Beware of the Increase of Unbiblical “Independent Fundamental Baptist” Churches

On Friday, April 8, 2011, ABC News’s 20/20 aired a report about the alleged abuse of a teenage girl and subsequent cover-up in one particular Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church in New Hampshire several years ago. The 20/20 program has encouraged a great amount of discussion among IFB and non-IFB Christians. We at the FEA are repulsed by any abuse that occurs in a local church and any system that tends to either foster such abuse or cover up such abuse. With that said, we are reproducing a warning we issued to our Foundation readers in 2008 (long before ABC's 20/20 program) concerning some real dangers we have observed in the IFB movement:

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Throughout the 20th century, many independent, fundamental Baptist churches have sprung up and have been a beacon of light in communities throughout the United States. In years past, one could usually count on the local independent, fundamental Baptist church to be a voice for biblical fundamentalism and faithful exposition of God’s Word. Even today, many good fundamental Baptist churches still exist and are taking a biblical stand on the issues facing the world and the church today—a stand that needs to be taken in a day of increasing compromise and confusion. Yet a noticeable trend is growing and permeating many congregations describing themselves as “independent fundamental Baptist” churches in the United States and around the world. The beliefs and practices of many such churches are morphing into something that is not only unbiblical but that would have been unknown amid the circles of good, independent fundamental Baptist churches of the past. In fact, sometimes such beliefs and practices of these churches and their leaders are almost cultic in their exclusivist “us vs. them” mentality and in the blind allegiance demanded of all who are church members. What are some hallmarks of these churches of which Christians must beware?
 
1) Be cautious of the idea proposed by many pastors and churches that a local church or ministry must use the word Baptist in order to be truly biblical or worthy of support by God’s people. Nowhere in Scripture can such a proposition ever be found, yet this thinking has permeated many churches. Of course, the New Testament local churches mentioned in God’s Word—as well as many other churches throughout history that stood for the truth and against error—believed in many of the distinctives of a “Baptist” church (because such distinctives are biblical), but they did not wear the name “Baptist.” This is not to say that a name is insignificant; it is merely to say that a particular word or lack thereof in a name matters less to God than what a church actually believes, stands for and practices.
 
2) Be cautious of a Baptist church, pastor or ministry that emphasizes the need to be “Baptist” more than the need to be a faithful, Bible-believing New Testament local church. There have been many good, Bible-believing churches throughout history that were not “Baptist” churches, just as there have been (and there are currently) many liberal and unscriptural churches that were or are Baptist in name and even emphasized their Baptist name and heritage. According to Scripture, God is concerned with what a church believes and practices. Doctrine, practice and philosophy of ministry matter to God.
 
3) Be cautious of a Baptist church, pastor or ministry that claims one is not truly in the “body of Christ” unless he or she is a member of a Baptist church. Not only is such a belief clearly contrary to Scripture (which teaches that every person who receives Jesus Christ as Savior is baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ), but it is actually the same belief and argument embraced by succesionist groups such as the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox churches and other such groups who teach that a person is not truly saved apart from their own church or denomination which can be physically traced back to the first century.
 
4) Be cautious of a Baptist church, pastor or ministry that says the church began either with John the Baptist or during the ministry of Jesus Christ. While some Baptist pastors may believe and teach this and not fall into the broader category of unbiblical independent, fundamental Baptist churches described in this article (and conversely, some Baptist pastors who do not believe and teach that the church began with Jesus Christ or John the Baptist do fall into this category), a link often exists between this belief concerning the origin of the church and many of these hallmarks of unbiblical independent, fundamental Baptist churches. This teaching affects one’s understanding of how the entire New Testament (especially the four Gospels) is to be interpreted and understood.
 
5) Be cautious of a Baptist church, pastor or ministry that emphasizes “soul winning” at the expense of true, biblical evangelism and discipleship or that believes the purpose of the church is to “win souls” and bring as many unbelievers into the local church as possible. Such pastors and churches often use pragmatic methods (gimmicks, contests, etc.) in order to lure people into the church. The apostle Paul made it perfectly clear in 1 Thessalonians 2—and other portions of Scripture—that pragmatism, gimmicks and deceit have no place in the church. God’s Word also makes it clear in Ephesians 4:11-12 and elsewhere that the goal of the local church is to equip believers to go into the world and do the work of the ministry in order to be a faithful witness and testimony to unbelievers for the purpose of glorifying God. Such is the true purpose of the church.
 
6) Be cautious of a Baptist pastor (or any pastor for that matter) who believes that his word is binding and authoritative on the lives of church members and who demands unwavering allegiance and loyalty. Again, such a belief and demand on the part of a pastor is not only completely foreign to Scripture, but it is exactly the opposite of what the Bible says concerning the office of a pastor/elder. God’s Word declares that a pastor/elder is to shepherd the sheep as a servant-leader (1 Pet. 5:1-3) who leads by example (1 Tim. 4:12). Any aspect of “control” over the lives of God’s people is cultic and unbiblical.
 
The types of churches and leaders mentioned above have substituted the commandments of God for the traditions of men  (Mark 7:7-8) and have, in essence, made “the Word of God of none effect through [their] traditions” (Mark 7:13).

Fundamental, Bible-believing Christians should be grateful to the Lord for good, fundamental Baptist and Bible churches that still exist for the purpose of glorifying God through equipping saints to do the work of the ministry. Such faithful local churches are more necessary than ever and should be faithfully supported by God’s people. At the same time, the increase of unbiblical “independent, fundamental Baptist” churches necessitates a word of warning.

Foundation magazine, Issue 1, 2008