Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, March 19, 2007

When a Baby Dies

Several weeks ago, I shared with you the story of my younger brother James, who suffered from Down Syndrome all of his life, and suddenly passed away last July. After a week of struggle, my parents were approached by their doctors who gave them some terrible news. James’ internal organs had all shut down, there was nothing else to be done, so a decision had to be made to keep him on the machines until he died after a few days, or go ahead and turn the machines off and let him go quickly. Understandably, my parents wanted the night to think it over. At about 11 o’clock at night, I got a call from my mother who was very distressed. She asked me, based on my studies of the Bible, what was going to happen to James after he died?

This is a difficult question – what is the eternal fate of those who die while incapable of professing Christ due to age or mental ability? The very early Catholic Church, faced with a high infant mortality rate, answered this question with infant baptism. They argued that infant baptism conveyed God’s grace upon this child, thus guaranteeing them a place in heaven. Today, in Baptist circles, we have a belief called the age of accountability. We argue that there is a time of innocence in people’s lives, and if they die during that time they are sinless and are permitted into heaven.

Both of these doctrines sound good and well reasoned, the only problem is that both of these doctrines runs against everything that the Bible tells us. Regarding the Catholic view, please refer to my posts on baptism. Regarding the "age of accountability," please see below.

First, the bible never mentions an age of accountability, nor does it say that people are innocent at any time in their lives.

Second, when is the age of accountability? How old do people have to be before we start witnessing to them? One Sunday School teacher once told me that if you can send a child into a room full of people naked, then they are innocent. But once they start feeling shame, then they have reached the age of accountability. I have only a one question about that – where is that in the bible? If this is true, then the age of accountability must be quite old, because I remember when I was living in the dorms of a state college, I ran into more than a few naked people running through the halls without a stitch of shame. Though I somehow doubt that they were innocent.

At this point in my post, I’m sure that you have guessed that I reject the "doctrine" of an age of accountability. Does that mean that I think those who die in infancy are condemned to hell?

Not at all.

In fact I do believe that those who die in a state where they are unable to accept Christ due to age or mental ability are indeed saved. I just want to have biblical reasons for believing this.

So, lets begin our discussion with reasons why infants are NOT saved.

Infants are not saved because they are innocent or lack sin. The bible is very clear that everyone sins. For example, the bible says:

Romans 3:23 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Psalm 58:3 3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.

1 John 1:8 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.

We should not say that infants are innocent, the truth is that they are sinners just like the rest of us. I realize that this is a difficult thing for us to grasp. Just last night I slipped into my 5-month-old baby Jack’s room while he slept and just watched him, and marveled at how perfect he was. However Jack is not perfect. He is in fact a slave to sin. A sin nature resides in his heart at this very moment, and he has likely committed some sin in his body that I am unaware of.
Right now, at this point in his life, Jack can say:

Psalm 51:5 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

So, how are children who die in infancy saved?

They are saved the same way that everyone else is saved – through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The bible says:

John 14:6 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

Acts 4:12 12 "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

Those who die in infancy are not saved because of their own personal righteousness or innocence. They are saved because their sins have been covered by the blood of Christ.

So how does this happen?

First, we do see in the scriptures that it is possible for God to communicate the gospel to infants in a way they can respond to, even though we as adults may not fully understand it. This may be seen in the case of John the Baptist. Luke 1:15 says:

Luke 1:15 15 "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb.

This combined with the fact that John the Baptist acknowledged Christ while in the womb (Luke 1:41), gives clear evidence that it is possible for the gospel to be communicated to, and accepted by infants and those we would not think of being capable of understanding.

To say that some infants who die will be saved is the safest position to take. This can be proven 100% from the scriptures. If I were in a debate with another person well versed in rhetoric and the scriptures, this would be the position I would argue for.

However, I do believe that the scriptures do allude to the fact that all infants who die will be saved. This can be found in places like Deuteronomy 1:39 which states:

Deuteronomy 1:39 39 'Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.

Here, God has pledged to wipe out Israel for not going into the Promised Land. However, he has made an exception for those who were not old enough to engage in the decision making process of the people. Because this event is situation specific, it cannot apply to all children at all times – however it does give us the hint that God’s judgement is tempered towards those who are ignorant of their sinful estate.

Now the big question – why doesn’t God just say that all who die in infancy are saved? I believe that he does not say this for our benefit.

Not long ago, the news reported that a young mother decided to drown all four of her children – one at a time. Her reason for this? Her new boyfriend did not want kids, "so she had to get rid of them somehow."

Given the rate of mental instability among some people, one could only imagine what would happen if the guarantee of salvation for infants was expressly given in the scriptures. One could imagine a parent having a child, loving it for 2 or 3 years, and then killing it before the "age of accountability" so that it would be guaranteed salvation. Yes that is a sick thought, yes it is twisted – but unfortunately, it is not far from reality. For example, I can remember many years ago when a member of my state convention’s board of ethics argued that abortion was an acceptable and harmless practice, because all of those aborted were guaranteed salvation because they had not yet reached an age of accountability.


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