Dedication of Infants
The consecration of children is an old, though not universally observed custom among the Mennonites, which is based on Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; and Luke 18:15-17. The first mention of this ceremony was found in the letter written by Balthasar Hubmaier to Oecolampadius in Basel, on 16 January 1525: "Instead of baptism, I have the congregation assemble, introduce the child, and in German explain Matthew 19:13-15. Then the child is named; the entire church prays with bent knees for it and commends it to Christ, that He may be gracious to it and intercede for it." Pilgram Marpeck also mentions the ceremony in his Confession of Faith of 1531 (Mennonite Quarterly Review 12, 1938, 195).
In Ottius, Annales Anabaptistici, p. 35, the statement was made that
in Nördlingen in Swabia some of those who left the Catholic Church favored
infant baptism, while others opposed it. They reached
an agreement by which those who believed in adult baptism should bring their infants to church, where they would be commended to Christ, our Mediator and Redeemer, by the laying on of hands and prayer.
In the Christliches Handbüchlein (1661), written in German at Berlin and then translated into Dutch, the non-Mennonite Jeremias Felbinger expressed the opinion that infants must be brought to church; the preacher, after a brief address to the congregation on the love of Christ to children, on the obligation of believers to live a childlike life, etc., takes the child into his hands, commends it to the Lord in prayer, and having returned it to the parents, lays his hands on it with a blessing.
Jeme Deknatel, a Dutch Mennonite preacher, said in his book, Menno Simons in 't Kleine (1753, 196), "My brethren, since we do not baptize our infants, because Jesus did not do it or command it, and because they do not have the necessary qualifications, would it not be good to bless them by the laying on of hands, as Jesus taught us by His example? For we do nothing for our infants. If we truly believe these words of Jesus, would it not be good to do as Jesus did? Or if we do not do this would it not be right, when the mother comes back to church with her newborn child, to present the child with her to the Lord and bless them with believing prayer by the preacher and the church?"
Pieter Beets, a Mennonite preacher of Hamburg-Altona (d. 1776), discussed the consecration of infants in an address delivered when he performed this ceremony in the home of the van der Smissen family. He warmly advocated the consecration of the child in church with thanksgiving for the mother's recovery; he also sponsored the consecration of the child by the preacher in the parental home. This was a practice in the Hamburg-Altona church (Menn. Bl., 1900, 51, 58, 75); in Switzerland and in the Palatinate the practice was also encountered.
At the preachers' conference of the Palatinate and Hesse churches in session on 9 May 1830 it was decided that children should be consecrated the first time the mother comes back to church. On 8 October 1843, this question was again discussed at Sembach and unanimously passed as a resolution. In the Palatine formulary (Worms, 1852, 28 f.) and in the Baden Leitfaden zum Gebrauch bei gottesdienstlichen Handlungen (Sinsheim, 1921, 131) infant consecration and the blessing of the mother was considered a church ceremony. The same was true of the Handbuch zum Gebrauch bei gottesdienstlichen Handlungen (Berne, 1893, 61), where the reason for the ceremony was explained at length.
The Mennonite Church at Gnadenfeld, Ukraine (1835 ff.), as well as the Mennonite Brethren Church (1860 ff.) there, consecrated their children in a ceremony before the assembled congregation (Friesen, Brüderschaft, 83 and p. 331; he derived the custom from Moravian influence).
Thus the consecration of infants was a customary practice in many Mennonite communities; some had both mother and child blessed in the church, in others the child was consecrated at home by the laying on of hands. Some Dutch Mennonite ministers consecrated the children in the home.
In the more conservative Mennonite groups in North America, among them, the large Mennonite Church (MC), the ceremony was relatively infrequent in the 1950s and was often opposed as smacking of infant baptism. In most of the General Conference Mennonite congregations the consecration of children took place at regular intervals several times a year in connection with the regular Sunday morning service. The parents were asked to bring their children to the front where the minister led in the consecration service, mostly using the Ministers Manual. -- Neff, HSB
The greatest divine gift that can be bestowed upon men and women is the joy of the kingdom of God. The confession of faith at the beginning of part II of van Braght's Martyrs Mirror (English edition, pp. 373ff.) claims that neither faith nor unbelief may be imputed to children. They are well-pleasing to God through his grace alone. Since God nowhere speaks of the regeneration of infants, it is not proper to ascribe this function to infant baptism or infant dedication. Nor may one hold that infants are regenerated by means of the general redemption of Christ. Since children have never known, served or practiced sin from which they might be converted, they are placed by God in a holy God-pleasing state, through the atonement of Christ.
Pilgram Marpeck says children are in the kingdom of Christ through promise (Marpeck, 112). In dedicating them to God, parents and the church together affirm this belief, and commit themselves to the loving care of bringing tip children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so that when they reach the age of full accountability, they will through faith in Christ be baptized for the forgiveness and remission of sins. Marpeck says infants shall be named before a congregation and God shall duly be praised for them (Marpeck, 147).
Because God did not lay down a command in his Word for parents to dedicate their infants as he did in the case of circumcision in the old covenant, Mennonites have tended to view this ceremony as optional. Conservative Mennonites, e.g., Old Order Mennonites, Sommerfelder, and Old Colony Mennonites, have not practiced it; but former Old Colony Mennonites who have recently joined the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference have accepted it. While the practice is still largely regarded as optional it has become much more common since the 1950s among Brethren in Christ and Mennonite Brethren and within the Mennonite Church (MC) and General Conference Mennonite Church.
There is no uniformity of practice. Some ministers will take the child in their arms, hug it to their heart and cherish it, while blessing it with the laying on of the hand. This would be reminiscent of the gospel record and also of the importance of psychological mothering (Mark 10: 13-16). Others bless the child with the laying on of hands while held by a parent. Still others bless children and parents with the uplifted hands. Generally children are not blessed individually when they are brought to the church for the first time after birth, but weeks or months later, sometimes in small groups.
While some ministers acknowledge that members who come from a tradition where infant baptism was practiced, will tend to equate infant dedication and infant baptism, they do teach them the Anabaptist view. In general the ministers place greater emphasis on the dedication of parents and the congregation children's Christian upbringing. In view of this commitment many congregations are beginning to devote part of the Sunday morning worship service to the involvement of children.
Recently there is some pressure to allow children to partake of the elements of the Lord's Supper before they are baptized (Lois Thieszen Preheim, Mennonite, December 1, 8, 15, 1981). In part this influence comes from those who are not trained in Anabaptist theology. Balthasar Hubmaier explains that just as faith precedes love, so must water baptism precede communion (Schriften, 364). Similarly the confession in the Martyrs Mirror referred to earlier statements of the ordinances of baptism and communion, that no one is commanded to cause them to be administered to another, but each one must desire and receive them on the basis of their own faith (397). In the Anabaptist view children belong to the kingdom of God on the basis of promise and they do not meet the criteria for baptism and communion ceremonies.
Gemeindeblatt der Mennoniten (1886): 27; (1887): 52 and 60.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: II, 487.
Hunzinger, Abr. Das Religions-, Kirchen- und Schulwesen der Mennoniten. Speyer, 1830: III, 113.
Klassen, William and Walter Klaassen, eds. and trans. The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck. Classics of the Radical Reformation, 2. Scottdale, Pa. : Herald Press, 1978.
Köhler, W. in Schiele's Handwörterbuch.
Loewen, Howard John. One Lord, One Church, One Hope, and One God: Mennonite Confessions of Faith. Elkhart, 1985: 109/107, 146, 169, 177, 218, 238.
Menno Simons. The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, c. 1496-1561, trans. Leonard Verduin, ed. J.C. Wenger. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1956: 241, 280-81.
Mennonitische Blätter (1887): 41 and 67; (1900): 51, 58, 66, 75, 86.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 699-700; vol. 5, p. 221. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Neff, Christian, Harold S. Bender and David Janzen. "Dedication of Infants." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 22 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/D39ME.html.
APA style: Neff, Christian, Harold S. Bender and David Janzen. (1989). Dedication of Infants. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/D39ME.html.