I am an independent Baptist. That is what I have always been and what I always will be.
I am an independent Baptist not only by my heritage but also by personal conviction. I am thankful for the godly men who led a great surge of the independent movement in the 1940s and 50s.
These men paid a heavy price for their stand of independence from denominational control of their churches and their colleges. They stood for independence from liberal theology that was attacking the very fundamentals of our faith. They produced two generations of independent servants of God. These servants are faithful pastors, missionaries, and evangelists who have had significant impact for the cause of Christ in our country and in the world.
We have learned to value and defend our stand of “independence.” However, in recent years many independents have become so independent that we are practically isolated from each other. So careful are we to maintain our independent status that we seldom (if ever) join our efforts together for the work of God.
On the rare occasions that believers from different churches DO come together it is usually for “fellowship” such as a pastors meeting or a preaching conference at a larger ministry.
Fellowship is fine and fellowship is appropriate, but fellowship does not get the work of the Lord done. “Working” gets the work of the Lord done. The Bible speaks much about the work and labor that is connected to our responsibility as believers.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1Corinthians 15:58)
In our appreciation and application of independence we have formed a long list of reasons that we do not work together—some are significant, but most are trivial. Sadly, the independent movement has become fragmented into many smaller groups. These groups generally do not even fellowship together, much less work together.
Yet, 1 Corinthians 3 says we are laborers together with God. I believe we are compelled to work together by:
1. The Scope of Our Assignment
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)
Jesus commissioned us to take the glorious Gospel of salvation to all the world. Today that is almost 7 billion souls. Most have never heard the message of Christ. One single local church will never accomplish the goal. Working together, striving together, pulling together we can reach the world in the name of Jesus.
2. The Singular Focus of Our Message
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11)
There is a singular focus to our message: it’s Jesus! What the world needs is JESUS. What your county and your city needs is Jesus! We are compelled to work together by the message of salvation found only in Jesus Christ.
3. The Principles of Scripture
“For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:4–6)
Clearly the works of Paul and Apollos were different. They attracted different followers who were quick to point out the contrasts. Each group identified themselves by their human leader. BUT, God blessed the effort of both Paul and Apollos. They were working toward the same goal. Paul clarifies the situation (writing as directed by the Holy Spirit). He said that it was not himself or Apollos—it was God’s work and it was God Who gave the increase.
Answering the common objection:
Some may object to working with those who are not exactly like themselves. These folks will say, “The Bible says that we are to contend for the faith. We must fight against those who do not believe like we believe.”
Yes, we are to “contend for the faith.” Jude 3 says, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
However, let us continue to look at the book of Jude to find out who it is that we are to contend with. Jude 4 says, “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jude goes on to compare those (who we are to contend with) to: the angels who rebelled against God with Satan, the whoremongers who inhabited Sodom and Gomorra, and Cain who murdered his brother.
Many independents seem to be spending a lot of energy “contending” with each other over issues of music, dress standards, and who has the greater love for the King James Bible. I am not saying these issues have no significance. But, the book of Jude is teaching us that we are to “contend” against those who are ungodly, lascivious, deniers of the Lord.
Think about the pastor or church across town who uses some music a little less conservative than yours, or doesn’t print “1611 KJB” on every piece of literature. Does that pastor or that church fit the biblical criteria of one who we are to “contend” with? Sadly, some pastors seem to feel they need to fight against every other independent Baptist church that is not a carbon copy of his church.
Let’s contend with those who deny the God of creation. Let’s contend with those who are preaching “works” salvation. Let’s contend with those who deny the deity of Jesus Christ. Let’s contend with the health/wealth-gospel charlatans. Let’s contend with somebody who is leading people away from Christ. There are plenty of those types out there. Let’s contend against them! In fact let’s contend together against them. We can “gang-up” on them!
4. The Love of God
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34-35)
5. The Commonality of the Holy Spirit
We are the body of Christ. A body is designed with a diversity of parts. The Bible uses this object lesson to teach us that “difference does not equal deficiency.”
The Holy Spirit of God brings us together into the Body of Christ. First Corinthians 12:13–14 says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.” We preach this about our local church and that is a proper application. The proper interpretation of the text speaks of the entire body of believers. We are ALL to work together like a physical body of different parts.
6. The Identification of Our True Enemy
“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:11–12)
We have a vicious, wicked, aggressive enemy! We are in a war against Satan. The battlefield of this war (for now) is his territory. None of us are called to be “Rambos” for God—single-handedly defeating an entire brigade of enemy combatants. We are soldiers in the army of the Lord. Soldiers work together, focused on an enemy. Let us not only stand together—let us charge together against the Devil.
7. The Reality That the Only Kingdom We Are to Build Is God’s
We must be mindful that “the best of men are men at best.” All of us have a major besetting sin—pride. Those who lead are especially susceptible to pride. The adulation that Paul and Apollos felt would have been a great temptation to have prideful attitudes toward the other. Each man had a following of supporters. It is a natural temptation to build my kingdom by tearing down your kingdom. We must be careful to clarify to ourselves and to our followers the principle from 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
I am not suggesting nor advocating that we or our churches join anything or make any long-term partnerships. I am certainly not suggesting that you compromise your biblical convictions. The reality is that you may not be comfortable to participate in every “work-together” effort.
What I am suggesting is this: because the Bible teaches us that we should work together, let’s look for and find some opportunities to work together for God’s glory. We can work in cooperation on specific projects and special events.
Our church (Maranatha Baptist Church) is excited and encouraged to be working together with several other churches to plant a church in Athens, Ohio. The new church will be planted this fall (October, 2011). Some wonderful benefits of this effort are becoming evident in my own church even though this project has not happened yet.
I truly believe that the cause of Christ, the message of salvation, and the kingdom of God will be advanced because of the working together of different churches and pastors.
May God deliver us from the vanity of our carnal nature and let us, together, lift the blood stained banner of the Cross high, for all the world to see. As independent Baptists working together we can accomplish so much more for God than we can ever do toiling in isolation.