By Chaplain Eddie Donnally DMin
In hospital jargon they’re called, “fetal demises.” As a hospital chaplain, I have anointed, prayed over and even baptized babies who died either in the womb or shortly after being born.
I’m also a Foursquare minister and praying for the dead and baptizing a baby, dead or alive, is not something I would do in a denominational church. Yet, a chaplain is a type of missionary, and a keeper of the sacred in a secular world. Standing before a mother grieving over the dead child she holds in her arms and believing that baby needs to baptized to enter heaven, is no place for a lesson in theology. I am called to provide comfort and love my neighbor as myself, a principle all Christians believe is essential. But can I tell that mother with assurance that her child’s soul will reside in heaven?
A few years ago, one of my fellow ministers told me there can be no forgiveness of sin without repentance, and the Bible is clear on that point. In a sense, he is very correct. Yet, in the case of children below the age of understanding the concept of Christ as Savior, I believe that infants who die go to heaven (paradise).
The subject is not directly addressed by Scripture, though there is sufficient Scriptural support to put it into one of those gray areas of secondary doctrine. Doctrine I believe would be covered by Romans 14: 5, where Paul was talking about the law of liberty, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in their own minds.”
Scripture: One biblical text is particularly helpful at this point. After the children of Israel rebelled against God in the wilderness, God sentenced that generation to die in the wilderness after forty years of wandering. (Deut 1:35) “Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers.” God specifically exempted young children and infants from this sentence, and even explained why He did so: (vs 39) “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.”
The key issue here is that God specifically exempted from judgment those who “have no knowledge of good or evil” because of their age. These “little ones” would inherit the Promised Land, and unlike other would not be judged on the basis of their fathers’ sins.
We also have II Samuel 12: 21-23, which records David’s grief following the death at birth of his child whose mother was Bathsheba. His dismayed servant asked, (vs. 21) “What is this you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!” David answered, (Vs 22) “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ (vs23) But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
While it is possible David was talking about the grave, it seems far more logical to believe he was talking about the afterlife or heaven. David, of course, confirmed in Psalms 23 that he would “dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” so we know David believed he would be in heaven.
These verses, Job 3: 11-16 (New Living Translation), indicate that Job believed that stillborn children were not condemned, but on the contrary in death found peace, sleep and rest.
“Why wasn’t I born dead?
Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb?
12 Why was I laid on my mother’s lap?
Why did she nurse me at her breasts?
13 Had I died at birth, I would now be at peace.
I would be asleep and at rest.
14 I would rest with the world’s kings and prime ministers,
whose great buildings now lie in ruins.
15 I would rest with princes, rich in gold,
whose palaces were filled with silver.
16 Why wasn’t I buried like a stillborn child. . .”
Then there are the verses in Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14; and Luke 18:16. All the commentaries on the verses I could find basically state that Jesus was saying that the kingdom of God is composed of little children like those brought to Him. This statement makes no sense if Jesus thought that infants were going to hell. It makes sense only with a view that infants are part of the kingdom of God and if they die they go to heaven.
Adam Clarke’s commentary has been a standard for over a century and recognized by Armenians and Calvinist alike. He writes of Matthew 19:14, “But Jesus said, ’let the little come unto Me, and do not forbid them for of such is the kingdom of heaven,’ a great part of God’s Kingdom is composed of such literarily.”
While tradition and early church leadership are not Scripture, it is always considered worthy of consideration by serious Biblical scholars.
Westminster Confession of Faith (1646): “Elect infants, dying in infance, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.”
Today, R. Albert Mohler, Jr. of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says of the same verse: “We believe that this passage bears directly on the issue of infant salvation, and that the accomplished work of Christ has removed the stain of original sin from those who die in infancy. Knowing neither good nor evil, these young children are incapable of committing sins in the body – are not yet moral agents – and die secure in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
One of the most eloquent and powerful expressions of this understanding of infant salvation came from the heart of Charles Spurgeon. Preaching to his own congregation, Spurgeon consoled grieving parents: “Now, let every mother and father here present know assuredly that it is well with the child, if God hath taken it away from you in its infant days.”
Spurgeon turned this conviction into an evangelistic call. “Many of you are parents who have children in heaven. Is it not a desirable thing that you should go there, too? He continued: “Mother, unconverted mother, from the battlements of heaven your child beckons you to Paradise. Father, ungodly, impenitent father, the little eyes that once looked joyously on you, look down upon you now, and the lips which scarcely learned to call you father, ere they were sealed by the silence of death, may be heard as with a still small voice, saying to you this morning, ‘Father, must we be forever divided by the great gulf which no man can pass?’ Doth not nature itself put a sort of longing in your soul that you may be bound in the bundle of life with your own children?”
And finally, the following commentary is found in “Foundations of Pentecostal Theology,” written by some of Foursquare’s most respected theologians. “In not believing on Jesus Christ, and thus rejecting His Salvation, man fails to take advantage of the forgiveness which He provided by His death. Thus, the whole guilt of man’s sin is heaped back upon himself. This sin is not possible for a little one before he attains the age of accountability; thus the Saving Grace of Jesus Christ still avails for him. It is impossible to state when a child will reach this point of accountability. With some it is as early as three or four years, with others it may be five or six years of age.
Thus, it’s safe to say that at the very least, the issue lies in a non-essential area of grayness, one that gives me the space to practice grace. When I’m standing in front of a couple and the mother is holding her dead baby in her arms and she asked if I think her child will be in heaven, I wouldn’t give her a lesson on the nuances of secondary doctrine.
I would simply read her Matthew 19:14 and tell her, “Yes I believe your baby sits at the feet of Jesus in heaven.” Like Spurgeon I might add, “I believe the Bible teaches that through faith in Jesus, you will someday join that precious child.”