Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Overture 3: Parental Promises in the Baptismal Vow
When parents in the PCA present their children for baptism, they take three vows regarding their children. The first vow recognizes the child’s need of Christ. The second vow recognizes God’s covenant promises to his people and their children. In the third vow, the parents “unreservedly dedicate your child to God….” The language of dedication goes back to the late nineteenth century and earlier Presbyterian books of order. For many, the language of dedication is too much like the practice many Baptists have of a dedication ceremony for their children. (Just as an aside, it has always been curious to Presbyterians that many Baptists will argue against any New Testament basis for infant baptism, while apparently failing to recognize that there is even less evidence for any practice of infant dedication.)
This overture seeks to change the language of that third vow by replacing the clause “Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God” with the following: “Do you now acknowledge that God in his providence has placed this child within the covenant family, and entrusted (him/her) to your care….” The vow that follows remains unchanged, spelling out the parents’ responsibility, relying upon divine grace to set before him a godly example, to pray with and for him, to teach him the doctrines of our religion, and to bring him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
I have already seen some discussion of this overture online, and the views have been mixed. Some like the change. Some like the change but wish that the language were more eloquent, and some don’t like the change at all. I remain somewhat at sea with regard to this overture. I admit to being uncomfortable with the “dedicate” language, but I am also not particularly happy with the proposed change. After some thought, and a reconsideration of the vows as a whole, my preference would be as follows. The second vow reads: “Do you claim God’s covenant promises in (his) behalf, and do you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for (his) salvation, as you do for your own?” It seems to me that this vow sets the stage for the third vow, and the proposed change is really a repetition of the second vow. On the other hand, the language of dedication appears to me to be unnecessary, so that the third vow, uttered in the context of the first and second vows (the second vow particularly) should simply eliminate the first clause, and read: “Do you now promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that you will endeavor to set before (him) a godly example, that you will pray with and for (him), that you will teach (him) the doctrines of our holy religion, and that you will strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring (him) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?”
I suspect that many will not like my proposal any better than they like the one in this overture. Some may like it even less. But as I say, I am still somewhat uncertain in my own mind, and I look forward to hearing the debate at General Assembly. Perhaps more clarity will come from an abundance of counselors.