Could My Child be Reprobate? / Doug Sayers, former Calvinist

May 27, 2014

by Doug Sayers
Author, “Chosen or Not?”
Former Calvinist, Layman

One of the flaws found in true historical Calvinism is the doctrine that some babies are born with no hope of ever being forgiven, regardless of their upbringing or how long they live.

In the Reformed view, Adam’s sin would have assured that these people (the reprobate) could never be forgiven for sins they could not prevent, or even sincerely confess unto salvation. These lost souls would never have a genuine opportunity to be saved from the wrath of God because God would not have elected them to be saved by grace. (See Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 3-Sections 7-8)

The straightforward answer to this question for a Calvinist is, “Yes, of course your children could be born reprobate. You need to love God more than your kids, come to grips with His sovereignty and deal with it.”

When this error gets in a believing parent’s head – the consequences can be dreadful. Try as they might to avoid applying this to their own kids, even the Covenant/Presbyterian brand of Calvinist struggles to sidestep the inevitable conclusion of their system. They are sure that God would have already decided which of their children will repent and believe the gospel before they are born. No amount of prayer and catechizing would change the immutable eternal decree. This is evidenced by the Calvinistic teaching of Romans 9. In his study guide on the Westminster Confession, G. I. Williamson says:

“Jacob was chosen to eternal life and Esau was passed by and left to the punishment he deserved.” (Page 33)

“Covenant” Calvinists, like Mr. Williamson, teach that the children of believers would go to heaven if they died in childhood. This is because they are “holy” or “sanctified” per 1 Cor 7:14. The question for these Calvinists is how could Esau, who was raised by believing parents, be “holy” as a child and yet, at the same time be reprobate with no hope of being saved? I trust the reader can see the confusion generated by the Calvinistic view of election. In their system, Esau could not have gone to heaven if he died as a child because he was not among the elect. The problems only get worse for those who teach that some babies are born reprobate but speculate that all children who die will go to heaven.

In recounting the spiritual struggles of his youth, David Brainerd said that Romans 9:11-23 was a “constant vexation” to him. This shows the confusion that is thrust upon children who are given a distorted view of biblical election. (See The Life of David Brainerd, a compilation from his diary by J. Edwards.) Brainerd was wise to be concerned about the state of his soul as a young person, but no children should ever be made to question whether God desires and equips them to believe the Truth. To question God’s universal love is to question the main them of the Bible.

When this error gets into a pastor’s head and he encourages young children to be in the meetings of the church – the consequences can be dreadful. Children often get more of the sermons than we think. And when a child begins to think that he/she might be reprobate, the consequences can be devastating to their faith. It is actually worse than those who excessively use the doctrine of hell to scare young children into a profession of faith. The child who is unwisely frightened into faith by relentless threatening of damnation at least has a chance to develop a faith that works through love; whereas the child who thinks he/she might be reprobate has no such hope.

Now to be fair, all Christians who believe the Bible know that it is possible that they might bring a child into this world who ultimately decides to reject the Truth and perish. But the differences between the biblical doctrine of hell and the Calvinistic doctrine of irresistible hell are obvious. In the biblical system, every sinner will have encountered the truth, as it is clearly revealed in nature and conscience, along with the actual ability to receive or reject that truth. Those who have been exposed to the gospel of Christ will be even more accountable for receiving that marvelous Light and Truth. Unto whom much is given much is required.

So, how should we view our children?

Are they God forsaken little vipers in diapers, who despise everything good and will sin at every opportunity? Or, are they born sinners, who are loved by God and given the necessary grace to resist temptation and believe the Truth? If, as children, we are venom spitting enemies of God, why would Jesus tell us to turn back and become like children?? (Mt 18:3 ESV) How we answer this question will have a great deal of influence in our children’s lives. If we set unrealistic expectations of faith and obedience for them before we encourage them in the faith, then we demand more of them than we do for ourselves in terms of assurance. On the other hand, if you pretend that all is well and look the other way when their sinful nature becomes evident, then they will likely either end up with a vain faith or mock us for pretending that they must be believers because they are “my” kids.

Here’s the rub: We are born with corrupt natures, yet God loves every person ever born. He desires their salvation and will be working to that end throughout their entire life. This is the serious mistake of the Calvinistic view of election and reprobation. It opens the door for parents to wrongly assume that one (or all) of their kids might not be loved by God and are “chosen” to be saved. This can have dreadful consequences in terms of how they treat their kids, especially those who are more strong willed and defiant in childhood. Some of the biggest brats in childhood have gone on to be the most consistent and courageous believers, and some of the most compliant kids have gone on to live selfishly and indifferently to spiritual things.

It is better and more biblical to view children as sinners who are loved by God and in a state of grace until it becomes evident that they understand the gospel and have decided to reject it. Even those older kids who grow up with questions and go through times of doubt and rebellion may still be believers deep in their heart of hearts, but they cannot enjoy any real assurance until they show true contrition, and a fruit bearing faith that works by love. Pre-judging the eternal destiny of children based upon their early behavior is a bad idea for all believing parents; this problem is exacerbated by the Calvinistic views of election and reprobation.

It is much better and more biblical to know that there is no such thing as a child that God doesn’t love and desire to save. BUT, He refuses to save irresistibly or by a vain faith that bears no fruit.  As parents and grandparents, it is our duty to water and fertilize the common grace abilities that God gives every child. Sin comes naturally, but so does the ability to trust the Truth because of the common grace of God. Yes, we must use the rod sometimes to drive the foolishness out of them, Prov 22:15. (Remember, Jesus did not use the obedience of children as examples! He used the faith of children as examples.) But we don’t need to try and beat them into super saints before we offer any encouragement in the faith.

Yes, Jesus loves the little children, and everyone was once a little child.

 

 

 

 

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rhutchin

“Or, are [children] born sinners, who are loved by God and given the necessary grace to resist temptation and believe the Truth?”

This is the universalist position. The key is “necessary grace.” All who are given necessary grace will come to salvation else it was not necessary grace.

    Doug Sayers

    rh, I appreciate your interest in this essay and I am glad your response was posted. These are certainly important issues that get to the crux of the matter in the whole debate over biblical election. I’m not sure whose definition of universalism you are referring to but there is no way that I am teaching any objectionable form of universalism.

    “Universalism” is another word with more than one meaning. Sometimes it is used to simply mean that the gospel will save people from all tribes, nations, ethnic groups, etc. We probably would both ascribe to this kind of universalism.

    The second common form of so called “Christian” universalism is the teaching that all people will eventually be saved (usually by virtue of the death of Christ for the world). This type of universalism denies that anyone will ever end up in a permanent hell. If you re-read the post you will see that I am affirming the biblical doctrine of hell but not the Calvinistic doctrine of *irresistible* hell for those who would be born reprobate.

    Simply asserting that everyone is given the necessary grace to believe the Truth does not mean that everyone will. Here it seem that you fail to distinguish the ability to repent from actually repenting.

    Do you believe that some people are born with no hope of ever being able to repent? If so, what did they actually do wrong to deserve such a fate before they were even born? Or perhaps, what did God foresee that they would do wrong to deserve such a hopeless life?

      rhutchin

      The issue here is your definition of “necessary.” If you mean grace “necessary” to believe the truth, then one should believe the truth – what has hindered belief if not? If that grace did not lead to belief, then “necessary” in what sense – as it now seems insufficient to actually bring about belief? Do you mean “necessary” in the logical sense or in some lesser sense? Definition is key to the argument you make.

      You imply – by requiring necessary grace – that the person would not believe without necessary grace (thus, absent necessary grace none would, or could, be saved) making grace the only difference accounting for a person moving from unbelief to belief. This is what the Calvinist concludes so the Calvinist calls it “irresistible grace.”

      Why does the Calvinist call it irresistible? If necessary grace is extended to a person who then believes, then that grace achieved its intended purpose (at least, we presume this – otherwise, what purpose did God have for extending necessary grace have in the first place?). If the person does not change but continues in unbelief, can we conclude that “necessary” grace was extended to the person? We cannot. As far as we know, no grace was extended or whatever grace was extended did not have the purpose of bringing the person to belief (it could not really be described as “necessary”). As it is God who extends “necessary grace” to those who come to belief and those who do not (presuming He does), then it is God who determines who comes to belief – as God cannot be ignorant of the influence of that grace on each person. In the end, those whom God identified as His elect before He created the universe are brought to belief (necessary grace is irresistible to them) and those identified as the non-elect are not brought to belief (calling into question whether grace was even extended). Grace extended to the elect is irresistible and this necessarily so – no other outcome is possible.

      You are arguing that man’s will plays a role in this but there is no way to show that man’s will is a factor. Do some people in unbelief resist this grace? To argue, yes, you must “assume” that grace was actually extended to the person. In doing so, you end up assuming the conclusion you seek meaning that you make the logical error of begging the question. I don’t see how one can argue for resistible grace otherwise.

      rhutchin

      Doug writes, “Do you believe that some people are born with no hope of ever being able to repent? If so, what did they actually do wrong to deserve such a fate before they were even born? Or perhaps, what did God foresee that they would do wrong to deserve such a hopeless life?”

      We know that God had identified His elect before He created the universe. The number and identity of those who would be saved was known to God – all the days of their lives were written. This is true of those who were not to be saved. We cannot deny this so long as we agree that God is omniscient. So, we must conclude that some people are born with no hope of being saved. They will live their lives blinded by the god of this world and that blindness will not be removed “lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” and they believe.

      We can avoid this conclusion only by rejecting omniscience. There are two ways people do this. First is to deny that God can know the future until the future happens (Open Theism). The second is to deny that God initially knows the future but then allow Him to look into the future to learn what will happen (generally advocated to support free will).

      What did people do to deserve such a hopeless life? Nothing. When Adam sinned, he condemned all to a hopeless life. By Adam’s sin, Satan gained control over all and he has subjected all to blindness and hopelessness. It is only when God removes that blindness allowing people to see the truth that the hopeless life ends and eternal life begins.

Dell Russell

It is amazing how people can hold a doctrine in one hand and the truth in the other. People claim to believe God preordains some to be saved and others to be lost, but then expects all people to be honest in their dealings and daily living. People are not born sinners nor are people lost because they do not believe in the gospel, people are lost because when they knew God they did not glorify Him as God and neither did they give Him thanks. Once a person rejects God they have rejected all truth and have set themselves against God and set themselves up for a life of sin. That is why people are lost, the gospel is the cure for their rebellion and it is by God’s grace that He even offer it to us.

Bob Rogers

Once a young expectant mother left a Calvinist Baptist church and joined the church where I was serving as pastor. When I asked her what brought her to our church, she said, “I cannot go to a church that teaches that my baby may be eternally doomed to go to hell, and there is nothing I can do about it.” I never forgot her feminine insight into this issue, which was ultimately recognizing the fact that God had gifted her with a nurturing role to lead her children to faith, a role that cannot be stripped away by misguided theology.

    rhutchin

    …she said, “I cannot go to a church that teaches that my baby may be eternally doomed to go to hell, and there is nothing I can do about it.”

    No Calvinist pastor worth his salt would teach this. He would teach that God has given the believer promises – Ask and you shall receive – and it is the believer’s privilege to pray on behalf of their children. We know that God hears the prayers of His elect; parents are confident that a life of prayer for our children – the key component in the nurturing role God gives to parents – will be rewarded for God has promised it. The mother was right to leave that church – who knows what else they got wrong.

Lydia

“The second common form of so called “Christian” universalism is the teaching that all people will eventually be saved (usually by virtue of the death of Christ for the world). This type of universalism denies that anyone will ever end up in a permanent hell. If you re-read the post you will see that I am affirming the biblical doctrine of hell but not the Calvinistic doctrine of *irresistible* hell for those who would be born reprobate.”

Universalism is the flip side of the determinist coin with Calvinism. It makes total sense that a Calvinist would see “determism” as the only choice whether universalism or limited atonement which means God decides who is saved and who goes to hell before they are born. The other determinist “choice” is all are saved. In determinism, humans are left out of the equation because that would mean God is not Sovereign.

    rhutchin

    To the Calvinist, having God in charge of salvation is to be preferred to letting people be in charge. If people were actually in charge of salvation, would anyone ever be saved?

Lydia

“To the Calvinist, having God in charge of salvation is to be preferred to letting people be in charge. If people were actually in charge of salvation, would anyone ever be saved?”

I totally understand. It takes away the human responsibility for true metanoia BECAUSE of the Cross/Resurrection. . So all we have to say is, oh, sinners sin. No big deal. God is in charge of us.

Doug Sayers

rh, your replies (and their absence of biblical texts) show that you want to take the discussion away from clear texts of scripture and out into the murkier waters of inferences based on philosophical distinctions and speculation of how God must use His omniscience. I will freely admit that I don’t claim to know everything about God’s omniscience and I have a habit of poking fun at those who claim they do. The same goes for those who claim to know everything about how the mind makes choices before and after the fall. ( I am much more content to keep the discussion to explicit texts, or at least “good and necessary inferences” regarding texts of Scripture.

Have you been getting some help from Les P?

As to your remark: “So, we must conclude that some people are born with no hope of being saved.” I appreciate your honesty. But good luck trying to convince the Bible believing people of the world of that statement. If you, and all true Calvinists, were to continue being this clear and forthright with your doctrine then we won’t need to write any more books refuting it. Calvinism has survived on its ability to obscure their doctrine of irresistible reprobation. Better be careful; your Reformed friends may not appreciate your response!

Hopefully, after work today, I will offer a more detailed response to you and yours.

    rhutchin

    This discussion forum is not really conducive to full and lengthy descriptions with supporting Scriptures, so basic conclusions are highlighted. You will find yourself doing the same. I think we both know the basic Scriptures; it’s the logical arguments we frame using those Scriptures that really come into play.

    I like your statement, “I will freely admit that I don’t claim to know everything about God’s omniscience.” The biggest failing of the non-Calvinist is in not addressing omniscience. As a former Calvinist, you know how critical omniscience is to the Calvinist system. Charnock did a chapter on omniscience that covers the Scriptures pretty well. We can use his treatment as a basic launching point. If you are going to argue against Calvinism, the beginning point is omniscience (and more broadly, the attributes of God) – a subject consistently avoided by those who write anti-Calvinism books – attesting, I think, to the difficulty omniscience (and God’s other attributes) poses for the non-Calvinist.

    I am not “trying to convince the Bible believing people of the world” of anything. I am arguing my understanding of the Scriptures. Your efforts will be productive if you can show where I (and Calvinists in general) have misunderstood what seems to me (and them) to be very simple concepts found in the Scriptures.

    Short, tightly argued points are great – detail is not always necessary at first as we will probably drill down to the finer points in time.

    I don’t know Les but I read his comments in other discussion areas. He and I seem to be coming to the same conclusions from our independent study of the Scriptures.

    I am charging more stuff to my Amazon Visa card. When I get enough rewards built up, I’ll get your book (I have started reading it already on Google books).

Doug Sayers

rh you say, “What did people do to deserve such a hopeless life? Nothing.”

Ouch! You are correct, that this is Calvinism, but it is not a very accurate picture of the biblical God and the biblical description of the final judgment. (See the texts describing the final judgment in the gospels and revelation.)You are claiming that the biblical God will be sending people to hell for “nothing.” That is a tough sell. A sovereign god might do that but not a righteous sovereign God. You want us to start with the omniscience of God and rationally come to the conclusion that God will be sending some people (perhaps your own children/grandchildren) to everlasting destruction – for nothing. It doesn’t matter where we start, that is an egregious conclusion and I don’t think God appreciates his people telling the world that He might send them to hell for nothing.

There is no such thing as a judgment over “nothing”. The point of a judgment is to distinguish between right and wrong, duty/dereliction of duty, faith/unbelief, etc. Here again, we see how this will take us back to the Reformed error that God imputes the guilt of Adam’s sin to his posterity. We have noted before how Romans 5 does not teach this. The word for impute is not even used in Rom 5. Sin is not imputed where there is no law. Where there is no law there is no sin.(Rom 4:15; 5:13) Sin is not imputed by arbitrary decree or natural generation. It is biblically and rationally impossible that Adam’s posterity can be guilty of Adam’s sin. Again, I am not denying our inherited sinful nature but I am denying any inherited guilt.

Calvinism marginalizes the common grace of God. As you read the Bible, make a note of all the places in the OT and NT where unbelievers were able to do the right thing. (Do by nature the things in the law Rom 2:14; give good gifts to their children, etc) We must reconcile these texts with the texts that describe our depravity. We must not ignore either of them.

Building our soteriology on our paltry understanding of God’s omniscience is as risky as building our soteriology on our understanding of His self existence. We do well to stick close to the language of Scripture on our doctrines of salvation. I certainly believe in the omniscience of God (as much as I can grasp it) but the Bible is clear that the final judgment comes after we die – not before we are born.

    rhutchin

    Doug writes, “Calvinism marginalizes the common grace of God. As you read the Bible, make a note of all the places in the OT and NT where unbelievers were able to do the right thing. (Do by nature the things in the law Rom 2:14; give good gifts to their children, etc) We must reconcile these texts with the texts that describe our depravity. We must not ignore either of them.”

    Whether calvinism marginalizes common grace depends on the definition of common grace. Prior to the flood, God describes people this way: “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” That basically describes the situation either absent common grace or with little grace. Later, God extends common grace so that the condition in Judges prevails, “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Under common grace, sinful man is restrained from sin to some degree. To do right in his own eyes only means that the person does right for selfish reasons – because he sees advantage in doing so – not because of any devotion to God. Common grace maintains order in a sinful world – it does not produce salvation even though salvation is proclaimed to sinful people under common grace. Under common grace, depraved sinners are restrained and not allowed to do the evil they desire.

    The distinction here is that Calvinists distinguish between common grace and saving grace and whether this distinction can be made.

rhutchin

Let’s clarify some concepts. God does not send people to hell so much as refuse them entry into heaven. “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” God is not kicking people out of heaven; it is people who must seek, or strive, to enter.

No person who is a sinner can enter heaven. Because of Adam’s sin, people are born sinners – born with sin natures. We know that people are sinners – have sin natures – because that nature expresses itself in sinful actions. So, I am not claiming that God does not allow people to enter heaven over “nothing.” It is because we are sinners and we sin. I don’t see that as a tough sell. The “nothing” argument is a strawman and should be dropped.

So, is there a real difference between a sin nature and inherited guilt? Or, can a person with a sin nature enter heaven by slicing away the guilt? Paul writes, “…to be carnally minded is death;…because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” I take the sinful nature to have a carnal mind. The person who has a sin nature is said to have a carnal mind. Then Paul says, “…you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” To have the spirit of God dwelling in us is to be a believer. To have a sinful nature is to be in the flesh, and this is to have a carnal mind. No person with a sinful nature can enter heaven because they cannot please God. We inherit a sinful nature from Adam and thereby cannot enter heaven – we must strive to enter in. By inheriting a sinful nature, we inherit the guilt of the sin that produced that sinful nature in Adam which he then conveyed to us. I cannot see how a sinful nature can be separated from the guilt that produced the sinful nature in the first place.

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