Seth Wilson might be called “Mr. Ozark Bible College,” now Ozark Christian College. He served as dean from 1942 to 1979, as a teacher until 1991, and as elder statesman until his death December 11, 2006. Through his writing and speaking, his influence extends far beyond the college. The story of his conversion still inspires people today.
The Conversion of John Wilson
John Wilson, Seth’s older brother, came to Christ first and, like the disciple Andrew, brought his brother to Christ. John sold Bibles in the summer of 1931 around Hampton, Iowa. After hearing a Bible sermon by C. S. Kleckner, a minister in the Church of Christ, John said, “I must talk with you.”
They discussed God’s plan for his church and for salvation. John remembers, “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! It began to make sense, and for the first time, I learned of the freedom one can have in Christ. I was so thrilled to know the simple plan of salvation and to hear about the New Testament church, free from human creeds and governing bodies.” He was baptized into Christ.
Bill Beadle, an elder in the Hampton church, and his wife befriended John. Bill encouraged John to attend Cincinnati Bible Seminary to learn to preach Christ and the New Testament plan of salvation. Within 20 days of his baptism, John was on his way to Cincinnati to study for the ministry.
The Conversion of Seth Wilson
Wanting his brother to know Christ too, John tried to get Seth to take the truth of the Bible seriously. Seth couldn’t believe the Bible. He said, “I had too much confidence in theories I believed to be scientific truth . . . . At least my interests in science furnished some convenient excuses not to surrender my heart and life to Christ.”
Brother Kleckner invited John to preach at Hampton on the last Wednesday night of the year. Wanting to visit with Seth, John asked him to accompany him on his journey. They arrived in Hampton on Tuesday and stayed the night with the Beadles. Seth recalls serious conversation “about Christ and the Bible, especially the privileges of believing the gospel and living by truth in the loving favor of God . . . . [Bill] was manifestly happy in the service of the Lord and in trusting the divine love and promises which he knew so well from his constant reading of the Bible.”
Bill asked about Seth’s faith and his relationship with Christ. Seth told him the ideas of science disproving the Bible hindered him from taking it strictly as God’s Word.
Bill answered, “Seth, I don’t know enough about things like that to settle it for you. But I know about Jesus. Didn’t Jesus rise from the dead? And doesn’t his resurrection from the dead prove who he is and that we can take him at his word? Let’s read what the New Testament says about Christ’s resurrection and about the gospel which he gave the apostles to preach.’” They agreed that history supports the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.
They read how Jesus told the apostles to preach and baptize. After reading about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9, Bill asked, “How do you explain the change in one who was totally against the Christians and took an active part in persecuting them—and then made a dramatic change to become the greatest defender of Christianity?”
Bill and John did not push the intelligent young man to do anything. They made clear the teaching of the Word of God and let it sink in. Seth said, “I felt no need to put up a defense or to resist anything, but felt that they, with love and respect for me, just naturally expected me to want to follow what I could see was the Lord’s will. They didn’t demand a decision. They treated me like I wanted to know the truth and would obey the truth that I understood.”
Only a few people were at the meeting on December 30, 1931. Seth remembers,
John preached at the church while I sat on the back seat as a stranger to the church and only mildly interested in the proceedings. He preached to the Christians about living as Christ’s peculiar people. I was not particularly moved or impressed . . . . But at the end of the sermon Brother Bill Beadle stood up to lead a song. He sang: ‘Why do you wait, dear brother? Why do you tarry so long? . . . There’s no one to save you but Jesus; there is no other way but his way.’
He made so much sense and cared so much in his heart. Rather suddenly I realized that I must either accept Jesus or I would be rejecting him. I could not ignore his teaching and his commands if I wanted to be right with God. Brother Bill’s loving desire to see me obey Jesus was influential even though I may not have been very conscious of it at that time. I felt impelled to surrender then and there.
Seth said he still didn’t know about science and the Bible. But he decided he would have to start following Jesus or he was turning him down.
John was surprised and thrilled to see his brother walk down the aisle. Brother Kleckner took his confession of faith and told John he should baptize his brother. John expresses, “It was an overwhelming joy that filled my heart that night—to think that the very first person I baptized was my own brother.” At 17 years of age Seth accepted Christ as Lord by faith and came into a personal relationship with him.
Seth said, “It was really facing the fact of the resurrection of Jesus as the Lord of life and death that gave me the understanding so that I knew there was real authority and reliability in what Jesus said. I wanted to be his disciple and believer.”
The power of the Word convinced Seth that he needed to make Christ Lord of his life and that the Bible was not on trial; science was. He realized that science had to be judged by the authority of Christ and the Scriptures. When he read Romans 6 and it was carefully explained to him, he realized he needed to be buried with Christ and then to arise and walk in the newness of life. Seth also had been impressed by my newfound life in Christ and by the earnest faith of Bill Beadle.
The years following have demonstrated Seth’s depth of commitment to Christ. John considers helping Seth to find the Lord a highlight in his life.
Seth observed, “I have always thanked God for Bill’s great example of faith, love, and joy in the Lord, and simple Bible teaching that opened my heart to take the Lord at his Word and obey him regardless of the consequences. If I had not obeyed the gospel then and there, it seems doubtful whether I would ever have listened effectively to New Testament teaching. I had a strong tendency toward humanism, rationalism, and unbelief. I had received that kind of influence in school, in church, and in my private reading.”
Years later Bill Beadle asked him, “Seth, what did I say to you back in 1931 that led you to obey Christ?”
He responded, “Brother Bill, as I have always remembered it, it was not so much any one thing that you said, but the way that you acted that influenced me to give up doubt and self-will and surrender to the Lord Jesus.”
Surprised, Brother Beadle lowered his face in humility and prayer and said, “May the Lord help me to act like that some more.”
Seth stated, “His genuine interest in me and respect for me lit a fire in me. His example made me want to follow Christ. Reams of argument can fail, but an example of faith and love is powerful and unanswerable.”
The consequences of Seth Wilson’s conversion to Christ cannot be measured. After he gave himself to Christ as Lord and Savior, his focus was clear, his commitment consistent and strong. Through his teaching, writing, and leadership at Ozark Christian College, his ministry has reached around the world.