The Consecration of Parents and Infants
The birth of children has to do with God’s work in both creation and redemption. In the act of consecration, we praise God “for it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:13-14a). In this act, we also bring the newborn child into a relationship with the body of Christ. The nature of this relationship has been a source of disagreement between churches which baptize infants and those which do not. For the latter, the act of consecration is a declaration that the atoning work of Christ includes all who are born. They remain in a state of grace until the age of accountability when they come to their own faith in Christ or choose another way. When infants are presented to God and to the church, they are placed in the care of the church. With Christian parents, the children can grow up with and into their parents’ faith. In the service of consecration, the parents commit themselves to this calling.
Jesus made children a model of faith (Mk. 10:13-16). Their dependant and trusting natures make them receptive to God’s presence in their lives. It is the task of families and the church to nurture this faith and to prepare children for a more mature time in life when they heed the call of Christ and accept Christ’s claim on their lives.
The consecration of parents and infants belongs in the regular Sunday assembly, on one of the first Sundays on which the infants are brought to church. Parents, as well as the congregation, should be prepared beforehand for the promises they are about to make. Because both the parents and the congregation are asked to commit themselves to the material and spiritual well-being of the child, this service can be meaningful only to parents who have a living faith in Christ and actively participate in the church. This is sometimes true of only one parent; if the other parent does not stand in the way of the spouse’s commitment, the service of consecration still carries its intended meaning (1 Cor. 7:12-14). This is also true, of course, in situations where the child lives with only one of its parents. Churches that baptize believers only have shied away from sponsors because of their association with infant baptism. In most cases, the congregation is appropriately seen as the sponsor. There is, however, no theological reason for ruling out sponsors if, like the parents, they have a living faith in Christ and are active participants in the church. If this is not the case, the act of consecration becomes a social ritual in which the essential spiritual intention is displaced. This service is the entrance way to the Christian pilgrimage.