What do Protestant churches teach about the fate of deceased infants?
Although this subject can be woven into the various doctrines of infant baptism, most Protestants would look to a biblical basis for their doctrine. The only verse that comes close to describing a specific teaching on this describes David’s reaction to the loss of his son;
2 Samuel 12:23 But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him
back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.
Here there is a degree of uncertainty if David is describing death and the grave or the resurrected state.
Without a specific verse describing a clear and specific doctrine, we enter the arena of derived doctrine. This is always a little tricky and one should tred carefully.
We know that because of sin everything that lives must die.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is
eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We know that after death comes judgment;
Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after
this the judgment:
The question becomes what judgment is made of those who were too young to understand what they did (what has been called the age of accountability). We do get an idea that there are circumstances where God withholds judgment;
Acts 17:29-30 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought
not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone,
graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God
winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
We do know that God judges those who reject the revelation of him in nature;
Romans 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the
world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,
even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Here we get an idea that if the eternal power and Godhead were not discernible (which would be the case for infants) that there might be an “excuse”.
Some advance the idea that there are those “elect” from the womb who are saved by virtue of their election. These often cite David as an example of this condition.
Psalm 22:9-10 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou
didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts. I was cast
upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's belly.
These would view that some are saved by virtue of their election. However this view implies the condemnation of those who are not elect. This view gains support also from David;
Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as
soon as they be born, speaking lies.
There are basically three views;
- All go to hell. In this view because of the pervasive nature of original sin all infants are guilty and worthy of condemnation. Some might be saved by baptism or become old enough to understand their need of a Savior and trust in Jesus but otherwise they have no hope. This view is somewhat modified if one considers that hell might not be as eternal as one thinks (the definition of the Greek “aion” can be quite variable) and that judgment is proportional to works;
Revelation 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and
death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were
judged every man according to their works.
Some are saved. In this view there is a reason for some infants to be saved (such as election). However, others are still destined for hell.
All are saved. In this view judgment is not made for those who were unable to be responsible. This view gains support from Jesus;
John 9:41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no
sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.
Most churches would teach that infants who die before an age of accountability would be saved. This view would be derived from verses that testify to the mercy and goodness of God. Even without verses that spell out the specifics and mechanism by which and why this happens, most would trust in the mercy and goodness of God.