Overture 3, submitted by Gulf Coast Presbytery, recommended a change in the wording of BCO 56-5 regarding parental promises in the baptism of covenant children. In place of the current wording—“Do you now dedicate your child to God, and promise …”—the proposed change would read: “Do you now acknowledge that God in his providence has placed this child within the covenant family, and entrusted him/her to your care?”

On June 8, the Overtures Committee voted 70-22-1 to recommend the overture be answered in the negative. Members of the committee cited the following grounds:

  • The current language of “dedicate” goes back to at least 1894 in the Book of Church Order.  This language has long been in use in the context of ministry among Baptist brethren.
  • The practice of Baptist dedications does not necessitate that a perfectly useful Biblical term needs to be changed to avoid the perception of Baptistic theology.
  • In the case of confusion over the wording, BCO 56-4 urges a minister to explain to his congregation the nature of Covenant baptism, using “his own liberty and Godly wisdom as the ignorance or errors in the doctrine of baptism, and the edification of the people, shall require.”
  • The language of “dedicate” is in the third question in a series of questions asked of the parents. The first question asks the parents to acknowledge the child’s need for a Savior.  The second question asks the parents whether they claim the covenant promises of God. The third question is sacramental language that deals with the dedication of a child who is already a member of His visible church.  The covenantal context of baptism involves a response to divine covenant initiative. The responsibility of the parents to baptize their children is an act of obedience, and this feature of covenant baptism must be preserved.

“While I acknowledge the confusion of the language in the baptism context, our denomination has a much broader geographical context with different theological issues,” said TE Ian Hard of Iowa Presbytery.  As pastors, we should relish the opportunity to bring clarity when people bring questions about the issue. The Old Testament language about dedication is not so much an initiatory act, but acknowledging that the item or person dedicated belongs to God. When we vow to dedicate our children in baptism, we are saying that these children already belong to God.”

The Committee’s vote now goes to the General Assembly.