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Out of Limbo

A lot of discussions have been had recently, both in my life and in the larger world, about life, death, and the afterlife. Today the conversation turned briefly to the fate of infants: do babies go straight to heaven if they die before they are old enough to make a confession of faith?

There are several possible answers to this depending on one's denomination and doctrine. Those who practice infant baptism usually do so either because they see baptism as the sign of the covenant (thus including the baby in New Testament salvation) or because they view it as the way to remove the stain of original sin (as opposed to willful, volitional sin). For the latter group, the unbaptized baby goes to hell, damned by its inherited sin. The only alternative is Limbo, a place for those who bear the sin of Adam but no sins of their own.

As a Protestant who believes only in believer's baptism, I reject those views. I believe all children, babies included, who are unable to make moral judgments go to paradise. They have not yet reached what we call the age of accountability, the time they can discern right from wrong and are able to deliberately choose the wrong. Until that point, they are free from sin and able to join the Father in heaven. With that said, the age of accountability is found nowhere in the Bible. It's a modified version of "confirmation age," the time someone baptized as an infant makes an "adult" confession of faith, accepts the salvation granted at baptism, and becomes a full Christian and church member. (This usually happens around age thirteen.) Does changing this into an age of accountability make sense theologically, knowing what we know about God, sin, and judgment? Absolutely. Is it biblically explicit? Absolutely not.

Still, the God who in this world said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these," (Luke 18:16) will surely welcome them into the world to come with open arms. This is our hope, our faith, and our love for our children.

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