How Serious is it to get Original Sin and the Fall of Man Correct? Deathly Serious.

I’ve been aware that there has always been a group of persons claiming the name of Christ who deny original sin and the fall of man. It's not like these ideas are new. What I was unaware of is just how openly prevalent it is now days. I’ve run into many of these folks online lately, so I am compelled to speak about this topic. The more I think about the topic, the bigger of a deal it clearly becomes. Not that it’s becoming any worse than it already is, but you see quite clearly what other foolish stances people derive from this denial of these core Christian doctrines.

If I can see OK, what I have been seeing lately is that a denial of original sin and the fall of man results in an entire superstructure of theology that is completely wrong and unbiblical. For the sake of ease here, I will stick to the core belief superstructure at the root of this denial: Pelagianism.

Pelagianism basically can be summed up in six points. Here they are.

1.       Even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died.

2.       Adam's sin harmed only himself, not the human race.

3.       Children just born are in the same state as Adam before his fall.

4.       The whole human race neither dies through Adam's sin or death, nor rises again through the resurrection of Christ.

5.       The Mosaic Law is as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel.

6.       Even before the advent of Christ there were men who were without sin.

These were the six main ideas espoused by Pelagius, a 5th century English monk, and his close associate, Caelestius. Now, when we look at them as a whole, they all make sense within the framework of Pelagian theology. Namely, if we deny original sin and the fall, they fit together.

#1: Even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died.

This assertion disregards the integrity of the original creation. God said it was good, but He created Adam in a body of death anyways. Scripture tells us that death itself is part of the curse that was rendered to the whole creation as a result of Adam’s sin.

Yet this assertion makes sense within Pelagianism due to the fact that Pelagians deny that the fall of man affected everyone else post-Adam. Why? It’s based on evidence of the fact that everyone post-Adam has died (save for Enoch and Elijah). Thus, death cannot be a result of sin, since that would mean that there would be zero people who have ever lived perfectly and never sinned. Thus, Adam had to be mortal pre-fall to account not only for sinless living, but also to account for the fact that infants and small children, who are not sinners, die all the time. So, this makes sense in Pelagianism because death cannot be the result of sin, since Adam’s sin does not apply to anyone other than Adam, and people who are innocent die all the time.

#2: Adam's sin harmed only himself, not the human race.

This is explained mainly in the last point, but again, within Pelagianism, this makes perfect sense. This is in essence a denial of the Christian doctrine of the fall of man. Adam had his own fall, which began a process of spiritual dying (but not physical, because that has nothing to do with sin). Likewise, we all have our own personal falls that starts our own process of dying spiritually. But we certainly are not sinners by nature, we’re only sinners after we choose to sin.

#3: Children just born are in the same state as Adam before his fall.

Here is the blatant and outright denial of the doctrine of original sin. Not much else needs to be said here, but this ties in directly with the first two.

#4: The whole human race neither dies through Adam's sin or death, nor rises again through the resurrection of Christ.

I will allow Pelagian writer Lewis Loflin to answer this one: “This is the real reason why Christianity needs the Original Sin doctrine. If Original Sin is false as the Old Testament shows and there are clearly men who overcame sin without faith in Jesus, then by our own efforts we can achieve this task. Thus we don't need Christianity, its institutions, and leaders to control our lives. One is Jesus' own relatives prior to His birth.”

In short, we don’t need Christ to save us. We enter into life by keeping the commandments. Loflin also accuses the apostle Paul of inventing the “inherited sin” doctrine. In short, Paul is wrong, in his view. He also denies the bodily resurrection, saying: “Adam was expelled from the Garden for the express purpose he would not be made immortal. It seems God never intended humans to be immortal, which throws any idea of life after death (bodily resurrection) into question. Pelagius was right on this count.”

Pretty much (in his view) everything Paul said was wrong and was nothing more than a perversion of the Old Testament.

#5: The Mosaic Law is as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel.

Of course it would be, because we are capable of keeping it perfectly in Pelagian theology. Thus, there is no need for Christ unless you first go and screw it up by sinning and then after you sin, you still retain all that natural and moral ability to throw yourself on Christ for forgiveness. This is a denial of the Gospel. It opens up an additional way of salvation.

#6: Even before the advent of Christ there were men who were without sin.

Pelagians will quote a couple Old Testament references to try to prove this, but none of the references they quote say anything of the sort. Numbers 14:24 is invoked, which says “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” Next up is 2 Kings 22:2: “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” This one is speaking of King Josiah. The Pelagians will even go as far as to say that Abraham was sinless pre-Christ because God called Abraham His friend (Isa 41:8) and Daniel “beloved” (Dan 9:23, 10:11)

So those are the six major points in Pelagian theology. Zero of them are historically Christian and zero of them get the human condition, or God, correct. In short, the Pelagians, just like any other false religion, wrest passages everywhere from their context, force them to mean more than they are actually saying, or make them mean something they aren’t saying at all.

Regarding the Apostle Paul’s writings, I have seen Pelagians take two approaches. One approach is the one Loflin takes; to say that Paul was just dead wrong. Loflin sees, then, that Paul does teach original sin and the fall of man. The other approach, which is more common, is to try to reinterpret Paul to fit with Pelagianism. I’ve seen a couple efforts in this regard and it just doesn’t work.

Here is a sampling of what some councils and confessions have said about Pelagianism over the years.

Council of Carthage (418 AD)
That whosoever says that Adam, the first man, was created mortal, so that whether he had sinned or not, he would have died in body—that is, he would have gone forth of the body, not because his sin merited this, but by natural necessity, let him be anathema. (Canon 1)

Council of Orange (529 AD)

If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was "changed for the worse" through the offense of Adam's sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture which says, "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:20); and, "Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey?" (Rom. 6:16); and, "For whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved" (2 Pet. 2:19). (Canon 1)

If anyone asserts that Adam's sin affected him alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he declares that it is only the death of the body which is the punishment for sin, and not also that sin, which is the death of the soul, passed through one man to the whole human race, he does injustice to God and contradicts the Apostle, who says, "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned" (Rom. 5:12). (Canon 2)

And thus according to the passages of holy scripture quoted above or the interpretations of the ancient Fathers we must, under the blessing of God, preach and believe as follows. The sin of the first man has so impaired and weakened free will that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought or believe in God or do good for God's sake, unless the grace of divine mercy has preceded him. (Conclusion)

Augsburg Confession (Lutheran 1530 AD)

Our churches condemn the followers of Pelagius and all others who deny that original sin is truly sin. Such people argue that humans can be justified before God by their own strength and reason. This lessens the glory of Christ’s work and its benefits. (Art 2, 3)

We condemn the Pelagians and all others who teach that without the Holy Spirit, by the power of human nature alone, we are able to love God above all things. Or that by our own power we can do the commandments of God according to the substance of the act. (Art 18, 8)

Belgic Confession (Reformed 1561 AD)

We believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race.

It is a corruption of all nature-- an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother's womb, and the root which produces in man every sort of sin. It is therefore so vile and enormous in God's sight that it is enough to condemn the human race, and it is not abolished or wholly uprooted even by baptism, seeing that sin constantly boils forth as though from a contaminated spring.

Nevertheless, it is not imputed to God's children for their condemnation but is forgiven by his grace and mercy-- not to put them to sleep but so that the awareness of this corruption might often make believers groan as they long to be set free from the "body of this death." (Rom 7:24)

Therefore we reject the error of the Pelagians who say that this sin is nothing else than a matter of imitation.

Canons of Dort (Reformed 1618-19 AD)

Who teach that in election to faith a prerequisite condition is that man should rightly use the light of nature, be upright, unassuming, humble, and disposed to eternal life, as though election depended to some extent on these factors.

For this smacks of Pelagius, and it clearly calls into question the words of the apostle: We lived at one time in the passions of our flesh, following the will of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in transgressions, made us alive with Christ, by whose grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with him and seated us with him in heaven in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages we might show the surpassing riches of his grace, according to his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith (and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God) not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:3-9).

So how serious are the denials of original sin and the fall of man? Deathly serious. Serious to the point where the followers of such grievous errors are preachers of another Gospel and peddlers of something far outside of Christianity. When these core doctrines are incorrect, an entire superstructure of false theology slides in to take the place of the Scriptural report, as we have seen above. Getting the beginning wrong, the rest falls like dominoes in a row, and you end up getting everything wrong. And it amounts to an outright denial of Christianity.