Bank Account of the Living Dead


When people talk about original sin, they love to point to toddlers committing two obvious sins: lying and screaming “MINE!” all the time. It’s so desperate and obvious it makes us laugh.

Nobody laughs when adults do it, though.

Which is why I am bothered by the sudden eruption of Christians, most of them political conservatives, who are screaming “MINE!” when they don’t like the idea of the government redistributing wealth. It’s not that I don’t blame them. Is this what it's all about?I’m very sympathetic. I don’t like the government taking my money and giving it to someone else, either.

Did you notice the word my in that last sentence? Think about that for a moment. Then think about this: It’s a very short trip from complaining about giving money to the government so the government can give it to other people who may need it to complaining about giving money to the Lord so the Church can give it to other people who may need it.

The Bible says this:

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
—Colossians 3:3

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
—Galatians 2:20

Part of what made the early Church so radical to the Jews is that they got the concept of being dead. They understood it legally and spiritually. Someone declared legally dead could no longer be said to own anything. And spiritually, they understood it based on what John the Baptist initiated and Jesus advocated as the way of fulfilling all righteousness:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
—Romans 6:3-4

When you and I went down in that water, what came up from it was new. Whatever we were died. And what emerged from that water had no claims on the old life and the things of the world, for that new person was dead to those things, a new life now joined to Christ in His death.

This is why baptism has seen its meaning diminish in most churches today: We don’t stress that the person who comes out of that water is not the person who went in. We don’t talk about the burial. We don’t mention the old life that was abandoned for a new one that has us living as if all you and I own now is Christ, for we are in Him, and all we have is Him.

Those in the early Church understood the full meaning, though, which is why they could say what they did:

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
—Acts 4:32

Many will reply that I’m opposing capitalism. That’s the usual retort. But the truth is that I haven’t seen genuine capitalism in a long time. Genuine capitalism is a fantastic economic system in the hands of God-fearing people. In  the hands of such godly people it works beautifully on a local scale for they balance the health of the local community against any race to the price bottom by any one controlling interest.

But the truth is that capitalism today is run by people who do not fear God. Such godless people  long ago abandoned the health of the local economy in favor of globalism, where all that matters is the lowest possible price—which means that someone inevitably suffers for that price because community loses all meaning when the entire planet is involved.

Plenty of Christians make excuses for the condition of capitalism today. If I read my Bible correctly, though, I can’t see that God was ever keen on excuses.

Capitalism, socialism, communism—all have their evils. But the one system I never hear enough about, the one that is 100 percent evil-free is God’s system, the Kingdom (or call it Kingdomism, if you like).

The economy of God’s Kingdom is made up of people who died to self and gave up the childish notion of “MINE!” These people are puzzled by arguments in favor of 10 percent, because each of them realizes that all that is around them is in play at all times for the Lord and His Kingdom. Their lives and everything in them are 100 percent purchased and owned by Jesus.

We live in what some have deemed a “praise & worship generation.” I would argue that few of us understand what genuine worship is, especially in the context of our death and burial in Christ.

This classic verse says it all:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
—Romans 12:1

We are the sacrifice. And just a little study shows us from the Scriptures that what is sacrificed is never intended to get up from the altar, dust itself off, and go on as if nothing happened. No, the outcome for the sacrifice is death. And it isn’t a 10 percent death or even a generous 15 percent one, but 100 percent.

But that is my worship: 100 percent of all I am and anything connected to me. That is the life that fully celebrates Jesus and worships Him in Spirit and in truth.

Do we understand how far we are from the ways of the Kingdom? I know I do. And I understand it more each day. I want to crawl off the altar of sacrifice. I don’t want to be dead. I like “MINE!” too much, too.

Yet as each day passes, I enjoy that kind of compromised, half-dead, zombie-like existence less and less. Now, I can see what Jesus intended. And it is so much more than any of us can comprehend.

I want to be fully dead. It’s the only way to truly live.

Suffer Little Children…


Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
—Matthew 19:13-14 KJV

Earlier this week I posted a More Cowbell Award , handing out "The Award No One Wants to Win" to children's Christian education programs (including Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Christian summer camps). That Stained Glass of Jesus Blessing Childrenparticular post generated more comments than any other More Cowbell Award I've given out. When it comes to educating the next generation of Christians, plenty of opinions exist.

I suspect even more opinions exist about the nature of children and salvation.

My son is nearing six years old. He's quite intelligent, loves God, enjoys church, spontaneously prays for others and for his own needs, and has a decent knowledge of the general truths of the Bible for his age. He continually surprises me with his questions about God, and surprises me even more with some of his answers. He'll always answer positively when asked if he believes in Jesus.

But is he saved?

For most of my adult life, I've leaned toward credobaptism. I was baptized as an infant in the Lutheran Church, but grew convinced of the need as an adult to show my own faithfulness toward God by being baptized as a confessing adult. (I kept this secret for many years from my parents. My brother felt the same as I did, got baptized, and told my folks, bringing lots of grief down on him and them.)

Later on, I worked in ministry to children and grew increasingly distressed about the issue of whether or not a child under ten understood the Gospel well enough to be justified. Probing kids for any information that might shed light on their eternal status yielded few results. Kids are such natural mimics that it's hard to discern whether they truly believe or are just mimicking what they know adults like to hear.

Kids don't make it any easier when it comes to the fruit of genuine Christian belief. Kids whose parents adamantly claim are rock-solid, baptized kiddie believers can be as rotten as those kids whose parents make no such claims. If a kid shares his milk and cookies with his friends and can rattle off a few memorized Bible verses are those actions proof of a genuine conversion?

For adults, the issue isn't always clear, but it's still far easier to discern. The dope fiend in gothic drag who comes to Christ and then goes on the mission field—that's an easy one. But truthfully, as long as I've worked with kids under ten, I'm not sure what an honest-to-goodness conversion looks like in a young child.  And I don't think I'm the only one.

This whole sticky wicket poses enormous theological problems. A quick scan of the great Christians poised in every possible corner on this issue makes a less diligent believer like me feel extraordinarily uneasy.

Our inability to come to any unified answer on the topic of the justification of children clearly shows in our split on credobaptism (baptizing confessing believers) and paedobaptism (baptizing children, though without a profession of their own personal faith in Christ.) While I don't believe in regenerative baptism—and most Protestant's don't if they truly hold to the truth that justification is by faith alone in Christ—it's still clear that Jesus put an extremely high mandate on baptism:

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
—John 3:5 ESV 

Obviously, one can go too far with this, though. I once had a friend whose boyfriend got mixed up in the Boston Church of Christ movement. That group believed in regenerative baptism. After he'd made a profession of faith, there was a delay in getting him baptized, and he basically locked himself up in his room until that day, afraid he'd be killed accidentally before he got baptized.

We read that and shake our heads, but if we extend the baptism beliefs of many Christians out to their logical ends, some relatively normal denominations pretty much believe the same thing—or else have to do a lot of intellectual shimmying to make their beliefs fit. I wrote a piece last year that talked about this issue after Steve Camp wrote a blistering predestination piece that pretty much came right out and said that the infant who dies in childbirth is predestined to hell. I don't know about you, but as a parent it's pretty hard to take to think that any child of mine that might have died in childbirth went straight to hell because God predestined him/her to die in childbirth. That seems a rather strict limit on God's mercy and any covenants He makes with believing parents.

Whether you're a credobaptist or paedobaptist, the questions remain:

  • What constitutes a genuine conversion in a child? And isn't it only by being converted that we are saved?
  • How do we know a child truly believes and isn't just repeating what he or she heard in Sunday School (or is mouthing what receives the most attention and adoration from Mommy and Daddy)?
  • Is there a covenantal aspect in the faith of believing Christian parents that ensures God's mercy and grace upon their children, whether baptized or not, believing or not?
  • For paedobaptists: If we're truly saved by faith alone, what good is baptizing an unbelieving child? And doesn't your baptizing of that child before a profession of faith only later lead to a false confidence in that child for his/her salvation? And what about the murky area of being "rebaptized" after a full confession of faith?
  • For credobaptists: How confident are you in credobaptism that you would risk letting your children die unbaptized?

It doesn't give me much comfort that so many good Christian sources are split on this. I noted earlier this week that highlighted the split, with solid theologians occupying both sides of the baptism argument. Ironically, most Arminians are credobaptists, so you would think the Calvinist monergists would be 100% in opposition, falling completely into the paedobaptist position. But even Jonathan Edwards was conflicted on this issue, baptizing infants but giving that baptism no efficacy for salvation. (What's the point then, Jonathan?)

Apart from the issue of baptism, Jonathan Edwards presents another unusual case that takes us back to our original question of the salvation of children: he states he was converted at four (or was it his wife—I can never remember). I talked to a member of my wife's family who told me last week that his kids were converted at that age. Honestly, I don't know how anyone can tell that for certain in a child that young, and if one can't (and happens to be a credobaptist), I'm not sure that baptizing them is a wise move.

In the end, this issue troubles me greatly. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's bothered by it, though.

You can't go to the great Christians on this issue because so many diverge on their opinions on baptism. Others fail to give any standards for judging if a child is saved or not. And like I said in my post from two days ago, what do we do when the pantheon of Christian greats can't answer the question?  I certainly don't want to trust the opinion of a man on this one, either, if salvation is truly on the line.

If we go to the Bible, we can find plenty of verses that go either way on baptism, so I dunno. And as to telling when a child is saved or not, well, the age of accountability doesn't exist in the pages of the Word, nor is there a truly solid "age-related" guide for discerning whether a child is genuinely espousing the faith or just trying to win "mommy points."

Other ideas have problems, too. If we are to receive the Kingdom as a child does, is this implying that children are already in and they can only fall out? So much for original sin. And if Jesus readily healed children in the course of His ministry, why would He do so if those kids would only grow up to either forget Him or reject Him? What's the point of healing people who are only destined for hell? And what of the perseverance of the saints if a child comes to Christ innocently in their young childhood, then completely rejects Him in adulthood? How many people can each of us name who did exactly that?

I get (wrongly) accused of being a blogging Christian know-it-all, but I'll be honest: this issue has me stumped. If there was ever a topic that I wish the Bible was more explicit on, it's this one.

Hell Is for Children


Brad over at The Broken Messenger takes Steve Camp to task for his curious post about children and salvation (or the lack of it.) I have to be honest in that I scratch my head when I read these kinds of conversations. I wonder if we have bound God by the very theological systems we hold so dear.

Hell Is for ChildrenI seem to be reading more than my share of tortured arguments lately. Sadly, this argument reminds me of the title of an old Pat Benatar song. While I will be accused of ascribing to "the sentimental model," I have to ask anyone who has children, "Which of your children are you willing to consign to hell and be satisfied with that result?"

I'm not sure if I'm okay with saying that a three-year old is doomed by his or her lack of understanding the Gospel and that there's nothing that can be done about it should that child die in an accident. It seems that Steve is saying we should be glad in this! I wonder if he extends that same thinking to his own children.

I hear some people saying that a particular child was assigned by God to perdition and is just fulfilling her role as a child of wrath. Still, did Jesus say, "Suffer some of the little children to come unto me?" If we are to receive the Kingdom as a "little child," then is it possible that little children have a covering of grace through Christ's finished work on the cross that in adults has been outlived because we have heard, understood, and now have no excuse? It appears that Steve would answer in the negative to this (and possibly Brad, too, though he disagrees with Camp's ultimate answer), but I'm not so certain.

So, I come to the end of Camp's rationale and am left with with no more answer than when I started. The stillborn child of this couple goes to heaven while this couple's SIDS child goes to hell? Camp would argue this position based on predestination and election, but a case like this makes such certainty seem capricious. God may indeed be no respecter of persons, but something about the conclusions we are coming to on this topic are unsettling to me by nature of their complete helplessness and the shrug we must toss in as a result.

The salvation of my child could not possibly matter to me more, but I don't know when his statements of faith are what someone would call "saving faith" and what others would consider the default childhood interest in things relating to God.

What do you believe the Holy Spirit is saying to us on this topic?