Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Theory of an Age of Accountability is...

Intro: Following are the problems with the theory of an age of accountability. Take note that I am not attacking the conclusion of an Age of Accountability (henceforth abbreviated as AOA) as much as its reasoning. An invalid argument can have a true conclusion; however it is still invalid due to faulty logic. Not that I claim that AOA’s conclusion (that children who die before a certain age end up in heaven) is true. I do not know for sure at this point about the eternal destination of all children, however that is not the topic of this article. Below this post you will find a DIFFERENT POST for you to comment about your ideas and opinions on children’s destination, so don’t comment here on it. Instead let’s discuss how AOA is a bad argument. Not all of these points invalidate AOA themselves, some just put chinks in its armor; some of the stronger criticisms, though, are forceful enough to nullify the AOA argument. The fact that there are several problems illustrates just how weak AOA really is.

(I believe that it is important that we specify what AOA is really about, in order to clearly criticize it. The following summary is my own, because as far as I can tell not even those who support AOA have an official definition. If you find one, send me the link/info please. I hope that you can see that the summary, nonetheless, captures the main ideas of the theory.)

AOA summary:
It is not hypothetical but fact that millions of babies and children die before adulthood or even adolescence. It seems that these children die before they reach a level of cognitive ability necessary to understand the salvation process. These children then cannot be held accountable to the requirements of salvation. Because of this, God does not condemn them. They are therefore admitted into heaven.

AOA is non-Biblical
This is one of the easiest problems (at least for me) to identify with AOA. I mean to show that the words, phrase, or concept of AOA is nowhere found within the Bible. Even some proponents of AOA openly admit there is no specific Scripture references. Conversely, ‘love one another’ is explicitly stated and commanded numerous times hence it is Biblical; the word Trinity is not found, but Scripture is ripe with the concept of the Trinity in both Old and New Testaments therefore it too is Biblical. No such luck for AOA; that is, there isn’t even the concept in Scripture. AOA exists only as a human invented ‘doctrine’. For sure, some AOAers use Bible verses, but out of misunderstanding or improper context, and then wrongly infer the concept of AOA. Now the fact that AOA is not mentioned in the Bible does make it non-Biblical (not addressed), but that is not the same as un-Biblical (opposed to). Don’t worry, the following criticisms, nonetheless will illustrate that AOA is opposed to Bible doctrine.

AOA is invalid
Here we see that the argument lacks the necessary evidence to reach part of its conclusion. Any argument that does not support its conclusion is invalid. How does AOA do this? Let’s notice that the conclusion calls for the admittance of children into heaven (implying their salvation). Unfortunately for AOA, there is only one means into heaven, that being faith through grace in Christ’s atoning work. No other key opens heaven’s door and provides salvation. The AOA argument concludes salvation, while nowhere addressing its sole source. It does not and cannot adequately justify its conclusion with its faulty reasoning.

AOA is heresy
This flows from the previous criticism. Instead of recognizing Christ in salvation, AOA proposes that salvation is obtained through a combination of ignorance and youth. Such an idea is heretical to Biblical doctrine. It is a complete perversion of the salvation process. You cannot leave Christ out of a discussion of salvation!

AOA is motive driven
I believe that those who propagate AOA do it mostly (if not solely) from motive instead of using any real facts. Let’s admit AOA is nice, it feels good. Who wants to think about babies going to hell? But just because we wish something to be the case does not actually make it true. Or we also see: I just can’t imagine God being so cruel. Mind you God IS NOT cruel, but He does send people to hell. It seems to follow that God not sending babies to hell in order to be kind would result in Him not sending anyone to hell. So why does God send people to hell? It is the judgment of sin. Who sins, adults only? No, everyone sins. We must surrender our opinions to the authority of God, His plans, and His declarations.

Biblical Evidence against AOA
My denial of AOA is based on several Biblical doctrines that I see as running contrary to AOA. The first of which is salvation through Christ alone.

John 14:6. Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Acts 4:12. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

There’s probably not much need to emphasize this point, true Christians have no problem understanding and accepting this. The problem lies in the fact that AOA doesn’t propagate Christ as the only means to salvation. I haven’t seen nor can foresee how one could include ‘Christ alone’ into AOA without completely destroying the AOA line of reasoning.

The second Biblical doctrine that combats AOA is mankind’s depravity. I believe that all people are sinners regardless of age.

Romans 3:9-19 We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.

Romans 6:17 & 19 …that you who were once slaves of sin…for just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness…

Psalm 51:5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

Psalm 58:3 Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies

Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

1 John 1:8 & 10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

There is enough verbiage in these verses to convince me that the spread of sin is universal. It’s not “some people sin or most people sin”, rather all have sinned. What’s worse is it is not just that we have done sinful actions, but that our very nature has become sinful. We are therefore enslaved/committed to a sinning process (one could say hell bound), until and unless God intervenes and covers our sins with the blood of Christ. Many AOAers for the most part, I assume, would also declare that all men are sinners, but they leave out a crucial next step.

The next doctrine is a necessary complement to the fact that all have sinned. The third Scriptural point I want to make is that people are held responsible or accountable for sin. Accountability is obviously the main point where AOA deviates from what I see in Scripture. Again, AOA could support the fact that all sin, but the theory contends that not all are held accountable to their sin (i.e. babies). But these verses indicate that we are held accountable for sins.

Ezekiel 18:20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.

Proverbs 20:11 Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.

Leviticus 4:2-3 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them: if the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the LORD for a sin offering.

Matthew 12:36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.

Hebrews 9:27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.

John 12:48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.

John 16: 8-11 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Romans 1:18-21 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 2:14-16 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

I don’t see any Scriptural evidence, any loop hole that frees anyone (but Christ) from the condition of sin and the following punishment. I would contend that the concept that men are accountable for their actions is a very important doctrine whether or not you are talking about children or adults. So, God is completely justified in condemning sinners regardless of age, education, race, or gender.

As I wrap up this discussion I would like to let you see into my motivation for writing this post. First, I realize that many people believe in AOA without really thinking about it. When I thought about AOA, I came to see more and more how terrible of a theory it is. I do have an interest when Christians think the wrong things; I want to fix that if I can. So this post is to help bring people’s views back to solid Biblical tenets. Additionally, the problems of AOA fall under the umbrella of soteriology (the study of salvation). And Salvation is a very, very, very important concept to understand correctly, but here I also see that many Christians have a weak understanding. I would hope that most, who didn’t realize the threat that AOA poses to the true method of salvation, would see that danger through this post. I would expect that when it’s boiled down to the obvious choice of (potentially) condemned babies or salvation through Christ alone, all would choose Christ. They just never saw before how AOA circumvented Christ. Also the correct view of salvation brings glory to God, because the true nature of that process inherently magnifies God’s character and works. So God’s glory is another motivation I had in mind.

Lastly, I want to conclude with 2 Timothy 2:19 “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, ‘The Lord knoweth them that are His.’ ” And also John 6:39 “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Up to this point this post could have a negative feel, but I want to use this verse to reverse that idea. I don’t know that all babies, who die, go to hell. I don’t know that all babies, who die, go to heaven. I do know that (through these verses), God saves (through Christ somehow) however many were in His plan to save; and He loses none.


  1. Pretty well thought out. I think the best thing you said was that "God saves". Certainly those who adhere to this notion have to ask themselves why God instructed the Hebrews to kill everyone in many of the cities they conquered. How could He command that? I for one will not speculate why God does anythiing beyond saying that he is sovereign.

    I have not read any of your previous posts but I think this could spring board you into a study of unconditional election, maybe.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    How I wish you would expound on your ideas/comments.

  3. I will try to explain my thoughts, and that in no way implies I am right or wrong. Just thinking.

    1. You said “Up to this point this post could have a negative feel” If the post is true, then I don’t think you need to apologize for what some might perceive as a negative feel, it just is what it is.

    2. You said, “God saves however many were in His plan to save”. Ok, I agree with this, he is certainly sovereign and thus that logic is impossible to dispute.

    3. That being said, if God were to choose everyone to be saved it could have and would.
    I am sure you won’t argue with the could have. But the would have creates a problem as I see it and where it gets negative from our perspective.

    So, where does that leave us? I think, and this is just me, we look to the past.

    1. God certainly did command the destruction of children in the OT.
    2. Does that mean for certain that those infants were bound for hell?
    3. If not, then we have to ask Did God command the destruction of His children?
    4. If yes, then we have to ask what changed between then and now?

    These are questions because I do not know. I really want to guard myself against guessing what God’s will it, I don’t know what motivates him (besides that fact that he is to be glorified).

    So, I would submit that the notion that our salvations occurs before the foundation of the world, and without our work of any kind, is at the very least something to consider. I am certainly no scholar and my logic skills are limited at best so this may be totally wrong thinking. Can’t wait to hear more.


  4. A link I found on the same issue: http://denton.thevillagechurch.net/resource_files/articles/Soteriology/What_is_the_Age_of_Accountability.pdf

  5. Response to Greg:

    1. I’m not apologizing, just addressing the fact that some readers may interpret the post that way. The post never was negative for me.

    2. He is sovereign.

    3. Right, God’s arm is not too short to save any that He chooses. However, He doesn’t save everyone. Regarding your four sub-points I am still unsure of the point being made. About knowing (“guessing”) God’s will, this I know: I can know His will when He tells me it (Scripture); and the book of Romans indicates that there are things God doesn’t enlighten us on, namely the ‘why’ regarding His sovereign choices. Hence I can’t exactly determine which, how many, if any babies will be/are saved. Although, I do know that it can’t be through a Christ-less process such as an age of accountability. Also you said we are saved without any of our work, truth be told, we are saved in spite of all our works- the wages of which is death.

    P.S. Let it be known to others that this isn’t an argument, rather a discussion. Greg and I aren’t being hostile towards each other. We are just trying to learn from one another and also hash out things in our own minds :)

  6. Let me try to reword my 4 points in a better way. Essentially we are trying to tip toe around the concept without saying this is the definitive answer, which is probably wise. The fact is, something does happen to those infant souls. Right? And I am trying to convince you that this whole topic could lead into a deeper study around the topic of unconditional election. So here is my premise.

    The following is a Biblical fact that we both agree with, NO ONE is getting into Heaven without Christ.

    So . . . .

    Scenario 1 The Bible says nothing about the AOA, nor does the Bible say we are saved until the AOA and then we lose it. But humanity, in what I would call an effort to “feel” good about the answer (and lets be honest we don‘t like loose ends), creates a theory that makes sense to our worldly sensibilities whether its Biblical or not. I would say for the purpose of our conversation AOA is not worth further consideration.

    Scenario 2 We can consider theories that are Biblical. Now whether you and I believe that unconditional election is right or not, there certainly are many respected Biblical scholars who can defend the idea with Biblical evidence. I am not going to go into detail about that evidence now since all I am trying to do is convince you and any readers that it is at the very least worth consideration.

    Before I go further I have to admit that there may be other Biblical theories that I am unaware of and would love to hear.

    Hopefully that sets the stage for . . . . .
    1. I don’t question God as to WHY he choose Abraham and did not choose someone else. I am perfectly fine with this fact that God made the choice.
    2. Why then would I refuse to accept the notion that God didn’t choose a close personal friend? The only reason is that I let my will and my sense of justice wrongly get involved (and POSSIBLY that I believe my friend has something in him that plays a part in his own salvation).

    So . . .

    Now we have to ask ourselves a question. Do I believe that I had anything to do with my salvation?
    If so,
    (then I would like to hear about it.) And if so, then it is also very hard to accept the notion that some infants do not get saved. It offends our sense of justice, Why didn‘t that baby get the change to get saved? I think it also goes to our belief that babies are innocent (which they are from a worldly standpoint). Again, I don’t think this is a Biblical conclusion, we are not “saved” up to the point we reach the AOA.

    If not,
    Then, I think, we acknowledge that it is purely by God’s grace for his good pleasure before the foundation of the Earth, not because of anything good in me, you, old or young. This now starts to fit a Biblical model of Christ alone. It does not have to create a new theory to fit our will and sensibilities.

    Kind of rambling in guess, I hope it paints a picture that lead to the conclusion that unconditional election is worth consideration.


  7. Aaron, I haven't checked out the link yet. If I haven't in a week's time, send me a reminder.

    Greg, can I get your definition of unconditional election. It's something I need to read more about. I can, however, at this point say that I believe in election, just not sure about the qualifier unconditional.

  8. First, let me say this, I am from a modern day Baptist background. To get saved one must walk the aisle and pray, or repeat a prayer to get saved. Doesn't it seem like whenever we talk about our salvation it revolves around our praying, or walking the aisle? That is what I have always been taught so the notion that it is wrong is an extreme shock to the system. I will be honest with you. And I am in no way fully convinced, although I am certainly moving in this direction.

    The way I understand it, and the way that the "unconditional" in unconditional elections means just that. God elects us totally for his own reason and his own pleasure. I think it is the Armenians who believe that God looks into the future and subsequently elects us based on something he sees in us in the future (i hope i am not misrepresenting that). I gave this strong considerations too but with more thought it really feels wrong to me. Partially because our rightousness is filthy rags, partially because upon salvation our rightousness is Christs (imputed to us so its nothing good in us) and partially because of the idea that God is no respecter of persons.

    So that brought me to this unconditional election, and it is still not without questions. However, there are certainly more acceptable answers to me.

  9. Aaron, thanks for the link, it was a short read.

    It makes me wonder if I emphasized enough the fact that we are both sinful and sinners. By that I mean, we are by nature disobedient or in essence (I guess) and that we all commit specific acts that deserve condemnation. This applies to all mankind.

    Geoff Ashley seems to reach the same conclusion as me: salvation of babies is possible, but not through an age of accountability.

  10. I really appreciate the point that AOA leads to God saving some based on age, which would be a condition, violating unconditional election. I think that remembering that salvation is being united to Christ in His death and resurrection, thereby imputing the elect's sins to Him and His righteousness to the elect can instruct us on how the working out of how God could elect babies or children is possible. Not that He does, but He could.

  11. Also, for a bit of discussion on unconditional election, I hereby shamelessly plug myself: http://adraines.blogspot.com/2009/08/rejoicing-in-romans-8-in-light-of.html

  12. Greg, I can consent to unconditional election as you state: God elects us totally for his own reason and his own pleasure. I assume you are aware that unconditional election is part of a Calvinistic theology and part of the TULIP acronym. I'm not too read up on Calvinism, however, in that same vein I have read and do recommend Martin Luther's "Bondage of the Will"

  13. From what I understand about Calvinism is quite compelling. What I like about it is also what I don't like about it.

    I think that the tulip (again from my understanding) was not developed by Calvin. In other words, he developed the concepts thru his reading of the scriptures but didn't name them after himself. I think that the Tulip is very focused on Christ and Christ alone. It does not consider our sensitivities which is a bit refreshing in this "me" culture we live in. There is an interesting topic or two you should google. You may very well be familiar with one or both.
    1. the 5 solas
    2. ordo salutis

    i think there are a few slight variations of ordo salutis but they are very thought provoking and I found them to be compelling as well.

    God Bless