The President, Adultery, and “Baptist Rules”
Denominational doctrines that pervert New Testament teaching have devastating effects in a number of ways. First, they condemn those who teach them. Second, they harm those who believe them. Third, corrupt teaching, paraded under the guise of Christianity, brings the Lord’s system into disrepute generally, because the secular world does not discern the difference between the genuine gospel and subtle distortions of the same.
A shocking example of this was reflected in an article published in a recent issue of NEWSWEEK magazine (11/2/98). The piece, by Kenneth L. Woodward, was titled, “Sex, Sin and Salvation.” The sub-caption read: “To understand Clinton the president, you have to meet Bill the Baptist, a believer whose faith leaves plenty of license.”
The article is designed to provide some explanation as to how the chief executive of our nation can appear so “religious” on the one hand (he is frequently photographed attending church on Sundays, Bible in hand), and yet be so wantonly immoral at other times. There is, of course, a considerable body of evidence that the president has had adulterous affairs with numerous women. Consider this statement:
Clinton’s troubled personal life—and his repeated verbal evasions—also bears a distinctive Baptist stamp. Like most Baptists, Clinton was taught that because he had been born again, his salvation is ensured. Sinning—even repeatedly—would not bar his soul from heaven. . . As a born-again Baptist, however, the president believes that what he does in private is nobody’s business but the Lord’s.
Actually, our leader doesn’t think what he does is even much of the Lord’s business!
There is a clear connection between what one believes, and the type of lifestyle he will pursue. The Calvinistic doctrine of the “impossibility of apostasy,” alluded to above, has horrible consequences. It encourages license. This does not mean that every person who theoretically subscribes to this false notion is immoral; it does mean that if one really believes the doctrine—that no matter what he does, he cannot be lost—he has accepted a philosophy that easily accommodates wrongdoing. Every sincere Baptist who believes this doctrine, and yet still lives the moral life, does so in spite of the dogma, and not because of it.
But let me cite some interesting examples of this concept. In 1938, Ben Bogard, a leading Baptist preacher, debated N.B. Hardeman in Little Rock, Arkansas. In that encounter, Bogard affirmed that no matter what a child of God does, he cannot be lost. He further contended that whereas he himself sinned with his “flesh,” his “soul” never sinned, and, in fact, was as perfect as God!
Sam Morris, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Stamford, Texas, wrote a little tract titled: Do A Christian’s Sins Damn His Soul? (a copy of which I have before me as I write this article). The entire burden of the presentation was to declare that sin does not jeopardize the soul. The essay begins with these words:
We take the position that a Christian’s sins do not damn his soul. The way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people have nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul.
Morris affirmed that no matter how faithful to God one is, such does not make his soul “one whit safer.” Moreover, by way of contrast, he alleged that all the sins a man may commit, “from idolatry to murder,” will not endanger his soul. No matter what he does, the child of God cannot be lost.
But let me cite some examples which demonstrate the practical impact of this horrible teaching. Hoyt Chastain was a Missionary Baptist preacher who defended, in public debate on a number of occasions, the propostion that a child of God cannot fall from grace. In one of these encounters Chastain affirmed that he could abandon his wife and children, move in with a sixteen-year-old girl, and the Lord would take the situation and “work it out for his good.” Incredible!
Another cleric adopted a similar view. J.L. Pettit, a fifty-four-year-old Baptist preacher, seduced a fourteen-year-old girl. Pettit subsequently was arrested and brought to trial. The girl swore on the witness stand that the minister told her their sexual activity was merely a “matter of the flesh,” and it would not “bother the soul.”
Both of these cases (Chastain and Pettit) were discussed in the Grider-Sherrill Debate, conducted in Somerset, Kentucky in May of 1955 (which was subsequently published). W.E. Sherrill, a Baptist preacher of Benton, Arkansas, was arguing the case that the Christian cannot apostatize so as to be lost finally in hell. A.C. Grider introduced the Sam Morris testimony, and also cited the material regarding Chastain and Pettit. He pressed Sherrill as to whether or not these affirmations were consistent with Baptist doctrine. Sherrill would never repudiate the statements. He continued to insist that no matter what a Christian does, he cannot be lost.
I mention all of this to show that our controversial president grew up on this teaching. Bill Clinton joined the Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas when he was seven years old. He heard this theological ideology over the years as he was growing up. He not only believed the doctrine, it produced fruit in his life. And the pathetic thing is some of the president’s Baptist associates are excusing his conduct, or minimizing it, on similar grounds.
According to the NEWSWEEK article, Bill Clinton “was schooled in the Baptist tradition of freedom of conscience—including sexual matters.” Author Woodward suggests that “these Baptist doctrines offered considerable room for maneuvering through the sexual revolution of the 1960s.”
Some of Clinton’s religious colleagues are perfectly content with the president’s current claim (under oath no less) that he did not have “sex” with Monica Lewinsky. Steve Marini, a professor at Wellesley College, said: “Our basic rule growing up Baptist was that anything short of penetration didn’t count.” He noted that Monica apparently could not comprehend why the president denied their sexual relationship. “She couldn’t understand that because she didn’t know the Baptist rules”(emphasis added). Unfortunately for the principals involved, there are light-years between Baptist rules and Bible rules!
Another Baptist authority, Foy Valentine, who served as head of the Southern Baptists’ Christian Life Commission for twenty-seven years, also has commented on President Clinton’s “inappropriate” behavior. Amazingly, he says: “What he did is disgusting, but not what I would consider adultery.” He added: “And I think that most Baptists would agree.” I really doubt that. I can tell you one thing—my grandmother was a devout Baptist, and I am positive she would not agree! These are tragic and distasteful things to have to discuss, but the president’s conduct has brought the issue before the public’s attention, and it affords us an excellent opportunity to present the truth on such matters.
The notion that a child of God can never so sin as to be lost in hell is utterly false. The Bible plainly teaches that a Christian can:
- fail the grace of God (Hebrews 12:15), and fall away therefrom (Galatians 5:4);
- perish (1 Corinthians 8:11);
- be cut off as a branch and burned (John 15:6);
- be destroyed by heresy and/or the loss of faith (2 Peter 2:1; Jude 5);
- receive a punishment that is “worse” than death (Hebrews 10:28-29);
- come short of the promise of eternal life (Hebrews 4:1);
- so live as to have received God’s saving grace “in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1);
- perish and end up in “perdition” (John 17:12).
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.