Most people new to the church may not have heard the term baby dedication. Perhaps, the term baby baptism sounds more familiar.
However, most people in the church may not agree with the practice of baby baptism, because, if baptism is a symbol of a personal decision to follow Christ, how can a baby make such a declaration? In some groups, baby baptism has been criticized as parents forcing their faith upon their children.
In this post, I'd like to explain a two things: 1) what is baby baptism and 2) what is baby dedication.
For the most part, in the Old Testament, baptism is not a practiced ritual. Since the OT is mainly focused on Jewish history, the hi-lighted ritual is circumcision. Circumcision was a symbol of people belonging to God. We see examples in the first five books of the Bible (Genesis to Deuteronomy) of people getting circumcised as a symbol of their dedication to God. For the sake of avoiding confusion, let's call this adult circumcision (since it is often adults who choose to join God's team).
However, we see another type of circumcision in the OT. In Leviticus 12, God gives a command to circumcise an eight-day-old baby. Why would God command this? This is because circumcision has a secondary purpose - initiation into a community. To symbolize that the baby will be raised by the circumcised community he was born to, they would perform this ritual on that baby. Let's call this baby circumcision.
In the New Testament, the practice of circumcision was removed since the first Christians (Act 15) decided that they need to remove as many obstacles from gentiles becoming Christ's followers (amongst other reasons). However, some obstacles (i.e. circumcision) needed a new form of ritual, because these practices were crucial rites of passages. So, the early Christians looked to a fairly new ritual that was practiced by John the Baptist called Baptism (literally means submersion). It seemed like the perfect replacement since going under water and emerging as a New Creation was a prominent theme in the Bible (Noah's flood, Israelites going through the Red Sea, the Israelites crossing the Jordan, etc.).
Baptism substituted circumcision. Since the Christian movement was most prevalent amongst adults, adult circumcision (now, adult baptism) was the most widely taught of the two, which meant that baptism's primarily function (public proclamation for Christ) had now become the only reason for baptism.
Some circles of Christianity continued to teach baby baptism, since they retained the teaching that baptism was also a form of belonging - that baptism was also symbolic for the congregation to take an active role in raising the baby. However, in the last few decades, mainstream Christianity has forgotten this secondary purpose, and in some cases even label it as heretical. It wouldn't be rare to hear the opposition, "Babies can't make decisions for Christ, so baby baptism shouldn't be practiced!"
To avoid this confusion, the church had taken on a new title for baby baptism; baby dedication, since this is what the ritual is actually accomplishing.
In our church (which follows the early Methodist teachings), we give the congregant the choice of having their baby baptized or dedicated, since it is the exact same thing.