There appears to be growing tension between two factions of Baptists that are increasingly at odds with one another. Neither side really accepts a label, and these labels are problematic. For the sake of clarity, they might be called Independent Fundamental (conservative) and New or Neo-Independent Baptists (more liberal).
I have personal relationships with good people in both camps. I have spoken with leaders on both “sides” (I hate that there are such things in this).
The biggest problem with seeing the legitimacy of two opposing viewpoints is that I end up satisfying no one, including myself. Not only does the rift remain, but I have now fallen into the precipice between them.
Only God can heal the divide, but we must be willing to simultaneously humble ourselves and think better of others. Far too few are willing to do this, and a house divided will not stand (Matt 12:25).
Unification is Valid
I understand the calls for Christian unity that defy denominational differences. Baptists, Southern Baptists, Independent Baptists, Independent Fundamental Baptists, New Independent Fundamental Baptists, New Independent Baptists, Neo-Independent Baptists, American Baptists, and Autonomous Baptists have more doctrines in common than not.
Yet the fight rages on.
Baptist leaders are calling each other apostates and heretics. We are writing passive aggressive and legitimately aggressive blogs about each other. Some have begun associating good men with cult leaders while effectively ex-communicating them from whichever Baptist circle the accuser belongs.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is becoming extremely ugly.
Separation is Valid
That being said, I understand the calls for separation. Just like our political landscape, churches are on a conservative/liberal spectrum. Many Baptist churches are becoming more liberal in that they are “modernizing” by abandoning the long-held King James Version standard, switching to contemporary Christian music in lieu of hymns, abandoning suits and dresses, and appealing to culture in an attempt to reach the ungodly.
The argument would be the same as we see in politics. The hardline conservative Baptists refuse to stray from tradition, which is largely rooted in biblical principles. The liberal Baptists see tradition as a matter of preference rather than doctrinal position.
I believe they are both correct in some instances, but incorrect in others. As both sides dig in, the divide widens.
I disagree with the premise that traditional preferences are legalistic or Pharisaical. There is absolute validity in being separate from culture, especially during worship services.
I disagree with the premise that leaving traditions behind is apostasy. It might churn my stomach when a Baptist church turns away from the KJV, but that does not make them less Baptist or, more importantly, less Christian.
There are some conservative churches who will never win as many souls as some liberal churches. Some will.
There are some liberal churches who will never experience the spiritual growth of some conservative churches. Some will.
What if We Continue to Separate?
The infighting not only divides pastors, but congregations. Not only congregations, but denominations. It becomes more difficult to share the workplace with a multi-denominational group of Christians when so entrenched in traditionalism. It becomes even more so when division enters the church building.
That being said, we cannot give in to false teachings, squishy doctrine, and Unitarianism. The Bible is a divisive book, therefore some division is not only necessary, but encouraged throughout Scripture (Rom 16:17-18, Gal 1:6-10, 1 Tim 6:3, 2 Cor 11:13-15).
What if We Unify?
There are financial benefits: a larger “war chest” for missionaries, more money for church planting, the ability to evangelize more effectively.
There are social benefits: the pool of Christians with whom we can associate becomes larger.
There are spiritual benefits: more opportunities to preach at a wider variety of churches and spreading the Gospel to more people.
Christianity should be unifying (Eph 4:3-6, Mark 3:24-26, Gal 3:28-29).
A New Order
One pastor who has a penchant for proclaiming a re-unification of Baptist sects uses a set of five doctrines that he considers “primary” doctrines that should lead to separation. The flaw in this position is that the number of “primary” doctrines is subjective.
His list of fundamental doctrines are
- The Deity of Christ
- The Virgin Birth
- The Blood Atonement
- The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ
- The Inerrancy of Scripture
This is actually a great starting point. The Gospel is represented here, but I would include separate categories of Salvation (repenting of sin, believing that Jesus is the Lord God incarnate, belief in his death, burial, and resurrection, and asking Christ into your heart) and Evangelism.
Also, when discussing separation, I am not referring to being friends or associating with Christians of a different perspective. I am talking about separation within the church walls.
I see no problem with pooling resources with different churches so long as we can agree on my amended list of “fundamental doctrines.” I am sure our missionaries would appreciate it.
I see no problem associating with those who believe in the original five when organizing larger functions. Imagine the increased possibility of revival in these last days if we were working together with other Baptists.
I think we would all be better served if both sides were willing to make concessions. Right now we are the Christian equivalent of the Jews and Palestinians.
One Final Plea
There is nothing wrong with being separate in some cases. There is nothing wrong with being unified in others. What is wrong are the accusations, mudslinging, and mischaracterization of those we disagree with. Not all liberal Baptists are apostate heretics. Not all conservatives are Pharisaical legalists.
There are some rotten apples on both sides of this, but the majority of us are on the same team. If separation is the final decision, perhaps Baptist leaders and their constituents would be better served if the focus pointed inward. Enjoy the autonomous church of your liking, without trying to destroy others.
If Christianity is supposed to remove ethnic and gender differences because “ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28), why is it so difficult for we Baptists to act as one? Why do we feel compelled to attribute the worst intentions to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?
Someone needs to be the adult in the room. “Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:” (Prov 1:20).
I am not sure which church leader will read this, but I implore you to turn your attention to the true enemy – the spiritual wickedness in high places; that wicked serpent, the Devil.
And no, a doctrinal Baptist who allows drums is not spiritually wicked. No, a doctrinal Baptist who requires a preacher to use the KJV is not spiritually wicked.
This separation is what Satan wants. There are legitimate divisions between Baptists and Mormons, the New Apostolic Reformation, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Mainline Protestants, Muslims, Hindi, Jews, etc.
If you do not agree with me, that is fine. I somewhat sarcastically refer to myself as a “heretic” for many of my views on the sons of God, Christian music, and the Gap (theory). There are some in my own Baptist circle who would consider me apostate just for writing this.
I will sleep soundly tonight because I am comfortable in my walk with Jesus Christ, not because I have the approval of a particular Baptist sect.
We need to focus on the Gospel and spiritual warfare; focus on quenching the fiery darts of the wicked, not firing dull barbs at a fellow brother.