One of the many disturbing truths about the Biblical church of Corinth was that it was a divided church. Individuals were found to be contentious. Various factions claimed a spiritual leader to follow.
“For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:11-12).
Paul wanted no part of the debate over personalities. He wanted to preach Christ. To that I say, “Amen.” If a church is to have a theological discussion, let it be over specific passages of Scripture, in context, and in light of the whole counsel of God upon the subject under discussion.
Unfortunately, neither history nor culture has prevented the Protestant church from fragmenting into various theological biases, the most notable being Calvinism and Arminianism. Historically, many Baptist have been influenced by the doctrines of grace promoted by the Reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564), and summarized in the Canons of Dort (1618-1619).
Among those Baptist influenced by the teaching ministry of John Calvin are the Southern Baptist, at least historically, reflected in the document, Abstract of Principles. As you review the document, notice the commitment to the doctrines of total depravity (Article VI), unconditional election (Article V), a definite redemption applied (Article VII), the certainty of regeneration which is produced by the Holy Spirit (Article VIII), and the regenerate “pressing after a heavenly life” (Article XII). The regenerate “shall certainly persevere to the end” (Article XIII).
The point of noting this document should bring some comfort to Baptist today that have an abiding interest in the doctrines of grace, and in their Southern Baptist doctrinal heritage. The Abstract of Principles is the oldest doctrinal confession approved by Southern Baptists. It was composed in 1858.
When the original charter of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was adopted in 1858, it contained the following statement which continues as a part of the “fundamental laws.” “Every professor of the institution shall be a member of a regular Baptist Church; and all persons accepting professorships in this Seminary shall be considered, by such acceptance, as engaging to teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Abstract of Principles hereinafter laid down, a departure from which principles on his part shall be grounds for his resignation or removal by the Trustees.”
I. The Scriptures.
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.
There is but one God, the Maker, Preserver and Ruler of all things, having in and of himself, all perfections, and being infinite in them all; and to Him all creatures owe the highest love, reverence and obedience.
III. The Trinity.
God is revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit each with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence or being.
God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not in any wise to be author or approver of sin nor to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.
Election is God’s eternal choice of some persons unto everlasting life — not because of foreseen merit in them, but of his mere mercy in Christ — in consequence of which choice they are called, justified and glorified.
VI. The Fall of Man.
God originally created man in His own image, and free from sin; but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.
VII. The Mediator.
Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is the divinely appointed mediator between God and man. Having taken upon Himself human nature, yet without sin, He perfectly fulfilled the Law, suffered and died upon the cross for the salvation of sinners. He was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended to His Father, at whose hand He ever liveth to make intercession for His people. He is the only Mediator, the Prophet, Priest and King of the Church, and Sovereign of the Universe.
Regeneration is a change of heart, wrought by the Holy Spirit, who quickeneth the dead in trespasses and sins enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the Word of God, and renewing their whole nature, so that they love and practice holiness. It is a work of God’s free and special grace alone.
Repentance is an evangelical grace, wherein a person being, by the Holy Spirit, made sensible of the manifold evil of his sin, humbleth himself for it, with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrence, with a purpose and endeavor to walk before God so as to please Him in all things.
Saving faith is the belief, on God’s authority, of whatsoever is revealed in His Word concerning Christ; accepting and resting upon Him alone for justification and eternal life. It is wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and is accompanied by all other saving graces, and leads to a life of holiness.
Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal of sinners, who believe in Christ, from all sin, through the satisfaction that Christ has made; not for anything wrought in them or done by them; but on account of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith.
Those who have been regenerated are also sanctified, by God’s word and Spirit dwelling in them. This sanctification is progressive through the supply of Divine strength, which all saints seek to obtain, pressing after a heavenly life in cordial obedience to all Christ’s commands.
XIII. Perseverance of the Saints.
Those whom God hath accepted in the Beloved, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere to the end; and though they may fall, through neglect and temptation, into sin, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, bring reproach on the Church, and temporal judgments on themselves, yet they shall be renewed again unto repentance, and be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
XIV. The Church.
The Lord Jesus is the Head of the Church, which is composed of all his true disciples, and in Him is invested supremely all power for its government. According to his commandment, Christians are to associate themselves into particular societies or churches; and to each of these churches he hath given needful authority for administering that order, discipline and worship which he hath appointed. The regular officers of a Church are Bishops, or Elders, and Deacons.
Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord Jesus, obligatory upon every believer, wherein he is immersed in water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as a sign of his fellowship with the death and resurrection of Christ, of remission of sins, and of his giving himself up to God, to live and walk in newness of life. It is prerequisite to church fellowship, and to participation in the Lord’s Supper.
XVI. The Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of Jesus Christ, to be administered with the elements of bread and wine, and to be observed by his churches till the end of the world. It is in no sense a sacrifice, but is designed to commemorate his death, to confirm the faith and other graces of Christians, and to be a bond, pledge and renewal of their communion with him, and of their church fellowship.
XVII. The Lord’s Day.
The Lord’s Day is a Christian institution for regular observance, and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, resting from worldly employments and amusements, works of necessity and mercy only excepted.
XVIII. Liberty of Conscience.
God alone is Lord of the conscience; and He hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in anything contrary to His word, or not contained in it. Civil magistrates being ordained of God, subjection in all lawful things commanded by them ought to be yielded by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
XIX. The Resurrection.
The bodies of men after death return to dust, but their spirits return immediately to God — the righteous to rest with Him; the wicked to be reserved under darkness to the judgment. At the last day, the bodies of all the dead, both just and unjust, will be raised.
XX. The Judgment.
God hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world by Jesus Christ, when every one shall receive according to his deeds; the wicked shall go into everlasting punishment; the righteous, into everlasting life.
See also “Don’t Just Do Something — Stand There!: Southern Seminary and the Abstract of Principles,” a convocation address delivered by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, August 31, 1993.