Today there seems to be much confusion concerning what is an independent Baptist church. For years an independent Baptist church was considered to be a church that was not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, or any of the other organized movements among Baptist churches.
However, in more recent years several "fellowships" of Baptists have organized and have begun to use the word independent as regarding their organization, showing that there is a clear misunderstanding of the meaning of the word independent. How can one be independent and yet organized into an organization? The very word independent itself means that one is not affiliated, associated, or organized into any body, large or small. As soon as the organization is set up, composed of churches, delegates from churches, or messengers from churches, it is an organization and the churches are not independent, as they are being represented in an organization no matter what it is called.
In fact, the Baptist Bible Fellowship, which declares that it is not a Convention, Association, or organization, argues on the one hand that they are all independent, yet have their different organizations similar to the Conventions, Associations, etc. showing that they are not independent. In fact, many times they make an effort to speak out of both sides of the mouth. While using newspapers to advertise that they are independent Baptist churches, and condemning the Southern Baptist Convention and other organized bodies, they themselves will condemn those Baptist churches that are really independent and themselves admit that they are not independent. Note the following article from the Baptist Bible Tribune, magazine of the Baptist Bible Fellowship, Friday March 22, 1957. The editor, Noel Smith in an editorial wrote the following:
"So far as I am concerned, I never have been, am not now, never will be, an 'independent.' I have contempt for the boasting strutting 'independent.' ... I am not an 'independent.'
"It is true that when the Baptist Bible Fellowship was established, a great many 'independents' came around to look us over; and, in many cases, to praise us. But when they began to realize that we did not mean to diffuse our energies in negations, that we meant to discipline ourselves and to do the hard labor required to create a responsible substitute for what a great many of us regarded, and still regard, as fundamentally wrong, most of the 'independents' were called into more independent vineyards. They don't like us any more than they like the Southern Baptist Convention. They have never remained but a few months with any group that took Christianity seriously. Their religion is eating chicken, loud singing, and lamenting and deploring. A good many of them, now that they are getting old and looking back and reflecting on the barren paths their undisciplined emotions have led them, deeply wish they had remained with some group that meant business."
As to whether this group is independent or not is clearly answered by their missions committee. Usually the Baptist Bible Fellowship will argue that their missionaries are "independent" missionaries sent out by the individual churches and that the Missions Committee only serves as a clearing-house for the forwarding of the money from the churches. This is proven to be wrong by F. S. Donnelson, former head of their Missions Committee, which corresponds to the mission boards of the Conventions, differing only in name, performing the same functions. In an article in the Baptist Bible Tribune, June 8, 1956, Bro. Donnelson states:
"Thus the Fellowship assumes responsibility for its missionaries, owning them as their own, interesting themselves in the missionaries affairs, inviting them to individual churches."
In other words, according to their own admissions, they are not independent Baptist churches, but are organized into an organization that differs little from the Southern Baptist Convention or other human organizations.
Another organized Fellowship that prides itself on the use of the word independent is the World Baptist Fellowship. Again, the churches of this organization claim to be independent, but have no use for Baptist churches that maintain their independency, and have no just claim to the word independent as a description of their churches. As evidence of this, note the following.
In the paper Western Voice dated September 19, 1952, with the issue of the paper entitled "World Baptist Fellowship Issue" and the lead article headed "Business Session of World Baptist Fellowship, Thursday, September 2, 1952, 1:00 P.M." --- Dr. Harvey Springer, Presiding, there is listed the Articles of Faith or Constitution of the World Baptist Fellowship. Notice the following words in the preamble:
" . . . Whereas, we believe that the times demand the formation of a fellowship of New Testament Baptist Churches, for fellowship and cooperation on the part of such member churches, and individual believers, for the proclamation and defense of the Gospel, to establish and operate schools, Bible schools, churches, children's homes, radio stations, book and supply stores, to broadcast radio programs, to publish books, religious papers, and other literature to propagate the spreading of the Gospel at home and abroad through missionary stations, and otherwise, and in general to do everything necessary to the full and complete execution of any and all purposes herein mentioned, or that may in any way pertain to the business and interests of this fellowship."
Here in the preamble to the Articles of Faith of the World Baptist Fellowship is clearly stated that they are not independent but "member churches." Members of what? The World Baptist Fellowship, and if a member of an organization, they are not independent.
What is necessary for one to become a "member church" of the World Baptist Fellowship? In Article III, under title of Membership is stated: "Membership in the World Baptist Fellowship shall be by confirmation of the doctrinal statement and financial support to its missionary causes." In other words, churches who contribute money through the agencies of the World Baptist Fellowship, either to its work at home or through their mission agencies to foreign missionaries are "member churches" of the World Baptist Fellowship, according to this article of their Constitution. These churches have no right to the use of the word independent as regards their churches as they are members of an organization and are not independent Baptist churches.
Two other organizations have fallen right along into this same error of conventionism although opposing the word convention. Both the American Baptist Association and the Baptist Missionary Association are very much opposed to the term convention, and apparently the Southern Baptist Convention, but they have formed an organization called an "Association" which is nothing more than a Convention with a different label. In fact, they have practically duplicated every organization that the Southern Baptist Convention has, only changing the names.
Churches from these two organizations will claim that they are "independent" or "I am just as independent as you are," but a manual published by their publishing house, the Baptist Sunday School Committee and used by their churches, points out that the American Baptist Association and the Baptist Missionary Association are not independent Baptist churches, in spite of their claims. In A New Manual for Baptist Churches written by J. E. Cobb, and published in 1941 when the American Baptist Association and the Baptist Missionary Association were one in their organization, we find the following statement which shows that doctrinally, the Associational brethren have gone even further into ecclesiasticism or conventionism than the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. On page 196 of this manual, under the chapter heading, "The Association of Churches" are the following words:
"A Scriptural association is not composed of messengers who are elected by the churches and sent to the meeting of the messengers, but it is composed of churches."
This is a doctrine even worse than that of the Southern Baptist Convention, in that the churches of the Convention still pretend that their Convention is not composed of the churches, but only messengers of the churches. These Associations then are composed of the churches themselves, and if these churches are members of the Association, then they are not independent Baptist churches regardless of their claims.
Again, there needs to be a return to the true meaning of the word "independent" as to what it means and Baptist churches need to return to the Scriptural practice of the New Testament by withdrawing themselves from all human or man-made organizations.
To a great many Baptists of today, the greatest danger to the independency of Baptist churches is not a particular Convention, Association, or organized Fellowship, but Conventionism as such. It is this whole idea of "organizing," as inevitably it will result in a hierarchy or Convention which soon will fall into the hands of men who are unethical in their practices, unscriptural in their doctrines, liberal in their theology, and more concerned for the well-being of the organization than in doctrinal soundness or the sovereignty of the individual churches. This has been true in every case in past years.
The greatest danger today is Conventionism itself; the associating, affiliating, or fellowshipping of churches into an organization. Without fail, these organizations will fall into the hands of corrupt men who will cause the organizations to assert their authority over the churches. This is even admitted.
Of course, many churches today will offer the excuse of expediency as sufficient reason to form an organization. This is clearly stated in the preamble to the Articles of Faith and Constitution of the World Baptist Fellowship. Again quoting from the Western Voice, September 19, 1952 entitled "World Baptist Fellowship Issue": "Whereas, we believe that the times demand the formation of a fellowship of New Testament Churches ..."
Baptist churches are never to be governed by "the times" but by the New Testament. Have Baptist churches reached the point to where they believe that the Lord Jesus Christ failed to provide sufficient instructions, sufficient power within His churches, to operate in the 20th century according to the pattern and plan that He laid down in the New Testament? Do we have to improve on His plan today? Will His plan not meet today's modern conditions? What Scripture tells us that we are to be determined by "the times" or expediency?
In other words, the men who helped to form the World Baptist Fellowship were concerned about the modernism that was prevalent in the Southern Baptist Convention, but they failed to see that it is Conventionism itself that always provides a place for the leaven of modernism to hide, completely out of reach of the churches where it can permeate every facet of the organization, protected by many of the leaders of the organization, and for the most part, completely unknown by the vast majority of the churches until it has completely swallowed up the entire organization. Conventionism itself is the body which furnishes the "home" for the cancer of modernism to spread unmolested, until it engulfs the entire body or organization, but by the time it reaches the surface, it is beyond control. But how few there are today who recognize the dangers of conventionism itself.
Conventionism itself always begins small in little matters, seemingly inconsequential, but they have a tendency to mushroom, and the men who are instrumental in the organizing have no intentions of the organization growing to the extent that it soon controls the churches. That is true of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention, and each of these other organizations. In relating part of the history of the World Baptist Fellowship, Bro. Harvey H. Springer relates in the same issue of the Western Voice as cited above:
"Now, here is one thing I want to tell you: Dr. Norris had no idea, when he called the first Fundamental Bible School on April 13, 1917, that he was going to start a Fellowship as we have it today. The only purpose he had in mind was to inspire young men and preachers in this section and the world over to contend for the faith and stand for the things of God.
"Now by 1935 we were known as the Premillennial Baptist Missionary Fellowship. We emphasized the premillennial coming of Christ.
"If I were to ask some of you boys this afternoon, 'Why aren't you in the Southern Baptist Convention?' your answer would be, 'I don't know why.' You never were in it. You haven't been in the early fight that some of the rest of us have had. You have not had the first hard blows. We didn't leave the Southern Baptist Convention because it was a convention. We left the Southern. Baptist Convention because of the corruption that's in the convention, and its self-perpetuating hierarchy.
"So we didn't leave the Southern Baptist Convention because it was a Convention. George Norris told me yesterday, 'If you can win more souls in the Southern Baptist Convention, then you better get in it.' (Amen).
"I am over where I am because it gives me liberty. It gives me something that I believe in accord to the Word of God. Brethren, I have some convictions. That's all. I couldn't be a Southern Baptist. And if I were I would be ashamed of myself (Amen). Not because it is a convention, but because of the corruption and self-appointed hierarchy. If you think I am going to stand on a platform with a fellow like this fellow Newton, then you have another whistle coming . . .
"The thing I am talking about is this: What was this Fellowship? How did it start? We came down here to these Bible Schools, and I don't think Dr. Norris dreamed of it at the time he started it. The thing began to grow.
"Then Dr. Norris saw a greater vision, and he said, 'We'll build a great school' . . . Now you know the rest of the history. But instead of being what it started out to be it surpassed even Dr. Norris' greatest expectations. It started out to be a Bible School once or twice a year. It ended up being a Fellowship to promote a Seminary for training young preachers, giving them a degree, putting them out in the field and just scattering them all over the world (Amen).
"We didn't start out to be a missionary agency, but now we find ourselves a missionary agency to the honor and glory of God. That's how the thing has grown."
This machine called the World Baptist Fellowship has grown all right, and has grown to the extent that it has patterned the Southern Baptist Convention in too many respects. Whereas the Southern Baptist Convention was organized with the avowed purpose of "eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the denomination" according to the preamble of their Constitution, the preamble for the World Baptist Fellowship says it was organized "in general to do everything necessary to the full and complete execution of any and all purposes herein mentioned, or that may in any way pertain to the business and interests of this fellowship." The Southern Baptist Convention uses the words "directing," the World Baptist Fellowship says "full and complete execution" and one is just as bad as the other.
In other words, it is conventionism itself that is wrong and any organization that is formed will fall by the wayside into conventionism. If it has not yet arrived, it soon will. The late Noel Smith, editor of the Baptist Bible Tribune, magazine of the Baptist Bible Fellowship acknowledges that this movement has already been felt within the ranks of the Baptist Bible Fellowship and admits that this movement is destined to gain sway even in their own organization. He writes:
"Every objective-minded student of history, especially of church history, knows that the same ecclesiasticism that has withered the spiritual life of the churches and enslaved them from Thyatira to North Carolina, is now slyly prowling around on the periphery of the Baptist Bible Fellowship---and of every other general Baptist organization (they admit they are an organization---Mlmj ). This ecclesiasticism will develop and do its evil work soon enough without being given the encouragement of such a law as that of North Carolina" Baptist Bible Tribune, March 22, 1957.
The truth was never stated plainer. Ecclesiasticism or lordship over the churches will develop in every case when an organization is formed among the churches, therefore it is the movement of Conventionism itself that is the big evil of our day. Modernism would never invade the churches if it did not have the cloak of conventionism to hide its labors. Baptists need to get their eyes open to the truth and to separate themselves from these human organizations that will soon dominate their churches, if not in their ministry, in the ministry of a pastor who succeeds them.
One more evidence of this misunderstanding as to what it means to be independent and a failure to see the dangers of conventionism itself is the following letter that I received. On the envelope is printed the word "independent" as if they were independent, but the letter clarifies that matter:
We want to commend you upon the format, plan, and organization as well as the general idea represented in your Baptist Doctrine In One Year, a review copy of which you sent.
We have not published a review because it is contrary to our policy to write adversely of any publication that is largely to be approved, or of any that is produced by people whose principal aims seems identical with ours.
We recognize that you have a constant problem with the Southern Baptist Convention. We have suffered through the years at the hands of the Northern or American Convention, and fully understand your feeling. However, we believe God wants Christian fellowship among individuals and churches. We believe our Baptist people should cooperate as much as possible in undertaking Gospel work. We therefore do not condemn conventionism as such, but only as conducted in many places. We do not believe it right to help destroy a service organization simply because many organizations of similar type have been captured by bureaucrats. Unfortunately, your manual seems to reveal something of a shoulder chip in you on this subject, which we believe you can easily see disqualifies the book for our recommendation.
May God richly bless you,
P.S. To clarify: We are against, and have no fellowship with ABC or SBC. We fellowship with the Conservative Baptist Association. However, we are a Convention.
At the bottom of the letter, the writer draws an arrow pointing to the statement printed on the stationary, "Conservative Baptist News in Minnesota, published monthly by Minnesota Baptist Convention."
Here is a clear case of those who see the evils of modernism and bureaucracy in the American and Southern Baptist Conventions, and yet fails to see that it is the system of conventionism that inevitably leads to such destruction of the independency and sovereignty of Baptist churches. The best advice for anyone who has been deceived by the system of conventionism has already been given by Charles Haddon Spurgeon:
"I have taken a deep interest in the struggles of the orthodox brethren, but I have never advised those struggles, nor entertained the slightest hope of their success. My course has been of another kind.
"As soon as I saw, or thought I saw, that error had become firmly established, I did not deliberate, but quitted the body at once. Since then my counsel has been 'come out from among them.' I have felt that no protest could be equal to that of distinct separation."