How do Evangelicals understand “holy children” in 1 Corinthians 7:14, with respect to children dying in infancy?
This is a passage where Evangelicals differ, and where Reformed Evangelicals differ amongst themselves. I use the term “Reformed” in the sense of someone who believes in the Doctrines of Grace which most of the Reformers believed but which today is most closely linked with John Calvin. There are Reformed Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists.
Calvin himself taught the Presbyterian form of Church Government. He also taught that the Covenant of Grace included that the children and babies of believers should be baptised. He took this idea from the circumcision of the people of the Covenant in the OT.
Baptists reject this part of Calvin’s beliefs and only baptise people on their own profession of faith. Baptists would hold that Calvin imported too much of the Old Testament Covenant with the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into the New Covenant for all nations. (Baptists would take issue with some of the things Calvin wrote in “The Institutes of the Christian Religion”, Book 2 and chapters 10 and 11, covering the similarities and differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament.)
I am only going to answer this from the Evangelical Reformed Baptist point of view.
The first thing to note of the verse is the context. It might be difficult to convincingly hit the nail on the head as it were as to the primary purpose of Paul in the chapter. (Is it about submitting to God’s providence?) The immediate context is about how a Christian should treat his/her marriage to an unbeliever: if the unbeliever is happy to remain married then do not seek a divorce.
One thing is certain: the context has absolutely nothing to do with infant salvation. There are those who try to extract something about the doctrine of infant salvation with respect to the children of a believing parent from the verse, but it is actually a sign that they are rather clutching at straws to look here for evidence for this belief. Indeed they clutch at straws when they claim to have found evidence from anywhere in the New Testament, or even anywhere in the whole Bible for this belief. Brethren, sorry to be so blunt, but that is the way a Baptist sees it!
I believe strongly in the doctrine of infant salvation, but not for the children of believers only, but for all babies and infants everywhere. As for the age of discretion for each one, we leave this with our gracious God.
The sermon by C. H. Spurgeon, “Infant Salvation”, is online here https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/infant-salvation/#flipbook/
For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Cor 7:14, ESV)
If this verse is primarily concerned with keeping the peace and submitting to the providence of God what is this verse possibly saying? Dr Peter Masters, a leading defender of the Reformed Baptist position in the UK and to some extent worldwide through his church’s magazine “The Sword and Trowel” has proposed a translation of the verse:
“For the unbelieving husband is set apart for the wife, and the unbelieving wife is set apart for the husband. Otherwise your children would be illegitimate, but as it is, they are legitimate.”
The idea here is that the husband is not made holy, sanctified in any religious sense, but that God has “set them apart” to be the husband/wife of the believer. “Sanctified” has the idea of “setting apart” for holy use: God has set the unbelieving spouse apart for the believer, and because God thus legitimises the marriage therefore the children are legitimate also.
A believing parent has no Biblical warrant for believing there is any stigma attached to the children because one of their parents is an unbeliever.
Essentially believers are not to try to divorce their unbelieving spouses purely on the grounds they are unbelievers.
Let there be peace in, and submission to, the providence of God.