Ethics: A Death and the Age of Accountability

What would you do Wednesday!

Dr. Lemke recently wrote about the age of accountability.1 In the comment of that post Lemke mentioned that the Presbyterian position which denies the age of accountability has “always been a bit embarrassing pastorally — or as the saying goes, it won’t sell in Peoria.” This post will use age of accountability in a pastoral situation involving a father and the death of his son. (Note: Anyone may share their thoughts whether from a pastoral perspective or that of a friend, etc.)

The situation is that  a man has just lost his almost 13 year old son in a car accident. He is mourning heavily. The congregation which he is a part of knows about his loss and have reached out to him. This coming Sunday the father will face the congregation and he is not sure how to react as he still has some unsettled thoughts about his son’s eternal state.

The father comes to you to seeking advice on his unsettled thoughts. (You may be his pastor or close friend.) He says:

I’ve been a Baptist all of my life. I raised my son in the faith the best I could, but I’m not sure if he is with Jesus now or not. If he were younger I would not be worried. I fear he had reached the age of accountability. He was almost 13 and one of the smartest kids in his class. Just last week my son told me that while he enjoyed going to church that he would need to investigate other religions to make sure Jesus was the only way to God. My son expressed that he understood the gospel and what Jesus taught. But my son said that he just wasn’t ready to make that decision yet. He liked Jesus, but he just needed a little more time to investigate to be convinced. Based on what my son admitted to me I’m not sure what I believe about his eternal state.

What would you say to this father?
How should the age of accountability be addressed?

Let's connect!

tagged as , in Culture,morality

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Thomas Twitchell August 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm

In following your dialogue between the father the pastor, the question of an AOA is non sequiter. AOA is not about a decision to follow Christ. It is about a supposed age a person can make any moral decision and at which point, supposedly, the person falls into condemnation. So the question is moot. In some baptist parlance, this child is lost because he didn’t make a decision for Christ because if a child has done anything wrong and is aware that he has, he is considered to have reached that age. Which is why many baptists push for very early confessions out of their child, realizing that very a young child can have an awareness of wrong doing and guilt. The existence of questioning the faith, in the case of this young man, must have been predicated upon some awareness of sin. It is a forgone conclusion then that this child, if one bites into the AOA, passed the AOA sometime earlier. It is that fear, and not the fear of his not making a decision that plagues the father. The father seems confused about what is considered the AOA, anyways. It is not, according to any fair reading of the BFM when a child is confronted with the Gospel. By most standards this man’s child long before reached the AOA. Indeed, the presentation of the Gospel to a child presupposes the AOA. This man sounds unsure. That makes sense since the doctrine is fraught with all sorts of confusion. But, he should know that the AOA doctrine is grounded upon moral decision making ability and not a decision for Christ. The reality was, probably for this man, a long history of grieving for his child, for that is what happens. Fear of the AOA creates a pre-salvation grieving process because a parent knows their child will not be save if they have reached the age of moral accountability and die and not received Christ. How sad then that that moment of accepting Christ should pass with death, how doubly mournful, and painful to the parent who of course will have only themselves to blaim for not doing the Gospel right.

I have just posted on Lemke’s falacious claims about the AOA. For the life of me, I cannot understand why a man in his position would hang himself in pursuit of a Baptist Distinctive that can easily be shown not to be one.

The AOA should be addressed biblically, and not traditionally. Scripture is clear, condemnation came through Adam by natural descent, not ones personal choice in time. Condemnation is according to nature and not the effects of it. So at first the father’s concerns need to be put in an orthodox light. Which means he would need to be taught what he apparently wasn’t and helped to shed the false doctrine he has embraced. He needs to be taught that it is no any longer his concern while joining with his grief as Scripture commands we do. What the Lord does with his servants is not our business, we are to follow him. The separation of wheat and tares is not ours to do. We are to preach the Gospel and leave the results to God. But that Gospel calls us to compassion and we are to mourn with those mourn and to do so in a right manner and in truth. Our trust in him includes the peace of mind that righteousness has been upheld through the pure justice of Christ’s sacrifice on the behalf of those for whom he died and we are to leave it at that. We grieve not as the world who has no hope, and so the father’s hope is misplaced if his joy is founded upon his son’s salvation and not Chirst. It may seem cliche’ to say, “Trust in Christ,” at such a time, but what other comfort can be given? We have no knowledge beyond what the Scripture says and it says nothing about how we can know others are regenerate. We can only trust the testimony of their confession, and that dies with the person and is no basis by which we might know the state of the person’s soul and so no basis for our hope. It is a false comfort, then, to grant entry to a father’s son into heaven when we do not know anything of the sort. If based upon outward appearances, they change as the shadows of the day and give no foundation. If hope is founded upon such outward conditions the father would continue without comfort if the cause of his joy is the knowledge of his son’s salvation. When a believer dies, we should, as Jesus did, commend his soul to the Father who will judge each without prejudice. We always judge with prejudice, especially when the object is close. If we judge by Chist, then we can trust, and have peace, that those who are his he will bring with him in the Day. At that time God will wipe away every tear and the temporal sorrows will no longer matter. So the father should be directed towards that day to look for the coming of the true hope and not to this world, where only pain and sorrow can be offered.

The first thing then is to get the father thinking rightly so that he might judge rightly and encourage him in loving mercy, so that his trust is not placed in what a person does but what Christ has done for those who love him.

2 John Jordan August 31, 2011 at 1:39 pm

The greatest comfort should come from the idea that our Heavenly Father will be glorified in one way or another in this situation, not on whether or not the child is in heaven in hell. Unfortunately, there isn’t much comfort that can be given without a prior understanding and embracing of God’s sovereignty and glory in all things. In tough situations like this, we can rest in the righteous actions of a loving and righteous God who will do what’s right. I remember a few days in my life a couple of years ago, when I didn’t know if our 6 year old would live to be 7. At that time, as well as today, I can’t be positive that he would be in heaven if he were die. Although he shows some interest in the gospel, It’s hard to tell if his motives are to please mom and dad or to please the Lord. I do know that he is a wretched little sinner who deserves to go to hell as much as I do. I just can’t see a case for age of accountability from the scriptures. I believe infants and children who die get into the same way I do. By the grace of God through faith. Some may say, “it’s impossible for a child to exercise saving fatih”. I would respond by saying “it’s impossible for me and you to exercise saving faith without the regenerating work of the holy spirit!” Infants and children get into heaven the same way that adults do. Now the question is whether all children and infants do. I guess it would be possible.

3 Christiane August 31, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I would say to the father . . . to think about what you know of the goodness of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of His great mercy and His love. . . and to trust Him in ALL things, and to be at peace ‘in Him’, because He WILL lead the dead child into life eternal.

The father CAN entrust his precious son to the gentle care of Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, with complete confidence.

4 Jim Gifford August 31, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Where’s the love, John?

Are you really a miserable little sinner, and is that what you want to tell your son? Easy on the Calvinism, man!

Jim G.

5 John Jordan August 31, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Yes, I want my son to know he’s a miserable little sinner. I want him to feel desperate.

6 Jim Gifford September 1, 2011 at 9:37 am

What does it matter, John? If God is going to regenerate him, he’ll do it whether he knows he is miserable or not. His desperation is not a pre-condition of his regeneration. You might as well let the little guy be happy. If you try to convince him of his desperation, what have you created if he is (let’s hope not) predestined to be reprobate? He’ll be miserable in this life and in the next.

On the other hand, if he is elect, misery now does him absolutely no good, does it? If he is totally unable now to respond to God as he should, he is also totally unable to be as miserable as he ought to be. The misery over his sin cannot be felt until he is regenerated. All you will be doing is creating a sad little boy who is totally unable to understand why, until God imposes his grace upon him.

If he is predestined to be reprobate (something neither you nor I want – especially you), then you certainly love him more than God does. But that opens up another whole can of worms, doesn’t it?

As I said above, easy on the Calvinism, man!

Jim G.

7 brig September 1, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I didn’t realize that there was a doctrine of assurance of salvation of other people. Most people are barely assured of their own.

However, being recently reminded that he too stands on the precipice of eternity, a re-presentation of core Gospel truths for him to mull over seems most apropos.

Perhaps Jim (so he can see the sinners here) and John (so that he can find the love) could use a little reminder, per Romans 5:1-11. The corollary to a key phrase is that if you were not a miserable little sinner, then Christ did not die for you — which I see as very much a problem. For if you lay off on the “Calvinism” — how then can you present a Gospel at all? And without a Gospel, where is your comfort? Paul confronts the ungodly, the sinner, and the very enemy of God with the love of God that the redeemed have in full measure without pulling punches.

8 Jim Gifford September 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Hi Brig,

I can present a gospel call without “Calvinism.” But that isn’t quite the point. I gathered from the language John used that he is a Calvinist. I merely pointed out that, for a Calvinist, I can’t see how knowing you are a “miserable little sinner” really does any good, especially laying such a weight on a child.

The bottom line is this: under Calvinism, the child can do nothing until he is regenerated. It does not matter if before regeneration he thinks he is a miserable sinner, the greatest child in the world, or the king of England. I will repeat what I said above: for the Calvinist, one’s right (or wrong) attitude of oneself is not a pre-condition of regeneration.

If faith precedes regeneration, then by all means show him he is a sinner in need of the grace of God. But if regeneration precedes faith, then thinking oneself to be a miserable sinner does not lead toward faith. Only regeneration can produce saving faith. Perhaps saving faith (via regeneration) never comes for the child. Then what? Then he spends eternity as a continuation of his misery here. I can’t call that good news.

Jim G.

9 brig September 1, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I really don’t follow your argumentation at all. You sound conflicted. Per your own view of Calvinism, you say that someone “is also totally unable to be as miserable as he ought to be”, but yet complain about his implied present misery brought on by Calvinistic evangelism (eg “as a continuation of his misery here”). That critique is self-refuting.

The only thing I mentioned in my Gospel as a Calvinist so far is that I would outline it like Paul does in Romans 5 (in some instances). However you may disagree with my reliance on Paul as a model, it still stands that the “3 Uses” are more central to Calvinist thought on evangelism than your confusion over the Ordo Salutis (which seems to hinge on the idea that God using means is entirely foreign to Calvinism). Instead, read John Calvin, Institutes, 2.7.6, as a helpful reference point.

10 John Jordan September 1, 2011 at 7:22 pm

I simply want my kids to know the greatness of their sin so that they can in turn know the greatness of the Savior. My teaching of them is simply a means that God uses to bring a sinner to repentance.

11 Jim Gifford September 2, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Hi John,

I respect you for this. I just have one other thing to say. Show your children your love as their father. For your love for your children (and my love for mine) pales in comparison to the Father’s love for his creation.

Jim G.

12 Jim Gifford September 2, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Hi Brig,

I apologize. I’m afraid I don’t quite follow. I do understand the use of means, but again, the rub is that we cannot know for sure that God wants any of us. That huge doubt at the core of faith seems to me to be the most difficult problem leading to any kind of assurance.

Jim G.

13 John Jordan September 2, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Duh! It seems that you think that I’m obsessed with making my kids feel like they are little demons that God just can’t wait to destroy and that when he does, I will laugh with pleasure.

14 Jim Gifford September 2, 2011 at 1:28 pm

No, I’m not, John. If you want to laugh, laugh at me. :0)

My starting point in the presentation of the good news is the love of God, not the sinfulness of us, that’s all. It seemed in your initial response to the post that you weren’t giving love its due. That’s all. I know you love your kids. What dad wouldn’t?

No attack meant, honestly.

Jim G.

15 Mark September 2, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Thanks for the comments. My thoughts are that while I don’t hold to an age of accountability this point in time would not be the time to use this situation as a teachable moment. Rather, I would tell the father that his concerns are warranted and we will discuss them soon, but for now let’s pray and mourn together.

16 John Jordan September 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I agree with you Mark.

17 Mark September 2, 2011 at 1:41 pm


I did not see John offering a full systematic teaching of how he brings up his kids in light of the gospel and their sinfulness. John was actually answering your question when you attributed to him that he might tell his son of how miserable sinner he is. John was expressing his own thoughts, not telling exactly what he would tell his son. Jim, you seem to take John’s words in the worst possible light and then question him on them. Maybe I should ask you – Where’s the love, Jim? But it looks like you two are fine now.

BTW, I know John and his family personally and his kids are pretty good.

18 Jim Gifford September 2, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Hi Mark,

I never had any doubts about John and his kids.

Here is the disconnect I see, though. We are willing to be good and loving fathers to our children, but the Calvinist position (which I was critiquing, not John personally – and sorry if it came across different – I can’t “unwrite” what I wrote.) attributes God as being most unloving toward a significant segment of humanity. He is “pleased” (using Calvin’s terminology) to reprobate people for “his own good pleasure.” An earthly father banishing and ultimately destroying his children for his own good pleasure is a psychopath.

Even if my unsaved kids are sinners, I will still teach and model the love of the father for them rather than concentrating on their sinfulness.

And we still don’t know who is elect, and can never know in this life.

Jim G.

19 Mark September 2, 2011 at 5:22 pm


As I read you it seems that unless someone gives a full systematic of everything they would or have said in a given situation then you have a critic for them. I get a sense that you are implying absolutes when John made his above statements, for example, as if he would say or teaching nothing outside of the words he shared. Just as you said, “Even if my unsaved kids are sinners, I will still teach and model the love of the father for them rather than concentrating on their sinfulness.” I would point out that John did not deny that he would do the same.

20 John Jordan September 2, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I never took any offense. Don’t worry about it. I think where we are differing is that you seem to put a higher emphasis on the love of God then on His justice. With my kids, I attempt to put an equal emphasis on both. In my opinion, they need to have an understanding of how wretched they are so that the love and grace of God will seem more glorious. If they really aren’t that bad or just kinda bad, then I’m fearful that His love and grace won’t appear that great.

21 Jim Gifford September 2, 2011 at 8:51 pm


We’ve been in discussions before on SBCVoices, and I would hope you have a higher opinion of me than that.

I never implied what he would or would not do. His first post above did seem pretty strongly slanted toward his son being a sinner. I just hoped it would be balanced with love. He said so. I’m satisfied. All I asked was where was the love. It’s there. All’s well and good.

Jim G.

22 Mark September 3, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Hey Jim,

I know that we’ve interacted on SBCVoices. On this thread though it just seemed like you were hammering John all along the way. Not that he doesn’t deserve it… 🙂
Anyway…interestingly enough, John 3:16 is arguably the most famous Bible verse and right after it comes the notification that those who don’t believe are condemned all ready. Just sayin’.


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