June 2011 marks my thirtieth anniversary in full-time ministry. I was saved in an independent Baptist church. Over the last three decades, I have seen the spiritual wagons circling into many different camps. We have to ask the question, “Should I separate from fellow independent Baptists?” We all must be biblically grounded so we will not be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). But I have discovered that I can learn from others who are not independent Baptists.
Can I Gain Wisdom from Non-independent Baptists
The answer is obviously “yes!” Even the Apostle Paul, close to death, asked Timothy to bring him the “scrolls… and the books.” Paul wanted to read books while he sat in the Mamertine prison awaiting death. What kind of books did Paul read? Paul was fond enough of Greek poets. It was Aratus, a Greek poet of Cilicia, that Paul quoted in Acts 17:28, “For we are also his offspring.” In writing to Titus, Paul again quotes an unsaved Cretan poet named Epimenides (Titus 1:12). A sentence of these pagan poets became Scripture! Imagine that!
Where Do I Draw My Circles of Separation
Books—Based on Scripture, I draw my personal circle of separation regarding books with the Apostle Paul. I will read books by both saved and unsaved authors (though I personally prefer the saved). If I can pick up one kernel of truth to help me become a better Christian, father, husband, or pastor, then the book was worth my time!
Seminars—I will NOT attend a seminar by all of the authors on my bookshelf. Yet, I have gleaned some good and godly advice in training deacons from outside our independent Baptist circle. (Shhhhhhhh—don’t tell anyone, but I have used Southern Baptist Jim Henry’s deacon training videos to help our deacons.) I am glad that Dr. Chappell now has a book out entitled, The Ministry of a Baptist Deacon. I recently gave this book to all of our deacons.
Missionaries and Fellowships—The circle definitely gets tighter here! I cannot be a New Testament Church unless I am reaching Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth (all at the same time). Do we have to give every missionary a 13 page questionnaire before we will support him? No! Let’s support men of like faith, but not require 100% agreement with every detail. I thank the Lord that our church family is committed to supporting independent Baptist missionaries—even those who are not exactly like me.
Close Friendships—“Can two walk together, except they be agreed” (Amos 3:3). Our closest friendships in ministry and life tend to be people that we have a high compatibility with in doctrine and lifestyle. But even my closest friends will probably read something along the way that I wouldn’t agree with. They may even attend a seminar that I might not choose to go to. But if the truth were known, they would say the same thing about me!
Should I Separate over Different Musical Styles
Here the water gets a little muddy, does it not? I only have 30 years under my belt on this one, but if a pastor fires the choir and replaces it with drums and ear piercing electric guitars, I am not standing with him shoulder to shoulder! I will separate. But having lived in different parts of the country I have discovered that some people’s English has a different sound to it. Some people are just going to talk and sing a little differently! If they sound different to me, then…maybe I sound different to them.
If a church or college has slightly different musical styles or tastes, I find that is not grounds for biblical separation. God’s Word says nothing about sixteenth notes or mild syncopation. It has a great deal to say about, “Endeavoring to keep the unity,” (Ephesians 4:3) and His holy hatred of sowing seeds of “discord among the brethren” (Proverbs 6:19). I do not need to bow to a so-called “musical expert” in order to determine Spirit-filled music for my church family. As a pastor, I have been given the Word of God and the Spirit of God to lead the flock of God for our worship services.
Our Spiritual Family Tree
If you go back far enough, we all have a “gnarled” family tree. God gives us our family members! There is only one family member that we get to choose—our spouse. The rest of them are given to us by God (without our choice)—our parents, our siblings, our children, and extended family. When Thanksgiving, weddings, and funerals come around, we will see our relatives—even the ones we may not like. We are polite and kind because we desire to be Spirit-filled Christians. What about our spiritual family tree of independent Baptists? Should we not have even more love for those fellow independent Baptists who we may only see two or three times a year at a national Baptist fellowship meeting or a leadership training conference? I do not have to go on a writing campaign against everyone that does not see “eye to eye” with me.
Let me give you two thoughts that have helped me regarding this:
1. I was with Dr. John Halsey of BIMI, and he said to me, “Pastor, if I were God, I wouldn’t use half the people that God uses. If I were God, I wouldn’t use John Halsey.” Then he paused and said, “I am so glad I am not God, just one of His servants.”
2. In John 21 Peter asked the Lord, “What shall this man [John] do?” Peter is thinking out loud, “I am going to die a martyr’s death. What about John?” The Lord responded, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me,” (John 21:22). The Lord told Peter (and us), “Keep your eyes on Me! Run the race that I give you and don’t you worry about John’s race!”
If God chooses to use someone with a slightly different musical taste or style than yours, what is that to you? You just follow the Lord! God knows how to rebuke His servants in this life and also how to reward them appropriately in eternity. Let’s let God be God.
Are We Perfect as a Movement
No! But after 30 years of full-time ministry, I am more convinced than ever that an independent Baptist church is the closest thing on earth today to a New Testament church. There was a young pastor who moved into town in London who became immensely popular. The older pastor went through all kinds of emotions—upset, jealousy, anger. Then one day he decided to pray for that young pastor. Because he prayed earnestly for the young man, he felt that he would enter into the joy and eternal reward of every soul saved under the ministry of young Charles Spurgeon.
Let’s start praying for our independent Baptist brethren, rather than separating from them! Who knows—God may bless you now and reward you later for this wise decision!