Recently the Traditionalist sect of the SBC put forth their own statement of faith, contrasting it against the Calvinist sect. As a Calvinists I disagree with the Traditionalist on several points, and most of our differences don’t hinder our relationship too much. However, there is a very problematic article in the statement. My desire is to address the problem with grace, in hopes that my Traditionalist brothers and sisters will reconsider the severity of this article.
In Article Two, entitled “The Sinfulness of Man”, is written:
We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.
We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.
This post presents several very severe doctrinal issues. First, We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Some will say that I’m arguing over semantics, but saying we are “inclined” to sin skirts around the main issue: the deadness of the heart. Paul says we are “dead in our trespasses and sins”. If you are dead, you aren’t “inclined” to not breathing, you actually don’t breathe.
The London Baptist Confession of Faith articulates it well by saying:
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, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, an eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free. (6.3)
When Adam sinned, he plunged all of mankind into death with him. Christians, we are not simply “inclined” to sin, we are born into sin, a state that is utterly abhorrent to God and apart from His saving grace we will continue in sin.
Lastly, We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. The biggest problem here is that it denies both the Federal Headship of Adam and original sin.
First let’s tackle Federal Headship. What is meant by the term “Federal Headship”? In layman’s terms it simply means that in the Garden of Eden Adam represented us, he stood in our place. We see this most clearly in Romans 5:12-21. Shai Linne said it best when he said “one player commits a foul, the whole team gets penalized”. Adam, as our Federal Head, was our representative; he acted on our behalf. Therefore, when he sinned we all sinned (Romans 5:18,19).
Denying the Federal Headship of Adam has implications concerning the atonement of Christ. If Adam didn’t represent us then Christ wasn’t our representative. If Adam’s guilt wasn’t imputed to us, then Christ’s righteousness isn’t imputed to us. This is exactly what Paul meant when he said “by one man’s disobedience…so by one man’s obedience…” If we follow the Traditionalist’s thought here, and begin with everybody being guilty only by their own sins then logically only their death would satisfy God’s wrath. As you can see, being born guilty in Adam is actually good news! Because we are dead in Adam because of his sin, through Christ’s atonement we are made alive because of Christ’s death!
Now, let’s look at Original Sin. If one denies the Federal Headship of Adam then the logical next step is to deny original sin. Without Original Sin humans are born at worst in a neutral state, and at best in a state of perfection. Article Two states very clearly that the articulators of the document (and the signees as well) believe that humans are born into some sort of innocence until they commit their first sin. This is in direct opposition to Psalm 51:5. How could David say he was “brought forth in iniquity” if he was born innocent?
In conclusion I want to make one final argument, not merely for Federal Headship and Original Sin, but for a robustly Reformed view of Soteriology. The Traditionalist Statement is inconsistent. As the wise saying goes, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”.
On the one hand the Traditionalist Statement over and over again pushes for the innocence of man, and the freedom and ability of man to choose God, but then states “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.” Salvation is either wholly of God or wholly of man; synergistic salvation is antithetical to Biblical soteriology.
On the other hand, the Calvinistic understanding of salvation presents a coherency. Beginning with the total depravity of man, God is then the initiator of salvation by electing sinners unconditionally. In light of the unconditionality of election, Christ’s atonement is perfectly applied and completed by atoning for the sins of the elect. Because Christ accomplished his mission to save those that the Father chose, the Grace He provides is irresistible. Because God is the initiator of salvation and because His grace is irresistible, the regenerate sinner is secure in Christ and will undoubtedly persevere.
If you are a Traditionalist, I ask that you consider the implications of your statement concerning salvation. This isn’t simply a secondary issue like eschatology, this is the Gospel.
Soli Deo Gloria!