In recent years, many independent Baptist preachers have lamented the loss of younger preachers from our ranks. We have watched as preachers who were trained in our institutions of higher learning have left for non–denominational churches that are often characterized by Calvinism, looser living, and progressive, entertaining styles of worship. We have looked at some of the poster pastors of the new evangelical movement and criticized them for luring our young ministerial students. In addition, we have pointed the finger at those we have labeled “neo-fundamental” and accused them of opening the door by giving our younger ministers a taste of what was available in the other camp. I confess that both of these accusations may be true.
I have, however, come to a startling realization that the biggest factor in driving young ministers into the progressive movement may not be new evangelicals or neo-fundamentalists. The biggest factor may be a more “lunatic fringe” of the fundamental movement. In recent years, this caricature of fundamentalism, which is not fundamentalism at all, has sought to define us. And to some degree, more balanced fundamentalists have stood by and watched it happen without saying a word. We have watched as preachers screamed about women wearing britches when they could not keep their britches up. We have passively listened as preachers hollered for the King James Bible, but refused to use it to form their sermons or govern their lives. We allowed our young men to sit around “gurus” who had problems with gauchos but not with gossip. And the result has been catastrophic. These young preachers have said, “If that is fundamentalism, I want nothing to do with it,” and to be honest, I would have to agree with them. I am simply saying that fundamentalism is hurt the most, not by the opponents of the movement, but by the supposed friends of it.
The time has come for us middle –aged fundamentalists to take a stand. We are not going to allow men who have french-kissed little girls, video-taped girls changing clothes, or invented heretical doctrines such as continuing inspiration to define us. We will not allow such men to grace our pulpits, and we will not speak with them or for them, regardless of how much honorarium is offered. The time has come for us to refuse to keep the dirty bath water just because we love the baby. I would like to direct your attention to Colossians 2 and suggest several ways that this can be done.
First, we will not live in fear of our friends (vv. 16-17). We will let no man judge us on items that are not specifically addressed in the Bible. When I graduated from Tennessee Temple, I continued to have my Sunday evening worship service at 7:00 pm because Dr. Roberson believed that earlier church services were a move toward new evangelicism. This is not hearsay. I heard Dr. Roberson say it with his own lips. And so I continued to have my Sunday evening worship service at 7 pm and did not change it until Dr. Roberson went home to heaven. The fact of the matter is that I lived in fear of his judgment, fear about an issue concerning which the Bible says nothing.
When I went to my first church on the outskirts of Philadelphia, this assembly was heavily involved in the Word of Life Fellowship. I had never been involved in Word of Life up to this point, but I quickly recognized that their dress and music standards were different from that to which I was accustomed. I went to a dear pastor friend to ask his advice about whether I should pull the plug on Word of Life or not. I will never forget his counsel. He said, “If you are dropping them because you feel this is the Biblical thing to do, go ahead, but if you are dropping them because you are afraid of what the brethren will think of you, this is no reason to drop the program.” So often we have allowed the judgment of others, rather than the principles of Scripture, to guide our decision making.
We are independent Baptists for a reason. We have been historically opposed to denominationalism. We believe that every pastor has the right under the Holy Spirit to make decisions for his church without suffering reprisal from a hierarchy. I am afraid that in some segments of fundamentalism, however, denominationalism abounds. We live in fear of what a certain school, camp, or periodical will think of us. This fear of man has brought a snare (Proverbs 29:25). And young fundamentalists have said, “I am not going to play this game.” I applaud them for their courage. Some of us cannot even retweet a statement without suffering an instantaneous rebuke from the Twitter police. I wonder how these self-imposed authorities would have responded to Paul when he “retweeted” heathen poets (cf. Titus 1:12). We cannot live in fear of man any longer. Such fear of friendly judgment strikes against the very tenor of an “independent” movement.
Second, we will not adore angels (v. 18). Sometimes the word “angel” is used in the Bible of a celestial messenger. Sometimes the word is used of a human messenger (cf. James 2:25, Revelation 2:1). The point, however, is that no angel, whether celestial or human, should be worshipped. Indeed, a friend becomes no friend at all when he vainly puffs up our fleshly mind. The messenger of God can never replace the God of the messenger. Hero worship is wrong. So often in our movement, we have worshipped men while merely admiring God and such adoration of messengers has left our younger pastors empty. They have shaken their heads as we donned our “100% Hyles” buttons. The excessive applause that has been given to men who have feet of clay is unsettling. If pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18), why are we setting our pastors up for disaster through unwholesome adoration? I would argue that some of our earlier heroes died prematurely and are now being eaten by worms because they “gave not God the glory” (Acts 12:23).
Third, we will recognize the usefulness of unity (v. 19). Unity is not an ecumenical term. It is not a new evangelical term. It is a Bible term. Christians only grow and flourish with the “increase of God” when they remain knit together within the body. When God rather than man is seen as our spiritual head, we all recognize our need for mutual dependence upon Him. No body part is preferential to another. We need each other. Unity, rather than meanness, is the order of the day. The Bible says that it is good and pleasant for brothers to dwell together in unity (Psalm 133:1). Jesus prayed for the unity of true believers (John 17:11). And even when I am compelled to break fellowship with a brother because of his disobedience, I am not to count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (II Thessalonians 3:15).
Pastor fellowships and conferences should not be for the purpose of ripping fellow Christians apart through salacious gossip. When I first graduated from Bible college, I did not hold a King James position, and the reason is because I had met too many preachers who were King James nasty. Several years after I was in the ministry, I came upon a very gracious man at an ordination who had a King James position but held it with the right spirit. He was the first man I had ever met who held to the Received Text with a right attitude. I asked if I could talk with him about textual matters, and he agreed. He did not put his hands around my throat, but rather put his arm around my shoulders. I changed my position through my talks with him. And that is because he used his position to bring us together rather than wedge us apart. We must believe that compassion is not compromise.
Fourth, we must recognize the glory of grace (v. 20). In short, holiness does not come from the outside in, but rather from the inside out. We cannot reduce our movement to a matter of simply abstaining from “the dirty dozen.” Christianity is more than merely being “subject to ordinances.” It is a matter of a relationship with Christ. A failure to understand this results in disaster.
Let’s say, for example, that I am battling lust. And therefore, I submit myself to ordinances. I don’t go to R-rated movies. I avoid the beach. I throw away my television. The problem, of course, is that lust is still there. My rules have caged my lust and given it less opportunity to leap out, but lust is still there. Legalism cages the animal, but does nothing to kill it. Only the grace of God can kill the illicit desires. Rules alone will never be able to accomplish this.
This is why we have seen so many pastors who have had strict rules against “sensual music” or “sensual dress” commit fornication. Standards address the outer appearance, and there is no denying that the outer appearance needs to be addressed. But true holiness is always from within. Therefore, external standards should be for the purpose of revealing true holiness, not concealing inward depravity. Jesus spent much time criticizing the Pharisees for being whited sepulchers (Matthew 23:27). God wants to do more than cage illicit desires; He wants to kill them. And only the grace of God can accomplish this feat. When Christianity becomes nothing more than an itemized list of abstinences, then nothing is done to address heart attitudes. But out of the heart are the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23). Because we have constantly preached on the outward appearance by magnifying things such as hairstyles and clothing styles to the exclusion of the fruit of the Spirit, we have caused our younger ministers to wander into other camps seeking spiritual victory.
Fifth, we would be remiss if we did not talk about the bewilderment of boycotts (vv. 21-22). If we function according to legalism and the mentality that “rules equal spirituality,” then we are forced to ask, “Whose rules should I follow?” When I was a child, certain men were denied speaking engagements because men on their platforms were allowed to wear wire-rim glasses and bell-bottom britches. More recently, whether women wear pants or not has become a test of fellowship as certain fundamentalists have shouted, “Witches wear britches.” It has even become so looney that some fundamentalists are now counting the number of pleats in culottes to determine their acceptability. This all becomes numbing. What is in this week and what is out? Am I allowed to go to Disney World or K-Mart? Can I eat Little Debbies because they are made by Seventh-Day Adventists? It can all get quite mind-boggling to determine what I can touch, taste, or handle.
We can become so worried about what we are supposed to eat or wear, when Jesus said these are the things we are not to worry about (Matthew 6:25). Life is more than food and clothing. The problem, of course, with a constant infatuation with boycotted items is that we are always looking to men to find the latest list. We succumb to the clothing police, and if we listen to them long enough, we begin to practice Baptist asceticism. We are the Urban Amish. Jesus said that we are not to be of the world, but we are to be in it (John 17:15). There is no value in being frumpy for the sake of being frumpy. But legalism always seeks to expand the rule list for it is always easier to monitor hem length than it is heart attitudes. The boycott list and its attendant bewilderment has driven many into the camp of progressive Christianity.
Sixth, we must seek to abolish the problem of pride (v. 23a). Grace is important because it gives all the glory to God. Legalism is dangerous because it gives all the glory to man. The will of man becomes worshipped. Man is praised for what he has been able to accomplish through his true grit. We love to take the credit for our own volition. Legalism puts the emphasis on the externals because that is what we control! But God wants to work beneath the surface where only He can work. Spirituality is “not of works lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Independent Baptists often spend much time focusing on measurable, external statistics, for these are things that can be manipulated. We promote men who have achieved these measurable goals, and the thought is sown that if we follow them we will have the same measure of success. This success, however, is only success in the marketing sense of that word. A church may run thousands but be a seedbed of carnality. Prosperity and success in the Biblical definition of the word is not numerically achieved, but spiritually achieved. If churches have been built or standards implemented for the fostering of pride, this is failure. Pride is hated by God (Proverbs 6:17), even if it is pride over religious attainment. Such egotism has driven men into other camps of Christianity.
And finally, men have left us because of the exhaustion of effort (v. 23b). Martin Luther when climbing the steps in Rome wondered how much is enough. If he climbed thirteen steps, what if God wanted him to climb fourteen? We are always in bondage when we wonder how much it takes to please God. The flesh is never satisfied. It always feels like it has to do more.
The day my father was saved, as a twenty-something alcoholic, God answered his craving for beer. Beer never had left my dad satisfied. The day Christ entered His heart, my dad stopped drinking beer and drew from the well of water that God had placed within his soul. In the words of Billy Kelly, “He didn’t stop drinking; he just changed fountains.” We understand that things of human invention, like beer, can never satisfy.
Pastors understand this with beer, but they don’t understand it with regard to baptisms. They understand it with regard to dope, but not with regard to decisions. We can never make human achievement the measure of our satisfaction. Our ecclesiastical achievements can never be the measure of our happiness. Fleshly achievement never satisfies the flesh. And young ministers who have been taught differently either leave our camp over frustration of having not achieved, or over emptiness of having achieved and finding it unfulfilling.
In summary, I too am concerned over the amount of young preachers who have left the independent Baptist movement. But as I have listened to them, I have come to the conclusion that they were not so much coerced from without as disillusioned from within. This disillusionment finally resulted in them affirming that they would be a part of camp where they would not have to live in fear of their friends. They would reserve adoration for God alone, not for any of his messengers. They would not see unity as a weakness, but strength. They would not be content to reform the outside by legalism while refusing to transform the inside by grace. They would not succumb to the bewildering list of imposed boycotts. They would not be a part of a movement that was characterized by pride. And they would not exhaust themselves in effort only for a goal that would leave them empty. And thus, they left.
We could write them off and say, “Good riddance.” We could continue to blame the new evangelicals and neo fundamentalists who lured them away. Or we could say, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” My heart is not to eradicate the fundamental movement but to correct the abuses of it. These words are offered as a friend from within, not an enemy from without. But if the caricature of fundamentalism that we have presented is not replaced with an authentic model, my fear is that we will lose even more young preachers in the coming days. And though part of it may be attributable to the “coming apostasy,” a good portion of it may be because of the raging lunacy. God help us to keep the baby but get rid of the bath water, for the bath water is indeed dirty.