Baptist independency has been a fly in the ecclesiastical ointment for more than nineteen hundred years. It had its beginnings in antiquity, when "a man was sent from God, whose name was John."
This John was a Baptist. The Lord called him a Baptist. And by all the earmarks, he was a rock-ribbed orthodox Baptist. He took orders from Heaven only. He preached the gospel of the Kingdom, even Christ, without license, permit, authority, or delegation from the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. He held no degree from either of the seminaries in Jerusalem: the school of Hillel, representing the "theological theorists, self-seeking jurists"; or the school of Shammai, representing the "Nationalists." Yet he was so theologically tough the deputation from the Sanhedrin, sent down to Jordan to investigate him, couldn’t shake him. He foiled the sentimentalists (the sawdust trail hitters and the traditionalists with his "direct" preaching. He knew his Master and obeyed Him; he knew his mission, and did it.
The answer to all this is, He was an independent Baptist. You may call this bigotry, if you wish, but you will butt your head against the Rock if you do—it is the rock—ribbed truth. His independency was inherent in the fact that, under God, Christ was his only Master. He had a divine right to be independent of all men in matters pertaining to his heavenly call and mission, because he was solely dependent upon his one master. He had no right to surrender that independence, while yet claiming to be the servant of Christ. His independent action, which was in no sense dependent upon the organized, apostate "Jews’ religion," must be attributed directly to his unswerving allegiance to his one and only master, Christ. There you have the pattern and mold for true Baptist independency.
When Jesus came to His personal ministry, He called out His church from the disciples which John had made and baptized. That church was independent from the established order of that day, both in origin, faith, and function. It had one Lord, only, one faith, one baptism, and one mission. That church, being assembled in the upper room, received the one Spirit. Since that day, no one hundred percent New Testament Baptist church has been subject to the state, ecclesiastical orders, or denomination over-lordship. An independent Baptist church is a New Testament church. Being independent of all men in matters pertaining to its divine origin, faith, and mission, it is dependent solely upon its one Lord. Baptist independency in action must be attributed to its unswerving allegiance and devotion to its only authority and power, comfort and wisdom, guide and master, the Lord Jesus Christ. When any organization of men presumes "to elicit, combine, and (or) direct the resources and activities of such churches" it goes beyond that which is written, overriding divine authority, overstepping divine wisdom, over-passing divine guidance. It is an unholy intrusion into the office of the Holy Spirit. Churches which yield to its claims, no matter on what grounds, begin anew the trek toward the Roman Papacy.
Our contention for Baptist independency is not a new thing. The struggle began very early in the Christian Era. It continued on, and still continues. Nor is our contention for Baptist independency an obstructionist program of a disgruntled minority group among Baptists. The champions of Baptist independency are made of more substantial stuff than is found in the warp and woof of chronic obstructionists and habitual kickers. They are the keepers of the liberties which others enjoy, and sometimes employ against them. True hearts, not great heads are the vanguards of Baptist independency.
Space forbids any attempt to trace the history of Baptist independency here. But I will quote from one of our Baptist historians of the Nineteenth Century, Dr. Thomas Armitage, one-time pastor of the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, New York City. His title page reads: A History of the Baptists; Traced by Their Vital Principles and Practices from the Time of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to the Year 1886. Dr. Armitage says: "(But) often, a true heart takes men farther Christ-ward than even a true head; and so Bible truth is ever proving its divinity by doing this great saving work. But still, wherever a human standard is set up in place of the Scriptures, it is always more jealously preserved than the teachings of revelation. A fanatic who corrupts the word of God is more heartily fellowshipped by many modern churches, than he who opposes human decrees and inventions against the Scripture; while he who insists upon obedience to their authority, excites the greatest possible odium, because, to do this wounds the pride of men. Men pay a great price for saying, that the right to legislate for Christian Churches belongs to Christ alone (Emphasis mine—RNC). Yet He has given His law in the Bible and every form of church life that is not in accordance with that law, directly sets it aside. So, then, in a very important sense, it partakes of disloyalty to say that Christ has not made sufficient provision for His churches in the Scriptures, in every thing that affects their well-being" (p. 116).
Baptist independency inheres in the divine right of each individual servant of God and every individual, local church to obey the Truth on the sole authority of the Holy Scriptures. Quoting Dr. Armitage again, he says: "(Thus,) tradition nullifies the law of Christ, by making it a dream, a sentiment and finally a mockery. The very reverse of this was the law in the Apostolic churches. In the hands of this human, mystical and sacramental principle (i.e., tradition versus the Law of Christ), sacraments become the expression of great truths in human language, and the doctrine is fostered that material phenomena become the instrument of communicating unseen things, to which the mind of man is unequal; as if water could purge away the pollutions of sin, or bread and wine could give eternal life . . . The inevitable consequence is, a Church armed with awfully mysterious sacraments and rights as channels of saving grace, and with a narrow religious teaching founded on the will of the Church, as she chooses to define it from time to time. After that, of course, the Rule of Faith is found in the Catholic teaching of the early centuries—in the decrees of councils—and sanctioned usages. At this point, the right of private judgment is cut off . . . That right once yielded, the Church claims to judge infallibly for all men on all religious questions; and it must be obeyed without a word. Independency of mind being thus destroyed, paralysis of the intellect follows, the courage of the soul dies with its liberty, discussion becomes dangerous; and so, all must submit and be silent, as it is safe to yield to absolute authority where one dare not dissent. The final consequence is, that it becomes a crime to claim the personal right to obey the truth which rests on the sole authority of the Inspired Word" (p. 117).
In the above quotations you have an eloquent, old-fashioned plea for Baptist independency by an able contender for the "faith once delivered unto the saints." Was this great pastor and scholar a crank? a kicker? a "non-cooperate" Baptist? a chronic obstructionist? Or is it not evident that he was a sober, loyal, sincere champion of our Baptist independency on the ground that it is a divine right? The answer is obvious: the author is an independent Baptist, boldly contending for the truth.
One other word from his powerful pen: "This fact is perfectly clear, namely: That the New Testament contains all that entered into the faith and practice of the Apostolic Churches. Whether it contains little or much, it covers all that they had, and all that we have, which has any claim on the Churches of Christ . . . Its authority stands out alone, and will allow no parallel or supplementary authority whatever, however venerable. The most revered antiquity stands on purely human ground, without any thing in common with the New Testament, when that antiquity is not in the Holy Book." Away goes human expedients, human inventions, denominational traditionalism and institutionalism, smashed to smithereens upon the Rock of divine Truth.
Baptist independency, like every other precious heritage, can be preserved only by the most vigilant guard against the subtle, destructive forces of evil. The vanguards of liberty have always sounded the warning of approaching conflict before it breaks into the violence of polemical warfare and religious persecutions. Now we see Baptist independency once more a sufferer. Its wounds are painful. They would heal, and its life will be saved only if Baptists themselves are loyal to Christ. Its deepest wounds are received at the hands of its friends.
A startling development is now in progress. Baptists are yielding their independency over to centralized control of Baptist machines. That fact poses a mighty problem for them that would remain free and independent. Will true independents meekly submit? There are enough of them yet, when properly informed and unified in action, to wage a first rate war on the enemies of Baptist independence. Will they rally to the trumpet call for battle? Or will they passively yield up their divine right of independence? Appeasers in the army of God are traitors to the cause of Christ. If the Lord tarries yet a while, time will tell.
I said that a startling development is now in progress. With permission, I am quoting a few passages from Dr. William Wright Barnes’ book on The Southern Baptist Convention, A Study in the Development of Ecclesiology (1934). In his introduction he says:
"In the following pages the effort has been made to show that there has been an ecclesiological development in Southern Baptist life comparable to the development that took place in the first centuries of Christian history - a development that laid the foundation of the medieval Catholic Church, out of which came the Roman Catholic Church of modern times. It is a far cry from the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) about A. D. 50, to the council in the Vatican, A. D. 1870, but during those eighteen centuries a development took place that completely changed the character and form of the outward manifestation of Christianity.
"When a Southern Baptist of the twentieth century says convention or denomination, he means just about what a second century Christian meant when he said catholic church, that is, universal church. There has developed a thinking in terms of a corporate consciousness comparable to that which pervades the Christian literature of the second and third centuries. The term Southern Baptist Church is not quite orthodox, but within another generation or two it may attain wide popularity and perfect ecclesiastical respectability. The Fathers of 1845 would not recognize the convention of 1934, but, as will be seen, they themselves in the method adopted made a change in previous convention procedure and constitutional theory that constituted the first step in the current tendency. The record of the development in the early centuries helps to understand what is taking place in our midst and before our very eyes" (Pg. 1).
These words were written twenty-nine [now 43] years ago, and we note no improvement in the situation in favor of Baptist independency, except that the independents themselves may be a bit more awake to the true facts in the matter.
Was Dr. Barnes a habitual kicker? a chronic obstructionist? a fanatical "independent" crank - because he warns of this ominous trend in one of the major groups of Baptists? Not a bit of it. It is only fair to say that when he published the above named book, he had been professor of Church History in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas for many years, later was elected Professor Emeritus on his retirement, and was commissioned by the Southern Baptist Convention to write the most comprehensive history ever made of the Southern Baptist Convention. Will his colleagues heed the warning and turn their course to parallel New Testament faith and practice? We most earnestly pray they may.
He tells us this, however: "The conception of a Southern Baptist Church, composed of the local churches, calls for a representation of and from these constituent units that shall form the supreme authority" (p.27). He declares: "The convention seems to consider itself authorized to speak upon any subject — doctrinal, missionary, political, social, scientific, etc. - with equal authority in the name of churches." Then he poses this question: "What manner of war or controversy or upheaval will bring to birth a constitutionally recognized Southern Baptist Church from which any group of Baptists may not secede?" (p. 31). On page 73, he says, "There is now almost a Southern Baptist Church composed of churches." And in his conclusion he observes: "It may be that the present emphasis upon mechanism and unification is the cause of lessened missionary zeal; it may be that it is the result. But in either case, a Church is developing" (Pg. 78).
Baptist independency is like unto gold: it is not destroyed but refined by the fires of opposition and persecution. The Refiner’s fire is beginning to glow again. No Baptist group can "secede" from any Baptist machine now, no matter by what name it is known, without suffering painful opposition. As Baptist machinery matures this Baptist "Church which is developing" by its increasing tendency toward "supreme authority," the gold will come to be more and more in evidence among Baptists who are loyal to Christ: for they will not yield the divine right of Baptist independency to human authority.
[From M. L. Moser, editor, The Case for Independent Baptist Churches, 1977. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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