Monday, May 07, 2007

...the distorted, diluted, deceptive 'gospel' of exceptions: inclusivism

Your Weekly Dose of Gospel

Jesus answered them saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" -John 14:6

Ever since our first parents sinned in the Garden of Eden and the nakedness of their fallen condition was revealed, man has been desperately trying to sew new fig leaves to cover his spiritual depravity before the omniscient eye of a holy God. Living today in a very over sensitized society of political correctness and religious egalitarianism (all opinions must be treated as equal regardless if they're true) has produced a new gospel of convenience. This nefarious notion has tragically crossed over into the arena of faith; and especially since 9/11 (and "The Passion of the Christ" movie) has birthed a dexterous gospel of salvation for the post-modern man. It is called inclusivism.

The Issue
Inclusivism is the belief there exists some "exception clauses" to the gospel that God grants to certain groups of individuals based upon their predisposed condition. This belief is rooted in the hope that God, apart from the hearing and understanding of the gospel, by His grace and sovereign love, still grants to those individuals prohibited by certain conditions forgiveness of sin, eternal life and fellowship with the Lord in heaven forever.

The key issue in this discussion is the depravity of man, original sin, and Adam's fall as our federal representative. I am not trying to impugn anyone's motives, for I truly believe out of a heart of compassion for others, that some want to embrace these exceptions in order to bring genuine hope to people that have gone through the loss of a young child, had a miscarriage or an abortion, have a mentally retarded loved one that is beyond cognitive reasoning, or the concern for others who have never heard the gospel before and die in their ignorance. Whatever the individual circumstance may be, I do empathize with them emotionally and relationally. But the issue for us to ponder in this article is this: are those beliefs squarely rooted in the Word of God?

The gospel brings tremendous hope, joy and comfort for the believer in Jesus Christ, doesn't it? I have lost my father and a younger brother in two tragic ways. But even in the throes and sorrow of death our family had hope; for "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." That is our hope beloved. I am also the father of five wonderful children, ages eight to fourteen years old, and cannot begin to imagine the depth of pain if one of them suddenly died. But in the crushing weight of that loss, I would want to be comforted with genuine biblical hope, not an accommodation to my own needs even if done so out of a genuine heart of love.

There are three general categories that I would briefly like to address with you. One note of clarification before we begin. The first two items listed below would not be considered "inclusivistic" by any in the evangelical camp in the classical sense. The concern is, that if they are taken to their logical conclusions, one is moving dangerously close to affirming an inclusivistic view of the gospel due to an inflexible dogmaticism associated with their convictions. However, item three is purely inclusivistic and cannot be affirmed under any scenario. It violates the gospel and the clear teaching of Scripture. Again, caution should be adhered to by those who affirm the first two areas with an "absolute dogmaticism" that includes everyone--all--in those categories, without exception, absent of God's sovereign freedom to elect.

The three areas are:

1. All babies and children who haven't reached the "age of accountability" upon their death are granted special grace and receive instant heaven;

2. All those who are mentally incapacitated, mentally retarded, or incapable of cognitive reasoning, all that have not reached a "condition of accountability" will upon their death be granted special grace and receive instant heaven; and,

3. Those who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, and therefore, could not reject in unbelief what they never had a chance to believe in the first place, are not condemned, but are also granted special grace and receive instant heaven.

Do All Unborn Children, Babies and Young Children Who Die, Immediately Go to Heaven?
This is the most sensitive and vulnerable of areas--do all babies (born or unborn) including young children upon their death immediately go to be with the Lord?

The loss of a baby or young child is one of the most painful and heart-wrenching situations one can ever face in this life. When a family goes through such profound sorrow the heart response of any Christian, especially of those in pastoral ministry, should be the desire to bring comfort and hope to that family in the midst of such tragedy. I hear this constantly from pastors as I travel, "What do I tell a family when their precious baby or child has died?"

The tendency is to quickly assure them that their child is with the Lord and free from the sufferings and pains of this world. And in saying so, give them hope. But to give this kind of well-intentioned dogmatic assurance without clear support from the Scriptures, is to be biblically irresponsible though said in a very heartfelt, compassionate, and pastoral way.

Do the Scriptures clearly, without equivocation, teach that all children (born and unborn) who haven't reached what is commonly referred to as an "age of accountability," receive a special exception of grace for eternal life? Is there sound biblical support to say with, absolute certainty, that all children (unborn and born) go to heaven upon their death? These are some of the difficult and thought-provoking questions before us that drive us to the Word of God to see if these things are true. And if we are going to faithful Bereans (Acts 17:10-12), we must not shrink from this duty.

David and Bathsheba’s Child
Where does belief originate from? There is one main passage that people point to in support of this teaching; it is found in 2 Samuel 12:13-23. Nathan has confronted David with his adulterous sin with Bathsheba. Uriah her husband has been murdered by one of King David's hit-men and she is found to be with child.

Hear the words of Nathan the Prophet to King David about this future of his child: "Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die." Then Nathan went to his house. And the LORD afflicted the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, "Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm."

But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?" They said, "He is dead." Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, "What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food." He said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, 'Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?' But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me"
(emphasis added).

A Sentimental Hermeneutic
It's hard to fathom, but that little phrase, "I shall go to him..." is the foundational Scriptural evidence given to forming this doctrinal conviction. Most evangelicals who hold to this belief, assert that David was stating an immutable theological truth, "That my son is in heaven, as all children are in heaven, and one day I will go to him." What is surprising to many of us who do not hold to this view, is that this application of this one verse resembles more of a prooftexting than it does a clear exegesis of the text.

This text interpreted in that fashion, may come from what I call a "sentimental hermeneutic." David is not expressing in those words a theological certainty; he is expressing grief and a desire to be with his son. This is a common emotion in a time of death especially when the loss was attributed to his own sinfulness. To make it something more seems out of context within the text.

My Hope Lies in the Savior--Not in Special Circumstances
All of us in a time of deep sorrow can question God, make excuses for our actions, or try to deflect the consequence of our sin by anesthetizing through wishful thinking. On the other hand, when a child does die because of disease, car accident, unexpected events, etc. how are we to find real comfort in our mourning? When tragedy doesn't make sense and comes out of nowhere, how do we obtain resolve? There are no pat answers, but one thing is certain, in God's providence, the tragedy invites us to the place of faith (Cp, Romans 5:3-5; 8:28-29; James 1:3-12). Our hope in times of hopelessness should not rest in the confidence of where our loved ones might be for eternity, but, in the Lord Himself. God is Sovereign working all things for our good and His glory. And that is where we all must ultimately find our solace, comfort, resolve, and hope. With those whom I have counseled in this area there is some doubt as to the salvation of their loved ones or friends, especially when involving young children, I have recommended that they go to the Psalms and immerse themselves in the rich and immutable character of our loving, just, and holy God. They are the greatest source of encouragement about God and His unchanging attributes.

Invite others to find their rest in the Refuge of our soul--God Himself. As David said, "When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I" (Psalm 61:2).

If David was stating an immutable doctrinal truth above, then why did he agonize over the foretold death of his son if heaven awaited him with absolute certainty and with David's full knowledge of it (especially in light of the sinfulness of this situation)? Why would God punish an "innocent--guiltless" child when it is only "the soul that sins [who] dies?" (Cp, Ezekiel 18:20)? "I will go to him" is simply the longing of a grieving father over the death of his son to somehow be reunited with him. It is the desperate desire of his broken heart, not the laying down of doctrinal essentials.

Surely the same Shepherd King that says in Psalm 51:5, "In sin my mother conceived me;" is the same one here who understood the awfulness of his own disobedience against the Lord. "Against You and You alone have I sinned" (Psalm 51:4a). David, is not saying, "I know I blew it with Bathsheba, and I know as part of my punishment my child will suffer and die. But in the end everything is good because we will all be united one day in heaven. It will be a sweet reunion--all's well that ends well." David didn't stoop to such reasoning or make light of his sin and the consequences of it.

Here is the Nexus of the Issue:
Can God save little children--infants, even unborn babies--and grant them saving-faith and grace through Jesus Christ the Lord for salvation if He so wills? Are they all unconditionally elected unto salvation and thus illustrating further the depth of the great gospel of grace? Are we to assume that the Lord has included all young ones, without exception, into the "covenant of grace" established between His Father and Himself "before times past eternal" (Eph. 1:4-14; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:1-3)? Biblically this is left with great uncertainty for Scripture does not say. I could point to the calling of Jeremiah or John the Baptist from their mothers womb for salvation and to serve the Lord. We could also illustrate the opposite by pointing to Judas as prophetically being "the son of perdition" before he was born. Later we will look at the powerful example given in Romans chapter nine of Jacob and Esau; where one was elected to salvation (loved); and the other to reprobation (hated). And with God there is no injustice.

As a sidebar, there are four views that define people’s convictions about this dilemma. I will tell you at the end of this article what I affirm the biblical view(s) to be. They are:
1. All children (born and unborn), all who are mentally incapacitated, and all who die in the ignorance of unbelief are elected to perdition;

2. All children (born and unborn) under the "age of accountability," all mentally incapacitated--anyone, who does not meet the "condition of accountability" and all those who are frozen in the ignorance of unbelief are elected, without exception to eternal life;

3. God has elected some as vessels of mercy and others as vessels of wrath out of His own sovereign free will, being no respecter of persons and therefore not obligated by reason of someone's predisposed conditions regardless of age, mental incapacity or ignorance, but solely according to His own purpose, after the council of His own will, for the praise of His glory alone; and,

4. When Scripture is silent and/or non-dogmatic about any issue, then we must resign ourselves to God and His Sovereignty, for some things still remain to us a mystery and with that we must be content.
In response to number two, it seems in lack of biblical certainty, that it would be unloving to extend to someone "absolute assurance" where Scripture itself is not absolutely clear. What we can give unshakable assurance to, is that God is just and righteous desiring that none should perish; delighting not in the death of the wicked; and is at the same time both loving and holy, just and merciful, wrathful and full of grace. And in all that He does, He does with absolute perfection befitting His own righteous, holy character after the council of His will, to accomplish His purpose, for His own pleasure and for His glory alone (Cp, Ephesians 1:4-14). And it is there, that we must rest, find our resolve, and leave it with Him.

The "Age of Accountability"--Is This Biblical?
We all agree that the Bible clearly teaches that there is a narrow way that leads to heaven. Jesus plainly states in Matthew 7:13-14, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

The age of accountability simply means that there will be a time when a child has matured to an age that he is morally responsible and culpable for his own actions and can fully understand the gospel, his own sin, who the Lord is, what is repentance, faith, grace, etc. to inherit salvation. Up until that time, the child is seen as in a state where they are not culpable spiritually and upon their death are granted instant heaven. Not one proponent of this kind of teaching can cite one verse, anywhere in Scripture, where this is taught. Not one--and that should be a spiritual red flag.

Original Sin and the Nature of Man
The heart of the issue is a biblical and clear understanding of the nature of man. When Adam sinned in the garden of Eden was the guilt and sin credited to his posterity as our federal representative? Or are we free moral agents not thoroughly corrupted or polluted by Adam's fall until we actually commit acts of sin ourselves? It is the former and not the latter that is the truth of it.

Consider these following verses:
“Death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12); “through the offense of one (man) many be dead” (5:15); “the judgement was by one (offense) unto condemnation”(5:16); “by one man’s offense ( or by one offense) death reigned by one” (5:17); “by the offense of one, judgement came upon all men to condemnation” (5:18); “for by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (5:19); “in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22).

In the "all" are also contained children (born and unborn). How do we know this? Because all children die and death is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). If all children were given a special grace for salvation before this imaginary 'age of accountability,' then no child would die until he had reached that age. Consider this: Why did the Lord command that all people, including children, should be executed following the battle at Jericho? Why is it that Sodom and Gomorrah were not spared because of all the innocent children in the city? If all children who have ever lived, regardless whether they are from Christian or non-Christian families, are under an 'age of accountability' and have a special grace for salvation from the Lord, why don't we see evidence of that in Scripture? That's a legitimate question that all those that affirm such should be able to clearly answer with the same dogmaticism that they assert when proclaiming this view.

William G.T. Shedd says in his excellent “Dogmatic Theology:”
“In Romans 5:14 some who die, namely infants, “did not sin after the similitude of Adam’s first transgression.” That is, they did not repeat the first sin. They must, therefore, have sinned in some other manner because they are a part of the “all” who sinned and because they experience death which is the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23a). The only other conceivable manner of sinning is that of participation in the first sin itself. But participation in Adam’s first sin is not the repetition of it by the individual.”

The total guilt of the first sin, thus committed by the entire race in Adam, is imputed to each individual of the race because of the indivisibility of guilt. One man is as guilty as another of the whole first sin, of the original act of falling from God. The individuals Adam and Eve were no more guilty of the first act and of the whole of it than their descendants are; and their descendants are as guilty as they.

Conversely, the same principle applies to the indivisibility of merit. The merit of Christ’s obedience is indivisible, and the whole of it is imputed to every individual believer alike. All alike receive by faith the total worthiness of their Lord’s obedience, not a fractional part of it. As the unmerited imputation of Christ’s obedience conveys the total undivided merit of this obedience to each and every believer, so the merited imputation of Adam’s disobedience conveys the total undivided guilt of the disobedience to each and every individual of the posterity.

The first sin of Adam, being a common, not an individual sin, is deservedly and justly imputed to the posterity of Adam upon the same principle upon which all sin is deservedly and justly imputed, namely that it was committed by those to whom it is imputed. “All men die; because all men sinned,” says Paul. All men fall. Some men are redeemed.

When the sinner is convicted by the truth and Spirit of God, he does not excuse or extenuate his guilt on the ground of his past unconsciousness in sin. It is on this ground that Samuel Hopkins contends that infants are moral agents:

“Many have supposed that none of mankind are capable of sin or moral agency before they can distinguish between right and wrong. But this wants proof which has never yet been produced. And it appears to be contrary to divine revelation. Persons may be moral agents and sin without knowing what the law of God is or of what nature their exercises are and while they have no consciousness.”
Totally Depraved
One of the great Reformational truths is that man, all of mankind without exception, is totally depraved--totally unable to save himself by his own works of righteousness or moral goodness. This is the truth the biblical writers have written: we are all conceived in sin, dead in trespass and sin, sons of disobedience and by nature children of wrath (Cp, Psalm 51:4-5; Romans 3:10-18; Ephesians 2:1-3).

We are all sinners, beloved, not because we commit acts of sin, but because our very nature is utterly sinful. Before I could speak one word, reason, walk, say NO to my parents and assert my own will, etc., I was under the wrath of a holy God worthy only of being punished in an everlasting hell forever (John 3:36; Col. 1:21-22). Why? Because by nature I am worthy of His just and righteous judgment.

We are not ultimately sent to hell solely because of unbelief; for our unbelief is the fruit of our unregenerated state--not the root of it. (Though that does not relieve man of his responsibility for his own acts of sin; the Word clearly holds man responsible and spiritually accountable for rejecting God and His truth in unbelief) (Romans 1:18-3:19).

None the less, our unregenerated lives are not the result of our unbelief; but our unbelief is the result of our unregenerated lives. It is foundationally the sinfulness of who we are, not the just sinfulness of what we do, that sentences us to spend eternity in an everlasting hell under the wrathful presence of a holy God. And this at God's own elective volition (Cp, Eph. 1:4; Acts 13:48; Romans 9:22-23).

Therefore, my unbelief is the fruit of my untransformed life; not that my untransformed life is the fruit of my unbelief. That is why Paul in Romans 3:10-18 and Ephesians 2:1-3 does not list every form of lasciviousness that man can sink down into, but rightly states our condition of unregeneration and the fruit thereof. Whatever the list of sins may be, it is but the reflection of a life conceived in sin and not regenerated unto newness of life. "For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness (Romans 6:20). Conversely, outward morality (the white-washed tomb) means little if inside we're just dead man's bones (Matt. 23:25-28). A man may speak vile things out of his mouth, but we know biblically out of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34; 15:19-20). The problem is not the unclean tongue, but the unclean heart. Change the heart and the lips will follow. Legalism focuses on the fruit of sin, grace deals with the root of sin. Jesus didn't die on the cross so that I could live a better moral life. He died to save me, to regenerate me, to transform me, and to make me a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17-21).

Robbing God of His Sovereign Free Will
If we say, beloved, that there is an age that renders us "not guilty" and presents us "worthy" before a holy God to receive eternal life, and because of that pre-condition God is obligated to grant me eternal life, then we have robbed God of His unconditional electing love and stripped Him of His sovereign free will. The salvation of some special group then is dependent not solely on God's grace, but on their "predisposed condition." Unborn children, infants, young children, children... all under the "age of accountability" are now granted salvation because their predisposed condition of being unborn, an infant, a young child, etc., demands that God must make it so. Are we to believe that God must always respond to them with redemption--that He has no choice until they go beyond this age of accountability in which some morphed spiritual transformation occurs by which culpability is now mystically placed on the child? One minute, they are under God's special grace regardless of nature or action because of age; and then the next minute, spiritually depraved under judgment? Isn't this a schizophrenic view of the nature of man and original sin? (By the way, what is the age of accountability? Is it age five, ten, or thirteen?--the year a young Jewish male attained religious adulthood in Judaism known as the Bar mitzvah? [that age for a girl in Judaism is twelve.] Again, Scripture doesn't say.) In other words, the salvation of young souls has now become a work tied to their predisposed state; it is their condition of age, not God's grace, that is the foundation for their guarantee of eternal life--until they go beyond that age.

The "Condition of Accountability" - Is This Biblical?
This more recent phrase, "condition of accountability," now expands itself to include not just children, but anyone regardless of age, the absolute promise of salvation if that condition of accountability cannot be ascertained. For example, if you are mentality retarded, intellectually incapacitated, unable to cognitively reason, some will affirm you are given a special grace for salvation for you have not reached a condition of accountability, because you have not been able to reason, understand, or correctly process the gospel and what the Lord requires for belief for salvation; and therefore, you are granted heaven.

Again, there are no Scriptures to support this claim. But yet, it remains affirmed by many as gospel truth.

The Narrow Way... Still Under Construction?
Let's recap a bit: We have a narrow way and a narrow gate according to our Lord Jesus Christ and few are those that find it (Matt. 7:13-14). But now we also have a child way and a child gate; an unborn way and an unborn gate; we also have now a "I haven't reached the 'age of accountability' way and gate; and we have also, a "I don't understand and therefore haven't reached the "condition of accountability" way and gate. The narrow road has seemingly been widened to include age and mental soundness.

Abortion... The Greatest Source of Evangelism?
This is why this is such a grave concern. In an actual (but my paraphrased) Q&A session with a prominent evangelical pastor, a pregnant woman asked if all babies go to heaven when they die? The pastor answered, "Yes." She followed up by asking about unborn children. The same answer was given. She then rightly asked, "so what you are saying is, is that I can guarantee the salvation of my children by aborting that correct?" To which the pastor replied, "Yes."

That answer to many of us was shocking. If that is true ladies and gentlemen, then to show the absurdity of the end of that kind of logic, we should not picket abortion mills and call them to repentance for the holocaust they have launched since 1972 because of Roe v. Wade; we should thank them, we should praise them for now abortion has become the single greatest source of evangelism the world or the church has ever known! Now again, I know that no one who supports these exceptions believe or practice the outrageousness of the example just given. But doesn't such assertion that this claim contends, demand such a farfetched conclusion if we are being honest to its legitimacy?

To re-emphasize: If our lives, according to James, are nothing but a puff of smoke, "a mere vapor", then compared to eternity, why wouldn't people want to guarantee the salvation of their children's souls if they could? Again, the absurdity of the statement begs its unthinkable conclusion.

The Ignorant Unbelieving... Believer?
This last category is the most troubling and disconcerting. It affirms that if a man is sent to hell solely for his "ignorance of unbelief" in the Lord Jesus Christ, having never heard of the Lord and never been presented with the gospel so that he has the choice to accept or reject it, then God grants them a special grace for salvation, and because of the state of that person's ignorance they are also rewarded instant heaven.

I must say at this juncture that those who affirm the first two categories of exception clauses for salvation, usually do not affirm this third one--and it is this third category that classically defines inclusivism.

Stop Sending the Missionaries
If the above is true, then why send missionaries to awaken the ignorant up from the "soul sleep" which acts as some sort of 'evangelical purgatory' giving people eternal life due to their never hearing the gospel? Are our missionaries doing them an injustice by brining the law and gospel to bear upon their conscience? Why not remain silent and hopefully they will die in their ignorance and wake up in glory? If you think this is not a concern, it is becoming widely accepted in some evangelical circles.

The Apostle Paul in Romans chapter one addresses this skewed view head on. Listen to his powerful words: "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 19 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-19).

Through His creation, general revelation, God has revealed to all men, without exception, His invisible attributes, eternal power and divine nature so that "they are without excuse." General revelation isn't sufficient to save, but it is sufficient to render every man without excuse. No man can stand before a holy God and say, "I didn't know. I wasn't aware. I should be given another chance or a special grace due to my ignorant condition."

Is God Unjust?
The overall concern here is that this triumvirate (whether flirting with inclusivism or actually inclusivistic) of age, mental incapacity, or ignorance are now being affirmed as giving someone a privileged spiritual status and relationship with God by merit of a special grace which only their predisposed condition has afforded them with the result being the certainty of eternal life. God has no say in this; He is bound by their condition, not by His own unconditional electing love; He has now been made a respecter of persons and is obligated to give, not just to some, but to all without exception--eternal life. Can you see why this discussion is necessary and important?

You might be thinking by now that if all of these people due to their own unfortunate situation or condition are not granted eternal life, is that fair? Is God being just and kind and merciful? How could a loving God send a baby, someone who is mentally deficient or completely ignorant of the gospel to be punished forever in a living hell?

Paul answers those questions with absolute clarity. "though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call-"The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory" (Romans 9:11-23).

Here the Apostle Paul removes the doubt doesn't he? "Jacob I loved, Esau I hated." And this was determined before the twins were born. (This verse is not pertaining to National election, but to Salvific election.) Do all babies go to heaven? Paul has just clearly defined it for us, hasn't he? And it is this: We must rest in the truth that God does elect some to be vessels of mercy and others to be vessels of wrath; and that choice to whom God "loves or hates" we must leave with Him and we should not try to remove the tension. It is beyond our finite minds to fully comprehend.

Is there any injustice with God? No! It doesn't depend on the one who runs or the one who wills, but on God who makes some vessels for His mercy and some for His wrath. The thing made can never say to the Potter, "why have you made me like this?" And whether a vessel of wrath or a vessel of mercy, God will be glorified; for He is perfect in His justice and perfect in His grace and there is no contradiction.

Let's bring this to what we have been discussing. When we speak of infants (all children born or unborn) and those without sufficient mental capacity to reason, then we must leave the decision for their eternal outcome in God's hands to exercise His sovereign freedom. But when we are speaking of those unevangelized, mentally competent adults, Paul clearly states in Romans chapter one "that they are without excuse"; and cannot under any circumstance be accommodated under a special grace of "ignorance of unbelief" to be considered heirs of grace and yet never have to make a profession of faith and will be saved outside of such a confession. This last view is nothing short of heresy.

It doesn't depend on whether or not you have or haven't reached an "age of accountability" or even achieved or not achieved a "condition of accountability." One may be prepared for destruction or one may be prepared for glory; but that again, is the sole right of our Sovereign Lord to determine by His unconditional electing love and grace and we must rest in that truth.

Here I Stand
The main focus and concern of this article has been to challenge biblically the unsubstantiated dogmatic assertions that God is somehow "spiritually handcuffed" - making Him eternally obligated, without exception, to save all those who by nature of their predisposed condition of age or mental incapacity under the plumblines of an "age of accountability" and a "condition of accountability" to eternal life. It is the dogmatic inflexibility about these matters that is most troubling; especially in light of the undisputed fact that Scripture is not. It is unthinkable to me that God is not afforded the exercise of His own free will in the unconditional election of His people to salvation--but is bound by the predisposed condition of others due to the confines of age or mental sufficiency.

Where Scripture is not explicit, we must find contentment in the character of our holy God and rest in the truth that He is working all things after the councel of His will for His pleasure and for His glory alone. And sometimes, as in this case, that must be enough.

At the beginning of this article I listed some different possibilities when it comes to these exception clauses and this issue. Here is where I believe the biblical evidence points us and where I stand:
1. I do not believe that all in these exception categories, are elected to hell;

2. I do not believe that all in the first two of these categories are, without exception, elected to eternal life because of their predisposed conditions of age or mental capacity;

3. I do believe that God elects some as vessels of mercy and others as vessels of wrath; and though Scripture is silent pertaining to the absolute certainty of eternal life to those in these two exception categories, we do know one thing to be certain...that if any of these are to be granted eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ--that only God can accomplish this; and that He is under no obligation to do so by reason of their predisposed conditions, except by His own free will according to His sovereign unconditional electing love;

4. I do believe Scripture is not dogmatic about these things, therefore, this remains a mystery to us.

5. I do believe that any mentally competent adult who has never been exposed to or heard of the gospel of Jesus Christ, perishes in their sin for "no man is without excuse" - and God is just.
Take heart in this beloved, that the Lord from before the foundations of the earth has known His own; and He will not lose one of them. Christ on the cross propitiated the Father, redeemed His own and brought us into peace with God forever. Nothing can separate us from His love.

If you have gone through the loss of a child, or someone who has been mentally handicapped their entire life, or maybe you are burdened about what happens to others that have never heard the gospel before and have died, how do you get resolve in those uncertain and painful situations? Run to the character of God and fix your heart and mind on who He is. Know that He is Sovereign and will work all things for His glory and our good. This is called faith. When the Scriptures seem silent on an issue such as these, then find your comfort and solace in His care and character.


KS said...


With what you wrote in mind, could this be a reason why some reformers developed the doctrine of Paedobaptism (infant baptism) to circumvent what is clearly presented in the bible?

KS said...

With your last paragraph of application in mind, when our children is still alive, when those we know personnally are mentally retarded or dying of some disease, and when their is lost people in our very own towns or cities, we need to go about preaching and teaching the Gospel first and foremost. We alson need to pray to God to heal those who are sick or open up their minds like Lydia for those who are mentally retarded, and we need to pray for laborers who can evangelize our children, neighbors and the lost in other countries if we cannot do so ourselves.

Scribe said...

I have just written an article from the perspective of the position of Gregory of Nyssa, who following Origen, believed in the restoration (apokatastasis) of all things, in essence turning hell into purgatory, and making the Narrow Road very wide at the end.

The article, if you will allow me, is at

Thanks for your article, which is brave in confronting our many exceptions. It highlights how we pick and choose which doctrines we will bend, based on our emotions. The Cappadocians based their views not on emotional exceptions, but on the nature of grace - which they viewed as utterly triumphant over every particle of evil.

KS said...

Joseph and Martk (Tex),
I am sorry about the confusion of my first post, I wasnt clear. I didnt mean that paedobaptism is baptism regeneration. But possibly why Reformed and Presbyterian'ers hide behind paedobaptism to possibly avoid the consequences of what Steve posted about? Maybe I am confused. For much of my walk, I hide behind the fallacies of Age of Accountability and the condition of accountability, to now realize that it is man's speculation and not what God's Word teaches. I am not say all who believe in paedobaptism does this, but since its external, its easy to pride oneself saying they are in covenant and don't need to be born again.

Bhedr said...

Campi said: Legalism focuses on the fruit of sin, grace deals with the root of sin.

Wow great quote; it really sums the problem of religious man in a nutshell.

I think its important to remember that this issue is not syllogistic.As Steve said.
Truly one can make strong persuasions from each angle and *paulintexas* it is very possible that for this reason the reformers moved this teaching of anxiety with them at their exit from Rome. Unfortunately this is the downside to what the reformers gave us.

You do witness in Scripture that God does seem to weigh things but you cannot build theology on it. For instance an age of 20 was the limit for those who could enter Jordan. Yeshua told us to become like the little ones and if anyone offended one of them it would be better for a millstone to be hung around their neck. Elohim told 'Dove'(Yonah) that he desired mercy in Niyneveh because many could not tell their right from their left. Seeing this we feel strongly compelled to believe that Elohim will automaticaly take the simple and indeed the Bible says he preserves the simple but if we take a look at what happened in Noah's day...we are left to wonder again. How many infants drowned back then?

On the lighter side: Hey can anybody tell me if my pet doggie Meru will go to heaven?

Russ said...

Steve: I agree with you up to a point, but when you state there are four views that shape people's convictions on this problem, you leave one out. Ironically, it's the Reformed one, the one that would have been affirmed by W. G. T. Shedd, who you quote for support. David was not speaking of just any child, but a child of the covenant. Shedd also wrote: "Baptism is the infallible sign of regeneration when the infant dies in infancy. All baptized infants dying before the age of self-consciousness are regenerated without exception" (page 818 of his Dogmatic Theology). A covenantal perspective makes a huge difference. This perspective does not rob God of his free will; it affirms his faithfulness to his promises (and, in light of previous comments, it is worth noting Shedd goes on to sharply distinguish this view from baptismal regeneration).

Bhedr said...

A blogger said:Spurgeon and MacArthur teach differently. I'll get my reformed theology from them.

It is clear through Campi's writ that he encourages us to get our theology through Scripture and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Truly MaCarthur and Spurgeon were and are great expositors of the word; but their understanding is limited. I think it is good that we are encouraged to be Bereans in this matter as well as many other biblical issues. The reformers helped by making the Word of God open to the masses but they also created a limited mindset unlike the Ana-Baptists had at the time who sought out Yeshua on all matters. Yeshua ascended into heaven not to re-establish what kills, but to pour out His Spirit. You need not that any man teach you. Please consider that the Shepards saw Yeshua before the wise men; the fisherman before the Pharisees.
This is why I blog on this site and not Al Mohlers, Phil Johnsons, or any other great men I respect. I scan em but lay anchor here. Sorry Steve! I believe God's truth comes where we least expect it. Truly the teachers of the law are good to have; but to find nuggets of truth bound up where no theological reputation is at stake? Now that is where its at. Don't sell what God can reveal in you short either. I encourage all of us to Leave OZ behind and seek the face of Yeshua.

By the way... I attended Bob Jones University for a short time and Dr Hand echoed Campi's thoughts. Some theologins have this thought as well. Hand was a good one with degrees from Perdu(is that how you spell it?)

Jeremy Weaver said...

Didn't Luther teach basically the same view? I know if I were Presbyterian or Lutheran that would probably be my view, but, I'm a Baptist, so I have no such luxury.
As a Baptist though I find a similar view, but not exactly.
Biblically speaking, our responsibility to our children is stated like this,
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
(Eph 6:4).
This places a great emphasis on parents as instruments who bring their children to the Lord. We are not to send them on the road that leads to God's wrath but rather on the road of obedience to Christ. This means (and I write from a Calvinistic perspective of the work of the Holy Spirit) that we are to 'instill' faith in them until such time as the can understand the Gospel. I do not remember a time when I did not trust Christ or repent of my sins. Why? Because my parents, in the Providence of God and the Power of the Spirit, 'taught' me faith and repentance.
Along side with God's wisdom, goodness, and justness, this can be a source of comfort to those whose children die 'before the age of accountability', or it can cause despair if we have not discharged our responsiblities correctly.
Above all, it should provoke us to share the Gospel with our children at an early age and to teach them continuous faith and repentance.

Unknown said...

I agree with Russ. David may have been able to speak prophetically because his was a covenant child. However, that doesn't necessarily resolve the problem. Access to the blessings of the covenant, even in the OC, came through *personal* faith (what was true of the corporate was also true for the individual). Ezekiel makes it clear that any reading of the law in which the individual is not personally responsible for his own sins is a wrong reading. So... the faith of the parents, even in the OC, was *not* necessarily a guarantee of salvation for hte circumcised one, To be in national covenant wasn't necessarily to be in salvific covenant (the remnant).

Unknown said...

Steve wrote:
>God elects some as vessels of mercy >and others as vessels of wrath; and >though Scripture is silent pertaining >to the absolute certainty of eternal >life to those in these two exception >categories.

I agree with Steve. To deny imputed guilt is to gut the Reformed faith of its imputation moorings.

Bhedr said...

I throw in my lot with Jeremy and Chad. Um my question is which re-formers did not hold to this. I know that Zwingli had Ana-Baptists strung up and dumped into the sea over this issue. In my recollection Luther was not always too thrilled with them either. Don't know about Calvin. Will have to look it up. i know Erasumus still held to the Mass. Romes traditions were hard to part with; but I'm interested if any one has a vast knowledge of Ana-Baptist history.

Bhedr said...

Excuse me! I agree with Jeremy. I steer away from Covenental assumptions. Time for me to do more studying on reformers vis the Ana-Baptist. Hey that would make a good book for James White.

Jeremy Weaver said...

Are you accusing me of being an Ana-Baptist?:)

Bhedr said...

You do not have the luxury of denial!;)

Russ said...

Jeremy: Luther would have said that baptism itself regenerated (actually, the Word of God working through the water of baptism), while Shedd and other Reformed theologians would say a child is eligible for baptism because of covenantal status (God's covenantal promises are not just to "you," but "you and your children"). But while Baptists don't seem to use covenantal language much, I don't see much practical difference between what you describe as a paternal duty and what I would affirm.

Denise said...

I found this article very timely because while on the road with my family, my husband and I heard a radio preacher say that if God did not sent a missionary to someone, yet still wanted that person to be saved, He could, through the Holy Spirit, reveal Himself to him and save him.This man wasn't talking about someone mentally incapcitated or anything---just a normal person way out in the boondocks who has never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words he was teaching that some people are saved without the ordained means of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The irony was that this "preacher" admonished his listeners to not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit, even though God may not send missionaries to a person way far away (God is not powerful enough to send a missionary tho?? makes NO sense). I thought,"Wait a minute. This guy is underestimating God's ordained means and His power to make sure every elected person shall hear the gospel and be saved.

We know one thing is clear in Scripture: God has ordained the means through which He calls and saves the elect--through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rom. 10:12-14. Acts also has examples of the preaching of the gospel to the elect (i.e. Acts 13:48 I believe it is, where after the preaching by Peter, all who were appointed to eternal life heard the gospel, their hearts were opened by God and were saved). I'm also reminded of how Lydia was saved the same way.

Anyway, many thanks for the great article, Steve.

Brad Huston said...


Though I mostly disagree with your conclusions and feel that much was left unsaid and considered when compared to the totality of God's Word, I nevertheless appreciate the effort with which you put into your blog. Should you care, I have posted a rebutal to your article on my own. Best to you.


Geo said...

Did Jesus die for all sins or only some?
If He died for only some then His Sacrifice is incomplete and He is not the Savior of the world.
If He died for all sins does that include the sin of unbelief?
If not then once again He is not the complete Sacrifice and therefore is not the Savior and like the Jews we need to look for a Mesiah to come.


Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...


Excellent article. I am always impressed by your thoroughness (I wish I could write that completely).

Keep up the great - and biblical - work, brother!

SJ Camp said...

Thank you Brian.

No greater truth to get right and discuss than the gospel. Satan always attacks at the crucial areas--this "inclusivism" is dangerous because it doesn't look "evil" - it looks appealing.

Keep on brother and thank you again for your kind words.

"I pledge my head to heaven for the gospel..."

Stacy Plocek said...

I am not good at blogging so I apologize before hand. Just a St Louisian who is a member of the PCA Church.I actually believe the Westminister Confession of Faith.

But I am a sinner first and foremost.I don't know if this scripture applies in this case but it helped me when I lost my 2 year child which was born with microcephaly.
1 Corin. 7:14: For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean but as it is they are holy.
(They are convenant children.)

But we as humans are not going to understand everything about God. We can't!!and this might be one of them. I am sure on this one but some people aren't.
But Steve you mentioned regardless of our stance on this subject we have to cling to Jesus and his word when we go through difficult trials. That's the only way we all get through these trials. You have to cling to the cross everyday.

PS. Tex, I am a part time Texan.

PS.Steve,Will be praying for you and your children this week with the upcoming holiday coming up!
In his love,

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Regardless of what we think happens to infants and the unborn who die and are murdered before reaching some point of cognitive reasoning ability, or who do live and grow but have some mental disability that prohibits them from being able to reason, we should all hold to the truth:

Salvation comes by grace, through faith.

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Don't we tread onto slippery slopes when we set up salvation scenarios apart from these truths, and put forth teachings based upon feeling and emotion?

If God saves a baby who has died, must it not be through the same means which He saves anyone else?

If there is even one exception, then there are potentially countless exceptions, and doesn't that render the gospel virtually meaningless?


I touched on this issue a short time back. I've taken the standard view that all children do go to heaven. You can read it at It isn't as thorough or long as your post (which was well researched I might add). What is your take on MacArthur's view that the OT reference to children being the "innocent"? You can read it at

Only Look said...

John the Baptist kicked in the womb full of the Holy Spirit.

Ah yet another subject we try to get our craniums around. God can regenerate at will and the scripture makes it clear that he choses to interact as it is clear that he wept over Jerusalem because He would and they would not.

Medchill said...

Scripture ... Gen 18:16-19:25, 37:35; Sam 12:23; Psa 51:5; 6; Isa 7:15-16; Mat 18:3-6, 19:13-15, 25:31-46; Jam 4:13-17; Rom 1:18-20, 5:1, 10:13-15 1 Cor 15:21; 1Jo 3:4, Rev 20:12 ...


I hate to think that babies and those who cannot reason are going to be separated from God. If they go to be with God - do they grow up, have their minds changed so they can reason? Will parents recognize their little ones? Will we recognize each other? I

I believe there are only two camps - righteous and unrighteous. So the babies were condemned, because they were unrighteous. When Abraham pleaded for Sodom, I believe their were babies, yet they were not considered righteous. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah there were less than ten righteous (Gen 18:16-19:25) and only the righteous have eternal life, the unrighteous, eternal punishment (Mat 25:31-46).

In Matthew 19:13-15 Jesus did not teach that little children are going to heaven (Mar 10:13-16, Luk 18:15-17). They are an example
- Matthew 18:3-6 is another time Jesus mentioned children and kingdom of heaven
-- He taught that we need to change and humble ourselves like little children [paidion ... which means "an infant, or (by extension) a half grown boy or girl; figuratively an immature Christian," according to Strong's Greek Dictionary] (vs 3)
-- He taught that we cause little ones [mikros ... which means "least, less, little, small," according to Strong's Greek Dictionary] who believe in me to sin (vs 6) ... we are in trouble
- Note that the "kingdom of heaven" is seen in two of the Beatitudes (Mat 5:3, 10). In Matthew 5:20 the qualification appears to be having righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. But, that falls short of what being saved - we need to believe and call on Him (Rom 10:13-15).

Psalm 51:5 says we were born sinners (Gen 8:21, Psa 58:3, Jhn 9:34, Eph 2:3).

When David said that he would one day join his departed infant son (2 Sam 12:23), would it would be in heaven (with the Lord)?
- In Genesis 37:35, Jacob said "I go down to the grave to my son."
- There are 24 (kings) who "slept with his fathers."
- David said his son wouldn't return to him
... All three have a physical view, so I believe David was saying he was going to buried with his son, which is also physical.

Verses such as Isaiah 7:15-16, James 4:17 and Romans 5:13 lead some to believe that there is a such thing as an "age of accountability", and I believe that all infants who die (who hasn't had a chance to accept Jesus) will be in heaven with Jesus Christ after they die.
- Isaiah 7:15-16 talks about knowing enough to reject the wrong and chose the right. ... Why does it not say reject the right and chose the wrong?
- James 4:17 just covers the sin of omission. Plus, in the context it talks about boating (vv 13-17) ... which I doubt babies can do. 1 John 3:4 is one verse that covers the sin of commission.
- The context of Romans 5:13 is verses 12-19 which says we all have sin nature ... we share in Adam's death because we share in Adam's sin (1 Cor 15:21)
- and even knowing right thing to do, and not doing it (Jam 4:17) also cannot be used. Read Romans 1:18-20

Numbers 14:29 seems to indicate that 20 is the age of accountability. But, do you think all those under 20 are going to heaven?