I have recently engaged in a conversation online with a friend who believes that paedobaptism removes the guilt of original sin, so the discuss was launched into what if the child dies before Baptism? He argued that God is not held to the rules of the church, and can take that child to Heaven.
So, I submit for you approval my opinion on the state of infants. Feel free to disagree, argue, say what you like, I have probably heard it before anyway.
First, I think we must look at what constitutes “sin”. Are we really guilty for the sin of Adam? In the Old Testament, sin was all based on action. A list of “do”s and “don’t”s. When Jesus came, the law and nature of sin moved from just actions to also attitudes, and motivations. When you boil sin down to it’s bare minimum in scripture, it’s knowing what God’s law says and doing something different. Some know God’s law from the written code, but Romans 1 tells us that there is a natural law that God gives us, and while we know right, we choose wrong. Sin is a verb, and if it’s in thought or deed, we perform the act of sin. So are we born guilty? My buddy would say yes, that the fact that all have sinned, that sin came through one man, Adam, that infants are indeed guilty. I disagree.
My main textual support comes from Paul. In Romans 1, we see the idea of the “natural” law, which is need in nature, as verse 20 states. Chapter 2, verse 15 tells us that the works of the law are written on the hearts of those without the law. The law comes to everyone, either by nature, by God’s revelation, or by the virtue of it’s manifestation by the creator in our hearts. This leads me to Chapter 7 when Paul says “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandments came, sin came alive and I died” vs 9. If there was once a time that Paul was alive, but the law came and sin was awakened and he died. So at what point was he alive? We know that Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the children (Matt 18, Mark 9:37, 10:14 & 15). If the Kingdom belongs to the children, and the sinners will not inherit the Kingdom, what does this tell us about the nature of small children?
In my years of education, I have become very familiar with Erikson’s psychosocial development. In his stages, a preschool-early elementary age child begins to ask the questions of self worth, and from there begin to place value on behavior, either good or bad. According to Erikson, from ages 6 to 12 is when they begin to develop morals and an idea of right and wrong. (Check our the Erikson Wikipedia page).
Piaget developed a theory of cognitive development, and says that children don’t begin to develop abstract thinking until later in life (he states early adolescence, 11+). Sin is a more abstract concept, it goes beyond the concrete operational stage that young children find themselves in. (Check out some of Piaget’s work).
Now I see the value of Erikson’s and Piaget’s work, it’s not scripture, but it’s valid work. If their ideas of development is true, then it’s worth reading, because all truth is God’s truth. Combined with the truth I see in scripture, it seems rational to me that there is a point, just as Paul describes, where children have the nature of the original sin, the knowledge of good and evil, but it has not yet awakened in their heart. At some point a child becomes aware of the abstract principle that some things are good and some things are bad. Until this point, they have conditioning of “right” and “wrong”. For a small child, “right” things make mom and dad happy. When a child does “wrong” the child is punished. They have no concept of the value or nature of the action, just that it has negative consequences. Much like your dog doesn’t understand that leaving presents on the carpet is morally wrong, your dog has been conditioned to know that a bomb on the carpet leads to unhappy owners. Simple conditioning.
At some point we begin to make choices based on what we know to be right and wrong, what God’s law is and we decide to be our boss. This is an abstract concept, and it’s sin and leads to death. At this point, as Paul states, sin is awakened by the law and brings death. The nature of sin has revived the power of sin and that sin brought death. For those who are not to this point (my guess would be kids up until the age of somewhere between 4 and 8. Boys are a little slower than girls). Some kids come to this knowledge at different rates, but when they do, often they begin to have guilt, questions of ethics and begin to talk about the actions of others and are concerned often about others, their actions and motivations.
My daughter wanted to pray to receive Christ at 5. I was hesitant but we prayed and she confessed of being a sinner, confessed some specific sins, asked for forgiveness and asked Jesus to come into her life. My wife and I discussed it as she came out of her room and asked “if I sin tomorrow, will Jesus forgive me”. This demonstrated great abstract thinking, as well as conviction of sin.
As for paedobaptism, my friend believes that it’s necessary to remove the taint of sin. I believe that Baptism is a communal activity, done to identify with Christ in the presence of other believers. I believe this should only be done after a person makes a personal confession of Jesus Christ. Baptism, like a wedding ring, is an outword manifestation of an inward commitment.
If I was going to embrace paedobaptism (which I don’t), my draw would be more of the covenantal component. I am not completely covenantal, I do see the validity of the dedication as recognition that this child is part of the community of faith and will be raised to be part of the community of faith with the hopes that one day the child will place their trust in Christ. This is pretty close to the conevantal paedobaptism, minus the water. I would love to hear what you think your ideas and your theology on the matter.