There’s a beautiful Christian camp I’ve been to many times which serves my hometown crowd of more or less independent, baptistic churches. Anybody who knows me can guess which camp I’m talking about, but please don’t: what I’m about to say applies to many, many institutions beyond this camp. The camp is just one of the ones I know best. I’ve gone to multiple retreats there, and I served as a teen camp counselor there for two summers. I’ve also helped out at weekend retreats, prayed for the camp, and given money. The staff is godly and dedicated and has made a lastingly positive impact on me; the property is nothing short of stupendous. Faithful churches have been investing in it for decades. The camp has done much good work in countless hearts.
The camp uses the KJV exclusively for all preaching, teaching, and Scripture memorization.
A full twenty years ago, as a teenage summer counselor, I happened to have a conversation with the camp’s founder: “When do you think our crowd of churches will be able to move away from the King James Version?” I asked. It was right about then that I had begun to realize, with the help of my pastor, that the KJV was an “impediment” (his word) to my ministry as a budding Bible teacher. I was seeing this as I spoke to campers. It was mostly little things they were missing; at least, I think so. When I would ask them what a verse meant—and you can ask those who have worked with me in ministry: I am always asking this—their stumbling was not, I think, due completely to the KJV’s old-style English. But some of it was. “Fret not thyself in any wise to do evil,” our first memory verse, just didn’t make any sense to them. (I give this whole story in Authorized and in Authorized.)
I knew why we had to use the KJV: out of deference to and patience with brothers who were sensitive about it. But I wasn’t (and amn’t) satisfied with such a situation. Surely, deference and patience are important Christian values (1 Pet 4:8). But just as surely—a word more sure—a Bible translation the plow boy can read is a more important and more foundational value. When I asked the camp founder when this situation would end, I got a direct and respectful answer: “Not within my lifetime.”
Not long ago this beloved servant of the Lord finished his earthly race. I will never forget him, and neither will countless others who were even more deeply influenced by him.
I recently called another staff member there, a personal friend closer to my own age, and put to him the same basic question: “When can our beloved camp move away from the KJV?”
And here is the lede I have buried: He told me no one had ever requested that the camp make a change.
I was shocked. Nobody? Nobody has even asked?
I buried my lede, but I won’t bury my point: Ask, and ask nicely, and ask now, for your treasured institutions to change their only-KJV policies. Camps, churches, publishers, schools, mission boards. Ask.
I don’t want to create division. I don’t want (and I’m indebted to FBFI leader Kevin Schaal for this point) to begin an only-not-KJV party to compete with the KJV-Only party. I don’t want to start any fights or even arguments. And I don’t want you to do it, either. I don’t think arguments will work with most treasured institutions. And I’m not even sure they’re needed (though I’ve got them if they are). I think that leaders of those institutions who 1) still use the KJV but 2) are not formally KJV-Only wish they could change. They just need to know that their constituency won’t blow into a kjvillion pieces when they do so.
You, if you’re reading my blog, are quite possibly their new constituency. They’re serving you now. They need to hear your voice and register your vote. I don’t want the institutions I love to think that their constituency is happy with the status quo AV (an obscure pun; please forgive me).
So write them.
What to write
When (not if!) you write, write something like this. Keep it short and gracious, and make certain to appeal to the Bible, specifically 1 Corinthians 14. Also, feel free to include the key idea of “false friends” (it is the answer to the standard “buck up and grab a dictionary” reply).
Dear President/Director/Pastor X,
I have long appreciated Institution X, and I have faithfully supported it with prayer and with financial gifts. I wish to see its ministry carry on long into the future. Over the last several years I have become increasingly burdened about an important issue that affects Institution X’s God-given work. I believe that the continued choice to use the King James Version may be hindering its effectiveness for some hearers due to changes that have taken place in the English language over the centuries. Edification requires intelligibility (1 Cor 14:9), and this matters to me. For the last many years, I have been using contemporary English translations of the Scriptures—and they have noticeably improved my Bible-reading life. I don’t know if there has ever been a discussion about changing the version that Institution X uses, but I wanted to take time to let you know that I would be very excited if you did choose to make this change.
I recognize that this issue is sensitive; it may not be the right time for the ministry to make such a big change. But I did want to let you know that I would be very supportive of this change and would be very appreciative if you would consider making it.
Please view this note only as one small vote in favor of moving to—or at least opening up liberty for the use of—a faithful contemporary English Bible translation. Perhaps some students/preachers/weeks of camp could use the NKJV instead? It uses the same base texts as the KJV, but it translates them into contemporary English.
May the Lord bless your work, and may He give fruit that remains to Institution X.
A suggested compromise
The KJV-Only portion of your beloved institution’s constituency will, naturally, cry foul. They will say that you are introducing change where none is needed. But, truly, it is they who have introduced a change. The doctrine we are supposed to be upholding is not, “We should all use the King James Version,” or even, “We should all use the same Bible translation.” The doctrine is, instead, something like, “Bible translation into the common vernacular is necessary for teaching the nations—including the simple plow boy—to observe everything Jesus has commanded.” This is the historic, Reformation (and Baptist!) doctrine we all say we support. This is what Tyndale gave his life for. Our KJV-Only brothers, praise God, do not deny this doctrine—but by insisting on the exclusive use of the King James Bible they are slowly letting it slip.
They don’t know that’s what they’re doing; they sincerely think they’re not. And for this reason, I am willing to compromise with them. I am eager to compromise with them. I’d prefer the ESV or NASB or CSB or NIV; but because they feel strongly that the Textus Receptus is the best edition of the Greek New Testament, and because I wish to remain unified with them if at all possible, I am happy to use the NKJV or MEV (or both) instead of what I prefer (they are based on the TR). So, when I talked to that camp leader, I encouraged him to consider having two NKJV weeks at camp for churches in the constituency who might prefer this. It seems to me to be a reasonable step of compromise. If my KJV-Only brothers will not take that step, they will demonstrate that they are not Textus-Receptus-Only but, truly, KJV-Only. Then we can have a different conversation.
We owe our institutions a debt: they have done great good for us. Let us do the hard work of maintaining them, for the good of people yet unborn—people for whom King James English will be even more difficult than it is for us.
A postscript for leaders
To leaders: I’m a nobody. Nobody has to listen to me—except perhaps to count me as one vote (or maybe two, since my wife agrees with me!). I will not get on a high horse and say that change away from the KJV must come immediately. I don’t know that. I want you and your institution to succeed, and more than likely you need to take it slow. I have written suggested steps for making a change (particularly in a church setting) here. I offer them humbly for your use.
I will say this, however: the Bible says you should take a first step away from the KJV, even if the final one is twenty years off. Saying, “We serve churches; we don’t lead them,” is true and not true. It’s humble, and that’s the way it ought to be—but it isn’t the way it is. Churches do look to their institutions as a barometer for where other churches are. Using intelligible language in ministry is a biblical value, and you ought to move in that direction whether your constituency likes it or not. A suggested first step for camps: sprinkle your KJV quotations in printed literature with explanatory brackets; that’s what I do when I’m required to use the KJV. I refuse to leave the plow boys who read my Bible textbooks without that help.
And one more thing: many institutions in my circles are led by Baby Boomers, people who have built up trust through decades of faithfulness. I pray that I will one day be you. I admire and respect you. Spend some of your accumulated trust capital on moving away from the KJV: it is one of the touchiest issues out there, and if you kick the can to the next leader (a Millennial?), he or she may have to wait another two decades to build up anything like the trust you’ve amassed. Consider taking one last blow on the chin as one of your greatest legacies to the next generation. Leadership is servanthood. Boy is it.