Being independent relates to separation from error. Being Baptist relates to a position on the Bible.
With that being said, there are variations between independent Baptists. There are reasons why not all independent Baptists agree with one another -- doctrinal and practical differences. The more they agree, the more they get along. It's normally like that with all human beings too.
Some people say differences are minor between independent Baptists and should be ignored. That is a different subject than what I'm writing on, but anyone who has read me will know that I believe unity to be about the truth. Truth is the only right basis for unity. We are not unifying by ignoring truth. We might call it unity, but it isn't unity. We should be most concerned about what God thinks, which is what God said in His Word. To elevate the church or individual who ignores the most truth in order to get along with one another isn't better than unifying and separating over the truth. Someone who looks for unity or fellowship based upon the truth is the person who really does want unity.
It is wrong too to separate in an unscriptural way on a non-biblical issue. A lot in the Bible tells us that we should not be creating unnecessary factions and attempting to cause disunity. However, it is also wrong to unify with someone who will not believe or obey the truth. When I say the latter, I mean the belief of and obedience to specific truths of scripture. God gives liberty on non-scriptural issues, not scriptural ones, and that includes, of course, the application of Bible truths, not just their interpretation.
I am saying that independent Baptists are the most consistently aligned with the teaching and practice of the Bible. At the same time, I believe there is more wrong than ever with independent Baptists. There is so much wrong that I understand men looking for a different name or designation of themselves. They don't want to associate with what they think that independent Baptist has come to mean.
Some of the new, alternative names or titles, other than independent Baptist, don't do anything actually helpful from my perspective. As an illustration, I was looking at the line-up of speakers at what has advertised itself as a big "independent Baptist" get-together in Arizona next year in March, and one was someone I had not heard of, so I looked him up online and found that he has lead a new church launch in Salt Lake City, and has chosen the name "Gospel Grace Church." There isn't anything wrong with that name. Just because it has that name, should we assume that it represents the gospel and grace? I would hope so. What it says to me though is broad and inclusive and indistinct, welcoming people of varied doctrinal and practical differences. I see the naming as a business strategy, the production of label that will work better in marketing, which is crucial for church growth. In other words, it distinguishes itself by its lack of distinction. It doesn't want to be too distinct. It's leader and his team are also going for that same feel with their website and presentation and music.
If the grace of God is really what changes us, we don't need new measures to change people. The gospel will be good enough, but it seems that churches today often think that a kind of visual ecumenism will work better than distinction, at least at attracting an initial group of people who are turned off by distinctions. Will people looking for a lack of distinction finally turn to something distinct, which is what God's grace actually does do and what the gospel does? It won't based on a lie, so it is better to tell the truth up front about who we are and then let God's grace work. People shouldn't be ashamed of being a Baptist for instance, which speaks of the genuine history of Christianity. If we are trusting God's grace, we know that the name Baptist won't stop someone from denying himself, taking up His cross, to follow Christ.
My main point in writing this series hasn't been to discuss why to be an independent Baptist, but I thought that part of the assessment should be positive. I am writing to assess what's wrong with independent Baptists mainly because I am positive about them. I don't want them to dwindle. Everything that is wrong is a departure from scripture and the first and most damaging to independent Baptists in my assessment is....
PERVERSION OF THE GOSPEL
As much as anything, independent Baptists should be distinguished by the gospel. The gospel is what makes true churches. People believe the gospel and become a church. If people don't believe a true gospel, they won't become a church. Perversion of the gospel by independent Baptist churches results in less converts in the church. Even though these churches have the name and the designation, they don't represent the Lord Jesus Christ, when they corrupt the gospel. These churches are being destroyed by this.
Most of the revivalist churches have perverted the gospel and this has been a long time coming. I don't think that most of these churches intended to twist and change the gospel. However, under the influence of theological movements and pragmatic church growth philosophy, most of these churches now preach a perverted gospel.
Corruptions of the gospel have spread all over evangelicalism and fundamentalism. This is not just relegated to independent Baptists. Many evangelicals and fundamentalists, besides independent Baptist ones have been influenced by the same wrong teachers and teaching and church growth pragmatism.
I'll talk more about this in the next post.