As a boy we lived in a run down apartment just off of Arcadia Court in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Our school clothes were given to us by a Nuns’ clothing room of the Catholic Church from down the street. Mama would drive my two brothers and me to church in an old 1941 flat bed Ford truck. Daddy had replaced the muffler in the truck with a straight pipe and we thought it made the neatest sound. It was embarrassing to Mama, but not to us boys. We felt like we were riding in a hot rod.
Mama would park in the far back of the parking lot hoping no one would see that truck. We were all dressed in our best clothes and we never thought of ourselves as less privileged than anyone else. Mama made us feel as if no one was any better than us and we were no better than anyone else. There was a humble confidence she exuded to everyone around her.
Each Sunday morning at our American Baptist church, after Sunday school and before preaching, the pastor and deacons would go to the front porch and smoke cigarettes. After a while the older teens began to go to their cars and light up as well. One Sunday I joined a group of them. I was sitting in the back seat and a cigarette was passed around. Eventually it was handed to me. At the exact moment I was reaching for the cigarette my Mama opened the back door and snatched me by the hair on my head.
The next thing I knew mama was dragging me out of the car with one hand while using the other to hit my legs with a switch. As we passed the front of the church building where the pastor and deacons were smoking she paused and said, “Shame on you, and you, and you, and you!” Then she took me into the church building for the preaching hour. As long as we were members of that church, we never again saw the pastor and deacons smoking on the front porch of the church building.
Mama was an independent Baptist before I knew there was such a thing. As such she was also a bit of a rebel, but she had certain principles for her sons by which she wanted them to live.
Independence can be considered rebellion, but that depends on what and whom you are rebelling. If we rebel against God we are submitting to Satan. If we rebel against Satan we are submitting to God. They use to call us of the 60’s generation “Rebels without a cause!” My Mama taught me to be a “Rebel with a cause!” To rebel against wrong was right according to Mama. I did not understand it at the time, but she was teaching me to be independent.
Because of that I learned on my own how to be independent. Through the years I have encouraged my sons, as well as my sons in the ministry, to be independent as well. Now let me tell you what that means to their futures in the ministry.
1. Every Generation Must Rediscover Truths For Themselves Without Redefining Truths. Independents are by their very nature stubborn. The independence of independents can lead to strong opinions about everything under the sun, yet often it has produced the finest leaders in America. Most of the men of the past who stirred this nation for God were simple men, but strong independant men of faith. They were independent of "this world" which included their denominations. They discovered truth for themselves and did not fall in lockstep with their contemporaries.
2. Do Not Remove Yourself From The Influence Of Those In History Who Taught You Independence. When independents remove themselves from the influences that brought them their independence, they tend to become homogenized Study the history of the real independents of the past. Learn about men such as J. Frank Norris, John R. Rice, Lester Roloff, Jack Hyles, Lee Roberson, Curtis Hutson, Tom Malone’s and others who truly were independent and whose philosophies must be kept alive. These men merit our attention and study.
They personified the independence that independents must emulate. We cannot allow ourselves to become puppets to man-made organizations. That which is “Politically Correct” in religious circles in our nation, must not strangle the men of God. When I listen to the independents of the past and the “independents” of the present, I wonder if we are even close to being on the same page. Thank the Lord that is not true of all current independents, but those who criticize and attack the previous generation make themselves suspect because of their criticism. Do not allow them to influence you and lead you from that for which those men stood.
3. Do Not Judge Harshly Those Who Had To Fight In Order To Be Independent. Some criticize the "rough" sermons these men preached. They speak of how they alienated people. Some even have labeled them as legalists or claimed they lacked grace. May I remind you, that which attracts also detracts. That which detracts also attracts. Some of what I read today seem to be attempting to steer fundamentalism into cultural relevance. The greats of the past always fought their culture. Homogenization of fundamentalism into current culture is cultish in nature.
The battle to be independent and stay independent often demands that a line be drawn in the sand. When independence is given instead of won there tends to be a harsh judgment on those who won it. There was a witness of the Holy Ghost to those sermons of these men. Their's was not just ramblings with no content. They were solid Bible messages that drew a line.
Be fair to the men who articulated strong fundamentals and gave us our heritage. Learn from those whom God used to build great soul-winning churches with great Sunday schools in spite of what bothers others about them. Please overlook their brashness, for they are nothing more than “a chip off the old block” of those who preceded them. They fought for their freedom and that is why they were so outspoken. Those who have never had to fight for their independance know little of what it takes to become independent.
4. Those Who Will Carry On Fundamentalism Will Of Necessity Be Independent And A Remnant. There will be hundreds of independents who will be forced to fight for their independance. They, like these I've mentioned of the past, will learn there is a price to be paid for not following the crowd. There must be a new generation of maverick preachers who will be forced to fight to maintain their independence from modern cultural influences. Those who succeed will not turn on their mentors, but add to what they did.
Every generation must fight their own battles just as our mentors did. If you are wise, you will build on what you have been given. What I have called "the greatest generation of independents" was purchased at a high price. God blessed the church in Longview, where my children grew up, because she was built on the previous generations' sacrifice. Carry on my sons, my sons in the ministry, and be independent of cultural and denominational influences.