How Far From the Tree Did the Fundamental Apple Fall?
In any departure from the center line of doctrine, it is important to distinguish where the line once was. My Grandpa Castleberry used to say, “Before you move that fence, find out why it was placed there to begin with.” I am alarmed at the erosion that has and is taking place among Independent Fundamental Baptists. It is as if the line is no longer distinguishable.
Baptists originated in England in a time of intense religious reform. Traditionally, they have sought to recover and proclaim the faith of the New Testament as first given by Jesus and His apostles. Since the early days they have spread their teachings and churches in many lands and many cultures. Until recently, they have never wavered from that original desire to hold and proclaim the simple faith of the New Testament church.
Fundamental Baptists have claimed a special allegiance to a particular sequential heritage, but it seems that this heritage has escaped their methodology today. Some of our earliest forefathers were Lollards, Puritans, Seperatists, General Baptists, Particular Baptists, etc.
Some names were assigned to the forefathers of the Baptist Faith that they were not particularly fond of. Even the name “Baptist” was not the name that they chose but were actually called this by those who observed their mode of baptism (immersion) and called them Baptists.
Associations were extremely important to early Baptists. They provided Christian fellowship, a forum for discussion of Baptist concerns, a means to propagate Baptist teachings, and an effective way to monitor and maintain correct Baptist doctrine among the churches. Associations also participated together in common causes, such as issuing confessions of faith and working for religious liberty.
Another one of those names that our forefathers did not choose was the designation Anabaptists. It was a name that was embraced later, but originally it was a term of derision. Nonetheless, Anabaptists are only one among the numerous influences that created the foundation of Independent Fundamental Baptists. Anabaptism drew heavily from the work of Luther and Zwingli for its understanding of the church and its ministry. Within the larger number known as Anabaptists was a smaller group whose root of faith was the Scripture, constituting them as “true Anabaptists.” This included men like Conrad Grebel (1495-1526), Michael Sattler (1490-1527), Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528), and Mino Simmons (1496-1561). These men went further than the Reformation had taken them and reinstituted a primitive biblical church and ministry. They desired deeper ideas on discipleship and an active covenanting into a brotherhood.
As a general rule, the Anabaptists rejected the idea of an invisible church. They also rejected the voluntary association of regenerated saints into the visible local church. This allowed for church discipline, but also meant that the church did not have the right to force its views on anyone or persecute those who opposed it. Anabaptists protected the doctrines of the priesthood of the believer very jealously. They did not force their communion on anyone, nor did they police the communion table.
Robert Friedmann identified the following essential characteristics of the Anabaptist church:
The seven trademarks mentioned above are all virtuous qualities when maintained as a unit. However, when any of those components are excluded, or when any are overemphasized to the exclusion of another, irregular and nonsymmetrical doctrinal patterns begin to develop. Either wittingly, or unwittingly, this is what has happened among Independent Fundamental Baptists.
The first, a visible covenantal community of believers, is almost unheard of among Fundamental Baptists. It is also certain, by and large, that the second, a shared brotherhood practicing brotherly love, is nearly nonexistent among fundamentalists. There does seem to be remnants of the third, a commitment to exclusion (ban) as an act of brotherly love, but it is often mishandled and practiced in an unscriptural way. Without a doubt, the fourth, a church of order where members submit to authority, is emphasized among Fundamental Baptists. That seems to be the one abiding point that eclipses many of the others. A suffering church under the cross (number 5) has not been experienced among most fundamentalists. In cases of “suffering” it has mostly been self-imposed and the result of foolish practices, not true allegiance to Scripture. A church practicing voluntarism or the liberty of conscience (number 6) certainly does not describe most Independent Baptists. The last (number 7), a church practicing the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper has remnants among fundamentalists, but it is often clouded by debate over the mode of communion (i.e. open/closed) rather than the true meaning of the ceremony itself. Baptism by immersion, however, does seem to be intact among Fundamental Baptists.
Let’s do the math; if seven is a perfect score, how would you score Independent Baptists on maintaining our Anabaptist heritage? My assessment of the inspection gives Fundamental Baptists a score of 36%. I graded the association liberally. They certainly fail on points one, two, five and six, and I can only give Fundamental Baptists half credit on point seven. Additionally, the gap between Independent Fundamental Baptists and their Anabaptist heritage is widening with every new generation. In fact, some associates that I have questioned on this matter have given a score significantly lower than mine.
Anabaptism taught a simple ministry style and it started with their pastors. They postulated that pastors should read, admonish, teach, warn, discipline, ban grossly sinful members, lead in prayer for the advancement of brothers and sisters, lift the bread when it is broken, in all things see to the care of the Body of Christ in order that it may be built up and developed, and the mouth of the slanderer be stopped. In 1528 an Anabaptist document titled “The Discipline of the Church” read as follows, “The elders and preachers chosen from the brotherhood shall with zeal look after the needs of the poor, and with Zeal in the Lord according to the command of the Lord extend what is needed for the sake of and instead if the brotherhood (Gal. 2; II Cor. 8, 9; Rom. 15; Acts 6).”
Fundamental Baptist pastors are missing the mark most of the time in comparison to their Anabaptist forefathers. Reading, admonishing and teaching are woefully lacking among Independent Baptist pastors. Many of these pastors boast that they did not go to college and pride themselves that they do not need college to do the Lord’s work. This has created a culture of ignorance among Fundamentalists.
One authority on the Independent Baptist movement stated that, “. . . the Independent Baptist movement is not homogenous. There is a great variety of doctrine and practice among Independent Baptist churches.” That is certainly true. In response to the question, “What exactly is an independent Baptist church?”, he also stated, “It is doubtless true that if you had 100 Independent Baptist preachers write an answer to this question, you would get 100 different answers!” The writer went on to say, “The Independent Baptist churches doubtless make up the largest body of fundamentalist or separatist churches in the world.”
To give an idea of how diverse Independent Baptists are, look at the issues that you would find disagreement on among Fundamentalists: “There are debates and differences among Independent Baptists in such matters as music, dress standards, the Bible version-text issue, Calvinism, Baptist briderism, the practice of communion, alien immersion, repentance and evangelistic practices, church growth practices, and ecclesiastical separation; but there are no debates to speak of so far on theological liberalism (except that we believe the acceptance of modern textual criticism is a deep capitulation to modernism), the infallibility of the Bible (except there is a question as to whether we have an infallible Bible anywhere today), female preachers, homosexuality, charismaticism, evolution, or abortion . . . There is variety among Independent Baptists pertaining to the definition of Baptist itself, with a minority being Landmarkers or Baptist Briders and the majority rejecting that position. There are quite a few churches that are basically Independent Baptist in doctrine and practice but don’t have ‘Baptist’ in their name.”
In commenting on variety among Fundamental Baptists, the writer added ten (10!!!) fundamental issues that Independent Fundamental Baptists have severe disagreements on. This proves that Fundamental Baptists are mostly confused, argumentative, fragmented and unsettled on even the core doctrines of Scripture.
This all reveals that what the church needs is to refocus on biblical structure for ministry. That will take radical reformation and commitment to seeking to reinstitute a consistent biblical ministry.
How far did the apple fall? A long way; and it seems that Fundamentalists are kicking it further and further away from the tree every day.
Brad Bailey is a husband, father of four, author, pastor-teacher and college president in Brandon, Florida.
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