Schizophrenia is defined as a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements. Its presence brings pain not only to the afflicted person but to those who love that person. At times the person they love is reasonable and delightful. At other times the person they love is malicious and delusional. It is almost like two radically different persons are to be found inhabiting the same body. No one knows which one will take precedence at any given moment – Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.
For over forty years I have been an independent Baptist. I have attended independent Baptist schools and colleges. I have read independent Baptist periodicals. I have held membership in independent Baptist churches. I have read independent Baptist books. I have attended independent Baptist conferences. I was raised in an independent Baptist home. My father is an independent Baptist pastor. For almost twenty years I have pastored independent Baptist churches. Increasingly over the last ten years I have felt like the family member of a schizophrenic individual.
I love the independent Baptist movement. It has a rich history, a wide impact, and tremendous strengths. Where it came from, where it is at, and where it is going are dear to me. At the same time I am driven to confess that there are aspects of the independent Baptist world that I loathe. It has a checkered past, a splintered present, and deep flaws. It is characterized by the coexistence of contradictory and incompatible elements. In short, it is schizophrenic.
I have been driven to write this book out of that love and loathing. On the one hand, I see much of what is right and good being abandoned in a pell mell rush out of the ditch on one side of the road into the ditch on the other. Many of my peers in ministry and in the generation behind mine see the same errors I see but have entirely overreacted to them. In so doing they have discarded much that is wise and good and right. This borderline hysterical stampede to the left will result in even deeper flaws in the succeeding generations if their course is not corrected. At the same time many of my peers and those largely in the generations preceding mine have dug in their heels. They refuse to openly acknowledge few if any flaws. They cling with tenacity to questionable and unscriptural practices. With borderline bitterness they view the alarm of others as treasonous, disrespectful, and dangerous. This dogged insistence on an unquestioning followship has fractured our movement and if it is continued it will result in the complete frittering away of what I genuinely believe is the world’s last best hope for a real, warm, orthodox, committed, holy Christianity.
Please do not misunderstand me. I do not believe my book will fix everything. I do not even believe my book will be right about everything. As God knows my heart I have worked diligently to ensure that I am correct in both position and spirit but I labor under no illusions. I am exceedingly human. God did not give me all the light. I still see through a glass darkly. Consequently, I am wrong about something. But though the words you are about to read of mine are not infallible I still offer them to you. I am driven to do so out of a belief that they are right, that they are necessary, and that they are helpful.
I fear that some may see this book as an attempt by me to set myself up as the judge of fundamentalism. I have no such desire. Each Baptist who reads this book will answer to God alone. I have been called to pastor one church and it is not your church. I deeply believe in individual soul liberty and I do not think any Baptist wants me as pope. At the same time, though I will not answer for any other independent Baptist, I love each and every one. With this book I am simply the concerned family member who sees a dangerous schizophrenia developing and wants to do his best to help to cure the afflictions that beset us.
There may be some as well who will simply take my words as the ranting of an ignorant critic. I have sought to balance this by including equal parts encouragement and admonishment. I am for just as much if not more in the independent Baptist movement as I am against. I truly hope this book reflects that. I realize in so doing I run the risk of being the soldier during the American Civil War who wore gray pants and a blue shirt. He did not bring unity; he was simply shot at by both sides. But from whichever side you hail, from whatever perspective, if you are my brother in Christ I love you and I want what is best for you, for me, for the next generation, for the lost world, and for the Lord. If you choose to shoot at me for something I have said here or for the very fact of daring to write this book I hope I can receive it with a peaceful spirit. After all, you may be right and the Lord may use you to teach me something I need to learn. You may be the instrument of my growth in grace. I hope in some small measure to be yours.
I have divided this book into three sections. The first will discuss what I believe are the strengths of the independent Baptist movement historically and currently. The second will cover the opposite. I will delve into the weaknesses, where they come from and where they will take us if they are not corrected. The third section is my humble opinion as to the cures for what ails us.
I hope you will read this book with an open mind. I hope you will consider the experience, perspective, and spirit with which I write. I hope you will look past the personalities and look at the actual issues. I hope you will be encouraged to hold fast to that which is good. At the same time I hope you will examine your positions. I hope you will hold them up to the light of Scripture. I hope you will consider again their impact on both the present and the future. There will continue to be disagreement and division until we stand together before Him at His return but I hope this book will in some small way strengthen that which remains.