Neo-independent Baptist 5
Note: Today’s post is by Emanuel Rodriguez, 45, a 1999 graduate of Beaufort Bible
Institute. A veteran missionary in the Hispanic world, currently he is the director of the Paraguay Bible College.
Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”
I am not against new ideas, new technology, and modern amenities in churches. I do not think that all songs written after 1899 come from the bellies of hell. I do believe that there are some “standards”, perhaps many, that have no biblical basis and are therefore man-made and unnecessary. There are some things that I most likely agree with within the neo-independent Baptist movement. I’m all for improvement, so long as said “improvement” doesn’t violate biblical principles.
This neo-independent Baptist movement is supposed to be an effort to revitalize the church. I appreciate that because God knows how much I also despise the dead, passionless, unenthusiastic formalism in churches today. There’s nothing spiritual about being boring and stagnant. Since Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” and the true church is that of the living God, I too must loathe deadness.
However, God’s admonition to the dying church of Sardis in Revelation 3:2 was to strengthen the things that remain, not ditch those things and replace them with newer and trendier stuff. For this reason, I must disagree with the direction that the neo-independent Baptist crowd is going in their efforts to revitalize churches. I believe that their emphasis is in the wrong places.
The problem is that they are searching so hard for new ideas in their efforts to revitalize churches when what we really need is to return to what made the church powerful to begin with. While they spend thousands and thousands of dollars on Idea Days “to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21), the answers for revival and revitalization are right there staring them in the face within the pages of Holy Writ.
God’s ideas have already been given. They are forever settled in heaven. They have also been preserved for us in writing. They have been available for centuries. Plus, His “ideas” are free! …or at least, whatever it cost you to purchase a Bible. You can get one for 99 cents at the local Dollar General. We don’t need to travel or spend money to discover His ideas in some special conference in a new “woke” and more hip Baptist church somewhere. We already have the answers.
The Lord’s ideas are timeless, tried and true! They are proven. They are eternal, which make Gods precepts always relevant. They work. They worked for the disciples in Acts as they turned the world upside down. They worked for the primitive churches who soldiered on throughout the Dark Ages and multiplied themselves at rapid rates despite fierce persecutions. They worked for the Protestant Reformers who had their eyes opened and dared to challenge and defy the hellish juggernaut that is the Catholic church. They worked for the saints of the first and second Great Awakenings as true revival and biblical Christianity swept the eastern seaboard of the United States.
WHAT REVITALIZES A CHURCH
Habakkuk 3:6 “…his ways are everlasting.”
God’s ideas will work TODAY and all the way up to the rapture of the church. I know this not only because the Bible said so, but because I’ve seen it myself. As a missionary who has had the privilege to minister throughout Latin America since 1999, I’ve seen true revival. I’ve seen churches revitalized by God. I have had the undeserved honor of experiencing it.
I know what it is like to take on struggling and dying churches. I’ve done it multiple times.
I took one church on the mission field that had just a handful of people who were just barely hanging on. The church had all but Ichabod written on it. We took the church and its handful of tired, discouraged people. We worked extremely hard to resurrect this church from the dead. We knocked on every door of every community in this town. Yet, no results. So what did we do? We went back to door number one, and repeated the same process. Afterwards, still no fruit.
What did we do? We did it again, and again, and again, and so on, and so forth. We decided to not give up until God did something because we believed He could.
We constantly got on our faces before God and begged Him to do miracles. A miracle was the only way this church was ever going to get off the ground. There were many times I walked through the woods and down to the brook by my house, with a machete in one hand, and a Bible in the other. There, I would pour out my heart to God and beg him to breathe new life into this dying church. Many times I’d go to the church building during the day and walk up and down the aisles, begging God out loud to send revival.
We kept preaching God’s word. We preached it in homes of folks that would let us hold services in their living room. We preached in the plazas in front of the Catholic church. We preached on the basketball courts. We preached in the ghettos. We preached in front of bars and supermarkets. We preached, and preached, and preached.
Eventually, we had our first convert. A little old lady. She couldn’t do much physically but she turned out to become a mighty prayer warrior. Now it wasn’t just us praying. It was us plus a little old lady. We kept toiling on, with blood, sweat, and tears, believing that the same God that sent great revivals in the past could do the same today.
What happened? One by one souls started getting saved. Then God saved this one guy. That’s when revival broke loose.
This guy was the town drunk. Not any old town drunk. I’m talking about THE town drunk, the worst one. He was also a crack, cocaine, and heroin addict. He did it all. He came close to dying from drug overdose over 20 times. He was the guy that everyone saw on the street corner, sometimes drunk, other times laying in vomit, other times with a needle in his veins, other times begging for money.
During his fourth stint in prison, the prison doctor advised him that he was incurably sick and was going to die in that prison cell. There was no hope for him, so said the doctor. The town drunk begged God for mercy and made a promise that if He would let him live, he would give the rest of his life to the Lord.
He started reading the Bible in his cell. Through reading the Bible, the town drunk found out that salvation was by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Upon this discovery, He cried out to the Lord to save him. God began working a miracle of divine transformation in his life.
(I must pause. I cannot refrain from being overwhelmed with emotion as I take this trip down memory lane. Tears are rolling down my face as I write this.)
Later he was released from prison. To make a long story short, God led him to our church. I’ll never forget the precious moment of sitting in his living room as he shared with me this story that I am sharing with you now. With tears rolling down his face, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Preacher, I need to keep my promise to God. He kept His end of the deal. Now I must keep mine. Can you teach you me to serve the Lord?” (I must pause again to wipe away the cascade of tears that prohibit me from seeing my computer screen clearly as I write this. These are blessed memories.)
I took that man under my wing and trained him. Today he is the pastor of the church.
This church has found life. Now folks are going to a church that at one time they scoffed at. A church that at one time could barely keep the doors open is thriving as the former town drunk thunders the word of God every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. This miracle has caught the attention of the whole town. Even the town mayor, who is a lost Catholic, said publicly on Facebook that no one could deny that this was a supernatural work of God.
What’s the point? The point is that it is not new ideas, better technology, different lighting, modern trends, or a catchier beat from a cheap rendition of the latest song by Casting Crowns that we need. We need more of God! We need more of His power.
I’ve seen revival. This is just one story. I have more. I just don’t have the time nor space in this article to tell them all. I’ve seen revitalization accomplished without anything new, modern, hip, or trendy. On the mission field, I see it done over and over again with the timeless tools of the unadulterated word of God, fervent prayer, diligent evangelism, Holy Ghost conviction, constant repentance, old-fashioned worship, and red hot, Spirit-filled, Christ-exalting, Scripture saturated, passionate, bold, and uncompromising PREACHING.
THE NEO-INDEPENDENT BAPTIST MOVEMENT IS NOT A RETURN TO WHAT MADE THE IFB CHURCH POWERFUL TO BEGIN WITH
Exodus 32:8 “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.”
I disagree with the notion that these new, more modern and trendier things will help to revitalize the church. Now, the neo-independent
Baptist guys may deny that they are depending upon these things to breathe new life into the church, but from the outside looking in, this is exactly the message their movement displays because of the emphasis that they place in these things. I think they fail to recognize how they come across to folks and the message that they are subliminally, though perhaps unintentionally, presenting to their audience.
While they claim to be on a mission to return to what originally made the IFB church so powerful back in the day, they fail to recognize what activated such power. They have an emphasis in utilizing modern day tools and technology, social media, a trendier wardrobe, contemporary music, a more upbeat atmosphere, and a departure from almost anything that resembles “the old paths” in order to reach today’s generation.
The problem is that none of this new stuff produces the power of God. These things only appeal to the flesh. An over-emphasis in things that only appeal to the flesh will result with a congregation full of fleshly, carnal, and superficial Christians who will now mistake worldliness for godliness. This stuff may produce quantity. What you won’t have is quality, the kind that God produces.
Whether they realize it or not, they are trying to revitalize the church with worldly, modern means rather than with the power of the Holy Spirit. Where does real Holy Ghost power come from? It certainly doesn’t come from dimmer lights (or brighter ones), TV screens, more upbeat music, less convictions (standards), etc.
THE NEO-INDEPENDENT BAPTIST MOVEMENT IS NOT NECESSARY
Luke 1:15 “…he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.”
Matthew 3:4 “And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.”
I see things through the lens of a missionary serving in a third world country. I’m dealing with people who may never sit in a carpeted, air-conditioned building for church. Dimmed lights? Colored LED’s? These folks are happy to have light at all! We’ve had church with no lights!
Modern amenities? We’re used to having church where it’s sometimes over 100’ F in the building. Many times when I get done preaching in the summer time my clothes are entirely soaked in sweat. On the other hand, we’ve had church when it was so freezing cold folks brought blankets to church to keep themselves warm.
On the mission field, I’ve preached in churches with dirt floors, tin roofs, walls made of wooden pallets, and benches that were nothing but tree stumps with a couple of 2 by 4s going across. The two churches we are planting now started out under mango trees in the front yard of families who by U.S. standards would be considered well below the poverty line.
On the mission field, we many times will not have all these modern amenities that the neo-independent Baptists are so concerned about. But I tell you what we do have. We’ve experienced the power of God! We’ve seen lives changed. We’ve seen marriages and homes repaired. We’ve seen sinners broken under the convicting power of God. We’ve seen Christians brought to repentance and thus restored in their relationships with the Lord. We’ve seen saints develop a more intense hunger for God and His word.
LET’S GET BACK TO WHAT WORKS
1 Corinthians 2:1-4 “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power”
1 Thessalonians 1:5 “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost…”
The problem with this movement is that it is putting the emphasis in the wrong things. While I am not against good ideas, it’s not new ideas that we are in dire need of. God gave us a wonderful Book that already explains to us how to have revival. If there is something new that we need, it’s a “new look in the old Book”!
In the book of Acts, you don’t find the disciples of Christ holding conferences to gather new ideas on how to reach the world with the modern trends of their time being considered. What you find is them simply preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ as they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Go ahead and have your special conferences. There’s nothing wrong with getting together and having a good time. But you are mistaken if you think that trendier ideas are what will revitalize the church. You want to return to what made the IFB movement powerful before? How about we return to what made the primitive church and the first disciples turn the world upside down?
Acts 4:31-33 “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.”
Preachers used to pray for hours a day. Today preachers struggle to pray for 20 minutes a day, yet they wonder why they have a hard time revitalizing their churches. Instead of finding newer ideas, perhaps we need to fix our prayer lives. The disciples fervently prayed and were filled with the Holy Ghost. That’s what we need more than modern trends. Let’s get filled with Holy Ghost power again!
You know what happened every time a man was Spirit-filled in the Bible? I dare you to
|Preaching of St. Paul|
Sebastiano Ricci, c 1700
1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
Understand that there is a balance to all this. There is nothing wrong with using modern means of technology or even social media to advance the ministry. There is nothing diabolical about LED lighting. Nothing in the Bible says that the whole armor of God includes a suit and tie (though I am a suit and a tie in the pulpit guy). I’m not even personally against using a large TV screen in the sanctuary to announce the upcoming pot-luck dinner and other events and activities as opposed to posting a sheet of paper on a bulletin board in the vestibule. Frankly, I don’t care how you promote the pot-luck dinner.
In regards to the revitalization of churches, however, we need less of the world and more of God. The more we emphasize God’s methods, the more He will fill us with His Spirit, just like He did to His disciples when they placed the emphasis where God told them to place it back in Mark 16:15. Instead of trying to figure new things out, if we’d just return to the clear old instructions of God’s word, we’d find the methods already laid out in Scripture to be the best way, yielding the best results possible, the kind that is God-sent instead of man-produced.
2 Corinthians 4:5-7 “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”