Theology Thursday on Friday: Free Will Baptists

The Free Will Baptist literature explains their American heritage comes from two distinct movements in the early to mid-18th century which eventually coalesced into the modern-day National Association of Free Will Baptists in 1935. Here, we present some excerpts from their statement of faith:1

Chapter 3 – Divine Governance and Providence

  1. God exercises a providential care and superintendence over all His creatures,2 and governs the world in wisdom and mercy, according to the testimony of His Word.3
  2. God has endowed man with power of free choice, and governs him by moral laws and motives; and this power of free choice is the exact measure of man’s responsibility.4
  3. All events are present with God from everlasting to everlasting; but His knowledge of them does not in any sense cause them, nor does He decree all events which He knows will occur.5

Chapter 8 – The Gospel Call

The call of the Gospel is co-extensive with the atonement to all men,6 both by the word and strivings of the Spirit,7 so that salvation is rendered equally possible to all;8 and if any fail of eternal life, the fault is wholly his own.9

Chapter 10 – Faith

Saving faith is an assent of the mind to the fundamental truths of revelation,10 an acceptance of the Gospel, through the influence of the Holy Spirit,11 and a firm confidence and trust in Christ.12 The fruit of faith is obedience to the Gospel.13 The power to believe is the gift of God,14 but believing is an act of the creature, which is required as a condition of pardon, and without which the sinner cannot obtain salvation.15 All men are required to believe in Christ, and those who yield obedience to this requirement become the children of God by faith.16

Chapter 13 – Perseverance of the Saints

There are strong grounds to hope that the truly regenerate will persevere unto the end, and be saved, through the power of divine grace which is pledged for their support;17 but their future obedience and final salvation are neither determined nor certain, since through infirmity and manifold temptations they are in danger of falling;18 and they ought, therefore, to watch and pray lest they make shipwreck of their faith and be lost.

Appendix to Chapter 13

  1. We believe that salvation is a present possession by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, and that a person’s eternal destiny depends on whether he has this possession. This we hold in distinction from those who teach that salvation depends on human works or merit.
  2. We believe that a saved individual may, in freedom of will, cease to trust in Christ for salvation and once again be lost. This we hold in distinction from those who teach that a believer may not again be lost.
  3. We believe that any individual living in the practice of sin (whether he be called “backslider” or “sinner”) must be judged by that evidence to be lost should he so die in his sins. This we hold in distinction from those who suggest that pernicious doctrine that a man may live in sin as he pleases and still claim Heaven as his eternal home.
  4. We believe that any regenerate person who has sinned (again, whether he be called “backslider” or “sinner”) and in whose heart a desire arises to repent may do so and be restored to favor and fellowship with God. This we hold in distinction from those who teach that when a Christian sins he cannot repent and be restored to favor and fellowship with God.19

Notes

1 All excerpts are from A Treatise of the Faith and Practices of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Inc. (Nashville, TN, 2016). Retrieved from http://nafwb.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2016-FWB-Treatise.pdf.

2  Acts 17:28: In him we live, and move, and have our being. Matt 10:30: The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Psa. 104:13, 14; Job 14:5; Eph. 1:11.

3 Psalm 22:28: For the kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations. Psa. 97:2: Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. Isa. 33:22; Ex. 34:6; Job 36:5.  

4 Deuteronomy 30:19: I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live. Isa. 1:18-20; John 5:40; Rom. 2:14, 15; Prov. 1:24-28.

5 Ezekiel 33:11: As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Acts 15:18; 1 Sam. 2:30; Ezek. 18:20-25, 31; Jer.44:4.  

6 Mark 16:15: Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Isa. 45:22: Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth. Prov. 8:4; Isa. 55:1; Rev. 22:17.  

7 Joel 2:28: I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh. John 16:8; John 1:9; Isa. 55:11; Luke 2:10.

8 1 Timothy 2:4: Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. Acts 10:34: God is no respecter of persons. Ezek. 33:11; 2 Pet. 3:9.

9 Hosea 13:9: O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself. Prov. 1:24-31; Isa. 65:12; Jer. 7:13, 14; Zech. 7:11-13; John 5:40: And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. Matt. 23:37.

10  Hebrews 11:6: He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Heb. 11:1: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. John 5:46, 47; Rom. 10:9.

11 Romans 10:10: With the heart man believeth unto righteousness. Gal. 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is…faith. 1 Cor. 12:8, 9.

12 Acts 16:31: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. John 3:16; Rom. 4:20-22; Eph. 3:12.

13 James 2:17: Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Gal. 5:6; 1 Tim. 1:5.

14 Philippians 1:29: Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ…to believe on him. 2 Pet. 1:1; Eph. 2:8.

15 John 3:36: He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. Mark 16:16; John 8:21, 24; Heb. 11:6

16 John 1:7: That all men through him might believe. Gal 3:26: Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Acts 10:43; Rom. 5:1; John 3:15.   

17 Romans 8:38, 39: For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 1 Cor. 10:13: God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. 2Cor. 12:9: My grace is sufficient for thee. Job 17:9; Matt. 6:18; John 10:27, 28; Phil. 1:6.  

18 2 Chronicles 15:2: The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him…but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you. 2 Pet 1:10: Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. Ezek. 33:18: When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby. John 15:6; 1 Cor. 10:12; Heb. 6:4-6; 12:15; 1 Chron. 28:9; Rev. 2:4;

19  2 Peter 1:4-10: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.

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There are 8 Comments

TylerR's picture

This doctrinal statement is un-biblical and dangerous:

  • Their version of God does not cause or decree anything; He merely knows everything in a passive sense. Behold this excerpt: "All events are present with God from everlasting to everlasting; but His knowledge of them does not in any sense cause them, nor does He decree all events which He knows will occur."
  • Their anthropology is flawed and incoherent. It reads, "The call of the Gospel is co-extensive with the atonement to all men, both by the word and strivings of the Spirit, so that salvation is rendered equally possible to all; and if any fail of eternal life, the fault is wholly his own." This apparently assumes prevenient grace concept that is nowhere found in Scripture. I have a book on prevenient grace that I plan to read soon. I'm interested to see the arguments. I have Olson's book, but I haven't read a book-length argument for prevenient grace yet. Looking forward to it.
  • Their soteriology is man-centered, but at least it's consistent with the rest of their statement. It reads, "We believe that a saved individual may, in freedom of will, cease to trust in Christ for salvation and once again be lost. This we hold in distinction from those who teach that a believer may not again be lost."

The most troubling thing is their flawed idea that God doesn't decree anything, but merely holds passive knowledge of future events. The anthropology and soteriology appear to be standard Arminian; you need to understand prevenient grace to appreciate what they're saying.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

ScottS's picture

Tyler, your declaration that the doctrinal statement affirms "God does not cause or decree anything" seems to be reading more into it than what is stated. Here is how I read it, and I think it is a misreading of the third point that has caused you to leap to the conclusion they believe God does not decree anything:

  • "All events are present with God from everlasting to everlasting;" = He has knowledge of all events from eternity
  • "but His knowledge of them does not in any sense cause them," = Merely because He knows of the event, does not mean that knowledge causes the event
  • "nor does He decree all events which He knows will occur." = Not all events that He knows about are decreed by Him, but that leaves open that some events are or may be so decreed. If it had said "any" in place of "all" then you would have a situation to criticize the statement as you have. But by saying "all," they are only affirming that there are at least some events that occur without God decreeing them to be that way.

My intent here is not to argue for or against the statement on this point, only to point out that I believe you are reading too much into it by thinking they do not believe God decrees any events at all. The first chapter of Genesis would easily counter that view, if that is what they intended. So it seems their intent is to say God decrees some events, but not all events (i.e. whatever events they deem are in the realm of the human freedom of will God has granted).

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

TylerR's picture

Maybe. I see this as a distinction without a difference. The bottom line is they have a God who doesn't actively control events. He has passive knowledge of some events, but doesn't make them happen. If he knows they'll happen, but doesn't cause them, then what is the ultimate causer of these events? And, how can God be God and not control them?

This may be a convenient yet biblically illiterate dodge to elevate libertarian free will, but it falls apart when you consider natural disasters or the actions of totalitarian despots (e.g. Stalin, Hitler, Kim, etc.). It also falls apart when you consider the Book of Job. It only works in the abstract.

Lest someone be tempted to use it, don't play the "mystery card" until you've gone as far as the Bible goes ...

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

G. N. Barkman's picture

Free Will Baptists are mistaken, but at least they are consistent when they declare that the same free will that obtains salvation can also be exercised to renounce the formerly obtained salvation.  Some baptists espouse "Gotcha Theology."  Man exercises his free will to choose Christ, but having once made that decision, God now (supposedly) says, "Gotcha."  Now you are forever saved no matter what you do or think from here on out.

G. N. Barkman

Kevin Miller's picture

TylerR wrote:

Maybe. I see this as a distinction without a difference. The bottom line is they have a God who doesn't actively control events. He has passive knowledge of some events, but doesn't make them happen. If he knows they'll happen, but doesn't cause them, then what is the ultimate causer of these events? And, how can God be God and not control them?

I read the statement with the concept of sin in mind. If God is decreeing ALL actions, then wouldn't that mean that God is decreeing that I sin? Is God the cause of my sin?

Jim's picture

https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/decree-god/

This raises the perennial theological and philosophical issue of the relationship of God to evil. If God is sovereign, does this mean that He is the author of sin? And if God is sovereign, does this not make our decision-making a fiction and not a reality? And does this not also imply that the universe is like a computer, carrying out the pre-programming of a sovereign software specialist with no real liberty of its own? To all three questions, the Westminster Confession of Faith responded with a negative: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (3.1). Of course, critics have responded to these words by saying that this doesn’t answer any of the questions posed. And they are correct; it doesn’t! It merely asserts that the alternatives are not true without explaining exactly how God can order events, including evil ones, without being the cause of them.

JohnBrian's picture

The ending of the story of Joseph and his brothers shows the relationship between evil and God's purpose in evil.

Genesis 50:19-20

Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

God did not cause the brothers to hate Joseph, and restrained them in their desire to kill him, but their actions served God's purpose. This establishes that man's sin serves God's purpose.

The crucifixion was another example of sin serving God's purpose!

From episode 809 of the "Ask Pastor John" podcast

In God’s ultimate plan, sin has a necessary place

We were undeserving sinners in God’s mind before we were created. We were seen in relationship to a redeemer, Jesus Christ. And grace flowed to us in the mind of God before there was any creation. And therefore when the plan begins to unfold, guilt, sin, grace, redeemer are necessary.

God’s holiness is not the least compromised or impugned by the fact that God wills for unholy acts to take place.

If sin doesn't serve God's purpose, then it happens outside of the sovereignty of God.

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