The Age of Accountability: Rethinking Children and Salvation

Welcome to another session of the Children’s Ministry Think Tank. This is a monthly feature where we discuss controversial or difficult topics related to children’s ministry. Our responses are just a starting point, we encourage you to share your views in the comment section below.

What About the Age of Accountability?

What do you teach about concerning a child’s condition (sometimes called age) of accountability for responding to the Gospel? How would you counsel a parent who is concerned about a preschool aged child who seems disinterested in learning about Jesus? If you had to estimate (and you do), what is the chronological age that most children become fully accountable for their decision about Christ?

Response from Jared Kennedy

Some Christians and Christian traditions maintain that Scripture teaches an “age of accountability” before which young children are not held responsible for sin and are not counted guilty before God. But several Bible passages indicate that children (even before they are born) have a guilty standing before God and a sinful nature so that they not only have a tendency to sin, but God views them as sinners (Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Ephesians 2:3). Experienced parents know that children do not have to be taught to do wrong. It is their natural inclination to disobey, to lie, and to manipulate.

This is one of the strongest motivations for Christian parents and Christian churches teaching the gospel to their children from the youngest age. We teach about Jesus because children need Jesus as their savior from sin. As one famous preacher said, “The gospel is meat for men but it is also milk for babes.” But kids don’t always want to hear about Jesus and trust him. When a preschool age child isn’t interested in learning about Jesus, there isn’t necessarily a cookie-cutter answer, but here are some areas I’d explore with the parent: (1) I’d encourage the parent to examine his or her own heart. Does mom and/or dad get excited about Jesus and learning from his Word? Do they regularly pray and read Bible stories together with their family? Young children often look to and follow their parent’s example. Perhaps a parent has a satisfying relationship with the Lord, but it is private and not shared with the child. Invite the child into your relationship with Jesus. (2) I’d ask the parent whether or not he or she talks about sin with their child. Does your child know that when she disobeys you, she is also disobeying God? Do you just talk about your child’s misbehavior (taking a cookie, hitting his sister, not sharing), or do you talk with him about the heart attitudes and motivations that lie behind that behavior (greed, pride in performance, selfishness)? When our children have a more honest view of the extent to which sin is rooted in their hearts, they will be more likely to look for and respond to Christ—who provides pardon and provision for that sin. (3) Most importantly, I’d pray with the parent, and I’d encourage the parent to pray. Salvation is ultimately God’s work in the child’s heart. May God have mercy on our kids and help them to repent from sin and love Jesus.

As I stated above, I cannot justify an “age of accountability” from the Scriptures. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). Since salvation is God’s work in a person’s heart, it doesn’t require any particular level of cognitive understanding or behavioral response to be present and real. Growth in faith is certainly evidenced by understanding and behavior, but it is not earned (or merited) by them. Faith is more than a decision, it is a gift from God. So, my age estimate is somewhere around conception. :)

Jared Kennedy is a husband, a father, and the Director of SojournKids (http://sojournkids.com), the Children’s Ministry of Sojourn Community Church in downtown Louisville, KY.

Response from Nicole VanderMeulen

I apologize if you’re already tired of me saying this, but the Lutheran theology in which I stand strongly believes that it’s more about God choosing us (and he has, all of us!) and not about us choosing him. It’s all about the grace. If your child is disinterested in church or Jesus or anything else you find essential, well God forgives them for all of those things too!

That is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about our child’s development regarding their Christian education and faith. Each child is uniquely wonderful and will develop at their own pace. Each one of us learned to walk, talk, ride a bike, sleep through the night, read, and do about a billion other things all at a very different rate in a plethora of different ways, most of which could all be considered “normal”. I don’t think children’s understanding and accepting of Jesus is different than any other developmental milestone. Why can’t we just celebrate the special and unique gifts each child brings to our village, rather than worrying or trying to force faith?

My other thought is that I know many, many adults who question their relationship with Jesus and hit bumps and potholes along their faith journey. I actually find this healthy and not of concern. To fear and to question and to wonder and to doubt are all means for growing in faith. Why would we expect our children to be any more firm or certain than most adults can be? The concept of Jesus and the news of the Gospel is VERY abstract knowledge for a child (and still for many adults too!) to comprehend. I think expecting this type of understanding from a child is inappropriate and will only set us up for disappointment. Instead, I encourage telling children over and over about God’s unending love for them and showing them the care and community that comes with membership in a Christian family. The rest will come.

The educator in me would say that if your preschooler isn’t interested in learning about Jesus, than you should re-examine the teaching strategies being used. I don’t think I’ve met a child yet who is truly disinterested in learning about Jesus if the information is presented in a fun, engaging, age-appropriate, diverse manner.

I can’t put an age on accountability for the Gospel, because I truly believe our relationship with God is a journey, not a moment or a single prayer, or day, or year. Our faith is ever-changing and I think that is healthy for all ages.

Nicole VanderMeulen serves as the Children’s Ministry Coordinator at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Renton, Washington. She is a regular lesson plan contributor for our website.

Response from Wayne Stocks

By God’s providence, the Bible does not give a specific age at which an individual is accountable for the knowledge of their sin and their decision to accept or reject Jesus Christ as their savior. There is ample evidence in the Bible that children who die before this “age of accountability” do in fact go to heaven. Indeed, people like Charles Spurgeon have postulated that, because of this, the streets of heaven may well be populated more by those who died before this age of accountability than those who attained a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ after the age of accountability.

The age of accountability is different for all children, but I think we can define it as the age at which a child is capable of knowing and understanding that they are a sinner, recognizing that they needed a savior, understanding that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord, and realizing that we are saved only by the grace of God and not by virtue of anything we can do. Only God knows what that age is for each individual child. Despite that, Tony has asked us to estimate the chronological age at which children become accountable for their decision about Christ. I will hedge just a bit, and answer the question this way: I think that by the age of twelve most children will have reached the age of accountability. I also believe many children actually reach it earlier than that (sometimes much earlier). In Jewish tradition, a boy became a man and entered adulthood at age 12. This is consistent with Jesus’ age when his parents brought him to the temple and he was found in deep theological conversations with the teachers of his age. Mary was a young woman (likely middle school aged) when the angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her she was pregnant with the Son of God. I think all of this points to somewhere around 12 or so as a “maximum” age of accountability for most kids.

As for a minimum age, I think that kids are definitely capable of accepting Christ and fully comprehending that decision at a much younger age than twelve. I am not entirely sure what the floor is, only God knows! In short, I’m with Charles Spurgeon on this one who wrote in the book Come ‘Ye Children:

“I will not say at what age children are first capable of receiving the knowledge of Christ, but it is much earlier than some fancy; and we have seen and known children who have given abundant evidence that they have received Christ and have believed in Him at a very early age.”

I think it is imperative as parents and Children’s Ministry workers’ that we never let our preconceived notions about whether or not a child is old enough to accept Christ stand in the way of the Lord’s work. I think as many times as a child wants to make a profession of faith or “ask God into their heart,” we should encourage that. We may not know at that moment whether or not they have attained to saving faith, but God does. In my own experience, my eight year old son prayed of his own volition (really God’s but by his own I mean without human prompting) several times from age four until age seven for Jesus to come into his heart and be his Lord. That said, when he was filling out the form at our church to be baptized several weeks ago, he knew exactly which date it was (to the day) when that prayer “stuck” and he became part of God’s family!

Finally, when it comes to encouraging parents of preschool aged students who seem disinterested in learning about Jesus, I would just encourage them to keep trying, be patient, pray and trust in the Lord. All children are different. If your child doesn’t like being “taught” about Jesus, find a good story book like the Jesus Storybook Bible and read it to them. If they don’t like being read to, there are great video resources out there. If they like games, there are good game resources out there. Just don’t give up. Keep modeling what it looks like to live for Jesus and they will eventually become interested. Finally, while as parent we must fulfill our duties to pass along our knowledge of the Lord as laid out in Deuteronomy 6, we must also remember that the outcome and timing of everything in our children’s lives belong to the Lord.

Read more from Wayne Stocks on his blog “Dad in the Middle”.

Response from Brenna Phillips

Q: What do you teach about concerning a child’s condition (sometimes called age) of accountability for responding to the Gospel?

There is no age of accountability about when a child (person) responds to the Gospel. A person can make a faith decision at any age in which he understands.

Q: How would you counsel a parent who is concerned about a preschool aged child who seems disinterested in learning about Jesus?

Preschoolers develop and mature at different ages and stages. As an early childhood teacher, I see 3-5 year olds learn at different levels and in different ways. Some 3 year olds students can write their names and letters of the alphabet. Others struggle to simply identify their written names. They learn differently at different times. Early childhood teachers continue to teach using different methods and preschoolers develop and learn all along the way. Therefore, Christian education teachers and parents must continue to teach preschoolers about Jesus using different teaching methods. They may seem disinterested but they are listening and comprehending the message on their own levels. Little tidbits of information are connecting in their minds. Through relationships with those preschoolers, teachers and parents will hear them say something and repeat something that they have heard and learned.

Q: If you had to estimate (and you do), what is the chronological age that most children become fully accountable for their decision about Christ?

The answer to this question is a grey area. There is no age of accountability when children (people) become fully accountable in their decisions about Christ. The Scripture does not speak about accountability ages. God holds a person accountable when he/she is totally woo’ed by Him in making a decision. Believing and accepting Christ is as easy as A-admit, B-believe, C-choose and a person is instructed to come to Christ with faith as a little child. When a person comes to understand and make a faith decision, then he is held accountable. There is no set age for this accountability.

Brenna Phillips is Children-Family Minister at Mission Fellowship Church in Middletown, Delaware, and teaches preschool students at an early childhood learning center.

Response from Terry Delaney

As a children’s minister, I specifically teach first through fifth grade in Sunday School using a master teacher approach where I teach one lesson and then the children break down according to age into a smaller group setting for discussion and application with other teachers. I challenge the children all the time with their sin and that they must respond in repentance (yes, I use the “big” words with explanation as to what they mean) and trust in what Christ did for them.

My kindergarten kids were taught about sin last year with the Children’s Desiring God curriculum. At first, my teachers did not like it much, but have seen the fruit of their teaching this doctrine to kids so young in that the children are beginning to view things through a biblical lens rather than “what Johnny and Susie does.”

Regarding counseling parents whose children “seem” disinterested, I exhort them to continue teaching their children diligently (Dt. 6:7) and that the Lord will bless their efforts. Usually, I can counsel the parents to avoid the multitude of distractions in a child’s life (television and video games) and help them to set up a time of family worship each evening for five minutes or so. To a person, they have said that making these slight changes radically changes their children’s attitudes in most every area.

I believe that a child becomes fully accountable for her decision for Christ when she is fully aware of right and wrong. I also believe that the parents should be teaching their children about sin from day one and that Christ never sinned yet He died so that we could be forgiven of our sin. Whenever I discipline any child, I explain to them that what they did was sin and that Christ died for that sin. This has a lasting effect on the child in that they now begin to see just how sinful their hearts really are (Jer. 17:9) and how gracious our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ truly is.

The way I see it, the world–and the prince of this world–begins an onslaught on our children from day one. We must be on the defense from day one teaching our children the realities of the spiritual warfare that is taking place. Many parents underestimate their children’s ability to understand and discern, but as a parent of four, I can honestly tell you that they are sponges and they soak in more than we can imagine. It is up to us as the parents to keep Christ before our children at every possible moment and do so until they or we shall leave this earth.

Terry Delaney is a regular contributor to our blog and also edits a website about Christian Book Reviews.

Response from Charlie Wallace

The notion of an “age of accountability” is a topic that has been debated for years. Paedobaptists (those that baptize infants) do not discuss this topic as frequently since they typically hold to the same basic belief as Calvin:

“If any of those who are the objects of divine election, after receiving the sign of regeneration (baptism) depart this life before they have attained the years of discretion, the Lord renews them by the power of his Spirit, in a way incomprehensible to us as he alone foresees will be necessary.” (Godfrey, Robert W. John Calvin, Crossway: Wheaton, IL, 2009, 104).

This however, only occurs for the elect – those children who God has chosen to redeem before the foundation of the world. In this way, baptism of infants confirms that they are part of God’s covenant people.

If, however, you believe that God has not chosen some to salvation before the foundation of the world, and are a devout credobaptist then the age of accountability becomes an issue. What do you tell a parent whose 3-year old dies in a tragic accident? Does the child go to Hell? On this issue, I would argue that there is a profound difference between one’s original sin that has been inherited from Adam and one’s willful and disobedient sin that a child, or person, commits. We are held accountable by a just and righteous God for the sin that we commit when we are mentally capable of understanding it. (The same would hold for those who hare mentally handicapped, etc.)

For a parent who is concerned about their child’s sinful behavior, at whatever age, I would tell them to (1) pray earnestly and frequently that the Spirit will convict their child of their sin, (2) continue to do their part as the parent in teaching their child about Jesus, and (3) rest in the comfort of knowing that God is providential and sovereign. Depending on your view of God he either knows what will happen to your child, has deemed what will happen to him, or perhaps both! Whatever God’s role, it is completely holy and good because he is God and our notion of what is fair and just comes from our being made in His image. Unfortunately, our child’s salvation is one thing that parents cannot control. As much as we would like to, we can’t.

As far as the age that a child becomes cognizant of their sin, I would say that there exists a wide range. I have counseled 5 year olds that were broken-hearted about their sin and knew they needed Jesus for salvation. I have counseled 10-year olds that were clueless. Like adults, children come to the Lord at different times in their lives. Our job as pastors and parents is to pray that they will come to faith – and come to faith as soon as possible.

Charlie Wallace is the Children’s Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Columbia, SC. He is a regular contributor for our blog. You can read more from Charlie on his blog titled First Kids.

What Do You Think?

This is one of those issues that is not going away. Leave your response to my question in the comment box below. You can also interact with the points made by different writers.


Comments

  1. gary says

    Lutherans DO believe that a person can make a Decision for Christ

    Lutherans believe that one CAN make a decision for Christ…but it is AFTER God has saved him!

    We believe that God gives the free gift of salvation without any assistance or even any cooperation of the sinner. In this way salvation really and truly is FREE! God lays the gift of faith and salvation into your “lap” and you believe and repent. We do not believe that there is any decision making in any of these actions. We view the believing and repenting as reflexive REACTIONS. When a doctor strikes your knee with a reflex hammer, your conscious brain is not required to make a decision for your knee to reflexively jerk forward.

    Now that the new Christian has the free gift of salvation, he does have a free will in spiritual matters, where before salvation he did not. The believer can choose to reject Christ, turn from him, and live a life of willful ongoing sin two seconds after his salvation or forty years later…and when he dies he will most likely wake up in hell.

    Lutherans do NOT believe in eternal security. Our salvation in not dependent on how many good deeds we do, but a willful rejection of Christ (eg. converting to Islam or becoming an agnostic or atheist) or choosing to live in ongoing, willful sin, can cause the Holy Spirit to leave a believer as happened with King Saul in the OT. If the Holy Spirit leaves the one time believer, he is no longer saved, if he dies without repenting and returning to Christ, he will go to hell.

    Human beings DO have the opportunity to make a decision for or against Christ AFTER they are saved…they do NOT have the ability to make a decision FOR Christ before they are saved.

    So Lutherans and Baptists/evangelicals actually end up at the same place: a person CAN make a decision for Christ, we just disagree when the decision can occur. It is this point of disagreement that precludes Baptists and many evangelicals from accepting infant baptism. You require a decision before salvation. You are absolutely correct, infants cannot make decisions…but infants can REFLEXIVELY believe and repent, in the same manner an adult reflexively believes and repents, at the moment that God quickens his spiritually dead soul. This quickening and reflexive believing and repenting will ONLY happen to the Elect. This is why Lutherans do not run everyone in the neighborhood through the baptismal waters.

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

  2. Terry says

    I realize this discussion is now several years old, but I would add these thoughts. The great commission speaks of salvation for those who believe and are baptized. You can baptize an infant, but they don’t have the capacity to believe.

    Throughout the book of Acts, the stories of those responding to the gospel are adults. Our Lord was baptized (not for salvation from sin, but in obedience to God’s will) when he was around 30. Can someone younger than that hear the gospel, understand it, and be convicted of their sins? Yes. Should they respond with repentance, a willingness to confess Christ, and put Him on in baptism? Yes. Can a 12-year-old? Sure. But here’s a reality check: would we allow our 12-year-old (or younger) son or daughter make the adult commitment of marriage? Even if they could give us many scriptural and logical reasons for their request? Probably not. Salvation is just as serious and lifelong commitment. Is there a clearly defined age of accountability to be found in scripture? No. I simply trust in the examples we are given from the foundations of Christianity.

    Best,
    Terry

  3. Andi says

    I was blessed to be raised in a Christian home. As a very young child, mom taught me that pleasing Jesus is the most important thing. At the age of five, I heard our pastor give an altar call. (Our church didn’t have children’s ministry until I was twelve.) I was too shy to go to the front, but I prayed the sinner’s prayer with the congregation. I meant it with everything I had, and knew without a doubt I was saved, but didn’t know I was supposed to tell someone. When I was six, mom asked if I wanted to invite Jesus into my heart, and I told her Jesus was already in my heart. Then I told her about the day I asked Him to be my saviour.

    I agree that the age at which most children understand salvation is a lot younger than many people think. Several people have tried to tell me I was too young to know what I was doing at five years old, and it’s true that I didn’t understand the full liturgical aspect of the sin nature, but I understood that Jesus died so that I could be born again. That moment was between Him and me, and we both remember it well (even 43 years later). I’m so thankful for a Christian heritage.

    IMO, when we teach our children that Jesus loves them, and we teach them to love Jesus in return, they will be more likely to run to Him.

  4. Rebeca Degodoy says

    I will speak from experience. I was born in a Christian home. The christians around me were serious christians. I learned to love Jesus since I can remember, four or five years old. I am 58 years old now, and I have vivid memories of when the preachers would extend the invitation to receive Jesus and noone would respond. I would be so embarrased with Jesus that I would try to give him consolation telling him: “Don’t worry, if they don’t want to receive you, I RECEIVE YOU.” If I would have been told that the next step was to be baptized, I would have want to be baptized.”

  5. Peter says

    I was less than 5 years old when My mother had me ask Jesus into my life. It was a great comfort to me, but I was so frightened of hell I had her help me say the prayer on a number of subsequent occasions just to make sure. I thought it was perfectly normal for every aspect of my life to relate to God.My life was soaked with religion. As a child I got into the habit of asking forgiveness for sins every couple of minutes just in case the second coming happened and I had accrued some sins that were not yet forgiven. I figured Santa Claus wasn’t real when I was about 8 years old and it was the same for God when I was probably 19, but I stll kept going to church on and off for another 10 years or so because of social pressure. I have not called myself a christian for about 5 years I guess. It can take a long time to recover from religion. I look at my childhood now and realise how hurtful it is to tell children that the world is coming to a cataclysmic end very soon. My mum was only trying to protect her child from what she thought was a threat to my safety. I love her for that and I understand that she was only doing what she thought was best for me. My hope is that the indoctrination of children with religion will begin to come to an end. If you wish to embrace a religion as an adult that is your right, but children do not have the capacity to make reasonable judgements as adults do, and religious doctrine contains many horrifying threats which children should not be exposed to.

    • says

      Peter,
      Thanks for sharing your experience. I really appreciate how you voiced your objection in a polite and respectful way. I am sorry that fear was used as the primary motivator in your religious upbringing. I pray that children will learn to love God for his glory, not submit to him merely out of fear.

    • says

      Peter,

      I have to second what Tony said. I appreciate the manner in which you presented your objection, and I hope that I can accomplish the same in this response.

      I agree that the “indoctrination of children with religion” would be best to come to an end. I can not speak for all belief systems (all of which constitute religions), but Christianity (which is about relationship not religion) is not about indoctrination. Christianity represent a choice to follow Christ and to make him Lord of our lives. In working with kids, it is important that you give them the information they need to make their own choices and not force your choice upon them. When you say “My mother had me ask Jesus into my life,” it seems that she made that choice for you and didn’t lead you to a place where you could make that choice.

      I also agree that fear should not, and cannot, be the primary motivator in spiritual formation. While we are called to fear the Lord, the Bible is also clear that God is love, and God loves us. When anyone loses the balance between God’s love and God’s justice, the presentation of the gospel gets “out of whack.”

      As someone who did not accept Jesus as Lord until he was thirty years old, I was fortunate not to have to overcome a religious upbringing. That said, we can not, and should not, reject Jesus because of the mistakes of his followers.

      Finally, you conclude that “children do not have the capacity to make reasonable judgments as adults do.” I have to disagree with you on this account. Children may be more susceptible to manipulation than adults (though perhaps not), they are certainly capable of make decisions. To assume that they are incapable of forming an independent decision, and therefore not give them a chance to know God because of their age, is insulting to both them and the God who created them. Indeed, in Deuteronomy 6, God gives us the formula for teaching kids about him – tell them everything that God has done. Show them his glory, and they can decide whether or not to reject him.

      Like Tony, I pray that kids would continue to accept God and join him in his kingdom because of God’s grace, because of God’s mercy, and for God’s glory.

      God bless you.

    • Gloria says

      Peter,
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. You have given me some wonderful insights to consider when working with children.
      I also want to tell you that I had a very similar experience. My parents were not Christians during my childhood, but i came to know about Him from some relatives and it was the fear of hell that got me saved.
      Over the years though by God’s grace those motives have been dealt with. I have come to see the side of God that is full of love and mercy. I know He loves me who I am in Christ. I know He would do anything for me that would draw me close to Him. At least even though I was drawn to Him out of fear, I am now secure in His love and all I want to do is love Him back.
      There does come a time in our lives when we have to test our beliefs especially those that we acquired as children. It is okay and necessary to do so because beliefs are what will keep you grounded. I do hope things will turn around for you when you can experience a love that transcends beyond all fear and gives you an everlasting hope through Jesus Christ.
      I also know that children have the capacity to understand anything as long as it is presented to them at their level of understanding. If we deny them the opportunity of learning about God, we might as well wait before we can send them to school and allow them to prepare for their future careers just because they are not old enough to make those kind of decisions. Denying them the opportunity to hear God’s word is like denying them the opportunity to go to school.
      As a children worker my role is to cast the seed of the gospel in a child’s heart and leave the rest to God.
      I hope all goes well with you as God’s Spirit draws you close
      Gloria.

  6. says

    As one who embraces paedobaptism I believe that children of believers, as scripture clearly states, are “made holy,” meaning they are set-apart by God. ( “1 Cor. 7: 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”) This doesn’t mean that they never have to have their own faith. They are responsible before God for their sin even before they are really aware that they are sinners by way of Adam. As they grow they can continue following truth and trusting in Christ or they can turn away and embrace other gods. Only God can weigh the heart and only He can say whether someone is truly in Christ, whether they were baptized as infants and grew up in what looked like faith but then ultimately turned away or whether the child of an unbeliever made what seemed like a credible profession of faith and was baptized as an adult but then grew cold and ultimately turned away. There are many situations in between those two where we simply cannot know in what camp the person ultimately resided – God’s or the enemy’s – but we can rest assured that God searches the heart and knows who are His own whether they died young or old, during a period of willful sin or not.

    As for children of believers, the scriptural assumption and commandment is that we will obey scripture in the many ways it instructs us to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the LORD; talking about Him when we get up, sit down, walk along the way and when we lay down as scripture instructs (Deut. 6: 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”) In the old testament they understood better than current Christian society does, I believe, that the future of all believers rests on how we raise our children. “Gen. 18: 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” Any time we read of the children of Israel turning away it is a direct result of generational “forgetfulness.” Generations where the people did not direct their children in keeping the ways of the LORD. I believe our generation is so worried about making converts out of our children that we are actually often “forgetting” to train them up in righteousness, teaching them both what the LORD has done for us, His people, in the past (through generations of those who call on Him), to what He is doing now in the church and in the world to the glorious things that He has prepared for us. We have so often forgotten to teach them that the commandments of the LORD are the freedom to which He led the Israelites after their life of slavery… they were set free to obey God and live as a Holy people, set apart for Him — a people through whom all nations would one day be blessed which we see come to fruition on the day of Pentecost and which we witness now throughout the world.

    Also in the Old Testament scripture is very clear that children born into Israel were members of the covenant before they could reply. All of the males were given the sign of the covenant on their bodies to remind them that since before they could remember or speak or choose Him, God had put His sign on them and set them apart to be His own people. This is how we view baptism. For children of believers there is never necessarily a moment of conversion that they can write in a bible. They won’t necessarily have a date to point to at which they went from the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light. We should hope and pray that Christians are raising their children in such a way, as well as praying for the hearts of their children in such a way that there is never a time in their lives where they can look back and remember anything but knowing that they have an identity given to them by God — “Set apart” — and that they can not really remember a time when they did not love Jesus. That this identity is given to them and they do not have to search for their identity or create one but they have one. They belong. If God wanted his sign placed upon the 8 day old children of old testament believers in the coming messiah, how cruel do we have to believe God is to not extend that gracious sign of His covenant love to our children? Where many believe that God sort of closed that door of covenantal belonging when the “testaments switched over,” they may be (possibly initially) dumbfounded, and then hopefully thrilled, to know that He indeed opened it even further in saying, “there is now neither male nor female, slave nor free, jew nor gentile…!” Circumcision was no longer the sign (aren’t all new converts thankful for that!!) and the promise was not only open to Israelites… The sign wasn’t something that could just be given to males. But now “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” And the sign of the new covenant is baptism.

    In the Old Testament every piece of furniture and every item used in the service of worship and sacrifice to the LORD was literally baptized in blood. They were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrificial animal. In this way these things were set apart for holy use in the worship of God. It probably still sounds very confusing to many people… why all the blood?! That tent where God made His dwelling in the Holy of Holies, was a small picture of the slightly more permanent dwelling place of God, the Temple, but then in 70 A.D. the temple itself was providentially destroyed… so, as Christ had hinted, it wasn’t permanent either. It was a more solid (than a movable tent), though still not lasting, picture of the eternal dwelling place of God.

    By God’s grace, the permanent dwelling place of God is with Man. John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” We ourselves, the Church, are the ones that are made holy — set apart for His use and are called in the new testament, “living stones being built together.” 4As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For in Scripture it says:
    “See, I lay a stone in Zion,
    a chosen and precious cornerstone,
    and the one who trusts in him
    will never be put to shame.”[a]

    Just as every article in the worship of God in the first place that God dwelt among His people was baptized and thereby ceremonially cleansed for God’s use, so every member of the household of faith must be baptized. Just as cups and alters and furniture didn’t wash themselves or choose to be used for holy purposes, so we do not. Baptism is God’s mark upon His people that they are to be set apart for Him from the very earliest age.

    We are called not to convert our children but to disciple them, to instruct them and to train them up in the way they should go. This starts before they are even able to speak. We disciple them as God has done for us. He condescends, comes down and speaks on our level though His thoughts and ways are so far above our own. His son came down and was born in a crude stable and lived a human existence and made His dwelling among us. He came down to our level and said, “let the little children come unto me for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these…” A baby who can’t express their faith might have the simplest faith, the likes of which we need often emulate — total dependence. And while earthly Fathers and Mothers will fail at coming through many times, when we admit that we are totally dependent upon God He will never put us to shame. But, just as a loving mother will not forget the baby at her breast, how much more will He hear our cry and have mercy on us and feed us with Himself?

    As for the children of unbelievers who die while unable to express any kind of faith at all, we simply continue to trust in God’s sovereignty. We cannot say with any Biblical proof that everyone younger than X age is automatically in. We simply must say that we trust that God is merciful and good and that He is able to grant the gift of faith to even those who cannot express that gift if it is His will to do so. As much can be said for those with disabilities. God is sovereign. Romans 9: 10Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”[d] 13Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”[e]

    14What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15For he says to Moses,
    “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
    and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”[f] 16It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

    Many will balk at this but the eternal security of an unborn child or a newborn baby or a toddler is under the exact same amount of sovereignty as our own salvation. Phil. 2: “13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. “

  7. says

    Maureen,

    Thank you for your comments. I certainly don’t mind the questions. I appreciate the input (“as iron sharpens iron”). I think the specific scripture that many people point to in the passage from Samuel where David says that he will see his infant son again. I believe that is a strong argument that infant who die go to heaven, there are several others taken, not from specific passages, but from the whole of scripture. I could reiterate them here, but there is a great article by Albert Mohler and Daniel Akin (both men I have a great deal of respect for) titled “Why We Believe Children Who Die Go to Heaven.” You can find it at:

    http://betweenthetimes.com/2009/07/24/why-we-believe-children-who-die-go-to-heaven-2/

    They present the arguments much more convincingly and eloquently than I could, so I would refer you to their article.

    I hope this helps!

    Sincerely,

    Wayne

  8. says

    I think Maureen’s question would be a good one to take up as a follow-up to this discussion, especially since (Wow!) none of us advocate an age of accountability.

  9. Maureen Small says

    Wayne Stocks says that there is ample evidence in the Bible that young children who die go to heaven. I have searched many times over the years for just such a passage to comfort myself or someone else with that thought. However, I have never found such evidence, nor evidence for an “age of accountability”. Could Wayne give some specific scripture references that would indicate that young children go to heaven, even if they have not believed in Jesus Christ? I don’t at all mean to be controversial; I genuinely need Biblical proof.

    • says

      I can only offer up 2 Samuel 12:23 as a possible reference that young children go to heaven. Ultimately, I counsel that the God of the Bible will do what is just and right and that we should trust Him.

  10. says

    There are some wonderful responses here! Amen to many of the thoughts expressed, that while the Bible is silent on any specific one-size-fits-all age of accountability, it isn’t silent on our privilege and duty as parents and other teachers to diligently train and teach our children in the Lord. We can safely leave the hidden knowledge of times and seasons to the author of them (God); our job is to do what he’s revealed to us to do. Salvation is God’s sovereign work: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8, ESV). Our part is to be sure our children hear and understand the gospel, often and in as many different and winsome ways as we find opportunity, since God has also sovereignly decreed that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, ESV).

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