Salvation of infants - non-Catholic Christian thought?

I realize that the traditional belief of the Church is that unbaptized infants, regardless of the religion (or lack thereof) of their parents, cannot be automatically assumed to have entered heaven. They have original sin on their souls, thus they cannot enter heaven, but neither can they be punished, so they exist for eternity in a state of limbo. They know only natural happiness, but do not have the beatific vision. Some say limbo is the mildest, outer reaches of hell. I also realize that the Church in our time holds out hope for their salvation, and reminds us that limbo is only a theory, not a doctrine. Bottom line, we just don’t know.

What, however, of non-Catholic Christians? As far as I am aware, Catholics are the only Christians who believe there is the possibility unbaptized infants are not saved.

  • Do any other Christians, in fact, believe there is a possibility that unbaptized infants do not enter heaven?

  • As for Christians who hold to “believer’s baptism” (i.e., no baptism of infants), at what age do they believe that a child or youth must “accept Jesus as their Lord and personal Savior” (and then be baptized), otherwise they are damned forever?

  • And if they do believe in an “age of accountability”, as I’ve heard it put, how do they back up the idea that infants, children, and youths are saved up until that time, but not afterwards? What happens to the child to change them from an unaccountable youth to an accountable person who must be saved, or else be lost?

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The age of reasoning - which is and can be different for each person. In my Baptist background, we generally would believe that any baby or young child would go to Heaven because of God’s mercy. It’s one of those uncomfortable questions that no one is going to dispute at the time. God is the only one who know and He alone makes that judgment. It’s also possibly one of those questions we could never define. I know for sure we would never say damned forever.

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I hear what you are saying, and for a baby or young child, I think we can all agree that it seems consonant with God’s mercy. Catholic theology also allows for an “age of reason”, which is regarded as roughly seven years old, but I do not think this is hard and fast, something that happens all at once. It seems to happen gradually, and I have my doubts that a child of even 11 or 12 years old has the moral depth, the comprehension of what “eternity” and “forever” means, to commit a mortal sin, or to reject Christ. On the other hand, I think a child of even 3 or 4 years old can have a sense of something being “bad because it’s just bad”, as opposed to “bad because I’ll get in trouble”. Do other Christians see it this way?

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I hope you get some more responses as I’m interested in the answers as well, particularly for Christian denominations that permit abortions.

In my area many Lutheran denominations mention on their websites they support a womans right to choose abortion and I wonder how this fits in with thier beliefs on salvation for infants.

I can’t comment I have always been Cathoilc.

One Protestant position is in Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus affirmed there are only two eternal destinations after death - those who enter through the narrow gate that leads to eternal life (Heaven), & those who enter through the broad gate that leads to eternal destruction (Hell). Same with the separation of the sheep & the goats later in Matthew 25, eternal joy (Heaven) & eternal punishment (Hell). Jesus doesn’t seem to indicate a “third” eternal destination for unbaptized babies. And since infant limbo is simply a “theory” in the Catholic Church, & if water baptism is necessary to be saved, there would be the real possibility that unbaptized babies who die could end up in eternal hellfire suffering for eternity if Limbo doesn’t exist.

Like others have said, the Bible does not give a definitive “age of accountability,” & children have different levels of awareness & understanding based on their cognitive functions & maturity level. In my Catechism, I was told baptism was the NT “replacement” for OT circumcision. Yet, only baby boys (not baby girls too) were circumcised, and King David’s 7 day old son ended up going to Heaven despite not being circumcised (which happened on the 8th day). This is based on his reaction after he died (he cleaned himself up, stopped praying for his son to be saved, & stated “I will go to him”), which is different than his reaction when his adult son died who tried to overthrow him (David could not be consoled). He knew he would never see him again, because he ended up in Hell.

Jesus stated “Heaven belongs to children such as these.” The Greek indicates these children were young (perhaps toddlers, or even younger, since they had to be “brought” to Him, indicating they were not older & could go to Him on their own).

Even babies are conceived in sin (Psalm 51), so they deserve God’s wrath. But as others have said, God does show mercy on those who do not have the ability to reject Christ, not because they “deserve” it - none of us do. When Jesus says “those who don’t believe have been condemned” (John 3:18; Mark 16:16) the Greek tense is active, meaning “those who ‘actively’ choose to disbelieve.” This would exclude babies.

When a child approaches whatever their particular “age of accountability” is, they transfer from the merciful protective care of God into the domain of darkness. They are then “accountable” since they know the difference between “good & bad” (Isaiah 7, see also Deuteronomy 1).

For a good resource, I highly recommend the book, “Safe in the arms of God.” It has brought unspeakable comfort to parents who have lost children, including babies.

Yes, age of reason could well be 11 or 12. Are children actually “sinning” or just being a normal kid when they lie or hit their playmate. I don’t see this as sin, or close to mortal sin. In my neck of the woods we’ve had two young children (like 12 yrs old) commit murder. In both separate instances, these children were deeply disturbed and were in abusive situations. Again, one thing I love about the Church is that we don’t pronounce that xyz is in hell. It’s all up to our God.

I heard a well know personality (I honestly cannot remember who) justify abortion because “the baby will go to heaven.”

Even though Luther would never advocate abortion. Not only are these particular “Lutheran” denominations not good Christians, they aren’t even good Lutherans.

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Hmm. I’m pretty sure there have been Calvinists who’ve floated the possibility that non-elect infants who die also end up in hell. But I think the general Calvinist assumption is that infants who die are among the elect.

As I said above, some Calvinists thought that non-elect infants would not enter heaven. This would be whether they are baptized or not. However, I think most have assumed that infants who die are among the elect.

I don’t think there is any definitive age of reason. It varies, and ultimately parents would have to judge whether a child has a basic understanding of the gospel–enough to make a profession of faith–before letting the child be baptized. So, understanding is critical. If the child is mentally able to understand that we are sinners in need of a savior, then they are accountable. I think the best advice is that when children at whatever age evidence any desire or impulse to express faith in Christ that they should be encouraged to do so because we never know how early someone reaches the age of accountability.

Sin is a failure to obey God, and thus it is committed knowingly. All people of a certain age have knowledge of God in creation and conscience and this is enough to condemn us (Romans 1:18–32). Those who know more of God’s will as revealed through revelation are held to even greater accountability (Matthew 11:20–24; Romans 2:17–25).

The change, I think, is when children are able to knowingly commit personal sin–rather than simply sharing in the effects of original sin.

I believe God can do anything. That includes wiping original sin from the souls of infants who die, unbaptized.

I know Catholics believe in God’s mercy and trust in Him. The positon (understanding) you posted seems counter to this.

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Lutherans in name only. ELCA doesn’t even loosely hold to the Confessions anymore and should drop the “Lutheran” from their name.

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Hopefully you are aware that the Church has explicitly disavowed the “limbo for infants” concept, stated that it was never a dogmatic teaching of the Church but just something theologians came up with, and that the current teaching of the Church is that unbaptized infants are entrusted to the mercy of God with our hope of their salvation (also stated in the Catechism). We’ve been over this before on a bunch of threads. The Baltimore Catechism, which was never an official catechism of the Church, used to teach “limbo of infants”, leading some people to think limbo was an official Church teaching, but it wasn’t.

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070419_un-baptised-infants_en.html

So your initial premise about Catholics thinking unbaptized infants are not saved is wrong.
Bolded because I don’t want any non-Catholics reading this thread to get the wrong impression of the actual Church teaching on this matter.

As far as I am aware, Catholics are the only Christians who believe there is the possibility unbaptized infants are not saved.

Aside from the fact that your statement about Catholics is Wrong, as I explained above, where did you get the idea that no other Christians taught that unbaptized infants weren’t saved? If anything they were more rigorous about it than Catholics. The Puritan (i.e. Calvinist) minister Michael Wigglesworth, whose poem “The Day of Doom” was a bestseller in New England in the 1600s and 1700s, specifically has verses in his poem about unbaptized infants being sent to Hell by God at the Last Judgment. I believe it goes something like “Depart to Hell, where you may yell, and roar eternally.”

Who knows – perhaps there is a limbo type state where the infants go. Then they grow and learn about the Lord and eventually go to heaven. I’m sure whatever it is, it will amaze us when we finally see through the glass clearly and witness God’s plans.

Understood. I did not say that limbo was an official, binding teaching of the Church. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. But neither do we know with certitude that unbaptized infants are absolutely saved. Modern society always wants to incline towards what is nice, what is “merciful”, what people can feel good about believing and thinking. Nobody — myself included — wants to think of babies and infants not being in heaven. Nevertheless, the truth is what it is, and we will only know in the next life, regardless of what that “truth” is.

This from Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma does a good job explaining the matter:

I did not know this. All you ever hear these days is when infants tragically die — baptized or not — people speak of them having “gone home to Jesus”, “having a little angel in heaven” (speaking figuratively, they are not actually “angels”), and so on. It’s a nice thought, but it still behooves us, as faithful Catholics, to have our babies baptized as soon as we possibly can. I would not have a thing in the world against parents having a priest or deacon come to the delivery room moments after birth, to administer the sacrament.

We don’t know with certitude that ANYBODY is absolutely saved, other than canonized saints of the Church, who are an infinitesimal percentage of humanity.

We can however have great hope that God would lovingly welcome babies who do not have the mental capacity to commit sin and have no control over whether someone old enough to baptize them might manage to do so before they died.

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The 1662 Book of Common Prayer still used in the Church of England places great emphasis on the prompt baptism of infants. It declares that infants should be baptised ideally on the first Sunday following birth or on the second Sunday at the latest. Those who died unbaptised were until very recently not permitted to be buried using the Prayer Book Rite. (As was also the case with suicides. )

CofE Canon Law has very recently been revised to permit the Prayer Book or other authorised burial liturgy to be used with the unbaptised and those who commit suicide. It is however left to the discretion of the Minister. If the Minister can’t in good conscience use the authorised liturgy an alternative can be used with the Bishop’s approval.

The Prayer Book Baptism Liturgy declares that baptised children who die before committing actual sin are saved.

As far as I’m aware, the CofE has never made an official pronouncement regarding the fate of unbaptised infants. Individual Anglican Divines have held their own opinions, many deeming it best to leave it to God’s mercy.

That has never been a Catholic Doctrine. Who ever stuck that in the Aquinas Catechism, jumped the gun.

They know only natural happiness, but do not have the beatific vision. Some say limbo is the mildest, outer reaches of hell. I also realize that the Church in our time holds out hope for their salvation, and reminds us that limbo is only a theory, not a doctrine. Bottom line, we just don’t know.

There is only one Limbo, it is Purgatory. And it is temporary. At the endtimes, there will only be four things. That is Catholic Teaching.

death, judgment, heaven and hell.

No more purgatory. All who had been in purgatory will be in heaven.

What, however, of non-Catholic Christians? As far as I am aware, Catholics are the only Christians who believe there is the possibility unbaptized infants are not saved.

I hope they have updated their understanding of Catholic Doctrine. Limbo was always a theological speculation. The Catholic Church says:

1257 … God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

  • Do any other Christians, in fact, believe there is a possibility that unbaptized infants do not enter heaven?

They used to. When I first started debating Protestants, about twenty years ago, they mostly believed that infants could not be saved because they could not make a profession of faith. Some that I’ve spoken to recently, still hold to that. But most, now, believe that they are saved because Jesus, pointing to a child, said, “heaven is made up of such as these”.

  • As for Christians who hold to “believer’s baptism” (i.e., no baptism of infants), at what age do they believe that a child or youth must “accept Jesus as their Lord and personal Savior” (and then be baptized), otherwise they are damned forever?

I don’t know. But I think it varies.

  • And if they do believe in an “age of accountability”, as I’ve heard it put, how do they back up the idea that infants, children, and youths are saved up until that time, but not afterwards? What happens to the child to change them from an unaccountable youth to an accountable person who must be saved, or else be lost?

It’s also called the age of reason. I suppose, just my guess, it’s the same as the Catholic age of reason for permitting children to partake of the Eucharist. It’s the age at which they can tell right from wrong.

The youngest child I’ve seen receive a believer’s baptism is 5 years old. Between 7 and 10 was the average when I was growing up.

I have never heard of limbo being described as purgatory. As I said, limbo was thought by some to be the outer fringes of hell, where there is no suffering, just the deprivation of the beatific vision. The infant soul never knows that there is anything lacking in its existence, and remains forever in a state of natural bliss. Again, it was never a doctrine, just theological opinion and speculation. You can believe in it or not. But if the traditional conception of limbo is, indeed, “how things end up”, what any of us believe or not will be irrelevant.

My concern, or at least one aspect of it, is that Catholic parents could fail to make the baptism of their children a priority, reasoning that “it’s not absolutely necessary for us to be in any hurry about this, because infants go to heaven if they die” (and few people want to entertain the idea that their baby could, in fact, die suddenly — it’s not a pleasant thing to think about).

Some Christians, Catholic and otherwise, refer to it as a “christening”, which is a perfectly respectable word, but to my mind, somehow obscures the reality of what is taking place.

It is not official Catholic Doctrine.

But if the traditional conception of limbo is, indeed, “how things end up”, what any of us believe or not will be irrelevant.

Well, you can believe in it if you want. But I don’t and no, it is not “how things end up.”

Jesus said that heaven is made up of such as these and God is righteous. Being left out of heaven is the ultimate punishment and God does not punish the innocent.

My concern, or at least one aspect of it, is that Catholic parents could fail to make the baptism of their children a priority,…

I can only go by my reasoning.

  1. I never believed in limbo (I reluctantly accepted it because I had been taught it was a doctrine, but I never believed it. And as soon as Pope Benedict XVI revealed that it was mere theological speculation, I dropped it like a hot potato) and I had my children baptized within a week of their birth. I would have done it sooner if possible.

  2. Why? Because if they were to die without baptism, they would wind up in Purgatory and Purgatory, regardless of what many say, is not pleasant. Why should they endure even an
    instant of suffering, when their sinless souls could go straight to heaven.

Some Christians, Catholic and otherwise, refer to it as a “christening”, which is a perfectly respectable word, but to my mind, somehow obscures the reality of what is taking place.

I assume you’re talking about Baptism. Yes, I’ve heard infant Baptism referred to as “christening” by Catholics and others.

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