FMB penned SBC’s first Traditional confession*

October 22, 2013

by Marty Comer, pastor
Sand Ridge Baptist Church
Lexington, Tenn.

Founded in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted no confession of faith for it’s first 80 years. Obviously, Southern Baptists during that 80-year period held beliefs that were similar to their neighbors, and there was a body of shared beliefs among Baptists in the South. What were some of those shared beliefs? Were they much like what traditional Southern Baptists believe today?

Baptists have always considered themselves “a people of the book.” The Bible has been our standard for faith and practice. This simple biblicism has led Southern Baptists through the decades, when confronted with a doctrinal question, to ask, “What does the Bible say?”

Five years before Southern Baptists adopted their first confession of faith in 1925, the Foreign Mission  Board, in 1920, adopted a statement of faith. Leon McBeth provided a great service to Southern Baptists by including it in his A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (pages 485-487).

It is interesting to read this early expression of beliefs commonly held among, and preached by Southern Baptists. Frankly, it reads like a doctrinal statement that could by adopted by Traditional Southern Baptists today. It consists of 13 articles, which those who were appointed by the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) were to believe and preach.

Article 1 concerns the Holy Scriptures and describes them as “written by men who were divinely inspired” and states that they are “a sufficient and final authority in all matters of religious faith and practice.” This certainly follows the historic Baptist view of the Bible as being the authority for Southern Baptist beliefs.

Article 2 outlines the Baptist view that there is “one, and only one living and true God” and includes a clear statement about the Trinity, saying that God “is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This article is anchored in the historic, orthodox position Baptists hold regarding the Trinity. Baptists are trinitarian. This is expressed in our preaching, our teaching, our music, our evangelism, and in all things we do.

Article 3 makes clear that early 20th century Baptists believed in the “virgin birth, the deity, vicarious death, the bodily resurrection, and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.” These they confess are “plainly taught in the Scriptures.” One must remember that in the early 20th century there were vicious attacks on traditional views of Jesus’ life and ministry. Many mainline Protestant groups were moving away from belief in the virgin  birth, bodily resurrection, and the vicarious death of Christ and toward a liberal view that these were not necessary beliefs.

German theologians were teaching that Christ didn’t really die, that his resurrection was a spiritual, not literal resurrection, etc. Baptists were having none of that and clearly proclaimed their belief in the historic, orthodox views of Christ and His work.

Article 4 outlined their anthropology, or beliefs about man. These early Baptist viewed man in his natural state as depraved and without true holiness. The 1925 Baptist Faith and Message gave a more clear pronouncement on this (and several other articles) when it said that man “was created in a state of holiness under the law of his Maker, but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God and 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.” There is nothing in the 1920 statement to indicate one should interpret something into their statement that would contradict the 1925 pronouncement.

Article 5 stated that “salvation is wholly of grace through Jesus Christ.”

Article 6 is interesting because it expresses a belief in the savability of any person. It states “that on condition of personal repentance for sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ any man can receive the forgiveness of sin and salvation unto eternal life (emphasis added).”

This is a striking statement. It seems clear that the leaders of the Foreign Mission Board in 1920 believed clearly and without wavering that “any man can receive” Christ and be saved. Today, there is a debate in the Southern Baptist Convention about whether “any man can receive the forgiveness of sin and salvation unto eternal life” or whether only those who are chosen before the foundation of the world (the elect) can receive forgiveness and be saved.

There is a new network being developed among Southern Baptists called CONNECT316. You can find out about this network at  This group of like-minded Southern Baptists hold beliefs that are in harmony with those expressed by the Foreign Mission Board in the 1920 statement. Here is a summary of beliefs:

1. God desires all to be saved and has made a way of salvation in Christ for any person.
2. Fallen man inherits a sinful nature but is condemned only because of his own sin.
3. The substitutionary atonement of Christ is effective and available for every person.
4. God’s grace takes all the initiative in saving souls. Man’s free response is not a work.
5. Any who repent and believe are regenerated in that moment, not before or apart from it.?
6. In election, God saves His people without predetermining their souls for heaven or hell.
7. God’s sovereign omniscience does not mean He causes human decisions about Jesus.
8. God gives to each person actual free will to accept or reject His call to salvation.
9. When one is saved, God promises to complete the process, sealing their eternal fate.?
10. As we share God’s love, the gospel is the means of bringing any person to Christ.

You can easily see the historic kinship among the beliefs of CONNECT316 Baptists and those Baptists who in 1920 when you read Article 7 of the 1920 statement and compare it with the CONNECT316 beliefs outlined above.

Article 7 says “that regeneration is necessary to spiritual life in Christ, and that this change is effected by the direct action of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of each individual who exercises personal faith in Christ (emphasis added).”

The 1920 Baptists believed that regeneration occurs when “personal faith in Christ” is exercised by the individual. CONNECT316 Baptists believe the same thing: “Any who repent and believe are regenerated in that moment, not before or apart from it.”

In other words, the 1920 Foreign Mission Board type of Baptists and the 2013 CONNECT316 type of Baptists both believe that regeneration occurs at the moment a person repents from sin and places faith in Christ.

This may seem like theological hair-splitting to some, but there is a debate raging today concerning regeneration. Many in the Calvinist camp teach that regeneration occurs before faith is exercised. They say that a person does not confess faith in Christ to be saved (or regenerated), but they confess faith in Christ because they have already been saved (or regenerated). In this system, a person can be saved (or regenerated) before their confession of Christ is made. In other words, it is possible for a person to be saved and not know it. Regeneration can occur and then at a later point a person will confess faith in Christ, but they have already been regenerated.

There are brilliant theologians who can express these ideas far more clearly than I. My point is simply to say that in 1920, Southern Baptists on the Foreign Mission Board believed that any person can be saved and that regeneration occurred when a person repented of sin and exercised faith in Christ. And in 2013, there is a sizable majority of Southern Baptists (as expressed in the CONNECT316 network) who still believe those same things.

You might want to check out what traditional Southern Baptist believe by going to

In the current climate in the SBC, those who hold to what are commonly called traditional Baptist beliefs about salvation and related matters will find friends at CONNECT316. And if you want to know if you stand on the same principles as millions of Southern Baptists in the past, get a copy of McBeth’s A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage and read about the 1920 Foreign Mission Board statement. You will find that you are not alone in your traditional Baptist beliefs.

*Ed’s. Note: SBCToday wrote the title to this article as reflective of Pastor Comer’s first sentence: “Founded in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted no confession of faith for it’s first 80 years.” However, since posting the article, we have opted to clarify the title by adding “Traditional” since this characerization more accurately reflects the article’s content. Any impression that the FMB’s was the first of any confession, or that it was an SBC-wide confession, is unintended. We recognize as historical SBC confessions only the permutations of the BFM, and we recognize and endorse the BFM 2K as the SBC’s latest statement of faith.

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Sean Cole

I usually don’t weigh in on these intramural debates between us as Southern Baptists, but I want to respectfully address from a Calvinistic perspective a misunderstanding that many of the Traditionalists may have regarding the offer of the gospel. The FMB statement in article 5 states that a person can receive salvation upon the CONDITION of repentance and faith. As a 5 point Calvinist I agree with this statement. Nobody will be saved unless they repent and believe. Election is UNTO salvation in the sense that God determines beforehand who will be saved. But there comes a point in time when that elect person must hear and understand the gospel when it is preached. When the external call of the gospel goes forth to everyone without discrimination (and yes, I believe that we should preach the gospel to all creation because we do not know the identity of the elect), the Holy Spirit sovereignly regenerates those by effecting an inward call. This inward call actually produces the repentance and faith required to receive salvation. Regardless of what view a persons holds (Calvinism, Arminianisms, Traditionalist/Savable) we all believe that no person will be saved unless they repent and believe in Christ alone. We as Calvinists believe that a person does indeed repent and believe because they were chosen and regenerated, while the Traditionalist will be that a person does indeed and repent in response to the wooing of the Holy Spirit.

When the FMB gives their statement, I take it to mean (and I could be wrong) that they were not making a distinction between Calvinism and the Traditionalist view but were articulating what every evangelical Christian believes–the conditions for salvation are repentance and faith. As a Calvinist I have no problem with the statement that any man can receive salvation as long as he meets the conditions–repentance and faith. There is a limit as to who can be saved–those who repent and believe–unless we are universalists. The argument is not the free offer of the gospel to all people without exception–the argument lies in the foundational reasons as to WHY the person comes to faith. Do they repent and believe because they were chosen before the foundation of the world and the Holy Spirit sovereignly regenerated them? Or do they repent and believe because they used their free will to choose Christ when the gospel was offered to them. In either case, the condition is repentance and faith.

As a 5 pointer, I would exhort us as Southern Baptists to put more of our focus on where we agree in salvation—the necessity and condition that all men everywhere are commanded to repent and believe. Let us be diligent in calling people everywhere to repent and believe in Christ. And as many do, the Calvinists will rejoice that God has called forth His elect from out of the world, and the Traditionalist will rejoice that man has called upon the name of The Lord. In either case, sinners are hearing the gospel and getting saved.

I wish we could spend more time on areas of agreement, than on the finer points of theological disagreements. I do not downplay that there are significant differences, but lostness is too great and the Great Commission a task too grand, to not unify around the centrality of calling all people everywhere to repent and believe and then leave the results up to God.

    Ron F. Hale

    I’d like speak to your comment; and thanks for your kind spirit.

    You said of yourself: “As a 5 point Calvinist I agree with this statement. Nobody will be saved unless they repent and believe. Election is UNTO salvation in the sense that God determines beforehand who will be saved. But there comes a point in time when that elect person must hear and understand the gospel when it is preached.”

    If I’m reading you correctly, you lean toward the belief that Christ died to provide and secure the salvation of the elect – as they repent and believe (in time, after being individually elected/chosen in eternity).

    Many, as I, believe that Christ’s atonement was intended to “provide” salvation for all – and to “procure” salvation for all who turn from their sins (repent) and turn to Jesus by believing the Gospel – which is the power of God unto salvation.

    Your use of the word “elect” implies a denial that God really wants “all” persons to be saved. Blessings!

      Sean Cole

      Thanks for the reply Ron. I use the word “elect” in the sense that God chose certain individuals to be saved before the foundation of the world according to Ephesians 1 and Romans 8 and 9. I understand that your view of God “desiring” all to be saved comes from 2 Peter 3:9 and I would argue that contextually based upon the entire letter the “all” to which Peter refers is all of God’s elect who are scattered throughout the world. God desires that all of His chosen ones will come to salvation.

      But I assume you do not hold to that position. But we must ask a deeper question. In God desiring “all” to be saved, we know from Scripture and experience that not all are saved. Right now there are countless souls in hell who have died in their sins and are under God’s wrath.

      So in essence there is “something” out there in the universe that is actually preventing God from getting what He desires. If He desires all people to be saved and yet not all people are saved, then we must conclude that God desires and even wills something that is not in line with His desired outcome. The Traditionalist or Arminian would answer that the “thing” that overrides God’s desire for all to be saved is the free will of each individual to either choose or reject Christ. God’s desire for all to be saved is overwritten or overpowered by human free will. The Calvinist will argue that the “thing” that overwrites God’s desire for all to be saved is His own glory in electing a countless number of sinners to be saved while passing over others and leaving them in their sins.

      I don’t think one can do a thorough overview of the Bible and not see that God is discriminating in His love for sinners. God chose Abram as a pagan idolater in Ur. He didn’t choose anyone else. God chose the nation of Israel and gave her blessings and the priesthood and the temple and the sacrificial system and prophets and did not give this to the Egyptians or Canaanites or Moabites. A thorough reading of the Old Testament demonstrates that God does something for the Israelites that HE does not do for any other nation or group of people.

      I think we are starting from two different vantage points. I am starting from the position that humans are spiritually dead in Adam and are under condemnation and that God owes nothing but wrath to all people. God is not obligate to offer grace and even when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, he was not compelled to forgive them and clothe them with fig leaves and promise the Messiah in Genesis 3:15. God does not have to even offer salvation to any one person If God were to send Adam and Eve to hell after the Fall, He would do no wrong. If God were to send every single person on earth to hell He would do no wrong for that is what we all deserve. So I am starting from the vantage point that God does not owe grace to anyone and that His grace cannot be coerced. God chooses to save out of His own sovereign freedom and if He were to choose to save only one person or one family out of the entire world, He would do no wrong. THis would not be injustice, but mercy.

      If God wanted all people to be saved, then why are they not all saved? The Arminian answer: Human free will trumps God’s will and desire. The Calvinist answer: God’s free will in saving whom He chooses trumps the sinful desire of humans.

      I would be very uncomfortable with saying that God wants every single person who ever lived and who lived to be saved. I would rather say that God sent HIs Son to die for sinners and whoever repents and believes in Christ alone will be saved. God offers merciful salvation to sinners and has provided a real atonement in Christ to propitiate HIs wrath. I would urge a sinner to see that they are helpless, hopeless, and hell-bound without Christ and that they must repent and believe. I would say that Jesus stands with His arms wide open to receive any person who comes to HIm in repentance and faith. He offers mercy to anyone who begs for mercy.

      And as the Calvinist that I am, when a sinner does repent and believe and comes to Christ, it is evidence that this person was elect before the foundation of the world. I would NEVER preach in front of my congregation this statement: “IF you are here today and you are one of the elect, don’t worry about repentance and faith because after all God has it all figured out and you don’t need to worry because if you’re meant to be saved you will be saved regardless of what you do.” That is hyper-Calvinism. Each week when I preach I indiscriminately offer Jesus in the gospel to all sinners who need salvation and I often say that no sinner is beyond God’s reach of grace. (Thinking of Paul).

      We will probably disagree on these matters, but the important issue for me is that we don’t regress into Hyper-Calvinism which has no passion for evangelism and missions and sees the world through a fatalistic lens where there is no fervent prayer for lost people and no serious obedience to the Great Commission.

        Norm Miller

        I am very grateful for the tone of your remarks. You provide an example for all of us to follow. I was struck particularly by a couple of your statements:

        “I think we are starting from two different vantage points. I am starting from the position that humans are spiritually dead in Adam and are under condemnation and that God owes nothing but wrath to all people.”

        You summed our foundational differences right here, brother. While I embrace total depravity, I define it biblically.
        There are numerous verses showing the ability of unredeemed people to respond to God, thus proving we are not totally dead in trespasses and sins.

        Dr. David L. Allen of SWBTS notes:
        “According to the Bible, the unsaved who are spiritually dead have the ability to:
        Act in accordance with conscience (Gen. 3:7)
        Hear God (Gen. 3:10-13)
        Respond to God (Gen. 3:10-13)[10]
        Repent of sins (Luke 15:18-19)[11]
        Seek God (John 3)
        Fear God (Acts 10:2)
        Pray to God (Acts 10:2)[12]
        Had prayers and alms recognized by God (Acts 10:4, 31)
        Know the truth about God (Rom. 1:18-20)
        Perceive God’s invisible attributes (Rom. 1:18-20)”

        Of necessity, Calvinism must aver total spiritual deadness, and that is why I think Calvinists cannot accept the premise that lost souls are not completely dead in trespasses and sins as the above verses prove. Such an approach shows that some Calvinists allow their theology to drive their exegesis and not the opposite. However, exegesis of the above verse will inform one’s theology that people are not completely dead, spiritually.

        Also, in this paragraph below, you limit the answer to only two, when there are three:

        “If God wanted all people to be saved, then why are they not all saved? The Arminian answer: Human free will trumps God’s will and desire. The Calvinist answer: God’s free will in saving whom He chooses trumps the sinful desire of humans.”

        You failed to note the Baptist answer, which holds God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in tension.

        “It is not God’s will that any should perish.” But some do. Why?

          Sean Cole

          I apologize upfront for the lengthy post, but I want to adequately answer your question and engage in dialogue and not just spout Calvinistic cliques’ and not really address your question. Here is my feeble attempt to define total depravity Biblically. Now when I say that I am defining it Biblically, I’m not suggesting that you are not defining it Biblically as well. You gave very good verses from a well respected SBC scholar and I do not disagree with you that humans can respond to God, but allow me to answer this question about total depravity.

          Before we give a definition, we need to understand that how a person answers this question will determine what camp they fall into.
          The question is this: How sinful are humans? What affect did the Fall truly have on humanity?
          There have been four primary answers to this question:

          1. Pelagianism— named after the British monk Pelagius who argued that humans are born neutral and not with original sin. This was declared heretical by the early church in 418 at The Council of Carthage in 418 andit has been condemned by both the Roman Catholic and Protestant Church

          2. Semi-Pelagianism—our natural state is one of moral and spiritual sickness, but we still have the ability to use our free will to either accept or reject Jesus.

          3. Arminianism—we are totally depraved but God gives to everyone enabling or “prevenient” grace so that everyone who hears the gospel call is able to accept it by cooperating with this grace or they can use their free will to reject this enabling grace.

          4. Calvinism—we are totally depraved and dead in sin, and as such, we are unable to respond favorably to the gospel unless God in His sovereign grace changes our hearts to make us spiritual alive (born again).

          Let’s look at our primary text in John 6:35-44

          Let’s set the context. This is the feeding of the 5000. In the gospel of John, Jesus performs these signs not so much as a way to show raw power or to give people an outstanding miracle. Instead, He does these a sign to point to the greater reality of who He is. In this case, the feeding of the 5000 is to show that Jesus is indeed the true bread of life. Like the manna that God provided in the Old Testament as the daily food for the Israelites, Jesus is sent by the Father as the never-ending manna or bread to satisfy all who would believe in Him.

          In verse 37, we see something that will help us understand this entire teaching on the doctrines of grace and something Jesus repeats all throughout the gospel of John.

          The Father gives something to Jesus.
          We need to ask the question then: Who is it that the Father gives to Jesus?
          Because there are some qualifying statements about this. The text says that “All” will come and the ones that do come will never be cast out.
          The term “coming” is another way of saying “trusting”—all who trust or believe in Jesus.
          Jesus comes down to do the Father’s will and that is to not lose any that the Father has given Him.
          So we see a few things about those given to Jesus by the Father:
          1. They will come to Jesus
          2. He will never cast them out
          3. He will not lose even one of them
          4. They will be raised on the last day
          So, the identity of this group is still not answered. Who exactly is this group of which the Father has given Jesus?
          Is it all people? Or is there a qualifier?
          The qualifier is those who trust or believe in Jesus.
          Do all people come to Jesus?
          Are there some who will spend eternity in Hell?
          We have to answer yes to these questions, so the answer we must conclude is that the Father has not given all people to Jesus. There must be a group that is given to Jesus that is distinct from the entire world.

          John 17:1-2 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

          Jesus has been given authority over all flesh. That is He is absolutely sovereign over all humanity. The entire world is under the control of Jesus. But there is a subset among the entire world—there is a group that will receive eternal life. Notice again that the Father has given to Jesus a group of people. Not all people, but a group of people who will come, believe, and have eternal life.

          John 17:6-9 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

          Again, Jesus says that the Father has given him a people from out of the world. Jesus says that He is only praying for this people, not the world. There is a distinction here between the entire world, and the people whom the Father has given Jesus.
          Jesus does something for these people given to Him that He doesn’t do for the entire world. He prays for them and as we will see later, specifically dies for them.
          Now let’s go back to John 6 and explore verse 44
          What does it say?
          No one “CAN” come—this word does not speak of permission but of ability. The Greek word here means that no one has the inherent ability within themselves to come. They morally and spiritually cannot.Unless something happens to them, they will not come.

          What must happen before a sinner comes to Jesus?

          The Father must draw them.

          In verse 65 it must be “granted” by the Father for a sinner to come.

          So Jesus says that there is something holding back sinners from coming to Him. There is a spiritual inability to come.
          What is Jesus talking about?

          In our day, many believe that a sinner can use his or her free will to come to Jesus at any time. They argue that humans have been endowed with autonomous free will and self-determination and they are the ones who choose Jesus. They have the innate ability to accept Christ when the gospel is offered. They believe that the Fall has affected us and that we are sinful, but they don’t believe in total inability. They believe that we still have an island within us of free will that enables us to choose Christ on our own. We are not spiritually dead in our sins, but spiritually sick and thought tainted by sin, we can still make the first move to God and be the ones who ultimately accept Jesus.

          Total depravity does not mean that man is as sinful as he could be and that everyone is like Hitler. What it does mean is that every faculty of a person (mind, will, emotions, etc) have been affected by the fall in that it goes to the root of who we are.

          The Latin word for “root” is radix—some people like R.C. Sproul call it “Radical Depravity” because sin goes to the root of who we are and affects everything. Even our will.

          Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-

          We have inherited what theologians call “original sin” from Adam. Adam is the representative of the human race and when he sinned, all of us were plunged into sin. We are born sinners. We are not born neutral, but we are by nature “in Adam” and spiritually dead.

          Psalm 51:5 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

          The moment we were conceived we inherited this sin nature and we are born under the curse of sin.

          As a result, we are desperately wicked.

          Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
          Ecclesiastes 9:3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead

          John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.

          At this point, most evangelical Christians will agree that humans are born sinful.

          But the real question is to what degree—is it total or radical depravity or is it partial depravity. Are we sick or are we dead?

          Many will argue that just because we are born sinful doesn’t mean that we still don’t retain the ability to use our free will to come to Christ. They will say that we are indeed sinners, but we still have the ability to come on our own.

          Jesus taught us in John 6 that we are incapable of coming on our own. We cannot come. We cannot because of our condition.

          Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.

          We can’t change the color of our skins. A leopard can’t go from being spotted to not being spotted because it is part of its nature. Our skin color is part of our nature. It’s who we are. In the same way, it’s our nature to be a sinner who does evil. We can’t change that. We can’t go from being a sinner to one who does good because it is in our nature. We lack the power and ability to make this change happen.

          Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

          This passage describes 5 characteristics of an unbeliever:
          ? They are spiritually dead
          ? They by nature follow the course of this world
          ? They by nature follow Satan
          ? They by nature live according to the desires of their sinful flesh
          ? They by nature are children of wrath

          And this is inclusive of all people. Notice that Paul says “like the rest of mankind”. All humans are in this condition without Christ—there are no exceptions.

          Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,

          Paul in two places has described sinners as spiritually dead. Not spiritually sick. Not morally capable of coming to God, but in bondage to our sin and a child of wrath.

          In Romans, he gives an even more comprehensive picture of the Total Depravity of humans.
          Romans 3:9-18 9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

          Paul’s argument from Romans Chapters 1-3 is that both Jews and Gentiles are guilty and stand condemned under God’s law because of our sin. Most evangelicals would agree with this, but when you look closely at verse 11 you find some interesting language.

          How many of you have heard the term used to describe a non-Christian as a “seeker”. We have “seeker-senstive” or “seeker-targeted” worship services. We hear people say, “So and so is seeking God.”

          What does Paul say in verse 11? Do we in our sinful state seek God?

          The answer is “No”. Now, non-believers may seek after some benefits that they might find useful such as getting religion or fire insurance or other things related to salvation ,but they don’t want God Himself.

          So what does this passage teach about the freedom of our wills?

          Left to our sinful state as dead sinners, can we use our free will to seek after God? Can we understand the things of God left to ourselves?

          Romans 8:7-9 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

          Paul again speaks here not only of depravity but of inability. He says that a sinner cannot submit to God’s law. He doesn’t say that they “may” not or they choose not to; instead, he emphatically says that sinners “cannot” submit to God and they “cannot” please God.

          So can a sinner who is dead in their trespasses who is under the wrath of God and hostile in their mind, make a decision that would be pleasing to God?
          What pleases God the most? Trusting in His only Son Jesus and repenting of our sins. This is the greatest way to please God. But according to Paul, a sinner cannot please God. He not only doesn’t want to, he lacks the ability to please God.

          In fact, all things spiritual are foolishness to him and they don’t make sense.

          1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

          Jesus compounds the issue by pointing out our bondage to sin.
          John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.

          Here are my Conclusions:
          All humans are:
          ? Dead in sin
          ? Enslaved to sin
          ? Unable to please God
          ? Not seeking God
          ? Unable to come to Christ on their own

          This may not be persuasive to many of my Traditionalist brothers, but it is my best attempt to set forth a Biblical case of both Total Depravity as well as Total Inability. Thanks.

            Norm Miller

            With all due respect, Sean, when you too narrowly define the categories, then your answers become self-fulfilling and thus negate your content. Also, post of more than 5,000 words automatically moderated.

            Sean cole

            Sorry for the long post but I am not sure what other categories there are and I attempted to interact with texts instead of just quoting them and not explaining. Please define for me another category because I don’t see how the Traditionslist view is not close to semi pelagian and by that I don’t mean it is heretical at all but that your view denies total inability. Thanks. I don’t think your view is unorthodox but that we may view the effects of the fall differently.

            Norm Miller

            Again, I want to thank you for your tone. It is refreshing.

            Jesus taught in John 6 that we cannot come? Really? Well, no one I know believes that a lost person comes to Christ w/o being called. No argument there. But I and millions of other Southern Baptists would take great exception to the exegetical leap that Calvinists take at that verse. Why? Because “effectual call” is not even implied in that verse. Yet that is how Calvinists use it. If I am having a dinner party, and I send you an invitation, must you come? And can you come w/o an invitation?
            Also, I did not see you interacting with any of the verses cited by Dr. Allen. Rather, you simply refer to the verses most all Calvinists do in support of your position. Are you able to respond to the verses showing that people “dead in their trespasses and sins” have and do respond to God?

            I found it interesting that Donald’s comment here supports my statement that some Calvinists allow their theology to drive their exegesis, and such a practice demands that cosmos be understood as eklektos. In my view, this is another foundational flaw in the entire system. A solid theology cannot be built on such a ‘sandy’ exegesis.


          Norm said “Such an approach shows that some Calvinists allow their theology to drive their exegesis…”

          And is refreshingly admitted to in in Dr. Silva’s chapter on “The Case for Calvinistic Hermeneutics” in “Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning” by Kaiser and Silva. A very clear example is 1 John 2:2 where the words cannot be allowed to stand as written, but must be filtered through the lens of Calvinism and tempered by words of other texts – as if what is written is vague and must be clarified by clearer texts.

            Norm Miller

            Thanks for this reference, Donald. Because we are Christians, theology drives our exegesis to some extent as this illustration shows:

            Divide these letters: GODISNOWHERE.
            The theist would divide thusly: GOD IS NOW HERE.
            The atheist: GOD IS NOWHERE.

            However, my illustration in no manner supports changing words and/or the prima facia meaning, such as changing cosmos to eklektos, e.g., as many Calvinists do. And why? B/c their theology demands that Jesus died only for the elect and not the sins of the world, and that the Lamb of God (Jn. 1.29) takes away the sins of the elect and not the whole world.

            I looked at reviews on Amazon regarding the book you cited, and one reviewer, a self-proclaimed Calvinist, had some devastating things to say about the very chapter to which your comment alludes. He are those remarks:

            “However, I do have one concern over this book. It is a chapter written by Silva (Chapter 14: “The Case for Calvinistic Hermeneutics”). He contends that “proper exegesis should be informed by theological reflection. To put it in the most shocking way possible: my theological system should tell me how to exegete” (p. 261). True, Reformed theology’s strength lies in its consistency, logic, coherence, and history. However, this can be its downful also (by the way, I am a Calvinist too). For instance, most in the Reformed tradition argue that Israel and the Church lie in continuity. Therefore, Israel as an ethnic body has no future in God’s redemptive program. This leads them to reinterpret certain passages that speak of a national conversion of Israel near the Parousia (cf. Romans 11:26) to mean “spiritual Israel” (or the Church) or a “remnant” throughout history. Another example is Revelation 20. Since a literal Millennial Kingdom in the future is not compatible with Reformed/Covenant theology, they argue that we must spiritualize Revelation 20 to mean the present age (or interpret the “first resurrection” to mean a spiritual resurrection). The danger of allowing a Reformed “systematic theology” to control our exegesis of certain passages can lead to eisegesis and a meaning that is totally different from what the inspired writers meant to say. … Proper hermeneutics is not imposed out of a certain systematic theology; it is developed from exegesis that leads to a systematic theology. Reformed theology fails in this respect (emph added). This book should be read by all pastors, seminarians, and lay people. It is an invaluable tool that needs to be in every Christian library.”

          Sean cole

          Here is the lengthy comment if you want to edit it for length, or split it in two.
          Please note that comments longer than 5,000 characters go into moderation.

          SBCToday Staff
          Thanks Norm for asking me a question about John 6 because in my journey to embrace Calvinism, this passage is what opened my eyes to some issues I really had to struggle with in this process. So I will answer your questions on John 6 and also attempt to interact with Dr. Allen’s Scriptures.

          As I studied John 6 in the original Greek, I began asking some questions and at first in my journey, I didn’t like the answers from the text which forced me to submit to Jesus’ teaching and embrace the doctrine of total inability.

          In John 6:37: Question: Will all the the Father gives to Jesus come to Him? We have to answer yes because if we answer “no” then God gives a people to Jesus and fails in this gift. Jesus will lose nothing of what the Father gives Him.

          Question: Does every single person come to Jesus? We have to answer “no” because of other Scriptures and experience.

          Question: Then how does a sinner actually come to Christ? Jesus says that the Father has to draw that person and indeed they will come.

          Here’s where I struggled. If God has to do the drawing, and those whom were given to Jesus actually come and He will lose none of them but raise them up on the last day, then God must not be drawing everyone. If He were to draw everyone then everyone would come. In this text, it does not teach that the drawing of God is resistible but that those who are drawn will come. I assume the Traditionalist view is that God draws everyone and woos and works to convict of sin, but in the end, the sinner voluntarily chooses to come using his or her free will?

          Jesus say in John 6:44 no one “can come”– the word “can” in Greek is “dynamai” which every lexicon shows as “able”. Jesus is not saying that no no has the permission to come, but no one has the ability to come. So we have to ask: Why doesn’t every sinner have the ability to come to Jesus? Because they are spiritually dead and lack the ability to come due to total depravity and total inability. In order for a sinner to come to Christ, God has to draw that person. And if God does indeed draw that person they will come. So in essence, the only answer I can see is that God doesn’t draw everyone except for those whom He gave to Jesus before the foundation of the world (the elect).

          You wrote: “If I am having a dinner party, and I send you an invitation, must you come? And can you come w/o an invitation?”

          Your analogy assumes that we are equals and friends and that the invitation is something that I can take or leave. The response to the gospel is not an invitation (which can be politely refused) but a summons from the King. Your analogy is addressing permission, not ability. In your invitation you are giving me permission to come to your party and I can choose to come or not come. But as a rebelliious sinner who is at odds with a holy God, we are not equals and it is not a matter of God granting me permission to come to Christ, but commanding me to come as King. One who is dead in trespasses lacks the ability (according to Jesus) to come to Him unless He has been drawn or given by the Father.

            Sean cole

            Now to some of Dr. Allen’s Scriptures…
            According to the Bible, the unsaved who are spiritually dead have the ability to:
            Act in accordance with conscience (Gen. 3:7)—Adam and Eve sew figleaves out of alienation and guilt and the immediate effects of their transgression. A spiritually dead person does have a conscience and that is why we preach the Law to them so that they can be crushed under its weight and see their need for Christ. A guilty conscience before God does not equal coming to Christ.

            Hear God (Gen. 3:10-13)—I have no argument that spiritually dead people can’t hear God. Of course they can. They can hear the Scriptures and the threatenings of the Law and understand the facts of the Gospel. But hearing God does not equate repenting and believing which are grace gifts.

            Repent of sins (Luke 15:18-19)–no argument here. A sinner does repent but they repent because God has granted them in regeneration the gift of repentance. At the end of the parable, the Father makes a huge deal about the deadness of the son and now that he is alive. The son came to his senses because God awoke in him the gift of repentance to be able to repent.

            Seek God (John 3)–John 3 teaches the need for regeneration. Jesus says that nobody can even see or enter the kingdom of heaven until they are born again and only the Spirit does this. A person believes upon Jesus as a result of their being born again.

            Fear God (Acts 10:2)–Cornelius was a “God-fearer” in the sense that he was an Jewish proselyte but not a Christian. Many devout people in this world have a fear of God, but that doesn’t equate saving faith.

            Know the truth about God (Rom. 1:18-20)–yes this is Paul’s main argument. People under God’s wrath know truth but they supress it and exchange the glory of God for idols. No Calvinist would say that spiritual deadness doesn’t mean that a person can’t know truth about God. But Paul’s argument is that what they know about God condemns them.

            Spiritual deadness does not mean that God’s image has been erased or that lost people can’t understand truth or that they cannot hear the gospel or that they can’t even pray generically to God. Unregenerate people respond everyday to God–but in negative ways. They suppress the truth, they rebel and they sin until God overcomes that deadness with regeneration and gives them the gifts of repentance and faith to enable them to come to Christ.

            I hope this clarifies my position and gives a feeble attempt to answer your questions.


I usually don’t weigh in on this debate as well…however I would like clarification on what I find an interesting question. Is this new 316 group seeking to undermine the BF&M which clearly states the SBC doctrine (on one point mention in the post) in point 4 of the BFM.

Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

My question would be: why does this group think we need to improve on this statement? Are they a subgroup who desires to divide the SBC into theological camps…while saying other groups in the SBC are those who are attempting the division?

Could this not be a tactic of the Enemy…to get us so tangled in debates and puffing some iconic members of certain “camps” up to being noticed? Could this not be a tactic (on BOTH sides of this theological debate) to taking our eyes off our Christ and putting it on the “heroes” in whatever camp we land in?

Could this not be a tactic of the Enemy to see us debate the Gospel and who should hear it and who can actually be saved…and spend our time in this silly little squabbles to the degree we don’t have any time left or energy left to actually SHARE the blessed message of hope in Christ to a lost person?

Could this be a tactic of the Enemy to get brothers who once had a passion for the proclamation of the Gospel, to become so focused on “winning” others to their side of the “aisle” and forget to seek to win their lost neighbor from the broad road to the narrow road?

I am PROUD to be a Southern Baptist…but this young preacher is weary and tired…and deeply saddened in my heart over this continual battle for something that has already been won…namely our victory in Christ.

I would call on all SBC pastors to unite behind the BFM and the open and free offer of Grace in the Gospel to EVERY lost person and leave the blessed results to God Himself.

I would call on SBC pastors to stop bickering and start knocking on doors and loving the lost around us to Jesus. Calling them to repentance and faith in Christ.

Our ZEAL for the lost and the Gospel has been replaced with a zeal for winning an arguments.

Hell is real…the time is short. Let us return to what matters in eternity…GETTING PEOPLE TO JESUS.

I wonder how many of these bloggers and “camp” argues actually shared the blessed Gospel today with a lost soul.

How dare we argue about how God regenerates a person unless we are fully committed to sharing the only message by which He accomplishes reconciliation…namely a set of words THE GOSPEL. Which I believe is the power of God unto salvation.

Ron F. Hale

Jeremy – you asked:

My question would be: why does this group think we need to improve on this statement? Are they a subgroup who desires to divide the SBC into theological camps…while saying other groups in the SBC are those who are attempting the division?

Question one: The BFM2000 is the doctrinal confession of C316; needs no improvement.
Question two: C316 is a group or network like many others in the SBC. C316 does not desire division in the SBC, but in the spirit of the Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension kindly reserves the right to contend for what we believe about the Bible and salvation.
Question three: C316 is just contending for the Gospel and time honored Baptist distinctives.

Blessings as we go forward sharing the Good News!



Thank you for the clarification…as I looked through your website I did see the hope and desire your group has for fellowship with like minded baptist brothers. I celebrate and joyfully hope your group can help bring that consensus. My contention is with extremists who seem to exist on both sides of this debate and how they can easily led the average church member away from seeing the BFM as our general doctrinal statement and as being sufficient enough to unite those willing to be united. My fear is that many are blowing this out of proportion to the degree it is taking our focus off what is primary, that being fulfilling the Great Commission by the proclamation of the Gospel. I believe it would bring consensus and unity if we focused on bringing clarity to the actual content of the Gospel, i.e. What is the message someone must hear in order to be saved? And, upon hearing that message what must they do in order to have that message applied to their lives? I believe both of those are dangerously being assumed. I do however believe and applaud your group for wanting to bring clarity to the question of who can be saved.


Great article and great discussion.

The truth is that there are strengths and weaknesses in each of these positions that can be displayed through scripture and simple logic. Some of the great truths of the Bible are irreconcilable.

I have been called a 4 point Calvinist. I suppose the C316 people could be called 2 point Calvinists.

I am glad that these discussions are taking place. That should continue.

But what is clear to me is that I would be entirely comfortable sending any of the commenters on this stream to the mission field or the pastorate or to serve in any area of SBC life. There are going to be times in history when certain emphases are more dominant. That appears to be the case with respect to Reformed theology in the SBC at this time.

We should not let the temporal popularity or interest of various theological positions cause us to discriminate against each other, provided those positions are within the parameters of denomination’s doctrinal confession. So far as I can see, both the Reformed and Traditional perspectives in the SBC are within the parameters of the BFM.

So, let the discussions continue, but let us continue to work together. This thread demonstrates that spirit.

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