Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Revisiting the IMB Baptism Guideline

In this post, I will offer two reasons I believe the eternal security clause of the IMB personnel guidelines is in error and should be changed.

First, I believe that the policy is based on a mistaken view of Arminianism.

Before I was a Baptist, I held erroneous views of what Baptists believed. My Arminian pastors wrongly charged that eternal security or “once saved, always saved” was a false doctrine that taught that you merely had to pray a prayer or respond to an altar call then continue sinning all you want because now that you were saved you were saved forever. While, I suppose, there may be some Baptists who hold this view (I haven’t met any) that certainly is not what Baptists teach or believe. To the extent that Baptists do believe this, my Arminian pastors were right to criticize their doctrine.

Having become a Baptist, now 18 years later, I continue to find that many Baptists hold what I contend are erroneous views of what Arminians believe. To deny eternal security, I am told, is to lack assurance of salvation. Many Baptists think that Arminians believe that you may somehow “lose” your salvation because of sin; that Arminians teach that although you are initially saved by faith, your are kept by works. Arminians live in fear that they may “lose” their salvation if they sin or fail in good works. Like my former belief about Baptists, there are indeed some Arminians who hold this view, but this is not a teaching of classic Arminianism, nor the doctirinal position of the major evangelical Arminian denominations such as the Assemblies of God.

However, such a doctrine is not the belief of all or even the majority of Arminian believers. For example, the Assemblies of God, in an official statement on eternal security, states

“As the believer's salvation is received, not by an act of righteousness but by an act of faith, so the believer's salvation is maintained, not by acts of righteousness but by a life of faith!

Being a Christian then is not a matter of works; it is a matter of faith. This must be emphasized. In no case is the sinner accepted by God on the basis of any good that he has done. He is saved totally and solely by grace through faith . . . . Through the process of "becoming conformed" he is secure; his salvation is sure. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

The believer's security, then, is solely through faith, both in the receiving of salvation and in the keeping of salvation. This security is made possible through the mercy of God in imputing the righteousness of His own Son to the fallible and faulty believer as long as he maintains a living faith in Christ. "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

I agree that Arminians are in error in their denial of the doctrine of eternal security. This error, however, does not mean that Arminians teach a works salvation, lack biblical assurance, or are not a New Testament Church.

Second, I believe the policy is based on a faulty view of Assurance.

In the argument about eternal security and its relation to Baptism, some Baptists incorrectly equate assurance of salvation with the doctrine of eternal security. The two concepts are related, but not the same.

I do not find that the Scriptures join the two. Wherever the Bible speaks of assurance, it speaks of one’s present experience with Christ. That is, a person has assurance because of the evidence of Christ working in him. Further, the Bible encourages believers to test themselves to see if they are in the faith, and to make their calling and election sure.

In 1 John, assurance comes with our present walk with Christ as we obey his commands (1 John 2:3), love the brethren (3:14), believe in his name (3:23) and the experience the presence of His Spirit (3:24). No where in this letter, written “so that you may know that you have eternal life,” (5:13) does John link assurance with our initial conversion experience.

When a Baptist is not walking with Christ, he may indeed be saved, but he will not have assurance that he is. A person can thus believe in eternal security, but lack assurance. Anecdotally speaking, I am sure of my salvation, not because of my conversion experience 31 years ago coupled with my belief in eternal security. I am sure of my salvation because of the evidence of the Spirit as he works in and through me and because of my faith in the cross of Christ.

Further, true Arminianism does not foster doubt of one’s salvation. As noted above, Arminians believe that salvation is both “received and kept by faith.” If one believes, his eternal destiny is sure. It is only if one abandons the faith “by rejecting Christ” that one “loses” salvation. In reality, assurance is faith, so it is not improper for an Arminian to say that assurance is based on faith. Further, in our experience as believers, both Arminian and Baptistic views of the security of the believer are tied to faith. The difference is that when an Arminian abandons the faith they say that such a person is no longer saved and when a Baptist abandons the faith we say they were never saved in the first place. Either way they’re lost.

The possible danger of Arminianism, when not properly understood, is that one would have false doubt. The possible danger of our Baptist view of eternal security, when not properly understood, is that one would have false faith (I prayed a prayer, so I’m saved forever). All this is to say that assurance and security are related but not inseparable. A Baptist can believe in eternal security and still not be sure of his salvation. Likewise, an Arminian can be assured of his eternal salvation without believing in eternal security.

I agree that Arminian doctrine is in error. I do not believe, however, that Arminian belief is a false faith or deficient gospel nor that an Arminian cannot have assurance of eternal salvation.


I submit that a baptism should not be disqualified because of a lack of belief in the doctrine of eternal security alone. Thomas White, in a White Paper for the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary made the following summary statement on the validity of baptism: “The determining factor is the ordinance itself. Was the ordinance performed with the proper subject, in the proper mode, and with the proper meaning by a true church? If so, then it is valid” (White 2006, 10). In most cases, for a person baptized by immersion in an Arminian church, the answer to all four questions is “YES.”

In the final analysis, I believe the eternal security clause of the IMB personnel guideline should be reversed. I hope that it will be. In the mean time, I urge those who disagree with the guideline to continue their support of the IMB and the Cooperative Program. Further, I hope that Baptist on both sides of the issue will see the importance of preserving our Baptist Identity. In all things, let us continue to work together for the cause of Christ and for His glory!




Note: Nathan Finn has also blogged on the IMB guidelines today.

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