Infant Salvation: Infant Regeneration, Part 1
This time we will look at the concept of infant regeneration.
Infant regeneration must be distinguished from our heretical position (see the Beginning Assumptions post) on baptismal regeneration. While baptismal regeneration is simply the doctrine that “baptism saves you,” and by extension stating baptized infants are saved, infant regeneration does not use the crutch of baptism to support it.
Infant regeneration, simply stated, is the position that children who die before this age, especially infants, are saved by God. How is this so? They are saved on the basis of Christ’s redemptive work and regeneration by the work of the Holy Spirit within them. Remember, “unless one is born again, one cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). As such, infants and “innocent” children must be regenerated (born again) prior to their death.
Scriptural evidence for infant regeneration is found primarily in the story of John the Baptist.
Luke 1:15: “For he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” Here we see that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he was but a mass of rapidly dividing cells and growing tissue in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. Wayne Grudem quips that “we might say that John the Baptist was ‘born again’ before he was born! (Systematic Theology, 500)”
Another instance is found in the Psalms, where David says of himself (and prophetically, of Jesus): “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (Psalm 22:9-10)” Note the similarities between David and John the Baptist.
So advocates of this position say these Scriptures seem to suggest that God is able to save infants in an unusual way, a way that is distinctively separated from hearing the Gospel, repenting of sin, and trusting in Christ. It seems God is able to regenerate people early in life, in some cases even prior to birth.
Why would God do this? To quote Grudem again on the same page as above: “it certainly is possible that God would also do this where He knows the infant will die before hearing the Gospel.”
Incidentally, these verses have also been used to justify infant baptism and the baptism of small children. I also find it interesting that there are strong echoes of the Reformed ordo salutis (order of salvation) present here, namely, that one must be regenerated before one can willingly trust in Christ.
Deconstructing The Position
Now, let us remember the principle I introduced you to in the previous post; namely that we do not necessarily have to infer an understanding of Scripture where Scripture does not support that understanding. We are attempting here to allow Scripture to speak for itself, not trying to read our own beliefs, wants, and desires into the text.
The main problem with this perspective is that it directly bypasses the means of salvation. What do I mean?
In Romans chapter 10 we find the following passage:
13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
So we see here that the only way for a person to be saved is through a direct response of faith that comes from hearing the Gospel preached. One must hear the Gospel and respond to it in order to be saved. That is the means by which God saves people. According to this passage, a baby must first have the Gospel preached to it, the baby must then hear (and by extension understand) the Gospel, and then the baby must respond in faith to the preaching of the Gospel.
For advocates of this position, this is not a problem. For those of us who have committed ourselves to “stick to Scripture,” this is a huge problem. A deeply important part of Scripture has been summarily crossed out of the Bible where infants are concerned! I do not want to accuse my brothers and sisters who hold this position of willfully ignoring the Bible. That will not help matters very much. But we cannot ignore that the means of salvation, according to the Bible, is through the preaching of the Gospel, and that this means has been ignored.
Immediately, however, we are faced with a problem. If Romans 10 is true, then how can a baby ever be saved?
Scripture is intensely silent on this matter. We are given hints at a solution by one of the verses used to support this perspective. In Psalm 22:9-10, David says that God “made him (David) trust God at his mother’s breasts,” that “God has been David’s God from the womb.” Advocates of infant regeneration will no doubt want to say, when faced with Romans 10, that God preached the Gospel to an unborn David, and caused David to believe in the womb.
If so, advocates of this position have fallen into a modification of another heretical position: post-mortem salvation. Instead of saying infants who die are given an opportunity to accept Christ after they die, they are saying that infants are given an opportunity to accept Christ before they are born!
This is totally absurd and violates one of our beginning assumptions, namely that Christ must be accepted in this life. How would you or I know if we accepted Christ before we were born? And why are we born without the quickened understanding given to us in the womb when the Gospel was preached to us? In addition, why does Scripture command that the Gospel be preached to us if we have already heard it and responded? No, this is an absurd and invalid position to take.
But here we have yet another error in thinking. We have, once again, been given an eisegesis, not an exegesis. This psalm in no way states that David was “saved from the womb,” nor does it say that “God preached the Gospel to David in utero (in the womb).” That has been read into the passage by advocates of infant regeneration. We have no idea from Scripture what God did to make David trust him from the womb, from birth. And as such, we cannot say with certainty that God brings the Gospel to an infant and allows the infant to understand and respond in faith. We will examine this verse more fully in Part 2.
We are also left with another problem given by such an odd interpretation of this Psalm in light of the Romans 10 objection. Who is responsible for our salvation?
Advocates of this position have no choice but to say that the baby is responsible. That is, the baby is responsible to respond once God makes the baby able to understand the Gospel. God is only responsible to preach the Gospel and enable the baby to understand it. We are left with no hope whatsoever that any pre-natal person is saved, just as in post-mortem salvation we are left with no hope that dead infants are saved! This is a direct contradiction of Scripture even for those who actually can understand the Gospel!
Scripture, instead, reveals that God is under no obligation to do anything to save us. That he saves anyone at all is a mystery! And it is just as clear from Scripture that we are all, from conception, children of wrath slated for destruction (see the post on original sin for more information). We are all going to hell! And we justly deserve hell. But God, in order to show his mercy, chose some of those children of wrath to become children of mercy (Romans 9:22-24) and graciously brings them to faith in Christ apart from any action on their part (Romans 3:20-28, 4:16; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5).
We are left in the same position we were in the last post. As Scripture does not say how God deals with an infant where the preaching of the Gospel is concerned, we must be silent where Scripture is silent.
We will continue our look at the Scriptures supporting this position in the next post.