The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International is giving thoughtful fundamentalists an occasion to reflect upon our principles. It is also giving an occasion for thoughtless critics to say, “Gotcha.” What is the occasion? The FBFI has invited Clarence Sexton to return to its platform.
Some leaders of the FBFI have been friends with Sexton for years. In fact, he has even preached for the fellowship before. If memory serves, he and I shared the platform when the FBFI met in Indianapolis some years ago.
What is the issue? Well, Clarence Sexton is the founder and president of Crown College of the Bible, near Knoxville, Tennessee. This college and its parent congregation, Temple Baptist Church, have strongly identified with the King James Only movement. Consequently, the platform fellowship with Sexton has led some critics to charge the FBFI with endorsing (by association) the KJO error.
Is King James Onlyism a serious error? It depends on what kind of King James Onlyism one means. People do not become KJO just because they love and use a King James Version, or even because they use it exclusively. The nub of the King James Only error involves a combination of two elements. The first is the belief that only the King James Version is sufficiently preserved or adequately translated to qualify as the Word of God in English. The second is the belief that allegiance to the King James Version is a matter of doctrine rather than of wisdom.
People who hold the King James Only position would be greatly upset if someone denied that the King James Version was the Word of God, especially if that person labeled it a perversion. Yet they are often quick to say these very things about the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version. Because of their doctrine, they feel justified in paying homage to the King James Version while heaping contempt upon the Word of God translated in other versions—which means that even their loyalty to the King James Version is driven by something besides simple reverence for God’s Word.
Because the King James Only error heaps contempt upon the Word of God, it is a serious error. Nevertheless, since KJO advocates do submit to a version of the Word of God, it is not a capital error at the level of the gospel. Still, contempt for God’s Word in any version must be seen as denigrating to the Scriptures themselves. The KJO advocates do not deny the Scriptures, but they demean them. This is pretty bad stuff.
Organizations like the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship certainly need to be cautious around KJO advocates. It would be tragic and perhaps even devastating to what is left of fundamentalism if a prominent national organization like the FBFI gave its endorsement to the King James Only position or treated it as if it were less than a serious error. That is why some recoil in horror at the idea of the FBFI featuring Clarence Sexton on its platform.
Their reaction, while certainly understandable, is overstated. For the FBFI to feature Pastor Sexton as a speaker is not as serious a matter as some might suppose. Two considerations place his appearance on the platform of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship within the range of acceptable association.
First, platform fellowship carries a relatively low potential for identification and endorsement. That is not to say that it carries no potential—platform identifications can and do sometimes constitute declarations of acceptance. But Christian fellowship comes in different levels, and each level carries with it a different set of qualifications and implications. Among these levels, platform fellowship is not the most restrictive in terms of its qualifications and nowhere near the most committal in terms of its identifications.
Everyone recognizes that different levels of fellowship require different qualifications. Any two genuine believers who love the Lord and want to serve Him can enjoy the level of personal, individual fellowship. The qualifications are minimal and so is the implied endorsement. On the other hand, when a church calls a man as its pastor, the level of qualification is extremely high, and so is the level of endorsement. Between these two is a whole range of different levels of fellowship, each of which carries its own qualifications and implied endorsements.
Of course, even forms of platform fellowship are not all at one level. A church’s pastor occupies one level of platform fellowship, while a female missionary delivering a report to the women’s society occupies a different level. The qualifications for the first are much higher and the implied endorsement is much stronger. The level of qualification and endorsement must be determined by the venue and purpose of the event.
The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International represents a kind of organization that is nowhere envisioned in Scripture. It is simply a human invention, defined for its own purposes, and without any biblical mandate. That does not mean that the FBFI is bad, but it is optional from a New Testament perspective. The level of endorsement implied by participating on its platform is relatively low and must be defined by the stated purpose of the platform. In other words, as long as Pastor Sexton has not been invited to stump for King James Onlyism, his presence does not imply mutual agreement on this point. In fact, the published statements of the FBFI specifically disavow the King James Only position. As long as Pastor Sexton’s sermon sticks to the areas of agreement, his presence is not a significant problem.
Another consideration also comes to bear, namely, that Pastor Sexton’s college has actually backed away from its strict KJO position as stated in its doctrinal statement. It used to say that, “The Masoretic Text of the Old Testament and the Received Text of the New Testament (Textus Receptus) are those texts of the original languages we accept and use; the King James Version of the Bible is the only English version we accept and use.” Now it states that, “The Masoretic Text of the Old Testament and the Received Text of the New Testament (Textus Receptus) are those texts of the original languages we use; the Authorized King James Version of the Bible is the English version we use in the English-speaking world.” The elimination of the word “accept” means that this doctrinal statement no longer rejects other versions as the Word of God.
Why does that matter? First, because it eliminates the really problematic part of Crown College’s stated position. Second, because it indicates a willingness on Crown College’s (and Pastor Sexton’s) part to avoid unnecessary offense. Third, because it indicates at least some positive change in the commitment and direction of Pastor Sexton and Crown College. These are all good things. They indicate that Pastor Sexton’s feet are pointed in the right direction. That is something that ought to be encouraged, and this level of platform fellowship is a legitimate way of encouraging it. In short, I’m OK with this.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder (Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary). Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Father, We Praise Thee
Gregory I (540–604), trans. by Percy Dearmer (1867–1936)
Father, we praise Thee, now the night is over;
Active and watchful, stand we all before Thee;
Singing, we offer, prayer and meditation;
Thus we adore Thee.
Monarch of all things, fit us for Thy mansions;
Banish our weakness, health and wholeness sending;
Bring us to Heaven, where Thy saints united
Joy without ending.
All holy Father, Son and equal Spirit,
Trinity blessèd, send us Thy salvation;
Thine is the glory, gleaming and resounding
Through all creation.