Monday, January 28, 2019

What It Offers That We Do Not Need: Cultural Relevance

Neo-independent Baptists 4

Note: Today's post is Part Four in a series addressing the neo-independent Baptist movement. Parts One through Three can be found posted on this blog over the last three weeks. Today's post is by Chris Birkholz, 34, a 2005 graduate of Pensacola Christian College. He runs an orphanage and plants churches in Honduras.


I love the kind tone taken in this series and I believe it is a discussion that needs to be heard. Proverbs 18:13 tells us, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”

I am friends with many that would follow the philosophy of Josh Teis and I have some great supporting churches that are similar in philosophy. I think one of the blessings of a public format is that we as fellow servants of Christ can help each other and can provide a level of accountability. We are on the same team and serving the same God and will share the same heaven! May God use this to strengthen us and help us as we ALL serve HIM!

What It Offers That We Do Not Need: 

It Offers Cultural Relevance

We cheapen the power of the Gospel when we place more emphasis on our catchy salesmanship, slick marketing, hipster coolness, and cultural relevance than we do on simply preaching and proclaiming the Word of God. The dichotomy of the Gospel is that it surrounds but also ignores the culture in which it resides. The Gospel stands alone. It does not need to be adapted, marketed, or sold. It simply needs to be preached. It simply needs to be lived.

I feel for my generation. There is a pressure to be modern, a push to be more sensitive to the culture, and, yes, an insistence on lower standards. We are often fed the idea that if we would just be a little more cool, a little more hipster, and a little more progressive in our thinking that would open wide the door for influence. This is a big temptation. My generation of millennials are hungry to have an impact for Christ and are often ready to jump into new ideas quickly.

I would suggest that the power to influence has little to do with cultural relativity and instead has everything to do with clearly presenting the Word of God. I think many would be surprised to see how many churches are not looking to change their “church” culture and are still having a tremendous impact on their communities.

One of the privileges I have had in my life is deputation. I loved it. It is an incredible thing for many reasons. One of the benefits for me was that I was able to observe well over 100 different independent Baptist churches. We are blessed to have supporting churches that have all sorts of different “cultures.” Sometimes we think that if we do not adapt to be more “culturally relative” we will not grow. Allow me to give an illustration.

I remember one night we were going to drop into a church to which we had been invited. I knew very little about it except that it was Baptist. There was no web page, no Facebook page, and very little signage to find the building. I was starting to get grumpy. In my mind I was thinking, “If this church cared about people they would do a better job at getting their name out there.” I was forming in my mind what I would see when we finally did arrive. In my mind it would be a poorly maintained building full of older people hanging on to their antiquated ways. I just knew that it would be unimpressive.

After driving through country roads and asking for directions twice, which I abhor, we pulled up to the church’s brand new building. We walked in as they were already singing. The auditorium was full with more than 200 people. They had the youth choir singing. The pastor preached, God moved, and people responded. There was no doubt in my mind that God was in this place.

Why had I been so wrong in my presumptions about this church? I directly related this
church’s ability to reach people to their ability to play the cultural game. This church had ignored those rules. God showed me that while this church did not have much cultural relativity and did not seem to be trying to “sell” their brand, they had something more powerful. They had the Bible, the preaching of the Gospel, and the testimony of transformed lives. People going out to proclaim Christ and inviting others to experience the power of the Gospel for themselves was what caused that church to grow. They had the Word of God and it was all they needed.

Over the two years we were on deputation and since arriving here on the mission field, I have learned that it is not the flashy marketing but rather the Gospel that works. Here is a fact that I have learned and that is observed by those who choose to see it: God blesses the Gospel going out not because of its flavor, style or culture. The Gospel does not need your culture. Stop preaching cultural relativity and preach the Gospel. If you are so small to think that God only works in churches with your “culture” you have a small view of God.
We do not have to copy a style to see God’s power. We need to learn to have a closer walk with God more than we will ever need to walk more closely with culture. I am frustrated every time I see a church mimic every trend that comes en vogue. The power will never be in your program, but rather in the preaching of the cross.

I like sales. I can sell ideas and concepts with the best of them. I love to convince people to think a certain way or to buy into a certain concept. Unfortunately, some have cheapened the Gospel and relied more on sales techniques and presentation styles than with the power of the Gospel itself. Some have traded the power of the Gospel for the “art of the deal” and have bought into the idea that if we market the Gospel with great programs and new ideas it will somehow become more powerful. The power does not lie in a tricky presentation. It lies in the thing being presented.

Every time we try to emulate the culture to reach the culture we are forgetting the power of the Gospel. The Gospel ALONE is what is necessary to reach the world. When we overemphasize the culture we de-emphasize the Gospel and the power it possesses.

Allow me to share two Biblical thoughts.

First, the Word of God timeless. Psalm 119:90 reminds us that, God’s “faithfulness is unto all generations:” and 1 Peter 1:25 reminds us that, “the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”

God’s Word has been what has made the difference in every generation and in every culture. In every period of history, every culture, and every place the timeless word of God has been able to pierce the darkness. Some have said the truth is never out of style. If someone diligently proclaiming the written Word has witnessed the transformation of the Holy Ghost in every previous generation, then friend, let me assure you that this timeless book will work in our generation without us trying to make it hipster and cool.

Secondly, the Word of God is powerful.

Hebrews 4:12 reminds us “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

When I think of the power of the Bible I think about the power of the sun. It shines every day here in Honduras as well as in Las Vegas and Alaska. Everywhere. It looks the same. It has not changed in thousands of years. The sun brings life in every city, every country, and every small town. It does not need to be advertised and it does not need to be modernized. Everywhere it goes it brings life. This is the power of the sun in every place and to every generation.

Likewise the preaching of the cross, the Gospel, the Words of a Holy God bring light to a dark world. They set the captive free. They heal, help, and hold the hurting. Just stand in the sunlight. The sun does not adapt; it pierces.

The Word of God is more powerful than any cultural adaptation or marketing campaign.

I minister here in Honduras. Most national pastors have no access to computers, internet, printing services or anything modern. You know what they do have? The Bible. A godly man and his Bible have more power and ability than every tech guy in all of the states combined. Why? It is not because of the different culture. It is because of the power of the Gospel. When the Gospel is preached clearly and passionately it changes lives. Cultural relevance is not the hero; the Word of God is. The Word of God IS powerful. It blows cultural relevance out of the water.

In an effort to be effective some have placed such a huge emphasis on being culturally relative. The Word of God never becomes powerful because of its marketing style. The Word of God itself is where the power lies.

I don’t need to get into a debate about where we draw the lines on standards, separation and the like. This is not a debate on methodology. It is instead about philosophy. I am not out to get everyone to be just like me or like anyone else. When our emphasis is on the necessity of being like the people we are trying to reach we are minimizing the timeless and powerful Word of God. Remember that God blesses His Word.

Psalms 138:2 “For thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.”

If you have gotten this far, thank you! My only goal is to remind us all that God is not bound by any rules of cultural relevance. There does not need to be any pressure to “get with the times,” or “modernize” worship. The Gospel and the power of God are not broken and in need of repair. God blesses the faithful labor of Godly men. Cultural relativity doesn’t unlock some secret door to God’s blessing; sometimes it just makes us into worldly Christians.

Monday, January 21, 2019

What It Is Not: New

Neo-independent Baptists 3

Note: This is the third in a series of blog posts addressing the neo-independent Baptist movement. Today's post is by Robert Rutta. He is 56, and holds degrees from Hyles-Anderson College (1986) and Landmark Baptist College (2000, 2003). He is currently a church planting missionary in New Zealand.


Within the last few years the neo-independent Baptist movement has come on the scene and has gathered a following. They promote themselves as a new breed of independent Baptists that see the problems of our movement and now have the answers. They genuinely feel that the only way that we can reach the modern generation is to make some fundamental changes. Their call is for us all to be willing to accept a wide range of differences in style, methodology and doctrine and focus less on issues of personal and ecclesiastical separation.

There is one problem with the basic premise of the neo-independent Baptists - there is nothing NEW about what they are doing. Many of the things that are called unique attributes of the neo-independent Baptists are things that we can agree with because they have always been the position of Independent Baptists. For example, we have always had a desire to reach into our communities and make a difference in the lives of people. We have always been innovative in looking for ways to reach people. We have always sought to preach the Word of God faithfully.

My entire life has been spent in independent Baptist churches and I see our churches as exciting places where people are brought into contact with a loving family atmosphere and can have their lives changed by the preaching of God’s Word. I’ve preached in hundreds of churches in several different countries. I know that there are problems in some churches, but truthfully, I like what I see in most of our churches.

As Tom Brennan mentioned last week, Pastor Josh Teis is not our enemy and this blog is not intended as a personal attack against him. Even so, I do have concerns about the path that he is leading others to follow. He has a great amount of influence on many pastors. With influence comes responsibility for the results of that influence. Many of the methods that the neo-independent Baptists call for are new, but the underlying philosophy behind their methodology has been tried again and again, and it has always led to disaster.

I guess the first question that we should ask is…

What exactly is an Old Independent Baptist?

If we are drawing a dividing line between the old and the new, we need to know where the line is drawn.

Beginning in the 1920s and 1930s and continuing over the next several decades a number of Baptist pastors led their churches to leave the Northern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Convention and other groups. Their reasons for leaving these groups were varied but it basically came down to the fact that they saw sin that was being excused, along with liberalism and modernism that was being promoted in their schools. The Bible’s command is to come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing. (II Cor 6:17) They accepted God’s command and withdrew from the conventions. The Independent Baptist movement began as an act of separation from things that they knew to be wrong. Through the years independent Baptist churches have been recognized by our fervency in soul winning. We were drawn together by our love for God and His Word and a desire to be separate from sin. This separatism is more than just being separate from sinful actions, but also includes ecclesiastical separation as we keep from those who teach wrong doctrine. We were formed in an act of separating from sin and wrong doctrine and we are defined by being separatists. A love for truth and a hatred for the things of the world that would dishonor our Lord are the things that have drawn us together.

Although we have a historically separatist position, independent Baptists have always been a pretty broad group, allowing for a variety of styles and preferences. We are independent, after all. We have no headquarters and have no denominational structure, so there will be differences between us. I accept that we are often too divided, as we may prefer to spend more time with those that are more similar to us in our preferences. As a missionary I know that I can have good fellowship with a wide range of churches that are under this umbrella of independent Baptist. I don’t have to agree with someone completely as to their methodology to have good fellowship with them or to respect them. The key is that we are united in a love for the truth and a separation from error. For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. (III John 3)

The NEW View of Separation

Pastor Teis breaks our doctrines down to first-tier doctrines, second-tier doctrines and then finally preferential issues. He calls for separation in what he calls the first-tier doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth and the Blood Atonement. He correctly says that if someone is a modernist and denies the basic fundamentals that we should separate from them. But, what do we do when a church has a woman pastor or speaks in tongues or baptizes infants or any of a multitude of things that the Bible speaks very clearly against? These doctrines don’t fit into Teis’ category of first-tier doctrines so according to his teaching we should be accepting of these. The Bible’s mandate is different. The message of God’s Word from beginning to end is to obey God and separate from doctrines or practices that dishonor Him. We are to mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (Rom 16:17) Teis accurately says that the thing that should distinguish us as God’s people is that we have love one to another. (John 13:35) What he fails to understand is that I can truly love the person that I disagree with. Loving them does not mean that I have to fellowship with them or have them preach in my pulpit. My love for God and His truth should cause me to separate from error.

The call of the neo-independent Baptist is a call to weaken our separatist position, but IS THIS NEW?

Sadly, this is a position that has been tried a number of times before. Every time that this has been tried it has always resulted in failure.

Jerry Falwell

In 1956, Jerry Falwell graduated from Baptist Bible College in Springfield and founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA. Over the next few decades he was recognized in independent Baptist circles as holding a position of personal and ecclesiastical separation. But, in the late 1970s he began a journey of change, and he formed the Moral Majority. This was a group of people from every denomination and religion that joined together to lobby politicians in order to promote moral values. This put him on the platform with Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Mormons, Charismatics and virtually every other group. The argument can be made that these were political meetings so there was nothing wrong with joining together with unbelievers from a variety of religions. The problem is that by following this path he went down the road of more and more spiritual compromise.

Over the course of the 1980s he had meetings where he shared the platform with fellow speakers such as modernist Robert Schuller, Catholic priests, Jim Bakker of the PTL Club, Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, and a host of others of all denominations. In 1987 when Jim Bakker resigned in shame, Falwell took his place as leader of the PTL Club and the Heritage USA Theme Park. These were Assemblies of God ministries. By Pastor Teis’ reckoning the AOG still holds to the basic fundamentals, making them a first-tier group, so it was acceptable to fellowship with them. The AOG is full of wrong teachings that we should mark, teach against, and avoid. It is not surprising that during this time of doctrinal confusion he began to speak of Catholic priests as his brothers.

As we look at the pathway of Jerry Falwell from that time of decision in the late 1970s we see a downward spiral that in many ways mirrored the path of Billy Graham. In a 1997 interview with the modernist Robert Schuller, Graham said that people of all religions around the world were saved by their sincerity. He said they didn’t need to know Jesus or the Bible. Graham also took a position that there was no fire in hell. This was a man that Falwell called one of the greatest Christians that he knew. Falwell, like Graham, failed to recognize that separation from those who teach false doctrine is a Bible command. When that command is ignored or devalued the result is always the same. The more that Falwell weakened his position on ecclesiastical separation the more that he declined in concern for doctrinal purity.

What has happened in the intervening years? In 1996 Falwell led the Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University to enter into the Southern Baptist Convention. As he led them further and further away from the foundational position of independent Baptists of ecclesiastical separation they had to ultimately go to the group where they fit in the best.

Highland Park Baptist Church

When Lee Roberson retired, Highland Park Baptist Church decided to go in a completely different direction than they had followed under the leadership of Brother Roberson. I remember visiting Highland Park in the 1980s after they had chosen a Calvinist to be their new pastor. At that time they were getting rid of their church buses and numbers were dwindling. Their massive 10,000 seat auditorium had large roped-off areas to bring people together so the room didn’t look empty. Over the next few years Tennessee Temple and Highland Park Baptist went toward CCM and more modern practices. Their path of change finally resulted in them returning to the fold of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008. In 2013 the church changed its name, removed the name Baptist, and became the
Church of the Highlands.

The church went on an ever-broadening search for something new and exciting. They wanted to leave the old positions of separation and the result was exactly what everyone should have expected.

Baptist Bible Fellowship

The BBFI is a fellowship of pastors that was started in 1950 because they were concerned that the Southern Baptists and other denominations were too liberal in their leaning. This was once the fellowship of J. Frank Norris, Bill Dowell, Noel Smith, Beauchamp Vick and John Rawlings. Over the years their strong fundamentalist stand has weakened as they followed that which was new. They overlooked the compromise of Jerry Falwell while he stayed in good standing in their group and spoke at their meetings. By the late 1980s the music in their national meetings was growing contemporary and this was seen in more and more of their churches and missionaries. Their national conferences now look like what you would see in any nondenominational emerging church. There are still many good conservative pastors in the movement but for the most part they remain silent. In February of 2017 the President of the BBFI led his congregation at the High Street Baptist Church of Springfield, MO, to join the SBC. Pastor Lyons made this decision after he saw other “BBFI pastors lead their congregations to align dually with both the BBFI and with Southern Baptists.” Undoubtedly there will now be others that will follow his lead.

Neo-independent Baptists Are Not New

The unique journey that the neo-independent Baptist movement has embarked on isn’t really that unique. It is a well-travelled road. There are numerous examples that we could choose which all followed the same path - and reached the same result.

When we remove ecclesiastical separation and join together with people who are disobedient to clear doctrines of Scripture then we ourselves will be changed. Personal separation will be affected as we try to fit into the culture of the world around us. Then, as we invite men to preach in our churches who believe other doctrines our members see it as a mark of approval. Eventually our churches will change to be like those men and ministries that we have brought before them.

I am determined to love everyone who has truly trusted Christ as their Savior, but that love will not allow me to compromise on the truth that is in God’s Word. We are to come out from among them and be separate. Our Lord deserves nothing less.

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.

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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.