Thankful to Be an Independent Baptist

Last month I attended the Ohio Independent Baptist Preacher’s Fellowship in Delaware, Ohio. I had the privilege of being one of the preachers at this meeting. It was attended by approximately ninety preachers or full-time ministry workers from across Ohio, and Kentucky. In addition, there were another 150 or so lay people in attendance. The spirit of the meeting was wonderful from beginning to end. I thoroughly enjoyed preaching and attending this meeting. It was a day well spent.

At that meeting, there was a mix of preachers—younger men who would be considered millennials all the way to men like myself, who would be considered senior citizens.

Here is my point. We are living in a time when some men are trying to divide us. Some men are repudiating their former independent Baptist identity and moving to a more non-denominational position. Some of these men are trying to influence others to join them in their departure from the independent Baptist ranks. There are other men, who I call “wild-eyed fundamentalists,” that think you are a modernist if you are not doing exactly what was done in the 1950s. Both of these groups are a bit out of balance.

There were some younger men at this meeting who see things about ministry a bit differently than I do. I am not talking about biblical doctrine, but of preferences when it comes to ministry. As an older pastor, I may not agree with their preferences or want to practice them. Yet, if it isn’t a biblical mandate, then I must give them the right to allow the Holy Spirit to direct them. We don’t have to agree on every issue to be friends and have fellowship. I want to go on record that I will use my influence and speak my mind about what I believe is the truth from the Word of God, but not everyone has to see everything just the way I do in other matters to be a friend or someone I can fellowship with.

The Bible leads to this conclusion—that every true New Testament Church has just one head. It is Jesus Christ, not me! I have the great privilege of pastoring a church, but I am just the under-shepherd, not the Chief Shepherd. My ministry among His people in His church in Cleveland is to keep them focused on Him and help them stay out of the ditches on the road of life.

Some of my closest friends in the ministry do things a bit differently than I do. Some of their music is different than the music we have at Cleveland Baptist. Their music isn’t wrong and ours right. Ours fits our church, and I believe it pleases the Saviour and honors Him. He is the One we are trying to please. One of my friends pastors a church that has a heavy Southern Gospel music influence. They are careful with it and choose appropriate songs. I have another friend who uses what I would term “High Church” music in their services. They do it well, and it is what they believe is best for their church and pleasing to the Saviour. Another friend is a bit left of us, nothing they do is distasteful, and I am sure the pastor believes it pleases the Lord. It is amazing that we can be friends and fellowship together. These men are all independent Baptists and proud to be labeled as such.

We have chosen to use video projectors and screens in our church. I have friends who don’t and perhaps will never use them. We project words to hymns and songs that we sing on the screens. We also have hymnbooks in the pews for those who desire to use them. At times, I use an over-the-ear mic rather than a lapel mic. My son, who is younger and co-pastors with me, would rather use the lapel mic. There are some that would think I am a progressive because of my choice of using these tools for ministry.

I am weary of those who try to draw the lines so narrow that unless everyone does everything just the way they do, they are labeled as the enemy or as someone who is moving in a wrong direction. There are some men who want to be “Baptist Popes” and be the one that everyone is to align with. It is childish foolishness and not the least bit biblical! We are supposed to be independent Baptists, which means that each church is autonomous (self-supporting and self-governing). When we have to measure up to some other preacher or spiritual leader, we are no longer an independent Baptist.

I am proud to identify myself as independent Baptist. I am glad to help and encourage those who are unashamed to identify as such, too! I will not bow to another man’s preferences to gain his approval. There is only One we should seek to please and from Whom we should want to hear “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” and that is the Lord!

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