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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15


An Urgent Call for a National Fellowship Meeting of Independent Baptists

Norman H. Wells

From The Church That Jesus Loved, 1973 (Chapter 21)

It is one thing to be an "independent" Baptist; it is another thing to be an "isolationist." An independent Baptist is one who is opposed to any kind of extra-scriptural organizations binding churches together such as Conventions, Associations, Fellowships, etc. He is also opposed to Mission Boards assuming the authority of the churches in sending out missionaries.


An independent Baptist church believes in the historic Baptist doctrines. He believes the church should be a real Bible teaching, Bible preaching, soul-winning station. He believes the Gospel should be sent into all the world. He believes missionaries should be sent into all the world. He believes that Baptist churches can cooperate in this effort without the benefit of extra-scriptural organizations. The independent Baptist strives to cooperate with all other real Baptists in getting the Gospel out to the ends of the earth.


There are those who call themselves "independent" when in reality they are "isolationist." They seem to feel that being independent means withdrawing from fellowship with other Baptists and in avoiding like the plague any cooperation with other Baptists in getting the Gospel message to the lost. They have "gone to seed" in a fight against the extra-scriptural organizations of Conventions, Associations, Fellowships, Boards, etc., and have run to the other extreme of completely isolating themselves.


Generally these churches will become bitter, wither and lose their missionary zeal. They become so engrossed in their stand against the evils of mission boards that they themselves neglect sending out missionaries. It is absolutely folly for a church or pastor who is not sending forth missionaries to criticize the method of someone else!! It would certainly be the lesser of two evils to be identified with a group whose method was extra-scriptural but who were getting missionaries out than to be catalogued with a group of disgruntled "isolationists" who were not getting the missionaries to the field.


"Isolationist" Baptists are generally a suspicious lot. They view with acute restraint any cooperative effort of accomplishing the work of God. They have become so fearful of being "organized" into something that they adopt a strict "go it alone" policy. Each becomes so engrossed in their own little diggings that they lose their world-wide vision.


God never intended for His churches to stand isolated and shut off from all other churches. He meant for them to have fellowship and to cooperate in the tremendous task of evangelization of the lost.


Now to get to the heart of the thing! As independent Baptists we need a fresh demonstration of the scriptural truths we hold so dear. We need to establish as a living fact that Baptist churches can fellowship together and cooperate in a world-wide missionary effort without an extra-scriptural organization. If what we believe is right our method should work! If it doesn't work we ought to shut up and go get with one that does! We need to demonstrate that we have faith in what we declare to be God's method.


We are continually receiving letters asking how that can be done. The question is how can Baptist churches fellowship together, cooperate in a world-wide missionary effort, build Bible schools, publish papers, etc. without any organization other than that of the local church. We would like again to endeavor to answer that question.


First, it must be stated, that it is being done — now! All over this country there are Baptist churches in scores of different localities who are not identified with any organization, who are fellowshipping with one another, cooperating in a world-wide missionary effort, building Bible schools, publishing papers, etc. It also must be stated that there are a great number of missionaries, on the field, all over the world who have been sent out by these churches. It is, however, a long way from being what it should be!


There are, I understand, a number of pastors and churches, now identified with Baptist organizations, whose convictions are opposed to such organizations but who continue to go along because there seemingly is no other way. I direct the following remarks first to the "isolationist" who has drawn off completely to himself and has no world-wide missionary effort. Secondly, I write to Conventions and Fellowship pastors and churches who think there is no other way of getting the job done except through the extra-scriptural organizations. Third, I would include those independent pastors and churches who long for a fresh demonstration of these scriptural truths on a world-wide scale.


There are three things necessary before Baptist churches can fellowship and cooperate with one another.


First, there must be agreement as to our message. It is ridiculous to conceive of Baptist churches cooperating to get the message out and at the same time disagreeing as to the contents of the message. It is clearly apparent there must be agreement as to our message before there can be cooperation. We need again to thunder forth the historic Baptist doctrines that have lived through the ages. We need to give forth the kind of Baptist message that will stem the tide toward interdenominationalism that exists among so-called fundamental Baptists. We need the kind of fellowship and cooperation that lets us stand together in a real opposition against compromise of our message. Baptist churches that are still clinging to the real Baptist message need to blend their voices that they may be heard around the world.


This would require no organization, no change in the churches, nor any such thing. It would simply be an understanding among all the churches that they were sending forth the same message. In this age of compromise and apostasy this is a necessity. Another advantage would be that when a Baptist church approved and sent forth a missionary all other churches would know where the missionary stood as to doctrine and message.


The second thing required in order for Baptist churches to fellowship and cooperate together without the benefit of extra-scriptural organizations would be agreement in our mission!


"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..." — Matt. 28:19-20.


The mission of Baptist churches is to "teach all nations" or "disciple" all nations, that is, get folks saved! The churches are to carry the Gospel to "all nations!" Secondly, they are to baptize those who get saved! What a tremendous importance this places on baptism. Thirdly, the churches are to teach the baptized converts "to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you."


Baptists who are going to cooperate in a world-wide effort need to have agreement as to their mission. It is clearly stated we should be striving to get folks saved, baptize them and teach them all things. Again it needs to be emphasized that this mission is a world-wide effort and requires Baptists to work together.


The third thing required in order for Baptist churches to fellowship and cooperate together without benefit of extra-scriptural organizations would be agreement in method. Again it stands to reason that before there can be unity and cooperation among Baptists they would have to be agreed as to how they were going to do the job! We have the message and we know our mission is to go into all the world without this message. The question is, how are we going to do it? Several things have to be considered.


First, the only organization given in the New Testament is the local church. There were no Conventions, Associations, Organized Fellowships, Mission Boards, etc., and neither was there any authorization for such to appear later. It should be apparent to all that God intended for the individual local churches to be the instrument by which His work was to be carried out — He gave no order!


Second, the only organization in existence in New Testament times was the local church yet the greatest missionary effort of all times was accomplished. It worked then and it will work now!

Third, any organization other than a church that is formed to carry out God's work is extra-scriptural. It is a rejection of God's method and substituting of another.


The question is, how can Baptist churches work together without this extra-scriptural organization? How can they send our missionaries, operate Bible Schools, publish papers, etc.? The answer is simple — just like they did in New Testament times!


Let's apply it today! For purposes of illustration let us suppose we have 100 Baptist churches and all of them are independent with no organization binding them together. They are all agreed in their message and their mission. How are they going to cooperate to get the job done? Remember the number 100 is representative; it could be 1,000, 10,000 or any amount. We'll let these 100 churches represent all real independent Baptist churches.


From these 100 churches God will call preachers, evangelists, missionaries, etc. as described in Acts 13. The Holy Spirit informs the individual of his calling and also informs the local church. The local church sends them out.


Let us take one of our 100 churches. God calls a missionary from this church to go to the foreign field. He makes his calling known and the church is led by the Holy Spirit to accept him as a missionary to be sent to the foreign field. He is sent forth on the authority of this church. If this church cannot completely support him financially they will endeavor to get the other 99 churches to assist. This local church approves the missionary and recommends him to other churches as being a missionary worthy of support.


Each of the other 99 churches acts as they feel the Holy Spirit leads in regard to this missionary. If they feel led to assist in the support of the missionary they send their help to him or to the church and they have a right to expect a report from that church concerning the activities and support of the missionary. In this manner it is possible to conceive of all 100 of these churches cooperating in helping this one church send forth a missionary to a foreign field. All this is done without any organization except that of the local church.


Each of these 100 churches should constantly endeavor to start new churches in needy fields. Churches grouped closely in one locality could easily cooperate together in this kind of effort.


What about Bible Schools? How would they be started and operated without some kind of extra-scriptural organization?


Under an organization such as a Convention, Association, Fellowship, etc. there 100 churches would probably have one school with maybe 40 to 50 students. If each of the 100 churches were free and independent there would probably be several of these 100 churches led to start schools and the enrollment would probably triple or better. There could be a church--sponsored school in every locality!


The same thing could be said of publishing religious papers. Under an organization, these 100 churches would probably publish one paper. Free and independent churches would have several publications and reach many more people.


God's method works! Everything accomplished by organizations of Baptists in sending forth missionaries, starting churches, operating Bible schools, publishing papers, etc., can be done by free and independent Baptist churches — and done better! If there is a better way, God's way, then it's the responsibility of every church and pastor to walk therein!


One other thing is that if free and independent Baptist churches are going to work together, there must be a means of each church being able to be informed concerning the work on a worldwide basis. Several things can help in this. Papers can be exchanged. Newsletters from missionaries can be sent out. One of the greatest needs among free, independent Baptist churches is for real fellowship. We need the kind of fellowship meetings where pastors, missionaries, church members, etc., can come and hear about the work of the Lord. We need fellowship meetings without any extra-scriptural organizations, without officers, without board and committee meetings, etc.


Let's use the illustration of the 100 churches as representing all free and independent churches. For instance, maybe there would be ten of these churches grouped closely together in one locality. They could have their local fellowship meetings, discuss their problems, plan their work, etc. Each church could sponsor these meetings as the Lord leads. It could be done on a national scale as a church would be led to host a fellowship meeting for all 100 of the churches. All this without extra-scriptural organizations! All under the direction of the local churches!


Independent Baptists desperately need this kind of fellowship. We all need to get together, pray together, plan together, work together, etc. It can be done — God's way!


I am not a very ambitious man, in fact, I have to drive myself to take care of the responsibilities I already have and I'm certainly not looking for any more. Under God, I am not trying to start a new group, fellowship, convention, or such. I have no ambition to be accepted for anything more than what I am — Pastor of the Central Baptist Church. I am presenting this article with one aim — to exalt the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.


It is not my purpose to destroy and disrupt fellowship and cooperation among Baptists but rather to promote it. I have had my say! I believe what I have written! I believe the time is now!! Free and independent Baptists need to demonstrate we can stand together and work together. We need to meet together in a national fellowship meeting. We need each other! We need to take our stand for God's message and His method! We need to pull together in an all-out missionary effort!


As far as I'm personally concerned — this is it! Maybe everyone is content with things as they are. If there is no real response to this article it will end my activities in this direction. Like I said — it is absolutely folly to criticize the method of those who are doing the job — unless you can do it better.