Sunday, January 29, 2017
Are Little Children Saved?
I came across the above video in which the Evangelical theologians John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul debate on the subject of infant baptism—R.C. arguing for, and John arguing against. As a Mormon I of course oppose infant baptism; but the subject of infant baptism itself is not what led me to comment on this video, but a side issue raised by John MacArthur as he argued his case against infant baptism. At 18:30 minutes into the video he makes the following comment (emphasis added):
“In Matthew chapter 18 we read in verse 3, ‘Truly I say to you unless you are converted and become like children you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven; whoever then humbles himself as this child he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven; whoever receives one such child on the ground of my name receives me;’ and you know the text. And some have said, well, what you have here is evidence that children are in the kingdom. I beg to differ with that. I think what you have here, if you put the synoptics together and see the scene, Peter is in Capernaum, he may well be in his own house there, and he has in his lap an infant. He picks up a little child because the disciples are debating who is the greatest in the kingdom, . . . He puts a little baby in his lap and says, Look, while you’re arguing about who is the greatest, let’s get the real issue, you are all little children. Verse 2 says he called a child, set him in the midst and said, ‘You better become like this if you want to enter the kingdom.’ And then he proceeds to preach a great sermon; I think one of the great discourses in Matthew on the childlikeness of the believer. And in this chapter he is not talking about babies; he is talking about childlike believers; and that is pretty clear I think all the way through because he refers in verse 6 particularly to ‘these little ones who believe in me’. He is talking about how we treat each other as believers. So this is not a scripture that deals with anything to do with actual children and their role in the kingdom, but rather using a child as an illustration of the necessity of entering his kingdom as a child would. What does that mean? With no achievement, with no accomplishment, having done nothing learned nothing, gained nothing, accumulated nothing, bringing nothing, to bear upon that entrance.”
His argument is that Matthew 18:1–5 does not make a statement about the salvation of little children as such, but only provides an illustration for the childlikeness of the believers. He makes several errors in that observation. Firstly, Jesus does not say that believers are childlike, but must become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. He says they must humble themselves as little children to be saved, or enter the kingdom of heaven. It is not about how we “treat each other,” but how we approach God. Secondly, he is incorrect that the statement is not about actual children. It is about actual children and their salvation. Jesus makes it clear in more than one place in the New Testament that little children are indeed saved:
14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
16 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
There is no doubt that Jesus believed and taught that little children are saved. Jesus’ message to his disciples in Matthew 18:1–5 was that to be saved they needed to acquire the same attributes and qualities that little children have, i.e. purity, innocence, humility, faith, implicit trust, and willingness to obey. Children believe in him (Matt. 18:6). They have a natural tendency to believe. If you tell the story of Jesus to a child—any child who has not heard it before (and has not been indoctrinated against it), they will believe. John MacArthur is very much in error about that, and his error is a serious one. It has serious implications for many other aspects of his theology. If little children are not already saved, what happens to them when they die? Do they go to hell when they die? If they don’t, that means that they are already saved; and if they are already saved, what saves them? And how does “predestination” fit into all of this, or the “original sin”?
That in fact is the real explanation why little children don’t need baptism, because they are already saved. They have nothing to “repent of”. Baptism is “unto repentance” and “for the remission of sins” (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 2:38). If they have nothing to repent of, they don’t need to be baptized. All others need to be baptized, as shown in the following verses:
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not [and consequently not baptized] shall be damned.
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
• • •
41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
1 Peter 3:
21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Baptism is a necessary requirement for salvation, no doubts about it. That is what the scriptures teach. I don’t know of anyone in the New Testament who was converted and was not baptized—with the exception of little children. Everyone needs to be baptized to be saved. Only little children are exempt, because they are already saved. That puts a big dent into the “faith alone” doctrine of Reformed and Evangelical theology. If baptism is necessary for salvation, then it is not “faith alone”.
I am sure they will now say, “We are not saved by baptism!” Sure we are not. Nobody says we are. But we are not saved without baptism either! That is what the Bible teaches. To say that baptism is required for salvation is not the same as saying that we are “saved by baptism,” or that we are “saved by our own works”. We are saved by God when we do what he says; and one of the things he says is that we need be baptized.
Obedience to God’s commandments, or doing what God says, is not the same thing as “works”. Many of God’s commandments in fact involves not doing something, rather than doing anything in particular. “Thou shalt not kill” does not involve “doing” anything, or any kind of “work”. There is a lot more “work” involved in going out and killing somebody, than sitting at home doing nothing. It is about obeying God, not doing some kind of “work” for salvation. “Faith alone” is shot through. It is dead in the water. It is not the gospel that Jesus taught.