Dane K. Jöhannsson
Lead Pastor, Agros Reformed Baptist Church
Over the past year and a half I have seen quite a few Christians come to embrace the Received Text (from here on “TR”) of the Reformation as the inspired, infallible and preserved text of the Holy Scriptures. Among those who have accepted the TR, a good number of them have been Pastors. I, as well as my co-laborer at Agros Reformed Baptist Church, Pastor Taylor DeSoto, have had personal correspondence with a few of these brothers. After coming to embrace the TR, the question is often asked by these pastors, “What do I do now as a pastor? How do I practically employ my embrace of the TR position in my pastoral ministry?”
It may be that you are one of these pastors. Maybe you have been preaching, teaching, counseling and reading from an ESV or NASB or some other modern version throughout your entire ministry; maybe you have been working from a critical edition of the Greek New Testament in your daily devotions and pulpit preparations for the past 10 years; maybe you have dealt with textual variants in your sermons; maybe you have even taught a Sunday school curriculum on text criticism and presented the Critical Text Position (as it is presented by authors such as Metzger, White, Black, Carson etc.). So what do you do now? How can you go about telling your flock you changed your position on the text without looking like a fool, or disturbing the peace? I had to ask myself these same questions. Taylor and I had to find the answers to these questions on our own, and had an article existed which laid out some guidelines on how to go about implementing the TR in our ministry, it would have been extremely helpful to us at that time. It is my prayer that this article helps fill that need.
I used a modern version of the Bible based on the modern critical text for the first 10 years of my Christian walk, and for 4 years of my ministry. I started learning Greek in 2012 and read from a UBS4 and a NA28 daily, I even preached from it on multiple occasions. I taught an entire Sunday school lecture series wherein I presented the Critical Text Position, using Bruce Metzger, James White and David Alan Black for my material. I dealt with textual variants in the pulpit while preaching expositionally through books of the Bible. I taught publicly and privately against the dangers of “KJV onlyism” and the insufficiency/inaccuracy of the “Received Text Position”. I was truly sold on the Critical Text Position. After doing a great deal of research, suffering much internal struggle, and “kicking against the pricks” of the TR position, I finally came to embrace it (see this article for a brief narrative of that process). Short behind me was my co-pastor Taylor DeSoto.
Now what? We had on numerous occasions taught against the position we had now come to embrace. We preached from the ESV and our entire congregation used it as their primary Bible. They not only used a critical text Bible, but were well equipped to defend the critical text position (thanks to us). How could we now stand in front of them, admit we were wrong, and start using a text we had taught against for years? At this time, basically everyone in our congregation had just purchased $150-$300 high-end ESV’s. How were we supposed to get up there and tell them that we suddenly believe that their premium, hand-made, goatskin covered ESVs were deficient Bibles? We knew that we had to do what was necessary and be made fools if we were to be faithful to God and our consciences.
So Taylor and I swallowed our pride, called a meeting in my living room (our church was still quite small at this point, around 15 members), and explained to them that we had come to embrace the TR position, gave some reasons as to why, and told them that we would henceforth no longer read, teach or preach from a modern critical text based translation. However, we also informed them that we were not expecting them to follow us in our conviction and that they were not required to set aside their ESV Bibles. Over the next year and a half we patiently walked our people, both publicly and privately, through the details of the TR position and helped move our church (according to their own conscience) to a usage of translations made from the Received Text. In this article, I will lay out our process by way of a few guidelines which you may find helpful to follow.
Practical Guidelines For Pastors Who Have Come to Embrace the TR Position
1. Explaining the Position
First we explained our reasons for embracing the Received Text Position. We did this both in private meetings, impromptu discussions with our flock and publicly from the teaching desk. In God’s providence, pastor Taylor was in the middle of an 18 week Sunday School series on the Canon of Scripture when we switched over (in which series I taught a session on textual criticism from the Critical Text Position!). He took 10 weeks to teach through the Received Text Position, starting with epistemology, going into the problems with the Critical Text Position and even taught multiple sessions on specific variants. I taught a session on the textual views of the Reformers, Puritans, and post-reformation divines, a session on 1John 5:7 and a session on the relevance of the Latin Vulgate to textual criticism. Though it was frustrating at times covering the same ground time and again with our members, we did not grow weary in doing so and tried our best not to make them feel unfaithful, unchristian, or foolish for not agreeing with us or for not understanding what we were attempting to say.
You may wish to do something similar with your flock. I think it would be profitable for you to teach a Sunday School series on the position, or maybe write some position papers on it and distribute them to your flock, or record a few video/audio lectures for them to study at their leisure. I recommend you frame it like this:
“This is the position I have come to hold as your pastor concerning the text of the Bible. I want to explain it to you so that you know where I am coming from. However, you do not have to agree with me or switch your preferred Bible version to remain a member at this church. These teachings are simply to help you understand my views.”
Point them to helpful resources like Dr. Riddle’s podcast, “Word Magazine”, The Confessional Bibliology site, Pastor Truelove’s videos on the topic, the audio lectures from the “Text and Canon Conference”, The Trinitarian Bible Society Articles, books on the subject by Hills and Letis, or any of the blogs, articles, or podcasts that pastor Taylor and myself have produced.
I have two other suggestions on this point:
First, take the necessary time to make sure your congregation understands the position. Provide sufficient teaching on the topic so they have a good grounding as well as be willing to meet with them if they would like to know more. Secondly, do not make the propagation/defense of the TR position the center of your ministry. The point of embracing the Received Text of Scripture is to exalt God’s Word and glorify Him, not to be an end in itself. Teach the whole counsel of God! The text of Scripture is just one aspect of that counsel. Do not make talking about text criticism and the perfect preservation of the Scriptures the focal point of your pastoral ministry. Embrace the position, explain the position, and then exalt Christ through preaching the Scriptures.
2. Switching Bible Versions
Having come over to the TR position, do not be bashful to use a Bible translated from the TR. Be faithful to the truth and your own conscience. You are a Bible preacher, so preach the Bible, and if you believe the TR is the correct Bible, then preach from a translation of it. Your people benefit by being fed from the Word week in and week out as you preach, and if you are faithful to the text you preach, they will not likely fault you for using a different version than them. When Taylor and I became convinced of the TR position we met with our Church and explained the position to them (as mentioned above). We also informed them that all further preaching would be done from the KJV and all public reading of Scripture would be done from the NKJV. We used the NKJV for public reading to help ease them into the change as a kind of mediating solution, with the intention of eventually transitioning to the KJV for our public reading as well (which we officially did in October of 2019).
Most TR advocates use the KJV as their primary Bible for reading, preaching and teaching, as it is argued to be the best available translation of the TR. However, there are some who employ the NKJV, the Geneva Bible or even the MEV for their public reading, preaching and teaching. I am going to assume that you are likely using a KJV and give some guidance based on that. However, this guidance will be useful regardless of the translation you use.
Of first importance is this:
Do not make your people feel pressured into switching their preferred Bible translation to the one you use. Do not make this the hill you die on. I have always encouraged my congregation to read from and bring to church the same translation which we use at church in our public reading, preaching and teaching. That is why they all had ESVs. I also advocated that they do this when I switched from the ESV to the KJV, however, I made sure to tell them this was not a requirement. I believe it is best for a church to all use the same version as their primary Bible so that they have unity in their quotations, memorizations and discussions. At the very least, I think it is important that a church all read from the same translation at church. If you have pew bibles, switching them out to the version from which you do all reading and preaching is helpful in demonstrating to them you are willing to meet them where they are at. But if members in your congregation still choose to read from a different version at home or bring it to church with them, then allow them to do so. The thing is, if you explain the position clearly, with grace and patience, your congregation trusts you, and they value the pulpit, they will more than likely want to use the same version that you do anyway.
Another helpful practice in guiding your people through this process is to continue to give them resources. Give them links where they can buy quality KJV Bibles that come with helps for “hard words” (I recommend the TBS Westminster Reference Bible), provide them with articles and word lists on the KJV. While preaching, if you come to a word which you think your people may not immediately understand, briefly define it for them. For example, if you are reading Eph.2:1 “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” define the word “quickened”. Simply pause and explain the word “quickened” since some people may not know it. In the Eph. 2:1 example, after reading it, I say, “‘quickened’, or, ‘made alive’”, and then continue on. You have to do this with all English versions anyway, but it helps your congregation see that you are committed to helping them and teaching them.
When we switched versions we did not make our members also switch with us. In fact, we explicitly told them that they didn’t have to. Over time most of our members have come to embrace the TR position and now read the KJV as their primary Bible. There are still half a dozen people who use the ESV or NASB. When people seek membership at Agros Reformed Baptist Church, issues of text criticism and Bible versions never even come up (unless those seeking membership are the ones who bring it up) and we never tell them that they must use the version we use. This brings us to the next point:
3. Honoring Liberty & Conscience
Some members of your congregation may never come to accept the TR position or switch their Bible version. This is okay. It is not wise to make this a point of division in the local body. Honor their Christian liberty and their conscience. This doesn’t mean you have to back down from your convictions. Always be willing to teach and defend what you believe to be true about the text of Scripture and be open to having further discussions with those who do not agree with you, but do it out of a pastoral heart of love, care and guidance. You are not a “publicly moderated debater”, you are an undershepherd of God’s flock. Your goal is not to win them over to your position through debate, but to care for their souls (1Peter 5:1,2; Eph. 4:11,12; Acts 20:28).
4. Preach the Word & Love your People
As a pastor who has come to embrace the TR position, be thankful to God that He has led you to this position, have confidence in His Word and then preach it to your people. Your coming to the TR position is of no value to anyone if you do not come to a higher esteem of God’s Word and faithfully feed your flock with it. Do not let your embrace of the position be an occasion for division and confusion, but rather a tool for unity and edification. This rests on you dear pastor, and you alone. If you have come to see the TR position as the correct position on Scripture, you have more reason than ever to proclaim the truths of God’s Word with confidence, love and passion! God has given His inspired, infallible and preserved Word to His Church, therefore as an officer in that Church, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”(2Tim. 4:2) Your congregation will respect you for the love they see in your ministry toward them, but they will resent you for your belittlement of them for not holding to your position on the text of Scripture.
5. For the Convinced Layman
I also have some advice for you who are not pastors, but laymen. If you are a layman who has come to embrace the TR position, but you are in a church that uses or promotes a critical text Bible, you too must be mindful that you do not cause division. I can think of almost no reason I would ever advise a member in good standing at a Biblical Church, with a pastor who faithfully preaches the Bible and lovingly shepherds his people, to leave said church. If you are convinced of the TR position and your pastor is convinced of the Critical Text Position, do not immediately become a proselytizer for your position, rather, meet with him privately and seek his pastoral wisdom as to how to proceed. Take him to coffee and explain your situation and your position. Explain to him where you are coming from and why you hold to the TR position. If you do this he will likely tone down his critiques of the Received Text (if he has done this). Leaving a church should only ever be done as the very last option after you have done all that you can do to stay there. Only in the rare case that your pastor unprovoked and continually tears down the Received Text to the wounding of your conscience should you consider transferring your membership to another church, and only after the due processes have been accomplished. At that point it is a matter of his inability to properly shepherd you and not due to differences of opinion in text criticism. Leaving a church should only be an option when suffering under pastoral abuse, heretical teachings, or some other extreme circumstance. You should still feel free to discuss your position with others in your church (with the consent of your pastor) in a charitable, patient and humble way. Never set out to belittle others, argue with them or divide from them over this issue. (Rom.12:18)“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”
If these guidelines are followed, you will likely find that your ministry remains a blessing to your people after switching, and they will come to respect you more for your love, patience and willingness to seek and explain the truth. General wisdom, common sense and Christian character goes a long way in transitioning your church service from a critical text Bible to a received text Bible. As a foundation, keep in mind your role as a shepherd and you will be greatly helped. Hopefully these guidelines prove useful for you and your congregation.
See this article for more pastoral guidance.
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