Are the problems in the Independent Baptist world across the board? Does taking the name alone make one guilty of all its crimes? Surely only the most hardened cynic would say “yes”.
Are Independent Baptists the only group in Christianity with an embarrassing fringe group? Certainly not. There is always that element that you wish would go away, at least publicly, that never easily can be silenced. If that is so, and it is, why do I write a series such as I do here? Someone asked me, one of the good guys actually, that very thing, as well as a few others. It is in the context of the dichotomy between our fringe and mainstream that the answer to why I write this series will be found. Our mainstream has some wonderful people who are kind and dearly love our Lord. At the same time, we have a rather wacky fringe group who do great damage to the cause of Christ. These two facts were never meant to be in an easy harmony!
Points To Consider In The Conflict Between Our Fringe And Mainstream
1. We Are Most Responsible For Our Fringe Group.
I might have some insight into the fringe elements of, say, the Presbyterians. Do you think that someone outside the group, though, would be taken as seriously as someone inside the group? Have I experienced the issues that plague them? Have I lived where they live? So I turn back to my own. In the same way it makes sense for a pastor to look to the issues of his church, or a parent to look after his own children, or a worker to address the issues of the organization he or she is part of, so it makes sense for Independent Baptists to address our own issues. It is, in fact, a dereliction of duty just as it would be in any of the above examples. To most people looking on, our silence appears as denial. It actually silences critics when we deal with a problem before they scream about it.
2. It Does Not Damage The Mainstream To Call Out The Fringe.
Actually, the opposite is true. Nothing lumps the mainstream and fringe together like never speaking out against the fringe. To never say anything is tacit approval of the fringe. If you met someone from a foreign country who mentioned that our country supports abortion, would you not as a Christian explain that some of us absolutely find it appalling that some who share the name “American” with us support such a position? There are some positions held by the fringe of the Independent Baptist world that I want to be far distanced from and say that I find appalling. I will use my influence too, such as it is, to fight abortion. I feel the same way about issues I have been battling against in 23 previous articles.
3. The Fringe Have Hurt Innocent People.
At what point does right trump public relations? I think the moment people are hurt, driven away, or abused is the time to throw the PR out the window. I could see Jesus doing that. Jesus did a number on the PR of the religious hierarchy when He overthrew the money changer’s tables. There are greater issues at times.
4. When You Call Out The Fringe You May Attract The Fringe On The Other Side.
I admit that there are people on the more liberal side who are equally of the fringe. They would hurt others to advance themselves in the same way. Of course there are, for example, church members who are working a personal agenda as much as some pastors (though that has not been my theme in this series). Some feel calling out the fringe makes the mainstream look guilty by association. I, for one, have never thought our wonderful mainstream could fairly be made equal to the fringe. In the interest of fairness, let’s not lump everyone who is exposing the wrongs they have experienced at the hands of our fringe as trouble-making, heartless compromisers either. The charge is not true. I know of too many stories where they have gone far out of the way to limit the consequences for others.
5. The Mainstream is Guilty Of Allowing The Fringe To Define Them.
Our fringe is particularly noisy. For decades they have had the microphone and used it like a billy stick. Our silence has been equivalent to shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot. I remember years ago when I wasn’t so disillusioned with politics that I heard this statement: ” ‘Do not speak against other Republicans’ is the Eleventh Commandment.” How did that work out?
6. Calling Out The Fringe Will Not Turn Away Non-Christians.
Again, I think the opposite is true. I have heard this from a few people, but upon reflection I do not believe it is true. In the first place, it is quite a stretch to assume an unsaved person would even read an article about Independent Baptists. In the event they did, or they saw a Facebook thread about it, I think it would actually encourage them. Many have suffered abuse from religion, so when they see Christians holding Christians accountable, they better can believe our sincerity.
So how long will I write? Until the victory is won! As in the aforementioned example, I will never stop speaking out against abortion until it stops. Nor will I stop speaking out against the abuses perpetrated by our fringe until they are dramatically changed. I encourage others to join me until our voices drown out theirs. Let’s be the morally responsible mainstream who holds the fringe to account.
Find all articles in the series here.
24 thoughts on “The Fringe Versus The Mainstream (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #24)”
Great thoughts. A couple notations: It’s great to point out that WE are responsible for our Fringe friends. If we leave them for a group that does not have that sort of fringiness, we are just choosing another group that has another type of unbiblical fringe (no movement or group is 100% pure!) AND we are just abandoning them and allowing them, like an abusive dictatorial government, to freely carry out and impact others with their fringy ideals. By not calling out and rebuking the fringe, we keep letting others be abused and/or mislead by them. By calling them out, we actively seek to “purge the leaven” thereby not only obeying God, but also pointing out falsehood and leading people towards truth. Our immediate inclination should not be separatism, but rather puritanism. We love truth, but we also love the people God loves and seek to exhort them.
Another thought, when you think about it, it’s really self-defeating to say this type of “calling out” turns people away from Jesus. How can you turn someone away from something that they aren’t even part of in the first place? At least in the process, they can see truth. Did Jesus Himself not tell us to first count the cost? I know the context there is concerning forsaking EVERYTHING we hold dear for His sake. But the truth remains, should we not be very cautious to lead people to Jesus before they first understand that it’s not all roses and fluffy happy puppies? That is not to say we should just call down fire upon those who don’t agree with us and “let God take care of the results.” It’s one thing to turn people “off” to Christianity because we are just stupid, mean, unloving, and arrogant. It’s quite another thing for them to be turned off by the Truth that is presented while we seek to rebuke our brothers in love. One is unnecessary and foolish, while the other is a natural reaction of flesh when presented with that which is of the Spirit. We can’t hide the “costs” and “realities” of Christianity and expect to have a whole lot of real, quality Christians among us. At best, we will have a few, but the rest will be those who we are continually having to rebuke.
These are valid and great points you make! Thanks!
I think the biggest problem the elements which your are exposing has with your blog, is that you have termed them “The Fringe.” They really believe themselves to be the anchors of the movement. Let them have their movement – I will build upon the sure foundation of Christ.
Ouch! In many cases, sadly, your charge is true. I have not given up on Independent Baptists, but as you say, in the final analysis Christ is all that matters!
I agree with Paul J., those whose practices you have very eloquently written of, who “hang their hat” on the IFB title, ARE the mainstream of the IFB. You, Bro. Jimmy, and I and others like us, are the fringe. I have been an Independent Baptist my whole life, raised by an Independent Baptist Pastor. My upbringing was not by this list, but others were, they were the few. Now they are the norm. By my observation, I believe it came to be because of the need to feel “more spiritual”. Then it became the need to be accepted. I’m sure we could all attest to the fact that we are not accepted by the camp if we do not comply.
Whether or not to stay identified with the IFB is a personal choice that we all need to make. The problem lies in the gap we find ourselves. We are identified with them, therefore believed to be like them. When we are not like them, people don’t know where to “put” us, so no one wants to fellowship with us.
I wish many Independent Baptists would read this comment and get a better handle on how many feel.
I appreciate the article, but, am a bit confused…I thought the “mainstream” had the microphone. Now you tell me that it was the fringe. As far as I can see, they same ones (for the most part) are still holding the mics and they are not about to hand them over.
Well, I hope I am right. I will operate on that assumption at least. I think we should at least wrest the mic from their hands and see what would happen.
Great thoughts as usual, Pastor Regan. I have a suggestion for a future installment of your series that might complement this article. Could you identify “the fringe”? I’m not asking you to name names (I know your philosophy about that), but to describe the traits and characteristics.
In my IFB experience (I’m still IFB), “the fringe” = those other guys who do things differently than I do.
Again, your comments about “the fringe” are good thoughts, but I’m not sure I know who or what you are referring to when you say “the fringe.”
That is a good idea for a future post. Until then, I feel the fringe are those with abusive practices, a distortion of what God’s Word says, and an obsession with standards not specifically in the Bible. Actually, I can envision the whole article now based on your suggestion. Thanks for reading and commenting!
The fringe as you define is a large number of the IFB pastors and leaders I had growing up.
You aren’t the only one I have had tell me that this week!
Herein lies the problem for the IFB movement. Those people who add stringent standards and who seem to hate everybody on the outside are the loudest voices. To many of the leading voices in the IFB movement have these beliefs. If somebody is leading or appears to be leading a movement then they are not really the fringe. I would like to think of the as the fringe, but I think that people with opposite beliefs are actually considered to be the fringe in the IFB.
I do go to an IFB church, it is by far the best church I have ever been a member of. I have gone to IFB churches my entire life, and since I grew up in a Navy family and joined the Navy myself for a time, I have been to a lot of different churches. So I think I can say I have seen more of the IFB then most people.
So often the things that people like to add to the standards they follow are so capricious in nature. I went to a Bible college for one year. Within days of showing up I was told my hair cut was to short and I needed to grow it out because a man of God needs to be respectable looking basically. Looking back on things I should have packed my bags and left that place the next day. If I told you the name of that college and the pastor that runs it, I am sure you would know of it.
Now I am in my mid 30s, and most of the people I went to teen group and christian school with have moved away from our IFB church. I said earlier that I attend the best church I have ever been a member of. It is the same church I was in for high school and teens. For a while there were some very strident voices that defined your fringe. I believe now that those voices helped to chase away my friends.
Most of my old friends attend church, many of them go to the same famous non denominational mega church. For awhile I thought they had backsliden and moved away from God since that is what I was taught. Now I believe they still love God, but just do not want to have to deal with all the extra burdens they remember from the IFB movement.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences!
JHB I think you have some wisdom in your post. I would propose, however, that whenever there are two different opposing perspectives within a movement, both sides would view the other to be the fringe. I suppose what we are looking for is the fringe that does not accurately represent the views of the majority. I.E., per dictionary.com, the “decorative border of thread.” It’s not the same as the majority, but it’s what gives the entire piece it’s identity. It’s the flashy stuff. The spokespeople. When we think of who fits this mold for IFB’s, who comes to mind? In all honesty, considering the fact that IFB’s are in fact Independent, this really could be different depending on the circles you grew up in. There are IFB circles where the culture was loving, compassionate, merciful, yet still concerned about the absolute truth of Scripture, without imposing extra-biblical (or unbiblical) standards on the people. However, I do believe from experience that these circles are rarer than the circles PJ speaks of (if you don’t mind me calling you PJ!). But they do exist nonetheless. I think what PJ is trying to do is reverse this – to raise up some spokespeople to represent God and His revealed Word, rather than an un-revealed word that many current/historical/traditional IFB spokespeople regrettably define IFB’s by to the rest of the world. We do need some more “militant” spokespeople to turn things back around to the real authority of Scripture rather than the authority of man and the traditions of fundamentalism. That’s really what fundamentalism was started for anyway, but it has strayed. We should not abandon the sheep, but call them to return to the fold of Christ. It’s all about Jesus. It’s not about saving a movement, but winning people to truth.
I believe what we are doing right now is a good beginning to what needs to be done. We need to speak the truth, the real truth; exactly what you said in your closing statements: “It’s all about Jesus. It’s not about saving a movement, but winning people to truth.” I understand why Pastor Jimmy is so passionate about this subject. My heart breaks for all those who are in bondage to the legalism of the IFB.
Right now my husband and I have been blacklisted in our camp because we do not use exclusively the “right” version of the bible, nor subscribe to their list of man-made rules. My dad, an IFB pastor until his death in 2001, always said that “independent” means something. It means that we do not take our direction from any group. Independent Fundamental Baptist used to mean something, now it’s just a tag.
We are presently in the process of looking for a new pastorate (or whatever else God has for us), but it has proved difficult. Because we have been “black-listed” by our own “camp”, our historical connections will not recommend us, yet when churches learn of where we went to bible college, we seem to be eliminated from the consideration. We are falling into the gap, and the gap is a very lonely, discouraging place. Our only hope and strength is in knowing that God is our provider, and He is the director and facilitator of our future.
I feel you! I’m in a similar situation where I went to a pretty popular college in IFB circles, but I no longer can really claim the heritage of the IFB movement. I wish to be in ministry, but I haven’t really found a church that would take me. I was told by one pastor that, while he may not agree with me on several points, he thinks that we would still work well together and that I’d be very beneficial as a pastor, however the people of the church would not have anything to do with me and maybe I should start looking at the SBC for ministry. Right now my wife and I don’t feel comfortable leaving our church even though we don’t agree with everything. I do think a lot of things are changing, but that’s another post. I just think that if we are going to be people who really want Truth to take hold of our churches, leaving isn’t the best way to see that happen. Unless we are forced out, I believe that dedicating ourselves to the PEOPLE – NOT the movement – is the best way to win these people. Is not one of the biggest problems with the traditional IFB movement the superfluous intensity behind the doctrine of separation? How are we to win them if in practice we act just like them, only on behalf of the other side? At that point we’re just picking teams. We’re not picking actual truth/change. Every “team” has its problems. The point is not to just pick another team. The point is to love these people where we are at, and with all that is within us, seek to edify, exhort, and live in harmony and unity with them. That’s what it means to go against the flow. Going against the flow is not changing the circles that you wish to be in. Then you’re just going with the flow of a current that suits you better. Rather, it’s changing the circle you’re currently in. I do not wish to leave IFB-ism. I wish to change it. There is so much goodness there, but it has been marred by hypocrisy, extra-biblical “wisdom” of men preached in the name of God, and proof-textual rather than con-textual commandments. But if we’re all being honest with each other, this is not exclusively the problems of fundamentalism. Other places just choose other topics to by hypocritical, pharasaical, and proof-textual about. How do I know? Becaues these are the signs of human flesh, not the signs of any particular movement. They exist because all men seek their own way. All men seek self-justification. All men naturally tend toward works-salvation and/or works-sanctification. And these are just ways that WE do it. We need to work hard to redeem something that has wonderful roots, but the branches have bent and broken over time.
David, I too want to see it changed, not leave it!
I so appreciate what you have said. I pray the Lord guides your husband to the pastorate he needs.
Good thoughts David.
David, thanks for sharing your insights!
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