What Is it?
The age of accountability in Christian circles is a belief that a child is not responsible for his sins until he gets older and therefore either can’t or doesn’t need to get saved. It is the supposed, mystical age when a child finally knows right from wrong and can make willful choices to sin or not to sin. It is the belief that up to this time they can die and go to heaven up without ever having a salvation experience because they aren’t responsible yet for their sins, which is frequently taught to be 12 yrs of age. (The founder of Child Evangelism Fellowship, Jesse Overholzter, started his ministry because he was denied salvation as a child based on this unbiblical concept.)
Can Children Perish?
But in Matthew 18 Jesus makes it very clear that children can perish when he talks about leaving the ninety-nine sheep and going after the one. He clearly states his father in heaven is not willing that any of these “little ones” can perish. If they can perish, they can be saved. Earlier in Matthew 18 Jesus makes it clear that to get into heaven we must become as little children, as opposed to children coming as adults. This seems to affirm that according to Jesus children can, in fact, be saved before the age of 12.
The age of accountability was invented to get all babies into heaven, based on their innocence, because what preacher wants to give a funeral for a child and tell grieving parents the baby didn’t make it heaven? Only a monster would do that. No parent could stand the horrific thought of their child being lost for eternity, so there needed to be a solution. So since Scripture seemed to silent on this, man made this up.
The age of accountability originated in the same way baptism of infants, baptism by sprinkling, baptism by pouring, baptism of desire, baptism of blood, baptism for the dead, private baptism, and intrauterine baptism originated, by swallowing the false premise that baptism is necessary for salvation. If one believes that baptism saves people, then this is their strong argument. But this is not verified by Scripture. Baptism is extremely important to our walk with God, and to identify with Christ in obedience to the Word of God. But it does not secure our salvation according to scripture. Only confessing Christ as Lord and the sacrifice of His blood does that. So infant baptism only works if you believe otherwise. We are looking for what the Bible says, as it has to be the standard for our beliefs, not man’s opinion.
Once a person believes baptism is necessary for salvation, logical gymnastics will follow. Many children historically died in infancy or childhood, so baptism of infants was invented. Immersion can be difficult, so affusion (pouring) or aspersion (sprinkling) was invented.
Miscarriages happen to many women, so intrauterine baptism was invented for women. Because water may not be available for baptism, baptism of desire is done by faith only. Because water may not be available for baptism, baptism of blood is done by martyrdom. A baby may be dying, so private baptism without any parental approval was invented.
But Babies Can’t Sin!
Paul taught that sin and death passed on all from Adam, even over those between Adam and Moses who did not have the Law, even babies and others without any laws (Rom 5:12-14). Does it say: Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men [except babies and small children]…?
People often argue that babies can’t sin, and small children don’t know what they are doing from a sinful standpoint, so how can they be considered sinners deserving of spiritual death? But this comes from a basic lack of understanding of the cover to cover biblical plan of salvation, all the way from the Old Testament animal sacrifices to the Cross. Since Adam we have a sin nature. It is that nature that separates us from God, not individual acts of sin. It is the sin nature that needs to be covered by the blood of Christ and redeemed.
Consider These Scriptures:
All die in Adam. When are we in Adam (I Cor 15:22)? At conception. Does it say: For as in Adam all die [except babies and small children], even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
David declared he was conceived in sin and shaped in iniquity in his mother’s womb, which indicates an age of accountability would be nine months before birth, or at conception (Psalm 51:5)
David further declared that the wicked go astray morally right from birth (Ps 58:3). “These wicked people are born sinners; even from birth they have lied and gone their own way.”
Nothing born of a woman can be clean before God, for all are sinners (Job 25:4-6; 15:14-16).
Children are responsible for their actions and to be judged according to them. “Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right” (Prov 20:11).
God was challenged by Abraham to save Sodom and Gomorrah if there were at least ten righteous people living there. If we believe children are innocent of sin, He could have saved Sodom for all the “innocent” children, but He did not (Genesis 18:32)! Surely there were more than ten innocent babies and toddlers there, which would have stayed their execution.
The character of man, without any regard for age or mental ability, is entirely corrupt and under the reigning power of sin and death according to Scripture. (Rom 3:9-18; 5:19-20; Eph 2:1-3; Titus 3:3).
Salvation is based entirely on the good pleasure of God’s own will, not on age or any other factor of human character or action (John 1:13; Rom 9:15-16; Eph 1:3-12; II Tim 1:9; etc.).
Men are accountable even for sins of ignorance, as under Moses (Num 15:28; Ps 19:12-13).
No one is saved by age.
Salvation is only by the free grace of God in the choice of His will for the praise of His glory, so any scheme allowing sinners into heaven apart from God’s would sadly have to be false (John 1:13; Rom 3:23; 9:15-16; Eph 1:3-12; II Tim 1:9; Titus 3:3-7; etc.).
I have heard many stories from people who have gone to heaven and seen babies there. How they got there based on scripture, I don’t know. If we believe that all doctrine, and beliefs for Christians have to be confirmed in scripture, and not based on individual experience apart from Scripture, then I don’t know of any Scripture that says innocent babies are going to go to heaven or one that even remotely implies a concept such as the age of accountability. In fact, throughout the Old Testament (before Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins) babies and children were destroyed along with their parents when God’s judgment fell on cities and nations.
The flip side of those who have seen babies in heaven through their own experience, I have never heard of someone who went to hell and came back say they saw babies or children there. Again, that is human experience, apart from Scriptural confirmation. But it is hopeful!
It is perhaps one of the more hideous reasons Satan so promotes abortion.
Scripture Is Silent in Some Ways
I also want to desperately believe a loving God would never be so harsh as to do the unthinkable to an innocent baby—especially the unborn. It is so frustrating when scripture is silent on some things, and this is one of them.
The purpose of the post was not so grieving parents of babies and toddlers would be thrown into despair. It was to try to confront the religious spirit that makes the Church so lethargic in reaching children with the gospel and taking them seriously as disciples, which is my ongoing message to the believers.
Aborted Babies in Heaven
I have a couple of books (Six Big, Big, Big Angels and Big Angels and Flaming Horses) about a 6-year-old Christian girl who was taken to heaven on many occasions, and she would talk incessantly about the aborted babies she met there. She was so insistent, that she made her grandmother, who home-schooled her, set extra chairs and tables in their homemade classroom so those children could join them. She insisted they be named, since their earthly parents had not done so, and spoke of their personalities, looks, etc. Her parents had never ever talked about aborted babies in her presence. But she understood clearly why they were in Heaven.
These were not “invisible playmates” that we associate with the occult. This was a solid, spirit-filled Christian-well-grounded-in-the-word family, well-respected among many famous preachers I know. So I trust that they are telling the truth according to their experience. Yet we have no scriptural basis to stand on, so we just can’t make a doctrine out of it—not if we want to base doctrine on scripture, which is the foundation of Christianity. We can’t make a doctrine out of our experiences.
We Can Only See in Part…
I don’t know the answers. I want to desperately believe there is something about a secret pass into heaven for babies and toddlers that we don’t know about. But the “doctrine” of the age of accountability has actually kept hundreds of thousands of kids, who wanted to get saved, away from the gospel by well-meaning parents and preachers who thought they were too young to need it, or to understand what they were doing.
So which way do we kick this can? I purposely didn’t say anything about babies in my original Facebook post on this topic, because I know too many parents who have lost the little ones. I would never in a million years tell them their innocent baby is lost. I don’t want to believe it myself! But I do feel a responsibility is to crush the sacred cows that keep our older kids away from the Master, and that was the original purpose of the post.
I’m not going to be adamant because there is so much we don’t know this side of heaven. I am only sharing what I see in Scripture. You have to draw your own conclusions. If you, as a parent or grandparent, feel you have a word from the Lord about your child being in heaven, then hang on to that Word! There is much we don’t understand here. We still see through a glass darkly. On this side of heaven we only see in part…..
Since writing this original article a few years ago, I have recently had quite a few people bring this up to me again (in 2020). So I want to add some additional information I recently published in my video lesson Kids as a Mission Field which is part of Level One of my School of Supernatural Children’s Ministry. I write:
Kids are Automatically Saved until Age 12 -?
Nobody knows for sure where the age of 12 was decided on. Some have suggested that it might have something to do with the Jewish age when children went through their passage to adulthood at the time of their bar mitzvahs or bat mitzvahs. In Jewish culture at age 13 a boy or girl becomes a legal adult and is then legally responsible for own misdoings. Before the child reaches bar mitzvah age, parents hold the legal responsibility for their child’s actions, just as it is the case here in most countries. Traditionally, at the ceremony the father of the bar mitzvah gives thanks to God that he is no longer punished for the child’s sins. But this not based in scripture, but in the Jewish Talmud and mishmash (or the oral Torah.) And the reference is for legal punishment, not eternal punishment for one’s sins culminating in eternal death.
Others have suggested that it was linked to the origin of baby baptisms centuries ago which started in about the 3rd century after Christ. It was thought if a baby died not having the intelligent capacity to acknowledge his sins and thus a savior, that baptizing them in water was equivalent to their salvation.
We’re not going to get into a deep dive on this doctrine right now, but we assume the majority of those taking this class do not believe in baby baptism. And if you want to know more about what we believe on this, check out my video on YouTube called “Is it okay to water baptize children?“
What About the Babies?
However, this does leave the question about what happens to babies when they die, such as in the case miscarriages, and abortions, etc. There is only one passage of scripture that gives insight into this.
The context of 2 Samuel 12:21–23. Is that king David committed adultery with Bathsheba, with a resulting pregnancy. The prophet Nathan was sent by the lord to inform David that, because of his sin, the lord would take the child in death. David responded to this by grieving and praying for the child. But once the child was taken, David’s mourning ended.
David’s servants were surprised to hear this. They said to king David, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” David’s response was, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ but now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
David seemed to be comforted by this knowledge. In other words, David seemed to be saying that he would see his baby son (in heaven), though he could not bring him back. But where did he get this idea? It is not represented anywhere in the Old Testament besides this. Was it hopeful thinking on David’s part or did he have a word form the Lord? We will never know.
Because this is the only scripture that seems to imply this, it is a subject about which we should not be adamant or dogmatic. All we can surmise is God’s applying Christ’s death to those who cannot believe would seem consistent with his love and mercy.
There is a very well thought out article written by Tim Challies called “What Happens When Children Die.” For the most part his conclusions are the same as mine, however he has dug in a little deeper in various religious camps. His article covers three basic viewpoints:
The predominant views found amongst most believers are:
All children who die in infancy are saved.
If one view holds an edge on the others in terms of the quantity of adherents, this would likely be it. While all admit the Bible is not explicit in stating that all who die in infancy are saved, they believe it can be deduced from a study of relevant passages in Scripture.
The children of believers are saved.
This view, held by a minority of believers, depends on covenant theology which would put it at odds with many believers. This view indicates, then, that the children of most, if not all unbelievers, are reprobate.
We can have no assurance
This view simply states that there is not sufficient evidence in Scripture to make a firm determination. Eventually we must simply state that we do not know and leave it to God to work out.
Unbaptized infants are not saved while baptized infants may be
This is the view of the Roman Catholic church and Protestant denominations which teach some form of baptismal regeneration. Because this view clashes with the beliefs of the vast majority of Protestants I will not address it at this time, for it would require in-depth understanding of the Catholic doctrines regarding baptism.