Dr. Bob Gray Sr. retired pastor of the Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Texas. 45 years of ministry with 33 years of pastoring. Author of 35 books and conference speaker.
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Friday, December 22, 2017
DEGREES OF SEPARATION
On December 12, I had just returned from preaching the gospel in Haiti and was standing in the security line in the Miami Airport when I received a link to Josh Teis’ recent article on The Six Degrees of Separation. I read, with interest, his observations and conclusions on Independent Fundamental Baptists and his own experiences relating to them. Josh is a pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Las Vegas, NE. He has led the church in Sin City to reach many with the gospel. For this I am grateful.
A quick online glance will reveal that Josh has a positive spirit and a spoken desire to reach many people for Christ. In the past few years, he has revealed a growing desire to influence preachers through his own Idea Day. This is a gathering of men in the ministry, both old and young, who are eager to share new ideas in current day ministry. I applaud his passion for the gospel and his passion to influence folks to be effective ministers.
However, when it comes to his ideas on separation and the view he promotes in this article, he is wrong – Biblically wrong. I do not take issue with him personally. I simply have a problem with some of his ideas. They are inaccurate, unscriptural, and worldly; and silence is no longer an option.
In this article, Josh asked, “Am I wrong?” Our answer is yes!
First, this article is factually wrong…several times over. Independent Baptists did not begin as a protest against the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1900s. They trace their history back to men like Adoniram Judson of missionary fame in the 1800s, Shubal Stearns of North Carolina in the 1700s, Roger Williams of Rhode Island, and John Bunyan of England in the 1600s. Then there is Peter Waldo of northern Italy and the Waldensians of the late 1100s through the 1500s, the Albigensians of France, the Lollards of England and the Donatists of Northern Africa. This is just to name a few! This conclusion is based upon an extremely limited understanding of our roots.
Other factual errors include his conclusion that “The Death of John R. Rice” was the beginning of division among Independent Baptists; his assumption that Independent Baptists are a Denomination; his idea that separation is punishment; and his postulation that it is a sin to refuse to unify with those who hold to aberrant and unbiblical doctrines. This list is just a portion of the plain factual errors that exist.
Second, an objective reader of the blog is left to wonder if Josh is enamored with the Southern Baptists as well as other theological compromisers and disdains Independent Baptists while trying to convey the opposite. He leaves this impression via phrases like “the rapid crumbling of the IFB” and his statement that “several vocal leaders within the SBC took exception with the idea of raising 75 million dollars” to reach the world, and his question “why is it a problem for me to have an actual Baptist Calvinist like John Piper preach in my church” and his conclusion “I relate to Criswell more than Norris,” are all indicators of a directional shift away from one position and toward another. No one is stopping him, if that is his desire, but he cannot head one way in action and claim another in word and expect folks to believe him.
Third, the straw men that emerge from this make you think you have come into a zombie scarecrow convention! Josh Teis blows them away in this virtual video game world, all the while presenting them as pictures of how things really are…when they are not. Generalizations with the first-person plural “we” leave the impression that Independent Baptists are collaborating on every decision relating to separation or any other matter. Not so. Other statements like Independent Baptists are “demanding absolute and complete agreement on every matter,” or “a man must separate himself from anyone who doesn’t completely and utterly agree with him,” or “if you happen to disagree with anyone in the family of God, about anything in the universe, you have a right and obligation to separate yourself from them as soon as possible,” or “3rd degree, 4th degree separation,” are all off base. Are there some among us who demand perfect agreement on everything?
I have been traveling for two decades preaching across the country and around the world in hundreds of Independent Baptist churches. I have found very, very, very few. Do we have strong opinions? Yes. Do we have solid Bible convictions? Yes. Do we have preferences? Of course. Yet one of our tenants as Baptists is Individual Soul Liberty (Romans 14; I Corinthians 8) and Priesthood of the Believer (Hebrews 4:16; Revelation 1:6). Both truths point to the freedom of conscience and immediate access to Heaven’s Throne so that we, individually, from the Bible, can determine what is right on questionable matters. That is the spirit of Independent Baptists I have discovered again and again.
Fourth, there is a disconnect in Josh’s thinking between doctrine and practice. He wants to appeal to the Rodney King in us all: “Why can’t we all just get along?” He mentions the importance of a theological position but undermines the importance of one’s associations. This ignores and violates Scripture. Jehu asked the good king Jehoshaphat after he allied with wicked Ahab, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD” (II Chronicles 19:2)? Associations. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20). Associations. “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go” (Proverbs 22:24). Associations. Our theological position matters so much that it affects our…associations.
Doctrine also affects our practical living. My understanding that God is holy (Isaiah 57:15) helps me to practice personal holiness (I Peter 1:16). This also impacts how we ought to behave in the house of God (I Timothy 3:15). Could this possibly confront a wrong style of music and promote a right style of music for the “house of God”? Absolutely! Does this have any bearing on pulpit attire? Of course! It will influence my spirit, my attitude, my passion, my preferences, my convictions, my behavior, and more. It also has bearing on my personal desire to be less like the world and more like Jesus Christ!
When the church looks and sounds like a nightclub, when the pastor dresses more like the neighborhood teenager seeking to be the next rock star, when Hollywood movie tickets are passed out to church visitors, when preaching is diminished to a sermonette and vested of its authority by a sermon team’s approval or disapproval of it, when Independent Baptist preachers are sitting at the feet of Rick Warren, Chuck Swindoll, T4G, and the Gospel Coalition instead of the New Testament, and when all of this is done in the name of innovation and new ideas something is dreadfully wrong! (FTR, these practices are espoused and encouraged by Josh Teis). Whatever happened to I Thessalonians 5:22 and a myriad of other Scriptures?!? Teis seems either oblivious or unwilling to make the connection between doctrine and practice.
The most egregious and offensive aspect of the article was his misrepresentation of separation. He equated it with division. Not once but again and again! This reveals a glaring ignorance of the Bible. As early as Genesis 1, God separated light from darkness. He separated his people from the Gentiles. Any high point in Israel’s history was when they were separate and distinct from the world, and any low point was when they mixed in with the world and their wicked practices. The same is true with the church of the Lord Jesus Christ! I John 2:15-17, James 4:1-10, and Romans 12:1-2 are all in order here.
When Josh took issue with Ernest Pickering’s book, Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church, he laid all the problems among Independent Baptists squarely at his feet. Huh? It seems he is pointing out a problem of politics, (following men) and division (you’re wrong if you don’t see it my way), then ignoring the real cause (the world, the flesh and the devil) and presenting a solution of…more politics (following him) and division (You’re the problem if you don’t see it my way)! This is silly at best and sinister at worst.
In the end, Josh assured us of his love for Independent Baptists and his desire to see us change and practice Biblical separation. I’m for that! The irony is that he only used two verses in the whole blog post…two…only two, and one was used to mock the biblical idea of separation! Josh, may I present to you a few others? Romans 16:17-18 instructs us to “mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” II Thessalonians 3:6-15 exhort to “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us…note that man and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.” This is referring to a lazy busybody within the church. I Corinthians 5:9, 11 warn us not to keep company or eat with fornicating, covetous, idolatrous, railing, drunkard, thieving brothers.
New Testament separation encourages purity in church endeavors, marriage, personal matters and business. It challenges a purity from sin and worldliness wherever it is found. These Bible passages couldn’t be any clearer. Josh Teis, along with others, has sadly either ignored or misunderstood these passages. A brief study of church history shows, when these truths of separation are ignored, the outcome has never been good. Never.
One of the greatest problems I have with his article is that he makes this whole matter centered around men. Much is made of men who have led us, led us astray or not led us. Little is made about the Bible and the Captain of our Salvation Jesus Christ! If the problem is men, point us to the Bible and Christ. If this was his attempt, he failed. The Independent Baptist position is not men-led or men-driven; it is a fixed point of truth. It will always be. Are there men who rise up as leaders? Yes. Are there those who willingly or inadvertently present themselves as popes? Yes! Yet the solution is not more of the same in an opposite extreme!
The solution is not pragmatic philosophy!
The solution is not an acceptance of worldliness, ecumenism, and compromise!
The proper solution is always the same. Turn back to the Bible and its Author!
There is a new generation of Independent Baptist preachers old and young who are not rising up, that has been part of our problem. They are falling down on their face, asking God to forgive us for our humanistic and worldly practices, steering their people clear of false doctrine and those who practice it, and then stepping into their pulpits and preaching, “Thus saith the Lord!” With these, I cast my lot, not the others who have traded us, are trading us, and will trade us in for another “mess of pottage!”
Dwight Smith is a Theology Without Apology Contributor and a full-time Evangelist. Over the past 20 years, Dwight has preached all around the U.S. and in numerous foreign countries. To read his full bio click here: BIO
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