1The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 For learning about wisdom and instruction,
for understanding words of insight,
3 for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to teach shrewdness to the simple,
knowledge and prudence to the young—
5 let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
and the discerning acquire skill,
6 to understand a proverb and a figure,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
6Train children in the right way,
and when old, they will not stray.
Raising a Child in Faith Part 1
The Devastating Effect of Medieval Theology Leading to Modern Superstition
Pastor: “Why do you want to have your baby baptized?”
Parent: “So that they won’t go to Hell if they die.”
Sad to say, this is a typical opening conversation that takes place when I meet with parents in baptismal planning. It is a response that continues to shock me no matter how often I hear it because it stands as strong proof of how the superstitions of the Medieval Era continue to find their way into the understandings of modern culture.
It's also shocking to me because it make me wonder just how it is that people envision the God that we Christians worship. Is this really the kind of God people think we worship; a God who condemns poor infants to the fires of Hell simply because they didn’t live long enough to have a baptismal service? It makes me cringe! I am sure it's not a pleasant thought for the parents either; to consider their beloved child suffering damnation. That such thinking persists to today is terribly unfortunate.
However, to be fair, it is the Church's fault (the early church Fathers in particular) when it comes to this modern misconception. Indeed modern culture didn't just create this type of thinking, rather it stems from Church history.
While difficult to pinpoint the exact starting point of this subject, (and please understand there are many facets and background issues behind the information that follows which cannot be simplified into a brief article) it seems to be that:
Around the 4th Century (301ce-400ce) that the precise fate of unbaptized babies became a significant topic of theological discussion. Into this conversation stepped St. Augustine, a strong proponent of the concept of Original Sin (that we are all born fallen). He made the logical argument that if all babies are born stained by sin and if baptism is understood as necessary for salvation, then it must follow that unless baptized, even babies must go to hell. Of course St. Augustine was not totally heartless and he taught that Infants did not suffer the worst torments of hell, but instead found themselves only mildly uncomfortable.
As time moved forward (some 800 years) theological discussion over the fate of unbaptized babies again came into vogue and in the 12th and 13th centuries’ French theologian Peter Abelard and Dominican Friar St. Thomas Aquinas helped develop a new theory. They argued that deceased unbaptized babies were in an intermediate state of existence; not suffering the fires of hell, nor experiencing the full presence of God, but rather placed in a middle ground of natural happiness that they called “Limbo.”
(SIDE NOTE - Limbo is not to be confused with Purgatory which is defined as a time of purification for those who “die in God's grace and friendship, but are still imperfectly purified.”
Though Purgatory is often thought of as a physical place, it is better understood as a process. Both concepts of Purgatory and Limbo, while likely meant as pastoral care opportunities, ended up being greatly abused for the sake of financial gain through the selling of indulgences from the 12th to the 16th century.)
Now neither Augustine’s view (unbaptized babies go to Hell) nor the views of Abelard and Aquinas (unbaptized babies go to Limbo) were totally convincing to everyone; indeed many priests and church leaders believed a variety of positions on the fate of unbaptized babies. However, the popularity of their views grew significant enough to become the somewhat unofficial teachings of the Roman Catholic church and because of this, the idea of unbaptized babies going to Hell or Limbo traveled far and wide into the general culture. This is why to this very day, that there remain modern families who worry that if their babies die before they are baptized that the children will go to Hell or Limbo. (Note- Orthodox Christians and the later Protestant Christians rejected the concepts of Limbo and Purgatory)
Now, for what it’s worth, and to be fair to modern Catholicism, Pope Benedict XVI (who personally rejected the theological concept of Limbo) authorized the Roman Catholic Church's International Theological Commission on April 22, 2007 to publish the document: “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized.” This document stated, amongst other things, that "The idea of Limbo, which the Church has used for many centuries to designate the destiny of infants who die without Baptism, has no clear foundation in revelation, even though it has long been used in traditional theological teaching. Moreover, the notion that infants who die without Baptism are deprived of the beatific vision (perfect salvation - ed.), which has for so long been regarded as the common doctrine of the Church, gives rise to numerous pastoral problems, so much so that many pastors of souls have asked for a deeper reflection on the ways of salvation."
Recognizing the theological and pastoral problem with these Medieval views, the Roman Catholic church (thanks to Pope Benedict XVI) did ultimately take an official step to address the issue, but as it is with many things in the church, it takes a long time to dispel old understandings in light of new knowledge and revelation.
With all that said, it is my first hope in sharing this knowledge with you that it will not only enlighten you, but also give you the insight to see how Christianity is more than a Religion (a dogmatic set of rules and rituals) but it is primarily a Faith (a changing and growing experience through revelation from God).
My second hope is that you will appreciate the fact that we in the Lutheran church do not baptize babies because we fear for their mortal souls, but rather because it is a mark and reminder of the fact that GOD ALREADY LOVES THEM!!!
And this is why in those tragic cases of miscarriages, still-births, and infant deaths that, in the midst of deep grief, we nevertheless remain confident that such children are truly in the heavenly presence of God who knew them before they were even born (Jeremiah 1:5) and who always welcomes them with open arms (Matthew 19:14).
Hindsight being 20/20, it could be that we would find ourselves in an overall better place theologically today if our ancestors would have pushed more for Baptism (infant or otherwise) to be seen as a gift from a loving God rather than focus on it as a strict requirement for personal salvation.
Yet the good news remains....we are all still learning.
Your brother in Christ,
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Rev. Michael Ware
2016 Lent Information
7:45 & 10:15 a.m. every Sunday; Sunday Church School 9 a.m. for all ages; Communion on the first and second Sundays at both services and the first Saturday evening of the month at 5:30 p.m., and all festival Sundays.
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