Neo-independent Baptist 9
Note: Before I began this series I called Josh Teis. We spent about an hour on the phone discussing many of the issues we have discussed in this series. During that conversation, after I informed him that we were writing it, I offered to let him write a response when we were done. I told him I would post it and publicize it the same as all the rest. He chose to accept. Below are his words, unedited, followed by my closing thoughts. As always, your feedback is welcome.
Hey Tom & Tom’s Audience,
This is very strange, don’t you think?
First, it’s still a bit odd to me that accomplished men of God whom I’ve yet the privilege to meet, both know of our ministry and are concerned enough for our practices that they’d sacrifice their time in order to help us understand the way of God more perfectly.
Second, it’s highly unusual that a widely-read and respected author willingly turns his platform over to someone with whom he believes he differs on several important issues. Tom deserves recognition for this gracious gesture.
Third, most shocking of all, and still incredibly difficult to understand is that the Holy Eternal God of Heaven would send His only Son to redeem our deplorable souls, and furthermore call us into His service as ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With all of our weaknesses and inadequacies, we have been called to serve the King of Kings! I’m daily in awe of this gift.
What doesn’t surprise me is that many have questions and legitimate concerns regarding Southern Hills Baptist Church, Idea Day Network, and my own personal life. We’ve done a few things considered unconventional by some and unbiblical by others. So, I can understand the interest. There have been 8 articles written in this series that address concerns about me and the ministries I lead. In the next few paragraphs I will attempt to address these concerns.
1. Why It Matters – Pete Folger
Peter’s father has always been one of my favorite preachers. What Dr. Folger was able to accomplish in Cleveland over these many decades through the power of Christ ought be celebrated. It’s exciting to see this amazing church pass into the capable hands of Peter. I share with Peter a deep love and reverence for our Independent Baptist heritage. We both seek guidance and correction from our father/mentors who have been great leaders in the Independent Baptist movement. Do we differ in minor points of methodology? Yes, I suppose we do. However, I do not see these issues as matters of ecclesiastical separation. Nor do I seek to make more traditional men leave behind methods to which they feel called. I simply desire a broader inclusion of Independent Baptist men who hold varying positions on less than fundamental matters. I long for unity in our ranks.
2. What They Are Not: The Enemy – Tom Brennan
Tom is a different type of critic. He bases his critique upon the issues at hand and attempts to avoid personal attacks. In this post Tom eloquently reminds his readers, “Josh Teis…is not my enemy.”
3. What It Is Not: New – Robert Rutta
Beyond a few brief conversations with Pete and Tom, I’ve never had the honor of meeting the other 5 authors in this series. I think this is an important note, for the other articles seem to have a very difficult time understanding our ministries, motivations, and methods. Much of the misunderstanding comes from an article I wrote several years ago entitled The New Independent Baptists. This blog was born out of an incredible excitement that had come over me at a recent Idea Day. Men were testifying of souls being saved, baptized, and discipled. So many young men reported spiritual and numerical growth in their local congregations. It was so inspiring – on the way home I wrote about how thrilling it was to see a new generation of Independent Baptists thriving. What many saw as a celebration of God’s continued blessing in our churches, some saw as an attack on the previous generation. This broke my heart for this was not my intent. Therefore I asked my father, a faithful minister of 40 years, to write a follow up post entitled The Old Independent Baptists. Perhaps Robert were unaware of this follow-up article that posted the following week. In addition, I do find it humorous that I, and a few friends, have been called New Independent Baptists. This is not a term I’ve ever called myself, nor one that I claim.
4. What It Offers: Relevance – Chris Birkholz
I loved this article! I wish I had written it. I completely agree that an over-emphasis on Cultural Relevance is fool’s errand. Great blog Chris.
5. What It Lacks: The Power of God – Emanuel Rodriguez
This, perhaps was the most disturbing to me personally. However, it was also the article that I believe has the least observable information on our church, ministries, and Idea Day. Emanuel says clearly, “I believe that their emphasis is in the wrong places.” Bluntly stated, Emanuel’s belief is incorrect. His assumption from afar is that those who attend Idea Day are spending their time and money attempting to replace the power of God with
6. Where It is Mistaken: Fitting In – Wesley Palla
Wesley goes out of his way in the article itself and the subsequent comments to make it clear that his article has nothing to do with me or Idea Day. Therefore, I’m disinclined to address this particular article other than to say, I agree that Christians are not called to “fit in” to society. We will often find ourselves standing boldly in the face of persecution as did the Bible heroes mentioned in this post.
7. Its Errant Defense: Chapter and Verse – Tom Brennan
Tom is a great writer. There is no doubt. I hope that his audience grows, as long as he stops writing about me (smile). Here is where we find substantive difference. One of the very first principles we are taught as Baptists is Biblical Authority. Traditions are good but not God. Preferences are fine but not final. What matters most is the question uttered by every Baptist who has ever been properly trained, “What does the Bible say about that?” However, Biblical Authority is not where we differ in belief. Both Tom and I would say that we “stand alone on the Word of God – the B-I-B-L-E.” We would also agree on the definitions and explanations of the words convictions and principles. Every Christian ought to live by both. I suppose where we disagree is that I simply don’t see as scripturally supported several of the principles Tom would have me live by. I cannot, and will not, subject our ministry to the interpretation of biblical principles by another field servant no matter how sincere his subjective objections. We each serve the Master, but to Him alone we will answer.
8. Subject to Change: A Plea to Young Men – Dan Armacost
The fear and trepidation is most palpable in the final article of the series. This is an earnest plea to young ministers by a faithful man of God to be wise in their choices, and choose as conservative a path as possible. I see change, not Josh Teis or Idea Day, as the real adversary in this post. However, the author may not know that we share one major concern. Young men ought seek council from older men. I wrote of the Rehoboam dynamic 5 years ago here. Again, I think if Dan and I had the opportunity of sitting down and discussing his concerns face-to-face he would find that we agree on far more than we disagree; and we would celebrate all that God is doing both at Southern Hills and Fairhaven.
Why Respond? I’ve wrestled with this question myself. Is it about defending my reputation? Ha! No, I’ve little left to defend. Is it about defending my positions? No, I have my own blog to do that. Then why?
Relationships are incredibly important to me. I would love to grow in my relationship with godly men like Peter and Tom. I would be honored to meet and know men like Chris who has dedicated his life to orphans of Honduras, Robert who plants churches in New Zealand, Emanuel who serves as missionary in Paraguay, Wesley a hero in Sau Paulo, and Dan the faithful Dean of Students at Fairhaven Baptist College. Some may read this doubting my sincerity. But those who know me… know this to be absolutely genuine and authentic.
The Christian world needs to unify and strengthen as we enter these perilous times. We must not continue to splinter and divide into increasingly diminished spheres of influence. We have a world to reach, and we can do more together than we can on our own. Therefore, we must remain true to the fundamentals of the faith while allowing for differences on lesser issues. We must have the difficult conversations and learn to understand why a brother may differ from us on a particular idea. I am thankful to Tom for giving me the opportunity to answer many of the questions that some may have about our lives and ministries. I truly hope that going forward – we can be friends. I’m also thankful that he has allowed me to surpass the previously suggested 1,000 words to 1,604. I just cannot seem to be edit my ramblings. HA! As pastors, I assume we all have this in common.
 Acts 18:28
 I Timothy 1:12
 Trust Me! I have my own concerns.
 Psalm 133:1, John 17:20-23
 Romans 13:7
 Zechariah 4:6
 Romans 14
 John 13:35
A decade ago I undertook an in-depth study of the life of Christ. I felt my knowledge of
the events of His life was extensive, but my grasp of the connective tissue between those events was spotty at best. In the intervening years I have read tens of thousands of pages and listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts on Rome, Judaism, rabbinical hermeneutics, and a dozen other things. I have sought to immerse myself in the life and times of Jesus. In the process, a number of the events and interactions in His life have shifted color, so to speak. I view them differently than I did before, deeper and wider and more vivid.
One of those events takes place on the day prior to His death. Jesus spends the bulk of that morning in the Temple engaging in spirited discussion with His enemies, taking on one and all as they come. The Sanhedrin had cobbled together an emergency coalition of usually disparate elements – the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians – and had been taking a run at Him with differing elements of these groups all morning. The intent was to embarrass Him religiously or politically, and chip away at His popular support thus allowing the Sanhedrin’s assassination conspiracy to accomplish its goals without blowback from the common people.
Into the spiritual maelstrom of that morning a Pharisee, taking advantage of a lull in the discussion, launches a divisive question. Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? (Matthew 22.36) The Pharisees were nothing if not diligent students of the Torah, the Mosaic Law. They had parsed it to a fare thee well, and according to their reckoning numbered in its pages 248 specific commandments and 365 prohibitions. Taken together, these 613 precepts formed the foundation of the massive superstructure of Talmudic instruction that so burdened the people. However, it was not enough just to know these 613 precepts and their corresponding interpretations and applications. After all, occasionally it would seem as if one of those precepts was in conflict with a different one. It was also necessary to determine the order of priority each of these precepts had in God’s economy. This would ensure that the more important instruction took precedence over the lesser instruction.
As you can imagine, the debates that arose within Rabbinism about these various rankings make the debates we enter into about the top ten quarterbacks of the modern era pale by comparison. In fact, splits developed along various fault lines in this debate. The lawyer asking Jesus this question in Matthew 22.36 understands all of this, as Jesus does Himself. The lawyer’s intent is to force Jesus to take a position that will be bound to be unpopular with somebody or other, ergo lowering Him in the eyes of some of the people.
Jesus’ answer is thus momentarily brilliant, perfect to the situation. He sidesteps these petty debates entirely, and in the process reveals their spiritual bankruptcy. What is that answer? You know it already, do you not? 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. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22.37-40)
This response is staggering in its clarity and depth. It was not only momentarily brilliant, for it has well echoed through the centuries of Christian history. It calls us to prioritize two things or at least found all of our actions and non-actions on two things – love for God and love for people.
I do not know Josh Teis well, but what I know of him tells me he would agree with everything I have written so far. I do know well a number of leaders who are on his side of this discussion we are having and I would likewise say they would agree with everything I have written so far. Why then am I bringing it up if we all agree? What possible bearing can it have on this discussion?
Simply put, while the neo-independent Baptists agree on the foundational importance these two commandments have in our religious expression they sadly invert the order of precedence which Christ gave them. Loving God is the first and great commandment. Our Saviour is quite clear, nothing else ranks above it, not even the second one, the call to love our neighbor. Unlike some of the men on my side of this discussion, I do not doubt the neo-independent Baptists love for the Lord or for people. I believe there beats within them a heart that genuinely loves our Lord and genuinely loves God’s people and the lost world both. But they have made the grievous mistake, in my judgment, of elevating the second of those loves in precedence over the first. Absent a resolution such a mistaken priority will bring spiritual death in its train.
What are the grounds I have for such an assertion? The dozens of blog posts I have read, the hours of video of I have watched, and the days of online conversations I have engaged in with various neo-independent Baptists. Their ministry philosophy can be boiled down to one essential word – pragmatism. The love they have for their neighbor has driven them passionately in pursuit of their neighbor’s souls. They have thrown tradition and history to the winds, sometimes heedlessly yet often knowingly, in an effort to reach this generation before it is too late. They have grown weary of an independent Baptist movement that they see as increasingly stagnant, isolated, and ineffective. They have raised the question of how do we fix this, examined it from every possible angle, and then launched themselves and their ministries on an entirely different trajectory. They are driven, and sincerely so.
…but they are driven out of order. The question that pastors must ask themselves constantly is not how they and their churches can be more effective; it is how they and their churches can be more holy, more like the Lord who bought them. What drives us dare not be how we can reach more people, instead it must ever be how we can better please Him. The first and greatest and most constant foundational philosophical consideration of our ministries cannot be them; it must be Him.
I can hear some of you muttering under your breath, “Seriously? This Hyles-Anderson graduate is going to lecture us about pragmatism?” Believe me, I know. Painfully. The sincerely motivated results oriented dynamic endemic in the neo-independent Baptist movement has a long and storied history in our movement. Our forefathers sowed the wind in this respect, and our generation is reaping the whirlwind. All of which begs the question, when you sow the whirlwind what do you think you are going to reap? The neo-independent Baptist movement desperately needs to take the long view, to look down the road, past this week and this year and how the crowds are responding at the moment. What will their pursuit of the world in an effort to reach the world produce in their pulpits, in their churches, and in their children twenty, thirty, forty years from now?
As God is my witness I feel no joy in penning these words. I do not imagine these past couple of months have been any more fun for Josh Teis than they have been for me, in this respect. But while I wish him no ill will, and indeed view him as a brother for whom I want the best of God’s favor, I cannot take back what I have written. Nor do I doubt the wisdom and veracity of the blog series itself. In this the other authors share my sentiment. Beloved, if we as a movement are in need of a reorientation it surely must not be in the direction of people, as much as we love them; it must be in the direction of Christ.
Several times in the course of writing this series I have been asked if I think it has been
Who is pleased with the ministry you are building? Who is pleased with the direction you are going? Whose delighted response are you aiming for?
Or the Lord?