Baby bonfire?

Propaganda.

The formal definition of the word is simply, “information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause” (this according to the princeton.edu Wordnet page). “Propaganda” has certainly come to have very negative connotations, however, as leaders of different groups employing propaganda have often sought to promote their causes with little regard to the truth. So, how can people be persuaded apart from a clear presentation of the truth? One way is through emotional appeals. Emotional appeals have been employed by leaders throughout history to persuade people to think and react without taking the time to investigate the facts behind what is being presented to them. This type of propaganda can be especially ugly when employed against minority groups within a society. To give but two examples:

  1. Local leaders within the Roman Empire often incited persecution against the early Christian community through spreading the rumor that the followers of Christ were baby-eaters. Since Christians spoke of being nourished by the body and blood of Christ and since they also spoke of Him as a little child, some came to the conclusion that babies were being baked into the communion bread [Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, 50]. Clearly, this was a gross distortion of Christian teaching and there is no reason for this rumor to have started, except that some had an anti-Christian agenda.
  2. Throughout the middle ages, the Jewish people were often subject to violence due to what are known as “blood libels”– accusations against the Jews concerning ritual sacrifice of infants to obtain blood for mystical purposes. These accusations were based upon the Old Testament sacrificial system (ignoring the facts that this system of animal sacrifice strictly forbade the killing of humans and that the sacrificial system no longer exists under rabbinic Judaism), out-of-context renderings of certain passages from the Jewish Bible (such as Psalm 137:9, “How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock”), and the role that the Jewish leaders played in the crucifixion of Jesus (ignoring the obvious fact that Jesus Himself was a religious Jew).

To point out some similarities in the examples above: Both the rumors against the Christians and the blood libels against the Jews were based on some elements of truth that were grossly distorted. Also, both of these examples involve supposed harm inflicted upon very young children. In fact, as one reads through the history of propaganda, it is interesting to find just how often accusations of harm done to infants have been employed. There seems to be very little that can stir the emotion of an audience to blind hatred of a group other than making them feel that the group in question is prone to support violence against babies.


With this in mind, consider the following words from Dr. Jerry Vines’ October 8, 2006 speech regarding the “Baptist battle” against Calvinism, given at First Baptist Church Woodstock, Georgia:

The extreme says that God chose some to be saved, but God chose some to be lost. If you push it to its logical conclusion, it even goes to the point that God chose some babies to go to Hell. If you think I’m making that up, you don’t know the literature. There are some who are teaching– popular speakers– that God created some babies to go to Hell. When I saw those precious children baptized tonight, it touched my heart. I’ll tell you, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t for one moment believe that the God of this universe predestined any baby to go to Hell.

Then, after Dr. Vines’ sermon, Johnny Hunt, the pastor of FBCW, gave some closing exhortations, including the following statement:

If you are a Calvinist, why don’t you just tell your friends, just say, I am one of those that believes babies go to Hell.

So, just as the early Christians were portrayed as baby-eaters, modern Calvinists are being painted as baby-burners by the leadership of FBCW.

As with our previous examples of propaganda, these accusations against Calvinist (or Reformed) beliefs are based upon some elements of truth that have been grossly distorted. Reformed theologians are, as a rule, very slow to affirm any doctrine not explicitly stated in the Bible. As there is no verse that can be pointed to which clearly says, “All children dying in infancy automatically go to heaven,” Reformed theologians have tended to shy away from making such statements concerning infant salvation.

Dr. R.C. Sproul represents a more positive side of this somewhat agnostic view toward the fate of young children, writing,

[W]e hope and have a certain level of confidence that God will be particularly gracious toward those who have never had the opportunity to be exposed to the gospel, such as infants or children who are too disabled to hear and understand. (R.C. Sproul, Now That’s a Good Question! Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996. 294)

Yet many of the leading Reformed pastors and theologians of our day, in examining the biblical evidence concerning this issue, have become more confident in affirming that the unborn and infants who die are immediately ushered into the presence of our Lord. Pastor John MacArthur, in his book Safe in the Arms of God, builds a biblical case for infant salvation based upon the hope of King David expressed in II Samuel 12:23 and the Lord Jesus’ special care for young children expressed in Matthew 18:1-6 and 19:13-15. Dr. Al Mohler provides additional evidence from the book of Deuteronomy in his article “In the Shadow of Death– The Little Ones Are Safe With Jesus,” writing:

In response to Israel’s sin and rebellion, God condemns that generation of adults to death in the wilderness, never to see the land of promise. “Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give to your fathers.” [Deuteronomy 1:35]. But God specifically exempted young children and infants from this condemnation–and He even explained why He did so: “Moreover, your little ones who you said would become prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good and evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.” [Deuteronomy 1:39] These little ones were not punished for their parents’ sins, but were accepted by God into the Promised Land. I believe that this offers a sound basis for our confidence that God deals with young children differently than He deals with those who are capable of deliberate and conscious sin.

C.J. Mahaney, head of Sovereign Grace Ministries, has said that he is persuaded by the exposition of MacArthur and Mohler on this issue. (I could not find anything concerning infant salvation on the Sovereign Grace website concerning infant salvation, so I asked C.J. about this personally when he spoke at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel this past semester.)

Pastor John Piper makes the case from John 9:41 and Romans 1:20 that while infants are sinners, under God’s condemnation from the womb (Psalm 58:3), God will mercifully pardon the sins of those who die in infancy, based upon the grace found in the work of Christ:

Jesus says in John 9:41 to those who were offended at his teaching and asked if he thought they were blind-he said, “If you were blind, you would not have had sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

In other words, if a person lacks the natural capacity to see the revelation of God’s will or God’s glory then that person’s sin would not remain-God would not bring the person into final judgment for not believing what he had no natural capacity to see.

The other text is Romans 1:20 where Paul is dealing with persons who have not heard the gospel and have no access to it, but who do have access to the revelation of God’s glory in nature:

Romans 1:20 “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

In other words: if a person did not have access to the revelation of God’s glory – did not have the natural capacity to see it and understand it, then Paul implies they would have an excuse at the judgment.

The point for us is that even though we human beings are under the penalty of everlasting judgment and death because of the fall of our race into sin and the sinful nature that we all have, nevertheless God only executes this judgment on those who have the natural capacity to see his glory and understand his will, and refuse to embrace it as their treasure.

Infants, I believe, do not yet have that capacity; and therefore, in God’s inscrutable way, he brings them under the forgiving blood of his Son.

Now one point I am trying to make with the information presented above is that at least five of the seven speakers from the Together for the Gospel conference have expressed confidence that all infants who die will go to heaven. (I was not able to find specific information on this topic one way or the other from the remaining two T4G speakers, Pastors Mark Dever and J. Ligon Duncan.) It is these men who are the most respected and popular proponents of Calvinism today. So where are the “popular speakers” Dr. Vines mentions who are teaching “God created some babies to go to Hell?” Why doesn’t Vines offer some examples to support his claim?

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of these particular accusations put forth by the leadership of FBCW is that not only are the charges against Calvinism based on emotional appeal, but their belief in infant salvation also seems to be based on nothing more than an appeal to the emotions. In their rejection of Calvinism, Dr. Vines and Johnny Hunt have undermined any biblical/theological basis for a belief that infants certainly go to heaven by insisting that election to salvation is based upon foreseen faith. But for those infants who die, if they are not unconditionally elected, as Calvinism believes the Bible to teach, what faith can God possibly foresee? Are we to believe that the unborn and young children understand the Gospel, repent of their sin and come to Christ?

For church leaders to encourage their congregation to accept infant salvation based upon sentimentality is dangerous because once a Christian starts to feel that God must save infants from Hell simply because they are so cute, what is to keep him from assuming that God must also save his cute grandmother who has never come to faith in Christ? What is to keep him from believing that a loving God would never send his sweet Hindu neighbor to Damnation? You can see how these purely emotional arguments quickly begin to erode the Great Commission.

I close this post with the following words from Dr. Al Mohler:

These infants are in Heaven, but not because they were not sinners. The Bible teaches that we are all conceived in sin and born in sin, and each of us is a sinner from the moment we draw our first breath. The doctrines of original sin and total depravity do not spring from some speculative theological imagination, but from the clear teaching of Scripture. There is no state of innocence, and these babies cannot enter Heaven unless the penalty for their sin is provided by the atonement of Jesus Christ…

…My argument that these children are safe in the presence of Jesus Christ is based upon biblical evidence and theological reasoning. I cannot accept the glib and superficial assertions put forth by those who would simply offer assurance without adequate argument.

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7 Comments on “Baby bonfire?”

  1. George Rank Says:

    It’s very disturbing for me to hear this kind of teaching coming from a Baptist pulpit. It certainly does have its effect. When I shared this with my wife she was impacted by the statements of both men as you might expect talking about God sending innocent babies to hell.
    I was hoping that you might help me to better understand Romans 1:20. It has always been a difficult passage for me to understand. It states they are without excuse because of what can be seen. What if they do see God’s invisible attributes and believe there is a creator, how does that translate into salvation? Particularly if they never hear the gospel. Are we to assume that if someone recognizes God in creation that the gospel will eventually be presented to them?

  2. Gordan Says:

    Thank you for this post. I admit that as a Reformed Christian, this was not a subject I thought about very much, until the death of my own son in the womb last March.

    I would add to your post these thoughts: In Hodge’s “Systematic Theology,” he (the quintessential Calvinist theologian of his day) said it was ridiculous to think that any Calvinist anywhere thought that any babies went to hell. I don’t have the quote in front of me right now, but I remember being struck by how repulsive he obviously found the thought.

    I also found some encouragement in both the words of Job, and Solomon in Ecclesiastes, as they both expressed the idea that the stillborn child is better off than the man who lives all of his days in godly wisdom. Which would be a strange thing to say indeed if the wise man spends eternity in heaven and the stillborn suffers in hell.

    Just more things to consider. God bless.

  3. Stephen Thomas Says:

    Though not 100% sure, I am generally persuaded by the arguments of MacArthur and others that infants go to hell. I say that as a sort of disclaimer to what I am about to say, which is this: Even if those who die in infancy are sent to hell, what is forgotten is that it would completely just for God to send them there, because they are sinners. I recall James White saying something along the lines that God doesn’t look at Hitler as a baby, or Stalin as a baby, or any other notorious person we could name. God doesn’t view anybody as babies, or adults, or whatever, but as sinners, because that is what we all are, no matter how old we are. So not only do Vines and company misrepresent and sidestep the issue with emotional appeals, but they are basically rejecting the orthodox understanding of Original Sin.

  4. Josh Says:

    Baptists don’t believe in original sin. Just read the Baptist Faith and Message.

    Josh
    “…the word of God is not bound.”
    –2 Timothy 2:9

  5. Stephen Thomas Says:

    Uh, I just noticed that I left out an important word in my comment….I should have said that “I am generally persuaded by the arguments of MacArthur and others that infants DO NOT go to hell.” Heh. Sorry.


  6. Interestingly many Muslims in the Middle East today still belive the Jewish blood-libel.

    Saying that ‘Baptists believe…’ ANYTHING is a vast over-simplification. There are General Baptists and Particular Baptists, Evangelical Baptists and liberal Baptists, Trinitarianj and Unitarian Baptists…

    Oh, and before they were Unitarian, the Unitarian Baptists were General Baptists. Arminanism has a tendency to land Baptists in serious nasty heresy.

  7. Gene Says:

    Yup, and, as we shall see in an upcoming article, Amyraldianism turned into Arminianism in Geneva in one generation and in one more it became Socinianism. I have some articles on lessons from church history that I’m planning.

    Also, I’d point out this article here: http://strangebaptistfire.com/2006/07/11/infant-election/ in which I deal in some detail with some of the relevant considerations and outline the general positions.

    I’d also point out that there are five positions on this is Reformed Theology in general. Also, Calvin himself pointed out that those reprobated from birth do not die as infants, rather they mature into conscientious sinners. This, of course, is quite logical, since, strictly speaking, we are all elected and thus reprobated if not elected, before birth. His point, however, is that such persons do die having shown the fruits of their natural state, eg. sin, not as those who have committed no sins in a knowing manner.


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