A Response to a Lutheran Pastor
In a past issue of The Christian News (5/20/96, p. 20), a paper published by a gentleman who is affiliated with the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, Keith Schweitzer, Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church of Burkburnett, Texas, castigated churches of Christ because of their rejection of the dogma of “original sin.”
The particular object of the “pastor’s” hostility was an article on infant baptism, which appeared in the January 1994 issue of The Spiritual Sword, designated by Schweitzer as “the principle theological journal of the Campbellite Church of Christ.” Mr. Schweitzer’s article is so pathetically filled with error and inconsistency that it would be impossible to do it justice in this brief space. We must thus limit our comments to a very few matters.
First, Schweitzer should attempt to figure out what he actually believes with reference to infant “sinfulness.” On the one hand, the gentleman speaks of “the Scriptural doctrine of original sin” —which is the notion that sin is inherited from Adam —and then, from the other side of his mouth, he declares that a son is not punished for his father’s sins (cf. Ezek. 18:20); rather, he alleges, children, including infants, “die as a result of their own sins.” Which is it? Original (inherited) sin, or personal sin?
Further, if infants are actual sinners from the moment of conception, as Schweitzer argues, exactly which sins do they commit? Murder? Adultery? Lying? Theft? Perhaps the “pastor” could enlighten us regarding this.
Second, Mr. Schweitzer cites ten biblical contexts which, he affirms, “clearly” teach the dogma of original sin. He does not make an argument on any of these; he just lists them, and asserts that they prove his point. Consider, for example, Psalm 51:5, which is viewed by many to be the strongest “proof-text” for infant depravity.
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me.”
Several observations are in order:
First, this passage is Hebrew poetry, which allows considerable language license. No independent doctrinal conclusion should be drawn from literature of this nature.
Consider this passage. Job declared that he provided for widows “from [his] mother’s womb” (31:18). Is anyone so obtuse as to think that he was out and about doing benevolent work the first week of his life? The patriarch was affirming that early in life, as soon as he was old enough to understand his responsibility, he cared for the needy.
Similarly, David is acknowledging that early in life, relatively speaking, one yields to the commission of sin.
Second, no interpretation can be assigned to any passage comprised of poetical or figurative language (including Ps. 51:5) which makes it contradict clear doctrinal statements elsewhere framed in prose. The Scriptures plainly teach that one commences to do evil from the time of his “youth,” not from the point of conception (cf. Gen. 8:21; Job 13:26; Jer. 32:30).
Again, children are referred to as “innocents” (Jer. 19:4; cf. 22:3).
They are held up as models for emulation (Mt. 18:3; 19:14; 1 Cor. 14:20), which would hardly be the case were they corrupt sinners.
Sin is specifically said not to be inherited (Ezek. 18:20); rather, it comes by learning (cf. Isa. 7:15).
Then consider this. If Psalm 51:5 teaches that one inherits sin from his mother, then Christ must have been sinful, because he had a human mother. Roman Catholic theologians have contrived a way of handling this problem; they concocted the doctrine of the “immaculate conception.” How do Lutherans resolve the difficulty?
Third, Pastor Schweitzer, glibly throws around the term “Campbellite.” Undoubtedly he has been influenced in his use of the pejorative by his co-conspirator in doctrinal crime —Baptist clergyman, Bob Ross. Ross can scarcely frame a sentence without the use of the insulting epithet.
Several years ago, Schweitzer and Ross joined together in a Texas debate against Christian preacher, Michael Hatcher. One cannot but be reminded of the Pilate-Herod connection. Those two renegades were at odds with one another —until they found a common foe in Jesus (Lk. 23:12). Similarly, though Baptists and Lutherans differ radically in many particulars (e.g., the mode of baptism, its design, the nature of the Lord’s supper, etc.), when opposing the gospel, Ross and Schweitzer can snuggle down together in the coziest fashion.
Schweitzer charges that the “Campbellite Church of Christ is a cult.” He cannot, of course, cite one thing that Christians teach or practice that originated with Alexander Campbell (1786-1866), the American reformer who was, and continues to be, despised for no reason other than his opposition to sectarianism.
Schweitzer, Ross, and others of their ilk are indebted to the infidel Robert Owen for coining the appellation “Campbellite.” Campbell himself utterly repudiated the designation. He once wrote: “What is Campbellism? ... It is a nickname of reproach invented and adopted by those whose views, feelings and desires are all sectarian —who cannot conceive of Christianity in any other light than an ism” (270).
When a New Orleans newspaper characterized Campbell as the “founder” of a church, the reformer wrote a letter to the editors, stating:
“I have always repudiated all human heads and human names for the people of the Lord, and shall feel very thankful if you will correct the erroneous impression which your article may have made in thus representing me as the founder of a religious denomination” (Richardson, 441).
No Christian, who respects apostolic authority, would ever adopt a human, religious title (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10ff).
By way of contrast, Schweitzer and his denominational kinsmen ecstatically glory in the name of Martin Luther, a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed German protestor who, in addition to his numerous other errors, taught that a man married to a frigid wife might secure the services of a concubine to satisfy his sexual desire (see Newman, 84-90).
And so, Pastor Schweitzer can continue to rail against the truth if he pleases, but his words carry no weight at all with those those who regard the sacred Scriptures as the authoritative word of God.
- Campbell, Alexander. 1955 Reprint. The Christian Baptist Vol. V. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate.
- Richardson, Robert. 1956 Reprint. Memoirs of Alexander Campbell. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate.
- Newman, A. H. 1902. A Manual of Church History Vol. II. Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society.