I am a member of an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church in my hometown. I have been a member of an IFB church for many years. Here is what that means to me:
My church is “independent” because it does not belong to a convention of churches. It is “unaffiliated,” although it often joins with church fellowships, missions boards, school conventions, and other organizations to advance the cause of Christ and the Gospel.
My church is “fundamental” simply because it identifies certain teachings as essential and non-negotiable to what it means to be a genuine Christian and Bible believer. The inspiration and authority of the Bible; the Diety, Virgin Birth, and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ; and the teaching that salvation is by “grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone” are often listed as primary “essentials.” These teachings are “fundamental” but are not necessarily the only beliefs we have that are of major importance to our church.
My church is “Baptist” because it agrees with, practices, and teaches the Biblically-based distinctive that Baptists have adhered to for many centuries, even prior to the Protestant Reformation. The authority of the Bible, the autonomy of the local church, and the priesthood of every believer are all vital to what makes our church Baptist. We further believe that the church has two offices – pastors and deacons, and two ordinances – baptism of believers by immersion and communion. We believe in the separation of church and state, meaning that the state should never hinder the freedom of religion and the freedom of ones conscience to serve God as they believe they should. We believe in individual soul-liberty and that membership in the church is only for those who are saved and Scripturally baptized. These beliefs and practices are what makes our church a “Baptist” church.
In no way do I believe that my church, or IFB churches collectively, are the only ones who love God, serve Him, or are being used of Him. Although my church is not part of a convention of churches, I know that many of these also believe the “essentials” and the “distinctives” and love God, serve Him, and give the Gospel just as surely as I do and as my church does. There may be elements of their convention that would make me uncomfortable and with which I would disagree, but there is no doubt that many are very similar to my church in their doctrines, distinctives, and desires to advance the cause of Christ and the Gospel. I also am aware that many churches who do not call themselves “Baptist” also believe the “essentials” and the “distinctives” and have the same goals and desires that we have. In the spirit of Paul’s letter to the church of Philippi, I do my best to rejoice when the Gospel is preached and when lives are impacted for Christ. Even when I may not, by conscience, conviction, or preference, for instance, be able to join with or partner with such a church, in no way do I consider them unbelieving. I love them and pray for them, and rejoice when God blesses and uses them. I have often preached in such churches and have partnered with them in various endeavors (camps, missions works, conferences, and revival campaigns, for instance).
Churches who are IFB may have positions that differ on any number of issues – including, but not limited to – textual issues (both inside and outside the KJV-only ones), issues of attire both in the pulpit and out of the pulpit, styles of music, which missionaries are worthy of support (often based on their board), and even which college is deemed the best. As an evangelist, I have perhaps seen almost every nuance of position one could have inside IFB churches, and while I prefer some over others, I really do believe in the autonomy of the local church (no matter the group with which it tends to identify). In the spirit of Romans 14, I make every effort to receive brothers and sisters with whom I disagree and I endeavor to do so without fussing, fighting, condemning, and arguing. It doesn’t mean that I never discuss an issue or that I never attempt to persuade someone to “take” my position. It does mean that I will treat my brothers and sisters graciously and kindly and gently.
Does that make sense?
I hope so. Tell me what you think in the comments below. I want to hear from you.
Your sincere friend,