Dealing with Differences in Ministry
Being an independent and fundamental Baptist is truly a great thing! I love being and independent and fundamental Baptist! One of the things I love about being an independent and fundamental Baptist is that I don’t have to answer for the decisions of other independent and fundamental Baptist pastors or churches.
You may notice that I don’t capitalize the words “independent” and “fundamental” as many do because I don’t see them as proper nouns, but adjectives. Independent describes our independent church governance and lack of denominational hierarchy. Fundamental describes our stand on the fundamental truths of God’s Word. I also don’t use the initials IFB because being an independent and fundamental Baptist is not some denomination with a centralized leadership. We’re not the LDS church or the RCC or the JW’s.
Independent and fundamental Baptists are among the most diverse religious groups in the world. To some, that is a point of frustration but to me it is something to be celebrate. As Baptists we have the honor of tracing our spiritual heritage back to the early New Testament church outside of the corrupt Roman Catholic Church or the heresy of Protestantism. We stand for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. We stand for believer’s baptism. We stand for the local church with its two offices and two ordinances. We stand for priesthood of the believer, the inspiration and preservation of the Word of God (the KJB), and many more precious doctrines for which I will live and die to defend.
While there may be some here or there within independent Baptist circles who have dropped the ball on some doctrinal matters, by and large, the independent Baptist churches I have come to know all share a common doctrinal position for which we all stand steadfastly. This should be the common ground upon which we unite to carry forth the gospel in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, but of late there are growing schisms in the body.
One of the great failings among independent and fundamental Baptists is that we often use non-biblical terms as if they are biblical or we use biblical terms in a non-biblical way. For instance, separation is a biblical term we use in a non-biblical way. The specific commands regarding separation is that of believers separating from the world (2 Cor 6:17; Jude 19; Heb 7:26). The word separate in its various forms literally talks about walling ourselves off from another. We should have barriers between us and the world that keep the world out of us and us out of the world.
Brethren, the Bible does not command us to separate ourselves from our brothers! I know, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 tells us to withdraw from the brother who walks disorderly, we’ll get to that shortly, but you have to wrest the Scriptures pretty hard to find where I am to break all fellowship with and wall myself off from another brother in Christ with whom we share a common doctrinal foundation.
In the last year, I have seen a type of sectarianism beginning to grow in our ranks. I have read many articles criticizing other men of the same doctrinal positions over certain standards that they may or may not hold mixed with calls for separation from our doctrinal brethren. I’m having trouble finding the command in the Bible to separate from my brother over personal standards.
I almost gag every time I hear someone misapply “Judge not, lest ye be judged”. So what did Jesus mean when He warned us to “Judge not, that ye be not judged?” Ironically, the word judge has the idea of separation. In a practical sense, judging means going around labeling our brothers, determining if they are in an approved group or a disapproved group for the purpose of separating from the “unapproved”.
We are seeing more and more of this in our ranks as one group labels another. There is this childish need to put everyone in a camp or category of Baptist. We divide into sects over every issue, Bible college preference, music standard, dress standard, ad nauseum. It needs to stop! Missionaries should not be refused because they went to an ‘unapproved college’ or because they went to a meeting with an ‘unapproved’ speaker. We don’t have to skip preacher’s meetings because one of the speakers had an ‘unapproved’ speaker in his revival two years ago.
In the first-century church, there were churches mixed with Jews and Gentiles. You can imagine those “traditional, conservative” Jews showing up to church with those “Neo, liberal” Gentiles. It caused problems. The rift between Jewish and Gentile believers was a constant source of disunity and one that the Apostle Paul was used of God to mend over an over again. The rift was not merely over circumcision but extended to their diets, their dress, their very lifestyle. You can imagine a group of Jewish believers, displaced from their homeland by persecution, showing up to Ephesus Baptist Church, a predominately Gentile church with Gentile clothes and Gentile music. The services were not conducted in Hebrew, they didn’t break out the Old Testament scrolls, they didn’t sing the Psalms of David, and the church potlucks had a mixture of kosher and gentile foods.
In Romans 14, some of the many conflicts between believers of differing standards is addressed. Whether to eat meat or herbs and whether to esteem one day over another is used to make several critical points. I believe these two issues were illustrative of the overall friction between Jewish and Gentile believers. So here are a few relevant lessons for today.
- Be inclusionary, not exclusionary. As independent Baptists we tend to look for the negative in other ministries, criticize it, and then withdraw from it. It’s a reflex we’ve developed over several generations. I have had pastor friends who could not comment on a sermon, song, or meeting without pointing out what they didn’t like or agree with first. Romans 14:1 instructs us to receive other believers whose faith may be weak or inferior without passing judgment on them. Sometimes we find others in ministry in our ranks who we may view as weak in their faith and we take it upon ourselves to make them like us. Why not seek to edify our brother, not rectify what we perceive as wrong with our brother?
- You don’t get to “look down” on your brother (Romans 14:3). Whether it is one brother despising another or one who judges his brother over matters of conscience (standards) they are both wrong and rooted in pride. I am not given the authority to rank myself and every other ministry in order of godliness. It is not my job! Any man who is preaching sound doctrine is my peer, I can learn from him and possibly he from me. I don’t have to like everything his church does before he becomes relevant and useful to me.
- I am not the boss (Romans 14:4). I am a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul was a servant of Jesus Christ. When we judge another man or ministry’s value to the cause of Christ, we are usurping the authority of Christ forgetting that we are just servants ourselves. Christ will promote or demote His servants as he sees fit. This was the attitude of David toward Saul. Saul was wrong, but Saul was God’s anointed. If God wanted Saul dead, God was capable of handling it. It was not David’s duty to bring down the carnal, vile, and rebellious king. David didn’t have to follow or join in Saul’s wrong, but it was not his job to tear down Saul’s kingdom.
- Worry about living out what YOU believe (Romans 14:5-8). Remember when wearing wire rimmed glasses was unthinkable? Men having facial hair was taboo a generation ago. Some men take positions that I find silly but they hold sincerely. While they have the liberty to refuse wire rimmed glasses and shave all their facial hair, they do not have the liberty to declare their beard-wearing brother out of the will of God. Most of what we are arguing about today is differences of opinion on significant, but not doctrinal issues. We can have civil discourse on our differences without judging and dividing ourselves into sects. Much of what is passing as “taking a stand” is really a vain attempt to convince people to adopt our viewpoints while tearing down those who refuse. This petty bickering is what really hurts the name of Christ and restrains the gospel message.
- I will have to give account for myself, not my brother (Romans 14:10-12). On judgment day, we will finally find out where we ranked in our service to the Lord by virtue of the rewards we receive. Our works will be revealed to either be wood, hay, and stubble, or gold, silver, and precious stones. I personally believe that we will see the works of some “great men of God” go up in smoke while some that have been labeled liberals and/or compromisers will walk away with more reward than I. I don’t know about you, but I’m still too concerned with my time before the throne to worry about by brother’s reward. No matter how many Facebook or blog posts we use to jockey for position in the Master’s service, He will sort it all out on His terms and it is still not my job!
- Don’t be a stumbling block (Romans 14:13-16). Just as I am not to inject myself into the ministry of another with my labels, I am also not to inject myself into another’s ministry with my behavior. While the more conservative, traditional believer is sometimes guilty of judging their brother, the more progressive believer often flaunts their differences in an attempt to be offensive. Regardless of where I stand on an issue, I don’t want my position to be an impediment to someone else. My standards are my own. I am confident that I am doing as God has led me and if not, that He would let me know. My heart is to honor God and edify, not destroy my brother.
- When in doubt, don’t (Romans 14:22-23). We have too many in our circle of ministry that have never been fully persuaded in their own mind. They haven’t sought the Lord on dress or music standards and thus they were swayed one direction by their Bible college and are now swayed another way by some movement within our ranks. Shame on them for not having a faith and walk with God that keeps them rooted like trees by the rivers of water. Shame on the childish nature of some pastors whose positions shift with the wind.
We ought not change a thing in our lives or ministries until we KNOW it is the Lord making the change. By the way, God is constantly changing us to make us more like Christ, so change (as long is it is toward Christ) is not a bad thing.
So what about 2 Thessalonians 3:6? We are commanded to withdraw ourselves from every brother who walks disorderly. The problem is determining what is disorderly. Everyone reading this will have a different way of defining ‘disorderly’. The good news is that you, with the help of the Holy Spirit can determine what constitutes disorderly conduct by a brother to you. You have the right to withdraw from anyone who you sincerely believe is disorderly in their walk with the Lord. You do not, however, have the right to go on Facebook or your blog and rip your brother apart!
I believe the next step is to contact that brother and advise him of your decision to withdraw and why so that you can first determine if there has been a misunderstanding, or so that you can part ways with the air clear between you. I often wonder why we are so vain as to think the whole world of fundamentalism cares either way. By the way, the same pastors doing this are the same ones who would be livid if a disgruntled member left their church and went on Facebook to point out all that they found ‘disorderly’ in their ministry.
Even a brother from whom we have withdrawn is not our enemy. There are several examples in our King James Bible. One is in Luke 9, when John saw a man casting out devils in Jesus’s name but that man did not walk with Jesus and the disciples. John forbade him from acting in Jesus’s name and Jesus rebuked John for it. Jesus said, “he that is not against us is for us.”
Another example of this is in Philippians 1 as Paul acknowledged that some preached Christ of contention to hurt him, but he rejoiced that Christ was being preached. Even if someone used the preaching of Christ in a way to try and hurt me, I believe people can still be saved and that should make me happy because it is not about me!
In my 20+ years of full-time ministry, I have separated from men who left sound doctrine and I have withdrawn from men who I felt were walking disorderly. In both instances I have pointed out the doctrinal errors and the disorderly behavior, but I have never publicly called them out to draw attention from disinterested parties to my separation/withdrawal.
We ought to stand up for what we believe. We ought to write articles and posts to lay out our positions on both doctrinal issues and personal standards. We ought not use these position papers as excuses to divide, criticize, and/or destroy our brothers, because that is disorderly and unbiblical.
By Pastor Bryan Dahlke