Article: What Does It Mean To Be An “Independent” Baptist?

Photo Apr 06, 12 12 35 PMI am an independent Baptist preacher and pastor an independent Baptist church. First and foremost, I am a Baptist in doctrine. I see no reason to divorce myself from a historic name and a doctrinal position that distinguishes me from other groups (who often take Biblical names without adopting Biblical doctrines or practices). So, first I am a Baptist with a capital “B.” Then, I am an “independent” Baptist.

“Independent” means “Not dependent; not subject to the control of others; not subordinate.” An independent Baptist church is one that is not dependent, subject, or subordinate to any outside organization. This adjective distinguishes and differentiates Lighthouse Baptist Church from those churches that are part of various conventions and organizations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention. Lighthouse Baptist Church is not part of any convention and recognizes no hierarchy, board, president, religious constitution, or vote by other churches as binding upon itself. Lighthouse Baptist Church is an independent and autonomous or self-governing organization complete in itself, answering directly to its Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are governed by His Word, led by a pastor, served by each other. We vote upon our own business and do not recognize anyone outside of the church membership as having any authority over our actions, decisions, or practices.

We believe that the churches of the New Testament were independent churches. They did cooperate with each other in the Great Commission but we do not read of any organizations over the churches or directing the churches. The churches of history were independent churches. Conventions and Unions are relatively modern. On paper, they seem like good ideas and always have noble goals. In the past, they may have accomplished some good while still recognizing the sovereignty of the churches. In reality, human nature is what it is, and such organizations eventually become political and tend to lord over the churches.

Being independent simply means that our church is unaffiliated and unattached to any convention or denomination. We may have a loose fellowship with churches and pastors of like faith and practice, particularly through certain Bible colleges, youth camps, preacher’s fellowship meetings, missionaries and friendships – but there is no one who has any jurisdiction or authority or say in what happens in an independent Baptist church except those who are a part of that church.

Now, I would like to point out that I believe the word “independent” is sometimes misunderstood even among independent Baptists. For example, a man may say, “We can do whatever we want to, because we are an independent church.” Now, that is true in practice. There is no denominational boss that is going to come and correct what a church does. An independent church can’t be kicked out of something it isn’t a part of.

bigstock_Preacher_With_Bible_2744482However, I would remind myself and anyone reading this that though we are independent from human conventions we are NOT independent from the Word of God. We are not independent from our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, His Word is to be the law of the church. We are not to make the rules but obey the rules set down in the Bible.

Just because we have “the right” to do things does not mean that what we do is automatically right.

The seven churches of Asia Minor (Revelation 2-3) were all independent churches (separate, distinct candlesticks – NOT branches on one big candelabra). Each stood before the Lord Jesus and was judged individually and separately from the others. As independent churches, they were going about their business and there is no hint of any human organization over any of them.

Nevertheless, some churches were sound, and some were fallen, and some were falling. Ephesus left their first love and was about to lose their candlestick. Thyatira was suffering a woman named Jezebel to teach false doctrine and lead the people into sin. Perhaps the pastor said, “We are an independent church; who I have teaching is no one’s business.” It was the Lord’s business, and He was about to judge their church. The Pergamos church was also looking the other way while some were teaching the doctrine of Balaam in some of the adult Sunday School classes and maybe in the Christian school. The church of Sardis was independent but on life support. The church of Laodicea was rich, contented, and disgustingly lukewarm.

The church of Philadelphia was a good church with a little strength. They would not be judged by what was taking place in Laodicea, nor would the suffering church of Smyrna.

Independent Baptists need to be careful not to use their independence as a cloak for compromise within the church. No, no one can tell us what to do. No, no one has the right to meddle in our business. But there is ONE who is the Head of our Church, and He expects the church to be about His business of winning souls, baptizing converts, training disciples, and sending out missionaries. He expects to be first place and first love. He expects holiness and separation from sin and worldliness. He expects things to be done decently and in order. He has given us the qualifications for the pastor and the deacons. They are not up for debate. The ordinances are given to us to “keep,” not to adjust or meddle with according to our wishes.

We should also say that independence is not isolationism. The work of God is bigger than any one church. Churches of like faith can work together if they choose to, primarily in regards to world missions and church planting. Churches in a region could help to start new churches in the area. There’s nothing wrong with attending or supporting someone else’s meeting (they don’t all have to come to your place, either). Pastors can be friends without giving up their independence. Churches that can’t see past the four walls of their own church or the 10 churches in their own “camp” are missing out on the fact that God still has His 7000 that still haven’t bowed the knee to Baal. And they didn’t all graduate from my Bible college.

Then, independence gives the church the freedom to carry out missions as it chooses to do so. No one chooses our missionaries for us. Our church meets and votes upon its own and sends the support directly to them. As an independent Baptist, it does not bother me if an independent Baptist missionary and his independent Baptist church and independent Baptist pastor want to use a mission board to handle their finances. Isn’t that their business? If a church wants to use a local church based mission board as a clearinghouse, I see no reason why that is my concern. Doesn’t that church have the right to make that decision?

I am thankful to be an independent Baptist. I am excited by what God has done through independent Baptist churches through history and what He is doing now. But let us be clear of what it means  – and doesn’t mean – to be an independent Baptist.

Thank you for reading. God bless.

 

About James Rasbeary

I am the pastor of the Lighthouse Baptist Church in Wylie, Texas. Check out my blog at www.broraz.com.
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6 Responses to Article: What Does It Mean To Be An “Independent” Baptist?

  1. Al Price says:

    Great blog! Would love to see you follow-up on the importance of the word “keep” concerning the ordinances. I think it would help some Baptist to become Baptist.

  2. Pingback: What Does It Mean To Be An Independent Baptist? | Independentbaptist.com

  3. Old Sarge says:

    You might consider doing an article on what it means to be a fundamental Baptist as that term is often misunderstood or misused.

  4. hb says:

    Ironically, there is no functional difference between the IFB’s loose “fellowships” and “associations” and the Southern Baptist Convention.

    The SBC doesn’t have an organization that directs or rules over churches. Certainly, a church can be removed from the Convention for unorthodox doctrinal positions, but a church can be removed from (or no longer ‘associated with’) an IFB Fellowship for doctrinal reasons. Similarly, while Convention leaders do have a lot of social and political sway with the way the SBC churches operate, there are IFB leaders within each there social circles that IFB churches look up to. When Pastor “So-and-so” says something, IFB churches jump up and listen, and there isn’t *necessarily* anything wrong with this. (This social pressure exists no matter how large an organization or fellowship. It even exists within churches individually.) Furthermore, the IFB Fellowships have missional, structural, and organizational “free-will offerings” just like the SBC’s more structured “free-will offerings”. The few differences between the organizational documents of the Convention and IFB Fellowships are merely semantic minuta. Documents are worded in ways that emphasize the ‘independence’ of every church, yet, in reality, SBC churches are just as independent.

    These denominations, organizations, fellowships, hierarchies, conventions, etc… are all just various means that fallible humans have developed (and started very early on in church history) to foster Christian Unity and doctrinal purity. They all have different problems and different solutions for some of those problems. Many of these problems didn’t arise at the very beginning of church history, hence there wasn’t much structure in the churches we read about in Scripture. But, as the church grew, different problems sprang up and organizational structures were developed to try to answer these problems. The Bible gives quite a bit of liberty in these areas. There are no mandates for how a church is to be structured. But there are Biblical principles that have been interpreted in various ways.

    Being “too Independent” is a problem. There are a lot of intelligent, wise, godly leaders who have spent more time (than me, my church, my younger pastor, etc…) in the Scriptures and more time examining the wise words that the leaders before them had written about the Scriptures. For me to try to interpret the Scriptures apart from this would be arrogant and foolish. This one of the problems with IFB movements. They are often so far removed from everyone else that they end up interpreting the Scriptures in ways that it has been interpreted in the history of the church. It is one thing to say the Word of God is your final authority, but it is an entirely different thing to actually understand what the Bible is saying.

    • Bonus points for using “semantic minuta.”
      I don’t have to defend any independent Baptist fellowships because I am not part of any. But to say that they are the same as the organization known as the Southern Baptist Convention (or others) is inaccurate to say the least. I’ve never heard of any independent Baptist fellowships owning church properties, ousting pastors, or suing pastors/churches in secular court over the church’s decision to leave the convention. As far as I understand it, most IFB fellowships are only fellowships of pastors, not churches, and they have no power other than influence. To say that the convention heirarchy does not have the tendency to overlord churches and pastors is also ignoring a lot of history.

  5. Pingback: What Does It Mean To Be An "Independent" Baptist? | Independentbaptist.com

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