I knew there was a “Back to Rome” movement but it seems there is a “Back to Nashville” movement among Independent Baptists! However, I’m not going. I’d rather fight than switch. I don’t understand what’s so attractive about Nashville.
A few years ago, some high profile Independent Baptist Churches rejoined the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) after decades of being independent such as First Baptist in Fort Worth, Highland Park Baptist in Chattanooga and others. While a dog returning to devour its vomit is too strong a metaphor in this situation, some of us who paid the price to leave liberal denominations can see a similarity.
I was shocked to read a few months ago that the 81-year-old High Street Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri where I have preached over the years had joined the Missouri and national (SBC)! High Street Baptist is the flagship church of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International (BBFI), and has long been a stout voice for Fundamentalism, strong Bible teaching, sending missionaries worldwide, and starting Baptist churches. The BBFI is the largest group of independent Baptists in the world.
I have also been shocked by the absence of angry Fundamentalists in the streets of Springfield carrying pitchforks, torches, and tar and feathers. Me thinks the likes of J. Frank Norris, Bill Dowell, Noel Smith, Beauchamp Vick, John Rawlings and others are looking over the parapets of Heaven asking, “What on earth is going on?” What’s going on is the capitulation of Independent Baptists to denominationalism and a repudiation of the great exodus of the mid-1900s from compromising churches. Maybe there will even be a national apology tour by some of the BBFI leaders for being so “divisive.”
The SBC is the largest “protestant” denomination in America and has had a reputation for strong Bible teaching for 170 years! While one does not consider the other an enemy, each group has gone its own way, often overlapping. I have preached in a few SBC churches, but I never entertained the idea of joining an SBC church. And now the leading church in the BBFI has joined the SBC! Maybe the infamous location in the netherworld has not frozen over but surely pigs have learned to fly!
High Street Baptist is pastored by Eddie Lyons who has served there 15 years. He described the BBFI as a “very loose network of independent Baptist churches” of which he is the international president. Speaking of the SBC, the pastor told the media “We have the same heart, the same calling.” He added, “When the Southern Baptist Convention overall took their conservative move, it was very clear that there was no difference between us,” he said. “Fundamentally, the Southern Baptist Convention articulates and represents a very strong position with regard to our core theologies.” The good pastor is wrong for there is a vast difference.
Of course, while any Independent Baptist Church can do whatever it wants and does not answer to anyone outside its membership, the pastor was not exactly candid. A few years ago, the SBC shocked everyone when it was able to take back the convention from liberals. They were successful in taking back their main seminaries but they hardly made an impact on their colleges that are still controlled by theological leftists.
In 2000, 1900 churches left the SBC and formed their own liberal Cooperative Baptist Fellowship with the help of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The SBC also departed from the very liberal Baptist World Alliance in 2004 which was very commendable. But the denomination still had major problems.
Independent Baptist Charles Spurgeon was first concerned about the false teaching in the Baptist Union (in England) in the 1870s. When no one seemed to listen to him (and he was pastor of the largest and most influential church) and the error continued, he resigned from the group in 1887. He wrote, “As soon as I saw, or thought I saw, that error had become firmly established, I did not deliberate, but quitted the body at once.” He said in 1888 “Since [my own resignation] my one counsel has been ‘Come out from among them.’”
When he was told that he would lose income by leaving, he replied, “I can afford to be poor, but I cannot afford to injure my conscience.” Spurgeon “came out” and modern-day Independent Baptists are “going back” into denominationalism!
The issue of ethics arises in this matter. When a pastor accepts a call to a church, he knows what he is getting into and the members know what they are getting. Whenever that is not true then someone is a fool. When a pastor changes his mind about important biblical issues that are totally opposite what he has been teaching the church and what the church has always believed, then he must take a principled stand for what he has come to believe–and resign.
If a pastor comes to believe in Roman Catholicism or Greek Orthodoxy or liberalism and refuses to inform his church of his “conversion,” he becomes an unprincipled scoundrel when he accepts a salary from his church. Furthermore, if he insists on staying as pastor and continues to teach what the church considers a grievous error, he is also an unprincipled scoundrel. And the membership that hired him should take another step and fire him.
Many times a Baptist pastor has become convinced that speaking in tongues has not ceased as I Cor. 13:8 informs us– “whether there be tongues, they shall cease.” The Baptist pastor slowly (and sometimes quickly) turns the traditional Baptist Church into a Pentecostal Church. He does what he honestly thinks is right but he becomes a poster child for dishonesty and poor ethics.
“Ah,” one says, “but what if a Pentecostal pastor becomes convinced that Baptist doctrine is the correct interruption of Scripture and turns the Pentecostal Church into a Baptist Church? That pastor is now right in his doctrine but has a wrong address. He should resign.
So, all these Independent Baptist pastors who feel an irresistible urge toward Nashville should confess their compromise and resign their churches.
I must not be misunderstood. I do not consider SBC pastors (or laymen) my enemies. Some of my oldest friends and family members are SBC pastors and laymen. Some have been more faithful to Christ than I have been. Some have been more effective. Some have served Christ longer than I have. Each person must answer for himself why he is in the SBC or any denomination.
I must hasten to add that only God knows what keeps people in a particular church or denomination. It could be family, money, status, jobs, friends, etc. Furthermore, only God knows how some are wrestling with that decision at this moment. When I first heard as a teen about the corruption in the American Baptist Convention, it took me a few months to decide to leave the very good church of which I was a member. I lost all my close friends except one. It was devastating to me so I can empathize and sympathize with those struggling in denominational churches. Moreover, some are not struggling, being completely satisfied. I could not be satisfied with any denominational membership for many reasons.
I would never join a denominational church because New Testament churches were not connected to a denomination. All churches, true to the Bible, must be totally independent of all others and totally dependent upon God. That does not mean church leaders cannot fellowship or even cooperate in some meetings such as youth rallies, church camps, etc. In fact, independent churches have always been a financial help in starting other independent churches.
I would not be a member of a SBC church because, while they have made some progress in recent years, their schools are still corrupt. Their much-touted missions program is incredibly impersonal with most SBC members knowing the name of one foreign missionary—Lottie Moon, a very committed, brilliant lady who died in 1912!
My former church in Chattanooga, (a huge flagship church of many Independent Baptists in the south) joined the SBC. Also in Chattanooga is Abba’s House (formerly, Central Baptist Church) whose members speak in tongues, a problem rampant throughout SBC churches across the nation. A major problem in the SBC is the hundreds of women preachers and another big problem is the exploding growth of reformed theology among the clergy and seminary professors. I choose not to be linked, even loosely, to unbelief or compromise.
One of the most outrageous positions taken by the SBC is their support of a Muslim mosque in New Jersey that was denied permission to build by a local planning board. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC has partnered with about twenty other “civil rights” groups in supporting the building of the mosque based on religious freedom. (More about that issue in a later column.)
The SBC has been dying as the liberal denominations have for decades. The trend is empty pews and empty offering plates and that can’t continue before some changes must be made. Rather than lament their loss of members and fewer baptisms at their annual convention, they decided to act.
Note the timeline: on April 7, 2015, Baptist Press headlined, “Floyd: Recruit churches to SBC’s ‘exciting work’” and the next month, Ronnie Floyd, (President of the SBC) preached at BBFI in Springfield! Then, in February, 2017, Lyons led High Street into the SBC. Others will follow like sheep.
The SBC decided to “evangelize” the Independent Baptist groups! It worked with the BBFI and others such as Grace Ministries network, Harvest Bible Fellowship network, now announcing as being “now SBC” also.
Some would say that all’s fair in love and war and now church building; however, while SBC churches are not specializing in winning sheep, they are stealing sheep–by the sheepfold!
Me? Well, I’ll stay where I am–as independent as a hog on ice!