Over the years I have fielded many questions from those outside of our ministry. This is probably due to my overactive social media presence, a few controversial blogs, and a ministry style that is a bit unconventional within our circles. What is Idea Day? What’s it like to Pastor in Las Vegas? What’s it like to pastor a church in the same city as your father?
However, by far, the most asked question I have received over the last 5 years is…
Why are you still an Independent Baptist?
For those unfamiliar with the Independent Baptist Movement I’ll provide a simple definition. We are a loosely associated brotherhood of churches who are baptistic in theology, essentially non-denominational, but choose to collaborate for the purpose of national church planting, international evangelism, and support of Bible Colleges & Seminaries.
Okay Josh, that’s pretty simple. Then why would so many ask if you are leaving that movement?
It’s because the IB Movement over the last 40 years has become known for other things. Conservative music, conservative clothing, and KJVOnlyism are a few of these identifiers. Recently the movement has even been associated with dictatorial leadership styles, ecclesiastical coverups, egregious sexual misconduct, and 2nd-Degree Separation.
Since it is broadly known that our church doesn’t hold to the former three distinctions and actively stands against the latter four, I have often been asked, “Why are you still an Independent Baptist?”
This is what I say…
The Independent Baptist Movement is far larger world than any one specific circle.
This is extremely difficult to see no matter in which circle someone happened to be trained? For example, someone from the Hyles circle often only sees the Hyles people (and Hyles derivatives) as THE Independent Baptist Movement. Someone from the Bob Jones circle hardly recognizes the Hyles folk as anything close to what they are as a movement. You have the Sword-of-the-Lord circle, the camp-meeting circle, the #oldpaths circle, and the large but declining GARB. This list is not nearly comprehensive. These are all distinct groups that would identify themselves, or have historically, identified themselves as Independent Baptist. Not only do these circles seldom see eye to eye, they also don’t see the other as even being Independent Baptist. So then, when an individual finds themselves in a particular circle but at odds with a particular mandate (KJVOnlyism = Hyles Circles; Conservative Traditional Music = Bob Jones Circles; Preaching Styles = Camp-Meeting Circles) in that specific circle, they often believe there are only 3 options.
- Intimidation – Stay quiet and submit to denominational leadership lest I lose influence and friendships
- Isolation – Do what I want and retreat from all denominational fellowship and collaboration
- Integration – Find a larger denomination (most often the SBC) & affiliate with them.
Yet there is another option that is often overlooked: Inspiration. Okay, I get it. It’s a little corny and schmaltzy but it begins with the letter “I” and it really does describe what many are attempting to do. We are attempting to inspire the once-great Independent Baptist Movement to return to the principles of Biblical Unity, Individual Soul Liberty, Local Church Autonomy, and Optimistic Positivity. Choosing to stay, but also speak up and address the biblical inconsistencies of our movement.
Admittedly this is not an easy choice to make because it opens you up to criticism from the establishment, scorn from those who question your motives, and outright attack from those who lack a sense of discretion and decorum. However, for me and many others, the alternatives are simply too costly.
The Alternatives are Far Too Costly
Sadly, too many good men have been intimidated in our ranks. They know what is right, but are too afraid to state with love and boldness the truth that is welling up in their soul. I remember a conversation with one such leader many years ago who implored me to limit my liberty in methodology as to gain and maintain influence. If I would simply keep our music more conservative, put on a tie, and not express differing opinions regarding minor points of theology – I would become much more influential in the Independent Baptist Movement. I could keep preaching at certain places, have certain pastors continue to preach for me, and be well respected among my peers. He was encouraging me to compromise. The problem was that I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror, let alone kneel before my Master. This dear man had been intimidated by the hyper-separatists fearing the threat of being black-balled by the establishment of his day, and he thought I should make the same choice. Now, would I be willing to limit my liberty in order to see souls saved? YES! Would I be willing to limit my liberty to help a weak Christian? Absolutely! Would I be willing to limit my liberty in order to avoid 2nd-degree separation from hyper-separatists? No, I will not be intimidated.
“I’m independent, independent.” “I’m only going to focus on my local church.” “That’s it, I’m done. It’s a waste of time getting involved in all this denominational drama.” These are phrases we’ve all heard and have probably said ourselves. Regardless of our denominational background, we can get tired of the fighting, political maneuvering, and general lack of Christ-like behavior. This has led many good men to simply withdraw from fellowship and collaborative efforts with the broader family of God, and isolate their ministry into a purely local work. This would be the RIGHT decision, if it weren’t for 2 main problems. First, we are called to be unified. This is never more clearly stated than by our Lord in His High Priestly Prayer of John 17. A cursory reading of the gospels will tell you that Jesus was absolutely distressed by the lack of unity among his disciples. Second, we can accomplish more together than on our own. Synergy is a real thing? A singular local church will have difficulty planting new churches, establishing international missionary works, and building seminaries apart from the help of other local churches. This is why denominations have formed. This is why conventions have begun. This is why movements of God have maintained fellowship. So that, despite our minor differences, we could accomplish more for the Kingdom of Christ – TOGETHER!
I love the Southern Baptist Convention. I love it’s history and it’s leadership. I love their absolute dedication for church planting. I love the many friends and mentors who have supported this heaven-sent institution for decades. Alright Josh, if you love them so much, why don’t you marry them? Here is why? They have as many problems as the one I’m married to now. That bride is no less dysfunctional. THE GRASS IS NOT GREENER.
I tread lightly here because I have many friends in the SBC. And though it would be absolutely appropriate for someone within the movement to critique the movement, as an outsider – I would be disinclined to point out their problems.
Here’s the point. We have problems. They have problems. You’ll find problems in EVERY local church, because in every local church you’ll find people. You’ll find problems in EVERY evangelical denomination, movement, and fellowship of churches, because every group is made up of problematic people.
So then, what is the difference between IB problems and SBC problems? Simple. You and I inherently understand the problems of the Independent Baptist Movement because we have been raised in it, trained in it, and lead in it. We understand our history, our strengths, our weaknesses, and our potential. And though many of us may feel like outsiders, we are actually outliers who have a great capacity to bring needed reform and renewal to a once great movement of churches.
Inspiration! Choosing to stay & strengthen the movement that remains.
I’m choosing to stay because I believe that I can be more of a help here than I can over there. Some of my friends have made the same decision. Many of my friends have not. Still others are contemplating what they will do in the future. This portion of the article is not meant to celebrate those who have stayed, condemn those who have left, or convince those who are on the fence. This part of the article is meant to point out the great opportunity we have in our generation.
I’m honestly excited because I see…
A Return to Biblical Authority
It’s true that the IB movement has experienced the negative effects of hyper-separatism, legalism, pride, racial segregation, sexual infidelity, financial impropriety, ecclesiastical cover-ups. We’ve elevated preferences to position of doctrine and openly attacked those who disagreed with our standards of righteousness. We’ve preached the power of moralism over the power of the gospel. Understand, I’m not accusing others of these crimes without implicating myself as directly involved or indirectly complicit. However, things are improving. We now see a generation of new leaders who are excited about the future, returning to Biblical authority, and refusing to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Moreover, there is a rise of elder leadership who have begun to see the biblical inconsistencies of the past and have boldly, humbly, and honestly called for change. Check out this Recent Article by the beloved Jeff Amsbaugh. Or check out this succinct and powerful statement Recent Statement from John Van Gelderen. Or how about this Recent Sermon from Bob Gray II. Or the incomparable book The Road Ahead by Paul Chappell.
A Refusal to Attack the Brethren
Toe the party line or you will be attacked. This is NOT something that is unique to Independent Baptists, but it does seem that we have perfected it. “Friendly Fire” will come your way, but you DO NOT have to return fire. I’ve learned that when a brother feels it necessary to attack you, you are under no obligation to hit back. Negative articles will be written by brethren. Love them! Disparaging comments will be made at conferences by brethren. Love them! Rumors will be spread by uninformed brethren. Love them! Just because someone sees you as an enemy, doesn’t mean you must see an enemy in them.Love them! Many of us have made the commitment that we will not publicly attack or privately gossipabout the brethren. I see this as a trend that will only grow as we draw closer to the heart of Christ.
A Responsibility to 1000’s of International Missionaries
This important point is often forgotten. The Independent Baptist Movement has 1,000’s of missionaries on the foreign field who are relying upon the next generation of Independent Baptist Leaders. Many of our churches are in decline. Those that are growing are also growing older. I don’t mean to startle the reader with dramatic statements, but what happens if the Independent Baptist movement does continue to decline? What happens if we continue to lose hundreds of young preachers to other good denominations? What happens to the 1,000’s of missionaries? What happens to the 10,000’s of acres of land, buildings, hospitals, orphanages, churches, and various missionary resources we’ve developed over the last 80 years?
I believe that the Independent Baptist missionary model, though far from perfect, is best positioned for 21stCentury international impact. With very low overhead, minimal bureaucracy, and a superior percentage of missionary dollars actually arriving on the mission field – we have a very real opportunity in front of us. Though flawed, we have a lean and mean missionary model that can improve to a place of growing global impact.
A Commitment to Optimistic Positivity
We will see the church return to biblical unity. Once again, we will explain the Baptistic reality of individual soul liberty. We must regain our commitment to local church autonomy by refusing hyper-separatism and 2nd-degree separation. But more than anything, we must have faith in the God of Heaven that this will actually take place. Revival is not only possible, it is unavoidable when we return to the Word and refuse to compromise. Many IB churches across the country are experiencing this revival as we speak. Pastors are walking with God as their intimacy with their wives are deepening. Churches are seeing souls saved at an increasing rate. Churches are being planted around the country that are quickly blossoming into established congregations. Demanding of preferential standards upon the ministries of others is clearly in decline. I believe that God is going to use this little movement of churches in a renewed and powerful way, perhaps like never before.
So then, why am I not leaving the Independent Baptist Movement? Because we are now on the precipice of something we’ve never seen before. The tipping point has been coming for years and we are just now there. It’s 1997 and Steve Jobs has just returned to Apple. Yes, things have been bad. But this is NOT the time to leave.
And, by the way, I’m not the only guy who feels this way. The movement is growing!
What are your thoughts? Am I way off base? Perhaps a little naïve? Comment Below:
Amazing! We never run out of business!
Incredible! He’s always just a 30 minute drive away.
I count four main “Hyles Derivatives” and many smaller ones.
I Corinthians 8:9-13
These 4 men, whom I respect and admire, are unaware that I have referenced them in this article. They are not formally associated with me and should not be separated from by conservative brethren simply because I have referenced them in a positive light.