Age of Accountability

This is a quickie, and yes, I will get to some “Signs” of the end times. I’ve got a whole page of notes on my desk as I was working on those…

But first! The Age of Accountability. Where did the idea of this come from?

A few denominations, or Christian religions, such as Catholicism, baptize infants because they believe it is necessary for salvation. They have, in my view, gone too far in their interpretation of original sin. That’s a monster topic for another day. I also think the Bible teaches quite clearly that baptism all by itself doesn’t save a person. Salvation starts with believing and putting your faith in Jesus Christ for instance.

If all we had to do was baptize people, we could round them up and hose them down.

When it comes to babies, or young children, God has shown by example in the Old Testament that He does not judge people for their sins until they have had the chance to accept or reject Him for themselves.

It seems only fair doesn’t it? It sounds right, but more than that, there is precedent in the Bible for it. God has withheld judgment from children before on the basis of the fact that they did not know right from wrong.

Here’s the example:

In the book of Numbers, God judged the nation of Israel, condemning them to die in the desert because of their unbelief:

Numbers 14:29-31

29 In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. 30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31 As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected.

Notice, God did not judge the children. In fact, in these verses, God did not judge anyone under the age of 20! Check out the next verse and notice how God describes these children in the book of Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 1:39

39 And the little ones that you said would be taken captive,

    your children who do not yet know good from bad

—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.

1. It says they did not yet know “good from bad”
2. Those “children” were 20 years old and younger.

There are other Scriptures, but the details in these two really make you think. I mean, that’s quite a bit more time than any of us would ever give someone! God withheld judgment for those Israelites who were under 20. If he had left it at that, we could have reasoned the Lord knew the decision making in those families came from the older folks, not the younger. We would be answering questions like this instead: What about the 22 year old girl who had no say, yet died in the desert because of God’s judgment?

However, God does not base his decision in these Scriptures on who made the decisions, but on knowing good from bad. Thus, the principle at least for an age of accountability is right there. After all, didn’t Paul say in I Corinthians that these things happened to them as examples to us? God’s example here is that children are not held accountable.

If we needed more, there are these verses:
Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.
-Matthew 18:2-5

To be converted and enter the kingdom of heaven, we must become as a child.
Whoever humbles himself as a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever receives one little child in Jesus name, receives Jesus.

It would be difficult to understand how Jesus could say these things, yet demand that children be baptized or believe that children would be sent to hell. He did not qualify any of his statements above, or mention their guilt in regards to Adam’s sin, nor did he qualify this statement:

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. -Matthew 18:10

Original sin is the concept that leads many people to believe children would face judgment, not the Bible itself which demonstrates and indicates that God has a special place in his heart for kids.

This should push us toward a better understanding of original sin, which I believe does not transfer the actual guilt and sentence of Adam’s sin. In Ezekiel, God says, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” It is not the sin of Adam that I inherited, but his fallen, separated-from-God, nature which leads me to commit my own sin.

If God is the same today, yesterday, and forever as the Bible says, then we have great hope in His mercy for children and those who do not know good from bad. The example in the Old Testament in fact, is one of great patience and fairness in giving judgment. God, who can see the heart, knows when a person is capable of accepting or rejecting Him, and God knows when someone has had plenty of time to decide. While I believe the age of accountability probably varies from person to person according to God’s wisdom and insight into their heart, the example of God withholding judgment from those who were too young to choose for themselves is plain to see.

So there’s some interesting thoughts which come to mind:
-We can hope for the grace of God for teenagers who have committed suicide.
-We can be confident in the mercy of God for the mentally handicapped, who may never gain a comprehension of right and wrong like we do. They may miss out on much of this life, while being guaranteed eternal life.
-We can be confident that children will not be judged.


Author: CP

Pastor of Mountain View Christian Church, Mountain View MO. 47 years old, 3 kids and a beautiful wife! God has really blessed me.

7 thoughts on “Age of Accountability”

  1. Great topic and supporting Scriptures. I think the teaching of the “Age of Accountability” is definitely reactionism to infant baptism, and original sin as you pointed out.

    We do need to study these concepts out and see if they are founded in the Bible, and draw our doctrines from the Word of God, not the word of man.

  2. We do tend to often take positions with our doctrines that are based on what we’ve always thought and/or what sounds right, but when pressed, we occasionally have no real Scriptural basis. That’s the good thing about debate and discussion -even though most people don’t enjoy disagreeing. Although a debate can definitely put me in a grumpy mood, I’ve always learned more when I’ve been forced to say… “Here’s where I get this from the Bible.”

  3. May I ask you a question? I came from a denomination that practiced infant baptism (but would do any age). However, the denomination did not believe that the baptism promised or guaranteed a future salvation for the individual. Whenever I have spoken with anyone anti-infant baptism, they only seem to want to discuss denominational beliefs tied to a gaining of salvation or at least some work making one worthy of salvation…all commenting on original sin. This was not the viewpoint of the denomination in which I received my own baptism (and later confirmation at a time of my own choosing). I can’t tell you in their words what the purpose or support from scripture was…but I can tell you that they believed it to be a covenental (sp?) symbol…akin to circumscion of the male Jewish babes. Could you share with me your thoughts on this (I imagine you would not agree) and any insights into such a thinking process? Because of the strong background and family circumstances, as well as some other things, I have been struggling with an understanding for years, mainly because I can’t find council who understands that I know it didn’t bring Salvation. When I read, I will admit that I only see what I understand to be true, but I don’t truly trust that it isn’t because it was the way I was taught to read. My own mother is/will be very hurt if I seek a second baptism…and to be honest, in the past I have been counseled by elders in the church to just do it for the sake of having it done and being obedient, that I don’t really have to understand…but if it is that important, then I don’t want to just go through the motions. Long request, I know. Sorry.

  4. Actually, I am not opposed to viewing infant baptism as a dedication of a child to God, or as an outward display of the parents’ faith to God to take care and protect their child’s spiritual development. Or any other such view that recognizes the beauty of sprinkling an infant in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while at the same time recognizing that salvation does not come through this.

    It’s a Church tradition that many families find important, and it’s perfectly fine with me for them to practice in my opinion. The problem that arises is when someone winds up in your situation: that of considering baptism as an adult but knowing the family will be upset if you do. That’s unfair to you really, especially since this time it is your decision between you and God.

    When you were baptized as an infant, you were baptized on the basis of your parents’ faith. That’s a great thing. There comes a time, and I believe the Bible teaches this very plainly, that you should be free to be baptized on the basis of your own faith. Your family should see this as a fulfillment of their prayers and dedication of you in the beginning, not a repudiation of it.

    Infant baptism is a beautiful tradition, but adult baptism is a personal thing between you and God. It’s not a dedication, it’s a personal commitment. Baptism is a decision by you to leave your old life behind, leave behind sin, and commit your very life to God. While your parent’s could commit you to God, only you can accept that for yourself. Baptism before Jesus, during Jesus, and after Jesus was what someone did when they themselves made a decision to commit their life. In the New Testament, baptism represented dying to your sins, and living a new life with God. Romans 6:1-4 You should only be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ when you are giving your life to Jesus Christ. It is the outward expression of your inward commitment. If it is just to fulfill a rule, or church ordinance, I’m afraid it might not mean anything.

    That’s the other problem I would watch out for, namely everyone pressuring you into being baptized to fulfill a church ordinance or fulfill a command and rule. Please don’t just do it “for the sake of having it done and being obedient!” 🙂 People undoubtedly worry that perhaps God won’t recognize infant baptism, and thus are pushing you to get baptized as an adult. If you aren’t careful, you will get baptized to make them happy and out of fear that perhaps you’ve followed the rules wrongly. It’s easy for all of us to be baptized for such reasons, but those should not be your motives for baptism.

    You should only be baptized because you yourself are committing your life to God. Your parents committed you to God when you were a child, now you would be making that decision for yourself. In a very real sense, you would be accepting their commitment by putting your faith in Jesus and being baptized in His name.

    Zillions of people get baptized more than once, by the way. I was in fact. Sometimes we do so unnecessarily. Sometimes we do so because we are afraid we were baptized for the wrong reasons. Sometimes people are baptized because they feel like they fell so far away from God, that they want to make a commitment to him all over again. In Acts 19, some Ephesians were baptized a second time because they didn’t have a full understanding of Jesus and the Holy Spirit the first time. As an infant, you didn’t have that understanding either, so you, just like the Ephesians in Acts 19, are free to be baptized in Jesus name because since your childhood, you have learned a great deal and have now put your own faith in Christ.

  5. Thank you so much for your feedback. In the denomination in which I was raised, I think (in fact, I’m fairly certain) that they saw the act of Confirmation of our personal but public profession (outward expression) of the baptismal commitment performed by the parents at baptism.

    I didn’t connect Acts 19 with myself, so I will do some prayerful study on the matter. In dealing with my mother, I won’t pretend that that wasn’t my initial (years ago) purpose for defending my baptism as valid. But the matter was more muddled in my search for trying to understand, without influence of my upbrining or my personal desires, when I suddenly found myself sitting on the fence rather than staunchly on one side…and then being told – yes, to be baptised but not for any scriptural reason, IMO, but being warned that I would be disobedient to scripture if I did not follow through.

    I think right now (admittedly before revisiting Acts 19) I’m trying to understand if my outward expression is infact, adopting as my own those vows from the infant baptism…if I’m any different from those who were not baptised in history (because of culture or circumstance) and yet made their faith known. I’m not trying to look for a way out, but rather a door to close behind me so that I don’t dishonor what is God’s will.

    Again, thank you.

  6. Your confirmation was an outward expression, no doubt. For others, their outward expression was the “sinner’s prayer.” In the Bible, neither existed, people were simply baptized when they put their faith in Christ. The Catholic church really institutionalized infant baptism, many believing that children would not be saved otherwise. I THINK it was Charles Finney who really got the sinner’s prayer going. I may be wrong about that. It seems whether we are using baptism, or something else, we as humans need that outward expression. I wish I could tell you that any of them are fine. I hope they are. All I can tell you for sure is Jesus instituted baptism for those who put their faith in him. Acts 2:38, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 22:16, I Cor. 12:13, Galatians 3:27 etc…

    I pray God gives you wisdom and courage in whatever direction he leads you! Thank you for your comments!

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