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Summary: What does "Soul Competency" mean? What are the implications of the doctrine of "Soul Competency?" A sermonic study of this neglected and distorted teaching.

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“The word of the LORD came to me: ‘What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge?’ As I live, declares the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

“‘If a man is righteous and does what is just and right—if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbour’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord GOD.

“‘If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things (though he himself did none of these things), who even eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbour’s wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, lends at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.

“‘Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise: he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbour’s wife, does not oppress anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no interest or profit, obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. As for his father, because he practised extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity.

“‘Yet you say, “Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?” When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.’”

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oul competency is foundational to Baptist life and theology. I do not contend that Baptists are alone in believing this truth; however, it is essential to a Baptist understanding of the doctrines of anthropology, ecclesiology and soteriology. Soul competency is essential for our teaching concerning man, church and salvation.

Nowhere is this essential, though neglected, doctrine more clearly presented than in Ezekiel’s prophecy. Instead of serving as an esoteric philosophy or as mere arcane sophistry, the doctrine of soul competency is a statement of immediate application in this day. In an era that witnesses multiplication of victims and creation of a ready excuse for every situation, the doctrine of soul competency needs to be iterated from every pulpit. This neglected truth needs to be again trumpeted by every church and embraced by everyone who would claim the honoured name of Baptist.

Indulge me briefly as I speak my bias. I fear that Canada is becoming, or even has become, a nation of victims. A major industry has sprung up both to create and to care for victims. Instead of striving to excel, too many of our fellow citizens are encouraged to excuse mediocrity through claiming victim status. Thus, one may be a victim of race or culture, a victim of social class or economic conditions, a victim of gender or choice, and this victim status excuses every failure and each act of irresponsibility. The doctrine of soul competency will go a long way toward destroying the cult of victimology. This is one reason I believe the teaching needs again to be presented among the churches of our Lord.

It is interesting to note that the occasion for this particular teaching through the weird and wonderful prophet Ezekiel was a proverb which demonstrates that the cult of victimology is at least as old as the conquest of Israel. The Jews had been conquered by the Chaldeans, and deported to Babylon. In Babylon, the conquered people repeated an old saw: “the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” [EZEKIEL 18:2]. You will find this same proverb in Jeremiah’s prophecy, also. “In those days they shall no longer say:

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