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Chapter 6 — Baptist Independency, What We Mean By It
By A. J. Kirkland, Former Pastor
White Oak Baptist Church, Longview, Texas>
      Baptists have always been identified by certain characteristics of independence. Even back in the dark ages, and in the rise of the Roman Papacy, they suffered for their independence. It was because they refused to recognize the rights of Rome to interfere with their worship and faith that they were branded as heretics and accounted worthy to die. And because they refused to recognize the rights of Roman Catholicism to baptize and to execute the great commission for them that they got the name Ana-Baptists. And because of their refusal to recognize any authority of state over them they were hated and stigmatized from one end of the world to the other. Today, no other people are given credit for complete separation of church and state in America as Baptists.

      Some of the characteristics still obtain among most Baptists so far as we know. Indeed, most Baptist Conventions and Associations still safeguard their interest against government interference. This has been manifested recently in the condemnation of the government N. Y. A. program and with reference to social security, although we regret to say that some schools sustained by Baptists have accepted money from the government in the N. Y. A. program.

      But we wonder today if when we talk about Baptist independence we have not come to think only in terms of separation of church and state. Some Baptists are becoming entangled with the so-called Federal [National] Council of the Churches of Christ of America and kindred organizations, and this within itself is significant. We wonder if we have not unconsciously come to think of independence as a mere denominational right for Baptists as a whole without regard to the local pulpit and the church unit. We believe that these things are true.

      It is true that among many Baptist groups or bodies the idea or doctrine of independence still prevails, but in fact it is not true. It exists in preachment but is not manifested in practice. During a recent meeting of the General Baptist Convention of Texas in Houston, there appeared an editorial in the Houston Chronicle which would do credit to any Baptist people on Baptist independency. The editorial declared that here was a meeting of people who had majored on the independency of the local congregation. That in fact every body representing in this great Convention was an independent self-governing community, a kingdom within itself, and was in no way organically connected with anything outside of its local organization. The Chronicle stated the true Baptist position and theoretically told the truth. But how different are the actual workings of the Convention system from these preachments. However, it is not our purpose to deal at length with these things.

Associations Unscriptural

      If we are to understand the real meaning of Baptist independency as a principle taught and commanded by Christ, there is one thing that we must positively fix in our minds and hearts from the beginning. In fact, the learning or fixing of this one truth in our minds, and the doing of it with definite immovable convictions, will just about settle everything else. That truth is this: The Holy Scriptures positively know nothing whatsoever of any kind of a general body such as associations, conventions, or any kind of organized movement of Christianity other than a local congregation known as a church. It is mighty hard for modern day Baptists with all their traditional and denominational pride to accept and recognize this fact, but it is the truth nevertheless. Every organization, assembly, convention, association and other movements regardless of their nature outside or in addition to the local church body is of recent origin and is the product of human wisdom.

      Now, if we accept the above stated truth, and, if we are honest with ourselves and our Bibles, we must accept it, it follows without gainsaying that every teaching and principle found in the word relative to the sovereignty and independence of the people of God must pertain to a local church body and cannot in any sense be rightfully applied to a Baptist denomination. To apply them to an association or convention is but to wrest the Scripture from its true meaning and change the word of God into a lie. If these statements seem hard and harsh let the reader appeal the issue to the word of God and be judged thereby. Baptist tradition is one thing; the word of God is another.

      Now, with reference to Baptist independency, we lay down three scriptural principles taught and commanded by our Lord, the which, if obeyed, would establish the independency of every church and there could never be any question as to what real Baptist independence is. They are to-wit

      1. Jesus declared Himself to be the Lord, or Master of the church and emphatically excluded all others (Matthew 23:1-12). Let the reader turn and prayerfully study the whole passage. We quote verse 8, which is the key verse, "And be ye not called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ and all ye are brethren."

      2. Jesus denounced any method or plan of government or operation which might be imposed upon His church that would in any sense interfere with His Lordship or their independence under Him (Matthew 20:25-26). "And Jesus called them unto Him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you."

      3. Jesus gave the Great Commission to the church body and sent the Holy Spirit to comfort, teach and guide it in the carrying out of the same. (Matthew 28:19-20) "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world, Amen." (John 16:7-15) "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you"; and Acts 1:4-8 "And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." We ask our readers to carefully and prayerfully study these scripture references. We are convinced that if these truths take hold upon our hearts we shall behold the glory of our Lord and His church as never before.

      In the language of another, "Now of the things I have written, this is the sum." Christ is the Lord of His church. As head, He and He alone must command it or make its program. No man, set of men, denomination, association, convention or board dare presume to interfere with the divinely appointed program of the church under her Lord. And again, in whatsoever means or method the church may adopt in the carrying out of our Lord’s commands, it must do so without surrendering its independence under Christ and in no sense can it come under the commands or orders of any human rulership. "It shall not be so among you." And finally, the church must look to the Holy Spirit and to Him only as the one to lead it in its mission and ministry in the world. To violate any one of these principles is to denounce the Lordship of Christ and to set up a human Lord with a program instigated by human wisdom with the Holy Spirit’s leadership rejected for that of human wisdom.

      But some may ask, cannot churches scripturally and rightly work together in the carrying out of our Lord’s program? Yes, to be sure they can. What glorious fellowship the churches of the New Testament had in the labor of the gospel. But they did not violate these principles in doing so. When the church at Jerusalem heard of the great revival at Samaria, they sent Peter and John up there (Acts 8:14). The independence of no church was sacrificed. When the news came to Jerusalem about the Antioch revival, the church sent Barnabas there (Acts 11:22). Again it was the same. The Holy Spirit led the church at Antioch to send out Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:1-4). Other churches later had fellowship in their ministry. But in no case was the Lordship of Christ, the sovereignty of the churches, nor the leadership of the Holy Spirit interfered with.

      Is it not wonderful that in this simple way the gospel sound went out unto "all the earth." For fifteen hundred years all that the churches had was the command of the Lord and the leadership of the Spirit and yet they "turned the world upside-down." What more do we need now? Denominationalism has brought institutionalism and the glories of denominational pride. It has also brought the denominational program with its system of promotion for its pastors and preachers and cooperation with the denominational program is the basis of fellowship in Baptist life. The "needs" of the various boards have priorities over the commands of Jesus Christ and the leadership of the Superintendent of missions or field workers displaces the leadership of the Holy Spirit.


[From M. L. Moser, editor, The Case for Independent Baptist Churches, 1977. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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