Saved without faith?

At one time or another our former youth pastor, current youth pastor, and I have all been accused of teaching that infants and toddlers who die go to hell.  None of us believe that.  But I understand why people get confused by what we say–and don’t say–and jump to conclusions. 
I’m teaching a class on childhood conversions and last Sunday we discussed this topic again.  We were enjoying a healthy and lively discussion about the spiritual state of a child; say, a 2 month-old boy.  Most agreed he has a sin nature even if he doesn’t actually “sin”.  What the class divided down the middle on was if he was in some fashion spiritually “lost” or in some fashion “safe” or “secured” by God.  I’m guessing that even those who raised their hands to vote for “lost”, didn’t mean to say that if he died, he’d go to hell.

I’d certainly never say that.  But what I said–and maybe what I didn’t say–once again got me in trouble.  The reason that I and other pastors are sometimes misrepresented on this is that we are reluctant “go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6).  What I mean is that we don’t want to say, “Thus saith the Lord” when we’re not sure He did.  Frankly, on this topic there’s not much Scripture to work with.  The only verse in the Bible that might hint that infants who die all go to heaven is 2 Samuel 12:23.  David’s infant son had just died and David said, I will go to him, but he will not return to me.  At best, it’s vague and David’s remark may mean nothing more than that like his little boy, he too will one day die.  Or could it be that David’s confident that his babyfrom a God-fearing family–is especially safe (which some Christians believe) whereas another child might not be?  Personally, I think the statement is too wobbly to build such an important belief on it.
Certainly no infant or toddler (or a mentally handicapped person regardless of age) can grasp the gospel with its concepts of sin, grace, repentance, and faith.  Which leads most people–including me, to assume that the beginning years of a child’s life he/she is not accountable to God in the way that older children and adults are.  And if they die, they immediately go to heaven.  Why?  Because the child is not old enough to reject the wrong and choose the right (Isaiah 7:16).  This is where the notion of a so-called “age of accountability” comes from.  Or as Dr. John MacArthur has suggested, might be better called a “condition of accountability” since the age will vary from child to child.

Knowing that children up to a certain stage can’t respond to the gospel, and knowing God’s good and gracious nature…, yes, I ASSUME that all children who die go to heaven.  John Calvin declared,  “I do not doubt that the infants whom the Lord gathers together from this life are regenerated by a secret operation of the Holy Spirit.”  (OK, so maybe I’m not as confident as he is, but I’m close!)


But I know I end up using cautious language that probably makes people wonder if I really do believe the same thing they do.  Keith, why are you so tentative?  Because the Bible repeatedly insists that God saves people who respond to his grace by faith.  Verses like Without faith it is impossible to please God… and …we have been justified through faith…, and …this righteousness comes by faith in Jesus Christ… haunt me.

[When Jesus scolded his disciples for stopping little children from being brought to Him for blessing (Matthew 19:13-15), it gives us confidence that both Father and Son love kids as much as we do.  More, actually.  Jesus even used their natural humility and trust to point out to listening adults, what should mark their faith.  But because the children he held were very young (Luke 18:15 uses the word “babies”), we realize he was describing their nature, not their faith.]

I’m also cautious because I wonder if believing God saves a child through some special arrangement apart from faith, might lead to believing He’d do the same for teens and adults who’ve never heard the gospel.  Maybe also save them in some unique and special way apart from faith?  If so, then clearly our mission strategy should change to keeping as many people in the dark about the gospel as possible.  Otherwise if they learn of Jesus and reject Him, they would then be accountable to God in a way they weren’t before.

Bottom line, Keith: do you really think that all babies/toddlers who die go to heaven?  Yes, but my language is not always so…, declarative.  Because I’m a biblicist.  Like our statement of faith says: the Bible… is the complete revelation of His [God’s] will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged.  I believe what’s in the Bible; I teach what’s in the Bible; I’m confident about what’s in the Bible.  I hedge on what’s not.

praise & suffering shake hands

Go get a kleenex.  I’ll wait.

Daily I scan the newspaper obituaries.  No, I’m not looking for my name.  I’m watching for people I might know, but also if anyone died who’s connected to people in our congregation.  I’m intrigued by the stories about the lives–even of total strangers.  Of course, the younger they are the sadder they seem.

Death is the last enemy.  So ruthless, it brazenly taunts those left behind.  The closer the survivor was, the bigger the hole, the emptiness.  If disease first systematically dismantled the body, survivors have an additional burden of exasperation, questions, anger.  Believers who are dying or believers who weather their loved ones’ dying, ache and weep like anyone else.  But for those in Christ, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).  Our passion is that Christ be exalted in our bodies whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:20).

Mission accomplished for Zac Smith and his wife Mandy.  Zac was 33 when Christ was exalted in his death last May.  The young IT minister on staff at a South Carolina church filmed this video several months before he died.  His wife made the second one since his death. 

Soli Deo gloria.

safely deluded

20 years ago, British journalist and social critic Henry Fairlie wrote: “The desire for a risk-free society is one of the most debilitating influences in America today, enfeebling the economy with a mass of safety regulations and a fear of liability rulings.”  If he could only see us now.  

Kids 8 and under must be laced in car seats, and up to age 12 for the not-so-tall kids.  In Pennsylvania, helmets are mandatory for bicyclists under 12.  Some parents won’t let their children try fun activities that entail any risk.  Labels on plastic toys the size of buckets read: “Don’t eat this product”.  Smoke, radon, carbon monoxide detectors and devices dot our houses.  Restaurants stamp their menus with warnings about barely cooked meat so they don’t get sued.  Depending on the day and the most recent “study”, salt, butter, red meat or coffee will kill you.  Or bullies (I was a veteran victim) will disturb or jar your child’s psyche for life.  (I know, I know, some bullying is criminal.  Don’t send me emails.)

I’m not real fond of risks myself.  It’s my wife and son who jump out of airplanes.  Me, I put chemicals on my icy driveway and wear safety goggles/ear protection when using machinery.  Sometimes, anyway.  I  buckle up.  I buy sturdy stepladders.  To protect her, when my wife and I walk down the street against the traffic, I keep her on my left.  I wear a helmet when I ride my bicycle (probably saved me from a serious head injury last year) and keep the safety on on my hunting rifle until I’m ready to shoot.  I have life insurance, health insurance, car insurance, and home owner’s insurance. 

But if safety becomes the summa bonum, what might happen?  There goes your skiing.  That’s the end of the NFL.  My woodworking days are over.  So is traveling by car since auto accidents kill about 30,000 Americans each year.  (My wife insists air travel is safer but who is she kidding; little car problems–like running out of gas, are big airplane problems.)  And parents will make sure little Johnny is always in sight–even if he’s 12.  No more swimming, no more cheeseburgers (mmmm!!!), no more tree climbing, no more manufacturing, no more experimenting, no more adventure, no more fun.

Taking precautions is good–even wise.  But is safety–for ourselves or those we love most, on the verge of becoming an idol?  I’m talking as a Christian now, not just an American.  If avoiding risk matters most, what happens to God’s children?  Is this the life He had in mind for us?  Had he worshiped safety, would Abraham have ever left Haran?  Moses ever left Egypt?  Would the Israelites have still mixed it up with the Canaanites?  Would Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah still stayed standing while everybody else bowed to the image?  Would Hosea have agreed to marry Gomer?  

Would Jesus have come?  

Would the apostle Paul have gone the places he did for the sakes of some of the obstinate people he talked to?  Would 10 of the 11 disciples have been killed for their mission work?  Could I again take Bibles into countries where it’s illegal?  Would you be still willing to approach your nemesis and tell him the gospel?  If safety becomes our idol, what does that do to taking risks for God?  And how does it affect the next generation whom God will also ask to prepare to suffer for Jesus’ sake?  But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  (1 Peter 2:20-21)

The gospel was conceived in, executed despite, and distributed with great risk: Jesus came to a hostile world to die for the very people who murdered him.  The price to follow him is “Come and die”.  Exactly what 170,000 Christians around the world will do this year.  Not metaphorically, but actually be killed for Jesus’ sake.  Telling people about Jesus is risky.  Giving generously to gospel work is economically risky.  Refusing an order from your commanding officer could get you court-martialed.  Saying no to your boyfriend could risk your popularity.  Forgiving your enemy may tell her you’re weak and can be exploited.  All risky. 

Well, my computer’s exposed me to way too many electromagnetic fields today already so I’m shutting down.  See you.  And hey…, be safe out there!