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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
There are many today who do not really understand the position and work of Independent Baptists. Some believe that all Baptist churches are the same and believe and practice the same thing. Others have the mistaken idea that an Independent Baptist church is a fairly recent new invention of man when in reality Independent Baptist churches have existed since the days of Christ and the apostles.
There are some people who look upon Independent Baptists with a sense of suspicion, doubt, or distrust, disbelieving the fact that a church can function and do the Lord's work without the benefit of being affiliated with some kind of a man-made, organized fellowship or association. For hundreds of years Baptist churches fulfilled the Great Commission with each church being its own missionary agency, sending forth and supporting its own missionaries, without the help of an outside religious organization or mission board.
It is a historical fact that organized, man-made fellowships, associations, and conventions are all of recent origin and are in contradiction to what was taught and practiced in the New Testament. Independent Baptists believe that a definite, specific plan has been revealed in the Scriptures of how the work of God is to be carried out by His churches. To depart from, change, or try to improve this divine and perfect plan is to not only deliberately disobey God, but also to rob Him the glory that is due unto His name.
The Terminology Used
Unfortunately, the word "independent" has been grossly abused and misused by many Baptist churches today. The definition for the word "independent" is fairly simple: not subordinate or subject to; not dependent upon; not subject to the control or influence of something; not connected or related to another group.
Since the meaning of the word "independent" has been distorted by some Baptist churches, another word is now being used in connection with it -- "unaffiliated" which means: not a member of; not connected to or associated and united with.
A truly Independent Baptist church is not associated with any man-made association, convention, or organized fellowship. Any Baptist church that joins up with some man-made group or organization has not only departed from New Testament teaching, but has surrendered its independence and authority that belongs only in the church.
What Happened In Acts 15?
A careful and close study of the New Testament clearly teaches that each church in the New Testament was an independent church in which the governing power rested entirely with the people, i.e. the members of each local church. Each congregation was entirely separate from and independent from all other congregations. True independent Baptists teach that a scriptural, New Testament church is a congregation of saved, scripturally baptized believers who are entirely in subjection to and dependent upon the Lord to do His will and work according to His Word.
Each particular and individual church is absolutely independent in the exercise of all its rights and privileges as a church and is under no one's authority but Christ's. A key point to understand is that the liberty which the independence of churches exercises is limited only by what is revealed and taught in the Scriptures. To say a church is independent does not mean it is free to do anything it pleases but it is free to do exactly what God has commanded in His Word.
The course of action pursued by the church at Antioch in Acts 15 reveals that the early New Testament churches were independent in principle as well as in practice.
There were certain Jews who had come from Jerusalem to Antioch teaching a false gospel which instructed a person must keep the Old Testament law in order to be saved. Being challenged by these Judaizers with their false doctrine, the church at Antioch thought Paul and Barnabas should consult with the apostles and elders in the church at Jerusalem about this matter. Keep in mind that Paul and Barnabas were sent under the direction and authority of their church and when they finally arrived at their destination, they met with the whole church.
After a full discussion of the matter, the church at Jerusalem decided to send a delegation of men back to Antioch with a letter explaining that they had nothing to do with sending those Judaizers preaching a false gospel. Notice in verses 22, 25, and 28 that it was the church's decision to do this.
What we have here is an example of one independent church seeking and receiving the advice and counsel from another independent church. The church at Jerusalem had no authority or jurisdiction over the church at Antioch (and visa versa). Even when the church at Jerusalem heard of reports about how God was saving people from among the Gentiles, their reaction was: "we trouble not them" (v.19).
What is clearly seen here is that the apostles regarded and treated the churches as independent bodies, having the right of self-government, without subjection to any other authority. These men reported and answered to only the churches as independent bodies, not to a convention, association, or organized fellowship.
The truth is, one will not find in the New Testament any higher authority than that of the local church. Its decision, when scripturally reached and enforced, is the final word. When dealing with the matter of disciplining of church members, Jesus said: "tell it unto the church" (Matthew 18:17).
The Practice and Methods Of An Independent Baptist Church
The Scriptures make it clear that the main, fundamental purpose of a church is to preach the precious gospel of Christ to everyone (Mark 16:15) and everywhere (Acts 1:8).
True independent Baptists accept the fact that since the only organization established and sanctioned in the New Testament is the local church, that it must be the organization that God intended to carry out His work. We do not believe that any other organization or institution except the church is necessary to carry out the plan of God in giving the gospel to the entire world. The church is God's way -- anything else is of man.
For over 1900 years the Lord's true churches have strived to follow and fulfill the biblical plan and pattern for world evangelism as given by the Founder and Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ. Some, however, believe that the plan of Jesus Christ to reach the world through His church is not enough and even deficient. Therefore they have invented their own man-made mission board system to do the work that Christ gave to His church. What many fail to realize is that there are no other institutions more capable of carrying out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) than the Lord's churches.
The Pattern of Acts 13
Since the Bible is to be our only rule of faith and practice, then it must be the source from which we derive our plan for doing the Lord's work. It was the practice of churches of the New Testament to send out missionaries by and through the local church because they recognized the fact and believed that Christ gave the authority and responsibility for reaching the world only to the church.
The church at Antioch in Acts 13 set the New Testament example and proved that God's churches are able and qualified for fulfilling the command of our Lord. In this passage we find the only agency God ever commissioned in sending out the missionary -- the New Testament church. If the church is the only one with the responsibility to send out the missionary, then why have some Baptist churches given the sending of missionaries over to agencies outside the church?
There is not one mention or suggestion that can be found in the Bible where New Testament mission work is to be carried out by any other organization besides or in addition to the local church. Mission boards take the God-given responsibilities from the church and place them in man-made organizations.
In Acts 13 we not only find divine instructions but also the divine pattern. The New Testament model of God-called and church-sent missionaries provides an excellent example of missions to be practiced and followed by all churches. According to this passage, the Lord's church is the only agency approved and authorized by God to do mission work.
Paul and Barnabas were sent by the church, as directed by the Holy Spirit, without the aid or support of a mission board, convention, association, fellowship, or any other man-made organization. These two men were sent by the church under their authority and approval and sent by the Spirit under His instruction and direction.
If other groups and agencies are established to carry on the work of the Lord, then God is robbed of His glory because the Scripture says: "Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." (Eph.3:21)
Christ's Authority Given To The Church
While admitting that the church is the only divinely authorized body on earth, some will try to argue that the church has the right and power to redelegate that authority to another body. When Jesus said, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Mt. 28:18), He revealed that He was the only one who had all authority. When Jesus said, "Go ye therefore..." (Mt. 28:19), He revealed He was the only one who had the right and authority to say and do whatever He wanted concerning His church.
According to the Great Commission, only the New Testament church has the authority and command of God to evangelize lost sinners, baptize the saved, and stabilize the saints. The authority which Jesus gave to the church was His authority and it cannot be scripturally redelegated, reassigned, or transferred to someone else. The church does not have the right to make up its own rules and regulations.
If it were scriptural for a church to redelegate the authority to another organization to send out missionaries, then it would be just as scriptural to redelegate that authority to another to baptize, to administer the Lord's supper, to exercise discipline, etc. The Bible does not teach or condone such action. There is no scriptural justification for the formulation of mission boards.
Does It Matter How We Do The Lord's Work?
One of the main differences between Baptist churches that use mission boards as opposed to true Independent Baptist churches that do not, is not so much the message that is preached but the methods that are practiced. It makes a difference not only what we believe but also how we put into practice what we believe.
Many churches have used the worn-out, worldly, and vain argument, "the end justifies the means." Many say it doesn't matter how you do it just as long as you get the job done. Such line of reasoning is unscriptural and rest upon shaky ground.
For example: When God had a plan for what kind of offerings were acceptable unto Him, it made a difference for Cain whether or not he followed that plan (Gen. 4). God gave Noah a specific plan for building the ark and he was expected to follow it (Gen. 6). It made a difference when Israel did not follow God's plan to possess all of Canaan (Num. 13). God gave detailed instructions for building the Tabernacle (Ex. 25-27) and the Temple (1 Kings 6-7). It made a difference whether these blueprints were followed or not.
The point is: Christ established His church to carry out God's plan for this age and it does make a difference whether we follow His divine and perfect plan or substitute it for another one that is man-made.
As someone once wrote: "It is His work. He has very definite and clear plans as to how He wants His work done. He will not bless it unless it is done His way. When we give up our plans and accept His plans and let Him be the Potter and we the clay, His work, His way, His Word will always succeed."
Baptist churches have no excuse for not knowing how to do mission work. Mission boards have no commission or orders from Christ. The Lord Jesus is not responsible for their existence and they are not responsible for the carrying out of the Great Commission which He gave centuries before they came into being. Jesus Christ gave His commission to the church, to a Baptist church since everyone present was a Baptist. The Lord's commission forever settles the question what a church exists for by clearly defining its mission and purpose.
There Can Be Cooperation Without Compromise
An Independent Baptist believes that the only organization given in the New Testament is the local church. Independent Baptists believe that God has given the church as the means of accomplishing His purpose and plan in this age. An Independent Baptist church, therefore, does not affiliate or identify itself with any organized convention, association, or fellowship. An Independent Baptist church sends forth its missionaries by the authority of the church and not through an unscriptural mission board. Such missionaries are supported directly by the churches.
An Independent Baptist church cooperates with other Independent Baptist churches of like faith and practice in mission work but does so on a voluntary basis, without any unscriptural organization binding the churches together. An Independent Baptist church has to rely upon God and give Him all the glory. An Independent Baptist church is not dictated to nor influenced by any head or headquarters except Jesus Christ. True Independent Baptists love the church that Jesus loved and will not have this love and loyalty switched to some man-made organization.
Independent But Not Isolated
While churches in the New Testament were independent, they were not isolated. The New Testament teaches that each individual, local, independent church could cooperate with other churches in the Lord's work and this was done without any unscriptural, man-made organization.
There are examples after examples where churches in the New Testament cooperated together in the preaching of the gospel in mission work. The churches in the New Testament were not cut off from one another.
New Testament churches worked together to support missionaries and help out other churches who were in financial need (Acts 11:29-30; Romans 15:25-26; 1 Cor.16:1; 2 Cor. 8:1-4). There is even an example in the New Testament where two churches were told to share and exchange Scripture writings with one another (Col. 4:16). The point is, churches can help each other and cooperate in the Lord's work, without organizing into an unscriptural body of officers and agencies directing the work. Fellowship and cooperation are not necessarily accomplished by organization.
Independence does not mean isolationism. Baptist churches may scripturally cooperate in certain areas with other Baptist churches of like faith and order, provided such cooperation does not violate the sovereignty, independence, autonomy of each church. Independent Baptist churches can strive to work together with one another so long as they are in agreement with their mission, with their message, and with their method. (See Amos 3:3).
I believe the basis of cooperation and fellowship between churches in the New Testament, without the urging of any outside organization, was doctrinal unity. These New Testament churches were identified by what they believe in, not by what they belonged to. These first churches were united in doctrine and maintained their identity by their baptism.
These churches also stood united in all their missionary activity and evangelism. This was achieved without a mission board, committee, or association. The missionaries were ordained in the local church, approved by the local church, sent forth by the local church, and financially supported by the local church. All of this was accomplished without any missionary organization other than the local churches. God's way and method worked then and it still does today.
Only One Scriptural Organization
Jesus Christ left only one organization upon this earth to do the work of the Lord. All other organizations are impostors, usurpers, and false representatives of the Lord. One can search the New Testament from beginning to end and the local church is the only organization found to be authorized to fulfill the Great Commission. No conventions, associations, organized fellowships, mission boards, etc. are to be found. It should be the simplest thing in the world to understand that the local church is God's method of getting the job done.
The Lord's true churches are to be free and independent from entangling alliances and unscriptural, overlording religious organizations. Any church that does its mission work through a mission board is not an Independent Baptist church in principle or practice.
The only organization Christ Himself established was the local church -- all other organizations are man-made. True Baptists have always recognized this. The local church is God's way and glorifies God -- the use of mission boards is man's way and glorifies man.