child dedication would not argue that Scripture commands the practice, only that in places it may commend it. Passages that are most commonly offered to this effect are 1 Samuel 1 (Samuel) and Luke 2 (Jesus), and perhaps sometimes Matthew 19:13ff (Jesus’ blessing the children). Najapfour establishes that the differences in details between these and the modern practice of baby dedication are significant, forcing us to conclude that they really say nothing about today’s practice. Surprisingly, what he does not address here is how these passages might reflect the “instinctive” desire of Christian parents to present their children to God, a question he had raised earlier.


Pastoral Conclusions & Counsel

Najapfour concludes that although Scripture does not explicitly commend the practice of child dedication, neither does it forbid it. And so he allows it. But he proposes two restrictions. First, “parents must not make child dedication as a substitute for the ordinance of infant baptism.” Given his paedobaptist commitments, this is fair enough. Of course Baptists will quickly respond here with the simple question, “What ordinance of infant baptism?” But Najapfour leaves the matter here.

Second, Najapfour counsels that baby dedication should not be practiced as part of the church corporate worship service. Here he appeals to the Regulative Principle of Worship which allows elements of corporate worship only that are specifically prescribed in the New Testament. Calvin famously summed up the Regulative Principle with the words, “God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his Word.” Of course Baptists want to apply this rule to the practice of infant baptism, and now Najapfour argues they should apply it to their own practice of infant dedication.



The arrival of a new baby in the life of a congregation is a happy thing and difficult indeed to ignore. Although (for many of the reasons Najapfour points out) at our church we have no formal practice of baby dedication, I do wonder if his arguments are sufficient to rule out any kind of public recognition of a new-born and a corresponding public prayer for the family. I don’ think so. Still, his arguments present a healthy challenge to the practice itself. And even if they fall short of ending the practice, they will at least force Baptist pastors to reconsider whether their practice is consistent with their larger profession.


Fred G. Zaspel is one of the pastors at Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA, adjunct professor of Bible at Lancaster Bible College – Center for Urban Theological Studies (CUTS) in Philadelphia, and executive editor here at Books At a Glance.


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Child Dedication: Considered Historically, Theologically, And Pastorally, Brian G. Najapfour

unknown, 2014 | 33 pages

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