Distinctive Baptist Beliefs:
Nine Marks that Separate Baptists from Presbyterians
Distinctive Baptist Belief #2—
The Age (or State) of Accountability

August 25, 2011


By Dr. Lemke, Provost, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, occupying the McFarland Chair of Theology, Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, and Editor of the
Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.


Introduction

All denominations that broadly share the Reformation heritage share more beliefs in common than beliefs that differ. This is true of Baptists, Arminians, and Presbyterians/the Reformed tradition – we agree on many more points than we disagree. Like most evangelicals, we largely share the same affirmation of orthodox Nicean Christianity, along with other key beliefs accented in the Reformation — Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, the sovereignty of God over all His creation, the security of the believer, the perfect omniscience and complete foreknowledge of God, and the imperative of the proclamation of the Gospel by the Church.

Despite these many points of agreement, it is the points of agreement on which theological discussions tend to focus. In an earlier post entitled “The Middle Way,” I asserted that we centrist Baptists are “the middle way” between Arminians, on the one hand, and Calvinists/Presbyterians, on the other. Since our book Whosoever Will was a critique of five-point Calvinism, I balanced that by listing twelve points of doctrinal disagreement between centrist Baptists and many Arminians. In this series, however, I would like to point out nine points of difference between centrist Baptist beliefs and the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition.

Given my involvement in the John 3:16 Conference and in writing Whosoever Will, some readers might expect me to begin listing the five points of Calvinist soteriology as the main points of difference between Baptists and Presbyterians. It is true that centrist Baptists such as me may disagree on several of these points with persons who imbibe in the Reformed tradition, but it would be inaccurate to say that the five points as popularized in the “TULIP” were the main points of difference between Reformed and Baptist theology, or that these beliefs are foreign to Baptist theology. In fact, the Particular Baptist tradition plays a long and deep role in Baptist theology, and many Calvinistic-leaning Baptists are in good standing with and hold high positions within the SBC.

At any rate, these nine Baptist doctrinal distinctives I will discuss do not include the five points about soteriology. In fact, most of the nine points that I will be addressing were explicitly held by the Particular Baptists in contradistinction from the Presbyterian or Reformed theology from which they separated themselves. These, then, are distinctively Baptist beliefs. The first Baptist distinctive I addressed in Part 1 of this series was a cluster of interrelated beliefs — soul competency, priesthood of all believers, and religious liberty. This post concerns the age or state of accountability.[1]

Distinctive Baptist Belief #2:
The Age (or State) of Accountability

The Presbyterian perspective on personal accountability flows from its conviction about original sin. According to the Westminster Confession, from the sin of Adam and Eve “the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation,”[2] and “[e]very sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.”[3] Infant baptism is a logical corollary of the belief that children are guilty of sin since birth: “Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized.”[4]

Baptists have not typically understood the impact of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Presbyterian way. While the Calvinistic Second London and Philadelphia confessions repeat much of the Westminster Confession language as an attestation to the profound impact of the Fall, the focus appears to be placed on actual sins rather than inherited guilt: through the “original corruption” of Adam we are “inclined to all evil,” and from this proclivity we commit “actual transgressions.”[5] More noticeably, both these Calvinistic Baptist confessions delete the affirmation of the Westminster Confession that “Every sin, both original and actual . . . [brings] “guilt upon the sinner.”[6] All standard Baptist confessions of faith point to fallen human nature having a strong disposition or proclivity toward sin. For example, the BF&M affirms that Adam’s posterity “inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.”[7] However, Baptist confessions tend not to use the term “original sin” by name, and two Baptist confessions explicitly deny it. John Smyth in his Short Confession of 1609 affirmed, “That there is no original sin (lit., no sin of origin or descent), but all sin is actual and voluntary, viz., a word, a deed, or a design against the law of God; and therefore, infants are without sin.”[8] Likewise, the Short Confession of Faith of 1610 affirmed that none of Adam’s posterity “are guilty, sinful, or born in original sin.”[9] The focus is on guilt from actual chosen sin, not inherited guilt. (Some Baptists say they believe in original sin, but by this they mean being born with a sin nature, not the proper and historical sense of original sin as inherited guilt).

The Westminster, Second London, and Philadelphia confessions all allow for the divine election of “infants dying in infancy” and persons “who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.”[10] The Second London and Philadelphia confessions, however, delete the Westminster Confession’s allowance for infants to be baptized, asserting instead that only “those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.”[11]

The age of accountability is a key but often overlooked Baptist doctrine. It is presupposed by the concept of soul competency (because soul competency is required for a person to be “of age” to make a life commitment), and is propaedeutic to other Baptist beliefs such as believer’s baptism (because baptism is only for those capable of some understanding of the basic rubrics of Christianity and to believe consciously in Christ as their Lord and Savior, not infants who lack these capacities), the gathered church (because it assumes all church members are believers), and religious freedom (because a free church requires voluntary membership rather than virtually automatic membership at birth in a state established church). All three BF&M statements assert that “as soon as they are capable of moral action” they become “transgressors” and are under condemnation.[12] While it may be more of a “state” of being accountable rather than an “age” of accountability (apart from mentally challenged individuals) this state of accountability is normally associated with a “coming of age.” No specific age is given; it is assumed that individual children mature at different paces from each other. By affirming the age of accountability, Baptists deny that children are guilty upon birth, and so deny the need for infant baptism. Only those who are of age for moral accountability are capable of recognizing their own sinfulness, the first step toward salvation in Christ. One cannot be born into the church by physical birth, although a Christian upbringing clearly affords wonderful opportunities for young people to grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  However, children are not saved by their parents’ confession. Each person must make his or her own profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; children are not included in some broader involuntary covenant.

Some contemporary Presbyterians such as R. C. Sproul, Jr. reject the notion that children below the age of accountability who die go to heaven. Sproul, Jr. chided Billy Graham for comforting the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing (which included many victims from a children’s day care center) with these words: “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.” Sproul insisted that since we are born guilty of original sin, and infants have no opportunity for justification by faith, they have no real hope of salvation.[13] He accused Graham of advocating “a new gospel – justification by youth alone.”[14] Sproul’s position may not represent all Presbyterians, but his article was infamous in quickly setting the record for letters to the editor, not a single one of which affirmed Sproul’s position. In sharp contrast with the general view of Presbyterians and the more extreme view of Sproul, Jr., Baptists have always believed that since infants are not yet capable of actual sin, they go to heaven.[15]


[1] The next article in this series is “Baptist Distinctive #3: Believer’s Baptism.” If you would like to preview the entire series, you can see the larger article from which these posts are drawn, plus responses from three theological perspectives, from a paper presentation for the a conference sponsored by the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. You can see them at Steve Lemke, “What Is a Baptist? Nine Marks that Separate Baptists from Presbyterians,” Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry 5, no. 2 (Fall 2008):10-39, available online at http://www.baptistcenter.com/Documents/Journals/JBTM%205-2_Baptists_in_Dialogue_Fall_08.pdf#page=11.  It is posted in this blog format in SBC Today to facilitate discussion on these issues.

[2] Westminster Confession, Art. 6, par. 3.

[3] Ibid., Art. 6, par.6.

[4] Ibid., Art. 28, par. 4.

[5] Westminster Confession, Second London Confession, and Philadelphia Confession, Art. 6, par. 4 in each confession.

[6] Westminster Confession, Art. 6, par. 6.

[7] BF&M, Art. 3.

[8] John Smyth, Short Confession of Faith in 20 Articles, Art. 5.

[9] A Short Confession of Faith (1610), Art. 4.

[10] Westminster Confession, Second London Confession, and Philadelphia Confession, Art. 10, par. 3 in each confession.

[11] Second London Confession, Art. 29, par. 2; Philadelphia Confession, Art. 30, par. 2.

[12] BF&M 1925, 1963, and 2000, Art. 3.

[13] R. C. Sproul, Jr. has disputed this understanding of his article cited here, both in his comments below in response to this article, and in an article in his own blog at http://rcsprouljunior.blogspot.com/2011/11/ask-rc-do-all-those-who-die-in-womb-go.html. He asserts that my comments about his article do not accurately represent his position, so we have added his comments at his request in the interest of fairness. Sproul is obviously the best authority on what Sproul actually believes, so we appreciate this clarification, though it gives no clear answer to the question of the eternity destiny of young children who die. However, we encourage the reader to examine Sproul’s comments in his earlier article in World magazine referenced in this article (the entire article is copied in Ron Hale’s comments below) to determine the clearest reading of that article (whatever his actual current beliefs), and whether that article and his recent blog post are saying the same thing in content and in tone. However, back to the theme of this article, we continue to affirm Billy Graham’s position with regard to the younger children killed in tragedies such as the Oklahoma City bombing (and his obvious affirmation of the age of accountability), and the fact that Sproul’s ambiguous answer could be much clearer if he were to affirm the age of accountability which, as a Presbyterian, he does not.  Again, for the purposes of this article, it is Sproul’s rejection of the age of accountability (and his inability to answer the question of the eternal destiny of younger children who die) that make the point of this article as being a key difference between Presbyterians and Baptists.

[14] R. C. Sproul, Jr. “Comfort Ye My People—Justification by Youth Alone: When Does Comfort Become Confusion?” World (May 6, 1995).

[15] See Daniel L.Akin and R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Why We Believe that Infants Who Die Go to Heaven,” available online at http://betweenthetimes.com/2009/07/24/why-we-believe-children-who-die-go-to-heaven-2.

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Chris Roberts

I thought the first post in the series was pretty good (a few quibbles aside), but I cringed when I saw what #2 would be. I’ve previously responded to arguments from Lemke on the age of accountability so I’ll restrain myself here to commenting on a gross misrepresentation.

“Some contemporary Presbyterians such as R. C. Sproul, Jr. reject the notion that children below the age of accountability who die go to heaven.”

The major problem with this claim is that Sproul didn’t say that, or anything like it, and yet people keep referencing Sproul’s article as proof that he rejects the possibility of infant salvation. But here is what Sproul actually said:

“Compassion tells us not to sugarcoat, but not to supply a poison pill either. We cannot say for sure what happens to small children who die.”
(article found at http://highlandsministriesonline.com/articles/comfortYeMyPeople.php )

In other words, Sproul says that the Bible does not say enough to allow us to be dogmatic, it is an area of mystery. Sproul did not say he believes infants go to Hell. Nor did he say he believes infants go to Heaven. He says Scripture offers a few hints, but leaves the rest unspoken.

His criticism of Graham is quite warranted. Graham offered dogmatic assurances in an area that the Bible is largely silent. Views about original sin are almost irrelevant: the Bible does not make a case for an age of accountability nor does it guarantee the salvation of people under a certain age or mental condition.

Just a few days ago I listened to Sproul (from a July recording) address the question of infant salvation:

http://www.ligonier.org/rym/broadcasts/audio/ask-rc-4/

It’s the first question, so listen through the opening ad and you’ll reach it. Sproul says, “I don’t know any way to give an answer to this definitively. There are passages that could give a hint at an answer… but [they do not] specifically answer the question, so… I really don’t know… I leave this question up to the grace of God.”

That matches perfectly with what he said in response to Graham. It does not match Lemke’s assertion. Sproul does not reject the possibility of infant salvation.

If it is a Baptist distinctive to be dogmatic where the Bible is silent, then I am no Baptist. Fortunately, most Baptists avoid that posture and take a position along the lines of Sproul, recognizing the hints in the Bible which give us hope, though not an absolute promise, and ultimately trusting in the grace of God.

volfan007

Chris,

While you are right, that there’s not any clear teaching about children, there’s still some pretty good evidence. Like, King David and his baby, who died. David said that his child could not come back to him, but that, one day, he would go to be with his child. That was said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and David seemed to be very, very sure of it.

David

    Chris Roberts

    David said:

    “But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23)

    It would be reading too much into this verse to use it as a strong defense of infant salvation. It is a hint, nothing more, and there is another possible explanation.

    David does not say his son has reached salvation, nor that he will see his son again, just that he will go to where his son is. Keep in mind that this is David, one who would often speak of death as a place to which you go or from which you are saved. When David says he cannot bring back his son, but he will go to his son, this could simply be a reference to the grave, Sheol, death. That explanation is not as attractive as infant salvation, but it is at least as plausible given David’s other writings on death.

      Randy Everist

      It does not seem to be just as plausible to me at all. It seems more a case of the results of death and being saved from it; not a fatalistic depression.

      Job

      You are ignoring the dual authorship of the Holy Spirit. It is my opinion that David meant heaven, because the New Testament bears witness that David prophesied of the resurrection in the Psalms. But even if David did not mean heaven, my position is that the Holy Spirit did.

        Chris Roberts

        Which New Testament passage are you referring to? If you are talking about Acts 13:35-37, it has nothing to do with 2 Samuel 12:23 but, as you said, is a quote from a psalm, Psalm 16:10. That David talks about the resurrection in Psalm 16 does not mean he was talking about the resurrection in 2 Samuel 12:23. The two passages have nothing to do with each other. 2 Samuel 12:23 is never quoted as evidence for the resurrection or afterlife. (I do believe the Old Testament teaches judgment and reward in the afterlife, but it isn’t found in this verse.) It is all well and good to say the Spirit meant the resurrection in 2 Samuel 12:23, but where is the clear evidence? That is why I say this verse provides only a hint, and, I think, not a very strong hint.

Ron Hale

Chris,
Below is Dr. Sproul’s entire message; I’m so glad that Dr. Graham did not follow his advice.

Listen to Sproul’s last words of advice …….”Mr. Graham would have served the mourners well had he stuck to the simple life-changing truths that he has spoken so clearly so often in so many places: God is sovereign and sometimes ordains tragedy for the good of his people, and for his glory; all men are sinners, deserving nothing but eternal torment; and there is only one name under heaven and earth by which a man, or a child, might be saved, even Jesus.”

Wow… what pastoral advice to the evangelist, “Billy tell’em God ordained this tradegy for their good.” This is unbelievable!

Sproul’s Message:

Justification by youth alone: When does comfort become confusion?
“Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Jesus asks in Luke 13:4. “I tell you, no!” Do you think that those scores who died horribly in Oklahoma City were more guilty than you or me? Jesus’s answer is still no. Do you think that you or I are more guilty than those children who died there?

Billy Graham, in his tender attempt to soothe a grieving nation, suggested at the Oklahoma City memorial service, “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.”

Mr. Graham reflected the general consensus not just of the world but of the evangelical church, when, in his laudable desire to comfort, he appeared to affirm a new gospel: justification by youth alone.

Though Scripture is clear that in sin we are conceived, though it affirms that outside of faith in Christ alone there is no salvation, we comfort ourselves in the face of grim images of the dead children carried from the rubble with the biblically unwarranted assurance that if one only dies young enough, one will be saved.

To be fair, Mr. Graham was in a demanding situation. Memorial services are never easy times. How much more difficult it must be to comfort an entire nation experiencing genuine despair. We need comforting.

The problem is that in our desire for comfort we sometimes betray the gospel. The Good News is indeed comforting, but it comes with a condition.

Consider how Jesus dealt with those struggling with the apparent injustice at the tower of Siloam, those still bereaved at a tragedy that shook the city of Jerusalem. He offered the good news that the dead were not worse sinners than the survivors.

But there is the rub: It follows that the survivors were no more righteous than the dead. Jesus, in a compassion that sees eternally, reminded his audience of this hard truth, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Compassion must always center around the truth. There is, in fact, no greater tragedy than a man facing death with a false assurance of salvation, save the tragedy of his eternal destiny. Compassion requires that even in the midst of temporal tragedy we sound the alarm: that all men apart from Christ—young and old—are under a death sentence from God Most High.

Compassion requires that we warn the living that even those who died alone, days after the explosion, are experiencing an anguish and torment beyond the televised images, beyond our imagination, one that will last for always, unless they had repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Compassion tells us not to sugarcoat, but not to supply a poison pill either. We cannot say for sure what happens to small children who die. But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that the children of at least one believing parent are viewed differently by God:

“They are holy’ Above all, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice” (Job 34:12).

The memorial service in Oklahoma, like all memorial services, was a time to remember. What should have been remembered were the fundamentals, the foundations of the faith.

Mr. Graham would have served the mourners well had he stuck to the simple life-changing truths that he has spoken so clearly so often in so many places: God is sovereign and sometimes ordains tragedy for the good of his people, and for his glory; all men are sinners, deserving nothing but eternal torment; and there is only one name under heaven and earth by which a man, or a child, might be saved, even Jesus.

And we should be comforted in this: If any of the victims believed, from the moment of death and into eternity they will be in the presence of Christ who wipes away every tear..

    Chris Roberts

    I read Sproul’s article and thought it was good, including that last word of hope.

    But whatever you may think of Sproul’s advice, here is the question relevant to Lemke’s claim: does Sproul say there is no chance of children being saved? Does he outright “reject the notion that children below the age of accountability who die go to heaven” as Lemke claims? Or is he tentative, leaving the possibility open but finding fault when people speak with certainty of things the Bible does not reveal?

Ken Stewart

Hello Steve:
As in an earlier post, here also I think that you maximize differences between the two systems as though these were invariable. I suggest that on this question, the lines are quite fluid. Two Presbyterian theologians whose works are widely available (Hodge and Buswell) stake out a position very similar to the one you defend, ie that infants are savable irrespective of their inability to hear and respond to the gospel. And they maintain this not only because they allow that divine election and calling would include infants (which is the approach taken in the Westminster Confession) but because the provisions of the gospel are broad.
Hodge taught that all who die in infancy are saved (Systematic Theology, I.26). Buswell, his twentieth century disciple, believed something very similar: “the sufficiency and universality of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit extends to cover the question of the salvation of those dying in infancy and imbeciles as well” (Systematic Theology II.161).
This is not to say that all Presbyterians see it this way; evidently Sproul Jr. does not.
But your generalizations made about Presbyterians in this series are not adequately grounded, when they do not take insistences of the kind provided by Hodge and Buswell into account.

Steve Lemke

Thanks for your comments, Chris. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, but I must disagree and, especially since you have now twice claimed that I misrepresented what Sproul, Jr. said, arise to defend myself. I don’t mean to be unkind, but I believe that you are giving an overly gracious and somewhat disengenuous reading of Sproul’s rather ungracious article.

First of all, you say that Sproul, Jr. was justified in criticizing Billy Graham for saying that all children go to heaven. You think that Billy Graham and Steve Lemke are the only people who believe such a notion? For starters, let’s read what Sproul, Jr. himself said in the article: “Mr. Graham reflected the general consensus not just of the world but of the evangelical church . . . ” Do you think this is some arcane belief limited to centrist Baptists? Let us hear from the great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, who in a message September 29, 1861 entitled “Infant Salvation,” defended Calvinistic-leaning Baptists such as himself against those who “wickedly, lyingly, and slanderously said of Calvinists that we believe that some little children perish.” Spurgeon thus affirmed that all children who die go to heaven, without limitation or exception. You see, Spurgeon was a Baptist, not a Presbyterian.

Or, we could quote the Presidents of two of the largest SBC seminaries (Al Mohler of Southern Seminary and Danny Akin of Southeastern Seminary) offer the unqualified affirmation that, “Little ones are precious in God’s sight. If they die, they go to heaven. Parents, who have trusted Jesus, who have lost a little one, if they have trusted Jesus, can be confident of a wonderful reunion someday.” (They published this in several places, such as the one referenced in the article, but one is http://betweenthetimes.com/2009/07/24/why-we-believe-children-who-die-go-to-heaven-2). We all know the relevant Scriptural texts. Sometimes, like the doctrine of the Trinity, when we don’t have a specific affirmation in Scripture, we must extrapolate from what is consistent with what we do have in Scripture. So, if you want to stand with Sproul, Jr., author of the most unpopular article ever published in World magazine, against Spurgeon, Mohler, Akin, and the “consensus . . . of the evangelical church,” go ahead. But don’t blame the rest of us for interpreting the Bible the way that Baptists do.

Second, you suggest that Sproul, Jr. is advocating agnosticism about the future destiny of children, citing his statement “Compassion tells us not to sugarcoat, but not to supply a poison pill either. We cannot say for sure what happens to small children who die.”

I don’t think Sproul’s proposals are that mysterious or ambiguous. Unfortunately, you removed the sentence before and after that sentence. The sentence before:

“Compassion requires that we warn the living that even those who died alone, days after the explosion, are experiencing an anguish and torment beyond the televised images, beyond our imagination, one that will last for always, unless they had repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.

So the default answer for Sproul is that unless the infants specifically and consciously repented and believed in Christ, they will go to eternal anguish and torment. Not very ambiguous. And Sproul, Jr. concluded the entire article with these chilling words:

“God is sovereign and sometimes ordains tragedy for the good of his people, and for his glory; all men are sinners, deserving nothing but eternal torment; and there is only one name under heaven and earth by which a man, or a child, might be saved, even Jesus. And we should be comforted in this: If any of the victims believed, from the moment of death and into eternity they will be in the presence of Christ who wipes away every tear.”

So, the “loophole” that Sproul leaves is whether any of these one- and two-year old victims “repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Uh. . . r i g h t! What a cynical answer to give to grieving parents!

You assert that “Sproul says that the Bible does not say enough to allow us to be dogmatic, it is an area of mystery.” I challenge our readers to look for themselves in Sproul, Jr.’s article (http://highlandsministriesonline.com/articles/comfortYeMyPeople.php), which Ron Hale has also posted above. What they will see is that those are your words, not Sproul’s. I believe it will be clear that it is you who have misrepresented what Sproul said, not me.

Besides the ridiculous idea of salvation of two year olds who repent and believe, the only other loophole Sproul, Jr. offers is not an ambiguous mystery. In the sentences immediately after the sentences you quoted, we see these qualifying words:

“Compassion tells us not to sugarcoat, but not to supply a poison pill either. We cannot say for sure what happens to small children who die. But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that the children of at least one believing parent are viewed differently by God: “They are holy. Above all, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice” (Job 34:12).

So, Sproul, Jr. is thus affirming the belief in covenant theology that children of believing children could be saved. Hmmm. That sure sounds familiar. OH YEAH! That’s what I quoted in my article from the Westminster Confession about what Presbyterians believe: “Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized.” By the way, I mentioned in my article that Sproul, Jr. was extreme in his views. He was deposed by the Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly (RPCGA) for, among other things, abuse of authority and practicing paedocommunion – giving communion to infants!

The purpose of my article was to distinguish what Baptists believe from what Presbyterians believe. Thanks, Chris, for helping make that point even more explicitly. Of course, you have the right to prefer the Presbyterian view over the Baptist view. But please just understand that your view is inconsistent with the consensus Baptist (and evangelical) perspective and our interpretation of Scripture.

    Chris Roberts

    “You think that Billy Graham and Steve Lemke are the only people who believe such a notion?”

    Not at all, neither said nor implied. I have no doubt that most people believe children who die will go to Heaven. I’m among that number. Where I think Sproul is justified is in criticizing a dogmatic claim that lacks strong biblical support.

    As for Sproul’s sentences “before and after”, they do not change the picture. The Bible message about salvation is we must repent and believe in Christ to be saved. Was Sproul wrong to warn people that there will be a judgment for sins, that dying in a tragedy like the Oklahoma City bombing does not exempt a person from judgment, that the unsaved who perished are now in judgment? Sproul did not direct that comment specifically at children and infants but generally on all unsaved who perished in the disaster. Are his words at odds with Scripture?

    It is immediately after your first quote that Sproul goes on to mention his agnosticism toward infant salvation. What he says (yes, in my words) is that the biblical method is salvation in Christ alone; judgment for all who are apart from Christ; we should not give people false assurances (as happens too often in the funerals of the unsaved); but that children *might* be a special case. Sproul sees at least one exception: the children of believers. And in the comments from his recent interview, he speaks more generally about all children and infants, leaving open the possibility while not making a dogmatic claim.

Joshua

The problem with the idea of an “age of accountability” is that it has no biblical support. The sinfulness and guilt of ALL human beings, regardless of age, is biblically supported and should not be ignored or redefined in order to maintain an unbiblical “age of accountability.”

While emotionally appealing to say that children (age infant – ?) are not guilty before God because of a lack of mental maturity, the position completely undermines the nature of sin and the the nature of the sinner. This is why the BF&M misses the mark when it states that man inherited “a nature…inclined toward sin.” Is “sin inclination” what the Bible teaches? Are we merely “inclined toward sin” or are we slaves of sin whose plans and thoughts are evil all the time (Gen 6; John 8; Rom 6)? If the latter be the case, then even children have performed evil works of thought and action against a holy and just God and should not be deemed “innocent” by sinful man without a biblical warrant to do so.

If we are to rightly divide the Word of God then we must actually use the Word of God and the idea of an “age of accountability” cannot be found explicitly nor implicitly in the biblical text.

    Chris Roberts

    I agree that it is not explicit, but I do think there are hints that make it a possibility. I’ve said before that I think Deuteronomy 1:39 offers the biggest hint when it speaks of little ones who “have no knowledge of good or evil”. Still not enough to build a dogmatic case for an age of accountability, but it strikes me as a strong pointer to the possibility.

    As for the BF&M, I agree that the article you cite is the weakest in the confession. What it says is not incorrect, but it does not say as much as it should.

      Joshua

      Chris,

      Deut. 1:39 does not answer whether the children have practiced evil but states they did not know of good and evil. That is an important distinction in this discussion. I believe the children, as all children of Adam, had indeed practiced evil in their hearts.

      The “age of accountability” view seeks to pronounce innocence on the children, not merely a guaranteed forgiveness by God’s grace. This pronounced innocence of the children of Adam is what undermines the doctrine of sin and man and why, I believe, the BF&M committee chose the wording they did.

      The BF&M on man, if pressed, is incorrect if one follows an accurate definition of “inclination.”

        Chris Roberts

        The hint I see in Deut 1:39 is that these children, whether or not they have committed sin, are not held accountable because they lack this knowledge of good and evil. I believe in original sin and total depravity. These children were sinners through the sin of Adam and through their own sin. As part of the community of Israel, they were also under the collective guilt of the people for their disobedience, which in this case was their failure to trust God when they went to spy out the promised land. But because these children did not yet have knowledge of good and evil, they were not held accountable.

        John Piper points to Romans 1:20 for a similar reason: God’s judgment against sin is predicated on his revelation to all people of sin and righteousness. Those who do not have the mental capacity for understanding this revelation, are not judged the same as those who do. It’s still not a clear, unambiguous, dogmatic case, but it does offer some hints.

Joshua

The hint I see in Deut 1:39 is that these children, whether or not they have committed sin, are not held accountable because they lack this knowledge of good and evil.

I see that too. However, applying God’s particular mercy to the children in Deut 1 to all children today is a stretch every Bible student should avoid lest that same hermeneutical approach be demanded elsewhere in Scripture.

Steve Lemke

I have to agree with Chris and not Joshua on this point. I even find myself in the novel position of siding with what Chris noted about John Piper’s position on this issue (but then, he’s a Calvinistic Baptist).

Joshua, I believe you have overstated the case when you say there is “no” biblical support for the age (state) of accountability. In fact, there is biblical support, but again, it is not by simply quoting a proof text. It comes from drawing the logical conclusions from several other Scriptural truths. There are some doctrines (such as the Trinity) which you can’t simply cite a chapter and verse in which it is directly addressed, but you can derive it logically from places like the Trinitarian baptismal formula in the Great Commission, for example. So I think a person should not say that there was “no” biblical support for Trinity (or the age of accountability); but that while it is not addressed directly in a specific text, it can be inferred from other Scriptures.

Dr. Stewart, I am “almost persuaded” by the softer Calvinism of Hodge and Buswell. I do think I resonate with their position. But is there a classical Reformed confession which asserts this? I know that in your book you mentioned how some of the immediate successors to Calvin “softened” his views of predestination, etc., so perhaps there is such a softer confession — but as you mentioned, the best-known confessions do not seem to allow for this option. (The Particular Baptists followed the Westminister Confession as a guideline, and as I showed in the article, departed from them on this doctrine). The old saying is that whenever you get four Baptists together, there are at least five opinions, and perhaps it is the same with Presbyterians as well. But would you be willing to say that the majority or mainstream of Presbyterians disagree with the Westminister Confession at this point?

However, I must also pull the discussion about infant salvation back to what I’m discussing — the age of accountability. I don’t know of a significant stream or even tributary of Reformed theology which affirms the age of accountability in the way that Baptists understand it, and that was and is my central point.

Joshua

I understand Scriptural inference. My position is that there are no texts, properly exegeted, that infer an “age of accountability.”

Could you provide the texts that infer the “age of accountability?”

Job

Regarding the fate of those who die in infancy, my position is that they are subject to divine election, TULIP if you will, just as everyone else. However, there are two scripture texts that I consider the meaning of.

First, is the child of Jeroboam. 1Ki 14:13 reads “And all Israel shall mourn for him, and bury him: for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found [some] good thing toward the LORD God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.” Evidently, Jeroboam’s infant child alone among Jeroboam’s house found grace in the eyes of the Lord after the manner of Noah. Jeroboam’s infant child was loved (Jacob), the rest of Jeroboam’s house was hated (Esau). We cannot say that “in him is found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel” means that the child possessed inherent righteousness, because that would deny original sin. Such would be Pelagianism (or at least what I understand of the doctrine of Pelagius based on reading “The Story of Christianity” by Justo Gonzalez). Instead, the “good thing” found in the child was grace, God’s unmerited favor towards a sinner. There is no evidence that such grace is extended to every child as it was to this particular child of Jeroboam.

The second: Mat 19:14. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. The Greek word translated “little children” is paidion. (I LOVE how http://blueletterbible.com allows PRACTICALLY ANYONE to look like a scholar, including me ;-)! ) Paidion = paedo, as in paedobaptism or infant baptism. Meanings can be infant, young child, little boy, little girl, or like children in intellect (i.e. mentally challenged or retarded). So these were, or most certainly included, those below a theoretical “age of accountability.” Note that Jesus Christ did not say “the kingdom of heaven is given to them”, which would imply that such children would automatically go to heaven. Instead, He stated that for the little children to come to Him, i.e. in response to His gospel and revelation, is a mark of the kingdom of heaven, or “how the kingdom of heaven works.” In other words (according to me anyway) Jesus Christ was telling His followers “don’t exclude the children, because they need to hear – and believe and respond in faith – to the Son of God just as do the adults.”

There is also another issue. What R.C. Sproul calls “justification by age alone” … its adherents create a theological contradiction. If people are not held accountable for the gospel because of their not having reached the age of accountability, then how can people who have never heard of the gospel be held accountable regardless of their age? Please know that a way to resolve this contradiction is pluralism of some form, such as that advocated by the Roman Catholic Church, Clark Pinnock, C.S. Lewis, Rob Bell, and – according to an infamous “Pilgrim’s Progress” interview that he gave to Newsweek in 2006, though his comments were later disavowed on his behalf by his son and his organization – the very Billy Graham that Sproul addressed his letter.

That being said, I do not believe that the Bible conclusively deals with the issue of the fate of infants, and for that reason making strong, blanket positions either way goes beyond what the Bible says on the issue. I should point out, however, my view is that though the body ages, the spirit is eternal. In eternity, “age” doesn’t matter: time doesn’t exist. From that view, there is no difference between sending a 100 year old to the lake of fire (or heaven) and a 1 day old. Also, I have the position that it is well within God’s rights and prerogatives to destroy any portion of His creation that He sees fit, infants included, without anyone having the right to justly charge Him with being evil, cruel, unfair etc. (Came to that opinion by reading “Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People” by Will Metzger. I must admit that I had never considered such a notion prior to reading that book … it was completely absent in and foreign to my thinking, and it greatly offended me at first. But over time, I came to fully agree with it.) The clay has no standing to make charges against and complaints to the potter, and this is true regardless of the age of the clay, or how long ago the vessel was removed from the kiln. Romans 9, after all.

So my position is that it is impossible to conclusively know, and the further the answer to the question whatever it may be should have no effect on our theology or practice. If anything, Matthew 19:14 is proof of the Baptist doctrine (and as Dr. Lemke stated, this does include Particular Baptists) that the gospel should be preached freely to all.

Chris Roberts

“If people are not held accountable for the gospel because of their not having reached the age of accountability, then how can people who have never heard of the gospel be held accountable regardless of their age? Please know that a way to resolve this contradiction is pluralism of some form, such as that advocated by the Roman Catholic Church”

The resolution is fairly simple. Romans 1:18-20 makes it clear that there is no such person as the man who knows nothing of God’s commands, and thus sins in ignorance. God has revealed himself to all people, and that includes creating us with an innate knowledge of right and wrong. We know, because we were created to know, what God expects of us and as such we are guilty every time we reject one of his commands.

What distinguishes children is not that they lack the revelation but they lack the capacity to understand that revelation. The man living on a deserted island who has never understood the gospel still has the moral and intellectual ability to reason between right and wrong and to understand what God has revealed through his conscience. Children, particularly young children, not quite so much.

David Campbell

Hello Job,

You stated “The second: Mat 19:14. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. The Greek word translated “little children” is paidion. (I LOVE how http://blueletterbible.com allows PRACTICALLY ANYONE to look like a scholar, including me ;-)! ) Paidion = paedo…..”
This reminded me of a debate I once read involving Spurgeon. I couldnt find the article, but I pulled the following from the internet, which makes the point well enough…

“It is said that Mr. Spurgeon was, on one occasion, invited to debate the issue of infant baptism. His opponent suggested that they each, in turn, quote a verse supporting their own position. To this, Mr. Spurgeon agreed. His opponent stood first and quoted Matthew 19:14 — “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven.” When his opponent sat down, Mr. Spurgeon rose and quoted his first text — Job 1:1 — “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job.”

“Mr. Spurgeon,” his opponent said, “I fail to see what your verse has to do with infant baptism.” To which Mr. Spurgeon replied, “So, too, I fail to see what your verse has to do with infant baptism.”

    volfan007

    lol….that’s good

David Campbell

Dr. Lemke,

Im enjoying this series and appreciate your scholarship. I should read more Arminians like yourself.

David Campbell

And I say that in the spirit of David Benedicts baptist history….

The reader must keep in mind, that in this day, those were called Arminians, who held to the universal provision of the gospel, or that the atonement of Christ was general in its nature… (They) were called Arminians, because they maintained, that by the sufferings of Christ, salvation was made possible for every individual of Adam’s ruined posterity. —General History of the Baptist Denomination, Vol. 2, pp. 61 (note), 410. Manning and Loring, Boston, 1813.

Nothing pejorative, just a historical baptist classification

Steve Lemke

Joshua has suggested there is “no” biblical justification for the doctrine of the age (state) of accountability, and indeed, there are “no texts” which “properly interpreted” even infer the age of accountability. Unless “properly interpreted” means believing only exactly what Joshua believes, as opposed to an interpretation endorsed by any scholarly and reputable commentary, then Joshua’s challenge is easy to meet. Of course, all it takes is ONE biblical justification (whether or not others agree with that interpretation or not) to disprove that claim.

For starters, the life transition from childhood into adolescence and early adulthood is recognized with some form of celebration in almost every culture. In Jewish culture, this coming of age is celebrated at the age of twelve or thirteen with bar mitzvahs (for boys) and bat mitzvahs (for girls). While this recognition is prompted by age rather than personal spiritual maturity, the term “mitzvah” literally means “one to whom the commandments apply.” After their mitzvah, children are held to be morally responsible for their own actions and accountable to follow the Jewish law. This coming of age is hinted at in Jesus’ life in His visit to the temple in Jerusalem at the age of twelve (Luke 2:41-50).

Although the phrase “the age of accountability” is not mentioned specifically in Scripture (as is the case with other doctrines such as the Trinity), there is scriptural warrant for this belief. One Scripture from which biblical support for the “age of accountability” can be drawn is in Jeremiah 31:29-30 and the parallel passage in Ezekiel 18:14-21, which makes clear that we are only accountable under the new covenant for our own sins, not those of our parents –

“Now suppose he has a son who sees all the sins his father has committed, and though he sees them, he does not do likewise. . . . He practices My ordinances and follows My statutes. Such a person will not die for his father’s iniquity. He will certainly live. . . . But you may ask: Why doesn’t the son suffer punishment for the father’s iniquity? Since the son has done what is just and right, carefully observing all My statutes, he will certainly live. The person who sins is the one who will die. A son won’t suffer punishment for the father’s iniquity, and a father won’t suffer punishment for the son’s iniquity. The righteousness of the righteous person will be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be on him. Now if the wicked person turns from all the sins he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is just and right, he will certainly live; he will not die. In those days, it will never again be said: The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. Rather, each will die for his own wrongdoing. Anyone who eats sour grapes-his own teeth will be set on edge” (Ezek. 18:14-21, HCSB).

Further support for the concept of an “age of accountability” comes from the fact that nowhere in the New Testament is the baptism of a single baby or infant described. In every case, it is adults who come to faith in Christ. Evidently, then, moral accountability and salvation by faith are applicable only for those who are capable of moral discernment. One can infer the age of accountability from that universal practice of adult baptism in the New Testament.

I’m happy to provide this information, but let me remind us all that it is not the purpose of my series to provide a defense of any of these doctrines. That would be a much harder task, and since there are counterinterpretations for each of these Biblical texts, it would go far beyond reasonable space and time limits to do it well. So let me call us all back to the original topic — that is, which doctrines actually separate Baptists and Presbyterians. That’s what my articles are about. And thusfar through these many comments, no one has shown any historical or theological basis to counter the fact that Baptists as a whole (Calvinistic Baptists and less Calvinistic Baptists) have through our history disagreed with Presbyterians on these issues.
swl

Steve Lemke

David,
Thanks for your kind words, but if you’ll read my earlier post entitled “The Middle Way,” available online at http://sbctoday.wpengine.com/2011/06/07/the-middle-way, you’ll understand some of the reasons why I prefer not to be labeled an Arminian, and why it is not a good descriptor of my belief structure. I much prefer to be described with the more accurate nomenclature of “a Baptist.”
swl

Ken Stewart

Steve:
Once more, thanks for your series. You asked, in response to my first reply, whether there was any Presbyterian confession of faith since the WCF which addressed the situation of infants in terms not only of their infection, from Adam, with the sin nature but also with a guilt descended from him. I can only answer “not to my knowledge”.
What I see instead is a steady readiness to interpret the provisions of chapter X of the WCF (Effectual Calling) regarding the application of redemption to infants and others “incapable of being outwardly called by the word” in the the most generous terms. In addition to Hodge and Buswell, mentioned already one could consult Warfield’s essay, “The Development of the Doctrine of Infant Salvation” (Works, Vol. IX), the commentary of A.A. Hodge on the WCF (BOT edition, p. 174,175), and finally the work of R.A. Webb _The Theology of Infant Salvation_ (Richmond, VA 1907). Only in this last work does there appear to be an approximation of the position you found in Sproul Jr., ie the expectation that not only the inclination to sin but also the guilt of Adam’s sin is transmitted to all humans, irrespective of moral development.

Already in the seventeenth century there was reaction against this implication. But the attempt at resolution put forward by the French Protestant theologian, Placaeus (i.e. La Place) was deemed unsatisfactory. It was given the name ‘mediate imputation’ and supposed that infants, already inclined to sin, in effect ‘connect’ themselves to Adam’s guilt and a share in it when they first voluntarily sin. We can admire the aim of this theory without endorsing its details.

Steve Lemke

Dr. Stewart,
It is the absence of any affirmation of the age of accountability in
Presbyterian doctrinal confessions, in contrast to the Baptist
confessions, that I was intending to contrast. However, in my opinion
as an outsider, the Presbyterian doctrines relating to the death of
younger children have always been a bit embarrassing pastorally — or
as the saying goes, it won’t sell in Peoria. This may help account for
why some of the theologians you mentioned have softened the position
somewhat, and why I think there is a significant difference in tone
between what Calvin said in his Institutes and what he said in
his sermons.

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the doctrinal confession of
Southern Baptists, is rather close to La Place’s proposal (in Adam’s
sin inclining his posterity with a sin nature, but guilt not being
imputed until actual voluntary sin at the age of accountability).
swl

Joshua

Joshua has suggested there is “no” biblical justification for the doctrine of the age (state) of accountability, and indeed, there are “no texts” which “properly interpreted” even infer the age of accountability.

If you define “infer” in the same manner as we understand the Trinity to be “inferred” then yes, there are no texts properly exegeted that weightily infer an age of accountability. The problem with “knowing good and evil” (Deut 1:39) and other texts is that they are never in a “salvation” context. I am not demanding explicity, but the inference must be able to make the leap from original context to a different application without abandoning consistent hermeneutical principles.

Unless “properly interpreted” means believing only exactly what Joshua believes, as opposed to an interpretation endorsed by any scholarly and reputable commentary,

The problem with this statement, other than being borderline insulting, is that I could use a plethora of “scholarly and reputable” commentaries from all across the theological spectrum to support many doctrines. Are the “all” in 1 Tim 2:4 classified as all kinds of men or every single individual on earth. Well, let me find a “scholarly and reputable” commentary to support my view so that I can apply this verse to “child salvation” (see the Mohler, Akin article for such argumentation). A proper and consistent hermeneutic is what I speak of when I say “properly interpreted.”

Using David’s comment in 2 Sam 12:13, “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” to assert that every infant that has ever died is in Heaven is not meaningful inference. Could it not be understood that David is speaking going to the grave/sheol, and that his hope and trust was in God resurrecting him and the child rather than a dogmatic “infant is in heaven because David is going to heaven?” That is a contextual understanding of what is going on in the text without stretching the text to say things it does not intend to say.

Your citation of Jer 31 and Ezek 18 is peculiar in that you seek to apply the benefits of the New Covenant to every human born. I know that it is not your position that every person born is in a saving covenant with God (which is what the New Covenant is) so why would a pagan child benefit from the New Covenant?

Your last paragraph, arguing from silence, does little to biblically support an “age of accountability.” The absence of baptized children could mean many things. Frankly, I have no interest in seeking inference from silence. Perhaps the 1st Cent. Christians understood “believer’s baptism” and found no warrant to baptize children but prayed and hoped for the Lord’s mercy on them. The use of such argumentation sheds light on the entire discussion.

It is certainly Baptist tradition (at least recently) to believe in an “age of accountability.” It is my hope that as we, Southern Baptists, strive to be people of the Bible, we will let the text speak without forcing our traditions onto the Word of God.

Joshua

Joshua has suggested there is “no” biblical justification for the doctrine of the age (state) of accountability, and indeed, there are “no texts” which “properly interpreted” even infer the age of accountability.

If you define “infer” in the same manner as we understand the Trinity to be “inferred” then yes, there are no texts properly exegeted that weightily infer an age of accountability. The problem with “knowing good and evil” (Deut 1:39) and other texts is that they are never in a “salvation” context. I am not demanding explicity, but the inference must be able to make the leap from original context to a different application without abandoning consistent hermeneutical principles.

Unless “properly interpreted” means believing only exactly what Joshua believes, as opposed to an interpretation endorsed by any scholarly and reputable commentary,

The problem with this statement, other than being borderline insulting, is that I could use a plethora of “scholarly and reputable” commentaries from all across the theological spectrum to support many doctrines. Are the “all” in 1 Tim 2:4 classified as all kinds of men or every single individual on earth. Well, let me find a “scholarly and reputable” commentary to support my view so that I can apply this verse to “child salvation” (see the Mohler, Akin article for such argumentation). A proper and consistent hermeneutic is what I speak of when I say “properly interpreted.”

Using David’s comment in 2 Sam 12:13, “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” to assert that every infant that has ever died is in Heaven is not meaningful inference. Could it not be understood that David is speaking going to the grave/sheol, and that his hope and trust was in God resurrecting him and the child rather than a dogmatic “infant is in heaven because David is going to heaven?” That is a contextual understanding of what is going on in the text without stretching the text to say things it does not intend to say.

Your citation of Jer 31 and Ezek 18 is peculiar in that you seek to apply the benefits of the New Covenant to every human born. I know that it is not your position that every person born is in a saving covenant with God (which is what the New Covenant is) so why would a pagan child benefit from the New Covenant?

Your last paragraph, arguing from silence, does little to biblically support an “age of accountability.” The absence of baptized children could mean many things. Frankly, I have no interest in seeking inference from silence. Perhaps the 1st Cent. Christians understood “believer’s baptism” and found no warrant to baptize children but prayed and hoped for the Lord’s mercy on them. The use of such argumentation sheds light on the entire discussion.

It is certainly Baptist tradition (at least recently) to believe in an “age of accountability.” It is my hope that as we, Southern Baptists, strive to be people of the Bible, we will let the text speak without forcing our traditions onto the Word of God.

Steve Lemke

I really don’t care to argue, Joshua, and the reason I said what I did was that I knew you would have that kind of one-sided reading of those texts. But would it be correct to read your remarks as saying that you cannot affirm the Baptist Faith and Message (any version), especially its statement that children are not guilty of sin until they “are capable of moral action”? What do you say to the grieving parents of a child who dies? Can you offer them any hope? Can you clarify at what points you disagree with Al Mohler and Danny Akin? With Charles Spurgeon?
swl

Brad Whitt

Thank you Dr. Lemke for another practical, biblical post on our distinctives as Baptists. When I worked with the college ministry at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Dr. Adrian Rogers came and shared a lecture on Reformed Theology. (I have an audio version of that talk on my website if anyone were to be interested in listening.) In that lecture he shared about the death of his one year old son and how he and Mrs. Rogers dealt with it. In that part of his lecture he dealt with the question of whether or not all babies go to heaven when the die. He gave some valuable insight from one who had spent decades walking with God and studying His Word. He asked if all babies that died were “saved?” His answer was that they were not “saved” because they had no capactiy to repent of their sin and trust Christ as their Lord and Savior. Rather, he said that they were “safe,” covered by the grace of our loving, Heavenly Father. Great, practical, biblical insight from one of God’s intimates. Just thought I’d pass that along.

Joshua

I really don’t care to argue, Joshua, and the reason I said what I did was that I knew you would have that kind of one-sided reading of those texts.

I am not sure why my interpretations offered are “one-sided” and yours are presumably not.

But would it be correct to read your remarks as saying that you cannot affirm the Baptist Faith and Message (any version), especially its statement that children are not guilty of sin until they “are capable of moral action”?

I can’t help but feel like this is a “show me your papers” moment, but yes I can and do affirm the Baptist Faith & Message.

What do you say to the grieving parents of a child who dies? Can you offer them any hope?

Here is the thorn of emotionalism that poisons proper exegesis and too often taints the conversation. The assumption in your statement is that there is only hope to be offered if there is an age of accountability. This is false.

I would tell the grieving parents that the Word of God tells us that God is perfect and righteous in all his ways, that we can trust that his will is good, and that he works all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. David trusted in the Lord when he lost his child and so can we as children of God.

We must remember that our joy in heaven is not found in reuniting with family members and the brethren in Christ but our joy will be found in God himself because only he satisfies all of our desires.

Can you clarify at what points you disagree with Al Mohler and Danny Akin? With Charles Spurgeon?

I disagree with all 6 points in their article. The point I was referring to was point #1.
http://betweenthetimes.com/2009/07/24/why-we-believe-children-who-die-go-to-heaven-2/

First, the grace, goodness and mercy of God would support the position that God saves all infants who die. This is the strongest argument and perhaps the decisive one. God is love (1 John 4:8) and desires that all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). God is love and His concern for children is evident in Matthew 18:14 where Jesus says, “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”…

Steve Lemke

So, again, Joshua, not trying to back you in a corner but trying to understand your position, you are affirming the Baptist Faith and Message statement (present in all three versions — 1925, 1963, and 2000) that children are not guilty of sin until they “are capable of moral action”? So, therefore, children are not guilty of sin?

Steve Lemke

Joshua,
Just another brief note. You said that “it is certainly Baptist tradition (at least recently) to believe in an ‘age of accountability.'” I’m glad for you to acknowledge that the age of accountability is a Baptist belief. That is the central point of my article. But I would quibble with your qualifier “at least recently.” As I noted in my article, both the Second London and the Philadelphia confessions (both in the Particular Baptist tradition) delete the affirmation of the Westminster Confession that “Every sin, both original and actual . . . [brings] “guilt upon the sinner.” That’s about as early as you can get in Baptist life.

Joshua

So, again, Joshua, not trying to back you in a corner but trying to understand your position, you are affirming the Baptist Faith and Message statement (present in all three versions — 1925, 1963, and 2000) that children are not guilty of sin until they “are capable of moral action”? So, therefore, children are not guilty of sin?

You are incorrect regarding the 1925 BF&M. It reads:

He was created in a state of holiness under the law of his Maker, but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.

The 1925 version mentions actual transgression but confirms imputed sin by its affirmation that all men are under condemnation before becoming actual transgressors.

The 1963 version changes the placement of the phrase “are under condemnation,” placing it after the phrase “capable of moral action” and consequently denies the historic biblical doctrine of original sin.

I affirm Section III (The Fall of Man) of the 1925 Baptist Faith & Message.

You are also incorrect regarding the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689. It absolutely affirms original guilt and imputed sin. Section 6, paragraph 3 reads:

They being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation

To assert that Particular Baptists believed that children were without guilt until some unknown age of moral capability is historically incorrect, especially regarding the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689. We see an affirmation of imputed sin from the LBC 1689 confession all the way until the 1963 BF&M.

Steve Lemke

Joshua,
As I’ve said, the Second London and Philadelphia confessions follow the Westminster confession word for word for the majority of their text. Therefore, what is notable is not the similarities but the differences. How do you account for the fact that they left out part 6 of article 6 on Sin (though they copied the rest of the Westminster Confession vertatim in this section) which affirmed, “Every sin, both original and actual . . . [brings] “guilt upon the sinner”? By the way, if you’re trying to make a historical argument, how do you account for the fact that the 1644 and 1646 versions of the First London Confession completely omit the issue of imputed guilt, and the 1610 Short Confession completely denies original sin?

Yes, the wording of the 1925 BF&M at this point is a little confusing. It speaks of being under “condemnation” and yet it is not until young people “are capable of moral action” that they become “actual transgressors.” How can one be under condemnation without actually being a transgressor? It appears that the “condemnation” intended is sort of a provisional or presumptive condemnation which does not take affect until the actual transgressions take place. That’s why I believe the 1963 and 2000 BF&Ms clarified this issue.

So, are you saying that you cannot affirm the BF&M 2000 as it is?

    Thomas Twitchell

    I can. When read in the light of the preamble, the 1963 and the 2000, as they were composed expressly to uphold the 1925. Explicitly stated by Hobbs, words might have changed to lend clarity, but were never intended to change the original meaning, and thereby, despite the word order, the change in words, or the disappearane of the words all to gether, the meaning remains the same. The fact being that his statement was inclusive of the tradition from which the 1963 was drawn from, namely the 1689. The 1925 is then a synopsis, and the readers are encourage to search its orgins for its clear meaning.

David Campbell

Dr. Lemke,

What do you make of B. H. Carroll’s commenting on Ephesians from his interpretation of the English Bible?

Of course, with that kind of a start, spiritually dead, if a man is saved at all he is saved by grace. It is impossible for a dead man to make himself alive. Notice how that deadness is expressed in this paragraph: “And were by nature children of wrath.” That knocks the bottom out of the thought that sin consists in the wilful transgression of a known commandment, as the Arminians say. Sin is lawlessness, first of all – lawlessness in nature before there have been any external manifestations in overt actions.

Joshua

“Therefore, what is notable is not the similarities but the differences. How do you account for the fact that they left out part 6 of article 6 on Sin (though they copied the rest of the Westminster Confession vertatim in this section) which affirmed, “Every sin, both original and actual . . . [brings] “guilt upon the sinner”?

To completely ignore the concise language given by the Second LBC 1689, “the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity,” because of deviation from an older informing document is hardly rational. I suppose if the language was not clear then your position would be much supported by the revision and absence of particular statements regarding original guilt. However, this is not the case. The Second LBC 1689 clearly affirms imputed sin, regardless of deviation from the WCF.

“Yes, the wording of the 1925 BF&M at this point is a little confusing.”

I don’t believe so. It seems very straightforward. The writers make a distinction become imputed sin (born under condemnation) and actual sin (actual transgressors).

“It speaks of being under “condemnation” and yet it is not until young people “are capable of moral action” that they become “actual transgressors.”

This is a presupposition that you are attempting to force onto the text. It is only an issue if you force this understanding onto what it says. It says exactly what the 1963 editors didn’t want it to say, a distinction between imputed sin and actual sin (we all sinned in Adam and are thus born guilty but also grow up to transgress).

“How can one be under condemnation without actually being a transgressor?

Because we receive imputed sin from Adam. This is not some foreign and unknown doctrine. Original sin is an historic Christian doctrine.

It appears that the “condemnation” intended is sort of a provisional or presumptive condemnation which does not take affect until the actual transgressions take place.

Again, it only appears this way if you refuse to allow the doctrine of original sin to be conveyed there.

…whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.

The language is clear in distinguishing that all of the posterity of Adam are born under condemnation and then also become actual sinners. There is no need to introduce “provisional” or “presumptive” condemnation there.

Les

Dr. Lemke,

I am a Presbyterian (PCA) and have some thoughts for later. I do find this a fascinating discussion and a needful one. But before I get to my thoughts I would like for you to clear up something you wrote.

You wrote, “Infant baptism is a logical corollary of the belief that children are guilty of sin since birth: “Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized.”[4]”

And…

…”Baptists deny that children are guilty upon birth, and so deny the need for infant baptism.”

What do you understand to be the basis for infant baptism by Presbyterians? Your two statements seem to infer that Presbyterians baptize infants to save them by means of that baptism.

Blessings,

Les

My question:

Les

Sorry. “My question:” should have been right after the second quote from you.

Les

One other thing…

You said, “the focus appears to be placed on actual sins rather than inherited guilt: through the “original corruption” of Adam we are “inclined to all evil,” and from this proclivity we commit “actual transgressions.”

It seems to me that you are piecing together parts to make it seem that the LBC denies or at least minimizes original sin. But when you read it straight up, as:

“Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them. For from this, death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.” LBC 6.2

Infants surely are part of “For from this, death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin…” Death is upon all by virtue of Adam’s fall. There is no other way to read that.

6.3 makes it even more clear:

“They being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and their corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. Their descendants are therefore conceived in sin, and are by nature the children of wrath, the servants of sin, and the subjects of death and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus sets them free.”

So, I don’t see how you can deny original sin to infants.

For the record, I do believe that infants dying in infancy as well as those unable to comprehend such as severely handicapped. I just don’t get here by denying original sin for them. I believe that God sovereignly regenerates them.

Les

One other, other thing. Spurgeon on imputed sin to all:

“The root of the Fall is found in the federal relationship of Adam to his seed—thus we fell by imputation. Is it any wonder that we should rise by imputation? Deny this Doctrine, and I ask you—how are men pardoned at all? Are they not pardoned because satisfaction has been offered for sin by Christ? Very well, then, but that satisfaction must be imputed to them or else how is God just in giving to them the results of the death of Another—unless that death of the Other is first of all imputed to them?”

http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols7-9/chs395.pdf

Steve Lemke

Les, David, and Joshua,
Thanks for the points you are making. I think this is a conversation that helps “iron sharpen iron” as we all learn how to communicate more effectively and precisely what we are trying to say, and for each of us to think through what we believe.

Joshua,
I’m still waiting for your response about whether you can affirm the BF&M 2000 as it is.

David, Joshua, and Les,
I think you’re leading the conversation away from what I was specifically addressing, and perhaps reading some things into it that I didn’t say. Regarding original sin, I said:

“However, Baptist confessions tend not to use the term ‘original sin’ by name, and two Baptist confessions explicitly deny it. John Smyth in his Short Confession of 1609 affirmed, ‘That there is no original sin (lit., no sin of origin or descent), but all sin is actual and voluntary, viz., a word, a deed, or a design against the law of God; and therefore, infants are without sin.'[8] Likewise, the Short Confession of Faith of 1610 affirmed that none of Adam’s posterity ‘are guilty, sinful, or born in original sin.'[9] The focus is on guilt from actual chosen sin, not inherited guilt.”

So, first of all, I did not say that every Baptist in the history of the world did not use “original sin” language. In fact, I said that some did, though I don’t think many of them mean what Presbyterians or Catholics mean by the term. Granted, a few early Particular Baptists do. But I also said that I could find no Baptist confession that used the language “original sin” BY NAME. I did not deny that some of the confessions or theologians used language that appeared to endorse some sort of traducianism. I did (a) cite two early Baptist confessions which explicitly denied original sin, (b) point out some sections in the early Particular Baptist confessions which seemed to soften or omit the Westminster Confession language about original sin, and (c) assert that the current BF&M 2000 does not affirm original sin as inherited guilt, but as an inherited nature (we do not fully become “transgressors” (i.e., guilty) until “they are capable of moral action.”

Les,
I love Spurgeon, and the Spurgeon quote you cited is very poetic, but it’s pretty flawed logic. Having imputation at one end matching imputation at the other end might be symmetrical, but there is no logical necessity there.

And, Les, you are trying to separate Presbyterian infant baptism from anything regarding salvation. Really? So, what does it commemorate? Their first Little League baseball win? Their first pizza? C’mon, I think you’re being a little disengenuous here. If coming under the covenant doesn’t indicate coming under the umbrella of salvation, then most Presbyterian families would be stunned and we should burn the Westminster Confession, which says that baptized infants of believers are saved.

Joshua

Dr. Lemke,

I agree that this discussion has been very helpful in understanding the scriptures and differing views and for that I am grateful.

However, in your last response you seem to soften your previous assertions. You have not admitted to a single inaccurate assertion though they have been documented. Will you respond to these three assertions you have made?

1. The assertion that the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith affirms an “age of accountability” by its deviation from the Westminster Confession of Faith. Thus asserting the “age of accountability” has a Baptist historicity dating back to 1689.

“You said that “it is certainly Baptist tradition (at least recently) to believe in an ‘age of accountability.’” I’m glad for you to acknowledge that the age of accountability is a Baptist belief. That is the central point of my article. But I would quibble with your qualifier “at least recently.” …both the Second London and the Philadelphia confessions…delete the affirmation of the Westminster Confession that “Every sin, both original and actual . . . [brings] “guilt upon the sinner.” That’s about as early as you can get in Baptist life.

2. The assertion that the 1925 Baptist Faith & Message affirms “that children are not guilty of sin until they are capable of moral action.”

“All three BF&M statements assert that “as soon as they are capable of moral action” they become “transgressors” and are under condemnation.”

3. The assertion that the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:29-30 applies to every person born.

One Scripture from which biblical support for the “age of accountability” can be drawn is in Jeremiah 31:29-30 and the parallel passage in Ezekiel 18:14-21, which makes clear that we are only accountable under the new covenant for our own sins, not those of our parents –

Finally, I do not affirm the 2000 BF&M section on Man but do affirm the 1925 BF&M section on Man.

Les

Dr. Lemke:

Spurgeon quote first. I think in his wonderful preaching style he was pointing out what Paul said in Romans:

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19 ESV)”

But quoting Spurgeon was just to point out that famous Baptist who did believe in original sin.

So on original sin, I’m still unclear if you yourself affirm or deny original sin (and I’m not talking about the term) or as some may call it “inherited guilt.” I think I see you saying that we are all born not guilty, is that right? And because we are not guilty before God therefore if we die early we go to be with Jesus. Is that what you say and what you say is the more common view among Baptists? I’m just trying to understand.

As to infant baptism and Presbyterians, what I am saying is that we do not affirm that baptizing an infant is salvific. We deny baptismal regeneration. Here is what the WCF SC says,

Q. 94. What is baptism?
A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

It is not a commemoration, but a sign and a seal. And you said,

“If coming under the covenant doesn’t indicate coming under the umbrella of salvation, then most Presbyterian families would be stunned and we should burn the Westminster Confession, which says that baptized infants of believers are saved.”

Would you please point out where the WCF “says that baptized infants of believers are saved.”

Blessings,

Les

Steve Lemke

Les,
No, I don’t believe in original sin as inherited guilt. I do believe we are born with a nature and environment inclined toward sin, but we are not actually guilty of sin until we commit sin when we are “capable of moral action,” as our BF&M confession says.
I understand that Spurgeon’s remarks could be consonant with a reading of Romans 5. My point is that he does not make that appeal in the quote, but to logic, and the logic is not self-evident in any sense, but is more of a poetic connection.
You asked me to point out where the WCF “says that baptized infants of believers are saved.” It is here:
Baptism . . . “doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.” Seal? Partake of grace? Our engagement to be the Lord’s? Without trying to be pedantic, I repeat — this is not Little League softball language or first pizza language! It’s salvation language!

SMuschany

Two points:

If as Dr. Lemke argues, that while born with the sin nature a child is not “guilty” until their first voluntary act, then one must ask is it possible for such a child and eventual adult not to sin at all? If a family of Christians were to raise a child from the beginning so well, that the child never chooses to voluntarily sin? Is that possible? If one argues that one is not “guilty” until the first voluntary act, then as a result that option must be allowed to exist in your theology. However such a position is not possible in light of scripture that states that ALL will fall short of the glory of God (ie sin). One must also point out that committing sin in ignorance is still sin and still cause of us to be separated from God with out Christ Jesus. Therefore, one must ask what the deal about “age of accountability” and “voluntary” sin is all about, if one is still guilty of sin even if their commission was out of ignorance. It is likely that man if not most children will sin in ignorance before they even know what sin is. Scriptural speaking they are still guilty of that sin and thus as a result, deserving of damnation.

Second, it may sound silly but the logic of this argument by Dr. Lemke takes us there; that is if children are not guilty of sin until an “age of accountability”, and thus if they die before such time they are automatically taken into heaven, then should not Christians support mass abortions and infanticide? If our goal is to save as many people as we can, is it not easier to take the life of a child before they can sin, thus earn a spot in heaven, rather than try and save them after they all ready are sinners? If your response to this is the sanctity of life, I ask which is more important: The sanctity of the physical fleshly life, or the sanctity and salvation of the eternal life? If you say that all children deserve the right to live, then you by necessity condemn some of those children to die eternally since not all will choose salvation once they reach the fabled “age of accountability”.

Personally I do not know all children who die young will go to heaven or not. Currently, I simply know that God is a great and merciful God, and if He decides to save some, or all, of such children who are we to question how or why He did so. As i continue to prepare for a calling into bi-vocational ministry, I feel that if faced with the death of a child to believers, I will be comfortable saying to them that their child is in heaven. But as of right now, I honestly dont know what I would say to a family of unbelievers who lost a child, other than God is a great and merciful God.

Les

Dr. Lemke,

You said, “Baptism . . . “doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.” Seal? Partake of grace? Our engagement to be the Lord’s? Without trying to be pedantic, I repeat — this is not Little League softball language or first pizza language! It’s salvation language!”

I don’t see where that quote from the WCF SC says baptized infants are saved. In fact I quoted that Q and A earlier when I asked you the question. When I asked you the question, I stated that we see baptism as a sign and a seal of our ingrafting into Christ. Unless you are looking at these things with God’s covenant promises in mind, then I suppose you could think that WE think of baptism as salvific.

Of course it has salvific connections, but as the confession says elsewhere the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the time OF the baptism:

“VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.”

Note to whom the grace promised is ACTUALLY conferred. To whom? ‘To such as that grace belongs (the elect)” and by whom? The holy Ghost. And when? “in His appointed time.”

So, as a Presbyterian my understanding is this. I believe that children of believers are recipients of the promise from God that He will be their God. I place the sign of that covenant promise on them (baptism in the NT) and then nurture them in the faith, teaching them the gospel. In time we pray that the child appropriates faith themselves and acknowledges Jesus as Savior and Lord and professes faith in Him.

Not all baptized children do that. Some later prove to be covenant breakers.

So as said above, in His appointed time and to whom the grace actually, etc.

Blessings,

Les

Steve Lemke

Dear SMuschany,
No, I am not a Pelagian, or even a semi-Pelagian. I do not think that anyone (except for Jesus) will live in sinless perfection. All will sin and come short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one. However, I do not believe that sins committed in ignorance meet the standard definition of sin in James 4:17: “to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” By the way, I did not claim that infants are innocent, or that they are not tainted or inclined by Adamic sin. I said that Adam’s sin is not imputed to them until they join Adam in sinning, as Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 18 suggest about individual accountability.

Regarding your second question, I do not think it is appropriate to apply a cost-benefit analysis or hedonistic logic (i.e., what result would be the most pleasurable) to spiritual matters, such as you suggest in commiting infanticide to assure salvation of children. However, if you’re interested in cost-benefit analysis, I can tell you that your agnostic answer about the eternal destiny of infants who die will not sell in Peoria, and is simply insufficient for those of us who have experienced the loss of an infant.

Steve Lemke

Les,
I’m glad you’ve come around to acknowledging that infant baptism has salvific implications, which is what I have argued in this thread.

    Les

    Glad to be clear. As I have said above, Presbyterians do not view baptism as salvific (it does not save) but rather, sure, it has salvific connections or implications. In other words salvation is connected to it but not effected by it…same as Baptists. In Baptist theology baptism has salvific implications because it is connected with a profession of faith. But for Baptists, as with Presbyterians, it does not effect salvation.

    Blessings,

    Les

Steve Lemke

Joshua,
Responses as requested:

You: You want me to acknowledge at least one “inaccuracy” you allege, in light of the fact that you have “documented” them.
Me: Joshua, I’m not so arrogant to claim that I couldn’t possibly be wrong or that I could not conceivably stated something in a blog comment that could not have been written more precisely or perfectly. Now that you mention it, that concern might equally pertain to your remark that there is “no” Biblical justification for the doctrine of the age of accountability. However, I don’t find your “documentation” convincing, or particularly relevant to the purposes of my study or the point of the article I posted. The methodology of my study was to see where even the Calvinistically oriented Particular Baptists differed from the Westminster Confession, which they otherwise quoted word for word verbatim in the Second London Confession and Philadelphia Confession. We are not suprised when we find Particular Baptists quoting the Westminster Confession. But we should sit up and take notice when Particular Baptists consciously edit or omit statements in the Westminster Confession, because that is where they are clearly trying to differentiate themselves from the Westminster Confession.

Let us not get lost in the details — the purpose of these articles is to determine what separates Baptists from Presbyterians. So, what is MOST REMARKABLE is not points at which the Second London Confession and Philadelphia Confession follow the Westminster Confession word for word verbatim. What stands out is when they CHANGE the language or OMIT the language of the Westminster Confession. So, it is unremarkable to me (for the purposes of this study) that the Particular Baptists followed the Westminister Confession at many points. That is what we would expect Particular Baptists to do. What is remarkable to me is where they intentionally differentiate themselves from the Westminster Confession, thus SEPARATING themselves from the Reformed tradition as expressed in the Westminster Confession. So we must ask ourselves, mustn’t we, Joshua, why these Particular Baptists who otherwise quoted the Westminster Confession verbatim, word for word, consciously omitted language. That was the language that interests me, and the langauge I find important for this study.

By the way, my post from yesterday was not softening my position, but in fact was repeating and clarifying what I actually said as opposed to some things that were read into what I said. Let me remind you what I actually said, and what I pointed out that I didn’t say:

“So, first of all, I did not say that every Baptist in the history of the world did not use ‘original sin’ language. In fact, I said that some did, though I don’t think many of them mean what Presbyterians or Catholics mean by the term. Granted, a few early Particular Baptists do. But I also said that I could find no Baptist confession that used the language “original sin” BY NAME. I did not deny that some of the confessions or theologians used language that appeared to endorse some sort of traducianism. I did (a) cite two early Baptist confessions which explicitly denied original sin, (b) point out some sections in the early Particular Baptist confessions which seemed to soften or omit the Westminster Confession language about original sin, and (c) assert that the current BF&M 2000 does not affirm original sin as inherited guilt, but as an inherited nature (we do not fully become ‘transgressors’ (i.e., guilty) until ‘they are capable of moral action.’ ”

You: “Will you respond to these three assertions you have made?” (followed by three quotations of me).
Me: In general, I do not argue with myself in public. Therefore, I will respond to my assertions by saying, “Amen.”

    Thomas Twitchell

    As stated above, the intent of the BFM was not to differentiate or to distinguish itself from any earlier version. Simply stating the case differently, or omitting parts, or even adding, are not points where there is necessarily disagreement. Unless the case is stated in either positive or negative terms, and sometimes necessarily in both, in contradiction to the former, you cannot say that the intent to remain consistent was not there. As noted, Hobbs explicitly states, even if he didn’t agree with confession by his personal interpretation of it, that the 1963 did not seek to change the original intent of the 1925 or the confessions from which it was drawn. Period.

Les

And, I never intended to derail the thread to talk about infant baptism, though it is related.

And to restate (and complete something I said above),

“For the record, I do believe that infants dying in infancy as well as those unable to comprehend such as severely handicapped [are regenerated and immediately are in the presence of Jesus upon death]. I just don’t get here by denying original sin for them. I believe that God sovereignly regenerates them.”

Joshua

Dr. Lemke,

I asked you to respond to your three assertions in light of my refutations previously given. I did not ask for you to “argue with yourself in public.”

You cited Jeremiah 31:29-30 as Scriptural support for an “age of accountability.” You applied the New Covenant in that passage to all mankind. I simply ask how you can apply the New Covenant to all mankind when the New Covenant by its nature is only for God’s chosen people? I have asked twice and you refuse to offer an exegesis. This is now my third request for an explanation of why you apply the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:29-30 to all people.

Dialoguing about theology and discussing Scripture can be a great means by which we grow in God’s truth and grace. If we are going to cite God’s Word to support doctrine, we should be willing to defend our interpretation when asked by a brother or sister in Christ.

Dr. James Willingham

You all ought to read Mr. Spurgeon’s sermon on “Infant Salvation,” MTP, Vol.7, pp505-512. He very explicitly says why he believes infants are saved, and it is not on the ground of innocence, nor on the ground of baptism, nor the will of man. “It is saved because it is elect….They are saved, too, because they were redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. He who shed his blood for all his people, bought them with the price with which he redeemed their parents, and therefore they are aved because Christ was sponsor for them, and suffered in their room and stead. Theay are saved, again, not without regeneration, for, “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”….By election, by redemption, by regeneration, the child enters into glory, by the selfsame door by which ever believer in Christ Jesus hopes to enter, and in no other way.”

The doctrines that you seem to detest, Dr. Lemke, can apparently be understood to teach infant salvation, and give a better basis for it than some idea that evil is not present there in the heart of even the infant just as poison was in the copperheads that some man found near a river not far from my first pastorate. He thought those fishing worms were strange, when the bit him. The poison in the serpent is likened unto the sinfulness in the nature of infants and children, and yet the God of all grace has in His mercy and grace provided for the salvation of every infant and child dying before they are to be considered responsible for their actions. The number of the saved at the last will be very great, so great Mr. Spurgeon says, that no man can number them. Thus, he things that a strong inferential argument for infant salvation. Actually, he erred in one point on that thought, namely, the idea that it says, no man can number. the saying in the original is neutral, meaning, “no one can number.”(Rev.7:9). All of these truths are invitations to trust God, Dr. Lemke. Don’t you know that? Has it ever occured to you that we speak of paradoxical interventions, of therapeutic paradoxes, Divinely therapeutic paradoxes. Thus, limited atonement/particular redemption might well be the means God has chosen to use to reach the greatest number of souls. Reprobation might well be the most intensely evangelistic doctrine of them all. The woman of Canaan, surely, thought so. She said it was true that she was a dog, and that even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.(Mt.15:21-28). She even thought the idea that Jesus was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (and she ws not a Jew) a reason for her to fall down before Him in worship. These are the doctrines of the Great Awakening and of the launching of the Century of Missions…Don’t you want to have the very truths that awakened a vast multitude to Christ and began the great missionary movement, truths that will produce an awakening that might well win every soul on earth beginning in this generation, and then continuing for a thousand generations and reaching a thousand thousand worlds during that 20,000 years (allowing 20 years only per generation)? And that just so God can make his children laugh with the thought of such a triumph as a number that no one (could it possibly be including Him?)? O yes, and don’t forget, dear Dr. Lemke, Dr. George W. Truett’s remark in his Spurgeon Centenary Address at the Royal Albert Hall in 1934 that Calvinism presses down upon the head of man the truth of responsibility. Pray tell how that is possible? Why do the historians of American Intellectual History find the Puritans of New England such a responsible and persevering people?

While I do not agree with our Presbyterian brethren about infant baptism and government by a presbytery, I do admire missionaries like John Paton who went to the South Sea Islands and won cannibals to Christ and made those people such Christians that some of my friends and some family members during World War II desired (if shot down or ship wrecked) to land on island where those Presbyterians had been. If they did, they would be the guests for dinner. If the missionaries had not been there, they would very likely be the dinner.

RC Sproul Jr.

Dear Dr. Lemke,
I certainly could be wrong on the issue, but I’d prefer to only be accused of being wrong for what I actually wrote. I do indeed believe that only those who trust in the finished work of Christ alone will enter into paradise. I also believe that the Bible does not give us clear assurance that all those who die in their youth necessarily have been given that trust. That doesn’t mean they haven’t. It is the imposition of your idea, one I don’t agree with, and to which the Bible does not speak, mainly that the very young are incapable of trusting in the finished work of Christ, that turns me into the monster you seek to slay. I believe all people stand guilt before God outside the work of Christ applied to them. I believe no one has that work applied save through faith in that work alone. I believe that faith is a gift from God. So please issue a correction. I did not say, nor imply, nor do I believe, that we can know that all babies go to hell when they die. Your defense, that I pointed to the reality that some who died in the Murrah building are now in hell, is not an argument about children, but about the universal reality of our sin, and the reality of God being a just God.

Feel free to argue against my position. But please don’t ascribe to me a view I do not take. You missed the ball here brother. God bless

Steve Lemke

Dear R.C. Jr.,
Thanks for your comments and clarification. I appreciate your participation in the discusson. This aspect of your comments quoted in the article were discussed thoroughly in the dialogue between Chris and me. As I mentioned, while I acknowledge that your article suggested agnosticism about the future destiny of infants who die rather than consigning all infants to hell, in all fairness the language you used seems heavily weighted toward the likelihood that the children would experience eternal torment in hell. You are right (as was noted in these comments) that you suggested two loopholes that you allowed for possible exceptions in which these infants might go to heaven — through the infants making a profession of faith or by covenantal salvation through their parents.

However, you are correct that I do not consider these to be viable options, but essentially non-options (hence leaving no alternative allowing for salvation). I find the notion that an 18 month old child (or even a fetus at the six weeks mark, whom I would assume you believe is a person) could understand abstract concepts clearly enough (childhood experts would say that this age of children are incapable of this level of understanding) and have a high enough sense of moral accountability (this article was, after all, about the age of accountability) to make a meaningful profession of faith. I do commend your statement that persons must make a conscious profession of faith (as opposed to Reformed thinker Terrance Tiessen says in his Who Can Be Saved?,/i> which allows people to be saved without a conscious commitment to Christ. That is why the age of accountability is so important. However, this requirement is in conflict with your other loophole, that a child could be saved under the covenant by the faith of his/her parents. I find no basis for that belief in Scripture. So, I don’t mean to misrepresent you, but since neither of your possible options for salvation of infants appears to be viable scripturally, I am driven to assume that neither of these possible loopholes functions to achieve the salvation of younger children.

The difference of opinion we have, of course, is not just between you and me, but between Presbyterians and Baptists broadly. Our theology of salvation differs at this point. We’ll probably both have to have our theologies adjusted when we get to heaven — though Baptists doubt it (:-).

Thanks again for contributing to the discussion.

RC Sproul Jr.

Dr. Lemke,

Thank you for your charitable response. I’m left wondering, however, where it is that I said anything about a child being saved on the basis of the faith of the parents. True enough some Presbyterians have said such, but not this one. In fact, I expressly said in my note that only those who depend on the finished work of Christ alone will enter into paradise. That excludes the unbelieving children of believing parents, if such do indeed die. So that means I leave only one loophole, the same loophole that brings all the redeemed into glory, saving faith in the work of Christ.

My concern, however, is not over the issue itself. I recognize that we disagree on the issue. My concern is that you say I say all children go to hell. I don’t say that. You are right again that another brother brought this to your attention in the comments. As your piece now reads, however, you accuse me of this: “Sproul insisted that since we are born guilty of original sin, and infants have no opportunity for justification by faith, they have no real hope of salvation.” As this reads I (and let us pray no one repeats Dr. Patterson’s error of confusing my thoughts with those of my far wiser father) insist that infants have no real hope for salvation. This is a monstrous notion, and to be accused of it grieves me. You could certainly say something like this:- Given that Sproul affirms that only those who trust in the finished work of Christ can be saved, and given my conviction that children aren’t able to so trust, it follows that all children go to hell. But there you would more honestly affirm that my assertion, which you deny, and your assertion, which I deny, together create this situation.
As I noted, I surely may be wrong in my conviction that the omnipotent God has the power to bless even the unborn with saving faith. You may be right that all those who have not reached the age of accountability do not need to be saved for there is no guilt on them to be saved from. And please, feel free to make the case. But I am asking that you edit this piece to accurately reflect my convictions, rather than distorting them.

Finally, glad to have another opportunity to correspond because after I sent my last comment I realized I failed to note how deeply I appreciate you and New Orleans Baptist. Through my friend Lyndon Azcuna I was privileged to be an eye-witness to the revival going on in Angola prison, which revival I believe is intimately connected with the faithfulness of you and your seminary in bringing the gospel there. God bless.

Steve Lemke

R.C.,
What I understood to be an allusion to being saved through the faith of the parents (in addition to perhaps a mistaken assumption that you would affirm the Westminster Confession, which does affirm this) is your statement, “But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that the children of at least one believing parent are viewed differently by God,” and your remarks immediately thereafter. Are you now closing that loophole also? So, to be clear, you believe that the only way that an unborn or newly born infant can be saved is if they make a clear profession of faith of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? (I’m not challenging you — just trying to understand what you do and don’t believe).

As to my apparent confusion that you “reject the notion that children below the age of accountability who die go to heaven,” let me recount the reasons why one might think such a thing from your article. First of all, the whole point of your article was to chasten Billy Graham for affirming that children who die do go to heaven. Second, you made statements like the following:

“Compassion requires that even in the midst of temporal tragedy we sound the alarm: that all men apart from Christ—young and old—are under a death sentence from God Most High.”

“Compassion requires that we warn the living that even those who died alone, days after the explosion, are experiencing an anguish and torment beyond the televised images, beyond our imagination, one that will last for always, unless they had repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. . . .”

“Mr. Graham would have served the mourners well had he stuck to the simple life-changing truths that he has spoken so clearly so often in so many places: God is sovereign and sometimes ordains tragedy for the good of his people, and for his glory; all men are sinners, deserving nothing but eternal torment; and there is only one name under heaven and earth by which a man, or a child, might be saved, even Jesus.”

See how a reader might get the impression that you thought few or no children went to heaven? Yes, you did leave what I understood to be a non-option option loophole — infants could have the mental and moral ability to comprehend the resurrection, comprehend the meaning of the cross, and have saving faith in Jesus. I did not think that was a viable option, and frankly, I didn’t think you did. (That’s one reason I thought you might have opened the second “covenant” option, which would have been consistent with your faith tradition).

Anyway, you’re a better judge about what you believe than I am. So I’m happy for you to clarify your belief. As I understand it at this point, for me to correct what I wrote to be in agreement with your position, I would need to add the word “all,” i.e., that you “reject the notion that [all] children below the age of accountability who die go to heaven.” (?)

RC Sproul Jr.

Dear Dr. Lemke,

There is, of course, a rather large gap between affirming that all children go to heaven and denying that any children go to heaven. The language I used argued that Dr. Graham made a gratuitous assumption that has no biblical merit, not that the children go to hell. If you said, “I know RC Sproul Jr. has twenty dollars in his pocket” and I argued that you a. don’t know me and b. are in another state, I am not saying “I don’t have twenty dollars in my pocket” but that your claim was beyond what you could know. I believe, quite plainly, that it is quite possible that all children dying in infancy go to heaven. I have always believed that. But I am quite certain that the only way they get there is by the finished work of Christ applied to them by their possession (not profession, which word you keep using. I may have unusual views on the abilities of babies, but I do know they don’t know how to speak) of faith in Christ. So now for the third time, it is because you are reading your presupposition, that the young can’t be given faith, that you are drawing conclusions I did not make, nor imply. The point of my article was to suggest that our hope, for young, old, born and unborn is the finished work of Christ, not being below the age of accountability. This is what should have been preached that day. This, it seems to me is precisely Jesus’ point in dealing with Tower of Siloam- unless you repent you will all likewise perish. I wonder how you would have responded to Jesus’ response to that national tragedy.

On the quote from Paul I didn’t say anything about anyone going to heaven on the basis of the faith of the parents. All I said was that Paul says they are viewed differently. Would you disagree with that?

I believe all and only those trusting in the finished work of Christ will go to heaven. I don’t pretend to know if those who die young so trust, but I have no objection to the perspective that they all do so believe. They might very well. If God gives all such faith before they die, wonderful. If He doesn’t, however, He remains an infinitely just and loving God. Either way, my commitment to justification by faith alone stands, while others take, if not justification by youth alone, a no need for justification because of the innocence of youth position.

I’m sure you would not like it were I to write a blog piece in which I argued that since faith is the only way to heaven, (which I believe and you do not) and since the young can’t have faith, (which you believe but I do not) that you therefore believe that all children go to hell. But that is what you have done to me, only backwards. I am asking you as a brother that you retract this scurrilous, albeit unintentional, distortion of my position.

This is not a ivory tower issue for me Dr. Lemke. My dear wife and I lost seven children to miscarriage, and have a 14 year old whose mental abilities are those of a one year old. My only hope for them is the finished work of Christ appropriated by their faith (which, from one perspective makes me lean Baptist. I agree with you that God has no grandchildren.) Please, issue the correction, for the sake of the truth and for the sake of the Lord we both serve.

RC Sproul Jr.

Dear Dr. Lemke,

I now have a better understanding why it is so difficult for you to do the honorable thing and issue a correction on this blog piece. You make the same error in chapter 5 of Whosoever Will, and changing books is rather more difficult than changing blogs. If anyone has made it down this far, and would like to see my actual position, in contrast to what has been falsely attributed to me here, you can read it here: http://rcsprouljunior.blogspot.com/2011/11/ask-rc-do-all-those-who-die-in-womb-go.html

Les

DR. Lemke and others,

This was posted on the Ligonier earlier today, Dec. 18:

“Denise, enjoying the blessed vision of our God and Father, is at home with the Lord. Cancer no longer afflicts her, and every tear has been dried away. The Queen of Orlando casts her crown at her Savior’s feet, and together, they dance.”
http://www.ligonier.org/blog/denise-sproul-home-lord/

She had battled cancer for quite a while. Thought you all would want to know and pray for RC and his family.

Les

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