Monday, April 27, 2015

An Honest Basic Assessment of Independent Baptists, pt. 1

The best shortest designation of me, that would distinguish me more clearly than any other short description with words that the most people could understand, is probably "independent Baptist" (I noticed Wikipedia uses this terminology).  However, even as I say that, I prefer to be called an "unaffiliated Baptist," because I don't think "independent Baptist" still identifies well enough, primarily because I don't think that most independent Baptist churches are really independent.  They just say they are, but they function within a system that is almost as denominational as the Southern Baptist Convention, and that is most independent Baptists.  It wasn't until recently that I had heard the label, unaffiliated Baptist, and maybe it won't last.  If "independent Baptist" can't work anymore, then we might just be running out of words to use, or maybe add a really, "really unaffiliated Baptist."

Most independent Baptists are probably also fundamentalists, so the typical acronym is IFB, independent fundamental Baptist.  I reject being called an IFB, since I don't think I'm a fundamentalist, but I think there are those who don't mind that label, and will even still put it on their sign or in their advertisements.  I don't think there is a need to add the "F," because if you're independent Baptist, most people will think you're a fundamentalist anyway, even if, like me, you don't wish to be known as one.

Among those who might claim to be independent Baptist, you've got the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC), who are a part of an organized association that says each member retains independency.  Most of the other independent Baptists don't think the GARBC is independent.  I've never thought of GARBC churches as being independent. They joined an association and those two terms -- independent and association -- contradict each other in my mind. You can't be both, so I will leave the GARBC out of the discussion.

Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF) churches also consider themselves to be independent, but I would direct you to the previous paragraph.  Many others in addition to me consider these "Fellowship" churches not to be independent.  Similar to the BBF, but different, is the ABA, the American Baptist Association that is ditto on thinking they're independent churches, and yet not being truly independent.

In my mind, there are two general types of independent Baptist churches:  the revivalist and Bob Jones.  Almost all independent Baptist churches are either revivalist or Bob Jones.  I know that there is overlap or blurred edges sometimes between the two groups.  Some churches are both revivalist and Bob Jones.  Maybe those could make up a whole other third category, but still you can slot into the two general categories as to what primarily characterizes those independent Baptist churches.

The Bob Jones wing of independent Baptists probably wants to be known as historic fundamentalists, instead of the Bob Jones wing.  This group has several splinters mainly associated with colleges and seminaries.  For instance, you have the actual Bob Jones University graduates and then you have those who graduated from what I call orbiting schools, like Maranatha, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, the former Calvary Baptist in Lansdale, International Baptist College, Clearwater Christian College, Virginia Beach Theological Seminary, and Central Baptist Theological Seminary.  Parallel to the aforementioned institutions is the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship (FBF), which declares itself to be only a fellowship of pastors and not churches.

Among the revivalist independent Baptists, there are several divisions too.  You have what many call the "Hyles churches."  That is still a very large group.  There is the "Sword of the Lord" crowd.  Today you have those strongly affiliated with Clarence Sexton, Crown College, and the Baptist Friends network.  You've got those now most closely tied to Paul Chappell and West Coast Baptist College.  You have some most characterized by their association with Pensacola Christian College.  Baptist College of Ministry and Falls Baptist Church has its own group, as are those churches most closely united to Fairhaven Baptist Church and College.  You have some that are very unique, like the Ruckmanites, who identify with the teachings of Peter Ruckman.  

Some FBF men are also revivalists.  The type of folks who represent an overlap or the edges of the revivalists and the Bob Jones folks are those like the graduates of Ambassador Baptist College.   They are revivalists who operate within the orbit of the Bob Jones crowd. There may be others, whom I haven't met and don't know about, who are a bit of hybrid of the two above groups, and yet still call themselves independent Baptists.  Someone who isn't an unaffiliated, but I don't see him as either of the above categories is Lance Ketchum and his Midwest Independent Baptist Pastors' Fellowship.  Those pastors might send their young people to independent Baptist fundamentalist colleges, either revivalist or Bob Jones, but not endorse the college.

What stands out as qualifying unaffiliated Baptists most from independent ones is the lack of the former in involvement with mission boards.  The most denominational aspect of the independent Baptists is their cooperation within the boards.  Unaffiliated Baptists don't use mission boards.

More to Come


Jeff Voegtlin said...

It appears that most of this is laying a groundwork for later post(s). I am interested in reading your development of the mission board involvement. It does seem to be one of the "stand out" distinguishing marks.

One other thing strikes my humor...It seems like Unaffiliated Baptists will only associate or cooperate financially with other Unaffiliated Baptists. Does that mean they are Affiliated by their commitment to Unaffiliatedness?

I hope you know I'm not trying to be snarky. But it is a God-given characteristic to want fellowship with other people. -- Good Christians/churches will set up some boundaries to protect themselves from error....and whalaaah! We have another denomination/convention/association/fellowship/conference/affiliation.... even now an Unaffiliation.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this basic reality of human interaction.

Terry Basham, II said...

Independent vs Autonomy.

Independent Baptist's (imho) really mean autonomy when they say independent. Meaning independent of outside control or oversight.

Independent vs Unaffiliated.

It doesn't matter what one calls himself, because it is our critics who name us. ie - baptists are called baptists because of our enemies...

Bob Jones or Revivalist

Bob Jones: formal music and calmer preaching?

Revivalist: country and western style emotionalism and wild man preaching?

Michael S. Alford said...

Even though I agree with the 'family tree' you are laying out, it makes my head hurt to try to keep track of it all. We certainly specialize in division sometimes, don't we?

Kent Brandenburg said...


I'm saying the boards belie claimed independence. I believe in independence though.

The unaffiliateds, I've noticed, supporting non-unaffiliateds, but some won't support, for instance, someone who practices close communion. On the other hand, they'll take support from those who practice close, not closed, communion -- taking the money fine, giving the money, not fine. This needs to be explored. You are right. I'm just getting started.

I think we lay out fellowship, unity, and separation in our book, A Pure Church. People should get it. It's not just about separation, but about unity. We have huge segments about fellowship and unity, laying them out scripturally. Have you read that book yet? (not getting on your case)

Kent Brandenburg said...


Autonomy of the church. It seems all Baptists claim that. However, are they autonomous in a Convention? At least, scripturally autonomous. Boards provide outside oversight.

When I talk about these labels, it is to think about it. What do we mean? The labels themselves though, true, don't matter so much.

I think there is more to being BJ versus revivalist. When I start thinking about it, it seems like a whole book, but I'm going to keep it to blogposts. I do think about music and preaching style as distinct between the two though. You probably know there is more to it than that.

Kent Brandenburg said...


For true unity to occur, we have to have division. Think about the word, community. Commune and unity. What causes unity? Sameness. You can't commune without sameness. What is the basis for sameness? The Bible. Can we accept unbiblical teaching or practice in our community and still be unified?

Farmer Brown said...

Would you mind defining revivalist?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Farmer,

I actually like Merriam Webster online for revivalism: "the spirit or methods characteristic of religious revivals"

These are people who employ measures to produce "revival." There is a history of it.

Farmer Brown said...

Not trying to be obtuse, I have never heard that term or grouping. Are these churches that have "revival meetings"? Is there something more than that?

I might sound naive, but I did not grow up in a church that did that. I attended one that did for a couple years when first married, but it was never explained.

I thought it strange that the pastor would have someone in once or twice a year to revive the church. Prior to the speaker coming be would preach a couple messages about had badly our church needed revival. I always wondered how we had fallen so far since the last revival, and what he was getting paid to do if we were always in a downward spiral.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Kent

Overall, I'd say this is a fairly accurate breakdown of the scene. I'm sure I'll find something to argue with as you go along, though!

As for the independent/autonomous point, I think that churches can be in a group and maintain autonomy if they retain title and full control of of their property and if getting out is at least as easy as getting in. One way "Fellowships" exercise control is when they start making loans to churches (for building programs usually) and suddenly you are beholden to them and can have your loan called on you if you aren't careful.

I've never seen the need for the local church to join a fellowship, however. As you know, I do see value in the personal fellowship of the FBFI.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

KJB1611 said...

I would like to point out that there is nothing inconsistent with unaffiliated Baptists affiliating together. The "unaffiliated" means that they are not part of an organized convention, association, etc. not that they never work together.

The Preacher said...

"We certainly specialize in division sometimes, don't we?"

Yep. Baptist specilize in dividing the body of Christ-- I am of Paul, I am of Apollos has no place in the body of Christ. The story of Israel is found as a great example in the book of Judges-- every man [pastor] did that which is right in their own [independent church] eyes.

The NT church as orgainized by the Holy Ghost had all churches working together.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Farmer Brown,

Revivalism produces results using means. The so-called "revival meeting" can be one, and event like that with a certain style of music and communication that causes emotionalism, but some do this about every week, said to be fueled by the power of God.

It is tied to a wrong doctrine of salvation and sanctification and then the methodology that accompanies those.

The Preacher said...

"It is tied to a wrong doctrine of salvation and sanctification and then the methodology that accompanies those."

That is why we are in a mess. As I have written, the churches need to work together and agree on biblical doctrines, sound doctrines that are passed on generation to generation by the proper understanding and wisdom as revealed in the scriptures.

These can be known as "articles of faith" under which all can agree to abide for the purpose of representing Jesus Christ as a holy bride so that the gospel of Jesus Christ can have ONE voice, the Spirit bearing witness through the body of Christ according to all that is written in the scriptures.