The Baptist Dilemma

By Larry Ray Hafley

A newspaper article previewed and reviewed a television documentary produced by British film maker Anthony Thomas. In the course of the column, the following extract appears.

The documentary’s most astonishing moment comes when a First Baptist theologian insists that saintly Mother Teresa – who’s given her life to helping the sick — is doomed to hell unless she’s born again.

Thomas is dumbstruck: “Yet you, because you’re born-again, can commit any sin you want between now and your death and still go to heaven?”

“I thank the Lord every day for that,” the theologian says (The Indianapolis Star, April 6, 1988, p. 13- 19, by Steve Hall).

The first paragraph correctly represents the truth. Indeed, “Ye must be born again.” But what of “the saintly Mother Teresa,” and others like her, who devote their lives to casing the ills of humanity? Unselfish, sacrificing spirits expend their time, talent and money to soothe the souls and suffering of the downcast and downtrodden. Are they lost? Will their good works count for nothing? Is it possible that such wonderful people could be “doomed to hell”?

Yes, and here is why. Even benevolent people sin. Decent and devout people sin. No amount of good deeds can erase a single sin, and “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). “Mother Teresa” has sinned, and if she is to be saved, her sins must be forgiven. If she lives a thousand years and feeds, clothes and houses a billion people, she, with all mankind, must stand before the judgment bar of God Almighty and give account (2 Cor. 5: 10). If her sins have not been washed away by the blood of Christ, she will be lost. As proof thereof, observe:

(1) Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name have done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:21-23).

(2) Cornelius was “a devout (note: “devout,” not depraved) man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway” (Acts 10:2). The “saintly centurion Cornelius,” like the esteemed “Mother Teresa … .. gave much alms to the people,” but, he, too, had sinned and needed to be saved (Acts 11:14). Though he was “a just man, and one that feareth God, and (was) of good report among all the nation” (Acts 10:22), still, he was “warned of God” to hear and heed the word of God in order that he might be saved.

Neither the acclaimed “Mother Teresa,” nor any other good and gracious individual, could be more highly praised than was Cornelius. But Cornelius, like all men, had sinned, and his sins required forgiveness.

(3) If virtuous deeds could save, the rich, young ruler would have been saved (Mk. 10:17-22). If generosity could save, Jesus did not need to die on the cross. All one would need to do is live a good, moral life, help his neighbor and be saved. There are atheists and idolaters who bless and benefit mankind. Do their good works save them? No, for they, too, have sinned. As sinners, they must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31).

Hence, the Baptists are correct. One must be born again if he is to be saved.

So What?

With the remarks above, few Baptists would disagree. So what is the problem? Where is the Baptist dilemma? Read again the second paragraph of the quotation, “Thomas is dumbstruck: ‘Yet you, because you’re born again, can commit any sin you want between now and your death and still go to heaven?'”

Here is where Baptist doctrine is not consistent. Here is where it clouds and obscures truth. Here is where it repulses film makers, newspaper columnists and the general “run-of-the-mill, man-on-the-street” sinner. The Baptist does declare (and quite correctly, as noted) “that saintly Mother Teresa is doomed to hell unless she’s born again. ” But because he is born again, he “can commit any sin . . . and still go to heaven.” It is not a pretty picture. It is the Baptist dilemma.

Calvinian Baptist doctrine says one who is born again can commit any sin “from idolatry to murder” and still be saved. As the Baptist theologian said, “I thank the Lord every day for that.” Columnist, Steve Hall, sees the contradiction that dooms “Mother Teresa” to hell but delivers a born-again sinner to heaven.

It mocks the justice and righteousness of God. It affords occasion for the enemies of truth to blaspheme, and Mr. Hall does not neglect the opportunity to display the inconsistent doctrine in all its stark ugliness. Such a view hinders and suppresses the truth in unrighteousness and turns the grace of God into lasciviousness. The watching world is quick to seize the putrid carcass and parade it through the streets as a representation of the true grace of God. “This,” they shout, “is the theology of born-again Christianity. Do good and burn in hell if you are not born again, but once born again do evil and still go to heaven.” It is a tragic perversion of truth, but it concisely and correctly manifests the Baptist dilemma. And what shall we say to these things? Shall we.

(1) Slander those who point out the dilemma? Shall we say it is just another case of a heathen unbeliever trying to revile the faith of Christ? Shall we ignore the issue and condemn the media as a biased bunch of God haters whose damnation is just?

(2) Stay above such controversies and decry and deplore muckraking opportunists? Shall we smile broadly, wink often, and hope that sinners are unaware of such issues, and seek to convert them with the warm personality and general “feel goodishness”?

(3) Tell the truth? Shall we admit the position and acknowledge the unfavorable posture? Shall we then explain the difference between the truth and Baptist theology? Shall we candidly denounce Baptist doctrine and kindly replace it with the doctrine of Christ?

The world of unbelief is too shrewd to be fooled with the “good ol’ boy” approach. They see the maize and the mess of denominational dogmas, and they identify Christians with it. We are in the same lump; we are cut from the same cloth in the eyes of the world. So, the Baptist dilemma affects us. We must, therefore, admit, explain and clarify it. We must show the mocking world that the Bible does not teach such theology, that such dilemmas are those of false religion, not of the true not of the truth.

Brethren, evil and error cannot be answered with your best grin. Do not be deceived. A warm, vibrant, loving, smiling personality, by itself, is not the answer. Jim Bakker can beat anyone at that game. He can out-smile a possum. So, think not that good humor alone will win souls. Do not think that an upbeat, positive, enthusiastic attitude, by itself, will solve and surmount any challenge. Besides, Zig Ziglar and Robert Schuller have us all beat on that scale. Ziglar and Schuller are paramount “possibility thinkers,” and they will win that match. The world of unbelief sees through the thin veneer and facade of a superficial positive mental attitude. Yes, we must be happy and excited; we must look for the pure, the powerful and the positive, but we must also confront the dirty and the dangerous directly and decisively, “casting down imaginations (reasonings of men) and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge (the truth) of God” (2 Cor. 10:5).

The Simple Solution

The simple solution to the Baptist dilemma as posed in the newspaper article is found in Ezekiel 3. Read again the quotation at the beginning of this essay. With it in mind, read Ezekiel 3:20, “Again, when a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” Further, “But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and commiteth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die” (Ezek. 18:24).

In other words, if you are saved, but turn back to iniquity you will be lost (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20-22; Jude 5). That passage is consistent with the truth, justice and righteousness of God. It removes the stench and stigma of Baptist doctrine from the hands of unbelievers who would discredit the way of righteousness, and “I thank the Lord every day for that.”

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 16, pp. 485-486
August 18, 1988