The following podcast was inspired by a parenting Q&A from the Michiana Reforming Families Conference. Aaron M. Brewster and Anthony Silvestro join Andrew Rappaport to discuss the Age of Accountability.
Q: To all speakers. Is there such a thing as an age of accountability? If not, how should that affect our parenting.
Aaron Brewster: My wife and I talked about this early on. It is a really hard question. If there is no age of accountability, does that mean a child who dies in a miscarriage is going to Hell? If someone is predisposed to having miscarriages, would it be wicked and sinful for them to be having children if there is no age of accountability? That is not necessarily a biblical answer, but it is–no doubt–something couples have argued about and struggle with. The question is a really important one. The Scriptures give us enough information to where we can be confident there is an age of accountability. So, as an example, most people point to the passage where David’s son with Bathsheba died. He made the observation that he will go to be with his son. Some people say this is referring to David eventually going to die and be with his son, yet David used this as an argument as to why he should not mourn. There is a little bit more there than “he is dead and I am going to die too.”
Another passage is Isaiah 7:15, “He will eat curds and honey by the time he knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. Before he knows enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land two kings which you dread will be forsaken.” This passage indicates that there is a time when children know when to choose right from wrong. Salvation is always by grace through faith. It is a work that God does though us. I have no problem telling a couple they will see their child again in eternity.
Andrew: I’ll give an answer then let Anthony Silvestro be the tie breaker. I disagree with Aaron. You already know this. I don’t think there is an age of accountability. Let me preface it by saying we have lost a child in the womb. I do not think Scripture gives us enough information to say whether or not a child in the womb or outside of the womb is or is not saved. I will throw in people with mental disabilities or people without enough mental capacity to make a decision. I would put them all in a category where I would say we just do not know. One Issue I have with the age of accountability is the idea there are there two ways of salvation. One of the issues we had on apologetics live was the age of accountability tied to a sin nature. Because if the child has a sin nature, have they sinned? I would personally argue that a child crying for milk is an act of selfishness. Well, we might think that there is nothing wrong with that. We may accept that. It still is a selfish act. Are they aware of it? Well, none of us remember. So my issue is that God saves us one way. John the Baptist was able to recognize Mary’s voice while still in the womb. Scripture tells us this. So, we don’t know what the child has the capability of knowing while God is working in them. God works through us to being us a knowledge of repentance. He does that work, and I believe He could do that in the womb, He could do that outside of the womb. He could do that with a child, an adult, and a person with a mental disability. He is the same God working in us for salvation to bring us to repentance. So I don’t think there is an age of accountability. I think God can save very young children. That doesn’t mean I can go baptizing them. I would wait to see if there is some sort of evidence of fruit, maybe. The example with David, I see as a Jewish idiom, as you had mentioned, Aaron, it means that I can go to death, he cannot go back to life. Even if that wasn’t a Jewish idiom, we were told by prophesy this child would die. I think it is arguing from silence that he knows that therefore we all know that. All of us don’t know our child is going to die within a certain period of time from judgement based upon what we had done. You bring up other verses; however, we do not have enough time to deal with those. I am not going to say all children who die will go to Hell. I am not Presbyterian. I do not believe that children have to be baptized to enter into the covenant, or they are saved by their parents profession, or their covenant family’s perspective. So I will have to appeal to the mercy and wisdom of God, who knows all things better than me, and so either way God knows what he is doing and will handle it rightly. I am just not is the position where I can be the most comfortable. I just don’t know and I cannot say either way. That is coming from someone who has lost a baby. Maybe Anthony Silvestro will come up with a third way.
Anthony Silvestro: Well as you know Andrew, we have suffered numerous miscarriages after our one and only son, and my wife and I have had this discussion many times. So, I have a bias. On the one hand, I want to believe that all of my children are in heaven right now. On the other hand, I also know that in the Scriptures there is nothing clear that says there is an age of accountability. So the position I take is that God really does care about children. We see Jesus speaking about children numerous times in the gospels and that God is good. So I trust God that He is good and that He loves His children and I am going to look at it in the most positive light possible. I think the take home message for this is I would never counsel someone who has lost a child whether it is a young child, or miscarriage, still in the womb, I would never counsel them and say your child is probably in Hell today, or I am not really sure what to believe. That I think really is the take home message. We cannot speak to that.
Andrew: There is another part of this question that none of us really answered. How does it affect our parenting. For me I don’t think it affects my parenting either way. I don’t know does it affect your parenting for either of you, whether you believe or not in the age of accountability?
Anthony: I would hope we have a plan for discipling our children from a very early age. So it is not like we should be lackadaisical in our disciplining until our kid is eleven or twelve years old and say, “Oh the age of accountability is in a year, we better really hammer down on our teaching.” I don’t think it has affected me at all in that.
Aaron: I think it does. It really does. Here is why. Well, first of all I will say that, John MacArthur does hold the position that I hold. He does say that there is an age of accountability but that there isn’t a consistent age. He argues that it really depends on the maturity of the child. Which I think is a really great point. I would say that it definitively does [affect our parenting]. Obviously, I am doing everything I can to keep my six month old alive. However, if I think there is a chance my six month old is going to die and go to Hell versus go to heaven, then … Well there are parents who throw their children up in the air. There is no way I would throw my child up in the air if I believed there is a chance they would die and go to Hell. There is a whole bunch of stuff I would not have done. Not that it is not inherently safe, but because of the weight of reality that if this child dies, that is it. Man, oh, man, I could see how parents could become reclusive and put their children into a bubble; because babies die. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome happens all the time and so forth. The weight of that responsibility to keep that child physically safe, lest they slip into a Christless eternity–that weight becomes far greater on a person if they are being honest, those who does not believe in an age of accountability. Now, I wasn’t in that position. I wasn’t afraid because I trusted God’s sovereignty, but also in the back of my mind that comforting thought that, God forbid, a terrible travesty would occur, I have more hope in that moment than I would otherwise.
Andrew: I don’t know. My wife still thinks all children come to heaven, and she still wouldn’t let me throw my kids up in the air. The only one I could think of on the negative side is Andrea Yates. She is a Mormon. Mormons believe the age of accountability is at the age of eight, and she killed all of her children because her seven-year-old–she saw him sinning and she wanted her children go to heaven. So, in her mind an act of love would be to kill all six of her children. Don’t follow her advice. That is not a good reason to say there is no age of accountability because of what she did. I just do not see it in Scripture.
There were many more questions answered by the brilliant panelists. Please feel free to check out the rest of the podcast on the Rapp Report.
Furthermore, if you want more biblical resources on studying the Scriptures, check out the store at strivingforeternity.org/store. There are also a lot of other articles on the website to encourage you to dive deeper into God’s Word. Please also check out Apologetics Live at ApologeticsLive.com, where Andrew Rappaport, Dr. Anthony Silvestro, and Justin Pierce answer your questions and teach you how to defend the faith. It is on from 8pm – 10pm EST. Also, do not forget to check out the Rapp Report, where you can hear the teaching of Andrew Rappaport and the Christian Podcast Community. Lord bless you.