"Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD'S
side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves
together unto him." (Exodus 32:26)
According to Dr. Bill Monroe, president of the Baptist Bible Fellowship
International, several groups of independent Baptists have decided to
cooperate on a somewhat permanent basis under title of "the International
Baptist Network." Dr. Monroe is a pastor from South Carolina whose
reputation as a man committed to evangelism and sound doctrine is
unquestionable. Each of the fellowships that are coming together also has
a history of contending for the Christian faith and a zeal for winning
the lost. Certainly the news of the IBN ought to be glad tidings for the
Christian world! However, in a sermon delivered to BBFI pastors in May of
this year, Dr. Monroe expressed the desire of those forming the new
network to "develop a center" among independents, which he said means to
"move from the margins of extremism on either side." He referred to a
statement made by a professor at a Baptist institution to the effect that
if independent Baptists do not develop a center, "they will cease to
exist in 10 to 20 years." Apparently the leaders of the new movement
agree with this prophecy.
Such pronouncements will cause fundamentalists to view the formation of
the International Baptist Network in a different light than one might
have expected. The fusing of the great bodies of Baptist fundamentalists
must be considered part of the raging controversies that have disturbed
those bodies in the past several years. As far as the BBFI is concerned,
Dr. Monroe views their trouble as the product of right-wing extremists
who make mountains out of molehills in the discussion of "music" and
"methods." However, the disagreements have been broader and more serious
than this good man sees them, and they have arisen in all of the IBN
fellowships. The solution that is being proposed, developing a center, is
not the right approach to these problems. As independent Baptist
preachers move into what is certain to be a new era of their movement,
they ought to be questioning the "move to the middle" for several
Isn't this proposal based on politics rather than principle?
The fundamentalist movement among Baptists has always taken the do-or-die
approach to Biblical principles. The old-timers did not know much, nor
care much, about political strategy in religious controversy. They just
stated the truth according to the Scriptures, stood by that truth, and
let the chips fall where they might. It can be a spiritually dangerous
thing to look for the center instead of looking for the truth! Wouldn't
developing a centrist position subject the movement to "every wind of
doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie
in wait to deceive" (Ephesians 4:14)? If the spirit of the times moves
left, doesn't the centrist move with it? We have noticed, for example,
that the political conservative of our day sounds in many ways like the
political liberal of forty years ago. Yet preachers are supposed to
preach unchanging principles. When preachers begin to adopt political
strategies, will their preaching not be corrupted? To adopt a viewpoint
based upon its proximity to the extremes of the day is to guarantee that
our views will change with the times. Is that what we should do?
Cannot music and methods involve doctrine?
The argument is that fellowship should be based upon "articles of faith"
rather than upon singing "my kind of music" or using "my methods." Dr.
Monroe gave the impression that the extremists want to break fellowship
with certain pastors because of methods and music they use in their local
churches. Perhaps some go that far, but many more are offended by certain
music or methods being used on the fellowship platform! Certainly if
preachers are to work together on any level, they must respect their
differences. Deference must be given at the meetings to all the members
if a fellowship expects them to continue cooperating.
"But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not
charitably." (Romans 14:15a)
Many are not so much concerned about the practices of their
fellow-preachers as they are about where a fellowship might be leading
everybody! Why would anybody want to support an organization that
influences people against his firmly-held convictions? Fellowships
require a deference that has not always been followed.
And questions about music and methods often involve issues of doctrine!
The fact is that the music is the method that is being debated among
independent Baptists. Can the choice of church music have doctrinal
implications? The truth is that it can, and it does. Without a doubt, the
styles of popular music in America over the past century have reflected
the moral and philosophical revolution the culture has been experiencing.
Intelligent students of culture all affirm this to be true. From ragtime
music to jazz, from boggie-woogie to rock 'n' roll, and then from soft
rock to the chaos of hard-rock forms, the tastes of our people have
moved. This movement has coincided with and was caused by society's
descent from belief in moral absolutes to approval of moral degeneracy.
The creators and performers of secular rock openly declare that it is the
music of rebellion, fornication, and self-worship. When somebody in the
1970s proposed that rock music be used in church or at youth rallies,
almost all the fundamental Baptists reacted in horror! The use of rock
music for worship or evangelism is a contradiction.
The singing of
Christians must please the Lord and reflect His character. The chapter in
Ephesians that speaks of "singing and making melody in your hearts to the
Lord" (5:18-19) also speaks of "proving what is acceptable to the Lord"
(5:10). It tells us to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of
darkness." Certainly music styles associated with and expressive of
"fornication and all uncleanness" (5:3) are inappropriate for "children
of light" (5:7-8) to enjoy or perform. But broad evangelicalism has
embraced rock 'n' roll as a ministry medium, and has renamed it with a
euphemism, "Contemporary Christian Music." Will fundamentalists use rock
in their churches, too? Of course, many of them already do, and there is
the problem. Will the Baptist fellowships, old or new, promote the method
of using rock music? If they do, must those who see the doctrinal problem
with it keep silence and keep the peace for the sake of unity? Can the
use of music that exalts disorder, immorality, and rebellion be regarded
as a harmless "method" by men who preach a God of order, holiness, and
sovereignty? Is this a controversy about "preferences"? No, the issue is
doctrinal, and must be taken seriously even if unity is disrupted.
Will the Baptist fellowships stay true to their original principles?
In seeking the center, Dr. Monroe said, independents should look to their
"fundamental Baptist heritage" and focus on "standing true to the Word of
God" as well as fulfilling the Lord's Great Commission. Of course, these
things ought to have the undivided attention of every faithful servant of
Jesus Christ. However, there are serious questions about the relationship
of the fellowships to their fundamentalist heritage. Several of them (all
the ones named in Dr. Monroe's sermon) are having Southern Baptist
leaders speak in their national meetings. Now it is true that many of the
members of these groups took the negative side in the debate over
"secondary separation" in the 1960s and '70s. They rejected the idea that
those who separate from the liberals must separate from Christians who do
not separate from the liberals. Their position was that independents need
not separate entirely from convention Baptists who believe the Bible. Dr.
John Rice printed sermons by Criswell, and Dr. Lee Roberson had
non-separatists speak at Tennessee Temple College. They were not
"secondary separationists." However, the honoring of convention leaders
at fundamentalist meetings is not strictly a matter of having fellowship
When a famous Southern Baptist preacher speaks to a fundamentalist
meeting, the position of the sponsoring organization on primary
separation is brought into question. No Southern Baptist practices
primary separation (II Corinthians 6:14). He is organizationally yoked
with unbelievers in the convention apparatus and on denominational
college faculties. When he is honored by a fellowship of independent
Baptists, anyone would wonder whether that fellowship thinks he is in the
"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather
reprove them." (Ephesians 5:11)
Dr. Rice plainly stated his disagreement with Dr. Criswell's membership
in the Southern Baptist Convention, even as he used his sermons. He
reproved him in order to disclaim his lack of primary separation. Dr.
Roberson issued similar disclaimers in order to clarify his allegiance to
primary separation when he used non-separatists in his pulpit. Certainly,
the BBFI, the WBF, and the SBF need to issue some clarifying disclaimers
right now. Whatever his view of secondary separation, the promotion of
non-separatists will require public statements of disagreement for a
separatist's position to be clear. Do the independents no longer disagree
with the conventionists? Will they eventually join them? These questions
are not unwarranted as long as the leaders of the fellowships create
doubts about their position by honoring those on the wrong side.
The trouble among independent Baptists has not been caused entirely by
extremists on the right and the left. Certainly nit-pickers on one end
and turn-coats on the other have created some interesting situations, but
the real problem is the lack of resolve among leaders to steer a course
consistent with Biblical Christianity. Those who hold to sound doctrine
ought to practice methods consistent with a high view of God, Scripture,
and morals. Those who separate from unbelievers ought to teach Biblical
separation to the next generation both by their words and by their
actions. The Great Commission ought to be obeyed, pursued, and fulfilled
in the power of the Spirit, but also in absolute fidelity to the Lord we
serve! This must be our balance, and here we will find our center.
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church|
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data
Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)
- Articles published in the;
- Sword of the Lord
- Baptist Preacher,
- Christian View of the News,
- Pulpit Helps,
- Maranatha Watchman
- Church Bus News,
- and other national periodicals.