The Old Independent Baptist
Recently my son wrote an article called The New Independent Baptist. The response was warm and wonderful. Ministry leaders ranging from newly minted college-graduates to long-established veteran pastors contacted me with kind words and full agreement. Across the age spectrum it appeared that we had accomplished our goal of encouraging the next generation of leaders in this Christian movement. Unfortunately, what was an encouragement to many was misinterpreted by a few. They mistakenly thought that a celebration of one generation necessitated an indictment of another. As if saying Peter was a great disciple somehow takes something away from John. So, to help express our heart on the matter my son asked me to write a post addressing the historic position of the Independent Baptists pertaining to the seven points of the original post. I wanted to call it “The Old Independent Baptist” which He thought was brilliant.
When I was nine days old my mother had me in church. At that time, we attended an IFCA church here in Las Vegas. When I was ten, my father passed away and we began to attend an American Baptist Church. This church had a pastor that was a student of the Word but was not much of an evangelist. When I was sixteen, I was invited to a Pentecostal church where I heard about the return of Christ and the Tribulation. I committed my life to Christ, yet no one told me how to get saved. A few months later, I was invited for the first time to an independent Baptist church. I liked the church for two reasons – the music was exciting and the message challenged me to live for Christ. The church gave me several audiotapes of an independent Baptist preacher who clearly explained the gospel. It was here, though I had gone to church all my life, I learned how to be saved. I fell in love with the independent Baptist movement for the following reasons (they may sound familiar):
- They were obsessed with the Gospel.
I learned how to lead someone to Christ by listening to tapes by an independent Baptist preacher. The pastor at our IB church encouraged everyone to invite their lost friends to church. We were “seeker sensitive” without knowing the terminology. The entire church was focused on winning people to Jesus. After graduating from high school in 1973, I went to an Independent Baptist College now called Liberty University. Jerry Falwell talked about saturation evangelism, which was defined as “Taking the Gospel to every available person, in every available place, through every available means.” There I got involved in many innovative forms of evangelism: door knocking, street preaching, Bus Ministry, and passing out tracts. I even had the privilege of helping start a new church in North Carolina. You see, our family understands that independent Baptists have always been obsessed with the gospel.
- They were committed to preach the Word.
For the forty-three years I have been involved with independent Baptists, the emphasis has always been on preaching the Word. I was taught at Liberty, “A text without a context is a pretext”. I have preached in several independent Baptist churches and many outstanding independent Baptist colleges over the last thirty years. Each time I have preached at one of these colleges, I have received a welcome letter. In that welcome letter there is always a statement that goes something like this, “The chapel pulpit at our school is our most important hour of the day, please make sure to preach the Word of God.” In my experience, Bible preaching has always been preeminent in our independent Baptist circles.
- They were unified men who opposed Hyper-Separatism.
Within the Independent Baptist Movement I had the privilege of meeting John R. Rice, Jerry Falwell, Bill Rice, Lester Roloff among others. But I also got to hear great Southern Baptist preachers like W.A. Criswell, James Robinson, Freddie Gage, Peter Lord, and J. Harold Smith. All of these men preached and ministered together. We were taught by B.R. Lakin that we should “Be friends to all those who are friends of Christ.” Old independent Baptists taught that certain things were important.
- Doctrinal purity – the fundamentals
- Moral purity – one man, one woman, one lifetime
- Practical holiness – living what you say you believe
Old independent Baptists only separated from those who violated these important issues.
They were truly unified. Sadly, in the late 70s and early 80s some began to divide over minor issues. And those unimportant issues became a litmus test for fellowship. Yet this new anomaly spread quickly in our movement. The original independent Baptists disagreed on many things, yet were unified to reach the lost. The Sword of the Lord is a great example of this. John R. Rice, who did not believe in storehouse tithing, often featured Jerry Falwell and other independent Baptists who strongly promoted storehouse tithing. The Sword also featured W.A. Criswell a leader in the Southern Baptist convention. Charles Spurgeon the Calvinist, John Wesley the Methodist, and Billy Sunday the Presbyterian were all featured in the Sword. In college I learned how to give by faith by listening to Chuck Milhuff a Nazarene preacher who was introduced to Jerry Falwell by John R. Rice. Independent Baptists have always encouraged independent Baptists be independent. Separation was not over dress, music, pulpit attire, or Bible versions. All of this nonsense began to take place around 1980. Old independent Baptists had no problem with diversity in the movement, but they did insist on doctrinal purity, moral purity, and practical holiness. (Sadly, once people began to focus on minor issues, these major issues began to be excused.)
- They were turned off by denomination politics.
Independent Baptists have always despised denominational control. This is why they split away from denominations like the Southern Baptist convention in the first place. Unfortunately, We’ve not always lived up to this core value. I’ve watched as some ministry leaders put pressure on other ministry leaders to toe their particular preference line in order to retain fellowship. As an independent, I must allow others to be independent. It is wrong for the more contemporary preacher to insist that the more conservative preacher use a method that his conscience won’t allow. It is equally wrong for a more conservative preacher to insist that the more contemporary preacher use a method his conscience won’t allow. Let Independent Baptists remain independent.
- They were dedicated to fiscal accountability.
The books in our church have always been open to the members of our church. I learned this from the old independent Baptists, not from the authoritarian dictators who rose up in the 70s and 80s that called themselves independent Baptist preachers, but from godly, independent Baptists who honestly attempted to lead God’s flock. We were taught that Satan would use three things to entrap a man:
The Independent Baptists with whom I’ve been in contact were genuinely vigilant in all of these areas. Sadly, there have been those who have fallen & sullied the Independent Baptist name, along with the far more important name of Christ. However, these men are the minority. For every preacher that has fallen to temptation there are nine others who have lived right.
- They Taught us to be Well Read.
I love Josh’s statement that “no pride should be taken in ignorance”. When I was in college 40 years ago, Independent Baptists encouraged us to read periodicals to keep up on what was going on in our culture. We were taught to get Time Magazine and a local newspaper to stay current and apply the Scripture to our culture. Beyond that, we were encouraged to read through the Bible at least once a year. We were encouraged to read biographies and ministry methodology books. “Eat the fish and spit out the bones” and “never throw the baby out with the bath water” were the mottos of our day. This philosophy has allowed me to read books by John MacArthur, John R. Rice, Andy Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, Paul Chappell, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, among others.
- They are Just Getting Started.
I have been involved in the Independent Baptist movement for forty-three years and I too am just getting started! We’ve accomplished so much and I believe that we have so much more to do. Souls need to be saved, marriages need to be restored, and churches need to be planted. We can do this through the power of God in our lives. Let others do their thing while you do yours. Stay doctrinally pure. Stay morally pure. Live a practically holy life. Remember the only opinion that really matters in the end is God’s. Do what He wants you to do and you will be okay. Be willing to be criticized – just stay true to the Book. If you run out of friends – contact me or one of my boys. We will be friends to anybody who is a friend of Christ.