Paige Patterson on “The greatest theological error in Southern Baptist churches today”

The greatest theological error in Southern Baptist churches today is a lack of emphasis on the importance of regenerate church membership, Paige Patterson said Sept. 26 at a luncheon at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Patterson said a lack of discernment concerning valid candidates for baptism and a weak understanding of the nature of believers’ baptism have caused this error.

“Somewhere along the line, the concept of believers’ baptism has been lost,” he said. “I do believe that Baptists have become the worst of the infant baptizers today. You look at how many people we are baptizing under age 5 today and you see that we don’t understand that until someone has had a regenerating experience with the Holy Spirit changing his life he is not an appropriate candidate for baptism.

“You also must have some method of church discipline. It (baptism) all has to do with a regenerate church membership. Make no mistake about it; the uniqueness of Baptist perspective is not baptism by immersion. The uniqueness of the Baptist perspective is the baptism of believers only. The biggest problem that we have today in our Baptist churches is an actual loss in the understanding of the believer’s church.” (By Garrett E. Wishall, October 03, 2007, The Towers Online.)

Whether or not you agree that the loss of emphasis on the importance of regenerate church membership is the greatest theological error in Southern Baptist churches today (and I expect this to be discussed in the comment thread), surely all Reformed-minded Baptists recognize this issue is one area that certainly needs immediate reformation. The fact that Paige Patterson, who has such influence in Southern Baptist life (in that he was an architect of the Conservative Resurgence, the President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, and is now President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), has recognized this problem is a good sign that the Southern Baptist Convention will finally resolve to actually address this at the national conference- perhaps allowing messengers to vote on Tom Ascol’s Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership, which vote should have taken place in 2006.

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10 Comments on “Paige Patterson on “The greatest theological error in Southern Baptist churches today””

  1. Jim Pemberton Says:

    This is certainly an area that can bear refinement. As my kids grow up in a home parented by Christians, they certainly exhibit signs of faith early on. However, it’s no sign of a spiritually mature household that pushes their kids into the baptistery the first time they can repeat the phrase, “Jesus died on the cross for my sins.”

    My wife and I pray for the discernment to know the signs that our kids are mature enough that a profession of faith is in earnest. My 8-year-old daughter seems about ready enough. A couple of years ago, she said that she received Christ at VBS, but she clearly wasn’t mature enough. A week ago, she was overjoyed to witness people accept Christ and profess their faith. I asked, “What about you?” She replied, “Oh, I’m already saved.” She can somewhat explain the gospel, but with the understanding that she will continue to grow in her faith if she has been truly given faith, at what level is an understanding of one’s salvation enough to discern justification?

    I welcome any insight on this.

  2. Johnny Parish Says:

    I don’t know that I would call this the greatest theological error in SBC churches today but it has led to many problems we face in our congragations. Unregenerate membership has devestated many more churches/pastors than can be known and this is a contributing factor. I was a false convert as a 8-9 year old child, being baptised as soon as I could pray a “prayer of salvation”. It was not until I was about 28 that the Lord of Glory breathed life into my helpless soul and rescued me from the wrath to come.
    Now I am the father of 3 boys(9,8 and 3), and 1 daughter (4). My two oldest boys attend a classical christian school. They certianly know all the “right things to say” to just about any question concerning salvation. I have begun to see alot of fruit from my oldest son. He always refers to himself as a christian, is concerned about others standing before God, and exhibts other behavor that points to salvation. But is he saved ? Should he be baptised ? Am I wrong for not baptising him yet ?
    Whats at stake ? I’ll tell you, giving a child a false conversion experience , that could possibly lead to attending a church (as he has done his whole life at that point) that dosen’t practice disipline, is theologically weak, that suddenly gets a pastor or member who loves Jesus and believes the bible that then causes a stir in that child and other unregenerate or weak members who band together to destroy a ministry. Or worse yet spends eternity in Hell because over zealous parents, pastors or lay people want to chauk up another “decision for salvation” to boast about.
    I personally am going to err on the side of caution as far as baptism with my childern. I want to see how they react to more of the things to come in their lives.
    I long for the glorious day when I’ll call my children brother and sister in the Lord. How I pray for that time, thank you Lord Jesus!

  3. A resource that may be helpful to the commenters so far is the booklet “Forbid Them Not” by Ted Christman, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY- a Reformed Baptist church. Justin Taylor discussed this booklet and linked Mark Dever’s sermon, “Children and Baptism” on his “Between Two Worlds” blog here:

  4. Pat McGee Says:

    Believer baptism is a really important topic. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church. We had an evangelist (Angel Martinez) come to our town. He had a trumpet player with him…something I had never seen heard or before. I went forward at the altar call to see the trumpet and ended up getting “saved” and baptized. I have some real doubts about my salvation at that time. I was about seven at the time.
    Parents- be careful about allowing baptism at an early age. Kids can parrot a lot. You have to really see their faith being worked out. If your child asks to be baptized, ask them why they want to be baptiized. Therein will be the answer to whether he/she should be baptized.

  5. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    You know you have to appreciate Dever’s candor. He does not exclude himself from the fray. He doesn’t make it some ethereal subject either. But makes is congruent with what his church is all about. Involving it in the teaching ministry makes so much sense. Got controversy? Get taught! What a way to work out the disagreements and pursue peace- by appeal to the final authority. So simple, so profound.

    There is more new stuff at Founders, by the way.

  6. Brian Adams Says:

    I hope this can be of some comfort to Mr. Parish. I pray that my thoughts are not foolish and that I, a lowly sinner, can say words of truth.

    Mr. Parish, I do not have any children, so I can’t fully comprehend how you feel about your children and their relationship with Christ. But, I feel that you may place to much power in your hands, or pastors hands, or lay peoples hands over the salvation of your children. As stated on a blog entry on this website, we know that it is God that saves. Not man. If this is true, which we believe it to be, then let us read what Paul says “Romans 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39Nor 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.”

    Jesus Christ knows whom that are his, just as he knew it when he died on the cross for their sins. Nothing can take them from him. For if we are who we hope we are, and your children are who you hope them to be, then remember that it is God that calls, justifies, and glorifies. Put your faith and hope in Jesus Christ rather than have fear of yourself or those around you and your children. If it be God’s will, then I hope these words bring you some peace and truth.

  7. Matt Svoboda Says:

    This is such a hard issue and I think It is one that has to be handled with a lot of caution. I don’t think it is the greatest error as Dr. Patterson believes, but I do think we are in error with how we deal with it.

    I have agreed with Brian Adams post the most, thus far. I don’t know if any of you listen to Francis Chan, but he has a very interesting, good sermon that touches on this topic. You can find this sermon at his church site, The sermon is titled “The Holy Spirit” part 3.

    I think that sometimes we as baptists try to hard and spend way too much time speculating. The Bible says repent and be baptized and you will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38( not a word for word quote ) We are commanded to be obedient to Christ. As soon as a person, or child, through spiritual enlightenment realizes they are a sinner and that they instead want to follow Christ are they not then saved?

    Now the Holy Spirit can work this out in many different ways… The person doesn’t have to hit the floor, weeping and confessing all the sins they can think of, they don’t have to pray anything close to our “sinners prayer,” and they don’t even have to understand all the little details when it comes to salvation.

    I wasn’t a young child when I was saved, I was 14, but everything I knew a 7 year old could of known. All I knew was that I was a sinner, that I needed God’s forgiveness, and that I wanted to live for him.

    It is a scary thing when we determine what a seven year old can know and when we put certain restrictions on him about salvation. The moment a child or an eighty year old is saved is the moment they choose, by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ; which naturally and biblically starts with repentance and then baptism.

    Let us not restrict the Holy Spirit and decide who He can and cannot save at anytime…

    Nobody has to understand the “doctrine of salvation” as written in our books; they only need their hearts to be touched by the Spirit of God to live a life of obedience to Christ!

    If anyone would like me to go in greater detail, I would be happy too.

  8. David Alders Says:

    Mark 10:13-16

    13 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.

    14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.

    15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.

    16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

  9. […] Jameson moves on to discuss the push within Southern Baptist life to reaffirm our commitment to a regenerate church membership. Jameson presents this as a Calvinist issue, though many others- including Paige Patterson, who is certainly no Calvinist- have seen the need for this issue to be addressed at the Convention level as well. […]

  10. […] Loren Coleman wrote an interesting post today on Paige Patterson on âThe greatest theological error in Southern …Here’s a quick excerpt […]

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