Of Fire Engine Baptistries and Blasphemy

[Note: I actually had this entry prepared before stumbling across the announcement that Johnny Hunt will nominate Ronnie Floyd to be president of the SBC. Dr. Floyd pastors the FBC, Springdale, Arkansas.]

Several have asked about the existence of a fire engine baptistry that is designed to shoot confetti out of cannons when a child is baptized. Yes, this actually does exist. You can see it at First Baptist Church, Springdale, Arkansas. The Founders Journal reported on this back in 2000. Following are comments taken from the news items in the Fall 2000 issue (#42) of the journal.

Christianity Today (June 8, 2000) and other news sources have reported on what appears to be a new trend in some large evangelical churches. First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas hired a well-known former Disney World designer of children’s amusement rides to design two “high tech sets” for elementary age worship areas: Toon Town for first-through third-graders, and Planet 45 for fourth- and fifth-graders. The fully animated cartoon town has 26-foot-tall buildings. The rationale behind the $270,000 project is summed up by the church’s children’s minister: “Putting a talking head in front of kids for an hour doesn’t work ….This is a visual generation. We need to use technology to the max.” That includes a special baptistry which is built around a fire engine. When a child is baptized, the sirens sound and confetti is fired out of cannons.

When kids enter the rooms, a music video is playing on a giant screen in front, and they can amuse themselves at a row of nonviolent video game screens along walls. Once the service starts, “it’s 90 minutes of mostly frenetic activity, akin to a live television variety show from the 1950s. In Toon Town, buzzers and bells sound, lights flash from the ceiling and from car headlights on the set, bubbles come out the top of a giant bucket and fill the room, confetti streamers squirt out onto the first few rows, and mist is sprayed onto the crowd.” According to the designer, Bruce Barry, “It’s just like going on a ride at Disney World.”

In that same issue of the journal there appeared an interview between Mark Dever and Paige Patterson. Dr. Dever asked Dr. Patterson, who was then President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary but has since moved to the same position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, about this approach to children’s ministry and baptism. Here is the pertinent part of the exchange:

Dever: I heard about one church recently, and I don’t know if you know about churches like this or not, in order to encourage baptisms among children the baptistry is shaped like a fire truck and they’ve got confetti cannons that go off whenever a kid is baptized. Do you know about any of this?

Patterson: This is my first time to hear this. This is blasphemous!

Dever: Anyway, it’s a church in America. It’s an evangelical church and they mean to preach the gospel so I want to be real quick to say their intentions are good. That’s going to get kids of course, because they want to come forward, get in the fire truck and make the confetti cannons go off.

Patterson: I do not view [positively] the huge number of child baptisms that Baptists are now guilty of–Baptists are some of the worst paedo-baptizers there are.

Now, I share Dr. Patterson’s concern about this, although I might stop short of calling it “blasphemous.” I think that is is unwise and is likely to lead to many false professions of faith among children for the very reason that Dr. Dever cited. Regardless of whether or not we agree that this kind of practice rises to the level of blasphemy, I would guess that many Southern Baptists would agree with Dr. Patterson’s assessment that it is a very unwise practice.