KANSAS CITY (Christian Examiner) -- On a recent Sunday morning in Dayton, Ohio, Pastor Rodney Kennedy gently held a baby's head over a warm bowl of water, using his hands to cup and pour the water over the infant's head. Afterwards, he anointed the child with oil and made the sign of the cross on the baby's forehead in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Kennedy isn't Catholic, Presbyterian or Lutheran. But he is the first Baptist minister at First Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio to ever conduct an infant baptism.
Baptists typically do not conduct, or participate in, infant baptisms, and in a recent blog post written by Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen, there are several reasons for it.
Allen wrote that he is less concerned with the "rare 'Baptist' church that occasionally sprinkles an infant" than with the growing number of Baptist churches who are baptizing children who are "too young to grasp the gospel and, as a result, whose hearts haven't been affected by it."
Citing a report by the Southern Baptist Task Force on Baptism which indicated the only consistently growing age group for baptisms is age five and younger, Allen said churches and pastors must consider the dangers that come with baptizing small children. He shared four areas of concern: biblical, denominational, pastoral and parental.
"Jesus didn't say children must become like adults to be saved. He said adults must become childlike," Allen wrote. "We are to encourage our children towards following Christ at every age, including the early years."
Baptists believe there is a difference between conversion and baptism, said Allen, and Baptists do not believe in baptismal regeneration - a spiritual rebirth through the act of baptism.
Baptism is an important step in a believer's obedience to Christ and while closely linked to conversion, it is not an act of conversion in itself, said Allen who also emphasized that conversion is not just acknowledging the facts of who Jesus is, but believing in Christ and what he did, which happens "through faith in Christ, repentance from sin, and submission of one's life to him.
"The point is not that a child cannot be converted; the point is that we should do our best to make sure conversion has happened in our children before baptizing them," Allen wrote.
In his post, Allen urged pastors to be willing to be honest with parents when a pastor feels that a child needs more time to fully understand the meaning of baptism and cited the late First Baptist Dallas pastor, W.A. Criswell and his approach as an example.
Criswell encouraged children who had not quite grasped an understanding of the gospel to "continue to take steps toward Jesus" but told their parents to wait on baptism.
"Criswell's pattern is instructive for every pastor. You can joyfully and wholeheartedly press the accelerator on the gospel while tapping the brakes on the baptistery," Allen wrote. "That is not being duplicitous, that is shepherding the flock of God."
Read Allen's complete post at his blog, jasonkallen.com.