By Rosco Brong
Former Dean, Lexington Baptist College
Independent of Men but Dependent on God, Baptists Need to Preserve Fellowship
"That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." (I John 1:3)
From the beginning of its ministry, Lexington Baptist College has stood for the great doctrines of God's word as held by Baptists through 19 centuries. Necessarily therefore we have opposed ecumenism, unionism, modernism, and other isms that oppose the word of God for which we stand. We seek to maintain our testimony to the whole truth of the Bible even when enemies of that truth appear under the name "Baptist."
Sometimes, as might be expected, our motives are misjudged and our purposes misunderstood. Sometimes, indeed, imperfectly taught students and former students have contributed to such misunderstanding. But for over 22 years Lexington Baptist College has pursued its purposes about as consistently as is possible for a human institution - not seeking to establish a new religion or a new denomination, but simply bearing witness to established truth. This truth will stand when the world falls, and by God's grace we hope to stand with it.
Advice from Bro. Casey Among our faithful teachers in the early years of the school was Bro. W. B. Casey, now in Florida, but then pastor of Chevy Chase Baptist Church in Lexington. The following article was written by Bro. Casey and first published in his church bulletin, Chevy Chase Chimes, in 1955. The article is as good and timely now as it was then, and was later republished by Pastor Lloyd Mahanes of Boone's Creek Baptist Church in the bulletin News and Truths. Bro. Casey's article follows:
Can Baptist Independence Be Carried Too Far?
One of the most precious truths held by the Baptists through all ages, and by their forefathers of other names before they were called Baptists, is the independence of each local church to govern itself and carry on its own work without any interference from any ecclesiastical authority over it. We believe that Christ is the Head of each local church and that church is subject to Him alone. We believe that the local church is the highest ecclesiastical authority recognized on this earth. Matthew 18:15-20.
For this truth many have given their lives, while others have suffered both physical and mental torture because of it. In countries that do not recognize religious liberty and separation of church and state, Baptists have often suffered much because of their love for this one principle. In every association and convention formed by groups of Baptist Churches, this principle has been carefully guarded in constitutions and by-laws so that no church would surrender her autonomy to any other group.
To this great doctrine we give our heartiest assent. We have heard the distinction made recently between "Independent" Baptist Churches and "Convention" Baptist Churches. Actually there is no such distinction in fact. To say that a church is a Baptist Church is to say that it is also an independent church. If it is not independent, it is not Baptist, and the belief on the part of many that the Southern Baptist Convention has authority over the churches affiliated with it is entirely erroneous. Churches do not actually "belong" to associations and conventions; they are merely "associated with" or "affiliated with" them. A Baptist church can not strictly "belong" to anything. It belongs to the Lord.
Limits To Freedom This may seem a mere play on words and much ado about nothing, but it is fast becoming a serious threat to Baptist life in our land. In our government, we believe in democracy, and oftentimes in ignorance or misguided zeal we carry that democracy to the extreme where we do not consider each other. The old Irish-man who came to America in order to be completely free hit a policeman on the nose as soon as he stepped from the ship. When in court he pleaded that this was a free land, the judge reminded him: "Pat, your freedom ends where the other fellow's nose begins."
We need this little reminder. With our Baptist spirit of independence we are often led into selfish and narrow lanes where everyone seems out of step but us, and we tend to draw tighter and tighter about us what we believe to be devotion to truth, but what might become only the old Pharisaical self-righteousness of Jesus' day.
It is true that Satan has always fought the truth and true churches. It is true that when we get big we become more liable to go into error. It is also true that many things which Southern Baptists are doing could be done in a better way, and in all probability many could be left off. It is true that unionism and interdenominationalism are creeping in. We could actually make a long list of things wrong about the entire group of Baptists in the south. I would not for one moment defend that which is contrary to the truth, and I believe that any Baptist has a right to speak out against that which he believes to be contrary to the Word of God. I believe in the right of any Baptist church to choose its own course of action under the guiding hand of the Spirit of God.
"Christian Courtesy" However, the sad state of affairs often brought about is a wrong attitude on the part of sincere Baptists toward other Baptists just as sincere. There is often the omission of common courtesies, and the practice of methods wholly unbecoming to those calling themselves brethren. If the church in my town has some methods which I do not wholly agree with, does that give me the right to say that it is not a scriptural church and to go within its shadow to establish another church? Is it right for two Baptist churches to exist in the same community, each claiming to be the only "true" Baptist church in that community? Certainly, believing as we do in the independence of Baptist churches, a group of people have the right to establish a church where they wish. But, believing also in common Christian courtesy, and in fellowship with those holding the same great truths as we do, it does not seem Christian to divide over methods. We would not be alarmist, nor would we set ourselves up as the example of the "correct" attitude, but we fear for many good sincere young men entering the ministry that in their zeal for the truth they shall be led into practices of the extreme we have just pointed out.
Fellowship in Truth Where is a remedy? Certainly on one hand, it behooves us in every undertaking of Baptists to be sure we are following the Word. It doesn't help the situation for any Baptist institutions to show a disregard for some fundamental truth and to invite into its fellowship those who flagrantly violated Baptist principles. If we expect cooperation and fellowship, we certainly ought to keep a clean house. On the other hand, Christian patience, brotherly love and understanding, prayerful investigation of reason and motives, and a sincere seeking of the will of God both for ourselves and for others would often prevent some of the rifts that are showing in Baptist circles.
We believe Baptists to be a great people. They have a great message to give to the world. Paul said, "Do good unto all men, especially unto them that are of the household of faith." There ought to be a special fellowship among Baptists even though we may have different methods of carrying out the work of the Lord. We ought not to label a man an "off-brand" Baptist every time he fails to agree with us. Let us pray for a richer fellowship in the carrying out of the Great Commission, and the practise of courtesy and love in our dealings with one another. Let us preserve our independence by sacricing our own selfish desires. ==========
[From Ashland Avenue Baptist newspaper, November 24, 1972, pp. 1, 3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall]
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