Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 31, 1961
NUMBER 17, PAGE 4,13b

"Quickie" Conversions


Who among us has not thrilled to read, "They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls?" And how our hearts have swelled with satisfaction as we read again and again through the Acts of the Apostles the story of the gospel's power to turn men from darkness to light, from Satan to Christ, immediately — "the same hour of the night." "And Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed unto them Christ. And the multitudes gave heed with one accord unto the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard, and saw the signs which he did." ...."And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from the scripture, preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on the way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?.... "And Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized."

This instantaneous acceptance of the truth was not an unusual thing in apostolic days. In fact, it seems rather to have been the rule than the exception. Men who heard the truth either accepted it or rejected it (a complete acceptance or a total rejection) the first time they heard it. There was no extended period of teaching, explanation, argument and defense, correction of errors, patient persuasion, and gradual turning as is the usual pattern in our day.

These New Testament narratives have led some brethren to the feeling that we ought to have the same kind of conversions in our day; that is, an immediate response is the thing to be expected and desired. Consequently, they have bent their energies toward "quickie" conversions — getting the people into the water as quickly as possible. To do this they have not only emphasized baptism out of proportion to the gospel picture, but have used every persuasive device and gimmick that fertile imaginations could invent. They have promoted the "social" church, with its emphasis on entertainment, "good fellowship," coffee, doughnuts, picnics, cook-outs, and all kinds of "get-togethers." They have appealed to pride and vanity — "the church of Christ is the fastest growing religious organization in the world;" "come along with us, and get on the march" "don't be left out of this popular, fast growing movement;" "Pat Boone belongs to our church; wouldn't you like to have Pat for a friend?" "Byron Nelson is one of our members; Fess Parker attends the church of Christ; Bobby Morrow is one of our boys;" ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

The results of this sort of persuasion are not too hard to see. Congregations have become filled up with worldly-minded people who have been baptized all right, but who are abysmally ignorant of the truth, and who are certainly not converted to Christ. In every generation, we suppose, there have been ambitious men who are more interested in "making a name" for themselves and for the church than they are in humbly serving Christ; and such leaders in our generation have led these thousands of untaught church-members into an ever expanding program of institutionalism, social gospel promotions, and unauthorized congregational activities.

Advocates of the "quickie" conversions have failed to take into account the differences between the people of that first century and the American people with whom most of us have to work. Those people who were baptized on that Pentecost day, for example, were "devout men" — men to whom religion was beyond all doubt the most serious and important thing in life! They wanted to serve God more than they wanted anything on this earth. All that was needful in their case was for them to be convinced that they had made a tragic error, and had slain the very one whom they should have honored as God's Son. The people of Samaria were serious and intent on serving God, though probably not so well informed as the people at Pentecost. Even the Philippian jailor, though perhaps a heathen, was a man to whom religion was a deeply serious matter.

These people, and others who responded so quickly to the gospel call, were not confused, bewildered, and frustrated by a lifetime of teaching in half-truths, near-truths, and subtle errors. To them the choice was a simple one, almost a "black or white" proposition. It was a choice between Christianity and idolatry, between the simplicity of the gospel of Christ and the incredible superstitions and fantasies of their pagan cults. It was a choice between the noble and beautiful life of a faithful Christian and the base, evil, fear-haunted existence of a pagan. When they heard the story of Christ they accepted the truth immediately, rejoicing in their salvation, hungering "as newborn babes" for further teaching and instruction in the way of righteousness.

We might well expect to find this kind of reception even today in areas where the choice is as clear-cut as it was then. Indeed, our brethren in Nigeria in recent years have had much the same reaction as the early disciples had among heathen people. Many are the stories they tell of the Nigerians begging for baptism immediately upon hearing their first gospel sermon. It is something that might happen in one baptism out of every ten thousand here in America.

For the average American must "un-learn" a vast accumulation of subtle errors and half-truths before he is capable of an intelligent acceptance of the simple gospel. Also, his heart must be reached as well as his head. He must be "converted to Christ" as well as convinced on immersion as baptism. And in most cases here in America this "conversion to Christ" is far, far more difficult than convincing a person about baptism, or the one church, or the wrongness of instrumental music! His whole purpose in life must be given a new focus, a new direction. His humble submission of himself to the will of Christ must be the point of chief emphasis. Once that has been achieved, it will be relatively easy to show him Christ's will on baptism, the one church, the adequacy of the congregation to do her work, etc. The fundamental weakness in all our modern congregations is not so much in an untaught membership as it is in an unconverted membership. For one the members have the true and total dedication to Christ that they ought to have, the task of teaching them his will is relatively simple and easy.

And this "total conversion," this complete dedication of heart, is not to be done ordinarily by a "quickie" conversion — at least, not here in America. The choice for Americans is not so simple as it is for Nigerians! And, beyond all peradventure of doubt, the average American is far, far less truly religious than is the average pagan. Let faithful Christians understand the facts — and then get to work converting men to Christ, not simply "getting them baptized!"