Friday, 26 June 2009

Age of Accountability - Scriptural or Emotional?

Do infants or children who die go to heaven? The subject of a Biblical age of accountability came up recently. It is something that everyone thinks is reasonable, but most people seem to base their idea in the matter on what they think is fair, not on Scripture.

Some will say there is no such thing as an age of accountability, and that there is no guarantee that a child who dies in childhood or infancy will go to heaven. Some, especially hard-core Calvinists will say either that only 'elect' children will go to heaven, or that God allows only, 'elect' infants to die. That, in my opinion, is a stretch, to fit their Calvinist definition of election.

Others rely on their hope that the 'Judge of all the earth will do right' (Gen 18:25), but that is merely a hope in the matter of a child's death, and certainly no firm guarantee.

Others will place their hope that God will be 'fair,' and not send anyone to hell who has not been able to make a decision to follow Christ.

John Piper suggests,
God only executes this judgment on those who have the natural capacity to see his glory and understand his will, and refuse to embrace it as their treasure. Infants, I believe, do not yet have that capacity; and therefore, in God's inscrutable way, he brings them under the forgiving blood of his Son.

...but does not suggest we can know what that age might be. Most people who believe in an age of accountability will say that the age varies from child to child, or will give an age of twelve, or thirteen, but what Scriptural evidence they have for this view, I do not know.

But I believe that we may know exactly what that age is, and it is Biblical. Here is how I arrived at my conclusion. Consider the following passages:

'Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of the men twenty years old or more who came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob- (Num 32:11)

In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. (Num 14:29)

And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it. (Deut 1:39)

By harmonizing these three verses, I believe we can infer that:
1. There is an age (at least there was among the Israelites in the desert) before which a person did not know good from bad.
2. This age was the age below which children were allowed to enter the promised land.
3. That age was 20 years of age.

I believe we can reasonably accept this as an age of accountability, established by God Himself.

The main objection I hear when I express this opinion is that 20 seems too old; that much evil is done by people before the age of 20 and that they should be accountable for their sins. But that, in my opinion, is really an emotional objection. It may be a matter of the foolishness of God being wiser than man's wisdom ( (1 Corinthians 1:25) When we see criminal acts being committed our sense of justice cries out that the perpetrators (even, and sometimes perhaps especially, teenagers) be punished. And of course they should. Probably even more severely under the law that they now are.

But accountability to secular law and accountability to God are two entirely separate things. It is important to remember, of course, that this is not because children are 'innocent' of sin. The sin of Adam has tainted us all, including the very youngest. But God decided, at least in this one particular case I illustrate, that those under 20 were not to be held accountable for the sin of disobedience in the desert. Can we apply that specific case to a general principle? Well..., why not? We can just as easily believe we can as that we can't.

Frankly, I hold this view with a somewhat open hand, but I don't think we can rule it out arbitrarily. Perhaps, also, this may serve as some comfort to someone who has lost a child, particularly a teenager, and is troubled by their eternal fate.

Take Care

PS: This question has a personal side to it. We lost our own granddaughter at the age of four and a half months to crib death. For my thoughts on this season in our family's lives, click on SIDS, below. The series of posts will appear in reverse order.


Update: I have posted a few more thoughts, specifically in relation to the mentally handicapped here.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

It's My Birthday Today

This is how old I am.
Thanks to my daughter Jen for reminding me. She played this song over the phone to me this morning.

Take Care

Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Shack

This post has been in edit mode for a few days, and I see that my fellow blogger David has beaten me to the punch, but here, in any case, are a few of my thoughts on, "The Shack" by Wm Paul Young.

"Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?"

This quote from Perry Mason and any number of real courtrooms is what came to me when trying to sum up my thoughts after finishing this popular novel. First of all it must be remembered that the book is indeed a work of fiction and not a theological textbook. And it does indeed contain some truth, but not the whole truth and certainly not, "nothing but the truth." In other words, from a theological standpoint, it contains an element of the truth, but it also adds a healthy dose of what must come, I presume, from the author's imagination. So it is partly right, but I would argue that, in theological matters, it is at least as dangerous to be partly right, if your readers are going to take you seriously, as to be completely wrong. And I wouldn't be surprised if some who read this book do take it seriously, in that they may base upon it, to a certain extent, how they think about God.

The author seems to tend to universalism in matters of salvation, and although there are some wonderful word pictures to describe certain theological truths (discussing God's purposes in suffering, for instance), at other times he launches into flights of nonsensical new age-ism (as in when he meets his late father.)

I would not necessarily recommend this book, nor would not think it one to avoid at all costs, but I say this with a couple of conditions. Someone well grounded in reformed theology will quite easily spot the pitfalls, and although a new Christian or a seeker might find some value in it, I would hope they would be reminded that it is fiction and that they be encouraged in further study to discern the fiction from the truth.

But all in all, however, I guess I would sum it all up by saying this: if any church (and there probably are some) took this book seriously, and either recommended it as theologically sound or held it up to be the truth in a Bible study, I would steer well clear.

Take Care

Monday, 8 June 2009

A Seeker-Sensitive Church

I am pleased to declare I go to a seeker-sensitive church, even though they would not classify themselves as such.

Because the question must be asked, what is the seeker really seeking? A true seeker, the kind a church like this wants to reach, is seeking the truth. They are seeking the God they suspect is there (to borrow and paraphrase the words of Francis Schaeffer) and how to know Him. And a true seeker sensitive church will tell them how to find what they are looking for.

A true seeker sensitive church will tell them that they, along with all the rest of us, have fallen short of God's standards. The fact is that a God big enough to have created the universe and everything in it, a God truly worthy of worship, must be a God of perfection, with no shortcomings at all. He must be supreme above all things (and if He were less than perfect, He wouldn't be supreme.) And so His standard would be perfection. And anything less than perfection would not meet God's standard, and the penalty for this is separation from Him and ultimate destruction. And the seeker might answer, "Well, no one's perfect." And they would be absolutely correct.

So what would be the answer then? Well, the answer would be that God, in His love, provided a way that we could know Him, even though we cannot possibly earn that right on our own. And that is that He came to earth Himself, as a man, Jesus Christ, and He did live a perfect life and so was the only person in history who really didn't deserve death. But he stood in for us. He offered himself to die on the cross so that the rest of us, all who would place their faith in him, could live. And that is the very simple answer, and the only one, to the seeker's quest. Place your faith in Jesus and you will live. You will have that relationship with the God of the universe for which you are looking.

A non seeker sensitive church (the one who would often [mis]classify themselves as seeker-sensitive) will try to soft pedal the truth of the gospel, thinking that it must cover up the hard parts (that perhaps we are not as good as we think we are) so as not to turn people off. But such a strategy will only attract those who really don't want to hear the truth. They just want to have their hopes affirmed that they are basically good and have the power within to accomplish their own, "salvation," (however they define the term). These are the people who will stay as long as it gives them a warm fuzzy feeling, because that is what they are looking for. I think these can be seen as the ones Jesus speaks of in the parable of the sower.
The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

They love the "poetry" of the Bible. They love the easy parts, the beautiful passages. They love the, "God loves you just the way you are" message, and receive it with joy. But as soon as they see that God's love is too great to leave them the way they are, they rebel. When they are confronted with the fact that God actually demands something of them (if indeed they are ever told this in a so-called seeker sensitive church), they quickly deny the truth or leave to search elsewhere.

And so I consider the church I attend to be a true seeker-sensitive church. I am thankful for the pastor and the leaders who have a true love for God's word, a real heart for the Gospel and a genuine desire to reach those who need to hear it.

Take Care