During WWI, in order to gain support for entering the war on the Allied side, propaganda began to stretch the truth and distort the nature of the conflict. The Germans were painted as Huns who enjoyed killing (and eating, in some cases) babies. Joe Public was alarmed and outraged. No matter that the issues that started the war were complicated and convoluted, straw men were erected in order to arouse the public to insist on America’s going to war. The same is going on in the SBC today. Normally we do not post too much on the Arminian-Calvinism debate going on in the SBC. This is because we work with multiple denominations overseas and the issue is secondary to our stated goals in providing training resources to leaders and churches worldwide. Yet, sometimes the issue is forced upon us, because such training materials do lean one way or another and because I am an ordained minister within the SBC.
It is with dismay, then, that many articles have become sloppily written inside SBC magazines and websites, which distort the beliefs of either side and further divide people from having civil discussions and agreeing to disagree over some interpretations of Scripture. The article, Sbc and Calvinism: All-in? All-out? Somewhere In-Between? by Doug Sayers is one such article that was not helpful or accurate. (http://sbctoday.com/2014/03/26/sbc-and-calvinism-all-in-all-out-somewhere-in-between/). The article tells of Mr. Sayers young son being a near-drowning victim and the debate on whether or not he would go to heaven when he died. The staunch Calvinist in the article comes across as cold-hearted for suggesting no can could give such an assurance since no one knew whether he was one of the elect. Yet, in truth, that is a consistent viewpoint from one who would hold to a belief in the doctrine of the elect. The article goes on to include the authors opinion of Romans 5 and 9 and ends with and ends with basically saying that those who hold to a Calvinistic viewpoint are both absurd and impugning God’s character.
To be fair, I believe that Mr. Sayers is erecting a straw man argument in his article. He focuses the thrust of his points upon asking what sin a baby could commit that would send him to hell and spends a lot of time trying to dismantle the belief in the imputation of Adam’s sin that Calvinists hold. What he does not seem to understand, or fails to mention, is the other side of the equation. Arminians believe that it is the exercise of belief that brings salvation, not God’s election. The question could be asked, “Since a baby doesn’t yet exercise belief, why would he go to heaven?”
The use of babies, little helpless, cute babies, is sure to elicit emotions on both sides. Yet, the answer to salvation must be consistent no matter what the age is. It doesn’t matter that a person is 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, 100 years old, the answer must satisfy for all. I have heard many preachers say from the pulpit that “the only sin that will send people to hell is not accepting (or rejecting) Jesus Christ.” So, why not kill people before they can reject Him? Surely that would be merciful. Since we don’t know who will say yes to Jesus, why take that chance? It is the same logic Roman Catholics use to justify baby baptism. They believe baptism saves so baptize early. Wouldn’t it be counter-productive to stop abortions if it meant all those little ones would go straight to heaven? No one in their right mind believes this, but it is the logical extension of a belief system that says babies go straight to heaven in death, while they might grow up to become an unbeliever and go to hell.
Why are Calvinists painted as cruel for at least being consistent in saying that if God wants them in heaven they will go there? Why are Arminians not held to answer the flaws in their own system? We are not to preach anyone into heaven or hell at a funeral, but to bring comfort to the family. We appeal to God being a God of mercy and justice. Whether God foresaw who would accept Him and elected them or whether He elected them and foresaw their early death really doesn’t matter to a grieving family. They need to know God loves them, He isn’t being cruel, He can and will sustain them through this trying time.
What Mr. Sanders appears to believe, although he doesn’t come right out and say so, is that we are born innocent and deserve heaven. He says that God imputes the guilt of our sin when we knowingly break His laws. While he derides Calvinists for their belief in the imputing of Adam’s sin to his posterity, which he says isn’t in Scripture, he believes in an “age of accountability” that is just as absent from the Holy Writ. Both beliefs are assumptions based upon particular interpretations of numerous Scriptures. Yet he passes off his beliefs as stated facts that are indisputable. What he has done is to create a straw man, paint Calvinists as modern day Huns and seek to win an emotional appeal for his own set of beliefs.
Such an article is not helpful. To slant an issue without an article stating the Calvinist viewpoint that babies, like teenagers or adults are first regenerated (made spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit) prior to placing their belief in the Lord who just saved them is irresponsible. In Calvinism the same God who brings salvation to a person (no matter the age) brings such clarity of vision and thought that their natural response is to grab Him (irresistible grace – not that they can’t resist, they no longer want to). For a baby, God makes them alive spiritually and their soul responds naturally to Him. Calvinists are not Huns nor simpletons and are not impugning God’s holiness at all.
Whether one chooses to believe this viewpoint or not, whether one embraces Calvinism, Arminianism, Augustine’s or Wesley’s viewpoints — let us remember this: we are called to act in love towards one another at all times and to see our own flaws before pointing out the flaws of others. Until that happens, the SBC will continue its descend into mediocrity and that will be a great tragedy.
Bold Infidelity! turn pale and die;
Beneath this stone, four infants’ ashes lie;
Say, are they lost or saved?
If death’s by sin, they sinned; because they’re here;
Reason, ah! how depraved!
Revere the sacred page, the knot’s untied;
They died, for Adam sinned—they live, for Jesus died!