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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
I consider it a high honor and privilege to be an independent Baptist preacher. I grew up in a Christian home of an independent Baptist pastor/missionary. Ever since I was saved and baptized my church membership has always been in an independent Baptist church. This is all I’ve ever known. But I am an independent Baptist by conviction, certainly not by convenience.
At our last Missions Conference that was held here at Tabernacle Baptist Church I was overwhelmed with a sense of thankfulness unto the Lord for not only having been called into the ministry, but also to be associated with men of God, pastors and missionaries, who have a genuine concern for the work of God and to carry it out according to God’s way based on God’s Word.
The Term "Independent Baptist"
I realize that the term "independent Baptist" is being grossly abused and maligned today. The dictionary will tell you that the word "independent" means: not subordinate or subject to nor dependent for support upon another government, person, or thing. We have preachers all over the U.S.A. from Jerry Falwell to Jack Hyles, from Curtis Hudson to Lee Roberson, who claim to be independent Baptists.
It seems to me that practically all Baptist churches claim to be independent of some sort or degree. Churches in the ABA, GARB, WBF, BBF, etc. claim to be independent but they still have their national organizations with national presidents, their by-laws that govern the churches, their national papers that speak for the churches, and their own mission boards that send out their missionaries. But we must never forget that being an independent Baptist is not merely a title to hold but is a divine principle to practice.
Like Chester E. Tulga once said: "The church is not independent in order to enjoy independence, but independent in order to be free to be true to God." A true independent Baptist church does not belong to any organized group of Baptists of any kind.
Divine Mission of the Church
The divine mission of the church can be summed up in Eph. 3:21 where we are told the church exists for the primary purpose of glorifying God. And the best way for a church to do this is by carrying out the Great Commission that was given to her by the Lord to follow and obey.
There is no other group, organization, or association that has been authorized by God Himself to fulfill this divine commission other than the local New Testament independent Baptist church. Baptist churches today need to realize their headquarters does not lie in Nashville or Springfield, or Hammond, Indiana or Lynchburg, Virginia. Our headquarters is in Heaven for that is where our Head is, seated at the right hand of the throne of God. To obey or not to obey the Scriptures is not a matter of choice or option for the church. The local church is not sovereign in the sense that it is authorized and empowered to do what the Lord commands. It does not need nor is to be subject to any other authority.
As David Huckabee once said; "There can be no entrenching upon the authority of a church without at the same time entrenching upon its sovereignty, autonomy, and independence as well." I like what M. L. Moser, Jr. once wrote: "The greatest danger to the independency of Baptist churches today is the whole idea of organizing because it will inevitably result in a hierarchy or convention which soon will fall into the hands of men who are unethical in their practices, unscriptural in their doctrines, liberal in their theology, and more concerned for the well-being of the organization than in doctrinal soundness of the sovereignty and independency of the individual churches."
The Local Church Is God’s Way
The most important organization in the world today is a New Testament church. There are examples after examples where churches in the New Testament cooperated together in the preaching of the gospel in mission work. While these churches were independent, they were not isolationists; they were not cut off from one another. In fact, the greatest united missionary effort ever put forth in the history of the church was in the New Testament times and the only organization used was the local, New Testament Baptist church. These churches all cooperated without the urging of any outside organization.
The basis of this cooperation and fellowship was that there was doctrinal unity. These New Testament churches were identified by what they believed in, not by what they belonged to. These churches were united in doctrine and maintained their identity by their baptism. They worked together and evangelized the world together and this was all achieved without a mission board, committee, or association. The missionaries were ordained in the local church, approved by the local church, and supported by the local church. It worked then and it still does today. I have heard it stated repeatedly, a powerful organization is man’s way, a local church is God’s way.
In his book, The Independence of the Local Church, Chester Tulga wrote: "The local church has the right to cooperate with other churches of like faith; it has no right, under God, to cooperate with churches which deny its faith. The independence of the local church is not an arbitrary concept of church government, nor an incidental development in the progress of the church, but is fundamental to the position and the witness of the New Testament church. New Testament policy is rooted deeply in the great verities of the Christian faith, and they suffer when this independence is surrendered or lost" (pg.17).
What Independent Baptists Are and Do
I praise God for the men who have recently come out from the unscriptural man-made organizations and mission board systems. Many of them are paying a great price for doing so but God has promised His richest blessings upon His churches who are doing God’s work in God’s way in God’s power for God’s glory. As J.W. Porter so aptly put it: "The commission was given to the churches and unless Baptist churches get their mission from the Commission, they are without a mission and should go out of commission."
True independent Baptist churches are unaffiliated, fundamental, premillennial, missionary, and evangelistic. They oppose the universal, invisible church theory, they reject open communion and alien immersion. They denounce ecumenicalism, liberalism, modernism, and interdenominationalism. They believe in one kind of church, one faith, one baptism, and one Bible, the King James Bible. You’ve heard it over and over again that it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you get the job done. We believe Christ established the church to carry out God’s plan for this age and it does make a difference whether we follow His plan or substitute it for another.
A sad trend seems to be developing today in light of mission work and that is it’s taking some missionaries up to 2 years to raise their support to get on the field. Brethren, that ought not to be among independent Baptists. We need to enlarge our vision for the cause of Christ and increase our giving for the souls of men around the world. Let us give while we go and go while we give. I’m reminded of what Paul told the Corinthian church who were divided among themselves over the ministries of Paul, Apollos, and Peter: "For we are labourers together with God..." (I Cor. 3:9).
As independent Baptists let us strive together for the faith of the Gospel with a unity of purpose and spirit. Independent Baptist churches today are still sending out missionaries, training preachers, starting new churches, and enjoying God’s abundant blessings as they follow New Testament doctrines and New Testament methods, realizing they are responsible only to God and acknowledging no other authority than Jesus Christ, the Head of the church.
As independent Baptists, we send forth our missionaries by the authority of the church, not through an unscriptural mission board, and these missionaries are supported directly by the churches. An independent Baptist church cooperates with other independent Baptist churches as partners in the faith for missions but does so on a voluntary basis, without any para-church organization binding the churches together.
Not only is it a joy, honor, and privilege to be a member of an independent Baptist church, but it is also a tremendous responsibility as we seek to preach the gospel to every sinner, baptize the saved, and teach the saints so that other New Testament independent Baptist churches will be established and perpetuated until the coming of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.