About two years ago I had an account on Puritan Boards. To my surprise, I was banned because I asked for others there to go beyond quoting their Confessions, and to show their contentions from the Scriptures.
What I have found in several conversations with Protestant Confessional types in their notable haunts (Puritan Boards and Reformed Pub) is a sort of arrogance and anti-intellectualism which I find disgraceful. This is not to say I am not above disgraceful behavior, but rather I say this to hold my brothers accountable.
I have a fair degree of Catholic readers on this blog, so if they are wondering what Protestant Confessionalism is, I will simply say it is a sort of Protestant Catholicism. In short, Confessional Protestants believe that a particular Confession (Westminister, London Baptist, etcetera) accurately sums up several crucial doctrines and that this Confession accurately represents what “the Church has always taught.”
Now, this might confuse Catholics (or Eastern Orthodox for that matter) simply because they believe that Catholicism preserves what has always been taught by the Church. They can make plausible cases for the priesthood, transubstantiation, Petrine Primacy, and other crucial doctrines by citing explicit mentions in the Church Fathers as early as the second century. Ironically, most Confessional Protestants reject these things and yet claim the mantle of history.
In a future article I will cover more on how Confessional Christians falsely claim the mantle of Church History when I cover the issue of the eclectic versus the ecclesiastical text types. For now, I want to cover the issue of infant salvationism.
Two years ago someone on Puritan Boards posed the question, “Whether all children and mentally incompetent” are saved. I, having just read the London Baptist Confession and feeling it was pretty accurate on most things, signed up for the Forum listing myself as an adherent of the LBC 1689 and gave an opinion. I was woefully ignorant of the excesses of the Confessional subculture. This will become increasingly apparent between my discussions with this group of people on the question at hand.
Miss Marple wrote:
Are you missing the covenant?
It seems to me infants, and imbeciles, are saved if they are included in the covenant by the fact that a parent is saved.
I don’t know of a promise to infants (or imbeciles) apart from that.
Let me begin my reply by making the following clear:
He saved them for the sake of His name, that He might make His power known. (Psalm 106:8)
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. (Psalm 19:9)
God does all things, including saving His elect, for His glory. Those whom He chooses to save in His judgment are saved by His grace and there is nothing unfair about His choice. If God wills every infant and imbecile to go to hell, He is right. If he wills every single one of them to be saved, He is right. If He wills for only those in the household of believers to be saved, He is right.
We do not have the capacity to question God’s justice.
That being said, the question is not whether God is unfair in His decision. Instead, it is what the Scripture actually says what His decision about the matter is.
Problem is, the Scripture does not specifically address the question. However, it does address issues that give us a pretty good idea, but not a certainty, over what kind of people make up His elect.
-Former children of wrath (Eph 2:3)
-Those who have believed in their heart and confessed with their mouth Jesus Christ (Rom 10:9)
-Those who have heard the Gospel preached to them (Rom 10:14)
While infants and imbeciles are certainly born as children of wrath, the latter two points make it appear that they fall crucially short of salvation.
Those who believe in the salvation of infants of believing parents presume that God supernaturally gives these infants an understanding of the Gospel and changes their hearts of stone so that they do believe. Granted, nothing is impossible with God, but we have no compelling reason to believe that God acts differently with people such as these than with unreached people groups.
In fact, the danger of presuming that infants, imbeciles, or unreached people can be saved in this way forces us to misinterpret certain passages of Scripture. For example, God’s calling of Abraham in Gen 12:1 is not meant to be a normative way in which people come to know God. Rather, the normative way people come to know God is by having Him preached to them. Even in this case, Abraham was not saved until a time later in Gen 15.
Or, as another example, Ps 8:2 states, “The mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established praise because of Your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease.” Some will say that this shows infants are saved. However, Jesus Himself took a much different interpretation in Mat 21:15-16, showing it to be a prophecy fulfillment.
So, while it is not impossible for God to save infants and imbeciles, I must ask, where does the Bible say this? If anything, the Bible’s testimony that believers hear the Gospel preached and confess Christ’s name after God performing a supernatural work in their hearts, appears to preclude this. So, while we do not have certainty because the Scripture does not definitively answer the question, we could say with confidence that it is only those who believe in their heart and confess with their mouth that Christ is Lord and has risen from the dead are saved. All those not in that category are not saved.
In response to this pretty air-tight defense of Christians are saved by faith and not by nebulous family connections or the like, a poster named Kodos cited the London Baptist Confession of 1689, Chapter 10. He said that the teaching of the Church is that elect infants are saved. I responded that we should take the Confession very seriously, but that the Confession “does not settle the matter, only Scripture can.”
Further, he wrote that “clearly, we see at least with David – an example of the fact that an infant is saved without understanding the gospel (2 Samuel 12:23). If we stress the onus on a cognitive understanding of the gospel, we have made faith a thing of works, and not of grace.”
Unbeknownst to me, the following response on my behalf would create a storm of fury:
I don’t think 2 Samuel 12:23 means that David’s infant is saved. He said he would see the infant again in Sheol. Even the wicked rich man saw Lazarus on Abraham’s lap in Sheol. So, the statement does not definitively prove the matter. Personally, I think it is more of a euphemism that means, “I’ll see meet my son again in the grave (i.e. the common state of death).” I don’t think it was a eschatological statement of any sort.
Granted, grace is the basis of salvation, but faith is it’s means (Eph 2:8). So, God could choose to save people without them ever showing faith, God can do anything He pleases, but the consistent testimony of the Scripture is that God’s grace is apparent in those who have faith. Hence, the assumption that someone who does not show faith has not been shown God’s grace is actually quite logical…What I cannot find in the Scripture is an example of someone who never showed faith in this life that is declared to be saved. This to me, pretty much settles the issue.
Kodos responded by quoting Luke 1:41-44, which states that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit and leaped for joy hearing about Mary’s pregnancy. My response was that while John the Baptist might be a notable exception, surely it was an extraordinary event and not something we should consider normative.
Taking issue with my interpretation of a common infant-salvationism proof text (2 Sam 12:23) a poster named Contra Mundum wrote:
What the text states most plainly is that David expects the two of them (he and his son) to be together. There is no comment about “seeing.” And no mention of “Sheol.” So, clearly from the beginning of your interpretation, there is a strong leaning upon inferences, and especially dependence upon one supposedly clearer passage (a parable of sorts from Jesus)…There is no reason why an understanding of a “common” grave (in earthly or even poetic terms) cannot coexist theologically with hope in a resurrection, which David certainly had, Ps.16:9-11…David had a faithful expectation to be “go to be with [his] fathers,” 1Chr.17:11. Ahab was also said to “sleep with his fathers,” but that doesn’t imply that his fathers and David’s were the same! Ps.37:37-38; Is.57:1-2,13,21. We ought to give David’s comment and his stated expectation its due, in a covenant-context; a context where God promises to be “God to you, and your descendants after you,” Gen.17:7. It’s a pitifully truncated read of David’s language, to make it sound as bleak as possible…In any case, it is nonsense to say that the words are devoid of any eschatological freight. That’s just “shutting the door to keep out the light.”
My response was as follows:
I think you just did a lot to undercut your own argument. The term “go to be with fathers” is used of righteous kings, but also wicked kings. For example, Abijam “walked in all the sins of his father which he had committed before him; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, like the heart of his father David” (1 King 15:3). However, what happened to him? “Abijam slept with his fathers and they buried him in the city of David; and Asa his son became king in his place” (1 King 15:8).
So, you accuse me of reading the text “pitifully” but adjectives aside, let’s just look at your own exegesis. You are arguing terms like “go to him,” “go to the fathers,” and etcetera means that these kings are literally going all to the same place, which you presume to be heaven. However, the terminology does not change with wicked kings.
The only sensible explanation is that the words being used are an euphemism for the common grave…You might have an understanding of the original languages, which I do not, but being that the terms we are speaking of are used interchangeably for the righteous and wicked alike, I think we need to re-examine the term nonsense. We do not need to pull out a dictionary or anything. I think the fact that your contention cannot be consistently applied in the Scripture makes it a lot less sensible, and at points highly contradictory and absurd.
Contra Mundum also cited some favorite proof-texts of the infant salvationists: “God gives faith to some babies, Ps.22:9; Ps.71:6; Lk.1:44, Ps.8:2.”
My response did more than deflate his balloon. Sadly, it incited anger within the man:
-Psalm 8:2 is a prophecy fulfillment, spoken of Matt 21:16. It is speaking of children in the vicinity of the temple in Jerusalem, not in heaven.
-You are quoting Psalm 71:6 out of context. The NASB reads, “I have been sustained from my birth.” Yes, all saved people have been set aside before the foundations of the world are set, like Paul having been set aside from the womb. Surely, Paul was no faithful, for he grew up to become a persecutor of the Church. The Psalm speaks nothing of the one preserved from the womb having faith anymore than “You preserve man and beast” (Ps 36:6) speaks of animals having faith.
-Ps 22:9, according to Matthew Henry, pertains to the trust the baby has with his mother. Hence, the verse is about God assuring his care. Now, there are other reformed observers perhaps with different interpretations, but taking a “David was like John the Baptist and had a profound understanding of Christ from young age,” I would still say that the burden of proof on taking verses like this and Luke 1:44 would be on those that say they are normative–especially in light of the other verses you brought up which do not really address the issue at all.
A poster named Semper Fidelis, instead of addressing my points responded, “The Reformed have always maintained that GNC is a sufficient basis from which to come to some conclusions.”
GNC is a cute, elitist term which means “good and necessary consequences.” It is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith. At the time it was penned, GNC simply meant logical inferences drawn from the text of Scripture. To Confessional Protestants, it means the Confessions themselves, as it is unimaginable that anyone else can make a logical inference from the Scripture other then that derived from the men that made X, Y, or Z confession.
Befuddled at the sheer hypocrisy of what he meant by what he said, I responded:
I want to avoid coming onto too strong, because if the Scripture does not answer the question explicitly, I don’t want to go beyond the Scripture…If the issue was simply settled by creeds we would have no need to simply ask the question. Being that the question was asked, and ideally even if a creed is correct it is substantiated by the Scripture, I think the question should be answered by the Scripture.
Nor ought custom, which had crept in among some, to prevent the truth from prevailing and conquering; for custom without truth is the antiquity of error. On which account, let us forsake the error and follow the truth, knowing that in Esdras also the truth conquers, as it is written: Truth endures and grows strong to eternity, and lives and prevails for ever and ever. (Cyprian, Epistle 73:9)
Contra Mundum responded to my contention that 2 Sam 12:23 does not prove that infant salvationism is normative:
1) I used the language “go to your fathers,” as in 1Chr.17:11, with reference to David; because “GO” is the EXACT word used in 2Sam.12:23 when David speaks in reference to himself and his son.
There is a reason for this, which I hope you are well aware. Both instances of the term was someone in the present speaking of a death occurring in the future (hence going to it). For this reason, those are the only two examples of the term being used this way from 1 Sam to 2 Chron. Whenever the narrator of 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles makes essentially the same statement, but controlling for the fact that he is speaking for a past event, he uses the pass tense word “slept.”
And, we know from the many times “slept” is used, it is a catch all for all the kings, wicked and righteous.
Do we have any example in the Scripture where “go” is used as a catch all? Yes! We have Gen 15:15 where God promised to Abram: “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.”
Problem is, Abraham’s father worshiped other gods (Josh 24:2) and being that God did not call him he likely never repented. So, he is likely not saved. Obviously, he would not be going to heaven with Abraham then.
The more you pursue this argument and try to mince meat over the significance of one Hebrew term used in a certain situation and another used in a different one, the more you undercut your overall argument.
The poster Semper Fidelis responded that I had a “bad hermeneutic” and then went ahead and botched his exegesis to 1 Cor 7:14: “The necessary consequence from many Scriptures is that children of believers are constituted as holy by the Lord. Promises are made concerning the salvation of believers and their children.”
My response was:
However, this assertion of yours is a misapplication of 1 Cor 7:14. Children are not made absolutely holy so any more than unbelieving husbands are sanctified in an absolute sense. If you extrapolate reasoning upon a faulty interpretation of a Biblical verse, the whole edifice you build on top of it is going to go crashing down when placed upon closer scrutiny.
He responded that, “I suspect there are some who would use your facile form of ‘exegesis’ and say that it doesn’t actually say that in the text and conclude that I’m ‘reading into’ the text. I will not long tolerate your foolish accusations against ministers…” I simply responded:
[Y]ou level the charge that my exegesis of 1 Cor 7:14 is “facile,” but what makes it that I am being facile and not you being convoluted? Go back to Chrysostom in his Homily on 1 Cor 7. He does not agree with your interpretation, he goes with the facile one. It is also worth noting that Augustine takes my interpretation in On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants (Book III, Chapter 21)…I think the Scripture that states, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall” (1 Cor 10:12) may be fitting in this situation. It is common for people to mistake their learning, or tradition, as wisdom. However, if it not be for the grace of God, we would read His Scriptures but understand nothing of it. For, the natural man cannot discern spiritual things…So, I will not presume that I can ascertain that you have blessed with more understanding than me or vice versa, but I will say that we should be careful with our tone and carry ourselves with humility. The use of adjectives such as “foolish,” “clumsy,” and “pitiful” in a respectful conversation do not have a place. Let us compel one another to speak to each other in an edifying way, with words useful for building one another.
Apparently, citing a Confession proves to be a final redoubt when both Scripture and clear inferences derived from the Scripture (GNC!) do not allow for their conclusions. I was then banned for not properly adhering to the LBC 1689.
Now that I spilled 3,000 words on the topic, what can we take away from this?
The most important lesson is that Christians ought to be treating other Christians with love. I warned, “[W]hoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matt 5:22). Like good little Pharisees we can tell ourselves, “I didn’t call my brother in Christ a fool, I called him foolish! I didn’t call him an idiot, I called him idiotic!” Do you think God shares in your fine distinctions? The world knows who we are by how we love one another. I, for one, am ashamed to call such men, with their name-calling, Christians. It is my hope for them that I caught them in a bad moment.
Further, infant salvationism is clearly not taught by the clear words of Scripture. In fact, even logical inferences from Scripture would appear to weigh against it. The strongest support for the doctrine is simply Protestant tradition. Within the whole of Christian history, baptism was the means in which infants were saved. Hence, the Protestant tradition of invisible-baby saving on God’s behalf is actually an invention totally unheard of for 1500 years of Church History. How can we say such a doctrine is taught by the Holy Spirit when He failed to teach it for so long?
Lastly, it is my hope and prayer that the arrogance of Confessionalism will dissipate. I totally understand why people are Confessional–they don’t like every new trend and change in doctrine. We should be preserving doctrine, not changing it!
However, they are not immune to trends themselves. You can tell who is Confessional by the amount of tattoos they have and the length of their beards. The more tats, the more vain they are…and serious about their Confession!
Further, they tend to lack a thorough knowledge of history that would inform them that quite a few notable doctrines they hold to (invisible infant regeneration, Sunday is the Sabbath, and etcetera) have no recorded mention for the first five centuries of Church History. In fact, invisible infant salvationism is unheard of until the 16th century. After all, it is an idea that has to literally be invented in order to both reject baptismal regeneration (at that point a 1300 year old doctrine) and somehow make it possible that infants are saved in a normative way.
By lacking a thorough knowledge of history, the result is that they lack a thorough grounding in Christian history. From this we must conclude by necessity that their traditions are merely man made with no plausible claim to legitimacy, unlike Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy who have both more ancient doctrines and a claim to Apostolic Succession.
My prayer for my brothers and sisters in Christ is that we may worship God in truth, with humility, constantly seeking Him in the Scripture and in prayer. I will appreciate it if you join me in this.