Oxford Baptist Underground

Originating From a Secret Bunker Dug By William Hosea Holcombe and J.B. Gambrell Somewhere Off the Square in Oxford, Mississippi

Tag Archives: semi-Pelagianism

The More Traditional Baptist Statement

The signers of the Traditional Statement claim to represent traditional Southern Baptist beliefs. If this is true, they should have no problem in assenting to the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message (BFM), the denomination’s official doctrinal statement from 1925-1963. But they do have a problem. Concerning man, the 1925 BFM says Adam

“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.”

Notice that in the 1925 BFM, it says Adam’s posterity are “under condemnation” prior to their actual becoming transgressors. Why? Because of Adam’s sin – The Fall. And yet Article 2 of the Traditional Statement contradicts this by saying “Each person’s sin alone” (italics added) “brings the wrath of a holy God . . . and condemnation.” The phrase “each person’s sin alone” in the Traditional Statement is deliberate. It is there to emphasize the belief that Adam’s sin brought no one under condemnation except Adam. And this is part of the reason why many call the Traditional Statement semi-Pelagian. Make no mistake, this difference has major implications for other important doctrines, particularly the doctrine of imputation and thus for the gospel itself.

So could thoughtful signers of the Traditional Statement also affirm the more traditional 1925 BFM? Or better yet, could thoughtful adherents of the 1925 BFM agree with the Traditional Statement? The obvious answer to both questions is no.

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An Old Question Revisited

When the Traditional Statement first came out there was a lot of talk about the ancient heresy of semi-Pelagianism.  This is because Article 2 of the Traditional Statement appears to affirm that men have a natural ability to respond to the Gospel with saving faith.  Why is that important?  Because Jeremiah 17:9 says the “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”  In other words, are we able to believe the Gospel with a wicked (natural) heart or do we need a new heart?  If we are able to believe with a “desperately wicked” heart, what is the point of the promise in Ezekiel 36:26, where God says, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.”

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that some portions of the Traditional Statement “actually go beyond Arminianism and appear to affirm semi-Pelagian understandings of sin, human nature, and the human will — understandings that virtually all Southern Baptists have denied.”  See: Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk.  Also, Dr. Roger Olson, the Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics at Baylor University, who has never been accused of being a Calvinist, says of the Traditional Statement that “Semi-Pelagianism may be very far from the writers’ and signers’ intentions, but the statement is clearly semi-Pelagian in wording and needs amendment.” (See Olson’s Thoughts on the Traditonal Statement)  

With concern about semi-Pelagianism coming from two historically Baptist, yet differing, soteriological perspectives, you would think that if the writers of the Traditional Statement intended something else, they would have modified the statement.  Nearly two years have passed, and they have not.  It seems, then, they do affirm natural ability. Of course, they claim this is not the heresy of semi-Pelagianism. For some back and forth on the issue, see the debate at SBC Voices.