Saturday, April 21, 2007

Pope and the baby issue

The Pope and the catholic church have been grappling with the issue of whether babies go to heaven or not before they're baptized. Apparently this is in response to many catholic women who are concerned about all the aborted babies in the world. This isn't a small or unemotional issue, and I feel for all those mothers who worry about that sort of thing. Thinking about a small helpless infant suffering for eternity isn't a happy thought.
But neither is the limp-wristed response from the Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI has reversed centuries of traditional Roman Catholic teaching on limbo, approving a Vatican report released Friday that says there were "serious" grounds to hope that children who die without being baptized can go to heaven.
The article never mentions what the "serious grounds" happen to be. I'm wondering if the Pope even said anything to back that statement up.
Let's start with the church's previous position on this matter.
Although Catholics have long believed that children who die without being baptized are with original sin and thus excluded from heaven, the Church has no formal doctrine on the matter. Theologians, however, have long taught that such children enjoy an eternal state of perfect natural happiness, a state commonly called limbo, but without being in communion with God.
For a moment leave aside the concept, unbiblical that it is, that baptism is what gets you into heaven, and focus on that completely idiotic belief that survived for centuries known as "limbo." The main problem with the Catholic church (and all my other criticism of that Christian sect flows out of this) is that they hold too much to church traditions and can't seem to bring themselves to reverse that in the face of actual Biblical truth. Go ahead, try and find some reference to anything that might be construed as "limbo" in the Bible. Anywhere.
The other thing that makes that statement inane is the idea that it's possible to exist in a state of perfect natural happiness without being in communion with God. God IS love. God IS happiness. Being without communion with God is the Biblical definition of hell. The church has long just sugar-coated this issue in an attempt to avoid dealing with the horrible state of man's soul and the truth that some good people (as the world defines good) are going to spend an eternity in a very UNhappy place.
"If there's no limbo and we're not going to revert to St. Augustine's teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we're left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace," said the Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. "Baptism does not exist to wipe away the "stain" of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church," he said in an e-mailed response.
A voice of reason within the church. Notably it's from a scholar in the United States, where people are not afraid to disagree with the Vatican. What people should get from this statement, which is basically true for protestants as well, is that baptism is not the thing that guarantees heavenly entrance and therefore has nothing to do with the state of an infant's soul. And he's also right that the Vatican's only other option is grace for all babies, which is also unbiblical.
The document traces centuries of Church views on the fate of unbaptized infants, paying particular attention to the writings of St. Augustine — the 4th century bishop who is particularly dear to Benedict. Augustine wrote that such infants do go to hell, but they suffer only the "mildest condemnation." In the document, the commission said such views are now out of date and there were "serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision." It stressed, however, that "these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge." No one can know for certain what becomes of unbaptized babies since Scripture is largely silent on the matter, the report said.
Largely silent? Hardly. One needs only a cursory reading to know that faith in Jesus as our Savior is the only thing that really allows heavenly entrance. However, there is one verse that speaks to this issue very directly. 1 Corinthians 7:14.
For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
Paul is saying that your children are sanctified through you if you are a believer. I can't think that it could be any clearer, do you? Now, this does mean that children of non-believers might not be covered. Really, one has to wonder how religious "experts" at the center of one of the worlds largest religious denominations failed to bring this up. Are they actually ignorant bureaucrats or are they purposefully keeping this verse silent for some reason?
I find the Vatican response to this issue disturbing. It's as if they're truly afraid to actually voice Biblical truth in public for fear of driving people away.

Update: OK, I've talked with some friends and members of my church family who wanted me to clarify my points, as they got the impression, not without reason, that I'm saying that most babies are damned or something. I didn't mean that, but the misunderstanding is reasonable. Also, they, including my pastor, put up a significant argument for the hope of salvation for all unborn babies which I can't really ignore. I was a bit hasty in my condemnation of the Pope's position being that I'm generally skeptical of most things that emit from the Vatican. I'll try and follow this up with an additional post.

Update: Follow up post now available.

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