Teachings by Southern Baptists and other
conservative Protestant denominations
|"If you are a [born-again] Christian, you will go to
heaven; If you're following another religion, then by default you will
go to Hell." Susie Shellenberger, Life on the Edge radio program, sponsored by
Focus on the Family, 2001-MAY-5.|
About the Southern Baptists and other Conservative faith groups:
Fundamentalist Christians occupy the most
conservative wing of Protestantism. With a membership of about 16
million, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest
Fundamentalist denomination in the U.S. Among all the Christian
denominations in the U.S., it is second in size only to the Roman
Catholic church. Starting in the 1970's, the SBC went through internal
turmoil due to an internal conflict between moderates and fundamentalists. The more liberal wing lost the battle. One result has been the
publication of a series of documents that have been criticized by some more
liberal Christians, feminist organizations, theologians, and Jewish, Hindu &
Muslim groups. For example, they have required their employees to sign a loyalty oath,
they have issued a statement on the submissive role of women in the family, and have
series of prayer guides to help their membership
pray for and evangelize non-Christians, in order to lead them to
salvation, and they have forbidden the future
ordination of any woman.
This essay will deal with the salvation beliefs of Southern Baptists.
However, they reflect the beliefs of most other conservative
Protestants/evangelical denominations as well.
How the SBC interprets the Bible:
Fundamentalists generally believe that the authors of the Bible were
inspired by God, and thus that the Bible is inerrant
any mixture of error"). Its text is normally interpreted literally, except
where a symbolic interpretation is obviously needed. "The Scriptures" section
of the Baptist Faith and Message statement confirms these beliefs:
"The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is
God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine
instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth,
without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is
totally true and trustworthy.
|The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament): Southern Baptists regard the first few chapters of Genesis to be
the among most important passages of the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament).
This contains stories of creation, the Garden of Eden, Adam,
Eve, the serpent, etc. The SBC interprets
Genesis 2:15 as describing how:|
|Humanity's original parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God's prime
directive that they were not to eat "the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil." (NIV). |
they disobeyed, they committed a major transgression against God and were immediately
|This is generally referred to as "the fall" of humanity.
|Sin and death entered the universe for the first time|
|Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden, never to return.|
Many liberal Christians believe that these passages are religious myth, copied from nearby Pagan cultures:
of immense spiritual significance, but descriptions of events that never
happened. Other liberals interpret these passages as describing the
proto-humans to full humanity.
|The Christian Scriptures (New Testament): Many verses in the
book of Romans are frequently quoted in support of Fundamentalist beliefs
|Romans 1:16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is
the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth..."|
|Romans 3:10-12: "...There is none righteous, no, not one.... there
is none that doeth good, no, not one."|
|Romans 3:22-26: "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of
Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no
difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in
Christ Jesus. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith
in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins
that are past, through the forbearance of God. To declare, I say, at
this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of
him which believeth in Jesus.|
|Romans 5:8-9: "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while
we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now
justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.|
|Romans 10:9-10: "...if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord
Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from
the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto
righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.|
Other frequently quoted passages are:
|Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and
that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any
man should boast."|
|1 Corinthians 15:1-5: "...I declare unto you the gospel which I
preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By
which also ye are saved....For I delivered unto you first of all that
which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to
the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third
day according to the scriptures."|
The need for salvation, and how to attain it:
One long-term result of "the fall" was that all of their descendants
were born in a state of "original sin". One consequence of original sin is that
every person's normal destination at death is Hell, where they will be eternally tortured
without any hope of mercy or relief.
Another result had been an unbridgeable chasm between God and humanity; reconciliation
and avoidance of Hell can
only be achieved through the individual becoming "saved."
Salvation is based on
the concept of substitutionary atonement, first developed by St. Augustine early in
the 5th century CE. Augustine believed that God the Father required Jesus to die on the
cross in order to pay for the past and future sins of humanity. Apparently, the perfect justice of God prevented him from forgiving humans directly. He required the torture death of his only begotten son, who the Bible describes as sinless. The death of a totally
innocent god-man was the only method by which the present gulf between God
and man, created in
Eden, could be bridged. A major tenet of Protestant Fundamentalist belief is
that if a person
hears the Gospel, acknowledges their sinful nature, is genuinely repentant,
believes in the divinity of Christ, and trusts him as Lord and Savior, then they will be
"saved". Two items -- belief in Christ's divinity and personal
repentance -- are controversial; some conservative Christians hold that they
are not necessary for salvation, because they represent human works.
Once saved, God will forgive -- and actually forget -- an individual's past sins.
In a process called sanctification, the Holy Spirit will continually
improve their behavior and spirituality while they remain alive on earth.
They believe that many life changes result from being "saved":
|A person experiences an overpowering religious conversion.|
|He/she develops an intimate, trusting relationship with God, which is sometimes
described as "walking with the Lord," "inviting the Holy Spirit into
your heart," "being a new creation in Christ," "being a
baby in Christ," etc.|
|Their personality and behavior change to be closer to that of Christ.|
|At death, they avoid Hell, and are taken up into heaven.|
|Pentecostal Christians additionally believe when a person is
truly saved, God gives them gifts, one of which is often the ability to speak in tongues.
Some Pentecostals believe that if a person does not speak in tongues that
she or he has not been saved.|
Is salvation possible only through trust in Jesus?
During the 20th century, North America transitioned from being an
almost exclusively Judeo-Christian region, into the world's most
religiously diverse area. During the same century, the West became
much less isolated from the rest of the world. These two factors, religious diversity
and global integration, have
forced American Christians to become aware of the beliefs and practices of other
religions. They note that other religions teach various forms of
salvation which can be achieved in different ways. For example:
|Islam teaches submission to the will of Allah|
|Judaism teaches the importance of following the Mosaic code and
||Buddhism urges its followers to achieve Nirvana and thus terminate the painful repetition of continuing lifetimes.|
Generally speaking, Christians have adopted one of three beliefs about
other religions: Pluralism, Inclusivism or
|Pluralism: Most liberal Christians regard all religions as legitimate, valid, and true -- when viewed from within their particular culture.
Thus, all faith traditions are deserving of respect. Many liberals
believe that there are many paths to salvation; trust in Jesus is only
one such path.
|Inclusivism: Many Roman Catholics and a wide range of Protestants regard their own faith tradition as the only completely
true religion. They view other religions as perhaps reflecting "aspects of, or to constitute approaches to,
that final truth." 2 The Roman Catholic Church considers that members of other religions are "gravely
deficient" relative to members of the Church of Christ who already have "the fullness of the means of salvation."
3 Salvation is thus possible to others, but is difficult for them to achieve. Their religion may well be a hindrance to salvation.
|Exclusivism: Many conservative Christians regard their own faith tradition as the only completely true religion.
Other religions might have elements of truth in them -- beliefs arrived at either by accident, or by observing nature, or by following their conscience.
But their beliefs are largely false. They are often viewed as rivals to the one true religion. Salvation within other religions is at best very improbable
-- perhaps impossible.|
Exclusivism appears to be the most common belief among devout Christians in the U.S. One indication of this comes from a
poll showed that only 21% of churchgoers regarded Islam as having a positive impact on society. Only 21% felt that Buddhism had a positive effect.
Most Southern Baptists and many other evangelical/conservative Protestants follow the exclusivism belief system. Some consider other religions as forms of
Satanism, led by demonic forces. The latter are often vigorously opposed because they are viewed as drawing their followers
away from salvation towards an eternity of punishment in Hell.
Exclusivism within the Southern Baptist Convention:
The official web site of
the Southern Baptist Convention links extensively to contents of the
Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT). It is a publication of the
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. 4 In a 1998 issue,
they published a SBJT Forum which dealt with questions of religious
inclusivity. 5 In it, four leading Southern Baptist
theologians gave answers to questions submitted by the magazine's readers.
Timothy George, founding
Dean of Beeson Divinity School and senior advisor for Christianity
Today, wrote part of the Forum, referring to:
|A Christian missionary, William Carey, and generations of missionaries who followed in his
wake...who "believed...that...Personal faith in Jesus Christ is the only
way of salvation for all peoples everywhere, and those who die without this
saving knowledge face eternal separation from God."|
|Christian inclusivists are in error because they trivialize "the tragic
consequences of the Fall." |
|"...Non-Christian religions...are unable to lead anyone to salvation --
because of their own falsity as well as human fallenness."|
|George does suggest that God can achieve salvation outside of a trust in
Jesus as Lord and Savior. For example, infants or mentally challenged
individuals who cannot comprehend the Gospel may be saved. Others may
theoretically be saved by the direct action of angels.|
Carl F.H. Henry, founding editor of Christianity Today and Senior
Research Professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote:
|Acts 4:12 implies that "...Christ is the truth, not simply one
among many. Precluded is the notion that God reveals himself in all
D.A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical
Divinity School wrote:
|The question of whether the Gospel of John and John's epistles allow for
salvation outside of faith in Christ is "in some ways...perverse" and "at
best... are remarkably immature."|
|Carson quotes 1 John 4:23 which says "...every spirit that does not
acknowledge Jesus is not from God." He wrote: "Formally, this excludes
those who do not acknowledge who Jesus is." |
|He discusses Revelation 13 & 14, concluding that "Either one bears the
mark of the beast and is thereby spared the beast's wrath, but faces the wrath
of the Lamb [i.e. Jesus] or one bears the mark of the Lamb and is thereby
spared the Lamb's wrath, but faces the wrath of the beast. |
|He concludes: "So does the Johannine corpus 'leave room for salvation
through means other than specific faith in Christ?' Certainly not in its most
Scott Hafemann is Hawthorn Professor of Greek at Wheaton College, and
is the author of many conservative Christian books and articles. He states that:
|"...Paul plainly teaches the reality of eternal judgment for those who
do not embrace Christ....He holds no hope for those who remain in idolatry and
its lifestyles for he attributes the practice to demons." |
|He quotes Douglas Moo who wrote: "...righteousness and life are for
those who respond to God's grace in Christ and that they are only
for those who respond." 6|
Bible passages supporting exclusivism:
The authors of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) were often strongly
exclusivist. Some of the most frequently quoted passages reinforce this belief.
- According to Christian Scriptures, salvation and the
avoidance of an eternal punishment in Hell is available only to Christians:
- John 14:6: "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and
the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (all KJV)
- Matt 7:13: "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the
gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be
which go in thereat."
- Acts 4:12: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there
is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
- Jesus considered a follower of at least one other religion to be
sub-human. According to Matthew 15:22-28, Jesus was approached by a non-Jewish
woman seeking healing for her daughter. Matthew calls her a Canaanite; Mark
7:25-30 calls her a Greek / Syrophenician. Being non-Jewish, Jesus initially considered
her to be beneath him, and not worthy of his attention. He referred to her as a
dog, and implied that to help her would be a waste of his effort:
However, the woman joked with Jesus and won him over to a more tolerant position. He cured her child. Some commentators suggest that this encounter had a profound effect on Jesus' life. It changed his opinion towards non-Jews. After meeting her, he began to treat people of all religions without prejudice. He began to consider his message as universal, and not limited to Jews only.
- Matthew 15:26 quotes Jesus as saying: "...It is not meet to
take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs."
- Mark 7:27 repeats this as: "...it is not meet to take the
children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs."
- According to Paul, the Gods of other religions are actually demons. One
should not even befriend non-Christians:
- 1 Corinthians 10:20: "But I say, that the things which the
Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would
not that ye should have fellowship with devils."
At what age are Christians "saved"?
A study by Barna Research, announced on 1999-NOV-12, shows that most
conservative Christians are "saved" while they are children. A person who is
unsaved at the age of 14 only has a 10% chance of being "saved"
at any time later in their life. The survey also showed that about 40% of all Americans
consider themselves as having been saved during their lifetime. This number
agrees with previous surveys.
||% of the U.S. population who are saved within that age range
|5 to 13 years
|14 to 18 years
|over 19 years
There are at least two conflicting interpretations of these data:
|Once a person has reached adulthood, they are unlikely to undergo a
salvation experience. Thus, children must be brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus long before
they reach adulthood. Otherwise, they will probably never achieve salvation.
Thus, churches should concentrate their emphasis on salvation among their
own youth. |
|Essentially all Fundamentalists and other Evangelicals are already
saved by the time that they reach adulthood. It is unlikely that they
will be able to increase the number of saved members within their own
denominations. Thus, churches should redouble their emphasis on
salvation among the followers of other Christian denominations and of other
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "The Baptist Faith and Message," Year 2000
- Seena Fazel, "Religious Pluralism," at:
- Joseph Cardinal Retzinger, "Dominus Iesus on the unicity and
salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the church," Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith. See: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/
- The home page of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is at:
- Timothy George, "The
SBJT Forum: Responses to Inclusivism,"
http://www.sbts.edu/resources/sbjt/1998/ You need software to read these
PDFfiles. It can be obtained free from:
- Douglas Moo, "The Epistle to the Romans," Eerdmans, (1996), Page
Copyright © 1997 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2010-JUN-25
Author: B.A. Robinson