One of the most frequently asked questions in the church is whether babies and small children who die go to heaven. Some leading Southern Baptist theologians confidently believe they do.
Drs. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., and Daniel Akin wrote an article over a decade ago addressing the question of an infant's salvation. That article has been reposted several times since, including Tuesday, due to its popularity and the continuing debate.
The dominant view of the Church today, they say, is that babies and small children who die will be with God in heaven.
"It is our conviction that there are good reasons biblically and theologically for believing that God saves all who die who do not reach a stage of moral understanding and accountability," Mohler and Akin, who lead The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, respectively, state.
They make their case using Scripture, rather than "emotional hopes." The Bible does not directly speak to this issue but the two theologians believe there is evidence that leads them to affirm "on biblical grounds that God receives into heaven all who have died in infancy."
First, they point to the grace, goodness and mercy of God.
"God is love (1 John 4:8) and desires that all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). God is love and His concern for children is evident in Matthew 18:14 where Jesus says, 'Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.'"
Unlike adults who choose rebellion and reject God, children are incapable of "this kind of conscious rejection of God" and God is gracious to receive them, they argue.
Other evidence they provide include:
- The Old Testament account of David and Bathsheba when their baby boy dies. David "confessed his confidence that he would see the child again and he comforted his wife Bathsheba," indicating that David believed his son was with God.
- The distinction between original sin and actual sins. Everyone is guilty of original sin but only persons who know to do right but does not do it are accountable for actual sins.
- Luke 18:15-17. Jesus affirmed that the kingdom of God belonged to little children. In addition to stating that saving faith is a childlike faith, Jesus also "seems to be affirming the reality of children populating heaven."
- Revelation 7:9. Scripture affirms that the number of saved souls is very great, the theologians say. "Since most of the world has been and is still non-Christian, might it be the untold multitude who have died prematurely or in infancy comprise a majority of those in heaven?"
- Some in Scripture are said to be chosen or sanctified from the womb, the lastly argue. This repudiates the view that only baptized babies go to heaven.
Mohler and Akin conclude: "It is important for us to remember that anyone who is saved is saved because of the grace of God, the saving work of Jesus Christ and the undeserved and unmerited regenerating work of the Holy Spirit ... When it comes to those incapable of volitional, willful acts of sin, we can rest assured God will, indeed, do right. Precious little ones are the objects of His saving mercy and grace."
Nathan Finn, associate professor of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., also affirms the view that infants are saved. But he added that "it is impossible to make an exegetical case for any view with total accuracy."
Adding to Mohler and Akin's argument, Finn states in a separate article that the last book of Revelation provides glimpses into heaven where believers from every tribe, tongue and nation are in the presence of God.
Finn believes this not only applies to the Great Commission of spreading the Gospel to the world, but it also gives a hint about the salvation of infants.
"How is it that there are people from every people group around God's throne if some people groups never had access to the gospel? I think a possible answer is that there are infants from every people group who have, by God's grace, been redeemed, and therefore are now believers in the presence of their King," Finn states.