In the Fall of 1994, Bethlie and I stepped out together to enter a ministry of full-time evangelism. We have traveled thousands of miles and ministered to churches of all sizes in almost every state in the USA and in a half dozen other countries as well. Most of the churches have either been Independent Baptist or were very close to it. I think our smallest crowd was seven and our largest just under seven thousand. We have met some of the greatest Christians this side of eternity as well as a few knuckle-heads. We literally have loved almost every minute of this journey. Almost is a key word there! After interacting with so many different people in so many different places, I would like to make a few suggestions on how we can be Independent Baptist and still get along with others! Here are my thoughts:
1. Remember that good men can do things differently from one another and still be the real deal.
It would be an understatement to say that we serve with men who hold to a variety of views, practices, and positions. I have served with my good friend Jim VanGelderen who would be a bit farther to the right than many other men with whom I serve. I have also served with Josh Teis. He would be somewhat to the left of where I am. Dr. Paul Chappell is likely somewhere between the two. All three of these men are the real deal! They are genuine men, husbands, and fathers. They love Jesus, love the Bible, love people, and love souls. I have prayed with each of them. I have heard them give the gospel. I have served with them. I have shared my heart with them and have heard their heart as they have shared it with me. I have seen their hurts and heard their laughter. They are the real deal. If we are not cautious and wise in our movement, we can think (or at least imply to others) that those who are different from us are not as spiritual, not as fundamental, and certainly not as right as we are. May God help us to never forget that Independent Baptists can do things differently from one another and still be the real deal. Remember the words of Jesus. In rebuking his disciples over the way they viewed others who were ministering differently than they were, Jesus said, “He that is not against us is for us.”
2. Remember that good men can do things differently simply because they are independent.
I have been part of the Independent Baptist movement since I was a youngster. Our movement is somewhat BIG on the idea that we are independent. Each local church is independent. Each local church pastor is independent. Josh Teis is a local church, Independent Baptist preacher. So is Dr. Wayne Vangelderen and Dr. Paul Chappell. Each is responsible to God to pastor and serve his local church and as a result, answers to God and to the people in his local church family. Would there be some things my friends might do that I would not do were I in charge? No doubt. But I am not and they are! Would there be some areas where they and I disagree and can even discuss our disagreements. Absolutely. But I am not called to serve their respective ministries! So each man can lead as he feels the Spirit is directing him and as he feels is in the best interest of his local church family and ministry. May God help us to never forget that Independent Baptists can do things differently because they are independent.
For instance, can’t good men vary in areas of music simply because they are independent? Or in areas of dress? Or in camp philosophy?
When I was in college in the late 80s, I heard a powerful preacher from Michigan who was introduced to our student body as a major leader in the Independent Baptist movement. He was a board member at Bob Jones University, was a major leader in the Christian School movement, had served as a professor in several Bible Colleges, and was loved and respected by thousands. His name was Paul Vanaman! In the early years of my ministry, I spoke in the Christian School chapel hour of the church he has pastored for many years. It was then that I “discovered” that he had a rather large drum set in his church. Not just a bass guitar, an instrument that I have been known to call the Baptist Drum, but real ones! They were even bigger than the ones at Josh Teis’ s church in Las Vegas. They were not the “orchestra” type drums used in service at Lancaster Baptist in California. They were real drums! Real ones! Apparently it is possible to be loved and respected and Independent Baptist and a fundamentalist and a soul-winner and King James and all of that and still use drums in ones church! At least it was true of Dr. VanAman. May God help us to remember that Independent Baptists can vary in areas simply because they are independent.
3. Remember that neither the gospel nor the future of the Independent Baptist movement is dependent on everyone doing ministry the same way!
My friend Wayne Vangelderen separates Beethoven from Bach. I had no idea that was even possible. My friend Paul Chappell reportedly uses a group to help lead congregational singing instead of just one man. He uses recently written songs that teach truths he believes are important and that he believes ministers to the hearts of his church family. Josh Teis uses some hymns, some contemporary songs, and some southern gospel. I will occasionally minister in churches where holding a microphone is considered worldly and where anything other than a hymn is cause for frowning. I have been in other churches that sing primarily modern choruses and only occasionally use the older hymns. Some dim the lights to draw attention to the choir and orchestra. Dr. VanGelderen’s home church will do that at times.
My point here is this. Good men have always differed. Dress standards? Independent Baptists have a variety of positions. Bible Versions? Independent Baptists have been known to have a variety of views (how many degrees of “King James” views are there anyway?). Music preferences? Every local church is unique. Some will use a background CD with drums in it but would never have real ones on their platform. Some will use Southern Gospel songs that were written by people from liberal denominations but will not use CCM songs because they were written by someone from a liberal background. Sunday School? Some sincerely believe that the early church had those! To tie or not to tie? Some act as if this is one of the fundamental doctrines of our movement and yet it is nowhere mentioned in Scripture. Nowhere at all. None! So shouldn’t I simply follow my conscience, seek the Lord as to what He wants, and receive my brother, “but not to doubtful disputations?” Sounds Biblical almost, huh? We must remember that neither the Gospel nor the future of the Independent Baptist movement is dependent on everyone doing ministry the same way I do.
What do you think? Do you agree with these first three? What would you add? I will add two more next week!