Infant Salvation: Beginning Assumptions
Before we plunge into the waters of this doctrine, I’d like to attempt to stake out some boundaries for this investigation. As conservative, evangelical, missional, Baptist Christians we must be able to show that any conclusion reached as a result of this study must not fall into positions that are un-Scriptural at best and heretical at worst. With that in mind, we can agree that any doctrine of infant salvation, to be valid, must avoid:
- Universalism. We cannot fall into the heresy that all will be saved. The universalist argument generally goes something like this: “God is love. Since a loving God would not allow any of his precious creatures to suffer in Hell, we can know that at some time everyone will be saved.” This is untrue and refuted soundly by even a cursory reading of the Bible. It ought to be enough that even Jesus spoke regularly of people being consigned to hell. Some, in affirming the salvation of all who die in infancy, have even preached that it might have been better for all humans to die in infancy so that they would attain heaven! Thankfully, we are not that hysterical, nor are we that histrionic. The Bible clearly teaches that not all will be saved, only a few. Universalism renders the question of infant salvation irrelevant. A doctrine of infant salvation cannot affirm universal salvation.
- Post-mortem salvation. We cannot fall into the very troubling view that people are offered a chance to believe in Jesus after they die. This view is actually a modification of universalism. In this view, not all who die are saved; however, based on a misinterpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-19 and 4:6 some people teach that Jesus “preached the gospel to souls in hell.” Then those souls, usually people who have never heard the gospel and infants, can finally decide for themselves whether to accept or reject Christ. Faith in Christ in this life is not necessary, since Christ will be preached after death. This view is worse than universalism in that besides directly contradicting the biblical witness that “it is appointed for a person once to die and then face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27), it gives us absolutely no hope that anyone will ever be saved once they die. Would you like for your child to die and then never know if he/she accepted or rejected Christ after death? What kind of cruel, sadistic torment would that inflict upon parents who have lost children? If anyone preach such a doctrine, let him be swiftly corrected, otherwise let him be anathema. A doctrine of infant salvation cannot place that salvation after death.
- Baptismal regeneration. We cannot fall into a view that baptism saves. Many denominations baptize babies by either sprinkling or pouring. Roman Catholics teach that only baptized children are saved. However, Scripture is clear that it is faith in Christ alone that saves, the sign of which is baptism. Obviously, babies cannot exercise a profession of faith in Christ, therefore any baptism of an infant is invalid as a sign of salvation. Nor is baptism itself salvific, since Christ himself said baptism is done to fulfill righteousness (Matthew 3:15). To “fulfill” means “to bring into realization or actuality; to put into effect.” In other words, to fulfill something, in the sense we are using the word here, is to mark it as something that has already taken place or is understood to be true. Baptism identifies a person as saved, it does not actually save. As such, only a person who has professed faith in Christ can actually be baptized. A doctrine of infant salvation cannot rest on baptism.
- Denial of original sin. We cannot deny infants are born with original sin. This position is the doctrine that humans are born sinless and therefore innocent. Most people, including most Christians, believe this doctrine. Unfortunately, this doctrine is a 1600 year-old heresy. It is called Pelagianism. Pelagius was a British monk who lived around the same time as St. Augustine, who would become his major opponent. He taught that humans are not affected by Adam’s sin and as such are not born with a sinful nature (original sin). Moreover, because we are not born with a sinful nature, it is possible to save ourselves. All we have to do is to never sin, or if we have sinned, stop sinning. Unfortunately for Pelagius, Augustine realized the Bible directly contradicted his claims, and he wrote many treatises against Pelagius and his followers that ultimately led to Pelagius being condemned as a heretic and his position as heresy. I have given a brief treatment of the matter in my previous post on original sin and included resources for further study there. Babies quite frankly are not born innocent; all humans are born with the sinful corruption of our nature. Any doctrine of infant salvation cannot attempt to get around original sin.
All of these positions are attempts to deny the need to accept Christ as Savior. They deny the means by which Scripture says we are saved. In Scripture, faith in Christ is a gift of God that is granted to but a few, not all. Yes, the post-mortem salvation view seems to require faith in Christ, but remember, it is impossible for a person to attain heaven outside of faith in Christ in this life. So, ultimately any doctrine of infant salvation cannot deny the biblical requirement to believe in Christ and how that faith is brought into existence.
Now that we have defined where we will not go, let us attempt to understand where we must go in reaching a conclusion about this doctrine.
- Any doctrine of infant salvation must account for original sin.
- Any doctrine of infant salvation must have salvation occur before death.
- Any doctrine of infant salvation must rest on faith in Christ.
- Any doctrine of infant salvation must also rest on the means by which God grants faith in Christ.
With ground rules firmly outlined and grasped, we can now begin to investigate this doctrine. Join us next time.
Resources for further study:
When a Baby Dies: Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents by Ronald H. Nash
(Stephen’s Note: much of the outline for this post was based on Nash’s book. Nash very clearly outlined the issues that the sources in the previous posts inevitably raise. It is a short book but very well-written and thought provoking. I recommend this book for any parent dealing with the loss of a child.)