The grieving mother who lost her infant child, the pastor must tell her, "It's OK, the child is in Heaven now." Otherwise she may become bitter and leave the church (American churches have no attraction for the guys, so when the wife leaves, you lose them both). The Catholics and the Lutherans tell the grieving mother that the child was baptized, and therefore went to Heaven. The Mormons even let you baptize somebody in absentia after they die, and it supposedly works. The Presbyterians tell her that the children of the elect are elect. I actually heard one say that. The Baptists tell her that the child had not yet reached the Age of Accountability. I heard that too. None of it has any Scriptural support. I finally figured out what is going on here. They won't -- probably cannot -- say so, but I think God accepts this as an exercise of the Keys of the Kingdom, the authority Jesus gave the Disciples to "bind and release sins" here on earth, which God promised to ratify. The Protestants, for reasons I have not yet figured out, eschew that authority. Maybe they are afraid it's too Catholic. Whatever, each pastor is forgiving (or else denying the existence of, which is the same thing) the sins of the child, so that he can honestly send the dead child off to Heaven for the comfort of the parents. It's all about comfort.
The other one is the so-called "unforgivable sin." Life would be so much simpler if Jesus had not told us about such a thing. "Oh pastor, I cannot be saved, I committed the unforgivable sin." No pastor wants to be responsible for sending such a soul (and possible paying church member) off to Hell, so they all say "You cannot commit the unforgivable sin." If that were true, why did Jesus bother telling us about it? "ALL Scripture," the good Apostle tells us, "is God-breathed and profitable for instruction," and so on. That means that it's important for us to know about the unforgivable sin, which means it's possible today. But the pastor must tell the worried parishoner it's not possible for the guy in his office, or if it is, it can only be by refusing to become a dues-paying member of his church, nevermind that God said no such thing.
As in the case of infant death, I appreciate the predicament the pastor is in, and I suspect God does too. But let's do this with the tools God gave us (like the Keys). Obviously the Keys cannot be used to nullify Scripture. Scripture says nothing at all about the dead child, so the pastor is free to exercise the Keys in overcoming it. But Jesus clearly did define the unforgivable sin, and in context it is attributing to Satan the works of the Holy Spirit in Jesus. I heard one pastor claim that since Jesus is not physically here, it does not apply to the here and now, but I suspect that's a dangerous stance. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are indeed at work in the world today, so let's not be attributing their work to the Devil. I have heard some preachers come appallingly close to just that. I wouldn't want to be in their shoes on Judgment Day, trying to explain to King Jesus why what they did is not unforgivable, let alone a sin.
But from the pastoral perspective, we have a much better back door by which escape that particular condemnation, and to offer comfort to the penitent fearful of his past errors. "Nobody comes to the Father," Jesus said, "unless I draw them." Paul said something quite similar. God would not do anything so illogical as to call to repentance people who cannot be forgiven (because He promised otherwise), so if you want to serve Jesus Christ as LORD, then God called you and that means you didn't commit the unforgivable sin. In other words, if you are worried about it, there's nothing to worry about. If you don't give a damn, then you might be in deep doo-doo. Don't go there.
Many pastors and others try to redefine the unforgivable sin as dying in unbelief. It is nonsense. Dying is obviously not a sin, it's the consequence of sin. Furthermore, we don't do it to ourselves, God does it to us. Some people try -- and maybe God lets them succeed, and maybe not: I know one person who tried and failed: she is now convinced she had no choice in the matter. But if our death is sin, then God is the sinner, which is nonsense. So is the unbelief sin? I don't think so. Belief is what you think; sin is what you do as a consequence of what you think. I did find one verse [Rom.14:23] where the Apostle tells us that anything done without faith is sin, but it's still the doing that is the sin, not the lack of faith. Besides, faith is a gift of God, not our own works, and we can hardly be blamed for the lack of a gift that we did not earn. Otherwise we would be saved by works, which the Apostle clearly tells us we are not [Eph.2:9].
I don't have a lot of patience for people who redefine well-defined
terms to further their own agenda. When the Darwinists do it, I call it
dishonest. When the preachers do it, can I say otherwise? I think not.
One of the insights that came out of that analysis is that unbelief is not a sin -- indeed, it cannot be a sin. If it were a sin, then belief (the same Greek word as "faith") would be non-sin, a righteous act, and since we are "saved by faith," as the good Apostle tells us, that would be saved by our own good deeds, which the same Apostle goes on to say in the very same verse, is not the case. Faith or belief is a mental state, not something you do. It amounts to accepting something as true upon insufficient evidence. Where the evidence is sufficient, we call it "know," and where the evidence is contrary, we call it "fantasy." Christian faith is no fantasy, but (despite what many claim) it's not the same as knowing either. The evidence is good, but still incomplete.
Today my friend saw some remark I made resting on that insight last year, and challenged it.
If you keep reading past John 3:16 for just two more verses it says, "but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."The problem is, this verse is about condemnation rather than sin. Everybody (except Jesus/God) sinned, and the wages of sin is condemnation. Yet Jesus told Nicodemus (or maybe only John told us as commentary, because there is no close quote in Greek, and we don't know where to put it, but no matter, it's ALL God-breathed ;-) that some people are not condemned. In particular the release from condemnation of those (some, hopefully all, but not all want it) people is/was the mission of Jesus 2000 years ago. He did it by paying the price on the Cross, and that payment is transferred to our account by faith (that is, belief) in Jesus. So in that transaction, belief is effectively a receipt we sign to get the bill paid. The sin required payment, and refusing to sign the recipt does not change the debt -- but it does affect who is going to pay it. Everybody starts out condemned (because they sinned), and those who refuse to believe are still condemned ("already") because they refused the payment.
My friend went on to argue that
Also, the 1st of the 10 Commandments pretty much implies that having no other gods means that you should believe in the one true God.Maybe that's a credible inference, but it's not what it says. It says you should LOVE (give all your devotion and worship and attention to) the One True God, and not bow down or give first place to any of those other fake gods. Now I suppose it doesn't make much sense to love an entity you do not believe exists, but if you are that stupid (Ps.14:1) you deserve what you get. I think the First Commandment never intended to address atheism (which is so stupid as to not deserve God's time in the Ten), but only priority. In actuality there are no true atheists, because everybody has a supreme being in their life whom they trust for ultimate decisions, and whose wishes they are eager to gratify. For a few of us, that's the God of the Bible; others it may be Allah or Shiva, but for most people -- including all atheists -- they are their own god. The First Commandment is about Who is on top, nothing more.