Thursday, July 20, 2006

"Thinking of the Unthinkable Pastoral Response"

Michael Spencer (iMonk) has a thought-provoking post on how a pastor can respond to the death of an infant, especially if he believes in the "T" in Calvinism - total depravity. Standing at the graveside with the family would we say something like, "Because this child was born a sinner, and thus dead in trespasses and sins, and unless this child was elect of God, then he or she is burning in hell right now"? (This is not preciesly the way he put it, but it isn't far off - you can read his post here.)

Let me offer a brief response.

Michael, I am a pastor who has done his share of funerals (nearly one hundred in seven years) and a pastor who believes in total depravity. I've never made that statement at a graveside or anywhere else, for that matter. I don't know anyone who has, either. But, to be perfectly honest, I've thought about it a lot and prayed about it a lot. This is one of the toughest of the practical pastoral issues I've faced.

I don't ever presume to make a dogmatic declaration about anyone's final destiny - whether they are 18 months old or 96 years old. I don't know for sure. The Bible is not as clear as I would prefer on this question of the destinty of an infant who has died (but, praise God I'm not God, and He hasn't chosen to reveal that to us). I trust the goodness, justice, and love of God in this situation. I know that God is good, that He will always do what is right, and that His love is amazing. I happen to think that infants who die and those who lack the capability to believe intelligently are elect. I realize this is speculation, but so is every other position in this debate. I think Reformed theology is the best summary and explanation of what we find in the Word of God, but I readily admit that I could be wrong. I sincerely hope that my commitment to it doesn't drive me to misinterpret Scripture and thus mislead people.

I've been helped tremendously by John MacArthur's little book Safe in the Arms of God. He quotes Charles Spurgeon as saying:

"Among the gross falsehoods which have been uttered against the Calvinist proper is the wicked calumny that we hold the damnation of little infants. A baser lie was never uttered. There may have existed somewhere in the corner of the earth a miscreant who would dare to say that there were infants in hell, but I have never met with him, nor have I met with a man who ever saw such a person.
"We say with regard to infants, Scripture sayeth but very little, and therefore where Scripture is confessedly scant, it is for no man to determine dogmatically. but I think I speak for the entire body, or certainly with exceedingly few exceptions, and those unknown to me, when I say, we hold that all infants (who die) are elect of God and are therefore saved, and we look to this as being the means by which Christ shall see of the travail of his soul to a great degree, and we do sometimes hope that thus the multitude of the saved shall be made to exceed the multitude of the lost.
"Whatever views our friends may hold upon the point, they are not necessarily connected to Calvinist doctrine. I believe that the Lord Jesus, who said, 'of such is the kingdom of heaven,' doth daily and constantly receive into his loving arms those tender ones who are only shown and then snatched away to heaven."

MacArthur's three points on the matter bear repeating: All children are conceived and born as sinners. The salvation of every person is a matter of God's grace, not man's works. We are saved by the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross - the supreme manifestation of God's grace.

The "unthinkable pastoral repsonse" is just that, unthinkable. Thank you, Michael, for your thoughts and thoughtfulness.


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