Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 8, 1968

The Conversion Of A Methodist Preacher


He was fourteen years of age when he joined the Methodist Church in Brooks County, Georgia. His association with his fellow Methodists in that area was short, as he 'moved with his family to Texas one year later. His family had been impoverished by the misfortunes of the War Between the States, and Texas was the "land of promise."

However short was his stay among the Georgia Methodists, it must have had an influence on the lad, for he continued his interest in religion in Texas: "In the community where I lived we started a Sunday School when I was seventeen years old. One hundred and fifty students and teachers were enrolled; and because I did not have sense enough to see my mistakes and be disheartened by them, I was elected Superintendent of the Sunday School, for the first time in my life I stood before a large congregation and read the Word of God and tried to pray."

"About this time I thought I was up on vocal music and began to teach in different communities. Methodist preachers were easily made, as their demand was more for lung power to get up excitement than for brain power to teach the people, and because of this I stood high with them, and passed my examination for a preacher at nineteen." Thus "the Reverend Jefferson Davis Tant" became a circuit-rider in North Texas in the year 1880.

"Tant's life in the Methodist ministry, however, was destined to be a short one. He was ordained in the fall of 1880, and spent the rest of that year and the early months of 1881 in a diligent proclamation of Methodist doctrine. He knew practically nothing of it, but he had 'lung-power' and was unusually successful in raising an audience to a high pitch of excitement and frenzy by the very intensity of his own feelings. He preached in school-houses, in private homes, and often in the open air as the summer months of 1881 came on." (J. D. Tant, Texas Preacher, p. 29.)

In the spring of that year, Tant happened to hear two preachers who were commonly called "Campbellites." He was disturbed by their simple, and yet obviously truthful, explanations of the Bible. Among his responsibilities as a Methodist preacher was that of sprinkling babies. Although he had been immersed in the Methodist church in Brooks County, Georgia, he had had no reason to question the scripturalness of "infant baptism," as they called sprinkling. But during the following months, he had occasion to hear the preaching of these two "Campbellite" preachers several times, as their paths often crossed. Their practice of reading verses from the Bible and giving simple explanations of them continued to bother him, particularly on the subject of baptism and the sprinkling of infants. These men had challenged any in their audience to find one verse in the Bible (just one!) that even hinted that any infant was ever sprinkled for any cause. Tant was indignant at such preaching. He began a careful search of the Scripture to find the verse. He read the entire New Testament through; then began to read the Old Testament. He could not find a verse that fully satisfied him...He wanted something...definite with which to confront the `Campbellites; It was unthinkable to him that the great Methodist scholars, who could read Greek and Hebrew with as much ease as English, could be mistaken in this matter." (Ibid., pp. 31,32.)

The search continued without success; spring turned in summer; and Tant went to Southwest Texas where he taught music, preached, and for a living became a "bronc-buster." While there he heard W. H. D. Carrington preach the pure gospel of Christ in the same manner as did the two other preachers. All his uncertainties about infant sprinkling returned, plus other doubts in light of Carrington's presentation of church history and the origin and development of denominationalism. Questions began to burn upon his conscience. Could the Methodist Church be wrong? Had he been preaching and practicing that which was contrary to the word of God? Other questions arose, and he spent the long hours of the night diligently checking the passages Carrington had used.

The light of dawn brought with it the stark realization that he had been preaching error. He had searched high and low for the passages that authorized his teaching and practices, such as infant baptism, but they were not there! Because of this man's great love and respect for truth, he realized what so many fail to appreciate — if it cannot be found in the Word of God, it is not a part of the will of God. His acceptance of the pure Word of God over and above any denominational creeds, personal feelings, and family ties ultimately led him to ride his horse one hundred and twenty-seven miles to be baptized into Christ. He was twenty-one years of age, and for nearly sixty years from that time he preached the simple, undenominational gospel of Christ to the best of his ability.

Since the Bible makes the claim that it is the total revelation of God's will for mankind (I Cor. 4:6; Gal. 1:6-9; II Tim. 3:16-17; II John 9, etc.), we must learn to respect the silence of the scriptures as well as what is taught. If God did not instruct us, either by precept, example, or necessary inference, that sprinkling a person and calling it baptism is an acceptable act, then we have no authority to so presume. The same can be said for instrumental music in worship, church-sponsored recreational programs, eating ice cream and cake for the Lord's Supper, wearing human religious names, interpretative dancing in our worship assemblies, women preachers, or what-have-you. It all boils down to a respect for the authority of Christ. He has all authority (Matt. 28:18), and all we do in religion is to be done by his authority (Col. 3:17). Therefore, what Christ has said through the inspired apostles and prophets must be done if we respect the Son of God. Furthermore, if it has not been taught, then we cannot do it, and still respect his authority, no matter what our own "wisdom" tells us. A prophet of old stated the principle well: "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of Jehovah, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; what Jehovah speaketh, that will I speak (Num. 24:13). This attitude should characterize our search for truth (John 8:32).

I thank God for the example of this humble servant of Christ — Jefferson Davis Tant — my grandfather. May he, being dead, yet speak.

— Jefferson David Tant