John Van Gelderen
Last week on the Revival Focus Facebook and Twitter accounts, we asked what people considered to be the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of Independent Baptist churches.
Regarding the greatest strength, for the most part the responses indicated a high view of the Word of God, such as preaching, teaching, doctrine, defending doctrine, Gospel clarity, and then also discipline. Regarding the greatest weakness, the responses were more varied, including not keeping our children, operating in fear, lack of love, abuse of authority, pride, lack of mercy and forgiveness, and lack of unity. One response given seems to sum up all the others well: “Greatest strength: holding fast to sound doctrine; greatest weakness: exhibiting Christ-like love.”
I grew up in the Independent Baptist context. As an evangelist for over 25 years, I’ve met many wonderful Christians and served in many dear churches, and I’ve learned that one cannot broad-brush everyone alike. We all have strengths and weaknesses. However, as a group of churches we would do well to let the Spirit search us to see what might grieve the Lord.
The responses from this simple question have provoked my thinking. As an evangelist, I do see that there is a definite strength in Independent Baptist churches as well as a definite weakness. The strength lies in valuing the written Word of God, and, from my perspective, the weakness underlying all the weaknesses listed above lies in not valuing the Holy Spirit.
Greatest Strength: Emphasizing the Word
The emphasis on the Word of God is highly commendable! Jesus said, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The Word of God is our objective basis for truth. Without the objective boundaries of the Word, we would be lost to grave errors. The Word is also the foundation for faith, for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17). The psalmist declared, “Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name” (Psalm 138:2). Praise the Lord for those willing to value the Word of God!
Greatest Weakness: De-emphasizing the Spirit
The danger is when we develop a Word-only paradigm. Paul said to the church at Thessalonica, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:5). Amazing!—not… in word only, but also in… the Holy Spirit. This biblical balance seems to have been largely lost in many sections of our movement. The result of this imbalance may be surprising. Under inspiration, Paul warned that the letter kills without the Spirit giving life (2 Cor. 3:6).
Tozer began to warn of an unhealthy exaltation of the Word to the neglect of the Spirit. Apparently, this imbalance came as an overreaction the rise of Pentecostalism in the early twentieth century. Later, in the wake of the excesses of the Charismatic movement (not all Charismatics are excessive), the overreaction became pronounced. Independent Baptists became wary of emphasizing the Spirit for fear of strange fire in the name of the Spirit. The results of this de-emphasis have been catastrophic.
When the Independent Baptist movement walked away from the Holy Spirit, we walked away from our leader and our life. Without Spirit-leadership and Spirit-life, ailments began to show themselves.
- Emperor-ism: Without Spirit-leadership we developed replacement leaders. Big kings arose, followed by little kings, followed by dads running their homes like kings rather than fathers. This set the stage for various types of abuse, for who can stand against the anointed kings? The results have been psychological abuse and, sadly, even sexual abuse. This is by no means limited to Independent Baptists, but, tragically, these ailments have plagued us. Ironically, as Baptists we believe in the priesthood of the believer, but this principle was lost in practice when we began to neglect the Holy Spirit.
- Traditionalism: Without the balance of the leadership of the Spirit, traditions have been placed on the level of the Word of God. While applications are needful, they are not on the same level as the Word. Strange, that a movement which emphasizes the Word should fall into exalting man’s traditions to the same level. But this is what happens without the balancing guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- Lack of Love: Without the life of the Spirit, we lack in love. Real love is supernatural. Through faith we can access the life of the indwelling Christ. When we do, the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus is love. Without this love, it is amazing how harsh and abrasive we can get. This is a sad ailment within our ranks.
- Pride: Without the life of the Spirit, we are prone to pride. The only access to the Spirit’s power is to humbly acknowledge our need and trust in the Spirit’s power. When we go through the right motions and work hard in the strength of the flesh, producing the outward form that wood, hay and stubble can produce, we look good. We know enough to say, “To God be the glory,” but down deep and often outright we pat ourselves on the back—because it was just us. Often we end up condescending those who do not look like us.
So much more could be a part of this type of analysis. While I’m thankful for the good in our ranks, I’m burdened about the weakness. We need to emphasize both the Word and the Spirit. The Spirit of truth is the great teacher to help us understand the Word of truth. Emphasizing the Spirit without the Word leads to delusion. Emphasizing the Word without the Spirit leads to deadness. But emphasizing both the Word and the Spirit is dynamic!
This article originally appeared here. It is republished on Proclaim & Defend by permission.
John Van Gelderen is an evangelist and the president of Revival Focus Ministries, an organization for the cause of revival in hearts, homes, churches, and beyond, and for evangelizing. His blog is focused on experiencing Jesus. He believes in order to really live, you must access and experience the very life of Jesus Christ.