Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What happens when babies die before baptism?

I recently visited a family who lost twins at 20 weeks after conception. It was probably the hardest visit I have ever done. What made it even harder was that it was family. The positive part of the experience was that the babies were baptized during their 40 minutes alive and their tiny foreheads had the mark of Christ.

Yet, what happens when babies are stillborn, miscarried, or even worse, aborted? These are tough situations and ones that we do not have a direct answer from Matthew 29 :-(. Here are the basics that we know from Scripture:

1) All of us are born and conceived sinful (Psalm 51:5) and have no hope unless God intervenes.
2) God intervenes by the power of the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and gives us faith (I Corinthians 12:3)
3) God uses baptism as a physical tool to give faith for regeneration and the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, I Peter 3:21)

What this means is that our hope is always on God and His work. When a child is baptized after birth, we have the physical reminder that God has worked through it. So get the children baptized ASAP. Yet, when a child dies before baptism, we depend on God being with children in the womb (Luke 1:41) and loving all people through the blood of Christ. That is all we know and can trust in at that point.

May we remember our baptisms and trust in God's grace to the situations that are not quite so clear. Lord have mercy.


Brian Yamabe said...

Pastor Finnern,
Thank you for simply reminding us what God says. As a parent who has lost children through miscarriage I have never found comfort in those who spin tales about how they proclaimed the Gospel to their children in utero by singing hymns and reading the Bible. I have never found Gospel in those stories only Law. I didn't do those things with those children, have I thus condemned them to eternal separation from God. No, I cling to your words of Gospel trusting in God's love for all people through the blood of Christ.

Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Pr. Finnern & Brian,

Baptism is our comfort because of the Gospel. It is God’s Word of promise that makes Baptism efficacious. It is the Word that is joined to the water to make it a Baptism of salvation, of forgiveness, of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Ghost. We know this because the Holy Spirit has recorded it for us in the Holy Scriptures.

The Scriptures are not silent regarding those who are born of believing parents. The Luke 1:41 passage that you quote, Pr. Finnern, is of comfort for the exact opposite reason that you state. The Holy Spirit was with John in the womb because of the Word of promise. There is absolutely no comfort in a nebulous hope based upon something that God has NOT promised, namely, being present with children in the womb. God has never promised this.

He has, however, promised that He is the Word and wherever the Word is, God is. Thus, for believing parents who regularly partake of the divine service and the Holy Communion, who regularly pray together, who regularly confess the faith together, the Word is present and is at work accomplishing all that God has sent it forth to do.

Faith is the product of the preaching of the Gospel. Faith is the means by which salvation is imparted to sinners. For unborn children of parents whose faith is alive and at work in them, the children do hear the Gospel preached and God has promised salvation through this means to all who believe.

This is no different than salvation belonging to the female believers of the Old Testament, for they were saved as members of the household of faith even though they could not be circumcised. Give this the consideration that it is due. Only the males of the household were circumcised and yet the entire household was saved through the circumcision of the males.

The same is true for the children who cannot be baptized before they die. When the parents are baptized, their children are under the same promise of grace as are the parents, for they all live within the household of faith.

Baptism is given by God to us for our salvation. But it is the Word, that is, Jesus, who makes it effectual. God Himself is the saving One. If you really want to press the point, babies in the womb are surrounded by water and bathed continually in water. When the parents are living in the Word, the Gospel promises are baptizing the unborn child continually. This is not the same as Baptism for those who are outside the womb and need the external sign, but it is nevertheless effective, for it is the Word that makes it so.

As St. Peter declares in Acts 2 and in 1 Peter 3, Baptism saves us. But it is more than this, too. The Lord Jesus declares in John 3 that it is the means by which sinners are made aware of the kingdom of God and are incorporated into it. Salvation is by grace through faith. But God brings us into the life of His body through Baptism so that we may partake of His Holy Communion forevermore.

You may confidently tell the members of the body of Christ that the promise of the forgiveness of sins is given to all who are of the household of faith and that this includes their unborn children who come to the Holy Supper with Mommy, who kneel with Mommy to receive absolution, who recite with Mommy the creeds of the true faith, who pray with Mommy the Lord’s prayer and the Collect of the day and the General Prayer of the Church, who chant the Liturgy with Mommy, even as Mommy does with Daddy and with all the family and with the whole Church of God in Christ.

Don’t point people to nebulous hopes that are based on emotional hype. Point them to the clear and sure promises of God. Then they will not be tempted to invent unscriptural nonsense to satisfy their emotions regarding other issues, either. Instead, they will follow your example of trusting in what God has plainly declared and seeking God’s doctrine rather than their own. Then they will not waver and doubt like the tossing waves of the sea.

Pastor Finnern said...

Thank you to both Brian and Not Alone. I would clarify that I disagree with someone who would NOT find hope in the reading of God's Word in utero and the partaking of the Lord's Supper. Each individual is saved by the work of the Holy Spirit and that is a source of hope.

What I would disagree also with is to overemphasize that one is saved by the household of faith and partaking in the sacraments. I do believe we make a few big jumps in Scripture when we make it sound like a child is saved because their parents are baptized. I understand that Christ lives in us through baptism and the Lord's Supper, but let's not start to make it seem like that it is explicitly in the Bible. I have heard the same line of reason for a unbelieving husband who died and had a believing wife. It appears to me that we should let Scripture speak and let the hidden stuff back to the Cross and the Gospel.

At the end of the day, we find comfort in the Sacraments and the Gospel because it is for you, but we have to think about how far we are going to go with whom that affects.

I appreciate any future dialogue on this sujbect. Great stuff.