"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 1, Number 6, June, 1998
As Baptists, we are bold to declare that the infant baptisms of Catholicism and many Protestant denominations are no baptism at all since they do not conform to the Biblical pattern: immersion of a believer as a testimony to personal faith in Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. It is proper and right that we should reject infant baptism as false baptism.
However, inspite of our insistence on conformity to the Biblical qualifications for true Biblical baptism, among American Baptists there have been multiplied thousands, perhaps millions, of false baptisms. On what basis do I affirm such a thing? Because of a surprising fact, brought forcefully home to my attention some while back. A Romanian pastor pointed out to me that every single Baptist preacher and missionary from America he has ever met (and he knows dozens) had the same testimony--they each made a profession of faith in their youth (some as young as 5 or 6, others in their teen years). And all were baptized upon that profession. And in every case, each later came to realize that that youthful profession was a false profession, unaccompanied by true faith or real conversion. And each subsequently made a genuine profession of faith, followed by a true Biblical baptism.
If it is true that this phenomenon is so widespread among preachers and missionaries, then surely it must also be rather common among the people in the pew. Hence my estimate that at least thousands and possibly even millions of Baptists in America have experienced a false baptism.
What is the cause of these faulty baptisms? In my own case, I went forward at a morning service in a large and famous Baptist church when I was in the third or fourth grade (about eight, perhaps nine, years old). My motive for going: I knew that it was "expected" of me at sometime (all my mother's relatives were members of the church; my grandfather was a deacon). Well, I didn't want to "go forward" by myself. Another boy in my class had announced in Sunday school his intention of going forward that day, so I decided to go also. No sense of repentance. No divine compulsion. No conviction of the Holy Spirit. And no conversion. Forward I went. A card was filled out. I was presented to the congregation and "voted into fellowship." Afterward, all the "blue hairs" in the congregation came by and shook my hand and told me how happy they were for me. My grandparents were very happy. Grandma gave me a hug.
Several days later, the associate pastor came by my house and followed up on my profession of faith. With my mother seated next to me on the sofa, he asked me about my beliefs--did I believe the Bible was God's word? Did I understand that I was a sinner? Did I realize that Jesus had died in my place on the cross, and rose from the dead? Did I understand the significance of baptism? Yes, yes, I said. And I spoke sincerely, for having been raised in a Baptist church, I had been taught all these things and accepted them without any question. In fact, I never had any doubts about anything the Bible taught until after my conversion (but that is an entirely different story). But it was all merely mental assent to information, not truth that gripped my heart and changed my soul.
Satisfied with the answers I gave, the associate pastor scheduled me for baptism a few weeks later. So, on a Sunday night, I was immersed into the membership of the largest Southern Baptist church in Wichita, by the famous pastor F. B. Thorn. And for the better part of a decade, I was a lost "member in good standing" of that church. Ultimately, at age 17 I was truly converted by the reading of the Gospel of Matthew, but was not properly baptized until halfway through my first semester of Bible College almost 2 years after my conversion.
A year after my conversion, I began attending an independent Baptist church and decided to join. I was accepted "on transfer of a letter" from the church where I had been baptized as a youth, with no inquiry made about the circumstances of my baptism. From there, I went to Baptist Bible College and joined a church in Springfield, Missouri, where my membership was again transferred, with no questions about my baptism. Two months later, realizing that my "baptism" had preceded my conversion by eight or nine years, I was, finally, properly--Scripturally--immersed on a profession of faith.
What did the church which first immersed me do "wrong"? Much less than some, and they did some things right. First, they delayed my baptism until they had a chance to question me more closely and make sure that I at least had the right answers. Second, since I was a long-time attender of the church, there were credible grounds for believing that I understood the plan of salvation. How very different is the case with many bus kids who make a profession the first week or two of attending a church and are baptized that very service--chiefly to help inflate the church's baptism numbers--with virtually no possibility that they really understood the Gospel message. Third, they baptized only at night. Except in very rare cases, if a person will not come to an evening service to be baptized, he is not serious enough about the subject.
However, had they been a bit more thorough, that is, had they required the completion of a multi-week catechism course that taught the basics of Christianity and the real meaning of baptism, perhaps, they and I both would have come to realize that there was no reality to my professed conversion, and I might have been truly saved years before I was.
Of course, some will object that any kind of delay in baptism is "unscriptural," since on Pentecost (and frequently elsewhere in Acts), those converted were immersed that very day (of course the case of Paul, whose baptism was delayed three days, is not mentioned by them). But the circumstances were different on Pentecost: it was a very costly act to submit to baptism in the name of the recently- rejected and crucified Jesus. And everyone there understood the significance of their act. In our day, almost everybody in America is 'baptized" sometime or another and so it is not a socially "big deal" or stigma. (For some, for example from a Jewish or Moslem background, it still reaches in significance that performed on Pentecost, as it does in some cases with Catholics submitting to Baptist baptism.)
Those churches which insist on the same-service immediate baptism of bus kids because "they may never be back and we may never have another opportunity to baptize them," are revealing more about themselves than they may realize. If in fact they frequently do not have faith-professing bus kids return, perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with the way they "lead them to Christ." Perhaps they are only extracting professions of faith, much as an insurance salesman talks you into buying "accident insurance" since it's a good thing to have, even though you are not really convinced that you need it. Woe to the Christian who seeks "soul-winner's glory" (also known as "the praise of men") for himself at the price of false professions of faith.
What danger is there in being the subject of a false baptism? In my own case, it meant that all my relatives had ceased to pray for my conversion, supposing that I was already saved. Second, it gave me a false confidence in salvation. By that I mean it gave me something to point to as proof of conversion. When someone asked me if I were a Christian (as did occassionally happen), I would reply, "Sure. I've been baptized."
Some cases of false baptism which have been reported to me are far more blameworthy than my own. Two different individuals have related to me the practice in a large and notorious church in Northeast Texas, a church which is often near the top of the list in annual baptisms among independent Baptists. That church has an extensive bus ministry (the easiest way to quickly get large "results"). Each bus captain has a "quota" for baptisms which he is expected regularly to meet. The consequences for failing to meet this quota can be a very unpleasant dressing down and public humilitation. As a result, some bus captains have developed designated "baptizees"--regular bus kids who are willing to help the captain reach his set goal by submitting again and again to baptism (in one reported case, ten or eleven times). This is abominable--all for the sake of meeting a man-made quota, and doing so in a way which degrades baptism and imperils souls. (And as is typical of churches which push high-pressure "evangelism," reported baptisms always vastly out-number any numerical growth of the church. I have always believed that if "conversions" and "baptisms" are real, in most cases the converts will stick around and the church will grow accordingly. If we only counted as baptisms those who were still regular attenders of the church three to six months after their baptism, we might get a much more accurate picture of things.)
In Romania, false Baptist baptisms are many fewer than in the States. If a person professes faith, he is expected to complete a basic catechism course dealing with the basics of Bible doctrine, with particular attention to the question of salvation before he is accepted for baptism. This usually takes several months. Along with this, there is some personal counseling with the pastor or deacons, and a general examination of the person's doctrine and conduct as a believer, including the matter of regular church attendance. If all seems in order, then baptism follows. Even then, the one to be baptized publically and vocally declares his faith in Christ at the time of baptism (not unlike John MacArthur's practice in this matter, which I like very much). Some young people converted at youth camp one Summer were not baptized until the next Spring (and some not even then). I don't recall ever seeing anyone under thirteen or fourteen baptized.
W. A. Criswell, in his book Criswell's Guide for Pastors (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980), p. 376, wrote, "Don't baptize small children below the age of nine." This is not a "thus saith the Lord," but it is good sensible advice based on years of experience (I would personally raise that age to at least eleven). Will anyone be harmed by not being baptized immediately after conversion? I think not, while very great spiritual harm may accrue because of false baptisms. My own youngest son made a profession of faith about age eleven (led to the Lord by his older brother one Sunday night after church). We talked about salvation--and he seemed to understand the matter correctly--and about baptism, but I did not suggest that he should be baptized right away. I was convinced that if his conversion was real, he would have a divine compulsion to be baptized, and would make that fact known to me. So, some two years later, he came and said he needed to be baptized. When asked why, his answer satisfied me, and we let him be baptized.
As a parent (and as a preacher) I am much more willing to be accountable to God for delaying the baptism of a truly converted 11-year-old, than to be responsible for the too- hasty baptism of a 10-year-old bus rider who has been to church only once or twice and may not truly understand the gospel, or the hurried--pressured--baptism of a 5-year-old child of well-meaning but misguided church member parents who with all good intentions brought their child to a false profession of faith and now declare that he is ready for baptism. I have to confess that I cringe every time I see children of five or six baptized, and pray "God, if they are not truly converted, please reveal that fact to them, and may their 'baptism' not be a hindrance to their true conversion." Is it possible for someone to be genuinely saved at five? Yes, but I think it occurs far less frequently than the number of baptisms of those in this age group would indicate.
I also think more false baptisms could be set right if churches more closely examined the baptismal credentials of those who come seeking membership by transfer from another church. Just because a person was baptized in a sound church or is the member of such a church is no guarantee that his baptism conformed to the Scriptural pattern. Mine certainly didn't.
In short, before baptizing any converts, we need to first make sure they really are converts. False baptisms are of no spirtiual benefit to anyone, nor are they honoring to Christ.
In his sermon on 2 Timothy 4:13 (wherein Paul requests that Timothy bring him his coat and his books), Spurgeon made one of the all-time classic remarks about preachers and their study habits--
"Even an apostle must read. Some of our very ultra- Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men's brains--oh! that is the preacher. How rebuked are they by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching for at least thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants book! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, 'Give thyself unto reading.'* The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master's service. Paul cries, 'Bring the books'--join in the cry." (Charles H. Spurgeon, METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE PULPIT, vol. 9, 1863, p. 668). [*Editor's note: in context, the reference to "reading" in 1 Timothy 4:13 is to the public reading of Scripture in the church, as also in Revelation 1:3, not private study]
Of course, this raises the very important question: "WHAT should a preacher, Bible college student, or church member read?" It is impossible to answer that question without knowing some facts about the one doing the reading: his general level of education, the amount if any of formal Bible education, the degree of specific knowledge of the Scriptures, the area of Christian service, etc. However, as a basic list of the first ten books to own and use as aids to Bible study and knowledge (and assuming that the Christian does, first of all, read his Bible), I would recommend the following:
1. A concordance to the Bible (a listing of verses according to key words). For the KJV, the one to own and use is Strong's EXHAUSTIVE CONCORDANCE, first published in the 1800s, but frequently reprinted. It lists every single passage in which every single word occurs in the KJV (and lists variants in the Revised Version). The dictionaries in the back are, however, all but worthless; ignore them. Buy only an unabridged, hardback edition. Other concordances are available (Cruden's, Young's, etc.) but I have been satisfied with Strong's and have used the others rarely or not at all. There are also now exhaustive concordances to the New American Standard Bible and the New International Version (can one for the New King James Bible be far behind?).
2. UNGER'S BIBLE DICTIONARY by Merrill F. Unger; second edition, edited by R. K. Harrison (Moody Press). By far the best one-volume Bible dictionary. Provides helpful information on every person, place, thing, event, and book in the Bible, plus Biblical backgrounds and some treatment of major doctrines. "Browsing" through these pages will always prove informative.
3. A GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE BIBLE by Norman Geisler and William Nix (Moody Press, 1986). This covers how the Bible came from God to us: revelation, inspiration, the canon, manuscripts and translations. Very informative. The second Christian book I ever bought.
4. BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS by Milton Terry. A 19th century treatment, often reprinted. A rich resource on the principles and history of Bible interpretation.
5. THE NEW TOPICAL TEXTBOOK by R. A. Torrey. Various publishers. An alphabetical classification of Bible verses under hundreds of topics. Ideal for studying topics for yourself (always the best kind of study).
6. A SURVEY OF ISRAEL'S HISTORY by Leon Wood. Second edition revised by David O'brien (Zondervan, 1986). A thoroughly conservative treatment of the historical events of the OT, relating them to archaelogical and geographical findings. Well-documented.
7. LECTURES TO MY STUDENTS by C. H. Spurgeon. Various publishers. Though designed for preachers-to-be in his college, Spurgeon's very practical advice on all aspects of the ministry and Christian life will benefit any Christian reader.
8. SCIENTIFIC CREATIONISM edited by Henry Morris (Creation-Life Publishers, 1974). An excellent survey of both Biblical and scientific creationism (belief in a young earth, and a literal interpretation of Genesis 1).
9. ON THE PREPARATION AND DELIVERY OF SERMONS by John A. Broadus. Best edition: edited by Jessie B. Weatherspoon (Harper & Row, 1942). Readily available used. A formal work on how to prepare and deliver Biblical messages.
10. A HARMONY OF THE GOSPELS by A.T. Robertson. The best of the harmonies, with superb notes by Robertson.
If a person had only these ten and diligently used them in conjuction with Bible study, he could easily spend a full decade and more before he would begin to exhaust their usefulness, and would thereby attain to a high level of competence in Bible knowledge, being well-prepared for every good work. Of course, the self-imposed limit of ten books is largely artificial (I have not limited myself to ten or a hundred or even a thousand books). But this is a good place to start in preparing for a lifetime of study and service. Perhaps a set of these could be provided to a student going off to Bible college.
The "darling" of the KJV-only/TR-only advocates is 19th- century Anglican priest John William Burgon (1813-1888). Burgon was a vigorous opponent of the English Revised Version of the New Testament (1881) and ceaselessly villified the Greek text of Westcott and Hort. In part because he believed in the virtual infallibility of the Church, he favored the so-called "traditional" Greek text of the New Testament. His books assaulting the revised Greek text and the revised English translation are frequently cited in the present controversy as certain proof that the textus receptus and the KJV are the pure Word of God. Burgon's every word is hung upon as though it were a veritable "Sic dicit Dominus" ("thus saith the Lord"). Or so it seems.
In truth, those who appeal to Burgon as the final word on points of controversy are guilty of selective reading of Burgon, and very convenient ignoring of remarks contrary to their point of view. This will be demonstrated by a series of quotations taken from Burgon's book THE REVISION REVISED (London: John Murray, 1883). I do not pretend that this is a COMPLETE presentation of Burgon's views, but I do insist that the perspective of Burgon as presented in these quotations is directly at odds with that of KJV-only advocates and would DISCREDIT Burgon in their eyes as a compromiser, liberal, apostate, or whatever other name they heap on those who disagree with them.
[In order to convey via e-mail Burgon's emphasis, it is necessary to put in all caps things which Burgon put in italics]
Concerning his use of Lloyd's Greek Testament (1827), which was a reproduction of Mill's (1707), which in turn was a reproduction of Stephanus' Greek Testament of 1550, as a standard for collating variant readings in manuscripts, he wrote, ". . .by so doing I have not by any means assumed THE TEXTUAL PURITY of that common standard. In other words, I have not made it 'THE FINAL STANDARD OF APPEAL.' ALL Critics,--wherever found,--at all times, have collated with the commonly received Text: but only as the most convenient STANDARD OF COMPARISON; not, surely, as the absolute STANDARD OF EXCELLENCE." (pp. xviii-xix, preface).
Again, on the same subject: "I employ that Text,--. . .--not as a criterion of EXCELLENCE, but as a standard of COMPARISON" (p. xxv, preface).
On the revision of the Textus Receptus, he favorably said: ". . .[I]t might be found practicable to put forth by authority a carefully considered Revision of the commonly received Greek Text." (p. xxix, preface). It is common knowledge that Burgon proposed over 150 changes in the Textus Receptus in the Gospel of Matthew alone.
Again, on the use of the commonly received text in collating manuscripts: "Let no one at all events obscure the one question at issue, by asking,--'Whether we consider the TEXTUS RECEPTUS infallible?' The merit or demerit of the Received Text has absolutely NOTHING WHATEVER TO DO WITH THE QUESTION. We care nothing about it. ANY Text would equally suit our present purpose." (p. 17)
Clearly disclaiming belief in an infallible Textus Receptus, he wrote: "Once for all, we request it may be clearly understood that we do not, by any means, claim PERFECTION for the Received Text. We entertain no extravagant notions on this subject. Again and again we shall have occasion to point out (e.g. at page 107) that the TEXTUS RECEPTUS needs correction." (p. 21, footnote 2).
On the need for the Textus Receptus to be corrected: ". . .[I]n not a few particulars, the 'Textus receptus' DOES call for Revision, certainly;" (p. 107).
On the value of a revision of the King James Version: "--we hold that a revised edition of the Authorized Version of our English Bible, (if executed with consummate ability and learning,) would at any time be a work of inestimable value." (p. 114).
On the fact that the Revised Version (1881) did clarify many obscurities in the KJV: "It is often urged on behalf of the Revisionists that over not a few dark places of S. Paul's Epistles their labours have thrown important light. Let it not be supposed that we deny this. Many a Scriptural difficulty vanished the instant a place is accurately translated: a far greater number, when the rendering is idiomatic. It would be strange indeed if, at the end of ten years, the combined labours of upwards of twenty Scholars, whose raison d'etre as Revisionists was to do this very thing, had not resulted in the removal of many an obscurity in the A.V. of Gospels and Epistles alike." (pp. 216-7).
Regarding the need to revise the Textus Receptus: "That SOME corrections of the Text were necessary, we are well aware: and had those NECESSARY changes been made, we should only have had words of commendation and thanks to offer." (p. 224, footnote 1).
Did the Revision, with all its variations from the KJV and the textus receptus corrupt or distort Bible doctrine?: "Let it be also candidly admitted that, even where (in our judgment) the Revisionists have erred, they have never had the misfortune SERIOUSLY to obscure a single feature of Divine Truth;" (p. 232).
And finally, and very importantly, did God ever promise to infallibly preserve the inspired text of the originals?: ". . . That by a perpetual miracle, Sacred Manuscripts would be protected all down the ages against depraving influences of whatever sort,--was not to have been expected; certainly, was never promised." (p. 335)
Therefore, on the basis of his own remarks, we can only honestly conclude that Burgon did not accept the textus receptus as pristine, nor did he believe the KJV was always correct, and he rejected the notion that God promised to infallibly preserve the Scriptures from scribal corruption in the copying process.
[For a very interesting study of Burgon and his views, see "Why Dean Burgon Would Not Join D. A. Waite's 'Dean Burgon Society' " by Gary Hudson, available from Pilgrim Publications, PO Box 66, Pasadena, TX 77501; email: firstname.lastname@example.org]
George Salmon (1819-1904) was an important Irish Protestant Biblical and mathematical scholar of the 19th century. In this modest volume he offers criticisms of both Hort's text and textual theories, and Hort's chief critic, J. W. Burgon. And his criticisms are for the most part right on target.
As for Burgon, his primary defects were his dogmatic presupposition of the infallibility of the Church and his virtual affirmation of the presumptive correctness of the textus receptus until proven otherwise. To this might be added an over-vigorous assault on his adversaries, refusing to allow that in the least matter they just might be correct.
Salmon reserves the bulk of his criticisms for Hort, including the question-begging term "neutral" for what Salmon affirms is no more than the dominant, accepted text of mid-3rd century Alexandria. Likewise Hort's new term "Syrian" for the Byzantine text-type is no improvement and is fact likely to cause confusion.
Hort's exclusion, first of all the Byzantine text manuscripts and then of all the Western, seems just too convenient for his theory. Further, his inconsistency in accepting "Western" reading in the final chapters of Luke (the so- called "Western non-interpolations") simply because they are shorter readings (though he regularly rejects distinctively Western readings everywhere else) betrays a presuppositional bias.
Salmon does not reject outright the possibility of a formally constructed Syrian recession and in fact presents a plausible scenario in which it could indeed have happened.
Salmon expresses an opinion that we arrived at independently: "It would seem then that if we desire a text absolutely free from ambiguity we desire what God has never been pleased to give His Church; nor do I see that the ambiguity affects the proof of anything that can be supposed to be necessary to our salvation." (pp. 129-130).
While not a complete introduction to the subject, nor a profound treatment, nor even the first book to read to gain an acquaintance with this now very controversial subject, this book is nevertheless worth hunting up in a university library or borrowing via inter-library loan.