Do Independent Baptist Think? | February 2012 Article
If my father said it once, he said it more than a dozen times. In turn, members of Bible Baptist Church of Stillwater have heard me repeat the same quote over a hundred times. I am not sure where my father heard it, but the statement has probably influenced my own ministry more than any other outside of Scripture.
“There is a ditch on both sides of the road.”
We independent Baptists need a good dose of the truth embodied in this quote. It’s a
three-part truth starting with the road. The road concerns where we are headed. That is an overall purpose or goal we desire to reach, whether to win people to Christ, disciple them, or start a choir. On each side of the road is a ditch that hinders us from reaching the goal if we fall into it. Each of the ditches would be the two other elements of the truth.
The first ditch is an obvious one for which we have a particular disdain. Like Pilgrim’s Vanity Fair, we have been warned by parents, pastors, and Bible College teachers to beware of its allure. It looks good, but goes nowhere. It is vain. The danger is that when we are trying so hard to stay away from one ditch we overreact and wind up in the opposite ditch. The second one seems less important because the other captured our attention. Both ditches stop progress, but the second is the more subtle of the two.
Let’s consider a couple of examples and make application to this issue’s subject. As a group we have great reverence for the King James. The road in this case is the preaching of God’s very Word. The ditch we are determined to avoid is one of pluralism (multiple versions) and emasculated versions that lend themselves to a host of errors and confusion. When someone becomes more focused on a particular ditch than the road, he often defaults to the opposite ditch. This ditch could be preaching that does little or no justice to the text of the King James, diminishing the very benefit of preservation. Staying out of the “one” ditch is not the same as cruising down the road. Independent Baptists justifiably feel strongly about where they stand. But, while we wrestle with the major issues of the day, we must guard against dead flies in our own apothecary.
Another example is the ditch of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). The road consists of a journey toward achieving authentic worship that God said He desires (John 4). Some churches who feel great about staying out of the CCM ditch and primarily use good hymns are clearly in the other ditch. They act as though their only options are rocking out or conducting a funeral. Vain repetition isn’t exclusively the problem of seeker-sensitive churches. Traditional congregations using hymns don’t guarantee true worship any more than casual congregations using shallow choruses. Jesus said it was a matter of spirit and truth. Churches put so much energy into fighting the invasion of CCM that they don’t notice a greater enemy consisting of the habitual, heartless sing-song with which many members approach hymns. I propose that the most effective weapon against CCM is quality specials and a vibrant energized congregation, singing doctrinally rich hymns with understanding and passion. Strobe lights and drum sets can’t match that.
Independent Baptists have done fairly well at staying out of some really dangerous ditches. That is one of many traits I appreciate about being an independent Baptist, especially the GIBF, and this article is no challenge to change that. But, a ditch is a ditch. There is no virtue in standing alone if you are simply stuck in the other ditch and accomplishing nothing. We look somewhat foolish, even hypocritical, when we proclaim the dangers of being in one ditch while declaring it from our own ditch. While avoiding ditches is necessary, it is a jerky journey and cannot become our identity. The road we are traveling and its destination must be the focus of our energy.
So, how about reading and studying—this month’s subject? The road in this case is the understanding and effective declaration of biblical truth. Because we value truth we strive hard to stay out of the ditch of psychobabble spewed liberally every day. There are the “new atheists” and the Calvinists. There are the emerging church and the Emergents. Their subjective intellect has led them astray and it is a crowded ditch indeed. We have our own ditch, though. Independent Baptist ranks have the tendency to label the thinking and intellectual exercise itself as the culprit. We try so hard to avoid where their proclaimed intellectualism has taken them that we fall into the ditch of dismissing intellectualism as profitless or evil. We get so busy in ministry details that we have little time or desire to think. I’m referring to a thinking that increases our understanding of truth and our ability to handle it well.
Our positions are becoming a prime target and I propose that we be careful lest we lead churches a mile wide and an inch deep. More than ever before, independent Baptists need to know how to think, how to renew the mind. Today’s culture is force-feeding its citizens emotional stimulation at every turn and decisions are becoming increasingly dominated by feeling. The mega-churches, as well as the formerly independent Baptist mega-church wannabes, are turning services into “experience” times, where emotion is the rage and measure of worship. Preachers are falling into the trap, as well, content to fill a building and maybe an altar through an emotional charge rather than helping the saints handle strong meat by reason of use, having their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).
Dr. T.R. Glover said that one reason Christianity conquered the world was because it did better thinking than the rest of the world. It not only knew better how to live and how to die, it also knew better how to think. It “out-thought” the world. Here is a deeply interesting passage: “The Christian read the best books, assimilated them, and lived the freest intellectual life the world had. Jesus had set him free to be true to fact. There is no place for an ignorant Christian. From the very start every Christian had to know and to understand, and he had to read the Gospels, he had to be able to give a reason for his faith. They read about Jesus and they knew Him and they knew where they stood…Who did the thinking in that ancient world? Again and again it was the Christian. He out-thought the world.”
Reading and studying are not ends to themselves. They simply serve to help us think rightly. It only seems reasonable that a preacher who gives his life to help people understand the truth is passionately devoted to acquiring it himself. We dare not simply give people thoughts. We must teach them to think. We will not be able to battle every challenge that confronts the members where we pastor. We must equip them to do that. We’ve enjoyed times when pastors were highly respected and people listened to them because they were pastors. We also know that our movement had some pretty big personalities whose passion and persuasion were strong enough to secure agreement. Now—not so much. The pastor is simply one among a thousand voices and, thanks to the media, is often more suspect than some simple internet site. We have to earn our credibility like never before, and that is not an unhealthy thing.
How do we do that? The answer could fill an entire issue, but I want to emphasize one significant part—reading. Obviously, the Bible is our exclusive source for truth. By it, we measure everything else we believe. Once we open the cover of any other book, we must exercise discernment. Regardless of our knowledge of the authors, as long as they are human, we must filter what we read through Scripture. Once we assume the need and develop the skill to separate the wheat from the chaff, we can safely learn from those who have excelled beyond us in so many areas.
Reading frees us from ourselves and can expose petty thoughts that don’t benefit. It strengthens our positions by challenging the mindsets we hold. Nietzsche said, “Never ignore, never refuse to know what may be thought against your own thought.” I have certainly done that with Nietzsche. Reading opposing authors has strengthened my ability to defend my position, not only outwardly, but has created a confidence inwardly. It has also exposed weaknesses in my stand in private moments so I didn’t have to look inept when challenged in public. Authors whose doctrine I refuse have nonetheless helped me in other areas because they were strong in areas I was weak.
A fallacy in logic called the Genetic Fallacy argues against a point simply because of where it came from. We might be better served if we were committed primarily to whether something is true, as opposed to who said it. All real truth is God’s truth no matter who articulates it. Many men have uttered truth in ways I can only dream of. If it supports or strengthens my confidence in God’s Word, whether directly or indirectly, or if it helps me to explain something more clearly to others than I was capable of alone, I’ll take it. If I, or the people in the pew at Bible Baptist Church, are thrown about by every wind of doctrine in everything we read, is it always because the opposing argument was so strong or could it be our defense was so weak? Are so many independent Baptists really in the liberal ditch because they thought too much or because they didn’t think enough?
Timothy was told to shun profane and vain babblings, while also told to give attendance to reading, exhortation, and doctrine. He was told in no uncertain terms to meditate on them because of the impact they have, not only on him, but on those who heard him. He had to use discernment as to what was profane and vain. It doesn’t seem that Timothy was supposed to stop reading or studying in order to avoid the babblings. It appears that he was to discern truth through what he read and studied.
I learned a valuable lesson from my father several years ago when he decided to get a master’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a Southern Baptist school, and a doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary. I was raised among strong independent Baptist pastors in Oklahoma and, true to my independent Baptist roots, I was really concerned about how this would affect him. My father was a student and a reader before he ever went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary or Dallas Theological Seminary. Through all of that, not once did I sense him faltering or wavering in what he had taught me for 18 years. He grew from the benefit they had to offer and he strengthened his position when challenged otherwise. His mind has been a great help to our cause.
I have seen what some of the books and blogs have done to men who should have known better and I am as saddened as anyone else. Could the problem be, though, that they didn’t actually know better? Maybe they were told, but not challenged to read and study enough to build their own confidence in the faith. I propose that the best way to keep men out of that other ditch is to avoid our own and help them to think clearly.
A thinking independent Baptist must not be an oxymoron.