Of Elect and Non-elect Infants, A Clarification

Clarifying beliefs is a tricky business. It is hard to explain one’s beliefs to others if there is not a good frame of reference that the person you are addressing can relate to easily. This is especially true when the issue is an emotionally charged one. On the question of whether infants or the mentally retarded go to heaven upon death, one must strive to be very clear on their beliefs and the biblical basis upon which those beliefs are built.
It has been charged that the Reformed view, or Calvinist view, teaches that those babies or mentally retarded persons who are not elect of God will go to hell when they die. This is not the teaching of either Calvin or the Presbyterian church, nor most Reformed believers. At issue is the statement in the Westminster Confession which states “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ” (Chap. X. Sec. 3). The charge is that this implies that non-elect infants are lost. Concerning this Dr. S. G. Craig says: “The history of the phrase ‘Elect infants dying in infancy’ makes clear that the contrast implied was not between ‘elect infants dying in infancy’ and ‘non-elect infants dying in infancy,’ but rather between ‘elect infants dying in infancy’ and ‘elect infants living to grow up.’ ” However, in order to guard against misunderstanding, furthered by unfriendly controversialists, the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. adopted in 1903 a Declaratory Statement which reads as follows: “With reference to Chapter X, Section 3, of the Confession of Faith, that it is not to be regarded as teaching that any who die in infancy are lost. We believe that all dying in infancy are included in the election of grace, and are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how He pleases.” (a)  The Presbyterian view goes beyond the Westminster Confession in stating positively that all infants who die are part of God’s elect but is the clarifying, or logical extension of what was written.
It is this difference that is crucial. The phrase was worded as such to contrast with the belief of the Catholic church that baptized infants were saved but unbaptized infants were not. Since the Reformed churches do not believe baptism confers saving grace, they were setting out their beliefs to reflect this. For what Calvin taught, I defer to Dr. R. A. Webb: “Calvin teaches that all the reprobate ‘procure’—(that is his own word)—’procure’ their own destruction; and they procure their destruction by their own personal and conscious acts of ‘impiety,’ ‘wickedness,’ and ‘rebellion.’ Now reprobate infants, though guilty of original sin and under condemnation, cannot, while they are infants, thus ‘procure’ their own destruction by their personal acts of impiety, wickedness, and rebellion. They must, therefore, live to the years of moral responsibility in order to perpetrate the acts of impiety, wickedness and rebellion, which Calvin defines as the mode through which they procure their destruction. While, therefore, Calvin teaches that there are reprobate infants, and that these will be finally lost, he nowhere teaches that they will be lost as infants, and while they are infants; but, on the contrary, he declares that all the reprobate ‘procure’ their own destruction by personal acts of impiety, wickedness and rebellion. Consequently, his own reasoning compels him to hold (to be consistent with himself), that no reprobate child can die in infancy; but all such must live to the age of moral accountability, and translate original sin into actual sin.” (b)
So, to clarify, the classic Reformed view does teach that all infants who die are part of the elect. There are those who hold differing opinions, of course, but the original teachings were that God’s grace saves those who cannot save themselves – which is precisely the point of the gospel. No one can save themselves, it is a gift of a gracious and merciful God made possible by the atoning work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Adults are just as helpless, spiritually speaking, to affect salvation in their own life as an infant is. All people, no matter the age, need the Holy Spirit to “quicken” (make alive) their spirit. Praise be to God that He graciously provides for us what we cannot provide for ourselves. As Ta Ethne works with believers of differing interpretations of doctrines, it is important not to charge someone with believing something that isn’t necessarily true. Here, we hold to this particular belief about infants and the mentally disabled — that God in His grace provides them His salvation.

Footnotes:

a — http://www.ccel.org/ccel/boettner/predest.iv.iii.xi.html

b — Calvin Memorial Addresses, p 112

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing the Heart and Soul of a Fellow Believer

One of the greatest things about the 18 years we served churches in Montana was the lack of sectarianism. By this I mean those who were of the Reformed or Armenian or Calvinist or even Wesleyan belief systems worked well together. Those issues were not a litmus test for brothers and sisters working together on projects much too large for one church. Part of the reason was the geographical situation. Churches were often isolated from other churches of the same denomination. My own, for example, was 110 miles removed from the next church of the same denomination. Throw in Montana’s abysmally cold and long winter which forbids travelling long distances much of the time and one learns how to play nice with one’s neighbors. I spoke at our churches, Lutheran churches, Methodist congregations and had great rapport with the ministers of the Assembly, 7th Day Adventist and Disciples of Christ churches. This was necessary to reach a town that had never seen an outbreak of revival in anyone’s memory. We knew each other intimately. We knew each other’s families. We prayed and labored together. Did we have our differences? Yes. We didn’t sweep them under the rug or compromise – we discussed them, rationally, like adults and joined where we could, such as on issues of the right to life. We knew each others hearts and never demonized the other.

I well remember rumors, unfounded of course, that flew one year about my family and I. At a ministerial meeting, the other pastors pledged to address this from their pulpits, set the record straight and they did so. This show of support was overwhelming and much appreciated. In this atmosphere, the gospel witness went forth.

Unfortunately,  this did not last. Even more unfortunately, the disruption came from within my own denomination. There were many who came in, from down South, with preconceived ideas and agendas that ruined a sweet fellowship. Adherence to a particular interpretation of Scripture became the basis for isolating and minimizing churches and pastors who failed to follow those in positions of power. The same has been experienced in church after church here in Georgia after our relocation. I long for the days when church leaders got together to know, intimately, the heart and soul of fellow ministers. I long for the time when differences of opinion can be discussed rationally, like adults if not like Christians without demonizing those who differ. It may be that I am wrong in an area of doctrine or you may be wrong. We may even both be wrong because I have yet to meet a single person who understands every aspect of Scripture. I have met many who think they do but that’s another story.

In the midst of this, though, I do find hope. From some in my denomination, though not many. I find it from others who have taken the time to get to know their fellow ministers as a person. They may have met them at a hospital, visiting on the same floor, traveled on the same flight together or met at a community event. This gives me hope. Our ministry spans denominations as in many countries there are ones not even represented here in the States. We don’t make churches who ask for help fill out a questionnaire – we go and help. They will take what they agree with and toss the rest, we know. But it is freely offered to all the same. Ta Ethne is somewhat Reformed in its leanings but our most faithful supporters are Wesleyan. They know our heart and work with us. We have Calvinists and Armenians both who advise us and help edit our resources. How can this be? Because God is bigger than all of us. He knows our heart and soul and we should get to know the heart and soul of His children as well. We have also been shunned by others who thought we were too “Presbyterian” and by others who felt we were too “liberal” (whatever that means). Others have questioned how a “Calvinistic-leaning” organization could be so mission-minded (guess they haven’t read our books) and still others thought we played and worked too much with our Wesleyan friends (although I would never give up those friendships). Both sides (or maybe all 4 sides) have labeled us as somethings or other at various times. I just shake my head and forge on as God directs. I would rather describe us as followers of Jesus Christ helping other followers of Jesus Christ become mature disciples.

It is far easier to dismiss someone if you don’t personally know them. Getting to know people shakes up your assumptions and the parroting of beliefs held by others. I remember my first trip to Malaysia, a Muslim nation, and having every assumption I had crushed. They were the most open and friendly of people, full of questions and having a desire to know my beliefs. From mosques to bazaars we encountered curiosity and developed friendships. I learned about the Koran and Muslim beliefs from practicing adherents and they learned of Christianity and the Bible from me. We discussed and argued civilly, respecting each other while differing. The same held true on my trips to China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and other places. I find it sad that I find more civility and respect in foreign countries from those with differing beliefs than in the Bible Belt.

Oh, how I long for an outpouring of the Spirit to bring about a melting of hearts, a desire for civility. I long for ministers of the gospel to get to know other leaders as people. Invite them over for a meal, go on a retreat with them, study Scripture together regularly — get to know their heart and soul. You may just win a friend for life or even for eternity. You might also become a far better minister