Response to A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation, Part 12
Article Nine: The Security of the Believer
We affirm that when a person responds in faith to the Gospel, God promises to complete the process of salvation in the believer into eternity. This process begins with justification, whereby the sinner is immediately acquitted of all sin and granted peace with God; continues in sanctification, whereby the saved are progressively conformed to the image of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit; and concludes in glorification, whereby the saint enjoys life with Christ in heaven forever.
We deny that this Holy Spirit-sealed relationship can ever be broken. We deny even the possibility of apostasy.
John 10:28-29; 14:1-4; 16:12-14; Philippians 1:6; Romans 3:21-26; 8:29,30; 35-39; 12:1-3; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Ephesians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:12; Colossians 1:21-22; 1 John 2:19; 3:2; 5:13-15; 2 Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 13:5; James 1:12; Jude 24-25
As have all Particular Baptists throughout history (but not all General Baptists, with whom the authors of this document seem to identify most closely) this article affirms the permanence of salvation. Such a position is most certainly worthy of being designated the historic or “traditional” Southern Baptist view…not that it has been without detractors throughout SBC history.
The most notable opponent to this view was the late professor of theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dale Moody. In his1981 magnum opus, The Word of Truth, Moody takes great delight that his is the first Southern Baptist theology textbook to reject all “five points” of Calvinism (pp. 337-65). To Moody, this made perfect sense in light of the widespread rejection of the other four points. After the publication of his systematic theology Moody’s consistent, five-point Arminianism came under increasing attack until he was finally relieved of his seminary teaching responsibilities in 1983 because of his affirmation of final apostasy.
This response to Moody is indicative of a consistent conviction held by Southern Baptists throughout their history. Southern Baptists have always firmly confessed that all who are true saints will persevere in faith. The Abstract of Principles of 1858 gives a complete article to this subject.
XIII. Perseverance of the Saints.
Those whom God hath accepted in the Beloved, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere to the end; and though they may fall, through neglect and temptation, into sin, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, bring reproach on the Church, and temporal judgments on themselves, yet they shall be renewed again unto repentance, and be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
In language that borrows heavily from the Abstract, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 also affirms this doctrine in plain language.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation (Article V, paragraph 2).
Both of these statements wisely acknowledge the reality of backsliding in a Christian’s life. The stark, unqualified denial of “even the possibility of apostasy” by authors of this “traditional” statement unfortunately lacks that careful theological nuance. For although Dale Moody was wrong, the New Testament texts to which he appealed (most notably, Hebrews 6:4-8, 10:26-27; 2 Peter 2:20) cannot be ignored. There is such a thing as temporary apostasy (backsliding) and it should be distinguished from final apostasy when the issue of perseverance of the saints is addressed. This final apostasy is not the loss of once-held salvation but the evidence of false conversion (1 John 2:19). Sadly, some false converts never apostatize outwardly from confessing Christ as Lord in this life, only to find their unrepentant disobedience to God’s commands betraying a false faith, a false conversion and an inward apostasy at the last judgment (Matt. 7:21-23). The authors need to be clearer when they say “we deny even the possibility of apostasy.” Left unqualified, such a statement may embolden the unrepentant confessor to live in sin with a false assurance of salvation. John Owen provides great help at this point, in his Nature of Apostasy.
This article’s good affirmation of eternal security does raise one question that, if the authors and promoters would address, could further meaningful dialogue with those who reject their view of libertarian freedom. If the nature of fallen man’s will is such that he has the power of contrary choice either to trust Christ or reject Christ, how and why is this power lost once such a man becomes a Christian? Why must a Christian always remain a Christian? How can God keep him in the faith without “vitiating” his free will? It seems like this scheme leaves Christians with less of an “actual free will” (as Article Eight designates it) after conversion than before. These questions are sincere and I hope that the promoters and defenders of this document will address them.
The hermeneutic that rejects unconditional election and effectual calling of believers cannot sustain, with consistency, their eternal security. Patrick Hues Mell, one of the most prominent and influential founders and early leaders of the SBC (served 17 years as president of the convention) understood this well and represented the standard original Southern Baptist view of the issue in his book, Predestination and the Saints’ Perseverance (originally published as a series, ironically, in the Georgia Christian Index). Mell’s biblical arguments show the inconsistency of trying to live in an Arm
inian house with a Calvinistic padlock on the door.
Though I think Article Nine could be strengthened by a brief statement that acknowledges the possibility of false conversions as well as real, temporary backsliding by believers, overall its affirmation and denial delineate the historic Baptist understanding of the permanent nature of eternal life. Our Lord Himself assures us that no one will be able to snatch his sheep out of his hand or the Father’s hand (John 10:27-30) and the Apostle Paul confidently asserts that nothing can separate us (believers) from the love of Christ. “For,” as he writes, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39; cf. 8:35-37).