05 September, 2007

Church Leaders Raise "Age of Accountability"

Savannah, Ga - A group of over 300 church leaders from around the country met in Savannah last week to discuss an ongoing problem in their churches. The gathering, made up of mostly independent, fundamentalist churches, discussed everything from liberalism to bus ministries. But one issue that came up frequently during the week was that of the "age of accountability." The "age of accountability" is a doctrine that teaches that children are not accountable for their sins until a certain age. But for many individuals the exact time of this age is often disputed.

"It is obvious that a child as young as six cannot be held accountable for their sins" stated Mark Horne, pastor of New Falls Bible Church in New Falls, West Virginia. "Prior to the age of six all children have no sin accounted to them. In effect, they don't sin."

But several disagreed with Horne's position.

"I would say that the age of accountability goes up even higher, maybe even to eleven or twelve" stated Everett Colley, pastor of Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia. "I've got two boys at home, one seven and one ten, and it's obvious that they don't understand the difference between right and wrong. I don't see how they could be counted as sinners yet."

Numerous informal debates were held regarding the issue over the course of the week until finally a general meeting was called to discuss the issue.

"We knew we had to get everyone together and finally settle this thing" said Charlie Benton, the moderator of the conference and pastor of Chestnut Road Freewill Baptist Church in Savannah. "We called a general meeting of all the delegates on Thursday and stated that the issue was going to be discussed and debated on Friday."

Friday came, and starting at 8AM the subject went round and round. Numerous positions were presented, with the average age of accountability being proposed as 12. But it was when one delegate in particular, Rev. Hue Cresswell, pastor of Lilly of the Valley Bible Church in Thomasville, Alabama spoke that the tone of the debate began to change.

"Friends," began Cresswell, "we have yet to take into account the rebellion of many of our teenagers. So many of them get caught up in smoking, drinking and dancing in their early years. What of them, I ask you? It happens time and time again! And it can't be bad parenting can it? I would say that the age of accountability is much much higher than we think. That's why all of these teenagers act like pagans. They just don't know what they're doing. They don't know right from wrong!"

Cresswell's impassioned speech was followed by numerous responses of "Amen!" from the audience and ultimately changed the course of the issue. The debate went on for another three hours until finally a consensus was reached. The proposal was drafted and voted upon.

"This delegation of pastors has voted unanimously and in one accord" stated Benton who announced the results. "The age of accountability is hereby stated and agreed upon to be ten years and eight."

Applause and sounds of "Amen" sounded as the results of the vote were announced.

"I'm so happy we got this settled" stated Horne. "There are going to be some very happy parents when I get back to New Falls and tell them the good news."

"This is a blessed event" stated Cresswell, whose fervent speech prompted the move. "For so long Christian parents have struggled as to why their kids act so bad. Well now we know that they just don't know any better."


Richard said...

Recent research has shown that infants as young as 6 months have been proven to use deceit to manipulate their care-taker into feeding them or showing them affection. I think we can all agree that the exhibition of deviousness and dishonesty is a sin.

Here's the question...

If that child is accountable for that sin, but doesn't have the mental capacity to repent and believe the Gospel, than wouldn't that mean that all infants that have sinned are going to Hell?

And if we make this a discussion of election (meaning the elect babies are saved, the non-elect are damned), than I have another question:

How can an infant go to Heaven after sinning without repenting or believing the Gospel? Did not Jesus say "No one comes to the Father but by me?"

And if babies can circumvent the requirements for salvation, who's to say that others can't as well, such as jungle tribes never hearing of the Gospel? And if they can be saved without the knowledge of Christ, what's the purpose of the Great Commission?

I apologize for the blitzkrieg of questions, but I think that they're fair questions. What are your thoughts?

Team Tominthebox News Network said...

Hi Richard,

You ask both fair and difficult questions. I'll admit, it is a difficult subject because the Bible is silent as to the explicit nature of infant election. Sadly, what happens so often is that to solve the problem people "invent" doctrines that have no Biblical basis. This is not the solution. So what can we say without hesitation?

First, Sola Fide, by faith alone we are saved. Anyone who ever enters the kingdom of heaven does so by faith alone in Christ alone. Nowhere is it expressly stated or implied in Scripture that anyone is saved any other way. Therefore we can say with confidence that any infant who is elect and dies in infancy goes to heaven because they have faith alone in Christ alone. Now hang on to the "buts" for a moment.

2. Being a full-fledged Reformed Calvinist I believe that regeneration (the new birth) happens totally and completely passively on the part of the sinner. The sinner is dead one minute and the next "made alive" in Christ. This is a work of the Holy Spirit.

3. Faith is a gift of God. We do not churn it up within ourselves. Anyone who puts his faith and trust in Christ does so because God has given him that faith in the first place.

So anyone who is saved, whether infant or adult, is saved in the same basic manner. One minute he is spiritually dead and the next he has been made alive by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit. One minute no faith is present, and the next minute it is because God has granted it to him.

The question now lies in how does that manifest itself outwardly in the life of the believer. Obviously the nature of how it "looks" depends on the mind of person. Adults display a greater sense of discernment, no doubt. An adult may listen, question, wrestle with certain facts, etc.

But lets look at an infant for a moment. Can an infant "trust?" Well when my son was born he was in the hospital for 23 days and went through three surgeries. We weren't able to hold him until his second week of life. One day when he was crying I reached down and picked him up and held him and he stopped crying. He had a problem. He knew he needed to be comforted. Now could he articulate to me why he needed to be comforted? No. Did he himself understand the ends and outs of what was going on that was causing him distress? No. But he new something was wrong, so what did he do? He cried out. Now when I picked him up he also didn't know my name. He didn't know how I was holding him or any other specifics, but he stopped crying because I comforted him.

Another time a few weeks later after he had come home he was crying in his bed. I went into his room and said his name. He immediately stopped and listened to my voice.

I'm not trying to build an entire theology here, but if an earthly child can cry out to an earthly father and be comforted by his presence and his voice, why is it so hard to believe, especially as a Calvinist, that God can supernaturally work saving faith in the life of an infant?

Now, the tough question, do all infants go to heaven? I cannot answer that perfectly. Scripture seems to indicate that some do (David's son for example), but it doesn't go further. What I can say is this though. God is good and he always does what is fair and right.


Anonymous said...

God, who is sovereign, elects to save some, not on the basis of their intelligence or wisdom to choose, but on the basis of his grace. Apart from God's grace, none of us would trust Christ. Our ignorance of how grace works does not negate its power to save.

Nick Kennicott said...

"'I'm so happy we got this settled' stated Horne. 'There are going to be some very happy parents when I get back to New Falls and tell them the good news.'"

Interesting how similar this is to most denominational politics. I know many within denominational leadership always seem to think that since it was decided upon by majority vote that it automatically constitutes what is right and true.

Anonymous said...

"Well now we know that they just don't know any better." Accountability may have been set at 18, but state assemblies have the right to raise the thinking age to 21.

Anonymous said...

On a more serious note, I had read that, among the Reformers, some saw infant death as a sign of election, others felt that infants who had believing parents and died were also saved, and I expect that other positions could also be held. However, I believe we would have to honestly admit that any view amounts to speculation, as has been indicated in the responses.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, they may be on to something, but the SCRIPTURES clearly state that God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways are higher than our ways... so I vote we raise the age of accountability to ...


Right around or about 83.

Brother Slawson said...

A few years ago, I found the following idea of Spurgeon's interesting...

"All Scripture seems to tenon that heaven will not be a narrow world, that its population will not be like a handful gleaned out of a vintage, but that Christ shall be glorified by ten thousand times ten thousand, whom he hath redeemed with his blood. Now where are they to come from? How small a part of the map could be called Christian! Look at it. Out of that part which could be called Christian, how small a portion of them would bear the name of believer! How few could be said to have even a nominal attachment to the Church of Christ? Out of this, how many are hypocrites, and know not the truth! I do not see it possible, unless indeed the millennium age should soon come, and then far exceed a thousand years, I do not see how it is possible that so vast a number should enter heaven, unless it be on the supposition that infant souls constitute the great majority. It is a sweet belief to my own mind that there will be more saved than lost, for in all things Christ is to have the pre-eminence, and why not in this?"

It's found in this sermon:

Anonymous said...

Great satire as usual, but I have to say that the real gold was in your response to the first commenter. Beautifully and succinctly put.


Richard said...

Hey Tom, thanks for the thoughtful reply. As a molonist, I'm well aware that we have differing ideas as to what it means to be elect and whatnot. I realize that this isn't the time or place to discuss/argue/debate as to how election works, etc.

But you know as well as I that my philosophical outlook on God's complete and absolute sovereignty comes to the table when it comes to other theological issues.

That being said, I have one more question that I would like you to clarify for me.

If an infant is saved through regeneration, as the Reformers view it, than does that mean that we no longer need to hear or believe the Gospel to be saved? Is a person saved at the moment of regeneration? And if so...than why are missionaries needed?

Ok, that was a few questions. My bad.


Corey Reynolds said...

John the Baptist certainly seemed to have faith in Christ in the womb. He leaped within his mother for joy in the presence of Christ and was filled with the Spirit from his mother's womb.

Now that was a very special case, but it still shows that God worked that way at least once. Now, by Romans 10 we know that faith comes by hearing the preaching of the word, but I just thought of this: babies aren't deaf. They can hear even in the womb.

Responding to the gospel doesn't have to be done with an articulation of systematic theology. In fact, it almost never is. It seems Scripturally possible that God could save in this way. It at least should keep up from saying, "I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your baby is in Hell."

Team Tominthebox News Network said...


Thank you for your kind reply.

You asked about the subject of regeneration. That could possibly open up an entire other subject regarding the Ordo Saludis. I personally believe, based upon my understanding of Scripture, that regeneration and saving faith happen almost simultaneously. I say that because the Bible speaks of only two types of people, those who are spiritually dead, and those who are spiritually alive. To say one is regenerate and not yet a Christian would be to invent some kind of nebulous state that the Bible does not speak of. So "regeneration" here, how I'm using it, is in essence synonymous with being "saved."

Now, every other conclusion in this matter that I draw must be subservient to the fact that I stated yesterday, namely that there is only one way to be saved, by faith alone in Christ alone. An elect infant that dies has been saved by faith alone in Christ alone.

Now the Bible has a lot to say about faith. It says that it's a "gift of God." We all must be given it in order to have it. But it also says that "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." So faith only comes through ministry of God's special revelation, his word.

So I take what I do know and I try to draw basic conclusions.

Fact 1: There is no other way of salvation than by faith alone in Christ alone.
Conclusion: Therefore an elect infant who dies in infancy is saved by faith alone in Christ alone.

Fact 2: Faith is a gift of God
Conclusion: An elect infant who dies in infancy has faith given to him.

Fact 3: Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.
Conclusion: An elect infant dying in infancy receives the gift of faith through the word of God.

Now here's what could get me in trouble with some in the Reformed Camp if I'm not careful how I state this. I believe in Sola Scriptura. I believe in the preeminence of the preaching of the Word. Preaching is the normal method through which the Word of God is communicated to the ears of human beings. But, and here's the dangerous statement, it does not have to be the only way.

Given the three stated facts above concerning what is clear from Scripture and what conclusions must be logically drawn based on that I must further conclude that somehow or another, in a supernatural and particular way, the word of God, at least to the point of a saving degree, is communicated to the mind of an elect infant who dies. Now, I DO NOT believe this is advanced revelation. What is revealed would be already known to all who hear the word preached from the Bible.

Now, should we preach the gospel? Absolutely. God has commanded preaching to be the ordinary means by which men are saved. As far as "needing" missionaries, well that's an interesting question. Remember God could make the rocks cry out. To make a statement that would hurt the ears of Osteenites everywhere, God doesn't need us. He is self-sufficient. But what a great and glorious privilege and honor we have to be called to do such a marvelous work as to tell people about our God and Savior.


Anonymous said...

Yes, we shouldn't take the special cases and try to convey those means to the more common, nor form general doctrines based upon our interpretation of the special cases.

Richard said...

While I'm not entirely satisfied with your answer, I don't believe I can make further inquiries without the breakdown of communication that typically accompanies conversations between determinists and molonists, Calvinists and non-calvinists, etc.

Thanks though, for your honest effort to explain a doctine (?) that is not clearly outlined in Scripture. Have a good one.


Anonymous said...

I am saddened to see such sloppy journalistic standards here at Tom in the Box. The men in the picture are not wearing suits, so clearly they are not Independent Fundamentalist Baptists. I think you took a picture of a Southern Baptist associational meeting and inserted it in here, thus covertly planting in our minds the idea that Southern Baptists are Fundamentalists too.