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.


  1. "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." Could you please provide a link that supports this statement? Or did you talk with Pastor Teis to verify that this statement is accurate? Thanks!

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      "Sadly, those who have been raised in our churches have been sidetracked by secondary issues and often forget to check on primary issues. Does the church believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, the miracles of the Bible, the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, and the substitutionary atonement? These are the fundamentals. What about secondary issues that don’t demand separation but are at least doctrinal in nature? Does the church differ from you on lesser doctrinal issues such as sovereignty/free will, eternal security, and dispensational/covenantal theology, eschatological timelines? These are second tier issues but issues that matter more than the three you mentioned. Unfortunately, we have an entire generation of independent Baptists who are asking the wrong questions because we have focused on the wrong distinctions."

    3. Thank you for the link, but it still does not answer my question. It seems to me that the author is making an assumption to prove his point. He basically states that Pastor Teis would fellowship with the AOG. That very well maybe the case, but I would be hesitant to make such a statement or implication without some evidence whether it is though something he has written or from a personal conversation.

    4. Chris,

      That is a fair question, but I think the answer of pointing to the man's own writing is just as fair. His blog is public, and was widely shared, promoted even. By his own words, that thinking is one of his primary supports. Pointing out the practical implications of that thinking is fair game, isn't it? Not just fair game, but necessary even.

      I know it would be/has been/is being fair game with men in relation to what I write. And I don't have a problem with that.

    5. I think that he is not making an assumption, but drawing a conclusion instead. He is not stating that Pastor Teis *would* fellowship with the AOG, but that he *could* fellowship with the AOG according to the standard of fellowship based only on Tier One doctrines.

      Given: Tier Two doctrines are distinguished from the fundamentals (which would then be considered Tier One doctrines)
      Given: Tier One doctrines include inerrancy, miracles, the virgin birth, the resurrection, substitutionay atonement
      Given: The AOG believes in Tier One doctrines
      Given: We may have fellowship if and only if there is belief in Tier One doctrines
      Therefore: Fellowship with the AOG is acceptable.

      Symbolically, this is represented as:
      Fellowship ≡ Belief in Tier One Doctrines
      The AOG believes in Tier One Doctrines
      ∴We may fellowship with the AOG

      When an argument leads to an unacceptable conclusion, then the premises must be false. His conclusion is that we must give consideration to "Tier Two" doctrines for fellowship.
      He then moves on to demonstrating by induction that "Tier Two" doctrines can be debilitating to a church.

      The use of The Fundamentals was not originally used exactly to establish fellowship, this was just a side effect. They were originally conceived to distinguish modernism from fundamentalism, hence, what is called The Fundamentalist/Modernist Controversy of the 1920s. They were promoted to define whether one was a Christian. The problem of fellowship depends on sufficiency of agreement, which is much harder to nail. There are fundamentalist brethren that I would clearly not be able to work with. There are evangelicals who I could even more clearly not be able to work with. How many of what kind of Tier Two doctrines are necessary? There are enough to make me cautious.

    6. You said that much better than me, Paul.

    7. That is a fair argument. Maybe there is some clarification needed. What is considered as fellowship? Would Pastor Teis consider the AOG a first tier group? My problem is that the author seems to be making it a statement of fact rather than an opinion based on limited information. Would it not be better to clarify that it is the authors opinion? Would it not be better to contact Pastor Teis and ask him directly if he would fellowship with AOG churches and what level of fellowship this would include? I just believe if you are going to address the beliefs and actions of an individual it is better to get the facts by asking the individual instead of drawing conclusions that may or may not be accurate and then stating them as facts. I am not defending the philosophy of Pastor Teis. I just don't like that there seems to be accusations made against a brother in Christ without verification.

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    9. I say that he is still making an assumption. AOG might look like they say they fallow the fundamentals but in application they don't. And Josh might have come to the same conclusion.

      Example we believe that salvation is by grace. Our Catholic and Orthodox friends affirm that salvation is by grace but that it is received by the sacraments. By the standard of the Scriptures, a sacramental gospel must be judged to be a false gospel. A similar conclusion could be made for AOG. And to know for a fact that Josh has not come to the same conclusion is pretty dangerous.

      Now if Josh says he associates with AOG then that is a different discussion.

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  3. Being a Seperatists is what made and makes us Independent, Fundamental, Baptists! As a young called out HOLY GHOST anointed and filled preacher. I will not join the pragmatic, compromising, liberalizing crowd heading toward Ecumenicalism. With a good conscience before GOD ALMIGHTY, im quite fine with our old time, old fashion, old Bible religion. And im not ashamed to call myself a Separatists nor an "old" Independent Fundamental Baptists! Theres nothing wrong with and nothing that needs new changes.

  4. Another well written article. I wonder if you would find Neo-Independent thought similar to Neo-Evangelicalism.

    1. At its birth, neo-evangelicalism was a self-professed attempt to be less hostile, less confrontational, and more conversational. In that sense, they are certainly similar. But the birth of neo-evangelicalism was not driven near as my by a pragmatic embrace of relevance as this group is. NE went there, of course, but that wasn't its intent. Its intent was to soften the confrontational militant separatism of fundamentalism.

  5. This entire article is based on two verses and some examples. A quick examination of those verses and their context shows that they don't really support the hyper-seperatist position. II Cor 6:14-18 is a warning against partnering with non-believers. It applies well to marriages and business partnerships, and getting involved in unclean practices, but thats about where the clear warning ends. It certainly doesn't apply to other christians and churches, the context is clear, particularly when you read the whole of ch6, which deals with how the world was treating believers. Proof texting for fun and profit is not supposed to be the baptist way.
    Rom 16:17-19 appear to apply a little better, but note that Paul admonishes to "mark them which cause divisions and offences." While doctrine is important, many things get elevated to doctrine that are not, and for the most part these are the divisions which the early church faced when you read the new testament, legalists and those who mixed pagan ritual in with christianity. It is telling that if you read the context of 16:17 in the very next verse, 18, paul says they serve their own appetites not Christ. Would you say that of Josh Teis? Can you say that about sincere christians in some of those other denominations? If not, I question the application of that passage. There are some really false teachers out there, the likes of Benny Hinn, who are profiting on false doctrine, them we would definitely separate from. But sincere believers sharing the gospel? Maybe not so much.

    As to anecdotal evidence, I've already shared a little bit about my church, which is one of many that has more modern practices and limited cooperation with other denominations, but remains doctrinally sound and produces good fruit. I could also name many a fundamentalist church banging away at the same old drum, but which are dead and dying and have no fruit. People are fallible and can make a mess out of anything. Preachers like Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham were carried away by the fame and recognition, and became the type of false teachers that Paul was warning against in Rom 16:17-19, but others have equally become enamored with fame and done other wrongs. Jack Hyles and Jack Schapp come to mind. The evil they did and covered up with a cloak of apparent righteousness is just as if not more damaging than the open apostasy that Billy Graham embraced. A little digging into fundamentalist history reveals some truly awful abuses and crimes and racism that were perpetrated by names that are now venerated in IFB circles. It didn't matter that they used the "right" bible and held the "right" doctrines, they did bad things. I don't think that those men represent all of the IFB, or provide proof that the IFB is corrupt and evil, any more than Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell represent all of modern christianity.

    One item I do agree on, its not new. Its new to the IFB, but the rest of christianity has been exploring these avenues for some time, and the cause of Christ is still going strong. The cause of Christ does not belong solely to independent Baptist churches, it is carried by many churches of many denominations, and refusal to recognize that and fellowship with them at all is the height of hyper-separatism. If there is more in the Bible to support that position I invite to present it.

    1. A blog post, even a series, has limits. It's part of the territory. This was not intended to be nor can it be a theological dissertation on separatism.

      I say all that to say that I think the best answer to your question is actually a book or two. And you may already be familiar with them, I don't know. In my judgment, they lay out an excellent case for separatism, both of them biblically, and one of them also historically.

      The first is Ernest Pickering's classic, "The Struggle for a Pure Church." The second is lesser known but more theological, Fred Moritz's, "Contending for the Faith" and its companion work, "Be Ye Holy." Pickering's book is not large, maybe 200-250 pages? Moritz's books are both smaller than that.

    2. Those are good reads. I also would recommend "In the Pursuit of Purity" by Beale

    3. Agreed. Beale's work is excellent.

  6. One-sided dissertations on various names/churches/orgs of the past make for interesting reading (for those of us bored/interested enough to wade through it), but are hardly scriptural or logical bases for the point apparently trying to be made (that the "new" baptists of today are like those of years gone by - they are not "fresh" or new in a way that is commendable or should be imitated, and following them will lead to apostasy). [Ironically, some of what IFB criticizes as "liberal and contemporary" (expository preaching, small group church life, robust salvation theology, etc.) is actually far older than the culture-obsessed, idiosyncratic versions of IFB.]

    These stories of yore are far too easily picked and chosen. For every "downhill slide" by some former IFB-style church, there's a wonderful story of healthy change (whether to something "new" or just a return to pre-IFB soundness).

    For every IFB church in which this author likes what he sees there's one (or ten) that are or were a blight on Christianity and all that is theologically sound and biblically commendable. For every "contemporary" church that is doctrinally wanting there's an IFB church just as off-base + another "contemporary" one that's as biblical and sound the very best of IFB.

    "Josh Teis, by not embracing all the idosyncracies of 20th century IFB = Jerry Falwell" seems very similar to "IFB Pastor so-and-so, by not separating completely from the corruption and sin that colors some parts of IFB = Jack Schaap." Neither assertions are true, and - from a scriptural standpoint - neither matter except as very minor reference points in the quest for truth.

  7. I enjoyed your response. You are a good writer and a good thinker. I understand your point. There are a lot of robust fruit bearing churches that are not of the same style as the "fundies" of the past. We can tend to arrange history to fit our viewpoints. That too is a valid point.

    Here is where I agree with this article. The changes that the JT crowd is making are not things that haven't been done before. It has been done before. Many times. I don't really care for the idea that this "new" crowd is IFB 2.0. It is even a stretch to me to say how they have improved anything. How is this different than all of the others who get frustrated and drop all sorts of divisional truths? Dropping these things doesn't make you the "new and improved" Baptist. In my mind, it IS a dangerous mindset. It is a mindset that places unity in front of truth. The emphasis should be on truth and the byproduct will be unity. When the emphasis is unity, truth becomes dispensable. All truth matters, not just the "big" stuff.

  8. It's a pity that it occurred to you that someone might be bored by such reading. I like the way Josh Teis put it, "No pride should be taken in ignorance. We should primarily be well read in the Scriptures for they contain what is needed for a life and ministry. But we should also be well read in history, science, literature, leadership, and pop culture."

    It might be an unfair characterization to criticize such articles as these as merely anecdotal. It is not realistic to require articles to cover something that a statistical model is used to produce.

    Whether a logical basis exists for the point made really depends on what kind of logic you are using. Deductive logic is fine when you are using valid proof-texting from the Bible. Inductive logic is great when trying to justify truths and principles from the Bible and Christian experience. Inductive logic does indeed fail when someone is cherry picking, but at some point the sampling is too hard to ignore. We are more justified with fewer samples when they involve genuine options – living, forced, and momentous (William James, The Will to Believe). I think I am safe in assuming that all of us as pastors know that little things can make big differences in church. Sufficient bad experience in life leads us to not overlook what seems like details as minor reference points.

    In your last paragraph, I think that *both* assertions are true. I want to avoid the Teises *and* the Hyleses.

    Sorry in advance for quoting James, it seems just so fitting.

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  10. Paul - I like your writing style, thorough and intellectually honest. As for your first paragraph - pride should also not be taken in being extremely informed about some slice of history and then assuming those not as informed/interested in that same tiny slice are "ignorant." After all, even the most well-read among us are still mostly ignorant about most things. Isn't it rather prideful to be offended at even the possibility that someone might be bored by that which I find interesting or important?

    I think I agree with your comments about logic (to the extent I understand them). I too avoid both the Teises and the Hyleses, but I'd like to think it's not because I picked some "side" of the IFB discussion ... I hope it's because I left the entire thing to avoid such false choices in favor of Someone better.

    As for the "little things," of course I agree ... and will have to agree to disagree on the relative size and importance of things the author here wants to be concerned about while "liking what he sees" in his own "camp" ... the whole gnats and camels deal.

    Again, I appreciate your comment and agree with much of it.

  11. "I hope it's because I left the entire thing to avoid such false choices in favor of Someone better." A big amen. I think this discussion is important, but at the end of the day, and all during the rest of it, we have plenty to keep us busy with preaching the Gospel.

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  13. Other than some doctrinal differences, today's "neo-IFB" look and act just like Calvary Chapel did way back in the 70's. I seem to remember churches taking a stand against that form of "worldliness". Now, we argue about if it's ok or not.

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