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Archive for April 26th, 2018

(Note: This is a guest post written by Michael Coughlin who tweets here and blogs here.  I am currently away and thank Michael for this guest post.  If you have thoughts and questions, feel free to comment and when he has time he will respond.)

 
Many folks have argued whether babies go to Heaven for centuries. Instead of putting forth an argument, per se, I want to summarize what the possible positions one can take would be, and at least try to eliminate the ones that seem absurd, while explaining some of the implications of the views that are at least “in play.” For the sake of ease of writing, I will use the term “infants” to describe those “who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.” (1689 LBCF 10.3)1

My goal is to present some biblical ways of thinking about this often an emotionally charged argument. It seems that for some who hold to “infant salvation” the mere suggestion that it is not true can evoke strong feelings. And then, those strong feelings are seen as weaknesses in the argument for infant salvation. Keep in mind, just because discussion of a doctrine elicits emotion from any individual, that does not invalidate the argument of the emotional person.

Secondly, we are discussing this within what would be considered a reformed/Calvinist viewpoint. It is assumed we are in agreement regarding concepts such as the doctrine of election and the sovereignty of God. If you fall outside that camp, then this post will not apply to you. When I discuss the election of infants herein, I are never ascribing to them a righteousness of their own by which they find favor with God. I am positing in every case that the only way an infant is justified before a holy God is to have the stain of Adam’s (and any of their own) sin washed by the blood of Jesus Christ as a gift of grace.

When we have this in-house discussion, we are usually arguing over the means by which God reaches His elect, and whether the preaching of the Word and subsequent hearing is God’s only means of saving His elect. We will dig into this further as we explore the different logical options.

Here are the positions one can take. I’m sure there are slight variations, but generally what you believe will fall into one of these categories. You may notice the bit of chiastic structure.

  1. We know that ALL infants go to Hell when they die.
  2. We know that some infants go to Hell when they die, but some may go to Heaven.
  3. We don’t know where infants go when they die, and we can’t even guess. The Bible doesn’t say so we should be silent.
  4. We don’t know whether all infants go to Hell or Heaven, but we accept both are possible.
  5. We know that some infants go to Heaven when they die, but some may go to Hell.
  6. We know that ALL infants go to Heaven when they die.

Let’s look at the four options in bold today.

We know that ALL infants go to Hell when they die.

This position takes what I’ll call the hard stance on the gospel call. If faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17), then logically, anyone who cannot understand the preached Word or does not hear the preached Word are condemned by the original sin of Adam and justly inherit the Lake of Fire.

By not taking this position, it is seen that a new way of salvation is created. And then the feared follow up argument is, “if infants can achieve eternal life through means other than the preached gospel, why couldn’t a remote tribal villager who is unreached by the gospel, or my aunt, or anyone at all?”

That argument is refuted by those who believe at least some infants may be saved by arguing that God has provided many instances in Scripture where he has hinted at the hope believers have for the salvation of their infants (see footnotes).

Additionally, I have seen the argument that Romans 1:20 condemns all those who are without excuse because of the revealed glory of God through creation. There is just no way to say that an unborn baby has the same accountability as someone who has seen a sunrise is the argument. To conclude that all infants are hellbound in death contradicts much of church history, and would invalidate many Scriptures which offer hope to the hurting. (2 Sam 12:23) David was no slouch as a theologian, so I’d find it odd that he would make such an obviously wrong statement if no babies went to Heaven.

Yet the Bible offers no hope for those who have understood God’s revelation (Rom 1:20) yet have not embraced the gospel. So the unreached tribal villager and the infant are two different types of people reached by two different means. See John the Baptist who was saved prior to having any cognitive ability to understand God’s Word for an example.

We know that some infants go to one place when they die, but some may go to the other place.

For the positions numbered 2 & 5, I will write a single response.

I don’t know how anyone could really hold the two positions numbered 2 and 5 above. In each case, it requires special knowledge of one type of infant who is either known to be reprobate or known to be elect, yet without knowing about all of them. How can you say that you have that type of specific knowledge if not granted by God?

I concede that some of the Presbyterian type brothers could make arguments based on the same reasoning they use to baptize babies that their “children of the covenant” are elect if they die in infancy. But considering I am not Presbyterian, I don’t see that, personally. Plus, any honest Presbyterian knows that baptizing their baby doesn’t save them nor leave them in any other state than “still in need of salvation.” Entering the earthly covenant family of God (in this theology) is not equated with final salvation.

And to assume to know that there are some infants who go to hell, for certain? Again, I haven’t even seen these types of arguments made. You would have to argue based on a person’s parents or family line, or based on works adults in their lives did on their behalf. This contradiction of verses like John 1:12-13 is too strong for me to overcome. It seems if infants end up in both Heaven and Hell, we have know way of knowing which ones actually go to which ultimate destination.

We don’t know where infants go when they die, and we can’t even guess. The Bible doesn’t say so we should be silent.

I find this to be an attempt to be sorta clever about it all. I understand the concern that we don’t go off the rails, arguing about things the Bible doesn’t make crystal clear, but this is a real question that people ask from honest hearts. Why avoid that?

I’ve heard it said that the Bible wasn’t written for infants. This is true, but the Bible was written for believers who would lose infants, and those people want a reasonable hope from Scripture of how to deal with a very real circumstance God cares about (1 Peter 5:7). I don’t think it’s dishonest to try to make a case from Scripture one way or another to answer a question on people’s minds. I’m afraid that if you’re response to the question of the election of infants is that “the Bible is silent about the issue,” then you are assuming what you need to prove. Too many people have believed the Bible at least gives us things to think about for anyone to say the Bible says nothing about it.

To Be Continued

Next we will review the remaining arguments, and try to be sure we at least argue from intellectual honesty, employing sound reasoning, which is glorifying to our Lord Jesus Christ.


1 http://www.arbca.com/1689-chapter10

Here are some arguments people have made. In some cases the argument may not be compelling, but the Scriptures cited are worth considering.

http://thecripplegate.com/what-happens-to-infants-who-die-the-ot-answers/

http://thecripplegate.com/what-happens-to-infants-who-die-the-nt-answers/

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