When Free Will Baptists are compared and contrasted with other denominations, attention usually is given to questions of general atonement, man’s responsibility in the salvation experience or the possibility of apostasy. The truth is, however, that one of the most significant contrasts with others is more important than any of the issues mentioned but is seldom considered. This important concern is biblical authority. Until very recently, it could be assumed that most Christians pre-supposed a reliable Scripture and that they agreed that this body of revelation served as the guide for their beliefs and practices.
Sadly, this assumption can no longer be maintained. Many professing Christians reject the authority of the written Word of God, contending that the Scriptures are full of error and that their subjective conclusions are more trustworthy than the Bible. In such a context, the Bible becomes operative only for its own first century generation and today’s believer must accept the awful responsibility of determining truth for himself.
Recognizing the growing popularity of this dangerous attitude toward authority, Free Will Baptists found it necessary to reaffirm their allegiance to the inspiration and trustworthiness of Scripture. In July 1978, the National Association formally accepted a new statement on inspiration and authority that would serve as an official guide for the denomination.
Free Will Baptists believe in the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Bible. By plenary, we mean “full and complete.” We hold that all parts of the Bible are inspired and that inspiration extends to the very words of the Scriptures, not just to the thoughts and ideas expressed by human authors.
We believe the Scriptures are infallible and inerrant. The Bible is without error and trustworthy in all its teachings, including cosmogony, geology, astronomy, anthropology, history, chronology, etc., as well as in matters of faith and practice. Being the very word of God, it is God’s final revelation and absolute authority. (Minutes of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, 1978, page 86).
Interestingly, the statement on inerrancy had not been necessary in earlier definitions of authority. Until recently, most who accepted the authority of the Scriptures would assume that their commitment to authority presupposed a Word without error.
About the Writer: William F. Davidson was professor of Church History at Columbia International University, in Columbia, South Carolina. Dr. Davidson is an alumnus of Peabody College, Welch College, Columbia Bible College, Northern Baptist Seminary, and New Orleans Baptist Seminary. The Ayden, North Carolina, native also served as pastor of Free Will Baptist churches in Kentucky and Virginia.