Why do Evangelical Baptists believe in Original Sin?


(George Brooks) #1

Some readers may recall last year’s brief exploration of the self-described views of some Eastern Orthodox communicants that they have a different view of sin from the Roman Catholic tradition. They maintained that all humans were sinners by virtue of being human who cannot escape sin - - rather than the idea that all humans are guilty of sin at the moment of birth because they contained the first sin(s) of Adam and Eve. One surprising discovery in this discussion was that some Eastern Orthodox communities (notably the Russian branch) were more interested in harmonizing the Orthodox traditions with the Roman Catholic traditions.

But perhaps the Big surprise was learning that the Eastern Orthodox communities frequently discuss how their reasons for Infant Baptism differ from the Roman Catholic reasons. To be frank, I found Eastern Orthodox discussions for infant baptism to be rather confusing. But I learned enough to realize the real hunt for interesting discussion would be with the American Baptists !!!

The Problem: If Evangelicals insist that Evolution doesn’t allow for Original Sin. . . why don’t Evangelical Baptists insist on Infant Baptism?

Catholics baptize infants so that, even if they die as infants, their original sin has been washed away.

So does Baptist doctrine about NOT baptizing infants mean that infant baptism is useless? Or is Baptist doctrine that prior to coming of moral age, an infant is free of sin?

"Historians trace the earliest Baptist church back to 1609 in Amsterdam, with John Smyth as its pastor. Three years earlier, while a Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, he had broken his ties with the Church of England. Reared in the Church of England, he became “Puritan, English Separatist, and then a Baptist Separatist,” and ended his days working with the Mennonites.He began meeting in England with 60–70 English Separatists, in the face of “great danger.”

" The persecution of religious nonconformists in England led Smyth to go into exile in Amsterdam with fellow Separatists from the congregation he had gathered in Lincolnshire, separate from the established church (Anglican). Smyth and his lay supporter, Thomas Helwys, together with those they led, broke with the other English exiles because Smyth and Helwys were convinced they should be baptized as believers. In 1609 Smyth first baptized himself and then baptized the others."

“In 1609, while still there, Smyth wrote a tract titled “The Character of the Beast,” or “The False Constitution of the Church.” In it he expressed two propositions: first, infants are not to be baptized; and second, “Antichristians converted are to be admitted into the true Church by baptism.” Hence, his conviction was that a scriptural church should consist only of regenerate believers who have been baptized on a personal confession of faith. He rejected the Separatist movement’s doctrine of infant baptism (paedobaptism).”

Under the Wiki header of “Infant Baptism” we find this discussion:

"The earliest reference to infant baptism was by Irenaeus (c. 130–202) in his work Against Heresies. Due to its reference to Eleutherus as the current bishop of Rome, the work is usually dated c. 180. Irenaeus speaks of children and infants being “born again to God.”

" This reference has been described as “obscure.” Three passages by Origen (185–c. 254)[16] mention infant baptism as traditional and customary. While Tertullian writing c. 198–203 advises the postponement of baptism of little children and the unmarried, he mentions that it was customary to baptise infants, with sponsors speaking on their behalf."

" The Apostolic Tradition, sometimes attributed to Hippolytus of Rome (died 235), describes how to perform the ceremony of baptism; it states that children were baptised first, and if any of them could not answer for themselves, their parents or someone else from their family was to answer for them. From at least the 3rd century onward Christians baptised infants as standard practice, although some preferred to postpone baptism until late in life, so as to ensure forgiveness for all their preceding sins."


(Christy Hemphill) #2

Well, this question is complicated by the fact that “Baptist” is a very broad term and there are 60+ distinct Baptist denominations in the U.S. alone, and each one has theological commitments. American Baptists are a Baptist denomination, one that is typically mainline not Evangelical, but individual Baptist congregations tend to do what they want to a certain extent. They aren’t big on denominational hierarchy. But I assume you meant ‘Baptists who are Americans.’

As one version of Baptist, here is what I was taught and generally accept. We are all born sinners because of our identity “in Adam.” Different people in my church have different understandings of how this all works and how depraved people are by default depending on how Reformed they are. Each person chooses to act on this sinful identity (some people would say sinful nature) and personally rebel against God by committing sins for which they are morally accountable for. Faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin lifts each person’s death penalty for their sinful acts, and Christ’s resurrection and gift of the Holy Spirit give a believer a new identity or nature in Christ. Believers are new creations and their sinful identity/nature is done away with, “crucified with Christ.” So we would see salvation as dealing with original sin/sinful nature, not baptism.

Baptism is seen as an outward expression of an inward spiritual reality that has already taken place at salvation (the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ that unites a believer with Christ, removes the guilt for sin and instantiates new spiritual life). So in my church baptism is viewed as a public commitment and a testimony of God’s work in a believer’s life. It is an act of obedience and discipleship, not a vehicle of special grace. That is why it is important that people who are baptized be mature enough to fully understand what they are doing and saying and at my church, very young children who profess faith in Christ are encouraged to wait until they are older to be baptized.

We do not believe the unbaptized go to hell or purgatory, or that baptism ensures salvation. Many Baptists I know believe that children who die before they are old enough to personally commit to a life of faith are not morally accountable for their sin and receive special grace from God.


(George Brooks) #3

@Christy

If we focus on just this little section here … what does Original Sin mean if an infant is considered sin-free?


(Christy Hemphill) #4

An infant isn’t considered sin-free. Infants are considered sinners from birth because of their identity as humans, a fallen race. They just aren’t considered morally accountable for sin until a hypothetical “age of accountability.” John Piper’s explanation strikes me as a typically Baptist one, though not all Baptists would talk of “participating in the Fall.” Piper is a Reformed Baptist.


(George Brooks) #5

You can see that the intersection of the Baptist logic on the purpose of Baptism … when intersecting with St. Augustine’s logic on the nature of Original Sin … seems to create a novel pocket of metaphysics for the usual American baptists.

The Roman Catholic church would say that baptism is the propitiation for the sin an infant “participates” in by virtue of just being BORN.

While the Baptists would insist that baptism is ineffectual without a morally informed choice!

The Eastern Orthodox communities say that infant baptism is “a comfort” to families … and so allowable… but not needed to deal with the First Sin of Adam and Eve.


(Christy Hemphill) #6

Well, they would say baptism doesn’t spiritually “do” anything; it’s an ordinance not a sacrament in the Baptist tradition.


(George Brooks) #7

@Christy

Please understand that I’m not trying to corner you with the following question … but I am trying to figure out exactly where a Baptist goes for his/her logic.

So… an infant , without benefit of baptism, dies. You say that the usual Baptist position is that the infant does NOT go to Hell just because it isn’t baptized.

So… am I to understand that despite the Evangelical interest in Original Sin - - infants with Original Sin do NOT go to eternal damnation, correct?


(Christy Hemphill) #8

Correct.

I think the interest in Original Sin is mostly to do with atonement theology and what they believe Jesus came to do and actually accomplished on the cross. It’s important to their interpretation of Romans, which in my experience, is many Baptist pastors’ absolute favorite book of the Bible. It is upsetting if they feel someone is trying to get rid of Adam or a historical Fall, because Christ is the Second Adam, and that is really important. How do you have a Second Adam with any punch if the First Adam is just a myth or an allegory or literary archetype and the historical Fall never actually happened? I think many Evangelicals confusingly use “Original Sin” as shorthand for “the Fall,” and conceive of it as an event, not a spiritual condition. Or they think of Original Sin as a condition of fallenness one is born into, a natural predisposition to sinning, but they do not necessarily subscribe to the Reformed/Augustinian view of imputed guilt for Adam’s sin (original guilt) or total depravity (the inability to choose not to sin). Many Baptists are pretty big on choice and free will. So the thing that establishes guilt is not having a nature inclined to sin, it’s each individual’s choice to personally rebel against God.

Here is how the Baptist Faith and Message puts it: (Southern Baptist Convention)

Here is how my denomination puts it: (Converge/BGC)


(George Brooks) #9

TWO QUESTIONS:
So, if we examine the phrasing that your particular denomination uses, @Christy, can we say that infants are UN-regenerated, because they have not been able to repent of their sins?

OR, if not, are infants “under condemnation but do not require repentence” ?


(Christy Hemphill) #10

Infants are unregenerated. But they are not under condemnation because they have not yet chosen to sin as morally accountable individuals. Even if a two year old smacks his sister in the face on purpose with his Tonka truck because of his inborn sinful nature, he is not guilty of that sin in the same way as a morally accountable individual would be.


(George Brooks) #11

@Christy

Okay… I think I’m getting a good grip on how at least one group of Baptists might see the world.

Do you find it a little awkward that the sinful nature of Humanity is sort of like a “time-release” poison pill? So many people make a point that Adam’s sin has contaminated all of humanity … but the contamination is not present at birth… and not for several more years.

The contamination “suddenly appears” when each new human arrives at moral maturity.

This is quite different from the usual scenario that without baptism infants are doomed.


(Christy Hemphill) #12

But that’s not really what it is. The contamination is present at birth. Babies have sinful natures. Little children do bad things. And no Baptist is going to say you are going to hell because you were born with a sin nature, they’re going to say you are going to hell because you have willfully sinned against God and rejected his free gift of salvation. The choice to sin is considered an act of free will, not something your sin nature forces you into.

It’s more a question of what situations trigger God’s mercy more than God’s justice. Who really has no excuse for their choice to sin? Of course this can get a little squishy, because the whole age of accountability thing is something we made up, it’s not like there is an objective actual age cut-off. And how mentally impaired as an adult do you have to be to avoid accountability and trigger God’s mercy? Is there an IQ or ‘percent of time spent sane’ benchmark? And then if babies shouldn’t be held morally accountable for sin based on their lack of understanding of the gospel, then why should those who have never even heard the gospel be held accountable? And if those who have never heard the gospel will have a chance at salvation after death like the babies, then what about those who never really _understood _ the gospel, or only ever heard a distortion of it, do they get mercy too? So maybe not many people are doomed after all.


(George Brooks) #13

And THAT is why I am a Unitarian Universalist…


#14

@Christy

Thanks for the discussion of Baptist ideas, Christy. I have some, shall we say, very close relatives (that’s as specific as I will get) who are Baptist and am very familiar, for what might be called professional reasons, with some branches of the tradition, and what you say about both the diversity and the core notions of Baptists rings true.

I’ll refrain from sharing the anti-Baptist jokes I’ve heard in Reformed theological circles. You’ve probably heard them before. :slight_smile: But there is a really great one, not particularly from Reformed circles, about the Baptist who is going to jump off a bridge, and then … oh, I’ll let that one go, too. :slight_smile:

@gbrooks9

For the Roman Catholic position see “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptised” at:

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070419_un-baptised-infants_en.html

It seems that the Roman view is not quite as dark as you are suggesting.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #15

I guess it’s a good thing we serve a God of both justice AND mercy who is able and trustworthy to make these kinds of calls (about who is saved, and how to save any/all of us). Otherwise we might need to micromanage on God’s behalf about where exactly that age cutoff date is and such.


(George Brooks) #16

@Eddie

The writing on the Vatican site certainly seems more reasonable than Evangelical positions…

[LIMBO… NOT OFFICIAL… BUT THE LOVE OF GOD IS OFFICIAL]

“It is clear that the traditional teaching on this topic has concentrated on the theory of limbo, understood as a state which includes the souls of infants who die subject to original sin and without baptism, and who, therefore, neither merit the beatific vision, nor yet are subjected to any punishment, because they are not guilty of any personal sin. This theory, elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium,”

“However, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), the theory of limbo is not mentioned. Rather, the Catechism teaches that infants who die without baptism are entrusted by the Church to the mercy of God, as is shown in the specific funeral rite for such children.”

"The principle that God desires the salvation of all people gives rise to the hope that there is a path to salvation for infants who die without baptism (cf. CCC, 1261), and therefore also to the theological desire to find a coherent and logical connection between the diverse affirmations of the Catholic faith: the universal salvific will of God; the unicity of the mediation of Christ; the necessity of baptism for salvation; the universal action of grace in relation to the sacraments; the link between original sin and the deprivation of the beatific vision; the creation of man “in Christ”.

“The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation.”


(Jon) #17

Well the Catholics have changed their views quite a lot over the centuries.


(Albert Leo) #18

Eddie, After reading the Vatican post you cited (on unbaptized infants) one should not wonder “Why do Evangelical Baptists believe in Original Sin?” [This session’s topic], but rather wonder why all Christian theology seems trapped by an erroneous dogma. The Vatican post states that in the preparatory phase of Vatican II, some on the Council sought to bring the matter up, but the Central Preparatory Commission opposed this move "because it was thought that theological reflection on the issue was not mature enough--and so it did not enter into the Council’s agenda". Read: We’re stuck with an unchangeable dogma set in place 1500 years ago by St. Augustine, and so we should just ‘kick the can down the road’. And now, a half century later, we are still not mature enough–mature enough to discard the idea that God created us perfect but we disobeyed Him and so deserved eternal punishment.
In an earlier post, Christy seems close to dealing successfully with this Gordian Knot:
.[quote=“Christy, post:8, topic:26458”]
It is upsetting if they feel someone is trying to get rid of Adam or a historical Fall, because Christ is the Second Adam, and that is really important. How do you have a Second Adam with any punch if the First Adam is just a myth or an allegory or literary archetype and the historical Fall never actually happened? I think many Evangelicals confusingly use “Original Sin” as shorthand for “the Fall,” and conceive of it as an event, not a spiritual condition. Or they think of Original Sin as a condition of fallenness one is born into, a natural predisposition to sinning, but they do not necessarily subscribe to the Reformed/Augustinian view of imputed guilt for Adam’s sin (original guilt) or total depravity (the inability to choose not to sin).
[/quote]
I phrase Chrity’s idea in different words. I believe that God created all life we see on earth, including Homo sapiens, through a process of evolution, which depends on both selfishness at the level of the individual and upon cooperation at the level of society. Relatively recently God somehow endowed Homo sapiens with a Gift of Conscience–a mind which could discern His will and attempt to follow it, or else to willingly disregard it. Or as Christy put it, “to choose NOT to sin.” Christ’s role of Savior then, is to lead us to a potential that evolution could never achieve. Not as glamorous a role as saving us from the fires of Hell, but a role that does not entail so much self-contradictory dogma.
Al Leo


(Jon) #19

Well said. But oh dear, tradition has its death grip on some people. Can’t argue with 6,000 years of Christian tradition!


(George Brooks) #20

Most of the ancient cultures always had some struggle with explaining what Gods wanted with humans … and why humans couldn’t be like gods.

The theme is ALWAYS the same … except for Evangelical interpretation of Genesis: Mortals were never perfect… reflecting the imperfections of the material world - - the greater to magnify the glory of the Divine and the Spiritual realm of the Cosmos.