Posted by: mattcolvin | December 31, 2009

Reformed teaching about baptism and infants dying in infancy

If you think that babies of believers who die in infancy might go to hell, or might not, depending on the inscrutable sovereignty of God, then I have news for you. You’re afoul of the Canons of Dort, which gave us the Five Points of Calvinism.

That synod says, in article 1.17,

“Since we must make judgments about God’s will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy.”

Let me parse that further. Dort asserts that God has spoken about our children. Failure to believe what God has spoken is unbelief. Therefore, if you have lost a child in infancy or in the womb, it is an act of unfaith and sin for you to doubt whether God has saved that child.

The Synod of Dort was also concerned that certain “calumniators” were

“wishing to persuade the public that the doctrine of the Reformed churches concerning predestination…teaches that many children of the faithful are torn guiltless from their mothers’ breasts and tyrannically plunged into hell; so that neither baptism nor the prayers of the Church at their baptism, can at all profit them.” (Synod of Dort, Conclusion)

Let me parse that too: There are people who claim that the Calvinistic doctrine renders baptism an otiose ritual that doesn’t benefit babies who die. (Pretty much all baptists say this.) The Synod of Dort says that if you say that this is Reformed doctrine, you are a “calumniator”, and you should “consider the terrible judgment of God which awaits” you “for bearing false witness against the confessions of so many churches.”



  1. […] in a ceremony made beautiful — and bearable — by a clear understanding that we were prohibited by God’s Word from doubting our child’s […]

  2. But we need to be willing to follow this through: what is the grounds for parents to be confident of their child’s salvation? Is it baptism? If it is, then we should be just as confident that our living, baptized children are saved, and treat them accordingly. But we don’t say that! That means that we are essentially making the grounds of our confidence is not baptism but baptism + death, and since baptism doesn’t really play a role (or it would apply to living children as well), that means that our confidence is based on the fact that the child is dead. What?!?

  3. Sure, baptized kids are saved, if you want to talk covenantally. But Dort is here talking about final salvation, being with the Lord at the end of your life. And that is a benefit that only the elect experience.

    So the question is when and on what basis we can judge a person’s election. And the answer is that as long as a person is still alive, he still has to finish the race. But a dead baby has already finished the race. So we can ask what evidence we have. The answer is, we have God’s word about the child, and we have the fact that the child didn’t live wickedly and apostatize.

    As Zwingli says in his Refutation of Anabaptist Tricks, “What of Esau if he had died an infant? Would your judgment place him among the elect? Yes. The. Does election remain sure? Yes, and so does rejection. But listen. If Esau had died as an infant, there would have been the seal of election. But as it is, we see from the fruit of his unfaith that he was rejected of the Lord. In vain do we say of Esau, “would that he had died an infant!” He could not die whom God had created that he might live, and live wickedly.”

    So we know election through the lens of the covenant. Being dead isn’t a grounds for assurance about the fate of a baby. It’s just the point at which all the data are in, so that we can make a sure judgment. The judgment is made, not on the basis of the death, but on the grounds of God’s promise and the fact that the baby didn’t break covenant by unbelief. A living person may have all the same data SO FAR, but the Scripture still exhorts him to finish the race, to persevere, to heed the warnings that he should not be haughty, but fear, and warns him that if he doesn’t, he will be cut off. So he can have confidence, but it is not the same situation until he too dies.

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