Monday, June 12, 2006

Universal Infant Salvation?

This came up at church yesterday. Obviously it is a massively emotional issue, and I've no wish to cause offence; but because it is important, and affects some vital doctrines, it seems good to write a few thoughts.

With respect to the salvation of children who die in infancy within covenant households, it seems clear that we may presume them saved (children are included within the Abrahamic covenant, the Bible speaks of saved children e.g. Pss 22:9-10 & 71:5-6, and the logic of 2Sam 12:23 points there, and there are other examples too). Thus the issue below is not for the children of Christian parents, where we can have great confidence that covenant children, whether dying before birth or soon after, are with Jesus awaiting the New Creation.

The issue is that of the death of children not born into covenant families (sparked yesterday at church by the children of Ai in Joshua 8).
So far, I think that I think the following...

If all humans who die in infancy are saved then:

Either 1) the doctrine of original sin is lost,
Or 2) Christ's death is partially applied to all.

1) The Bible is clear that all humanity died in Adam, that we all sinned in him. If children do not have Adam's sin imputed to them, or do not posses fallen natures, and are considered saved on this basis, then obviously the doctrine of Original Sin is lost. Then, does anybody have a fallen nature? If so, but not as a child, then from which point onwards? If we want to consider ditching the doctrine of Original Sin, then if Anglicans we could consult Article IX or if not Anglicans, the Westminster Confession of Faith. We don't want to lose this doctrine, so must affirm that all who are conceived are conceived in sin. This leaves the option below.

2) If all sin in Adam, is Christ's death partially applied to all (including non-covenant children) in payment for original sin? But this would then negate Paul's argument (see 2Cor 5, Rom 6 and Rom 8) that if Christ died for you then you can be sure God will give you everything else. On this argument for universal infant salvation, Christ died for everyone's original sin, and so Paul's assurance is universalism (which it clearly isn't) or meaningless (which it cannot be either).

So I therefore think that we cannot teach universal infant salvation - much as we would like to. Further, to allow God as unfair in condemning infants is basically the same as condemning God as unfair that we are born imperfect in an imperfect world. Shall the pot speak thus to the potter? Is God really unfair? No. Rather, the perfectly loving God has sovereignly and fairly decided from eternity to save some but not all.

In summary: if we want to hold to universal infant salvation we must either deny the doctrine of Original Sin or hold Christ's work as partially applied to all people without exception. Since neither of these is a biblical possibility, we cannot teach that all infants are saved.

[Of course the Arminian (by requiring humans to have the freedom to choose salvation) must deny any possibility of infant salvation unless holding to the possibility of either post-mortem evangelism, or children growing up in limbo so that they can then exercise their free choice.]


Anonymous Lauren said...

We spent a few hours discussing this issue in my Doctrine of Christ class this past semester. I was totally fascinated by it...and then frustrated as well. Don't feel like typing out all my thoughts, but I appreciate your thoughts on the conversation. It's got me thinking about it again...

8:29 pm, June 13, 2006  
Blogger Pete said...

Thanks for this Andrew. It seems to me that the impetus for a universal-infant-salvation view is usually a misapplication of covenant children texts (like the 2Sam one you mention) usually fuelled by the (understandable) feeling that it doesn't seem right for God to condemn infants. The result is that it usually isn 't theologised carefully with thought given to other doctrines such as original sin or any sense of a universal application of Christ's work, but a rather more arbitrary 'we think God would probably save infants regardless of their faith because he's that kind of God'. Hence those with a loosely Arminian view can (and often do) hold to universal infant salvation - since the child never had a 'chance' to respond to the gospel God just graciously chooses to apply the benefit's of Christ's work to them without faith.
In my experience it often goes hand in hand with a rather complicated doctrine of 'the age of accountability' - we are all guilty and dead in Adam but until we are old enough to 'know right from wrong' then God won't hold our original sin-guilt against us. This is obviously full of contradictions and problems.
In short, I think the issue is a great illustration of the necessity of doing systematic theology and doing it well.

10:34 am, June 30, 2006  
Blogger Pete said...

BTW, I wonder if your entry could be followed up with some thoughts on how to deal pastorally with parents/ friends who aren't christians who have lost a child?

10:38 am, June 30, 2006  

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