Dr. Gerald Harris, the editor of the Christian Index, asked a pressing question in a recent editorial concerning the report of the Calvinism Advisory Team.1 He asked, "What Southern Baptists are there who do not believe that those who die before they are capable of moral action go to heaven?"
His query is based on a section in the report that says, "We agree that most Southern Baptists believe that those who die before they are capable of moral action go to heaven through the grace of God and the atonement of Christ, even as they differ as to why this is so." The key word is "most" in the preceding statement.
Dr. Harris discovered that the report was written in a way to accommodate several people on the committee who were uncomfortable with including "all" deceased infants as being in heaven.
Is there a theological back-story to this potentially knotty pickle?
It goes all the way back to the fifth century when Augustine concluded that infants who die without baptism were consigned to hell.2 Nonetheless, we will see that even the Catholic Church has softened its stance on infant damnation through the centuries. Ironically, there is the possibility that "some" Southern Baptists are more comfortable with the Augustinian tradition than the lineage of Spurgeon, Fuller, Truett, Criswell, Hobbs, and Rogers.
Original sin, also known as inherited guilt in Protestant circles, was the reason Augustine concluded that unbaptized babies were bound to hell. He reasoned that all are born in a state of unrighteousness and we received original sin (inherited guilt or inherited depravity) from our first parent, Adam.
In essence, most Catholics believe that we are born lacking the righteousness to unite us to God, therefore, the sacrament of baptism will translate an infant from being "in Adam" to being "in Christ." In view of that, baptism is necessary to wash away original (inherited) sin.
As a result of Augustine's belief in inherited depravity due to original sin, the doctrine of infant damnation was conceived, and in turn produced the practice of infant baptism.
By the 13th century, Catholic theologians softened this harsh Augustinian view and referred to the "limbo of infants" as a place where unbaptized babies were deprived of the vision of God, but did not suffer because they did not know what they were deprived of.3
However, by 2004, Catholic theologians were led by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and now former Pope Benedict to study again the question of unbaptized babies. After several years of study, the Vatican's International Theological Commission (2007) declared there are good reasons to hope that babies who die without being baptized go to heaven. The Commission said, "The traditional concept of limbo – as a place where unbaptized infants spend eternity but without communion with God – seemed to reflect an 'unduly restrictive view of salvation.' "4
This new change left many Catholic faithful flabbergasted. One priest wrote an article entitled "Damning Limbo to Hell."5 Another wrote an article entitled "Limbo in Limbo, or Suburb of Hell?"6 Roman Catholic theologians have come a long way from consigning unbaptized babies to the pits of hell, then to limbo, and now to heaven.
Reformers (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, etc.) of the Protestant Reformation had a great opportunity to repudiate the doctrine of infant damnation and reject the practice of infant baptism. Yet, they continued the practice of infant baptism and confusion has run rampant for centuries.
Certain Anabaptist leaders like Dr. Balthazar Hübmaier led correctly during the reformation period by stressing "Believer's baptism" and totally rejected the practice of infant baptism. The baptism of infants, in Hubmaier's understanding, was completely out of step with the New Testament (NT) character of baptism. He says in the following paragraph.
As my Father sent me, so also send I you. As if he would say: He has commanded me to promise to all who believe in me the remission of their sins …With this, the baptism of infants, who have done no sins, does not correspond. It resembles neither the baptism before Christ's resurrection nor the baptism after it, although it be in water.7
Hubmaier pointed out that neither John the Baptist nor Christ (nor his disciples) baptized infants. He also said that it is preposterous to consider infants fit subjects for church membership. The regenerate nature of the church presupposes a certain degree of maturity, personal faith, and volition.8
It is clear from history that during the Protestant Reformation period the Church came to a fork in the road and the majority continued the state-run practice of infant baptism (with new explanations like covenant theology). Since many of the Anabaptist leaders were killed (including Hübmaier),9 imprisoned, or banished by the Catholic Church and Magisterial Reformers the practice of "Believer's baptism" did not gain theological traction. Yet, whether directly or indirectly, their NT teachings on Believer's baptism survived through a radical remnant and later came to fruition.
As Roman Catholics have moved away from the Augustinian tradition of infant damnation, it would be sad to know that even a handful of Southern Baptists in our convention would hold to such an untenable position. Discovering a growing tribe of "infant damnationists" in the SBC would be like discovering a lost tribe of head hunting cannibals roaming around in the Okefenokee Swamp – strange!
© Ron F. Hale, August 29, 2013
 The 41-page document, titled "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized," was published in Origins, the documentary service of Catholic News Service. Pope Benedict XVI authorized its publication in 2007.
 The Anabaptist Story, William R. Estep, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1963)154.
 Ibid. 154.
 Hübmaier would never have made the following statement, “I am a baptistic guy attending a Presbyterian Church. Why? Because baptism was a fence that seemed more harmful than helpful.” A quote by Barnabas Piper, a new employee of LifeWay (formerly known as the Baptist Book Stores). Hübmaier was burned at the stake for his beliefs on baptism. His wife was killed three days later by drowning. Baptism meant something to the thousands that have died through the years.