Monday, April 23, 2007

No More Limbo? What Does This Mean?

For centuries now the Roman Catholic Church has taught "unofficially" a doctrine called "Limbo." Limbo being a place where unbaptized infants went if they died in that state. The Romans Catholic Church has always taught that baptism is necessary to wipe away the stain of original sin, and is therefore a prerequisite to salvation. And the logic goes, if an infant dies before baptism then they could not enter Heaven because they still bore the stain of original sin, yet they had not committed any sin themselves because they are incapable as infants of doing so, therefore they can't go to Heaven, but shouldn't go to Hell, so, well....err, I guess they go to Limbo. What is Limbo one might ask? Limbo was taught to be a place of pure happiness and bliss but apart from God's presence.

There are of course many things wrong with this doctrine. The one that stands out first to me is the idea of a place, not mentioned in Scripture, that is a place of eternal bliss apart from the presence of God. Being apart from God's presence is the biblical definition of Hell. I mean I understand that Hell is a place of weeping an gnashing of teeth and eternal burning, the Bible does not so shyly speak of these things as well. But the point is, God is not there, and that is the real punishment of Hell. So Limbo isn't such a good thing as far as Scripture is concerned, again never mind that Scripture never mentions Limbo (or purgatory for that matter).

Another issue is the assumption that an infant needs to be baptized. This of course is a fundamental difference between those who hold to believers baptism as I do and those who believe in infant baptism as Roman Catholics and various protestants do. But even the protestants (true protestants) who hold to infant baptism reject the notion that it is salvific or that it wipes away original sin. I feel quite confident in saying that infants who die are safe in the arms of God and do gain entrance into Heaven. Because whenever we see God's judgement against man it is against his lawless deeds, his actual sin, not the fact that man is born with a sin nature or in the flesh, but judged by his transgressions.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

"9Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? (Who are called unrighteous?) Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (Emphasis mine)

Point being, those who are unrighteous and will not inherit the kingdom are those who are sinners by their actions and transgression, not those merely born sinful. An infant cannot be sexually immoral, a thief, etc.

Now I will say that as to when a person becomes conscious of their ability to choose right from wrong is hard to decide, and it may be fairly young. Bur it is sinners who need saving, not just those inclined to sin from birth. This is a difficult issue because Scripture doesn't spell it out totally black and white, but the assertion that an infant could not be with God because they were not baptized is foolish, and has no scriptural support.

And finally the problem with this doctrine is the assumption that human being can merit for themselves God's grace through works (Ephesians 2:8-10). A fundamental difference between Roman Catholics and protestants.

All that said, I am happy to hear that recently the Roman Catholic Church has denounced the teaching of Limbo. As well they should since there is no scriptural support for it. In a report from Yahoo News written by Nicole Winfield we read:

"Benedict approved the findings of the International Theological Commission, a Vatican advisory panel, which said it was reassessing traditional teaching on limbo in light of "pressing" pastoral needs — primarily the growing number of abortions and infants born to non-believers who die without being baptized."

And the Rev. Luis Ladaria, a Jesuit who is the commission's secretary-general said:

"We can say we have many reasons to hope that there is salvation for these babies,' the Rev. Luis Ladaria, a Jesuit who is the commission's secretary-general"

I find this very interesting myself. This teaching is one that the Catholic Church taught very widely for a long time. And while it was never (I'm told) part of the churches official doctrine, there have been many who have taught it, and many who have believed it. But now, this commission has found that it is not to be taught, and that there is hope that infants might go to Heaven when they die, and the Pope has agreed with the finding of this commission. So by default the Roman Catholic church has just said that baptism may not be necessary for salvation, at least for infants.

Now obviously, I have stated my position on why infants don't have to place their faith in Christ to go to Heaven. Because they are unable to do, and they have not wilfully sinned against God and do not know right from wrong. And if the Roman Catholics want to agree with that, then that's fine. But I am trying to figure out what this does to their theology. Because my understanding has always been that from their perspective baptism must occur for original sin to be taken away. And if original sin isn't taken away then there is no chance for salvation period. What about the doctrine of purgatory? Do babies have to suffer purgatory if they die without baptism?

It seems to me that the Roman Catholic church keeps taking steps towards universalism. I know this isn't true across the board. I know Catholics who are certainly not universalists, and there are many who are not. But Rome's gospel seems to be ever widening to be more inclusive. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that the Roman Catholic Church is doing away with an unbiblical doctrine, but what is the motivation?

I would genuinely love some Roman Catholic feedback on this post. I truly am not trying to stuff words in the mouth of Roman Catholics or the Pope, or anyone else, but I'm sharing my thoughts and perspective on this matter. While I certainly disagree with many things that are taught in the Roman Catholic Church, I think any honest person can admit that this "ruling" if you will, has to have an effect on the way Catholics think about infants that die and salvation in general.

What are your thoughts?

-Jacob

Here are two links to news articles covering this topic:

Yahoo News: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070420/ap_on_re_eu/vatican_limbo

National Post: http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=367fb6df-eaff-46a2-897b-66eabe94b850&k=31248

2 comments:

gavin said...

I think that the RCC is not as united and unified as some would argue. So just like evangelicals, there are degrees of belief (fundamentalist, conservative, progressive, liberal etc). Take for example the article that was posted this last week. A RCC priest basically said that if you live your life to your fullest potential you will be saved.
http://www.newsday.com/news/columnists/ny-lsgod5160551apr07,0,855483.column?coll=ny-news-columnists

risen_soul said...

gavin,

I think you're right. There are probably as many different idea's amongst the RCC as there are in protestant circles, they all just claim the same banner.

That has been one of my arguments whe RC's acuse protestants of being so divided. I can point to RC's across the world who hold very different views about doctrines that are central to the RC faith and about doctrines that are not as central. Regardless, this is much the same a protestant denominations. Some denominations are very similar and can get along fine because they only disagree about non-esential doctrines, and others cannot because they disagree about very core doctrines such a justification and so on.

Protestants are open about their differences and that'a why there are denominations, whereas RC's hold many differences around the world, but claim the same banner.