There is a presumptive teaching among the general members of Christendom regarding the age of accountability. In essence, it’s a teaching that states children and infants are not morally accountable to God for their actions since they themselves are incapable of making decisions. Superficially such a doctrine makes sense. How can we be judged for what we are incapable of doing?
The primary foundation for this teaching is laid upon the doctrinal concepts of salvation and water baptism. If salvation is a belief of choice and water baptism an action of choice then, to those who hold the position, it stands to reason that a child who can not make such choices should not be judged by virtue of their incapability. While I find such teaching sounds good (and feels good), further scrutiny of the Scriptures leads me to the conclusion that the bible contains no teaching whatsoever regarding an age of accountability.
An age of accountability presumes innocence prior to whatever ambiguous age we’re talking about. Such a teaching flies in the face of what we call ‘original sin’. The doctrine of original sin, defended beautifully by Jonathan Edwards, dictates that we are all born into sin. If you’re born into sin, you are guilty regardless of whatever meritable actions you have taken.
If we then conclude that all young children are in bondage to their sinful nature (Pr 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, cf Ps 58:3), where does this put the souls of those departed? Do they go to heaven or hell? Are they beyond salvation having passed physical death in their sin? There’s little evidence for supporters of both positions though the bulk is against an accountable age.
I think one argument we can safely eliminate is the argument of ‘fairness’. We naturally believe that those not guilty shouldn’t be punished. Who could be more innocent than an infant just born? This argument, as noted earlier, contradicts the fact that we are all born into sin. We have no innocence. It may seem unfair to confer guilt upon the newly born but, as experience has plainly taught each one of us, life is not fair. On the other hand, God is just.
Some, such as Dave Miller, argue for an age of accountability on the basis of neutrality. He argues that since we are all “the offspring of God” as listed in Acts 17:29, children who are without law (like the Jews prior to Moses), can not have sin imputed to them. Dave completely forsakes that portion of the verse where Paul states:
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. (Rom 5:14)
In other words, those born in the world are still born unto the same curse. Our nature is a sinful nature, it is not a ‘neutral nature’.
So what if God chose to throw a child, born into sin, into the fires of hell?
Rom 9:21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
Even further, we can move from talking about the children of this age, what about the children of the kingdom?
Mat 8:11-12 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Such would be a heart-wrenching interpretation for those who lost a child and I don’t mean to inflict any more pain upon those who have gone through such grief. Do I believe all children and infants are lost upon death? I don’t think so. Something in the mercy of God leads me to believe otherwise.
I do like what King David said regarding his baby that died
And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. (2Sa 12:22-23)
And also perhaps there is a difference for the children of believers:
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
At this point in time, I have to agree with RC Sproul Jr. when I say, “I don’t know.” It’s a difficult subject to say the least. One thing I do know is that the teachings on an ambiguous age of accountability are purely false. Were it otherwise, I think the bible would be more clear on the concept. Like all things unclear though, there are greater truths to be learned and the subject is worthy of continued study.
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