When I write "unaffiliated," do I mean "independent"? I could answer "yes," but I would know that was a wrong answer. Before our church became unaffiliated, it was an independent Baptist church. At that time, we could probably also be characterized as an independent, fundamental Baptist church. I knew we were not truly independent. I realized that very early on. Churches that called themselves independent were not independent. I didn't know of one independent Baptist church that was actually independent. Those churches are still called "independent," but they aren't independent.
"Unaffiliated" is a title, but it also means something to me if I were to see that label. What characterizes unaffiliated Baptists truly, as I see it, is that they are churches that fellowship with other churches of like faith and practice alone. That's what "unaffiliated" means. When I say "fellowship," I mean it in a technical sense, a biblical sense, as cooperation. Our church cooperates only with churches, and only with churches of like faith and practice. How can a church do that?
Unaffiliated churches do not cooperate with mission board missionaries. They do not cooperate with mission boards. Independent Baptist churches are independent in a sense. They are not in a convention or association of churches. However, independent Baptist churches, I've noticed, still cooperate at least with mission boards, most often with parachurch Bible colleges or universities, and then with parachurch Christian camps. Those associations disallow them to fellowship with churches of like faith and practice alone.
I could break down for you the problems of mission board and these parachurch organizations, as well-intentioned as they might be, but that is not the primary purpose of this post. For all the readers to understand what I was writing, they had to know what an unaffiliated Baptist church was, compared to an independent Baptist church. One huge breath of fresh air, I had and have thought and witnessed about being unaffiliated, has been the absence of Baptist or fundamentalist politics too.
In addition, I'm also not talking about what I believe it means to be a Baptist. I'm glad to talk about that, but it isn't what I'm writing about here. In short, however, I see being Baptist to mean, distinguished by the marks of a historically biblical church.
With everything that I have written so far, I would still only be an unaffiliated Baptist church. It is still the only designation and practice for obedience to all of scripture. However, just because one church calls itself unaffiliated doesn't mean that our church will cooperate with it. In my travels, I have noticed that sometimes the unaffiliated Baptist church is not the best church to visit or even be a member in a given area. Unaffiliated Baptist churches I have begun to notice some problems that are a concern to me. Even with saying that, our church could only be an unaffiliated Baptist church and our church could only fellowship with other unaffiliated Baptist churches.
I've noticed four ways that unaffiliated Baptist churches cooperate. I'm open to the possibility that there are more than four occurring. One, an unaffiliated Baptist church will send out a missionary, and other unaffiliated Baptist churches will cooperate by sending support to the sending church in order to financially support that missionary. That's the main one. Two, unaffiliated Baptist churches might do a project together, such as publish a book or a paper. Three, unaffiliated Baptist church pastors will preach for each other, and something related to that is the unaffiliated preacher conference. Individual unaffiliated Baptist churches invite in other unaffiliated Baptist pastors to preach for what is called a "preaching conference." Four, an unaffiliated Baptist church will invite certain other unaffiliated Baptist churches to cooperate in a camp or retreat.
With quite some time now, maybe about fifteen years, to assess unaffiliated Baptist churches, I have some criticisms. I'm going to use this post and perhaps one other to list what I see to be the problems for unaffiliated Baptist churches.
What bothers me most right now about unaffiliated Baptist churches in general is what I see as an unsound list of primary distinguishing factors for unaffiliated Baptist churches. I would love to be disabused of this perception. However, I believe what I'm writing is true, while attempting not to broadbrush completely. Let me explain.
Like perhaps every other unaffiliated Baptist church, our church practices closed communion, is local only in ecclesiology, and uses the King James Version of the English Bible. Maybe one other characteristic might be added to these three, but that one might be conservative dress standards. It seems that if an unaffiliated Baptist church is marked by these three or four qualities, it passes as very acceptable to most unaffiliated Baptist churches. Those four factors might be common, but they should not be the most notable distinctions at the shortcoming of other more significant ones.
If a man preaches out of the King James Version, but he messes up most of what it says, that should be unacceptable. What I'm saying is that your preaching should be what the King James Version actually says, not just be out of the KJV. If a man preaches out of the King James Version, but he does not preach what the King James Version says, then it really doesn't matter what version of the Bible he uses. He's messed up every possible version he could use. Merely using the King James Version of the Bible should not insulate a man from rejection. I'll leave this criticism right there, but I could say it in a much harsher way.
As I write these criticisms, please feel free, other unaffiliated Baptist pastors, to criticize me and what our church and I do. Please write or call me if you have concerns. All of us need to consider what is happening in our churches.
More to Come