The Baptists and the ‘Bus Ministry’

By Daniel H. King 

During the last couple of years many of the brethren have become elated at a new device for drawing large crowds into their meeting houses-the bus ministry. Really though, there is not anything especially new about the device since the Baptists and other denominational folk have been using the system for years. ‘It is what has made possible the “Tabernacle-style” church houses that have begun to dot the landscape in many of our cities. Many brethren have argued, “Well, the Baptists are getting good results out of it, so it must work.” As a consequence, denominational programs and gimmicks are examined, sectarian “How-to-do-it” manuals are read, and finally the system is fitted bodily into a congregation’s program. After all, “it works, doesn’t it!” Pretty soon children are being given candy, refreshments, and prizes for boarding the buses and attending regularly. Suddenly the Grand Old Gospel that brethren once recognized to be the drawing power to salvation (Rom. 1:16; 2 Thess. 2:14) goes flying out a bus window. “Why, it doesn’t matter what you use to get them there, just so they get to hear Christ preached to them.” One problem that goes unnoticed is that what it takes to get that kind of person to come the first time is what it will take to keep them coming. And, if the church of Christ is just offering a piece of gum to come to church and the Baptists offer a stick of gum and a balloon, it is certain that we will lose out on those that sell themselves to the highest bidder. I wonder what scriptural precedent is being followed when carnal rewards are being offered for spiritual service? Whatever happened to the old biblical axiom that those who seek to receive earthly compensation as their payment for spiritual service rendered have been “payed in full”? “Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16). This type of practice actually encourages the attitude that Jesus condemned.

I was recently surprised to see that some of the Baptists are even beginning to object to this kind of absurd trafficking in human souls. I was surprised because Baptists have been using every kind of gimmick and contrivance imaginable for years. Everybody from Karate experts to movie stars has been invited to speak and perform during and after their worship services to draw crowds to their meeting houses. Forrest L. Keener, pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church of Lawton, Oklahoma, last year launched a verbal attack upon such methods used in “Bus Ministry Promotion.” In July and August, 1973 issues of Faith Magazine, a Bob Jones University publication, Keener attacked the abusive techniques under the title, “A Critical Analysis of Modern `Give-Away’ Bus Promotion?” His study of these time-honored practices led him to brand them as a “hypocritical exploitation” of children, and to conclude that “these tactics never actually increase the number of converts.” Furthermore, Keener pointed out that a lowering of standards must follow or the results will not be lingering. He said, “And meanwhile sound doctrine occupies second place or no place at all.” Then he added, “The common denominator that I seem to see in all fervent users of cheap tactics is that they rate doctrine after results, and sometime belittle doctrine altogether.”

This frank assault upon an almost universally accepted practice among Baptist Churches was bound to draw fire. In the August 3, 1973, issue of The Sword of the Lord, the editor of the paper, Dr. John R. Rice, expressed his shock and surprise at Keener’s remarks. A long treatise followed in which Rice made quite a play upon Baptist tradition and perverted a number of scriptures endeavoring to put some Biblical props under a totally unscriptural practice. His miserable display would almost certainly convince any honest person that such tactics completely lack scriptural authority. I must confess, though, that Rice did do a little better job on the subject than I have heard any of the brethren do lately. At least he tried to justify it by the Bible. Many of the brethren have given this up altogether. That is the very reason that the like of the bus ministry is being practiced by Churches of Christ. When will some brethren realize that you cannot trick people into becoming Christians? There are no short-cut methods or sure-fire gimmicks that will replace the plain and simple Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is still the power of God to salvation .(Rom. 1:16) and the only thing that can draw men to Christ (2 Thess. 2:14). It will probably take the brethren a while to realize the fruitfulness of their folly, but the realization is sure to come, just as it is coming to some of the Baptists. Real conviction just cannot be bought. Even the Baptists are beginning to see that.

Truth Magazine XIX: 28, p. 434
May 22, 1975