From a compilation of questions: Since man is sinful from birth, what happens to children who die before they understand salvation? Should we practice infant baptism? Are you saying that children are “sinful” even before they reach the age of accountability?
Let’s answer the easy parts first.
Infant baptism – there is no Scriptural support or example of infant baptism. The physical act of immersing someone in water does not somehow impart salvation to a person unbeknownst to them (sacramentalism) – true baptism that is a part of the Christian experience is the act of a repentant believer in Christ responding in obedience to God’s command to be baptized.
The act of baptizing an infant would be a best a dedication of some sort for the parents to raise the child in a Christian household. But there is absolutely NO Scriptural support that this somehow results in salvation for the child or makes them part of the Kingdom of God.
Along those lines, let us be clear about another common “Christian” concept that has no Biblical basis and that is the “age of accountability”. This idea is not found in Scripture. It is a conclusion that has been drawn by man because of the repugnant idea that babies and very young children who die might go to hell if we declare all persons to be sinful from birth.
Before we discuss what happens to babies when they die, I wish to ask the reader to put away a “human tradition” simply because it fits the way we WANT to believe. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS THE “AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY”. It doesn’t exist in Scripture. It is only a conclusion, an idea, an opinion, a doctrine concocted by well meaning men who found that calling children “sinful” was not acceptable to their theology.
Now to the main question: what then happens to infants, young children or the mentally retarded when they die?
To start, you have to honestly come to grips with the primary issue: are all persons “sinful” from conception – that is, are we born “sinners” in God’s eyes? The inspired Word of God is clear:
Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. (NKJV)
Ephesians 2:3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (NKJV)
Romans 3:10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; (NKJV; “None” – not there are “no adults, or no people who have reached the ‘age of accountability’ who are righteous”)
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— (NKJV; “all have sinned” – there is no exclusion of some persons who are declared innocent)
It is no secret to any parent that children “naturally” know how to sin – selfishness, lying, stealing, rebellion. We don’t have to teach them that, nor do they somehow learn it all “the first time they sin”. Children are born with the innate nature of sin, and begin to willfully sin WITHOUT anyone teaching them how, or what sin is.
So the idea that children only become sinners, or sinful, after committing the “first sin” is not only absent from Scripture, it does not even fit the common human experience that every parent knows: children start sinning without ever being taught how.
Why? Because they are born infected with the curse of the sin nature, inherited from Adam, the first perfect human who brought sin into the world.
This has nothing to do with Calvism or the doctrine of “original sin”. It has to do with the plain facts: God created man (Adam) in a perfect situation, in perfect communion with God, with absolutely no reason to go against God – and he chose to sin anyway. Every single one of us would have failed and done the same.
By Adam’s sin, the NATURE OF SIN infected the human race. The curse came upon all mankind and through reproduction each person is born into and a part of that curse and infection.
IT IS NOT AN AFFRONT TO GOD – AS SOME CLAIM ABOUT THE “REPUGNANT IDEA THAT MAN IS BORN SINFUL” – IT IS THE NATURAL CONSEQUENCE OF THE HUMAN RACE THAT CHOSE TO DISOBEY GOD.
God created the human race perfect and the human race, through Adam, chose to stain God’s creation. This is EXACTLY what God is correcting via the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
So, does that mean that a baby or mentally handicapped person goes to hell when they die?
The most direct answer is: THE BIBLE DOES NOT TELL US.
What then? Is there no answer? There can be no dogmatic answer that we bind on people and declare as Church Doctrine because the fact remains, no matter our personal opinion – that the Bible simply does not answer this question. God chose, for His reasons, not to reveal this to us.
We are left then to draw our conclusions based on what we know about God, and what our Holy Spirit led conscience determines. However, we CANNOT make our conclusions and conscience binding on others, and state “here is what the Bible teaches” about this… because the Bible does not teach us about it. I want to make that clear before giving you my person opinion.
My personal opinion on the question about babies who die, or mentally retarded person who die is three-fold:
- Only God knows for sure and I can rest in the fact that it is not up to me
- Whatever God decides, is the most loving, just, perfect decision that can be made because God is perfect.
- Based on what I know about God’s character, my opinion is that infants, very young “innocent” children and mentally handicapped persons will be the recipient of God’s mercy and love and will be in heaven for eternity
This is in keeping with the known attributes of God, and the witness of the human conscience in this matter (because it is indeed repugnant to believe that an infant is doomed to hell; we are created in God’s image, and as such we have a sense of what is just and merciful). God is love; God is merciful; God is perfect; God wishes for all to be saved, but on His terms.
So my personal opinion, very strongly, is that infants and mentally incapable persons who die, will be in heaven, the benefactors of God’s incredible love, compassion and understanding.
King David, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, seems to allude to this when he speaks of being reunited with his son:
2 Samuel 12:23 But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” (NKJV)
It is my firmly held opinion that those we consider “innocent” (infants, very young children, mentally retarded) are indeed born with the sin nature, inherited from Adam, but in keeping with the attributes of God will be received into God’s presence via mercy, grace and compassion.
No doubt I will have many critics from every side – please post your responses on the Message Boards for everyone to read.