Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Debate On Inherited Sin, First Affirmative

Written Debate On Inherited Sin, between Robert L. Vaughn, Mitchell Street Landmark Baptist Church, Nacogdoches, Texas, and Steven F. Deaton, Loop 287 Church of Christ, Lufkin, Texas: “The Scriptures teach that, as a result of Adam’s fall, all men are born sinners.” Robert Vaughn affirms; Steven Deaton denies.

In 1998 Steven Deaton and I engaged in a written debate on the topic of “Inherited Sin.” I believe we inherit a nature to sin from our first ancestor Adam. Mr. Deaton does not. In his church column in the Lufkin Daily News, May 30, 1998, Steven Deaton challenged Baptists to a public discussion on depravity, offering the proposition “The Scriptures teach that man is born totally, hereditarily depraved and this complete corruption of his nature is the cause of all sin.” Mr. Deaton seemed to suggest someone other than himself engaging in the oral discussion. Recognizing that he was a good writer, and that I am not skilled for oral debate, I wrote Mr. Deaton and proposed that we engage in a written debate on depravity and salvation – which he readily accepted. We corresponded and agreed on the wording of the propositions and the terms of the debate.

We originally planned to publish the two-part debate in the newspaper on consecutive weeks – the first to be printed in the paper one week and the other following the next week. At about this time (October 5-9, 1998) David Bonner (Church of Christ) and Hoyt Chastain (Baptist) debated at the Lufkin Civic Center, Lufkin, Texas. Each affirmed that the church of which he was a member was scriptural in origin, name, doctrine, and practice. Mr. Deaton and I sped up the depravity debate to get it in the Lufkin and Nacogdoches newspapers prior to the Bonner-Chastain debate (I believe it appeared October 3, 1998), and then were not ready to follow up the next week with the salvation debate. Sometime afterward Mr. Deaton sent me his first affirmative on salvation, which I read, made notes on, and then stuck in a file eventually to be forgotten. I had several significant difficulties occurring at this time, and in addition we disbanded our church in Nacogdoches. Mr. Deaton later left Lufkin for Kentucky and that debate was forgotten. I take the primary blame due to my procrastination. At one time much later I contacted Mr. Deaton by e-mail about whether he might want to finish it to post on the Web, but received no reply. The inherited depravity debate is available in print (if you can find the old newspapers), as well as on the web site. I’ve decided to make it available here on my blog for those who might never find it there.

This debate was necessarily brief because it was designed to fit on one page of newspaper print.

ARE YOU BORN IN SIN? Or are you born without sin? Mr. Steven Deaton and I invite you to consider the following proposition:

The Scriptures teach that, as a result of Adam’s fall, all men are born sinners.


  • The Scriptures - 66 books inspired by God, often called the Holy Bible [quotations are from the King James Version].
  • Teach - cause to know
  • Result - something that arises as a consequence of
  • Adam’s fall - Adam’s disobedience to God’s command (Genesis 2:16,17) and his subsequent separation from God (Gen. 3).
  • All men - the whole number of the human race.
  • Born - having certain characteristics from birth.
  • Sinner - one that sins.

Why should I take time to read this? Is it important? Certainly! The Bible should define all Christian belief. On this subject hangs the very nature of man, the nature of his need, and the nature of his remedy. If we cannot determine the sickness, how can we determine the cure??


Romans 5:12, 18- Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned; Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. Clearly, by one man (Adam) sin entered into the world. Death comes as a consequence of sin: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. 2:17). Death passed upon ALL MEN, not all adults! Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” The consequence (death) passed from father to son, therefore, the cause (sin) passed from father to son. Adam was created in God’s image and likeness (Gen. 1:26,27). Everything God made was very good (Gen. 1:31) and there was no death before Adam’s transgression of God’s covenant. Adam begat a son in HIS OWN likeness, after HIS image (Gen. 5:3). Adam, the son in his likeness, and successive generations, died. The intervening element was sin. Many are dead through the offence of ONE, Rom. 5:15. The offence of the one (Adam), not the many (his descendants), is offered as the CAUSE. The reign of death is not by the sins of all, but by the offence of ONE (Adam) ONE man’s offence death reigned...(Rom. 5:17). By the offence of ONE judgment came upon ALL...(Rom. 5:18).

By the one act of disobedience of Adam, judgment came upon all men to condemnation. To those who were brought into condemnation (all men), the free gift of justification to life was brought through the one righteous act of Jesus in His substitutionary death on the cross (Rom. 5:18). This guarantees that no one (infants included) will be condemned for Adam’s sin. Only those who do not believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God are condemned. He that believeth on him is not condemned (John 3:18). Jesus died to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). What is the ONE singular sin of THE WHOLE WORLD, both infants and adults? The sin which caused our sin nature! Jesus was sent to be the Saviour of the world, and is a special Saviour to those who believe (I John 4:14; I Tim. 4:10). In what sense can he be the Saviour of ALL MEN? His righteous act took away the Adamic sin for ALL!

1 Corinthians 15:22- For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. This is a parallel passage to Romans 5:12. The context is physical death and bodily resurrection. That ALL DIE IN ADAM directly and distinctly ties the source of death to Adam. All who are in Adam die. ALL DIE, even infants, therefore all are in Adam. All in Adam represents the totality of the human race.

The scriptures teach that both sin and death are universal and that one is the consequence of the other. As the consequence, so the cause. The universality of sin (the cause) and death (the consequence) indicate a common source for both. Romans 5:12 identifies that source - Adam. It is incredible to be asked to believe that ALL are born into the world pure and innocent, but ALL who live to an accountable age sin. How much more consistent that all are born sinners and that all sin. If all are born pure and innocent, it seems at least a few would live without sinning, yet the Bible declares that sin is universal - ALL HAVE SINNED. If all are BORN pure (without sin) and remain so until they choose to sin, how is it that in all the history of the human race, not even one solitary individual has chosen not to sin?

Some verses that teach the universality OF SIN: Rom. 3:23; Gal. 3:22; 1 Kings 8:46; Eccl. 7:20; OF DEATH: Heb. 9:27; 2 Sam. 14:14; Eccl. 3:20; Eccl. 8:8.

Ephesians 2:3- Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were BY NATURE the children of wrath, even as others. Here Paul declares what we are by nature and he implicates all in this nature. This word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to indicate the inherent character or basic constitution of a thing. For example: homosexuality is against the inherent NATURE of men and women, Rom. 1:26,27; uncircumcision is the way of NATURE (the way man is born), Rom. 2:27; those who were born Jews were Jews BY NATURE, Gal. 2:15. Those who are BY NATURE children of wrath are BORN children of wrath. If not, then how does one become a child of wrath?

Syllogism One
  1. All people who are subject to death are in Adam.
  2. All infants are subject to death.
  3. Therefore, all infants are in Adam.
Syllogism Two
  1. All who die are in Adam.
  2. All who are in Adam are sinners.
  3. Therefore, all who die are sinners.
Syllogism Three
  1. All who are subject to death are sinners.
  2. All infants are subject to death.
  3. Therefore, all infants are sinners.
End, first affirmative.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Atheists Are Sometimes More Religious, and other links

The posting of links does not constitute an endorsement of the sites linked, and not necessarily even agreement with the specific posts linked.

Unfettered dominion over dependent lives

“America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe vs. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts—a child—as a competitor, an intrusion and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the dependent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners.”
– Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Tokens of Christ’s Love

448 in Gadsby’s Selection, 148th, or H. M. (  By Joseph Hart, from Hymns Composed on Various Subjects.

Tokens of Christ’s Love. John 15. 9; Matt. 11.30; 26.26-28

1. When Jesus undertook
To rescue ruined man,
The realms of bliss forsook,
And to relieve us ran;
He spared no pains, declined no load,
Resolved to buy us with his blood.

2. No harsh commands he gave,
No hard conditions brought;
He came to seek and save,
And pardon every fault.
Poor trembling sinners hear his call;
They come, and he forgives them all.

3. When thus we’re reconciled,
He sets no rigorous tasks;
His yoke is soft and mild,
For love is all he asks.
E’en that from him we first receive,
And well he knows we’ve none to give.

4. This pure and heavenly gift,
Within our hearts to move,
The dying Saviour left
These tokens of his love;
Which seem to say, “While this you do,
Remember him that died for you.”

Friday, July 27, 2018

A Taxonomy of At-Risk Pastors, and other links

The posting of links does not constitute an endorsement of the sites linked, and not necessarily even agreement with the specific posts linked.
  • A Taxonomy of At-Risk Pastors -- "Sometimes, the threat of collapse comes from external circumstances. Other times, it arises internally from our own weaknesses."
  • Confession ≠ Repentance -- "...we don’t understand that confession and repentance aren’t the same thing. In our genuine desperation to be done with the shame and the shackles of our sin, we confess. But then, sometimes, we foolishly exhale and believe our work is done."
  • Learning to Hate our Sin without Hating Ourselves -- "Augustine understood unchosen longing for anything outside of God’s will to be itself sinful, and his influence over subsequent Christian reflection on this point cannot be overestimated."
  • The Golden Key by Ben M. Bogard -- "It has been used since the beginning of the life of the Missionary Baptist Seminary and was acknowledged by Dr. J. Louis Guthrie as being 'foolproof'."
  • The Human Rights Campaign releases deceptive evangelical resource -- "To the innocent observer, the resource looks like an evangelical-friendly resource designed to show evangelicals how they can retain their evangelical bona fides while also adopting an affirming position on LGBT identities."
  • The Life of Carl Henry -- "Perhaps the most significant theologian in the early “neo-evangelical” movement, Carl F. H. Henry was born to German immigrant parents just before the outbreak of World War I (1913)."
  • What is “desire” in James 1:15? Sin or temptation? -- "James is clear that the desire that leads to the sinful deed is indeed fallen. The desire “lures” and “entices” the sinner away from faithfulness and to sin."
  • What is presuppositional apologetics? -- "Presuppositional apologetics does not discount the use of evidence, but such evidences are not used in the traditional manner—that is, an appeal to the authority of the unbeliever’s autonomous reason."
  • What Is “Presuppositional” Apologetics? -- "Presuppositions are simply beliefs that everyone has that affect how they think, view the world, interpret evidence, and read the Bible. Apologetics is a reasoned defense of beliefs."
  • Worship and Ministry, God's Way -- 3 principles -- "Commands of specificity exclude that which is not commanded."

Thursday, July 26, 2018

5th Sunday Meeting

July 26-29, 2018. There will be a 5th Sunday weekend meeting at Pollard Landmark Baptist Church in the Pollard Community in McCurtain County, Oklahoma. Services Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:00 p.m. in addition to Sunday services. Pollard Church building is next to Pollard Cemetery, south of Idabel and southwest of Haworth, on N4680, Pollard Road.

Book some might find interesting -- Tales of Pollard Oklahoma by Those Who Lived There

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Until you can, and other quotes

The posting of quotes by human authors does not constitute agreement with either the quotes or their sources. (I try to confirm the sources that I give, but may miss on occasion; please verify if possible.)

"Until you can state your opponent’s view so well that he himself says, `Yes, that’s what I believe,’ you aren’t ready to debate him." -- James Leo Garrett

"You write the systematic theologies, I'll write the hymnals, and we'll see who influences the church more!" -- Milton Winter

"Every true Christian has grace, and is supposed to show it in our speech (Col 4:6) and in our treatment of others (Rom 14:1–4; Matt 7:1–2)." -- Mark Ward

"One’s life, after conversion, would inevitably consist in doing most of the same things one had been doing before: one hopes, in a new spirit, but still the same things." -- C.S. Lewis

"No doubt the trouble is with me." -- Bob Jones Sr.

One of post-modernity’s cultural downsides isn’t that there is a loss of truth, but there is doubt about its very existence." -- Steve Brown

"Before we incorporate something as doctrine from scripture it should first be examined with the magnifying glass, then looked at through the telescope, and then scrutinized under the microscope." -- Unknown

"When reading the Bible we should always first look for Jesus, then the Church." -- Unknown

"Even though one of the qualifications of a shepherd is that he not be “quarrelsome,” it seems that many pastors within fundamentalism are actually proud of their ability and willingness to quarrel." -- Unnamed pastor

Many people only attend church three times -- when they are hatched (christening), when they are matched (wedding), and when they are dispatched (funeral)! -- Adrian Rogers

"Is there a sigh or cry by night, as well as by day; a pouring out of the heart into the bosom of God from time to time, as the Lord works it in you, in trouble, in perplexity, in sorrow, and in distress? This is a test and a mark which no hypocrite ever had or ever can have." -- J. C. Philpot

"Truth offends man; half-truth offends God." -- stated or quoted by Stuart L. Brogden

"Once, men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free, but that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them." -- Frank Herbert

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Arkansas Missionary Baptists and The Gap

I ran across an interesting tidbit of Missionary Baptist history on Tom McElmurry’s web site. McElmurry was a student at the Missionary Baptist Seminary in Little Rock, Arkansas, and tells the following in an update “to present a brief history of what is known as ‘the gap theory’.”
…the man most responsible for the introduction of the Gap Theory into Missionary Baptist ranks, Dr. J. Louis Guthrie…was one of the three founders of the Missionary Baptist Seminary in Little Rock, Arkansas…in summary, the thread of continuity that stretches from Missionary Baptists back to the birth of the Gap Theory in about 1814, began with a first stitch by Dr. Thomas Chalmers, rippled across the Atlantic on the wings of Dr. Giorgio Bartoli, and entered our ranks largely through the brilliant, fertile mind of Dr. J. Louis Guthrie.
Guthrie received a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Peoples National University in Atlanta, Georgia; he wrote a dissertation on the topic “The Place of Jesus Christ in Creation.” This may be the background source of the Christ in Creation book to which McElmurry refers in his update.[i]

[i] I am not sure of the extent of Guthrie’s work on the subject, but my guess is that Christ in Creation, printed in 1975 by Seminary Publications, is likely the same as Creation of the Heavens and the Earth issued by Guthrie in the 1940s (Little Rock, AR: M. B. I. Printery, 194?). An online version that “was hand typed in 2007 from a copy owned by Dr. James M. Phillips and edited where necessary” is available. They mention, “Because of hole-punches and pages that ran off the edge of the copy, many words were filled in by considering the context. Brackets, [ ], are placed around words that were missing from this copy. Where the word which Dr. Guthrie used could not be determined, the brackets were left empty.”

Monday, July 23, 2018

Joining a Church the Ancient Way

Joining a Church the Ancient Way: From Clement to Egeria – “As it was in the earliest days of the Christian faith, so it is again: entry into a local church should be by way of catechism, creed, and baptism—and in that order.”

Please see the above link for the full explanation beyond the snippet quote I give. “Joining a Church the Ancient Way: From Clement to Egeria” was written by Michael A. G. Haykin. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. I enjoy his writings in the field of church history. Some of his books include: One Heart and One Soul: John Sutcliff of Olney, His Friends, and His Times; Kiffin, Knollys and Keach: Rediscovering Our English Baptist Heritage; ‘At the Pure Fountain of Thy Word’: Andrew Fuller as an Apologist; and Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church.

With those niceties out of the way, I must assert disagreement with Haykin’s premise that “entry into a local church should be by way of catechism, creed, and baptism” – especially the part “in that order.”

In his premise, Haykin falls back on ancient church practice to resolve a current problem in “many parts of a once-Christian West.” The “once-Christian West” is “rapidly being paganized.” For this reason, “the sort of biblical, doctrinal, and moral instruction” in the post-apostolic churches “is once more becoming necessary for us.”

Such a premise (1) denies that distinctive apostolic practice is normative, (2) sets the practice post-apostolic fathers above the inspired and commanded practice of the apostles, and (3) exalts pragmatism toward contemporary issues over timeless church truths. We have biblical examples of the sent-apostles teaching us how the first Christians entered into the first churches – and it was not “by way of catechism, creed, and baptism—and in that order!” The commands, precepts, and examples of the Bible all show baptism following profession of faith as soon as possible. With that – profession of faith and baptism – a person has met the initial biblical requirements of church fellowship. Church fellowship continues based on growing in the truth of the Bible, a Christian walk, etc., but these activities must be built on the foundation of belief and baptism. Perhaps churches want the catechism and creed “up front” because we are unwilling to practice church discipline “after the fact.”

Rather than emphasizing “Joining a Church the Ancient Way: From Clement to Egeria,” let’s prioritize “Joining a Church the Ancientest Way: From Matthew to Revelation.”

New Ground and Old Things

Larry Summers:
People always think more about how new ground can be broken than they think about how existing institutions can be sustained or existing facilities can be maintained. It leads to a constant trap where we under-invest in old things, then old things disappoint us, then we feel a need for new things, then to satisfy that need for new things we under-invest more in old things and the cycle goes on.… I think the fetish of novelty and the lack of glamour of maintaining and sustaining things is a besetting problem.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

As thy days, so shall thy strength be

The following hymn by Baptist minister John Fawcett was published in 1782 in Hymns Adapted to the Circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion (Leeds: G. Wright and Son). Fawcett is probably best known as the writer of “Blest be the tie that binds.” In The Christian Harmonist “As thy days, so shall thy strength be” appears with the tune Bordenton and in Baptist Chorals with Asa Brooks Everett’s Vesper Hymn. Elsewhere it has been paired with Lowell Mason’s Uxbridge, which tune in The Sacred Harp we use with “Thanks to the hand that set us free.”

Hymn XIII. L. M.
As thy days, so shall thy strength be. Deut. xxxiii 25.

1. Afflicted soul, to Jesus dear,
The Saviour’s gracious promise hear;
His faithful word declares to thee,
That as thy days, thy strength shall be.

2. Let not thy heart despond and say,
“How shall I stand the trying day?”
He has engag’d by firm decree,
That as thy days, thy strength shall be.

3. Thy faith is weak, thy foes are strong;
Yet sure the conflict shan’t be long,
Thy Lord shall make the tempter flee;
For as thy days, thy strength shall be.

4. The christian race with patience run,
Till grace compleat the work begun;
Wrestle and strive for victory,
For as thy days, thy strength shall be.

5. Should persecution rage and flame,
Still trust in thy Redeemer’s name;
In fiery trials thou shalt see,
That as thy days, thy strength shall be.

6. When called to bear the weighty cross,
Or sore afflictions, pain, or loss,
Or deep distress, or poverty,
Still as thy days, thy strength shall be.

7. When ghastly death appears in view,
Christ’s presence shall thy fears subdue;
He comes to set thy spirit free,
And as thy days, thy strength shall be.

Above is the hymn as it appears originally in Fawcett’s hymn book. Below is the more common, slightly revised way that it appears in many modern hymnals.

1. Afflicted saint, to Christ draw near,
The Savior’s gracious promise hear;
His faithful word declares to thee,
That as thy days, thy strength shall be.

2. Let not thy heart despond and say,
“How shall I stand the trying day?”
He has engaged by firm decree,
That as thy days, thy strength shall be.

3. Thy faith is weak, thy foes are strong;
And though the conflict should be long,
Thy Lord will make the tempter flee;
for as thy days, thy strength shall be.

4. Should persecution rage and flame,
Still trust in thy Redeemer’s name;
In fiery trials thou shalt see,
That as thy days, thy strength shall be.

5. When called to bear the weighty cross,
Of sore affliction, pain or loss,
Or deep distress, or poverty,
Still as thy days, thy strength shall be.

6. When ghastly death appears in view,
Christ’s presence shall thy fears subdue;
he comes to set thy spirit free,
And as thy days, thy strength shall be.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Plea for Gospel Sanity, and other links

The posting of links does not constitute an endorsement of the sites linked, and not necessarily even agreement with the specific posts linked.

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Review Essay of A Theology for the Church, and other book reviews

The posting of book reviews does not constitute endorsement of the books or book reviews that are linked.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Abortion and Baptist History

The Supreme Court issued its infamous decision on abortion, Roe v. Wade, on January 22, 1973. The majority vote was 7-to-2 in favor of Roe/abortion. Justices Byron White and William Rehnquist dissented. Richard Nixon, the President of the U.S. at the time, did not publicly comment about the decision. Strangely, from our current vista, but perhaps not for the times, representatives in the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Press welcomed the decision. W. Barry Garrett wrote, “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.”[i]

In January of 1973, I was a freshman in High School. Such religious, moral, and legal decisions were not in the forefront of my interests, and my memory has no recollection of how our local Baptist received the news.[ii] Recently I have read some articles that incline one to think the Baptists generally were not opposed to abortion until much later.[iii] Certain accurate historical facts may be pushed forward to support this scenario.

One of the leaders for abortion reform (aka legalization of abortion in cases of rape, incest, or danger to a woman’s health) in the late 1960’s was Howard Moody, who was the pastor of Judson Memorial Church in New York, an American Baptist congregation.[iv] Marie Griffith, in “Southern Baptists, Gender Hierarchy, and the Road to Trump,” says that Baptists in the late 1960’s and early 70’s “certainly appeared to see abortion as a women’s issue. When the Supreme Court decriminalized abortion in 1973’s Roe v Wade decision, Southern Baptist leaders appeared to support access to abortion, at least under circumstances with which they could sympathize.”[v] In 1968, “the American Baptist Convention advocated the removal of all restrictions on abortion during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.”[vi] Billy Graham stated his view on abortion in a 1969 episode of The Firing Line. He was willing to permit it in cases of rape and incest, as well as when the mother’s life was in danger.[vii]

At their meeting in St. Louis, Missouri in 1971, the Southern Baptist Convention passed their first resolution the subject of abortion. The resolution included calling “upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”[viii]

In what appears to be an older but officially current statement, American Baptists opposed abortion “as a means of avoiding responsibility for conception” and “as a primary means of birth control,” but stopped far short of a blanket condemnation of abortion.[ix]

Several articles – unsourced – reference a Jerry Falwell lament in 1979, “The Roman Catholic Church for many years has stood virtually alone against abortion. I think it’s an indictment against the rest of us that we’ve allowed them to stand alone.” Sans context, this certainly seems to imply that Baptists had not previously opposed abortion, or at least not to the extent that he was proposing – as well as being slow to take up the issue (his statement 6 years after Roe v. Wade).[x]

Is this representation purposefully skewed? Possibly so. My sense is that Baptists as a whole were divided on the issue – and perhaps some had not given it much thought. Another factor is that many Baptists did not believe in engaging in the political arena. In those cases, they would not have been outspoken about abortion in any discussions that smacked of politics. In contrast to the pro-abortion emphasis, I found that some Baptists opposed abortion both before and immediately after Roe.

“The fundamental Baptist evangelist John R. Rice declared in 1945 that abortion, which he considered ‘the murder of the little one where conception has already taken place,’ was ‘a crime prohibited by law and condemned by all decent people’.”[xi]

In 1970 ‘Christians for Life’ – a non-denominational pro-life organization that would have included Baptists – picketed a Billy Graham crusade because “Graham, although opposed to abortion in most cases, was willing to permit it in cases of rape and incest, as well as when the mother’s life was in danger.”[xii]

Carl F. H. Henry, a Baptist whose roots were in the Northern Baptist Convention, in Eternity magazine in 1971 called abortion “murder.”[xiii] One opponent of the Roe decision whose opposition began almost immediately was Jesse Helms, a Southern Baptist who was a freshman senator from North Carolina.[xiv]

Here are my initial ideas – beyond the fact that Baptists were divided on the issue of abortion (which is always true of Baptists on any issue!). First, it is obvious that certain moderate and progressive Baptists were advocating loosening the laws against abortion. The reasons that other Baptists may not have appeared in the forefront of opposition to abortion may have been: (1) Since this was viewed primarily a legal matter, their opposition to political involvement stymied their engagement of the issue. (2) Since abortion was already illegal, it did not appear to be pressing to speak out against it. (3) A general lethargy of the more conservative Baptists, from years of their thinking on the matter having been the generally accepted one.

[i] “High Court Holds Abortion To Be ‘A Right of Privacy’,” January 31, 1973, as cited in Baptist Press Initial Reporting on Roe v. Wade, by Trevin Wax. Wax explains, “I recently came across the initial reporting from Baptist Press on the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Reading these documents made me so grateful for the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC.” Wilkins Barry Garrett Jr. (1915-2001) served as the first Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.
[ii] Any of the local Baptists, Southern Baptist or otherwise. Our family church was Missionary Baptist – not affiliated with the Southern Baptists – and I was not a member of any church at the time.
[iii]When Southern Baptists Were Pro-Choice” by Joshua Holland and “My Take: When evangelicals were pro-choice” by Jonathan Dudley are two that seems to make that point pejoratively.
[iv] Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-life Movement Before Roe v. Wade, Daniel K. Williams, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 65-66
[v] Griffith also writes, “Ninety percent of Texas Baptists surveyed in 1969 had affirmed that their state’s abortion laws should be loosened. A 1970 poll by the Baptist Sunday School Board suggested that 70 percent of SBC pastors upheld a right to abortion to safeguard the mother’s health, 64 percent in situations of fetal deformity, and 71 percent for pregnancies occurring from rape.”
[vii] Firing Line with William F. Buckley, Jr., excerpt from Episode 153, Recorded on June 12, 1969
[viii] Resolution On Abortion, St. Louis, Missouri, 1971. Wm. Robert Johnston archives all the Southern Baptist Convention resolutions on abortion through 2009 HERE. These and more recent resolutions can be located on the SBC website by entering “abortion” in the Resolutions Search.
[x] I do not know what context in which Falwell made this statement. My guess is that he may have been talking about opposing it legally and politically, rather than biblically and morally.
[xi] Williams adds, “But most Protestant ministers who were not fundamentalists said nothing.” Defenders of the Unborn, p. 28
[xii] Ibid., p. 145
[xiii] Ibid., p. 145
[xiv] Ibid., p. 213

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Basics of Bible Interpretation

“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter, that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us; and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union , and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.”[i]

A couple of months ago I was listening to a Bible lesson which strategically and stringently emphasized the law of first mention and its importance in understanding the Bible. I think there is value in this rule, though it can be stretched and over-emphasized.[ii] This rule got me thinking about rules that have been set forward for help in hermeneutics,[iii] studying and understanding the Bible. Below is a listing of some that I have been taught or of which I have heard. They are in no certain order.

  • The guideline of first mention – “To understand a particular word or doctrine or practice, find the first occurrence of the same in Scripture in order to get the primary meaning of that doctrine or practice.” For example, to understand marriage it is important to study the first marriage. “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?” (Matthew 19:4-5)
  • The guideline of every mention – “In addition to first mention, every mention of a doctrine and practice in the Bible must be studied to have the full import of meaning.” “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) Sometimes similarly stated as the rule of recurrence – “The repetition of the account of events, doctrines, and/or practice, giving additional details.”
  • The guideline of definition, usage, and context – “What does the word or words mean? The study of Scripture must include the study of words. The meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph must be derived within its semantic range and in its usage in the context.” Who is speaking? To whom? When? Why? Biblical passages must be interpreted historically, grammatically, and contextually. “But go ye and learn what that meaneth…” (Matthew 9:13)
  • The “golden rule” of interpretation – “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.” (As stated by David L. Cooper, 1886-1965) “In other words, interpret the Scriptures literally, unless you have good reason to believe that they are figurative.”
  • The guideline of authorial intent – “Understanding is based on the author’s intended meaning and not the reader’s. No reader has the right to impose his or her own ideas on the text of scripture.” “knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:20-21) Also, understand that the Scriptures contain several different kinds of literature, such as historical narrative, poetry, parables, letters, and prophecy.
  • The guideline of comparing scripture with scripture – “We must interpret any scripture by other scripture.” “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:” (Isaiah 28:10) “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (2 Corinthians 13:1)
  • The guideline of non-contradiction – “A correct interpretation of Scripture will always be consistent with the rest of the Scriptures. Interpret difficult passages with clear ones. The Scriptures maintain unity of truth throughout. God is true and the Bible does not contradict itself.” “...let God be true, but every man a liar...” (Romans 3:4)
  • The guideline of comparing spiritual with spiritual – “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  (1 Corinthians 2:13; See also John 16:12-15, 1 Corinthians 2:9-11)
  • The guideline of the sufficiency of scripture – “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • The guideline of Christian community – “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11) The goal of biblical interpretation is not to find secrets no one else has found, or to be unique in understanding different from all others. Study should not be individualistic, but as a part of a local church community. “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.” (Charles H. Spurgeon)
  • The guideline of faith – “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) One cannot approach God and his word without trusting God and his word.
The guidelines in this list above may furnish some help to the student of God’s word, if used reasonably within the context of scripture and leadership of the Holy Spirit. Contrariwise, they can furnish a legalistic grid applied to the Bible that overrides even the Bible itself.[iv] Approach with caution; use with care.

[i] Article I, Of The Scriptures, New Hampshire Confession of Faith
[ii] To provide something of a “buffer,” I have chosen to speak of “guidelines” rather than “laws.”
[iii] The science of interpretation, especially of the Scriptures; the branch of theology that deals with the principles of Biblical exegesis. (
[iv] For example, one might stress the rule of context – “to whom is it written” – regarding Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth so as to squeeze out any many for the contemporary reader and say it only applied to the Christians at Corinth.