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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Do Children Who Die Go to Heaven?

Evangelicals typically answer, "Yes." The common answer is that there is an "age of accountability" which must be reached before a child is responsible for his or her sin. Of course the Bible does not mention this "age of accountability" nor does it even address the question of what happens to children who die. But Pastors are faced often with the death of children and they feel the need to offer comfort to the parents. It would be heartless to tell them that they don't know what happens to children.

However, if evangelicals and especially Reformed Evangelicals are consistent with their theology, they have to admit that children are born sinners. They inherit a sinful nature from Adam and are guilty of sin from the time they draw their first breath. In addition, if they are consistent with their doctrine of "justification by faith alone," (sola fide) they have to admit that unless one has exercised faith in Christ, that person is lost. Most are not willing to be consistent here because it is such a Public Relations nightmare for Evangelical Christianity. A few are so willing, however. R. C. Sproul chided Billy Graham for saying at the memorial service for the Oklahoma City bombing victims:
“Someday there will be a glorious reunion with those who have died and gone to heaven before us, and that includes all those innocent children that are lost. They’re not lost from God because any child that young is automatically in heaven and in God’s arms.”
Sproul accused Graham of preaching a new gospel: "justification by youth alone." He says:
Though Scripture is clear that in sin we are conceived, though it affirms that outside of faith in Christ alone there is no salvation, we comfort ourselves in the face of grim images of the dead children carried from the rubble with the biblically unwarranted assurance that if one only dies young enough, one will be saved.

I admire Sproul for his honesty and consistency. Most evangelicals are not willing to be so harsh. Yet, the Bible is a harsh book and if one claims to believe it, then one needs to believe all of it and be consistent.

I did an indepth study of this issue earlier on this blog examining the sermon by John MacArthur in which he claims that children go to heaven. I showed how thoroughly inconsistent he was with his own theology.


  1. I listened to a sermon by Sproul the other day on the radio -- a message on hell. (He kept referring to "a place called 'hell,'" even though it's never called that in the Greek Bible. Is there a sign over the entrance that says "hell"?) Yes, he's consistent with his own message and doesn't shrink from unpleasant viewpoints. But he's an artifact, a throwback to the great Calvinist days of yesteryear. No doubt, he takes pride in that which makes him look so ridiculous.

    BTW, the idea of adults going to heaven isn't really a doctrine of the Bible, either. The earliest disciples believed that God was about to establish a kingdom on the earth and they, as immortalized people, would participate in that new paradise. Today's "heaven bound" message is a different religion than the early faith Jesus preached in the gospels.

  2. Ken

    Thanks for this. I can remember as a young Evangelical getting into a heated debate about this topic and the fact that if one is consistent then only those who make an act of repentance and have belief in Jesus as their saviour can go to heaven. Though I was never wholly confident of the argument, I just think I liked being ‘radical’ and reactionary.

    I know the odd Evangelical pastor or minister here in the UK has met stiff opposition or courted controversy by making statements such as ‘children don’t go to heaven if they do not know Christ’; but they are few and far between – usually ‘everything is the garden is rosy...’ is the intent of the comments of most Evangelicals when it comes to the death of a child.

    But to say this is illogical within an Evangelical paradigm. I think the tendency of Evangelicals (and conservative Catholics) to be reactionary, particularly when it comes to ‘easy’ or ‘soft’ targets, such as homosexuality, is part of a deferment tactic away from awkward questions – questions with unpalatable answers for your average would-be or actual Christian. The need for a gradation of sin and the need for scapegoats or the easily condemnable is a useful means of avoiding the full rigor of their beliefs. Again such a position is illogical within this paradigm – sin is sin is sin – but in the main ‘righteousness’ within the Evangelical fold (and religious fold per se) is a little like health consisting of having the same diseases as one’s neighbour; righteousness consists as making the same compromises with the requirements as Scripture as one’s neighbour.

    Thanks again for this.


  3. There is, as you know Ken, talk in the Bible of children not yet knowing right from wrong, but it does not say that they are unaccountable for original sin.

    There is one point in the Old Testament where an 8 year old King is held accountable by God for his actions because he does know right from wrong. I can't remember the name off the top of my head.

    In other words, the age of accountability is a muddled mess of contradictions much like a lot of the Bible.

  4. I remember being completely shocked reading a theologian writing in a similar line to Sproul (J.I. Packer maybe?). There is such a strong desire with evangelicals to "hold fast" to the important things (the gospel), that everything else can be considered secondary (sending babies to Hell). That surprises me almost as much as the fact that theologians espouse such a doctrine in the first place, consistent with their reading of the bible or not.

    "I admire Sproul for his honesty and consistency. Most evangelicals are not willing to be so harsh. Yet, the Bible is a harsh book and if one claims to believe it, then one needs to believe all of it and be consistent."

    Not sure I get this part. If you said, "...if one claims to believe it to be inerrant and infallable" I would agree, and I know that is the line of Christianity you are critiquing.

    Personally, I do not admire Sproul for his consistency, I think the fact that he realizes these beliefs are required for consistency should lead him to drop the hard-line Calvinist beliefs. But I appreciate that honest and consistent applications like his serve to highlight the harshness of the bible in general and Calvinism specifically.

  5. "There is, as you know Ken, talk in the Bible of children not yet knowing right from wrong, but it does not say that they are unaccountable for original sin."

    Ezekiel 18 destroys the doctrine of "original sin".Psalm 51 does not teach it either, but it about David and Bathsheba's child speaking from the womb to confront David's lie to God "against thee only have I sinned." Either that or David is calling his mother a whore. Either way, it is not about inheriting Adam's sin.

    Only Romans 5 teaches "original sin" and even here it is not clear that this is the original intent of the author. It all depends on the translation of verse 12 ( I think its 12), in which ef ho really should be translated "because of which" not just because. ef by istself is "because" and ho is which, so ef ho is "because of which"

    The translations that say "all die because all have sinned" are lying.

    It should be translated "all die, because of which all have sinned."

    Death here is not the result of sin but sin is the result of mortality.

    in any case the Bible is not a consistent book anyway, and due to its inconsistency nobody can be consistent with it. Calvinists are only consistent with their depraved nature (only Calvinists are totally depraved) not with the Bible, and I do not praise them for this (nor admire those who do). Those who try to make an ethical and just system out of the Bible they inherited are the ones to be praised, not the devil worshipers known as Calvinists. Those who cannot yet accept that this book is not the word of God can at least accept only the good and refuse the evil, and I praise those who do.

    Even though the Bible is not the word of God, I can assure you that there is a hell, and not one Calvinist will escape it. Their doctrine deserve worse torture than the mot vivid imagination could conjure up.

  6. I posted as anyonymous only because this style of comment box is incompatible with my browser! I'm on a MAC right now and it wouldn't display the login box! Normally on my Windows computer I get the login box but it doesn't work in Firefox. This style comment box seems to be IE only and I refuse to use IE. Blogspot really needs to fix this but there is no address to complain that I can find, at least not where they actually monitor it.

  7. "I admire Sproul for his honesty and consistency"

    He's pulled off a consistency in evil that even Hitler couldn't manage.

  8. When I said I respect Sproul, what I meant was that at least he is consistent with his theology even though it is not popular. I am not sure he could do so though if he were a Pastor. Its easy to write books and speak at conferences but its another thing to have to go to the funeral home and deal with members of your church who have lost a child.

    I would respect him more though if he would realize that a God like his is incompatible with a God of love and grace and unworthy of man's worship--if such a God were to actually exist.

    1. Ken, finally a Christian comment! "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right." 2 Tim 3:16

      I enjoy the comments of non-believers as well. Because it allows me to share the word. "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God,"
      Godspeed brother, keep sowing Christ's Love

  9. This is but one particularly troubling example in an entire category of difficulties arising from assigning authority to a book on spiritual matters, particularly when there is in some sense an exclusivity determined worldly events for the way in which death is survived.

    What sort of tome could give us a picture both complete and aligned with our sentiments? The status of infants and children is one example, but it also applies to pets or possibly possessions and behaviors of high sentimental value. The nature of the sentimental picture is strongly subjective, so there is an inherent discomfort in accepting an objective set of necessary preconditions for salvation.

    How can we resolve the incompleteness of scripture on these matters with our sentiments? Even more strongly, how do we treat the doctrines which appear contrary to our sentiments up to the salvation of children? From a doctrinaire point of view, our sentiments should be discarded or treated as at best secondary to doctrine, like it or not, perhaps treating contrary sentiments as products of the Fall. In practice, we treat the doctrines on these matters incoherently, injecting wishful thinking into personalized theologies.

    To me, the options line on an imagined spectrum between the potentially cold and somewhat anti-humanistic nature of doctrine and an arbitrary standard of salvation, exclusive or not, in which things one judges positively through emotion are preserved in Heaven. The latter option gains the veneer of doctrine in many theologies through `personal revelations,' but where this runs contrary to scripture, it is practically indistinguishable from any `extra-Christian' wishful-thinking.

    I see objections to my usage of labels - not intended pejoratively - in that last sentence, but in order to object to them, one must demonstrate that apart from desire, "all children and infants go to Heaven," however `children' and `infant' is defined, is itself the result of doctrinal justification. That would be the technical side, but on the practical side, I think that the sentence as descriptive is accurate nevertheless.

  10. "From a doctrinaire point of view, our sentiments should be discarded or treated as at best secondary to doctrine, like it or not, perhaps treating contrary sentiments as products of the Fall."

    But the book of Genesis teaches no Fall!!! Calvinism and almost all of Protestantism says that before Adam ate the fruit he was perfect and had free will and very close to God, but when he ate the fruit he became a filthy sinner and lost free will and became far from God. Even the Eastern Orthodox would accept Athanasius' statement that in eating the fruit, Adam marred his likeness to the image of God in which he was created.

    But this is all false on a correct reading of the story! The story in Genesis says that when he ate the fruit he became like God. The serpent had said this would happen, and it did. So God got scared and said "oh no, Adam has become like one of Us! let's throw Adam out of the garden so he can't eat from the tree of life and live forever!!!"

    So, quite contrary to all Christian theology on "the Fall" there was no fall in the garden. Adam become MORE like God, not less. He did not mar his likeness to the image of God but increased his likeness to the image when he ate the fruit.

    Zachary, the "wishful thinking" is all on your part. You wish that Genesis taught a fall, but it doesn't. What it teaches is that God lied, a snake told the truth, Adam and Eve ate a fruit and became more like God and God got scared and threw them out of the garden before they ate the fruit from the tree of life and completed their transformation to full god-status. It was never intended to become the basis of Christianity. Christianity has misinterpreted and usurped this story. If anything the meaning of the story appears to be a polytheistic explanation of the difference between Elohim who created the world in Genesis 1 and Yahweh who formed Adam and Eve in the Garden in chapter 2. It seems the purpose is demonstrate that Yahweh is not as pure a deity as Elohim. This is similar to Philo's concept that the High God used an intermediary second Deity to create the world, and it seems the true point of the Garden of Eden story is that the Ultimate True God is not the creator, but that the creator is an intermediary deity who is not above lying on occasion.

  11. Calvinism never fails to bring out the hostilities, both the man and his doctrine. All it really demonstrates is that the bible contains many theological threads and has no practical application in the real world.

  12. beowulf2k8,

    If you reread what you quoted, I wasn't arguing that there was a Fall. If you note the "perhaps" as explained by somebody defending doctrine against sentiment (in this case, doctrine taken to be read as children possibly going to Hell/failing to go to Heaven) might use the "fallen nature of man" as an explanation for those sentiments to encourage their abandonment. I mention this possible tack because I've encountered it before.

    So no, I do not wish that Genesis taught a Fall (or the rest of the relevant scriptures, which you seem to have forgotten or else consider irrelevant) as I think that it is a terrible and inaccurate doctrine. But that's what I think, not at all relevant to what I was arguing in my previous comment.

    But in any case, you agree with me because you said this: "It was never intended to become the basis of Christianity. Christianity has misinterpreted and usurped this story."

    So yes, a Christian doctrinaire might use the Fall as an explanation for `mistaken' sentiment? Whether or not the doctrine is mistaken or was not intended is a different discussion, and please be careful with accusations of wishful thinking.

  13. Your comment was sufficiently cryptic, so what do you expect? Your obscure style of writing is very much that of a determinist intent on confusing masses of people into immorality.

  14. My writing could use improvement, but I do not have any abnormal level of difficulty making a point. The sentence in question and the surrounding context are quite clear, but we can leave that as opinion. In any case, my expectations vary with the venue, but here and at other similar blogs, I expect informed exchanges. Even if style were not at fault, basic errors in reading are sufficient to generate confusion. For example, I initially misread your last comment, reading "immortality" instead of "immorality," but caught it during a rereading. Mistakes happen.

    Now, should I blame my initial misreading on your `cryptic style'? Of course not.

    I also wonder how you have managed to deduce a Satanic desire to lead people to evil from my writing style, apparently apart from any content. Is there something I'm missing? Are you sure that you're not passing emotionally-charged judgments a bit preemptively? Based on that statement, I suspect in any case that your definition of immorality might include my beliefs, but I would fiercely contest the charge of obscurantism.

    Again, please be careful with your accusations.

  15. Even Sproul hedges on the question: "We cannot say for sure what happens to small children who die." Somehow I find this even more disturbing as he seems to be OK with the idea that it might be necessary to send infants to hell in order for God to achieve his purposes, but he is not willing to unambiguously acknowledge this as the necessary consequence of original sin. It assuages his conscience to feign uncertainty but he doesn't have the guts to condemn the injustice.

  16. You and Sproul are both correct: Salvation apart from faith (which babies CAN'T have) is unBiblical. But, God, who is fair and impartial, would not short-change infants: If he gave adults a chance to exercise free will, why not children? Also, even angels, who WERE in heaven (as are the babies who died in infancey, as we speak), had did NOT free will stripped from them, so babies WILL get a chance. This begs the question: WHEN/WHERE? Probably in the millennium, which IS Scripturally possible. "Probably," I say, tho i admit I don't know for sure: This begs another question: Why does the Bible NOT say WHEN/WHERE? I'm guessing God did not tell exactly because He wanted to humble the proud know-it-alls, and probably also to push us to get curious and study The Word. For more on this, please see "When Babies Die: Where do they go?," by Gordon Wayne Watts, ... me. It's on amazon, and if u don't wanna buy the book, please at least see the HUGE, LENGTHY, and *FREE* Product description, complete with links and study helps.


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