Many Points of Agreement and One Observation on Paul Carter’s Evaluation of My Article on Not Performing Child Dedication Services (Paul Martin)
I really enjoyed reading Paul Carter’s engagement with my article on why we do not practise Child Dedication services in our corporate worship at Grace Fellowship Church. And that sentence was intended to be really precise. Paul’s article highlights a second issue that I want to engage, but some points of agreement first.
First of all, I agree that looking to the one instance of a baby being dedicated (1 Samuel 1) is bad form, but I have heard this very appeal on numerous occasions! Not from guys like Paul, but from many others. In fact, it was hearing this exegetical fallacy so often that caused me to start there in my presentation. (Again, I should note that what I posted was a lightly edited version of something I wrote twenty years ago.) So, I agree that looking to that text is a terrible way to justify a position, but I have heard it done (either vaguely or specifically) on so many occasions that I thought a careful look at what that passage was actually saying was in order. So, I basically agree with what Paul wrote on that point.
I also agree with Paul’s statement that “the abuse of a thing is not the negation of a thing.” But I think Paul would agree with me that neither is it the endorsement of a thing. Child Dedication services are a great example of something that two churches, in very different contexts, might come to very different conclusions on - and both be right.
I also want to stress my agreement with Paul that we don't become all “grim and forbidding.” (Paul is such a good author. I love his turn of phrase!) So, just to be clear, at Grace Fellowship Church we tend to do wild and crazy things like, wait for it, applaud when we see a new baby in the service for the first time or include a very specific word of thanksgiving to God for a newborn in our pastoral prayer. I even try to visit hospitals and hold babies and pray for them there. To be honest, I really love kids and enjoy them immensely. So, I don’t think we are grim and forbidding nor ungenerous. We just don't have a special Child Dedication service as part of our corporate worship.
And that leads me to that thing that Paul’s article highlights in a kind of accidental way (I think). Paul quotes Matthew 19:13-14 as a kind of endorsement of such a service. This starts to lead us into the waters of what is typically called the Regulative Principle, or the Hooker Principle, depending on where you land on such things. Basically, it is the way students of the Bible have tried to answer the question of what is allowed in a corporate worship service. If you run with Bishop Hooker, you basically surmise that anything not prohibited is permitted. If you put yourself under the Regulative Principle, the basic gist is that you will only do those things that are positively commanded. Now, read enough and you will realize it is hard to find three pastors who agree on what are those prescribed elements of corporate worship.From my perspective, I think an official Child Dedication Service in an official Sunday Worship Service is very close to adding in to the list of things we can do. In other words, it might be something the Bible does not prescribe and therefore should not be included in corporate worship. Paul might look at Matthew 19 another way and suggest that is exactly the kind of endorsement needed.
Either way, I wonder how different our practise looks in comparison to First Baptist Church of Orillia’s practise in the end.
- We are both very happy when a baby is born.
- We both publicly thank God for that child and pray for her parents.
- We both do this in a public worship service, albeit in very different forms.
In the end, what I want for my church and Paul’s is that we think though all the things we do in a corporate worship service biblically. And if we come to varying opinions on how to work that out, we have only to be sure that we can stand before the Lord with a clear conscience with what we do. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5 ESV) After that, we can happily agree to disagree and should I visit First Baptist on a Child Dedication Service day, I will pray just as much as the next guy for that little one.
Now, here is Paul's rejoinder to my reply. Enjoy!
Closing Thoughts By Paul Carter
I enjoyed this public exercise a great deal and wish that all debates could be handled in such a manner. Of course the game was somewhat rigged in that Paul and I actually really like each other and we hold positions that are really not that far apart. We both reject child dedication done poorly and wish to make clear that it is in no sense and in no way to be understood as an ordinance or a sacrament of the church. We both think it is a great thing to recognize and to celebrate new life in the context of a worship service. In fact, there is a line in Paul’s article that I would have happily included in my own:
“Is it incorrect to publicly pray for a newborn child? Not for a second. We want to receive children in the spirit with which Jesus held them and blessed them.”
Where we differ, to the extent that we do, we differ without malice. I appreciate the verse that Paul cited in his closing statement and to it I would add one more from the same chapter:
"Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God" (Romans 14:10 ESV)
This is not the sort of difference over which brothers should judge each other or exclude each other from fellowship. In fact, while I knew that Paul did not practice child dedication at his church, and he knew that I did at mine, we had never even discussed this issue with each other before we engaged in this public exercise. My friendship with Paul is worth more to me than the opportunity to express or to have validated my conviction in this area. Had I not been invited to engage this topic with Paul, I would not have.
Paul rightly makes mention of the Hooker and Regulative Principles. I think both Paul and I would both want to locate ourselves closer to the Regulative Principle on that particular continuum. We would both want to see a strong Biblical warrant for each and every aspect of our corporate liturgy. Our disagreement presently comes down to how we do the things we both feel warrant to do: celebrate babies and encourage moms and dads. I do it a little more formally than my brother Paul. As the Scripture says, let each be convinced in his own mind.