Heaven Bound in His Loving Arms
By Rev. Tom Tuura
Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church
The presiding Bishop of a very large Protestant body, quoted in multiple publications states, “If there's a hell, I think it will be empty.” Wait, what? Okay, is this a pronouncement? Did she get a new revelation from God? Is she speaking as a Bishop, or her own opinion? What is it based on? Should we all change our thinking? What does it say about the soul?
She said Hell is empty! Did it create a firestorm? No, it appears to me its a non issue to the general public and the rest of the media. There have been a lot of changes in mainline churches from lifestyles to morals, and now apparently eternity. And as one person questioned, if “such and such isn't sin, well they better instruct us what sin is.” And I would add, if Hell is going to be empty, they had better ring the bells all over the world and proclaim the good news! And I'm out of a job!
The connection between Heaven and Hell and a person's soul is the ultimate message of the Bible. Sadly, there's no indication in Scripture that Hell will be empty. Lets look at a part of this Heaven bound family. Let's look at a child's soul according to the Word of God.
As I've shared elsewhere, my testimony, or faith story, is wonderful and was a little dramatic. However, I have always maintained the best testimony is the baptized child who never left his or her faith. Stories like mine, again are great, but couched in near disaster and a chain of really unfortunate and almost tragic turns. Think of it, a baptized child safe in the arms of Jesus, turns away due to neglect, or lack of spiritual nurture or rebellion, then returns to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Great ending, but not desirable. And how often to we come to expect that in our churches? Not all return. We don't like to think about such things. We don't like to think about youth or adolescents in such a perilous predicament. But we must understand the dynamics. The seed is already there in the form of original sin.
Let me quote from one of our first faculty in our schools. “Who can be so heartless and cruel as to hold that a cooing infant lying in his mother's lap has sin? If there ever are good people they must be infants; goodness is native with them. However, we adults usually let our sentiments run off with us when we contemplate infants” (Dr. Iver Olson, Baptism and Spiritual Life 1967 p 18) He goes on to say that children are “relatively innocent” He says, “There is just enough truth in infant innocence to make it a dangerous doctrine when it goes out of bounds...They have not been hardened in sin as adults have.” He states that relative innocence is a far cry from absolute innocence. See article II of the Augsburg Confession (p 80 in our hymnals).
It is an unfortunate reality that many previously baptized have begun walking outside of God's grace, having strayed because of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, the three enemies of our souls.
How wonderful then is it to realize that some of you, even reading this, have not gone down such a road, but have remained in God's strong loving arms every moment. You may feel weak, and sinful, your faith flickering, but that spark was never extinguished. How wonderful to be encouraged by parents, friends and fellow church members of God's powerful protection in your life!
(Now by comparison, our dear friends in other churches that practice adult baptism, believe that children before baptism are still going to heaven, until the “age of accountability”.)
For the “mechanics” of biblical baptism, I refer you to the Bible and catechism. We will cover this in depth in confirmation. Here is a couple of pertinent quotes from the catechism.
“What gifts or benefits does baptism bestow? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare.
“How can water do such great things? It is not the water, indeed, that does such great things, but the Word of God, connected with the water, our faith which relies on that word of God. For without the Word of God, it is simply water and no baptism.”
As we reflect then upon the salvation of precious little ones, we can make a few observations. According to the Word of God, baptized children are saved and safe in the powerful hands of our Savior. (Matt 28:16-18; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5 1 Peter 3:20,21)
First, parents need to create an atmosphere where that faith is nurtured. Evil vices, entertainments, habits are replaced by spiritually positive, wholesome alternatives.
These are the ideal homes, but like any ideal, they need to be held out as our goals. The 'real' is often something different—sometimes far different. We all fall short, hence the tremendous guilt in connection with raising kids. Begin by coming to Sunday School and church every Sunday you can. Begin reading God's Word. Do anything wholesome as a replacement to something questionable.
God is gracious, and desires to keep them safe, but they need spiritual nurture and honesty. The devil the world and our own sinful flesh continue to war against their souls. Remember from last month's article mentioning the wolf in sheep's clothing, a deeply disturbing warning from our Lord in Matthew 7:15, read it if you didn't get a chance.
Second, while parents wrestle with the real verses the ideal in their homes, how do we deal with this in the Sunday School? We all feel ill prepared for such important subjects.
Here are a few things parents and teachers can do. If we understand Scriptural teaching about the child's soul, we can tailor our lessons, and conversation to suit.
Every parent and teacher can pray. A Sunday School teacher's prayers can follow a child through his entire life.
Teach the Gospel which is they have been given grace by our precious Lord Jesus Christ, and need then to be affirmed, and to grow in that.
Teach that they need to flee temptation, and evil. That is why good curriculum introduces the Ten Commandments to the third grade level. Its much more than academic, but so that the Holy Spirit can begin to clarify the moral sense of right and wrong. This is the Law. Isn't it interesting that this simple pattern can be applied to any age?
Please allow me one last thought, because this is very important. As the child grows, something important is taking place. The child is gradually becoming aware of their relationship with God. It is what O. Hallesby, one of the foremost preachers and theological professors in Northern Europe from the twentieth century, calls the transition from unconscious faith to conscious faith. He argues that the faith received in baptism is what he calls “unconscious”. That is, it is there, even though the child is not aware of it. But as time goes by, he or she becomes aware of God's love and where they are spiritually, hence a “conscious” faith. The Sunday School can really help here. (Infant Baptism and Adult Conversion Augsburg 1931 p28)
In addition to the Sunday School, these concepts are explained in 1st Communion and culminate later in Confirmation class where this conscious faith is hopefully and prayerfully realized and affirmed.
What about the little “Tommy's” or the ones that are unbaptized? Along with the others, they need the law, a clear warning against evil, and what to do and how to receive forgiveness. Then they can experience God's loving arms consciously in the Gospel. That same formula works for the old “Tommy's” too. Making more and more truly Heaven bound, because Hell unfortunately won't be empty.
That’s my view from the Blackberry Patch Pulpit