Monday, January 14, 2019

What They Are Not: The Enemy

Neo-independent Baptists 2

Note: This is the second in a series of posts addressing the neo-independent Baptist movement. Today's post is by me, Tom Brennan. I am 45, a 1995 graduate of Hyles-Anderson College, and I pastor the Maplewood Bible Baptist Church in Chicago.


1468320529In any serious theological disagreement – and make no mistake, this is one – several things must be kept ever in mind, foremost among these the necessity of relying upon Scripture as our authority. Then, too, it is also helpful to do your best to keep your emotions in check, to think and argue from the intellect to the emotions to the will in that order. In addition to these two, I would add that it is necessary to be able to accurately separate friend from foe. Treating a man or a group as the enemy when in fact they are not and vice versa has historically brought great damage to the cause of Christ. I do not want to make that mistake with this blog series, ergo, my post today.

Jude tells us to earnestly contend for the faith. As I understand the last two words of that phrase, “the faith” implies the sum and substance of the body of doctrines taught in the Word of God which we are supposed to believe. Primarily, these are understood in our day as the fundamentals of the faith (notice those last two words) – the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, and the doctrines the Bible teaches about Jesus. Included in the latter would be such things as the eternal preexistence and divinity of Christ, the incarnation, the virgin birth, the sinless life, actual miracles, the atoning death, a literal resurrection, the Second Coming, and salvation by grace through faith. It is these which are critically vital to humanity’s eternal welfare. To quote from my book, Schizophrenic, “Beyond that, as an independent Baptist, I hold to other doctrines that I think the Bible clearly teaches and that are also important. But at the bare minimum, the man who holds [these doctrines] is my brother in Christ. We shall share Heaven someday. He is not my enemy though I may differ with him on a veritable plethora of other things. He is an orthodox Christian, not in a denominational sense, but in a doctrinal sense.”

Josh Teis
To put it plainly, Josh Teis and the movement he represents and leads is not my enemy. If Jesus tarry His coming we will both die someday, and stand in front of God looking to hear, Well done, thou good and faithful servant. While the tale of our lives is not yet told it is reasonable to expect that both of us will hear that. My brother pastor across town who is morphing his traditional independent Baptist church into something he thinks is new and better will walk the same golden streets as me, will eat the same twelve fruits from the tree of life as me, and will kneel in humble adoration with me as we together cast our crowns at His feet. He, they, you even, depending who is reading this, are not my enemy; you are my brother. The devil and his false prophets are my enemy.

Not only are such men not the enemy I further freely admit that there is much to like about them. On a personal level, they are neither remote nor arrogant. They are friendly, approachable, and often humble. They are just as willing to listen as they are to speak. Like many younger men in the independent Baptist orbit, they have seen the damage wreaked upon families by men of previous generations who were more married to God’s bride than their own bride, more conscious of God’s children than their own children. Josh Teis himself leads in this, and I love him for it. Where I find him I find his wife, giving, ministering, loving, and laboring together, and to all appearances they both have prioritized loving and leading their children. On the ministry side, I find a commitment to an accurate knowledge of history and theology. Additionally, I sense in them a heart that beats in tandem with the great heart of God. I see a passion for souls, an overriding urge that drives them to reach as many people with the Gospel as they possibly can while there is yet time. Would to God these things would be contagious indeed.

confused-faceI can hear some of you now, muttering to yourselves as you scroll through this blog post on your phone. “Tom, you have made a good case. The men you are criticizing are not your enemy, indeed, you even admire them in many respects. Then why in the world are you launching blog salvos at them then? Why are you stirring up all of this fuss? We are brethren, and you are bringing division where there ought to be unity.”

Peter and Paul were brothers too. They shared the same heritage, the same doctrine, the same faith. They were co-laborers, serving God with great ability, sincerity, and devotion. Yet Scripture records, But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. Brothers? Yes. Enemies? Not even. Yet Paul deemed it necessary not just to remonstrate with Peter but to do so forcefully – withstood him to the face – and publicly – I said unto Peter before them all. Why? Because other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away. See, the problem does not lie just in the disagreements I may or may not have with what another brother in Christ does in his church. It is in the influence that is spreading out from those men, seeping into church after church, creeping up the walls like a rising flood tide that will eventually carry all before it.

The movement Josh Teis is forming around himself and other likeminded men holds the potential to carry away a tremendous number of solid men and strong churches, weakening them in a wide variety of ways just as the storm clouds on the American horizon grow bigger. As Pete Folger argued last week, “I feel compelled to warn those who are being influenced by these men and many others that there are serious dangers involved with the neo-independent Baptist movement. In the short time I’ve followed those who are part of this growing group I have witnessed radical change. From things as innocent as a more casual “look” for those leading from the platform to more serious concerns like fully embracing contemporary Christian music and abandoning positions on Bible versions, and the ecumenical movement, these changes have been rapid, concerning and lead me to believe that greater change is on the horizon.” It is not about just where the neo-independent Baptist movement is at; it is about where it is going, the speed at which it is heading there, and the numbers of God’s people it is taking with it. This is why this is not some little disagreement that can be expressed in private between two men in an exchange of letters or phone calls. It is vital to our future, and to the future of what I genuinely believe is the last, best hope for New Testament Christianity in America, the independent Baptist movement.

Saints Peter and Paul by
Guido Reni, c 1625
It is a conversation that is not only worth having, it is one that must be had. The consequences of a departure from our traditional approach to church and ministry must be examined and weighed. To fail in this is to fail in our responsibility to each other, to the truth, to future generations, and to the very God at Whose feet we will bow on that great day. So let us have the conversation in grace and charity, respecting and appreciating one another, but by all means, let us have it.

Like many of you, I attended a small Christian school that did not have much in the way of a sports program. We did, however, have a basketball team, one I was passionate about. For five years I started for that team, the bulk of that time as point guard. We were terrible when we started. The very first game our team ever played we lost 62-15 and it was not even as close as the score indicates. For years we struggled, mired at the bottom of the standings, like the Cubs, perennially the doormat of the National League. But as we matured in age and athletic ability, and we continued to play together something happened. We got good, or at least as good as a small Christian school with limited resources could get. And as we improved we discovered all the motivation necessary to work even harder at it, to get up at dawn to head to the courts at the park in the summer, to shoot foul shots until it was too dark to see, to dribble and pass and box out and run past the point of exhaustion.

My junior year of high school we made a run at the championship. We did not have the tallest or the strongest or the deepest team in the league, but we had experience, will, and a great desire to win. We did not capture that championship, but we gave it everything we had. We left it all on the court. We came <fingers pinched together> this close.

As the point guard of that almost championship team it was my responsibility to be a leader on the floor. I had to anticipate the mistakes of the other team and exploit them. By the same token, I had to envision our own flaws and do all I could to adjust for them. And the earlier I could spot those the better off we would be. I needed to see more than just my man or just this minute of the game. I had to see its flow, where it came from, and where it was going next. In Old Testament parlance, I was responsible to be one of the men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do. (I Chronicles 12.32) Often that involved paying attention to things days and weeks before the actual game, not only studying our opponents, but studying my own team. Where were we weak? Had our passing gotten sloppy? Were we reaching in on defense? Shooting too many threes? Parking in the lane for more than three seconds? Putting it all on our star player? In other words, I was to practice discernment.

When I saw something I said something. I did not yell, well, not much. <grin> Or at least I did not start by yelling. I started by bringing it up, and asking them to think about what playing sloppy like that against a good team would produce in the score at the end of the game. I was not attacking my team mates. I was pointing out errant actions that would result in damage for our team when we did face the enemy.

I use the word “beloved” a lot in my writing. I do it purposely, because Bible writers used it and because it keeps my heart right toward my readers. In using it here I am not trying to manipulate you; I am seeking to edify you. Beloved, I simply want to see our team do well, in the eyes 3d small people - teamof God and in the lives of a desperately needy humanity. There is no long-term good to be gained by heading down the now well-worn path of the contemporary movement, no good and much grief.

Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?

Monday, January 7, 2019

Why It Matters

Neo-independent Baptists 1

Note: Today's post is the first in a new series. For some time now a movement has been growing among independent Baptists that would push us in the contemporary direction. Loosely grouped around Josh Teis, a pastor in Nevada, it draws an increasing amount of favorable of attention, especially among younger pastors. This movement, which I have labeled neo-independent Baptist, embraces a philosophy and direction that gives me pause. Nor am I alone in this. Across the country hundreds of pastors have expressed a similar concern. Representative of this concern, six other men are joining me in writing this series. Our aim is to address the underlying errant philosophies and approaches of the neo-independent Baptists. We hope to start a conversation that may yet protect numbers of pastors and churches in the years to come. We welcome your participation in that conversation.

Today's blog post is by Pete Folger, 39, a 2001 graduate of Crown College, and currently the co-pastor of the Cleveland Baptist Church in Brooklyn, Ohio.


Cleveland Baptist Church
Growing up I was privileged to attend an independent, fundamental Baptist church. Until my junior year of high school my pastor was Dr. Roy Thompson. Many younger men might not be familiar with that name, but the older generation would remember Dr. Thompson well. He founded the Cleveland Baptist Church in 1958 and on the first Sunday of its existence he, along with ten others, met in the living room of a home not far from where the church currently ministers today. Within a decade of the church being planted it had experienced tremendous growth and to some was considered a leading church among independent Baptists. As a child, all I knew was that of the independent Baptist world.

When I consciously calculate God’s blessings upon my life near the top of that list is my upbringing in an independent, fundamental Baptist church. I’ve read of many who look down upon, and some even who despise their independent Baptist heritage. Allow me to pause here and say that some of these have legitimate reasons for feeling the way they do, and I hurt for those who experienced abuse, manipulation or some other horrible experience within the confines of an independent Baptist church. I can say unequivocally that my experience featured none of those things. While the Cleveland Baptist Church wasn’t perfect during these formative years of my life, several things made a profound impact on me then, and still shape who I am today.

I was blessed to attend a church where people loved God and each other. This is significant because Christ was asked in Matthew 22:36 “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” His reply? “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

I was blessed to attend a church where souls were saved and baptized regularly. Christ commissioned His church to “Go…into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” My church used many different tools to accomplish this task. I witnessed souls being saved in nursing homes, bus routes, door-to-door evangelism, mission trips, youth camps, vacation Bible school programs, and almost every week in the regular meetings of the church.

I was blessed to attend a church where the pastor taught me to take a strong stand for the truth. Roy Thompson led in battles across this great land for religious freedom, Christian schools, morality and many more. He took seriously the admonition of Jude in the third verse of his short epistle “…it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

I enjoyed growing up in a church where the members sacrificed for one another and for the needs of the church. Because of my dad’s position on staff we didn’t always have the nicest or newest things money could buy. I can think of several instances where people learned of a need we had and did what they could to provide for us. I well remember, that in 1990, our church broke ground on a multi-million dollar education building. Over the next three years I watched many of our men give, not only financially, but also through the investment of their time as well. Many of our men would work all day before spending several hours each evening at our church campus in order to do what they could to speed along the construction of this new facility.

A recent Sunday evening service
at Cleveland Baptist Church
I was blessed to attend a church where there was an appropriate balance between work and pleasure. While much hard work went into making our church what it was then, and is today, there were many opportunities for us to pause and to enjoy the lives God had blessed us with. Solomon writes in the third chapter of Ecclesiastes “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…A time to weep, and a time to laugh…” In our church community there was a fair amount of laughing and good-natured fun. I have great memories of church services where laughter abounded. I think you would find that the Cleveland Baptist Church was a place filled with joy. That should be no surprise that any church filled with God’s saints be a place of joy for it is one of the fruits that the Holy Spirit develops within the lives of believers (Galatians 5:22).

For these reasons and many more I look back on my heritage as an independent Baptist with great appreciation.

In the last few years, there has been a movement to discard or explain away our past and start fresh and new. Not long ago, an influential pastor, Josh Teis (Southern Hills Baptist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada) an acquaintance of mine, wrote a blog post entitled “The New Independent Baptists.” More recently a group of “millennial” Independent Baptists led by Nate Calvert wrote a blog entitled “An Open Letter from Millennials.” In both of these writings there were points that resonated with me. However, I could not help but detect a strong tone of wanderlust and dissatisfaction with the heritage of these men, and I found that hard to shake.

Why bring any of this up? I can assure you that I am not a fighter or a guy who likes to stick my nose into things that aren’t my business. I make it a habit not to discuss theological or doctrinal issues on Facebook or any other social media venues. I sincerely love Josh and Nate and the other men who are seeking for something different than what they have seen or experienced. Because there is a younger generation that has more fully embraced writing, blogging and using social media as an effective means of communication they have attracted a large audience that is growing as I write. I feel compelled to warn those who are being influenced by these men and many others that there are serious dangers involved with the neo-independent Baptist movement.

Screenshot (6)
A recent concert at Southern Hills
Baptist Church in Las Vegas
In the short time I’ve followed those who are part of this growing group I have witnessed radical change. From things as innocent as a more casual “look” for those leading from the platform to more serious concerns like fully embracing contemporary Christian music and abandoning positions on Bible versions, and the ecumenical movement, these changes have been rapid. This concerns me and leads me to believe that greater change is on the horizon. This crowd is extremely “context” driven. Granted, context is important, but the Word of God creates new context in the lives of people that renders old context obsolete.

So today I write to those of you who have watched all of this change and like me are wondering where it all ends, if we can all simply just get along and what your response should be to those who label themselves new or neo-independent Baptists. I suppose maybe we should ask this question, why even have this conversation? I would like to propose to you four reasons why we must have this conversation, why this truly matters.

1. Because it’s important
These changes we have discussed will potentially transform who we are and what we will become. The church I described at the beginning of this blog post doesn’t need to be fundamentally transformed. It needs to keep doing what it has always done and to be strengthened but it doesn’t need a seismic shift in a new direction.

2. Because you’re paying attention
An advertisement for the Idea Day Network
Perhaps the movement toward a new independent Baptist mindset is catching on so rapidly because these men are doing a great job articulating who they are and why they think change is so necessary. Might there be a preacher or church who could benefit from hearing from those who don’t see the need to radically shift and transform who we are and what we are doing? One of the weaknesses of those within the independent Baptist movement has been a hesitance to write. I applaud both Josh and Nate and others for their willingness to write down their thoughts and feelings. This blog series is an attempt to continue the conversation that has been started, allowing you to hear from a side of the independent Baptist world that is not dissatisfied with who we are and is quite concerned about where this new movement could potentially lead folks who decide to follow them.

3. Because I have four children who need the church to be more committed to biblical principle than worldly context
Their names are Madison, Mallory, Mia and Toby. Your children may have different names than mine but they’re not all that different. They are growing up in a radically changing world. Every year new technology bursts on the scene. New ideas are discussed all around them from new currency to new genders. They need a church that doesn’t change, a Bible that they can depend on, and a Pastor who will preach the truth clearly to them regardless of what “context” they may be living in.

4. Because this has happened before
Every denomination and every age has experienced drifts and shifts. The Southern Baptist Convention has dealt with an internal struggle between left and right for decades. There are conservative and liberal Methodist churches. We really aren’t all that different nor is any of this really all that new. In fact it would be quite na├»ve to assume we are the only ones who have dealt with this kind of pull from within. A recent example (within the last 100 years) of a shift to a more progressive approach within the work of God occurred during the lifetime of Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones who for thirty years served as pastor of the Westminster Chapel in England. While Dr. Jones was not an independent Baptist, nevertheless it was said about ministry during his lifetime, “There was also the development of a feeling soon to sweep all before it, that a main hindrance to the church effectively reaching the world was her out-of-date appearance in the contemporary culture. Her Bible version and her forms of worship had remained little changed for centuries. The climate of thought – not uninfluenced by the secular world – was swinging against all things ‘traditional’ and ‘old-fashioned’.”

I am not old-fashioned merely for the sake of being old-fashioned, but neither am I for change simply for the sake of new-vs-oldchange or something new. What I have enjoyed throughout my life has blessed me and countless others and I’m not in any hurry to discard it for something new. So let’s have a conversation. I encourage you to approach it with an open mind. The men I’ve mentioned and countless others who are promoting a new way of doing things aren’t the enemy and never will be. I pray for them and hope, if they happen upon this particular blog post or series that they will understand the spirit with which it is written. I trust we will also give them something to ponder and think about too. I hope those of you who have or are contemplating some new way will also slow down, truly seek the Lord and ask yourself if what we have and what we have done really needs to be transformed or if we all should just seek a deeper intimacy with God and His power.