“Father asked us what was God's noblest work. Anna said men, but I said babies. Men are often bad, but babies never are.” Louisa Mae Alcott link
Today's post is divided into 4 parts. It is quite lengthy. Each section is divided by a line.
1. The first part outlines the controversy and why I believe that infants and the mentally handicapped who die are saved.
2.The second part is a historical record (a brief overview) of the belief in infant salvation/damnation. (This can be skipped for the sake of time.)
3.The third part is looking at the controversy in the SBC today. Dee gets a bit bent out of shape at the end of this section.
4. The fourth part is some speculation on my part why belief in active sin in infants could lead to child abuse.
The historical record is a bit difficult. It seems like our forefathers changed their minds a lot and some of the record is spotty. I did my best but I bet some of our readers can clarify aspects of what I have written. For the sake of clarity, I use the word "infants." Please understand that the same arguments apply to those who are mentally handicapped. Be sure to listen to the short video at the end. It nails it.
Part 1 What is going on.
The night that my 3 year old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor, my thoughts were swirling as I navigated grief, shock and fear. I knew that her tumor was very large and realized that her life was hanging in the balance. There was one comfort that I clung to during that night and throughout her ordeal. I knew that no matter what happened, she and I would spend eternity together. I know that many people who have lost their little ones understand the enormous comfort such a thought brings in the midst of tragedy.
I have only met one person in my life who believed that infants who die go to hell. He seemed a bit bonkers to me in other ways as well. There was also one man on this blog who admitted that he did not know if his 5 adopted mentally handicapped children would go to heaven. That was one of the saddest comments that I have read on this blog.
The theological issue involved.
Most Christians would affirm that all of us are born with an inherited sin nature from Adam. (I know there is some debate but, to understand the controversy, it is important to understand this belief). Infants cannot purposely sin or understand the gospel message. For this I agree with John Piper (Mark this one down for the record books, folks) link.
The point for us is that even though we human beings are under the penalty of everlasting judgment and death because of the fall of our race into sin and the sinful nature that we all have, nevertheless God only executes this judgment on those who have the natural capacity to see his glory and understand his will, and refuse to embrace it as their treasure.
I assumed that most Christian believed that all infants who die were saved. Recently, however, I have been catching whiffs of some different opinions on this matter. So, it was no surprise to me when this issue recently erupted in the SBC.
Here is the background. The Calvinist Advisory Committee was tasked with putting together a document exploring the ways in which both Calvinists and non-Calvinists could get along in the SBC.
But, the little word, "most," in the following statement, caught the eyes of some folks link.
Dr. Gerald Harris, the editor of the Christian Index, asked a pressing question in a recent editorial concerning the report of the Calvinism Advisory Team. He asked, "What Southern Baptists are there who do not believe that those who die before they are capable of moral action go to heaven?"
His query is based on a section in the report that says, "We agree that most Southern Baptists believe that those who die before they are capable of moral action go to heaven through the grace of God and the atonement of Christ, even as they differ as to why this is so." The key word is "most" in the preceding statement.
This is an issue because the SBC has affirmed, both in the Baptist Confession of 1679 here and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 here, that infants who die are safely in the arms of Jesus. Even in between those dates are examples of Baptist beliefs.
Herschel Hobbs, chairman of the committee that drafted a previous version of the Baptist Faith & Message in 1963, wrote in a 1979 article in Review and Expositor the result of the fall is that people inherit a “nature and an environment inclined toward sin” rather than imputed guilt.
“This, of course, agrees with the position generally held by Baptists concerning God’s grace in cases of those under the age of accountability and the mentally incompetent,” the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, who died in 1995, wrote in the article titled “Southern Baptists and Confessionalism: A Comparison of the Origins and Contents of the 1925 and 1963 Confessions.”
Therefore, it is a concern that apparently not "all" of those attempting to unify the SBC, would subscribe to this belief.
I have spent the last few days, glued to my computer, trying to figure out who does or does not believe that infants who die are saved.
Why I believe the Bible strongly indicates the infants (and mentally handicapped are saved)
Although this subject is not directly addressed in the Bible, there are some strong hints link.
The Bible does give us an account of David's infant son dying (2 Samuel 12:23). There, David makes the claim that he will join his son after death — and David was a strong believer who did rest in God for his salvation (Psalm 62:7).
Also, we read in the Gospel of Luke that John the Baptist was "filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). From these passages we can at least deduce that it is possible to be saved as a pre-born infant.
20) That category distinction (between those who sin willingly and those who are born with a sin nature) is further strengthened by Paul’s introduction of those who sin by searing their conscience, and how that sin is seen in idolatry and sexual immorality—both sins that infants are incapable of. Because that passage sets the stage for understanding the soteriology of Romans, it is significant for this discussion that out of the gate, Paul frames the conversation in terms that exclude infants, and then seals that exclusion explicitly in Romans 5:13-14.
21) Jesus also validates this category distinction when he declares that there are people who die “in their sins” (John 8:24). Everyone who dies, dies because they are sinners by nature. If infants weren’t sinners by nature, they wouldn’t die! But there is a particular class of sinners—namely cognizant adults—that actively reject God. Those ones not only die, but they “die in their sins” because of their unbelief.
In Matthew 18, Jesus not only blesses the children, but uses them as an earthly analogy of childlike faith. He says that “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child– this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Everyone is free to debate what exactly Jesus means here, and there are Christian answers all over the spectrum. But at the very least, Jesus has to be implying that children in their current state would go to heaven if they died. Consider this statement: “my car is as fast as a cheetah, and unless your car is like a cheetah too, it can never be fast.” Everyone can debate what it means to be fast, or how fast my car really is, or if your car even should be fast. But the entire analogy would break down if cheetahs were not indeed fast to begin with. That is the assumption that makes the analogy make sense. Whatever Jesus is saying Matthew 18, it only makes sense if the destination of children who die is an enviable one.
What historical church leaders believed.
It was Augustine (354-430AD) who influenced the thinking in this area link. Baptized infants make it. Unbaptized infants do not.
"It was Augustine who first taught the damnation of infants (see Baptism, II.,1, § 3); but their sufferings, though eternal, are of the mildest character (De peccatorum meritis, i. 16); indeed, it seemed to him doubtful whether they were punished at all. The Roman Church, accepting Augustine's conceptions of the necessity of baptism to salvation and of the mildness of the punishment of those infants who died unbaptized, agreed with him that they were sent to hell and assigned to them a distinct place in it, the limbus infantium or puerorum (see LIMBUS; cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa, III.,quest. Ixviii. 2, Sup. quest. Ixxi. 7)."
In fact, many early church leaders believed that infants who died, without baptism, would go to hell. There are many quotes like this one.
Be assured, and doubt not, that not only men who have attained the use of their reason, but also little children who have begun to live in their mothers' womb and have there died, or who, having been just born, have passed away from the world without the sacrament of holy baptism, administered in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, must be punished by the eternal torture of undying fire; for although they have committed no sin by their own will, they have nevertheless drawn with them the condemnation of original sin, by their carnal conception and nativity." (sec. 70.)
—Bishop St. Fulgentius, 4th century
Sometime in the 1200s, the concept of limbo slowly evolved. Please forgive the Wikipedia reference. I read so many sources and found that this one did a good job of summarizing the complexities. Basically, limbo is a place which is described as a state(and place) of natural happiness which means less happiness than supernatural happiness. Note that baptism is the key to salvation in this line of thinking.
In the 12th century, Peter Abelard (1079–1142) said that these infants suffered no material torment or positive punishment, just the pain of loss at being denied the beatific vision. Others held that unbaptized infants suffered no pain at all: unaware of being deprived of the beatific vision, they enjoyed a state of natural, not supernatural happiness. This theory was associated with but independent of the term "Limbo of Infants", which was forged about the year 1300.
If heaven is a state of supernatural happiness and union with God, and hell is understood as a state of torture and separation from God then, in this view, the Limbo of Infants, although technically part of hell (the outermost part, "limbo" meaning "outer edge" or "hem") is seen as a sort of intermediate state.
Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) described the Limbo of Infants as an eternal state of natural joy, untempered by any sense of loss at how much greater their joy might have been had they been baptized. He argued that this was a reward of natural happiness for natural virtue; a reward of supernatural happiness for merely natural virtue would be inappropriate since, due to original sin, unbaptized children lack the necessary supernatural grace. In regards to baptism of desire, Aquinas stated that only adults were capable of this,and this view seemed to be accepted by the Council of Florence, which quotes Aquinas in its Eleventh Session concerning baptism of infants.
The natural happiness possessed in this place would consist in the perception of God mediated through creatures. As stated in the International Theological Commission's document on the question:
Because children below the age of reason did not commit actual sin, theologians came to the common view that these unbaptized children feel no pain at all or even that they enjoy a full, though only natural, happiness through their mediated union with God in all natural goods (Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus).
This belief in limbo was not an ex cathedra position. In other words, Catholics were not required to believe it. Many did not and, instead, believed that infants went straight to heaven.
Here is an interesting perspective from the Catholic church on the history of the beliefs of popes.
However, in 2007, things changed link.
Pope Benedict XVI has reversed centuries of traditional Roman Catholic teaching on limbo, approving a Vatican report released Friday that says there were "serious" grounds to hope that children who die without being baptized can go to heaven.
The Post Reformation view
Neither the Eastern Orthodox church nor the Protestant church believes in the doctrine of Limbo. In an article by Al Mohler here, we see that many theologians (Calvinist and not) believed in the salvation of infants.
John Newton, the great minister who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace was certain of this truth. He wrote to close friends who had lost a young child: “I hope you are both well reconciled to the death of your child. I cannot be sorry for the death of infants. How many storms do they escape! Nor can I doubt, in my private judgment, that they are included in the election of grace.”(6)
The great Princeton theologians Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield held the same position.
One of the most eloquent and powerful expressions of this understanding of infant salvation came from the heart of Charles Spurgeon. Preaching to his own congregation, Spurgeon consoled grieving parents: “Now, let every mother and father here present know assuredly that it is well with the child, if God hath taken it away from you in its infant days.”(7) Spurgeon turned this conviction into an evangelistic call. “Many of you are parents who have children in heaven. Is it not a desirable thing that you should go there, too? He continued: “Mother, unconverted mother, from the battlements of heaven your child beckons you to Paradise.
In fact, it appears that Spurgeon got a bit bent out of shape when accused of believing that infants who die go to hell link.
It has been wickedly, lyingly, and slanderously said of Calvinists, that we believe that some little children perish. Those who make the accusation know that their charge is false. I cannot even dare to hope, though I would wish to do so, that they ignorantly misrepresent us. They wickedly repeat what has been denied a thousand times, what they know is not true…. I know of no exception, but we all hope and believe that all persons dying in infancy are elect.
John Calvin believed that some infants who died would be saved and others would not link. However, I want to make a caveat. There are some who claim he said he believed all infants are saved.
“But how, they ask, are infants regenerated, when not possessing a knowledge of either good or evil? We answer, that the work of God, though beyond the reach of our capacity, is not therefore null. Moreover, infants who are to be saved (and that some are saved at this age is certain) must, without question, be previously regenerated by the Lord. For if they bring innate corruption with them from their mother’s womb, they must be purified before they can be admitted into the kingdom of God, into which shall not enter anything that defileth (Rev. 21:27). If they are born sinners, as David and Paul affirm, they must either remain unaccepted and hated by God, or be justified.(Inst. Book 4, Sec. 17)
Here is a general overview on other historical figures.
It is interesting to discover that the Church has not been of one mind on this issue. In fact, the early and medieval Church was anything but united. Some Church Fathers remained silent on the issue. Ambrose said unbaptized infants were not admitted to heaven, but have immunity from the pains of hell. Augustine basically affirmed the damnation of all unbaptized infants, but taught they would receive the mildest punishment of all. Gregory of Nyssa offered that infants who die immediately mature and are given the opportunity to trust Christ. Calvin affirmed the certain election of some infants to salvation and was open to the possibility that all infants who die are saved. He said, “Christ receives not only those who, moved by holy desire and faith, freely approach unto Him, but those who are not yet of age to know how much they need His grace.” Zwingli, B.B. Warfield and Charles Hodge all taught that God saves all who die in infancy.
Martin Luther: Some are condemned?
Now this one I had to back into. My guess is that he believed that baptized infants would be saved and unbaptized infants might not link
Curiously, Warfield focuses his sights on Zwingli (who, by the way, held all infants who die in infancy are elect) and completely ignores John Calvin. In fact, Calvin's view is buried in a footnote in another essay! Why? Luther all but questioned whether Zwingli was saved over the universalism he held on Infant Salvation.
Another source notes link
In 1518 he still held that the infant is regenerated and saved through the merit of the faith of its sponsors; in 1520 (De Captiv. Baby. Eccl.) he abandons this view and holds that in Baptism infants themselves believe.
Another source remarks link that he gave infants a Christian burial so he probably believed they went to heaven.
He had to deal with the issue of original sin. In a letter he indicates that, “Therefore no infant ever was or ever will be ‘sent to hell for the guilt of Adam’s sin,’ seeing it is canceled by the righteousness of Christ as soon as they are sent into the world.” (29W), 6:239-240.
Jonathan Edwards: They burn eternally.
This is by far the most troubling statement of belief link
[I]t is most just, exceeding just, that God should take the soul of a new-born infant and cast it into eternal torments"
J. Edwards, The "Miscellanies," Entry Nos. a–z, aa–zz, 1–500, entry N
1619 Canons of Dort and 1649 Westminster Confession of Faith link
The Reformed view, which has been strongly based on the Falleness of mankind & the rejection of some neutral state has moderated over the years but originally held that the children of the Elect (Christians) automatically go to heaven.
Since we are to judge of the will of God from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children, whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy. (1619 Canons of Dort 1:17)
Or from later, the Westminster Confession of Faith 1646,
Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word. (WCF 10:3)
The overall sentiment by the Reformers is that while the infants of non-believers MAY go to hell, the children believers do automatically go to heaven.
What do Reformed leaders, some of whom are Baptists, believe today?
Al Mohler and Danny Akin, here, John Piper, here, Wayne Grudem, here, and John MacArthur here all believe that infants who die go to heaven. They each have their reasons why they believe this. (Some believe that all infants who die are elect, for example).
However, just because they believe it, does not mean that others in their camp also believe it. In fact, a fairly common view amongst some conservative Calvinists is the salvation of some infants is dependent on one of the following two reasons.
1. Infants are divided into elect and not elect. The elect ones are saved.
2. Infants born into elect families are saved.
Here is a statement from the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) on the matter.
The Westminster Confession of Faith uses very precise and carefully chosen language on this matter: "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word" (10.3).
The Confession entertains the idea that at least some infants who die in infancy and some others "who are incapable of being outwardly called" are among the elect. Note our Lord's words to His disciples in Luke 18:15,16 (the word for babies in v.15 indicates nursing babes, infants): He says that "such as these possess the kingdom of God").
However, the Confession does not say that all such infants, etc., are saved. What it does say is that the Holy Spirit can regenerate such who are elect by means of His sovereign choosing. Surely John the Baptizer presents an instance of infant regeneration (in the womb), Luke 1:39-44.
Division in the SBC continues.
A Between the Times post asserts that the salvation of all infants who die
has basically become the dominant view of the Church in the 20th century.
So, isn't the debate pretty much over?
From that same Between the Times article we read:
Yet, a popular evangelical theologian chided Billy Graham when at the Oklahoma City memorial service he said, “Someday there will be a glorious reunion with those who have died and gone to heaven before us, and that includes all those innocent children that are lost. They’re not lost from God because any child that young is automatically in heaven and in God’s arms.” The theologian scolded Dr. Graham for offering what he called “. . . a new gospel: justification by youth alone.”
I do not know which theologian made this remark, but one thing is certain. There is a divisive fight over Calvinism which is ongoing in the Southern Baptist Convention. There is a great deal of mistrust on both sides of the aisle. When there is controversy and mistrust, both sides must jump through hoops for the sake of peace and unity. That certainly does not appear to be the case in this instance.
Gerald Harris decided to write the committee members to ask who did not affirm that infants who die go to heaven. He did not receive responses from all of the members link.
Some did not respond and one would have to conclude that they did not receive my emails, they simply chose not to respond, or they were hesitant to acknowledge personally that they affirm that certain infants who die are not among the elect and will suffer judgment in hell.
Furthermore, Peter Lumpkins reports that
Harris cited committee member Eric Hankins, indicating Hankins suggested the wording of the section Harris cited and questioned had been crafted to "accommodate some members of the advisory team who were not comfortable with the assertion that all who are morally incapable who die go to heaven." Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary School of Theology dean and professor, David Allen, reportedly concurred with Hankins' statement.
At this point, Lumpkin queries whether Tom Ascol and Mark Dever may be two committee members who disagree with the salvation of all infants.
The Pulpit and Pen adds to the bonfire link.
Instead of saying "Come and let us learn to trust each other," JD Hall starts name calling. When names start flowing, you know that the battle has moved outside of the Bible and we are now playing the old Pharisee "sons of dogs" game. He accuses those who disagree of being "Semi-Pelagian" which in Calvinistaville means you are going to hell in a handbasket. Somewhere, in the middle of the name calling, he rises to the defense of Ascol and Dever. Well, Dever, anyway. Ascol is still "forthcoming." Why not call him and ask? Oh, that's right. Ascol doesn't need to answer such questions (how dare he!)
It appears that Lumpkins has again suffered from foot-in-mouth disease, as it was pointed out in the comments section following the post, Mark Dever has explicitly confessed belief that infants are heaven-bound click here for video In the meantime, a search for an Ascol quotation declaring the damnation of babies is still forthcoming.
I urge you to go listen to the 2 minute Dever video link. I do not know what Hall thinks constitutes proof, but this ain't it. It was a tap dance around the issue. For once, I think both Al Mohler and John Piper laid it on the line. Dever did not. So the question by Lumpkins is still in play, in my opinion.
JD Hall then says the following:
It seems that Harris’ accusation comes from the fact that some of the committee members did not respond to his email (how dare they!).
JD, if this keeps up, you may as well start collecting the wood for the bonfire. There will be a split in the SBC. When a brother asks for clarification, just give it to him and lay off the name calling. Good night! Take the high road!
Could a belief in the damnation of infants lead to child abuse?
On Friday, Deb discussed the disturbing details of children being regularly beaten with the Pearl method. Apparently, one should discipline a child younger than a year old with a glue stick. Wiggling, when having a diaper changed, is seen as evidence of an active sin process!
TWW has also documented the accusation that a small child in SGM who was made to confront and forgive her molester. We have also discussed that pedophiles seem to get more care and attention in some churches than the little ones that they have harmed.
It is my opinion that there are some Christian leaders who believe that inheriting a sin nature means that little babies can actively or consciously sin. This appears to put the sin, and perhaps the blame for the sin, equally on the pedophile and the child. Both could be viewed as co-sinners. It also validates the Pearl method of beating a child under the age of one. This is deeply concerning.
In my opinion, the idea that any infant who dies in childbirth is bound for hell is a doctrine that must be repudiated for many reasons. The possible trajectory of such theology is deeply disturbing and potentially abusive.
Finally, the best statement that I have heard on this matter came from Hank Hanegraaff. God is not looking for a way to keep us out. Instead, He has made a way because He loves us.
Lydia's Corner: Ezra 10:1-44 1 Corinthians 6:1-20 Psalm 31:9-18 Proverbs 21:3