Count it all joy when you face various trials. --James the brother of Jesus

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Alcohol Disclaimer

I thought that this should be added to the post below:

Lest anyone think otherwise, I am a T-totaler. I voluntarily abstain from alcohol as a beverage. I have never even tasted an alcoholic beverage in my life. I am currently a student at SWBTS, and when we apply to the seminary we agree to abstain from the use of alcohol, and I abide by my agreement. However, this agreement is not what compels me to abstain from alcohol. I choose to voluntarily because I know how lacking in self-control I can tend to be some times. If I took away that self-imposed wall for myself, I am certain that I would rush headlong into drunkenness. So I choose not to even let it be an option, and by God's grace I was never exposed to it before I came to this personal decision.

My objection to the ruling of the MBC executive board is not because I think that churches should evangelize by meeting in the bars--I don't. My objection is that I don't think that total abstinence from alcohol is something that is biblically mandated--so we ought not preach that it is, and we ought not draw lines of fellowship separating from those who would hold different convictions. In my understanding, the MBC board can have whatever requirements for denominational service that they deem fit. I agree that they have the right to do what they did. I simply question the wisdom of drawing the line where it has been drawn--in a place that separates conservative, Bible believing, Bible preaching, biblically evangelistic churches from the support of the convention.

In addition, I'm very encouraged by the fact that the MBC is in the hands of conservative leadership. The Battle for the Bible in Missouri is seemingly won--and I rejoice for that. However, drawing lines excluding conservative churches from the support of the convention may give ammunition for the old leadership to throw. Yet, it is possible that they would throw this ammunition either way. My guess is that the old leadership was probably against the use of alcohol too. It's the social issues that give theological liberals a hearing when they claim that they are conservative. They can point to their record on social issues like alcohol, abortion, and homosexuality and claim to be conservative even though they don't believe the Bible--and the average church member doesn't know the difference as long as they support the Republican party. Again, this is one of the reasons why its important to take a stand where the Bible does and to not go further. If we go further we will end up eroding biblical authority and we will raise the next generation of liberals inside of Bible believing churches.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Andrew Fuller, Missouri Baptists, and Alcohol

Two seemingly unrelated things are on my mind tonight—Andrew Fuller, and the Missouri Baptist Convention’s policies on alcohol. Why? Well, one of my friends from Southern Seminary, and a fellow former church member at Clifton Baptist, Kevin Larson, is one of the church planters who have been defunded by the Missouri Baptist Convention due to their affiliation with the Acts 29 church planting network. What motivated this move by the convention? The most likely candidate is the issue of alcohol. The Missouri Convention executive board is enforcing a total abstinence policy for their agency employees quite strictly. In fact, I would say they’ve gone a bit overboard. My friend Kevin has said in an interview with the Founders ministry that he abides by the total abstinence policy, and that the convention had previously approved his interpretation of their policy. But his affiliation with the Acts 29 network is what is costing the work that he is a part of their backing by the MBC. What’s the problem with Acts 29? It would seem that the problem is that they have no such abstinence only policy. Acts 29 allows churches to be affiliated where the planter has a “Christian liberty” view of the use of alcohol. What this reminds me of is the triple separationist attitude of many fundamentalists. By fundamentalists, I mean those groups who think Billy Graham is too liberal. In Graham’s 1951 New York crusade, he allowed some liberals to participate and he did not draw a line of fellowship since they desired to be a part of the crusade. On this basis of refusing to separate from liberals, Graham was lumped in with the liberals by the fundamentalists. I may not know all the details, but it seems that this is what is happening in Missouri, my friend Kevin isn’t being defunded because he disagrees with or disobeys the convention policy, but because he is a part of a church planting network who refuses to draw a line of separation over the issue of total abstinence from alcohol.

The second thing on my mind is Andrew Fuller. Why? Because my lovely wife gave me his Complete Works for Christmas. I was quite pleased and will enjoy this gift and get much profit from it. What does this have to do with the MBC? I was just curious what Fuller’s position on the use of alcohol would have been, so I checked the index and found only one reference listed for the entire 1012 page work. This reference was to drunkenness, and it was contained in his “Exposition of Genesis,” in the section about Noah after the flood. This is what Fuller had to say about Noah’s work as a vineyard keeper,

Perhaps there is no employment more free from snares. But in the most lawful occupations and enjoyments we must not reckon ourselves out of danger. It was very lawful for Noah to partake of the fruits of his labour; but Noah sinned in drinking to excess. He might not be aware of the strength of the wine, or his age might render him sooner influenced by it; at any rate we have reason to conclude, from his general character, that it was a fault in which he was “overtaken.” But let us not think lightly of the sin of drunkenness. “Who hath woe? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine.” Times of festivity require a double guard. Neither age nor character is any security in the hour of temptation. . . Drunkenness is a sin which involves in it the breach of the whole law, which requires love to God, our neighbor, and ourselves. The first abusing his mercies; the second as depriving those who are in want of them of necessary support, as well as setting an ill example; and the last as depriving ourselves of reason, self-government, and common decency. It also commonly leads on to other evils.[1]

Is this enough to guess what position Fuller would have held on the use of alcohol? It gives a few clues from which we can draw conclusions. First, he explicitly says that it was perfectly “lawful for Noah to partake of the fruits of his labour.” This might beg the question for some, “Was Fuller talking about wine or grape juice? Given the context of the statement this is really a silly question. In the very next sentence Fuller says that Noah, “might not be aware of the strength of the wine, or his age might render him sooner influenced by it.” Clearly, if Fuller thought that Noah’s lawful partaking of the fruits of his labor were merely to drink grape juice, then the very next statement makes no sense at all. Fuller held a biblically balanced position that condemned drunkenness as “a breach of the whole law,” yet he approved of Noah partaking in alcohol as long as it was not in excess.

One other issue comes to mind as I think about the controversy in the Missouri Baptist Convention—Biblical Authority. During the Building Bridges conference last month someone asked a question during the panel discussion that implicated Calvinists as being lax on sanctification—an implication that appeared to be rejected by both sides of the panel. The youngest member of the panel, Nathan Finn, spoke to the issue (with the assumption that the question referred to the alcohol issue) and concluded that this is not a Calvinism issue but a generational difference. I will agree with him, but I think that there is a reason for the generational difference. I will be 30 years old this March. The conservative resurgence began their unbroken streak of conservative SBC convention presidential wins the year after I was born. Many young seminary students and young pastors in my age demographic refuse to claim that drinking by itself is a sin. I would venture a guess that this refusal is an unintended consequence stemming directly from the conservative resurgence. With a return to a commitment to biblical authority, young leaders are increasingly seeing that to claim that drinking without getting drunk is a sin will erode our view of biblical authority. The Bible clearly condemns drunkenness, yet sees alcohol as a God given gift to be enjoyed as long as it is not abused. To insist on total abstinence in all situations by all Christians is to be (at the least) inconsistent with Sola Scriptura. Up and coming young Baptist leaders of a new generation are committed to biblical authority without compromise. The logical consequence of this is that graduating students who are now young pastors will reject man-made traditions that add to the Christian’s moral requirements on sub-biblical grounds. They will also return to a view held by earlier Baptists such as Andrew Fuller who condemned drunkenness, yet did not take this further than the Scriptures allowed.

[1]Andrew Fuller, “Exposition of Genesis,” in The Works of Andrew Fuller” Ed. Michael Haykin (East Peoria, IL: Banner of Truth, 2007), 364.

Merry Christmas!!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
(Isa 9:6-7)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It's Finally Over

Today I turned in my last paper for the Fall semester. It was a week late. But on the bright side, I'm finished. I did get reassurance from the professor for my other class that I did very well in that class. I now await with fear and trembling the grade for the class that I finished a week late.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Homeless and Me

After I return from traveling for the Christmas holidays I will begin a new job. It's different from anything I've ever done before. I will be working for a homeless shelter.

Union Gospel Mission is the oldest Christian homeless shelter in Fort Worth. It has been open since 1888. They are supported by several churches and other organizations, and they do not receive any federal funds.

I will be working as a night monitor for the facilities beginning January 7. I'm looking forward to the new job. It will be a real change. I anticipate that it will be an eye opening experience and very rewarding. I will be working in a more tangibly ministry oriented job, and I will be heeding the voice of my savior who said that he would welcome those into heaven who fed him when he was hungry and gave him drink when he was thirsty.

Friday, December 07, 2007

My Theological Method

Here's another paper I've just finished. I'll be turning it in tomorrow. (I mean today. It's 3 a.m.) The paper is on my own theological method.

It is not easy to write about one’s own theological method. As Reformed theologian Fred Klooster puts it, “Most theologians do not make a habit of explaining how they go about doing theology; they simply do it.”[1] In fact, the idea of self consciously describing how theology should be done may even be repulsive to some. Some might say, “Why can’t we just use the Bible?” The idea of sustained reflection on the nature and priority of the resources used in the theological enterprise seems to be an exercise with very little profit. An increasingly individualistic evangelical subculture wants to discard tradition, experience, and reason, and simply get alone with Jesus and His Word.

Justification for Theological Method

While getting alone with Jesus and His Word is pious, and even reflects an underlying good motive, it is too na├»ve for someone who wants to take seriously the scriptural charge for leaders to guard the gospel. Peter commands believers: “Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability” (2 Pet 3:17).[2] Paul instructs Timothy: “Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching” (1 Tim 4:16); and “Hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard from me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee guard through the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us” (2 Tim 1:13-14); and “O Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee, turning away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith” (1 Tim 6:20-21). He warns the Colossian church: “Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col 2:8). He commanded the Ephesian elders: “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The Lord Jesus, Himself, warned His followers to “take heed that ye be not led astray: for many shall come in my name” (Luke 21:8).

Doing theology has too high of stakes not to examine critically how it is done. Jesus and the apostle’s warning to take heed to doctrine gives today’s theologian biblical warrant to reflect on the task. Without critically examining the task, the church may be vulnerable to instability, being deceived, or even being eternally lost. Sincerity will be no excuse; not all who claim to speak for Jesus are truly faithful to what he said. The salvation of each member of a congregation is in some sense guarded by his or her pastor, and depends on his faithfulness to his office as a steward of the gospel. An unexamined method that piously rejects being tested is vulnerable to falling prey to false teaching—and may be endangering the souls of countless trusting individuals. Therefore, it is right to take the time and examine one’s method for doing theology. In fact, any theologian who desires to be faithful to Jesus must do it, lest they find themselves in front of the Lord one day hearing, “Depart from me.”

The parameters of this assignment are different from many others. Typically a seminary assignment involves a detached perspective of writing about an outside subject exclusively in the 3rd person. In contrast, this assignment is not a dry detached exercise in parroting information about a specific outside subject—it is a critical examination of the author of the paper that is very personal. So, from this point on, I will reference myself and my own theological method in the 1st person.

Theological Resources

What place do I give in my theological method to each of the resources of theology? Scripture, tradition, reason, culture, and experience are all used—whether conscious or not. If one’s method is not examined to see what relationship these factors have to each other, then it is inevitable that the relationship will be determined by his own whim or by seduction from some outside source. Even a critical examination does not remove one from this danger, but it does at least let the theologian know that the danger exists and that he needs to beware of it.


My conscious effort is to make Scripture my ultimate authority. It is easy to say that Scripture is the final authority. It is not so easy to live it. Everyone who claims to be an evangelical says that the Scripture is their final authority. In fact, everyone who is a Christian at all would make the claim that Scripture is at least the final authority in matters of faith and practice. So it does not really mean anything at all just to make the affirmation that Scripture should be the final authority.

Everyone has something different in mind when they make the claim that the Bible is authoritative. However, not everyone is going to affirm that the Bible has such authority that if it says that I should pluck out my eye, then I should do it. Not everyone will agree that the Bible has the authority to tell them to sell everything and move to the Sudan. However, that is exactly what the Bible has the authority to do. If one holds to an identity thesis (that the Bible is the Word of God), then one can see what Scripture claims for itself in this regard. The Word of God commanded Jonah to preach to a wicked and violent city (Jonah 1:1). The Word of God commanded Nathan to confront a king who had already murdered one man who stood in his way (2 Sam 7:4).

The Bible has authority to tell the preacher, theologian, or prophet what to believe and what to do. This authority includes matters of theological method. For instance, Jesus spoke of the prophet Jonah saying, “The men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, a greater than Jonah is here” (Luke 11:32). Here Jesus treats Jonah as a historical figure, who in some ways typified what Jesus would be like. If one rejects Jonah as a historical figure, then one has to say that either Jesus was ignorant of this, or he was being untruthful. If Jesus is really my Lord then I must submit myself to him in all respect, and this means my mind and even my opinions must be submitted to what he says. If Jesus treated Jonah as a historical figure, then I would be sinning against my Lord to adopt a method of doing theology that allows me to deny the historicity of Jonah.

I understand Scripture to be presenting a world that is more real than the one that I live in (though essentially it is the same world). The biblical authors accurately presented mankind and its relationship to God. If I am to consider myself a Christian at all, then I have no place to turn but to the Christian Scriptures to learn about myself, God, and how I am to relate to the rest of His creation. If it seems, because of my experience or culture, that my world is radically different than the world that Scripture presents, then it is not the Scripture that is wrong, but my perception of reality. I live in a culture that immerses me in de facto Darwinism. I do not explicitly accept this Darwinism. In fact, I wholeheartedly reject it. However, it still has a very negative impact on how I view the world—in particular how the world relates to the biblical world. I have to beware of what the author of Hebrews warned: "Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God” (Heb 3:12). Every form of media screams at me to seek my own pleasure in this short life because this life is all there is. However the Bible presents a worldview that says there is a judgment to come and a paradise to be enjoyed that far exceeds anything this world has to offer. The only way to combat the inaccurate perceptions of the world that are presented to me every day (and thus, combat unbelief) is to constantly confront myself with the biblical world in the Scripture. This too is an aspect of theological method as it relates to Scripture. I must not only see the Scriptures as the source for propositional revelation (which it is), but I must also realize that the Scriptures are the source of my own life. I do not believe that this is in any way an appropriation of existential philosophy, but simply taking seriously what the Scripture itself says: “My soul cleaveth unto the dust: Quicken thou me according to thy word” (Ps 119:25).


In my own theological method, I have a very positive role for tradition. I am unapologetically a Baptist. In particular, I am a conservative, Calvinistic, confessional, Southern Baptist. Each of these labels reflects a tradition that I am a part of. And there are many reasons why I am not ashamed to claim these labels for myself.

I am a Baptist for many reasons. One reason is that I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. That is where I was introduced to the gospel. That is where I came to embrace personal faith in Christ. Another reason is that I am forever indebted to the Baptist tradition. This is a tradition that has always been marginalized and even persecuted throughout Christian history. Men and women suffered imprisonment and even execution for the beliefs that have been handed down to me, and I want to honor them by taking seriously what they said. Finally, I am also a Baptist because I agree that what Baptists have traditionally taught accurately reflects biblical teaching.

I am a conservative. I understand this label as it is used in opposition to classic liberalism. I believe the Bible to be God’s inerrant, infallible, inspired, authoritative Word. I am indebted the “evangelical” movement of the 20th century and its reaction against Protestant liberalism. Protestant liberalism accepted evolutionary views, reduced the Bible to a human document, and reduced the gospel to simple morality. I believe that the reactionary “evangelical” movement is the continuation of the orthodox Protestantism of the Reformation, which in turn is nothing less than restored biblical Christianity. Neo-orthodox theologian, Gerald T. Sheppard, objects to identifying “reactionary groups . . . as representative of the orthodox camp.”[3] While I will affirm that the fundamentalist and evangelical movements of the 20th century are reactions to liberalism, I contend that they were right to react. Liberalism, and its antisupernaturalism, reduced Christianity to a sociological phenomenon that had very little to do with objective truth. Liberals, while desiring to contextualize the Bible and make it understandable to modern man, abandoned classical Christianity. Therefore, I am not ashamed to say that I identify myself as a conservative, and I aim to do theology within that tradition.

I am a Calvinist. Of course, as a Baptist Calvinist, I reject infant baptism, I insist on immersion as the proper mode, I believe in separation of church and state, and I believe in congregational church government.[4] However, I am a Baptist who feels perfectly comfortable affirming the 2nd London Confession of Faith (1689), the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, or the Abstract of Principles.

I am confessional. Some would object to the idea that a Baptist could be confessional. “We have no creed but the Bible,” is the rallying cry for anti-creedal Baptists, and this statement has a long heritage in Baptist life as well. However, this statement goes against what Baptists have done in actual practice. As historian Gregory Wills states, “Baptists have adopted creeds throughout their history. They probably have adopted creeds more than any other denomination.”[5] Creeds and confessions have been understood to be a summary of Scripture truth, and have not been binding on the conscience of anyone. No one is forced to be a member of a Baptist church or to call himself a Baptist. Baptists have used creeds because they have recognized their “duty to appoint those only who will teach in accordance with Scripture truth.”[6] Confessions are a means of ensuring that the tradition held to in the church—believed to be handed down by the apostles—is handed down to future generations.

In sum, I believe that the gospel has been passed on from the apostles, through the New Testament, and received by the Church. In some periods that gospel has been understood more clearly than in others, but the fact is it has been received by us today. I have received it in the context of conservative Southern Baptist life, and I have grown to embrace the Baptist tradition, reflected in its confessional history, wholeheartedly. If I thought that Baptist confessions were unbiblical, I would leave them behind and not look back; however, I believe by conviction that what these confessions contain is nothing less than a summary of Scripture truth. Therefore, I embrace my tradition, recognizing that it is historically conditioned, yet believing it to be an accurate summary of what God has revealed in His Word.


I believe that Christianity is a reasonable faith. God has created His world in a way that is logical, orderly, and for the most part predictable. The universe functions according to a certain set of laws of nature and of logic. God is the one who has established this order and is not bound by it.

I believe it is safe to say that some things that are logically true about humans are logically true about God as well. For instance, the law of non-contradiction is a philosophical proposition that applies to God just as it does to human beings. I have made this statement before, only to be followed by a response from someone that it was arrogant to say such a thing about God. My answer to that criticism is that the charge of arrogance says only how my critic feels about what I said. It may in fact be arrogant to claim such a thing, but that says nothing about the truth or falsity of the claim which I made. Simply put, I believe what the catechism that I am teaching my children says when it answers the question “Can God do all things? God can do all His holy will.”[7] God can do anything that is not logically impossible. But he cannot cease to be God and still be God at the same time and in the same sense. He cannot make a square circle because by definition a circle does not have four corners. Making this assertion does not in any way limit God because it still affirms that God can do anything that he wants to do. What it reveals is that there are some things that we can know about the God revealed in Scripture. He has revealed Himself, and what He has revealed is trustworthy: “God is not a man, that he should lie” (Num 23:19), and “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18), and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for ever” (Heb 13:8). God is always truthful and He does not change His in His nature or will.

While I do believe that philosophy is necessary, in respect to the logic and order of the universe, I do not believe that Christianity can be bound to any particular philosophical system. Whether idealist or realist, Platonic or Aristotelian, Existential or Common Sense, philosophy is tainted by human finiteness and sinfulness. Rigid philosophical systems will usually end up distorting something about the world presented in the Bible in order to maintain consistency within the system. When too high of a priority is placed on philosophy, it will tend to dominate the Biblical text. The proper relationship between the Bible and philosophy must be that philosophy too, must bow the knee to the Lordship of Christ. Philosophy must be flexible enough to change, if needed, to adapt to biblical revelation.


Culture affects how I do theology in some significant ways. First of all, as an American, I am influenced by many democratic ways of thinking. The affluence of my country has affected me in ways that I could not begin to perceive. This is similar to the old saying that “a fish does not know what it means to be wet.” I am used to a certain standard of living. I am used to a particular way of life that is common to North America, but rarely found anywhere else. I do not experience the kind of persecution that believers all over the world face every day. This aspect of culture, while beneficial in many respects, gives me a disadvantage as a theologian. I could easily go through my entire life giving very little attention to what the Bible says about poverty, classism, and other forms of suffering. So, it can be very beneficial to experience cross cultural missions in order to have my eyes opened.

The Bible places a high emphasis on these types of human suffering. The Torah states: “If there be with thee a poor man, one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates in thy land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy poor brother”(Deut 15:7). The Psalmist says, “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: Jehovah will deliver him in the day of evil” (Ps 41:1). The Lord Jesus spoke of the basis of the final judgment saying,

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me (Matt 25:41-45).

Jesus thought that the attention that people give to the poor was significant—to the point of being an indicator of one’s eternal destiny.

I place this emphasis in a section on culture because this is a point that the culture which I live in is prone to overlook. Most Americans are comfortable with living the American dream. Get an education. Get a good job. Live in the suburbs with a two story house and a picket fence. Retire at sixty-five and move to Florida where you can enjoy the rest of your life a the beach. This is what my culture values—to its peril. I intend to be aware of this tendency and challenge people to embrace a biblical dream of what life should be. In my theological method, I want to challenge comfortable American Christians to give their lives away in service to Christ up to the moment of death. I want to challenge American Christians to go to hard places and be willing to suffer and die. This is an emphasis that is counter-cultural.


Experience is what has given me much internal motivation for the theological task. I was saved as a young child, and I’ve been in church all my life. I come from a traditional conservative church, so it is not hard to imagine why I have ended up where I do in other areas of method. One might say that my experience has driven me to the views that I hold on all of life—not just theological method.

Experience is important to theological method for one basic reason. The theologian does not study an exclusively outside subject as an objective observer. The theologian (if he is really a theologian at all) has an interest and a relationship with the subject of his study. The theologian’s quest is not just to know about the forces that explain the universe, but to know the infinite personal creator God who made all things from nothing. The theologian has a vested interest in his study, because he knows that accurately reflecting the truth about reality is essential not just for this life but for eternity.

For example, the theologian does not study original sin as an abstract concept but as someone who has been affected by it. He also does not study sin as a philosophical category, but as his own ultimate problem in life as a sinner. This has been my own quest in theology. I simply do not study theology in order to know more information, but to fight against my own sin and to know the One who can set it all right again—and has in Jesus Christ.


It is hard to completely separate any of the resources from one another. Each of the resources in some way affects how I understand all of the others. The parts affect the whole, and the whole affects the parts. With that said, I strive to submit tradition, reason, culture, and experience to Scripture in a way that Scripture submits to nothing. One might say that all the other resources are bound to submit to Scripture, “but the Word of God is not bound” (2 Tim 2:9). I recognize that I am historically, philosophically, and culturally conditioned by my experience, but that is no hindrance to doing faithful theology. God is faithful, and though I am limited in my perceptions, and I will undoubtedly be wrong frequently, it is His revealing—not my grasping for Him—that needs to be trusted.

[1]Fred H. Klooster, “How Reformed Theologians ‘Do Theology’ in Today’s World,” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essay’s in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer, eds. John D. Woodbridge and Thomas E McComiskey (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1991), 228.

[2]All Scripture quotations are from the American Standard Version [ASV].

[3]Gerald T. Sheppard, “How Do Neoorthodox and Post-Neoorthodox Theologians Approach the ‘Doing of Theology’ Today?” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essay’s in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer, eds. John D. Woodbridge and Thomas E McComiskey (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1991), 440.

[4]Paige Patterson, “Happy Southern Baptists and the Tricky Track,” 1-2 [on-line]; accessed 5 December 2007; available from trickytrack.pdf; Internet.

[5]Gregory Wills, “Baptists, the Bible, and Confessions: The Need for Statements of Faith,” The Southern Seminary Magazine, November 2000, 13.

[6] Ibid., 14.

[7]Thomas Nettles, Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life, (Amityville, New York: Calvary Press, 1998), 86.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Original Sin, Inherited Guilt and Baptism

Here's my latest paper I've turned in on humanity. I dealt with the relationship between original sin and baptism and I argued that original sin actually provides one good argument for the believer's baptism position.

Since at least the time of Augustine of Hippo, a connection has been observed between original sin and baptism. Augustine argued for the doctrine of original sin on the basis of the fact that infants were baptized.[1] Calvin taught that through baptism the believer has assurance that “this condemnation [of original sin] has been removed and withdrawn.”[2] Charles Hodge, like Augustine, used the “universal” practice of infant baptism as an argument for original sin.[3] However, more recently this connection has been an argument used by some Baptists against original sin.

Steve Lemke, in a paper arguing against the possibility of salvation apart from conscious personal faith in Christ, argued that children under the “age of accountability” should not be considered sinners. While correct in arguing against pluralist or inclusivist notions of salvation outside of Christianity, Lemke seems to error by denying original sin. He states: “By affirming the age of accountability, Baptists deny that children are guilty upon birth, and thus deny infant baptism.”[4] It appears that Lemke claims that Baptists reject infant baptism because they reject imputed guilt. Further Lemke states, “An alternative proposal that is both more biblical and more logical considers one to be saved or lost only after the age of accountability.”[5] Here Lemke asserts that infants are not born sinners—thus it would appear from these statements that he denies original sin. Lemke’s position seems to assume that if one believes in original guilt that that logically implies the necessity of infant baptism.[6]

The argument of this paper is that the doctrine of original sin does not imply the necessity of infant baptism. Rather, only someone who holds to a sacramental view of baptism should even draw that inference. In contrast, Baptists reject the notion of baptismal regeneration—as evidenced by the Cambellite controversy.[7] If one holds that baptism is a confession of something that has already taken place rather than an efficacious act, then the doctrine of original sin cannot imply the necessity of infant baptism. If baptism has no power to wash away sin, then whether or not infants are born with guilt becomes irrelevant to the baptism question. Therefore, this paper will demonstrate 1) that the doctrine of original sin does not necessarily imply infant baptism logically, 2) that the dominant stream of Baptists has not historically rejected the doctrine of original sin, and 3) that original sin is actually more consistent with the believer baptism position.[8] These three points will sufficiently demonstrate that original sin can and should be held to by theologically consistent Baptists today.

Logical Necessity

Nothing intrinsic within the doctrine of original sin contradicts the fundamental tenants of believer baptism. In fact, neither Augustine nor Hodge framed an argument that it did. In contrast, they both argued for a different relationship between the two concepts. Both Augustine and Hodge state infant baptism as a universally accepted fact, and use that given to argue for original sin.

No Contradiction

It may be necessary at this point to define what is meant by the doctrine of original sin. Charles E. Warren does a helpful service by laying out 5 tenants of the historical doctrine:

(1) God created Adam as literally and historically the first human being in whom was the entirety of human nature and from whom the entire race descended. (2) Adam was created with original holiness, which included the potential for biological immortality. (3) Adam sinned by disobeying the commandment of God. (4) God punished Adam by afflicting him with both spiritual and biological death. (5) Adam’s altered human nature, guilty and condemned, is transmitted to every member of the human race by the process of natural generation.[9]

These doctrines contain nothing that should be a problem for the believer baptism position. The first four tenants are essentially affirmed by all Bible believing Christians and have no bearing at all on the current argument. Yet Warren’s fifth tenant is the matter of controversy which this paper will deal with.

Warren has included in his definition of original sin the concept that guilt and condemnation are now connected with human nature in such a way that all of Adam’s posterity inherits both of them by way of “natural generation.” Does this tenant imply that because of this inherited guilt and condemnation, infants must be baptized to remove their original sin? Of course, this paper will argue the negative response. Inherited guilt and corruption could only imply that infants should be baptized if a person holds that baptism has a sacramental efficacy to wash away sins.

Baptists have always rejected a view of baptism that sees it as efficacious. The Baptist Encyclopedia demonstrates this point by saying, “infants are not the friends of Christ’s kingdom, and they never will be unless they are born of the Spirit of God. Baptism has no tendency to produce a new heart, and its bestowal upon unconscious infants is a senseless and unwise abuse of a blessed ordinance intended only for the Saviour’s friends.”[10] This statement can be useful in formulating a definition of baptism from a Baptist perspective.

The definition that will be used here is: baptism is an ordinance of the church, given at the beginning of the Christian life, symbolizing an event in which a person has already been born again, declaring that the old man has died and has been buried with Christ and that the new man has risen with Christ. This definition presupposes (1) that baptism is not efficacious, but demonstrates what has already happened through the efficacious work of the Spirit of God, (2) that baptism is intended for believers, and (3) that baptism is a visual demonstration of the internal working of God in a person’s heart.

A historically consistent Baptist cannot find any contradiction between original sin and believer baptism. Because of the Baptist definition of the ordinance, such an contradiction is not permitted. To argue that inherited guilt implies infant baptism is an example of the logical fallacy of non-sequiter. Two syllogisms will demonstrate this point:

From the perspective of a Roman Catholic:

Baptism has the efficacy of a sacrament to wash away original sin.

Infants are born with original sin,

Therefore, infants should be baptized.

However, from the perspective of a Baptist:

Baptism has no efficacy in the work itself to wash away any sin.

Infants are born with original sin.

Therefore, baptism will have no affect on original sin one way or the other.

The point is, from the Baptist perspective, original guilt does absolutely nothing to promote infant baptism. Only someone who accepts that baptism has any efficacy should draw the conclusion that what Lemke says is a logical inference from inherited guilt. The argument that Lemke makes can only be sustained if one throws out what Baptists have historically believed about baptism. It is hard to believe that a Baptist, such as Lemke, could even draw such a conclusion.

Historic Argument

As was stated earlier, Augustine had argued for original sin on the basis of infant baptism—not the other way around. This traditional argument continued within paedobaptist thought. Augustine’s argument with Pelagius was over original sin. Pelagius and Augustine both baptized infants—this was not a contested practice for them. Augustine also held to a sacramental view of baptism, but this was not the emphasis of the debate. Augustine argued that if Pelagius was to be consistent with his view that infants are born innocent, then he would have to reject infant baptism as well.[11] Baptism was not the issue in question, because neither Augustine nor Pelagius wanted to give up this sacrament. Elsewhere Augustine stated that the fact that infants should be baptized is what, “the authority of the universal Church everywhere cries out.”[12] He also states, “the rule of the Church indicates” that “it includes baptized infants among the faithful.”[13] The baptism of infants was an accepted fact agreed upon by Pelagius and Augustine—it was not up for debate. Augustine used this accepted agreement to argue for original sin.

Charles Hodge used the same argument. Hodge discusses the relationship between original sin and Baptism not under the topic of Baptism, but under the topic of original sin. He argues within the paedobaptist tradition that since infants are baptized, they must be guilty. If they are guilty it could not be their own actions which have made them guilty; therefore original sin must be what has tainted them. Hodge states,

Baptism is an ordinance instituted by Christ, to signify and seal the purification of the soul, by the sprinkling of his blood, and its regeneration by the Holy Ghost. It can therefore be properly administered only to those who are in a state of guilt and pollution. It is, however, administered to infants, and therefore infants are assumed to need pardon and sanctification. This is the argument which Pelagius and his followers, more than all others, found it most difficult to answer. They could not deny the import of the rite. They could not deny that it was properly administered to infants, and yet they refused to admit the unavoidable conclusion, that infants are born in sin.[14]

Here is another paedobaptist arguing from the accepted practice of infant baptism that original sin must be a necessary implication. According to Dale Moody, this method of arguing for original sin from the accepted fact of infant baptism dates back to the time of Origen.[15] In sum, the argument that original sin necessitates infant baptism turns what has been historically argued by paedobaptists on its head.

Baptist History

Original Sin has been accepted historically by Baptists. This is demonstrated by Baptist statements of faith, as well as from the writings of Baptist theologians. Each of these lines of evidence will show that the dominant stream within Baptist life has historically held to original sin—including original guilt.


The 2nd London Confession was the most enduringly popular confession used among Baptists in the 18th and 19th centuries. New confessions during this period were usually considered based upon this one.[16] In the statement on the “Fall of Man, of sin, and the Punishment thereof” it states, “They being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind; the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath.”[17] This Baptist confession explicitly states that guilt is imputed, along with corruption. Clearly the British Particular Baptists (as well as American Baptists subscribing to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith which was essentially the same confession) must have had no problem reconciling the doctrine of original sin with believer Baptism.

The Abstract of Principles was the first Southern Baptist confession of faith and was part of the charter for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. All professors of the institution, even to this day, are required to pledge to “teach in accordance with, and not contrary to the Abstract of Principles.”[18] In this document, the article on the Fall states that man “fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.”[19] Here again, this Baptist confession does not shy away from the doctrine of original sin. The Abstract of Principles affirms both original corruption and original guilt. Its language affirms that infants are born under condemnation even before they become “actual transgressors.”

While the Abstract of Principles was the first confession for a Southern Baptist institution, the Baptist Faith and Message was the first to be adopted by the convention as a whole. This confession was basically the adoption of the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, which in turn was a revision based upon the 2nd London Confession. The Baptist Faith and Message was originally adopted in 1925 in the midst of the controversy between the fundamentalists and the modernists—the same year as the “Scopes Monkey Trial.” The confession adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention stated almost exactly the same words as the Abstract of Principles regarding original sin. It states in the article on the “Fall of Man,” that man “fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.”[20] Here again, this Southern Baptist confession of faith clearly accepts original corruption and original guilt. Liability to condemnation precedes a person’s “actual transgressions.”

In 1963 there was a significant change.[21] In the midst of controversy again, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted another revision of the Baptist Faith and Message. Here one can begin to see a difference simply by the article title. It no longer said “The Fall of Man,” but rather just “Man.” The language of this article significantly weakened the position held on original sin. It now reads that man “fell from his original innocence; whereby his posterity inherit a nature and environment inclined toward sin, and as soon as they are capable of moral action become transgressors and are under condemnation.” [22] This change no longer says that man is born with a corrupt nature, but instead a “nature and environment inclined toward sin.” This change no longer asserts that man is born corrupt, but only that he has the odds stacked against him. Finally, in this revision liability to condemnation no longer precedes transgression. As the Baptist Faith and Message now reads, there is nothing clearly stating that infants are born guilty.

Though it must also be noted that though this statement is weaker in regard to this doctrine, it does not entirely contradict the older statements. Professors at Southern Seminary still have to sign the Abstract of Principles as well as affirm the Baptist Faith and Message. If these statements were in contradiction, then no one could logically subscribe to both of them—and Southern Seminary would either have to close its doors or make the signing of the Abstract of Principles a mere formal “hoop” to jump through. It would be completely out of character for a group of Baptists, with a tradition of affirming original sin (including original guilt) for nearly 300 years, to suddenly change their minds on the subject and contradict the main stream of all previous confessions. The new statement is merely more ambiguous, but it does not explicitly deny either original sin or original guilt.

Baptist confessions have traditionally affirmed the doctrine of original sin, and until recently have not hesitated to affirm original guilt. From the 2nd London Confession in Britain, to the original Baptist Faith and Message in America, Baptists have affirmed this doctrine in their confessions. It should; therefore, not be suggested that Baptists have historically seen any contradiction between affirming original sin as well as believer baptism.

Baptist Theologians

Baptist theologians also have a long tradition of affirming the doctrine of original sin. One can begin to see this even with the Arminian, Thomas Helwys. Under influences from the Anabaptists, Helwys rejected his earlier Calvinism. Though Helwys was otherwise an Arminian, Tom Nettles argues that he retained the doctrine of total depravity based on the following: he still affirmed that “‘men are by nature Children off [sic] wrath’ are born in ‘iniquitie [sic] and in sin conceived.’”[23] Also, the confession adopted by his church while in Amsterdam states that man “fel [sic] by disobedience. Through whose disobedience, all men sinned. His sinn [sic] being imputed vnto [sic] all.”[24] These statements also show that Helwys did not reject the doctrine of original sin.

It is also clear that Benjamin Keach also affirmed both original sin and original guilt. He and William Collins drafted a catechism (known both as The Baptist Catechism, and Keach’s Catechism) in about 1693 in which one of the questions concerning the Fall answers as follows: “The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.”[25] Here Keach and Collins explicitly affirm original sin—including original guilt.

John Gill is another Baptist theologian who continued in this affirmation of original sin. Thomas Nettles describes Gills view in these words, “Adam fell, bringing a change in man’s nature and a verdict of condemnation on all his posterity.”[26] Nettles continues by describing Gills view of the federal headship of Adam; he states that Gill taught that the soul became corrupted at the moment when it is united to the body. Gill, one of the greatest theologians among the Baptist ranks, affirmed that corruption and condemnation come not just before actual transgressions, but before an infant leaves the womb.

Andrew Fuller, arguably the most significant figure in Baptist history, also affirmed original sin and inherited guilt. Fuller debated Dan Taylor, an Arminian Baptist, concerning this very issue. In one letter Fuller states,

Original sin, to be sure is a mysterious subject. There is a difficulty attending the existence of evil in the souls of all mankind upon every hypothesis. . . Some, with Pelagius, deny the thing itself, and maintain that human depravity comes entirely by imitation. Others admit the fact, that we “are depraved by Adam’s transgression,” but deny the guilt of such depravity on that account; this appears to be the case with Mr. T[aylor]. Others admit the fact of such depravity, yet, notwithstanding, acknowledge its guilt; this is my sentiment.[27]

Here, Fuller shows that he rejects notions of original sin that deny that Adam’s posterity is counted guilty. Fuller affirms the Augustinian formulation of original sin which affirms that humans are born guilty. Fuller follows this statement with another, “The Scriptures represent God as a just Being, who will by no means inflict punishment where there is no guilt. . . Surely then we might conclude, even though an apostle had never told us so, that death would not have passed upon all men by one man’s sin, if, in that sin, somehow or other, all had not sinned.”[28] Fuller did not hesitate to affirm the doctrine of original sin—including inherited guilt. He saw that it was demanded by the justice of God. Clearly he could not have seen this as contradictory with his own view of believer baptism.

John L. Dagg spoke vividly of original sin and the condemnation that all men deserve in Adam. He states,

There is a moral union between Adam and his descendants. His disobedience unfurled the banner of rebellion, and we all rally around it. We approve the deed of our father, and take arms in maintaining the war against heaven, which his disobedience proclaimed. He is the chief in this conspiracy of treason, but we are all accessories. As to the outward act, the eating of the forbidden fruit, we did not commit it; but, regarding it as a declaration of independence and revolt, we have made it our own, and it may be justly set to our account, as if we had personally committed the deed.[29]

Dagg’s theology was later endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention when it resolved, “that a catechism be drawn up containing the substance of the Christian religion for the instruction of children and servants and that brother John L. Dagg be desired to draw it up.”[30] Dagg was trusted as a representative to write for the instruction of children for the entire Southern Baptist Convention. He tenaciously embraced the doctrine of original sin and thought it sinful to oppose God by denying inherited guilt.

James P. Boyce, founding president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, when dealing with the question of infants had this to say: “Certain passages of Scripture are supposed to refer to young children as though innocent of guilt. . . But these passages do not teach freedom from corruption. On the other hand, corruption in early infancy is plainly taught.”[31] Boyce follows this statement with an even more clear affirmation of infant guilt:

It follows from the facts in these last two statements, that a corrupt nature makes a condition as truly sinful, and guilty, and liable to punishment, as actual transgressions. Consequently, at the very moment of birth, the presence and possession of such a nature shows that even the infant sons of Adam are born under all the same penalties which befell their ancestor in the day of his sin. Actual transgression subsequently adds new guilt to guilt already existing, but does not substitute a state of guilt for one of innocence.[32]

Boyce’s position could be no clearer. Certainly, he held that infants inherited guilt, and were born sinners. He found no contradiction between this and the baptism of believers only.

Augustus Hopkins Strong, a Northern Baptist, also affirmed original sin as well as original guilt. Strong stated, “that no human being is finally condemned solely on account of original sin; but that all who, like infants, do not commit personal transgressions, are saved through the application of Christ’s atonement.”[33] Strong rejects any notion that infants are accepted into heaven on the basis of their innocence, or that they should not be recognized a sinners. He solidly stands in the tradition of other Baptists before him, and he stands in the Augustinian tradition concerning original sin. He could not have seen this as being at odds with his being a Baptist.

Edgar Young Mullins, former president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and contemporary of A. H. Strong, also affirmed the doctrine of original sin. However, he too made it clear that “men are not condemned therefore for hereditary or original sin. They are condemned only for their own sins.”[34] He did affirm the reality that sin is inherited and that infants dying in infancy are saved on the basis of “Christ’s atoning work extend[ed] to them.”[35] It seems that Mullins would have affirmed that people are born sinners. This was not in contradiction to his being a Baptist.

W. T. Conner, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, somewhat modifies earlier views of Baptists. The confessional stance of Baptist Calvinism had been eroding for some time. This was already evident with Mullins. Yet Conner seems to show more hesitancy to speak of inherited guilt than most of his predecessors. Though he continued this tradition of affirming the doctrine of original sin in Baptist life, Conner echoes his teachers, Strong and Mullins, in saying,

There is general agreement among evangelical theologians that all disability up to the point of positive transgression and deliberate rejection of moral light is provided for in the atoning work of Christ. . . No man, therefore, will be lost merely because of original sin or race sin. Up to the point of positive transgression or rejection of moral light, the individual is provided for in the grace of God without personal repentance and faith.[36]

Conner, along with Strong and Mullins, demonstrated a concern to say that original sin alone does not finally condemn an infant; however he is clear that infants are saved not because of their innocence, nor because they are not considered sinners. Conner affirms that infants who die in infancy are saved by Christ’s work on the cross. Again, apparently Conner saw nothing in this doctrine that was in contradiction with his being a Baptist.


There was some dissent in Baptist life concerning the doctrine of original sin. This is evident from the early Anabaptist and General Baptist confessions. The Waterland Confession,an Anabaptist confession from 1580, gives one example of this. It states, “The first man fell into sins (d) and became subject to divine wrath, and by God was raised up again through consolatory promises (e) and admitted to eternal life at the same time with all those who had fallen (f); so that none of his posterity, in respect of this restitution, is born guilty of sin or blame (g).”[37] This statement shows that this particular group of Anabaptists rejected the concept that any of Adam’s posterity was born guilty. However, there is no evidence that this rejection of original sin was for the purpose of being consistent Baptists. As has been shown, other Baptist groups did not see any need to reject this doctrine in order to become Baptists.

John Smyth, contemporary of Thomas Helwys, also rejected original sin. In the confession by his church, in 1609, it states, “WE BELIEVE WITH THE HEART AND WITH THE MOUTH CONFESS . . . (5.) That there is no original sin . . . but all sin is actual and voluntary . . . and therefore, infants are without sin.”[38] Here Smyth seems to be concerned about the justice of God—not about any consistency with the Baptist position. He cannot reconcile how God can count people guilty without “actual transgressions.” Smyth’s concern does not seem to be on the basis of a rejection of infant baptism.

Again, the Smyth party of early English Baptists drew up another confession between 1612 and 1614 which states as follows:

18. That original sin is an idle term, and that there is no such thing as men intend by the word (Ezek. xviii. 20), because God threatened death only to Adam (Gen. ii. 17) not to his posterity, and because God created the soul (Heb. xii. 9).

19. That if original sin might have passed from Adam to his posterity, Christ’s death, which was effectual before Cain and Abel’s birth, He being the lamb slain from the beginning of the world, stopped the issue and passage thereof (Rev. xiii. 8).

20. That infants are conceived and born in innocency without sin, and that so dying are undoubtedly saved, and that is to be understood of all infants, under heaven.[39]

Here the Smyth party gives a fairly extensive explanation for their rejection of original sin, and this explanation does not have any tie to the concept of infant baptism.

Fairly recently Dale Moody, at Southern Seminary, vehemently opposed the concept of inherited guilt. Moody may be one of Lemke’s predecessors in arguing that there is a direct link correlating original sin and infant baptism. He wrote that in the early church there was a “primitive idea of purification” which “leads to infant baptism only when perverted by the fallacious notion of original guilt.”[40] Though Moody disdained the concept of original guilt, it does seem that he recognized that if the doctrine is true that it is still not a justifiable basis for the practice of infant baptism.[41] So even though he thought that original guilt lead to the practice, he must not have thought that it was a necessary implication. He quotes the Anabaptists in their own rejection of original guilt, yet he does not demonstrate how they saw any tie between the concepts of original sin and infant baptism.

Baptists have historically not needed to deny original sin in order to remain Baptist. Baptist confessions, and the writings of Baptist theologians both testify to a long tradition of affirming this doctrine. The majority of these documents affirm inherited guilt, and it is only relatively recent that the mainstream of Baptists has weakened their statements affirming this traditionally held biblical doctrine. The exceptions within Baptist life, who have denied the doctrine of original sin, seem to reject the doctrine on the grounds of God’s justice—not because it is inconsistent with the believer baptism position. The historical record is probably the most significant evidence that holding to original sin or inherited guilt does not necessarily imply infant baptism. If original sin did imply infant baptism, one would expect that the dominant stream of Baptist life would have rejected it. But instead, the reverse is true.

Original Sin Implies Believer Baptism

In contrast to those who have claimed that infant baptism is necessary because of original sin, this doctrine might actually be used to support the believer baptism position. This argument may be akin to that of Paul K. Jewett, who argued that “covenant theology implies believer baptism.”[42] It may seem to flow against the stream of ecclesiastical history.[43] However, there is one point that can be made that refutes those who would try to reject original sin on the basis of believer baptism.

As Cathcart had maintained, “baptism has no tendency to produce a new heart, and its bestowal upon unconscious infants is a senseless and unwise abuse of a blessed ordinance intended only for the Saviour’s friends.”[44] Assuming the Baptist view of baptism is correct, and that the proper subject of baptism is a believer only, then original sin may be the very reason for rejecting infant baptism. The doctrine of original sin says that infants are born guilty and under condemnation and in need of Christ. Therefore, infants are born lost. No Baptist would want to baptize those who are by all accounts lost. By logical necessity, for the Baptist, if infants are guilty and condemned they should not be admitted into membership of the church through baptism until they have come to an age where they have expressed faith and shown evidence of regeneration.

Charles Hodge, on the other hand, stated exactly the opposite. He said that baptism can “be properly administered only to those who are in a state of guilt and pollution.”[45] This is where a fundamental disagreement between paedobaptists and Baptists can be observed. Baptists would say that it is the regenerate that needs baptism; whereas, paedobaptists would say that it is the unregenerate that needs it.

So maybe original sin does not necessarily imply believer baptism. However, for one who presupposes that believers are the proper subjects of baptism, original sin can serve as another argument for why this is the case. The whole issue revolves not necessarily around any supposed efficacy of the baptismal waters, but around the identity of the proper subjects of baptism.


There has historically been a link between the doctrine of original sin and baptism, though the link may or may not be determinative of how it is practiced. There will continue to be debate between Baptists and paedobaptists about who the proper subjects of baptism are, though much may come down to presuppositions. This paper has argued that the doctrine of original sin does not necessarily imply infant baptism. On the contrary, depending on ones presuppositions it may actually be an argument against the practice of infant baptism. Baptists throughout history have typically not had any problem affirming both original sin and believer baptism. Even when there have been exceptions, where Baptists have shied away from the concept of inherited guilt, it has not been on the basis of any contradiction with believer baptism. Original sin is simply not a problem for Baptists because they do not believe there is any efficacy in the act itself. Those who would say that “Baptists deny that children are guilty upon birth, and thus deny infant baptism,”[46] need to reexamine the historical record, as well as reexamine their logic.

[1]Augustine The Punishment and Forgiveness of Sins and the Baptism of Little Ones 1.28. ed. John E. Rotelle, trans. Roland J. Teske, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century[WSA], part I, vol. 23 (Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 1997), 49.

[2]John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.15.10, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Fort Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 1311.

[3]Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2003), 2:247.

[4]Steve W. Lemke, “Who Can be Saved? Tiessen’s Accessibilism vs. Jesus’ Exclusivism” (paper presented at the annual southwest regional meeting of the Evangelical Society, Fort Worth, Texas, 22 March 2007), 9.

[5]Ibid., 8.

[6]The main argument of Lemke’s paper was against inclusivism. His treatment of original sin was only one part of his larger argument, and he does not treat the entirety of the doctrine. However, what he did say was enough to demonstrate that at least he denies original guilt and denies that infants are born sinners.

[7]Robert G. Torbet, A History of the Baptists, 3rd ed. (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, 2000), 274.

[8]“Believer baptism” will be used instead of “believer’s baptism.” The term is in contrast to “infant baptism” rather than “infant’s baptism.” Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980), 226.

[9]Charles E. Warren, Original Sin Explained? Revelations from Human Genetic Science (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2002), vii.

[10]William Cathcart, “Baptism, the Scriptural Subjects of,” in The Baptist Encyclopedia: A Dictionary of the Doctrines, Ordinances, Usages, Confessions of Faith, Sufferings, Labors, and Successes, and of the General History of the Baptist Denomination in All Lands (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Louis H. Everts, 1883), 1:70.

[11] Augustine, The Punishment and Forgiveness of Sins, 1.58 (WSA, I.23:67).

[12] Ibid., 1.62 (WSA, I.23:71).

[13] Ibid., 1.28 (WSA, I.23:49).

[14] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:247.

[15]Dale Moody, The Word of Truth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1981), 462.

[16]Gregory Wills, Readings in Baptist History (classroom lecture notes, CH 26100—History of the Baptists, Spring 2003, photocopy), 2.

[17]William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, 1969), 258-59.

[18]James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: American Baptist Publication Society, 1887, reprint ed., North Pompano Beach, Florida: Christian Gospel Foundation), Appendix B.


[20]Committee on Statement of Baptist Faith and Message, Baptist Faith and Message, 1925 [on-line]; accessed 25 November 2007; available from http://; Internet.

[21]This change was essentially retained the 2000 revision with only changes in punctuation and a conjunction.

[22]William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 394.

[23]Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and for His Glory: A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life (Lake Charles, Louisiana: Cor Meum Tibi, 2002, 57.

[24]William Lumpkin Baptist Confessions of Faith, 117.

[25]Thomas J. Nettles, Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: the Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life (Amityville, New York: Calvary Press, 1998), 62.

[26]Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and for His Glory, 81.

[27]Fuller, Andrew G. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: with a Memoir of His Life, ed. Joseph Belcher (Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 2:522-23.

[28]Ibid., 2:523.

[29]John L. Dagg, Manual of Theology (Harrisonburg, Virginia: Gano Books, 1990), 165.

[30] Ibid., Preface to the New Edition.

[31]James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, 243.

[32]Ibid., 250.

[33]Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, 1945), 596.

[34]Edgar Young Mullins, The Christian Religion in Its Doctrinal Expression (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, 1938), 302.

[35] Ibid., 286.

[36]W. T. Conner, Christian Doctrine (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1949, 143-44.

[37]William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 45.

[38]Ibid., 100.

[39]Ibid., 127.

[40]Dale Moody, The Word of Truth, 462.


[42]Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, 233.

[43]Ibid., 5.

[44]William Cathcart, “Baptism, the Scriptural Subjects of,” 1:70.

[45] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:247.

[46]Steve W. Lemke, “Who Can be Saved? Tiessen’s Accessibilism vs. Jesus’ Exclusivism,” 9.

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