In the New Testament, when someone became a follower of Christ, they were baptized. This baptism was coupled with their heart attitude – repentance.
The word repent means “to turn”. It is a conscious, volitional choice to turn toward Christ; and by definition, away from our own self-centered, sinful nature.
When someone repented, they accepted baptism. Baptism was the public profession of personal repentance; and as such, it was also a voluntary act.
The Apostle Paul best explains the purpose of Baptism in Romans 6:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11 ESV)
Sometimes the step of baptism was taken by an entire household at once (Acts 16:32-33), but generally the Scriptures show us individuals making the choice on their own. Even in these household situations, it was still a decision.
This brings us to the topic of christenings and baby dedications.
The term christen is a form of the Old English word for Christian. In practice, christening is the “making Christian” of someone. Our modern usage of the word is to indicate the baptism of an infant or child.
Our congregation ministers in an area where the majority of folks come from a Catholic or mainline Protestant background. In these traditions, christening is a ubiquitous practice. Even those who do not worship regularly or consider themselves Christians will bring their infants to be christened.
In these traditions, the theological argument is that christening serves the same purpose as circumcision did in ancient Israel. The purpose of christening is to bring the child into the Christian community. The theological justifications vary, but in the Roman Catholic tradition, this infant baptism is said to wash away original sin, while confession and penance are required to cleanse our volitional sins.
I have written on this parallel elsewhere so I will not belabor the point, but suffice to say that the Scriptural evidence for such a parallel is completely circumstantial.
We, and most baptists, do not practice child baptism. We do not believe that an infant can repent of his sin or voluntary submit to baptism, and as such, christening is an exercise in futility. While not necessarily harmful, it imputes nothing good to the child’s journey with Christ; and there is the potential for great confusion as to the nature of their faith.
Instead, we practice a voluntary child dedication. During a worship gathering, parents present their children for the elders to pray over them. We, the congregation, covenant with the parents to partner with them in the rearing of their children.
The covenant is not with the child but rather for the child. It is a covenant the child’s parents and their friends make together with God to cover the child’s life with prayer and Scriptural encouragement.
My personal experience has been that congregations take their ministry to children much more seriously when we covenant together. We open the door for the honoring of practices such as spurring each other onto good works (Hebrew 10:19-25) and the younger people being taught by the older (Titus 2). It is voluntary covenant to teach and encourage, which results in a deeper commitment of the parents and their fellow believers.