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“When young Children or the unborn Die, do they Go to Heaven?”

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“A critical appraisal”

(Note: The article 'When young children, babies, mentally impaired or the unborn die do they go to heaven?' first appeared in www.rforh.com , 26th November 2013, and was reprinted in Creation Revolution, 29th November, 2013).

It is essential to also read A-126, ‘Do Babies Automatically Go To Heaven?’ and a later article based on this, A-463. Both are by K B Napier and should be read as a comparison.

The essential thing to bring to your attention is that no matter what we think, or how our emotions lead us, it is only God’s word that carries weight and authority. In this article I will go through the article found on rforh.com to see if it can hold its own, or if it deviates from scripture. The evidence can then be added to my own two articles on this subject (listed above), so that readers may come to their own conclusions.

When my first article on this topic was published in February 1999, I received a fair amount of abuse from readers who thought I was somehow unloving or callous. Yet, all I had done was to show what God says in His word! I love children and babies and sincerely wish they are accepted by God, but my wishes and sentiments do not provide anything close to what God says! In this article I will continue to be strictly guided by what God says, and suggest, very strongly, that the reader does the same. If I quote what God says, be careful what you reject, and who you abuse!

The article below is the one I will be commenting on. My comments are shown in bold letters with justified paragraphs. Note that I give the full text of the original article so that the reader can compare it with my comments and my own two articles.

The article I assess was written by Shari Abbott, for ‘Reasons for Hope’.

“This question is one that cannot be definitively answered. It is God who saves, so we can never say with certainty who is or is not saved. However, the Bible does provide information that helps us to understand God’s work in saving the lost.

Comment. I find this rather weak. We cannot say who God will save, but we have been given very definite guide lines to follow, when assessing someone’s life and claimed salvation.

It’s sufficiently clear in Scripture that one must repent and trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross for forgiveness of sins. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). But what about those who are too young to understand, or mentally impaired (at any age) and unable to understand?

Comment. Really, the question (last sentence) is irrelevant. God elects who will be saved, in eternity (which means His decision is final and fixed). Then, He regenerates a person’s spirit (born again), so that it will accept the Gospel and respond. If a person is to be saved, then, God will provide the means and method. Talking about ‘mentally impaired’ etc., is a red-herring (and something we cannot change), because no man or woman who is elect can possibly die unsaved! But, the article appears to be from the erroneous Arminian stance.

This question can be answered with a doctrine called the Age of Accountability. There is great deal of controversy and disagreement regarding this doctrine, so I provide the following information for your consideration and further study. The Age of Accountability is not a clearly defined biblical doctrine, but it is widely accepted because it can be understood, supported and taught with many Bible verses and passages.

Comment. This is a rehash of the Jesuit-invented idea. For the Jesuits the age is seven. The statement, that it is “not a clearly defined biblical doctrine” is less than accurate – it is NOT a biblical doctrine at all, but Roman Catholic dogma. To say that it is supported by many texts is wishful thinking, rather than fact. I know of no text that supports the idea (see below).

The Age of Accountability is more accurately described as “the level of accountability” — that is, when someone comes to an understanding of what sin is, Who sin is committed against, and their culpability for their sin. “Level” is a much better determining factor than “age” because the actual age will vary from person to person; however, Age of Accountability is the common term.

Comment. What is being done here is to substitute a sliding scale for a fixed age. It still comes down to a certain age when a person knows he or she is sinning, etc. Below that age, the person is not accountable to God for his or her sin? This contradicts the whole teaching on sin and salvation. In reality, whether one sins or not (which is impossible), he or she is culpable from conception, not just birth. Which makes the writer’s argument useless.

There is Scriptural support to believe that when the death of a young child, a baby, a mentally impaired person or the unborn takes place, that person goes immediately to be with the Lord. Let’s define the Age of Accountability and then take a look at the passages that support this doctrine.

Comment. Maybe I am reading a different Bible.

The Age (or level) of Accountability

The Age of Accountability doctrine is based on one’s ability:

to understand Who God is.

  1. to discern good from evil and right from wrong, according to the moral standards set forth by God in His Law.
  2. to understand that transgressing God’s Law is sin, because it is rebellion against God.
  3. When someone is of an age, or level, when they can understand those three things, they will be able to:
  4. experience the sorrow of sinning against a Holy God
  5. understand that sin is punishable by death
  6. understand Who Jesus is and what He had done to pay for their sins
  7. respond to the free gift of saving grace in Jesus Christ.

Comment. The above criteria do not imply election and predestination. The ‘response’ to saving grace is put in such a way as to be a personal choice, which it is not.

So what about infants and young children who are incapable of such understanding and response? And what about a person of any age with severe mental disabilities, or an unborn baby?

Comment. This is where the idea unravels, biblically. Salvation of a person does NOT depend on their understanding, but on whether or not he/she was elected by God in eternity. If not, he/she will never be saved. If elect, then he/she WILL be saved regardless of age, mental ability, physical condition, etc.

The Age of Accountability is based on the belief that all will be judged by what they did with the knowledge of Jesus Christ. For those who understand, there are two choices:

Comment. There are no choices in salvation. One is either elect, or not.

  1. Did they repent of their sin and surrender in trust and faith and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour?
  2. Or did they willingly reject the provision of payment for their sins that Christ secured on the cross and offers to all mankind (1 John 2:2)?

For those who are too young to understand, or incapable of understanding, the Age of Accountability doctrine teaches that God does NOT condemn them. This is based on the nature and character of a loving, merciful and just God and on a number of verses of Scripture that support this.

Comment. This kind of thinking is typical of charismatic and other errant theologies. Salvation has nothing to do with age or how many sins one has committed. Indeed, even if someone was able to live all his life without committing one sin, he would still enter hell/be unsaved if he is not elect, because of the sin principle within... ‘original sin’ (See BTM’s A-296). A person is conceived in sin and born in sin. Daily sins are an effect or result of that inward, inborn sin. It is this inward sin principle that condemns a person, not so much his daily sins, which are merely evidences of the inward state, and add to the condemnation. Therefore, the age or condition of a child has nothing to do with salvation.

David believed his infant son who had died went to heaven; and he believed that he would see his son again one day.

Comment. This is erroneous. David was saying that he, too, would die and thus join his son in death. It has nothing to do with ‘Heaven’... this is poor exegesis. See my Bible study on this section. (See B-10-12, BTM)

2 Samuel 12:23 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.

David knew that he would see his son again. This begs the question of where would David go to be with his son. It is reasonable to assume that David believed he would be reunited with his son one day in paradise, the place of comfort for the righteous dead, and that he found comfort in this, because we read in the next verse that he was able to comfort his wife:

Comment. The text does not say any of this.

2 Samuel 12:24 And David comforted Bathsheba his wife…

2) God spared the children of the generation in the wilderness from the judgment of death that He imposed on their unbelieving parents.

God’s mercy is great and He is just. At Kadesh Barnea, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, the generation was sinful in not trusting God. God decreed they would not enter the Promised Land but would die in the wilderness. However, their children were spared — they were not held accountable for something they did not understand.

Deuteronomy 1:39 Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it.

Comment. This is not proof of the argument! It simply means that the ‘children’ or descendants of those who left Egypt would inherit the promised land. This has nothing to do with Heaven, etc. The conjectures made by the writer are not good interpretation.

Children belong to God. He calls them innocents.

Comment. Twice in the Old Testament: Jeremiah 2 and 19. In the first case, ‘innocents’ refers to the freedom from guilt of the people killed. There is no mention of babies or children in this text. Neither the adjective, naqiy nor the root verb, naqah, refers to children. The same words are used in chapter 19, so the claim that ‘innocents’ refers to children is invalid. The ‘sons’ mentioned in the following verse are not necessarily the same as the ‘innocents’ in verse 4, because ‘sons’ can be any male from babies right up to older men.

Ezekiel 16:20-21 Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter, That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them?

Comment. ‘My children’ merely speaks of the children of Israel, God’s people. All God’s people are His ‘children’, even though it appears that younger people are here spoken of. This national ownership of the Hebrews by God does not automatically mean they are all ‘of Israel’, only that they are all born into the chosen people’s nation.

Jeremiah 2:34 Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents: I have not found it by secret search, but upon all these.

Jeremiah 19:4 Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents;

Comment: See notes above.

Although children are born sinful creatures, they are not responsible in the same way as those who sin having knowledge of Who God is, and understanding that all sin is rebellion against God. God calls children “innocents.” The doctrine of the Age of Accountability teaches that those who do not understand sin against God, and the gospel of saving grace in Jesus Christ, are given the Lord’s mercy and grace.

Comment. The above paragraph is very ‘loose’. As I have shown above, God did not use the term ‘innocents’ for children. As for culpability... small children and babies certainly have no idea they are sinning against God, but, this does not remove the fact that they were conceived in sin (the ‘sin principle’/original sin). If scripture tells us we are conceived in sin, there is a good reason for it!

In this paragraph is gross heresy, though maybe not meant as such by the writer. Does the Lord show mercy and grace towards those who do not understand sin against Him? I do not think so – it goes against the whole tenor of the Gospel, and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. For the writer, everything hinges not on God’s word but upon a nebulous ‘mercy’ not found in scripture, based more on emotion than on truth.

Additional support for the doctrine of the Age of Accountability.

All the threats of hell in the Bible are reserved for those who sin knowingly and willfully. They will not inherit eternal life:

Comment. The above statement speaks only of texts referring to adults. It does not necessarily include youngsters... this is extrapolation without reason. The persons mentioned in the texts below are specific types committing specific sins. No mention is made of babies, etc., or of the ‘sin principle’ so carefully referred to by David.

Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Revelation 21:8 says, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

2) This next reasoning is more controversial and it is presented for your consideration and study.

Because babies, young children, the unborn and the mentally impaired are unable to attain the knowledge of God and His Law, they do not have a knowledge of sin, and it is not imputed as it is to those who have knowledge:

Comment. The above statement is not biblically logical. As I have shown above, knowledge of sin is rendered irrelevant against the more basic ‘sin principle’, which exists in every person who has ever been conceived or born. The texts shown below, are, then, irrelevant to the argument.

Romans 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Romans 5:13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

This does not mean that children are born without a sin nature, for we know that every person who enters this world faces death as a consequence of sin. Let’s read the broader context and the complete parenthetical that contains verse 13:

Comment. The writer provides her own answer: “every person... faces death”!

Romans 5:11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. {12} Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned; {13} (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. {14} Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. {15} But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. {16} And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. {17} For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)

This reasoning focuses again on God’s mercy of those who are unable to understand sin, it’s consequences and their necessary response to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Comment. Note the sleight-of-hand here? Yes, it is all of God’s mercy, but the text does NOT refer to those who do not understand sin! It is emphasising that grace comes through Jesus Christ, our Sacrifice. It says nothing about ‘understanding’.

3) Finally, Jesus repeatedly spoke of young children inheriting the Kingdom. These are such beautiful words love, mercy and grace and I believe they assure us of the heavenly destiny of babies, young children, the unborn and the mentally impaired:

Matthew 19:13-14 Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Comment. See my Bible study on this passage (C-01-19). Jesus was not referring to the children as such, but to their ability to believe without doubt. The reference is actually to adults who should have the same kind of child-like faith. Therefore the meaning given to it by the writer is unbiblical and very flawed.

Mark 10:13-16 Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.

Comment. There is no reason to doubt that Jesus loved children. But, this text, too, is about adults who should have child-like faith. The reference to children is thus descriptive and used as a type of child-like faith. The same applies to the following text, showing that the exegesis is bad. For a Bible study on each of these texts see my Bible study series (C-03-18, C-01-18).

Luke 18:15-16 Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.

Matthew 18:1-5 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.

Pastor John MacArthur wrote a prayer for grieving families, which said in part:

“Turn their sorrow to joy as they accept the truth that their little one is safely in Your arms–now and forevermore.” (John MacArthur, Safe in the Arms of Jesus (Nashville: Nelson, 2003), 171.)

Comment. I sincerely hope this is true – but it is not found in scripture.

There are some who will dispute this doctrine of the Age of Accountability…and that’s OK. Remember, it is God who saves sinners and there remains much mystery in how He does so. The Age of Accountability is not core doctrine in the Christian faith. However, it is my belief that my two brothers, one of whom died in the womb and the other who lived but a few hours, will be in heaven. I also believe that childhood friends who died at 5 and 7, along with my two nephews who had a simple but incomplete understanding of Christ at 8 and 9, are all with the Lord in heaven. You might think that I believe this because I want to believe it…and, of course, you are partially right. I do want to believe that I will see them again. HOWEVER…I also know by personal experience the love and mercy of our gracious God; and I do believe with all my heart that His love, and His mercy, and His grace, extends to those who are incapable of repentance on the basis of age or level of understanding. One day we will know for certain, but until that time we can trust that the Lord is good and His ways are perfect.

Comment. In my ministry I do not pander to emotion nor to bad exegesis just to comfort or persuade others. A teaching is either in God’s word or it is not. It is rather odd to say that there is much mystery surrounding how God saves people, when scripture defines how He does it in very strict terms: salvation is by hearing the Gospel, and those who respond do so because they are elect. The idea that ‘accountability’ is “not a core doctrine” is very skewed – it is NOT DOCTRINE AT ALL, let alone ‘core’! Those who wish to accept this kind of exegesis are welcome to it, but to my mind, it is flawed and causes serious problems when considering salvation.

What the writer is doing (accompanied by many others) is making supposition and emotion contradict what God says, in the hope that it might be true. It is always possible that God will take babies to Heaven... but scripture is silent about it, and we should not presuppose on the basis of emotion. I, too, deeply want babies to be accepted by God, but this is only my emotional reaction, without scriptural proof either way.

If anything, the article I have just criticised undermines one of the most vital teachings in scripture: that Christ came to save those whose very natures are conceived in sin. How to overcome that? By admitting we have no answer apart from the scriptural one.

I encourage you to search the Scriptures and come to your own understanding about the eternal destiny of babies, young children, the unborn and the mentally impaired.

See more at:  rforh.com 'When young children, babies, mentally impaired or the unborn die do they go to heaven?'

© December 2013

Published on www.christiandoctrine.com

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