Independent - R.E. Martinez
My parents called all of us together into the living room. We knew that something was wrong. I was only twelve years old, the oldest out of the four of us. We are getting a divorce my dad said. My mother nodded in agreement. The faces of my younger siblings revealed that they didn’t get it. Who does at such a young age? My dad asked if I wanted to stay with mom or go with him. My response will forever testify that I had my mother’s safety in mind… I want to stay with mom, I said. Truthfully, the biggest reason I stayed with mom was that I knew that I would have far more independence with her than with dad. I could get away with much more with mom! For the next three years, I did just that; I was independent.
Independence can be good, and yet so hard. When we are young, it has a way of showing us just how much we do not know – like the times I ran away from home just to prove that… well, I was a dummy. As we mature through independence, we are reminded that maybe “dependence” is not so bad after all. Like the moments in married life, you wonder how you ever washed your own clothes, cooked your own food, and even replaced important things like soap, shampoo, and the good ol’ double ply! Come to find out you are not so independent!
To the topic – I am an Independent Baptist. Perhaps the only reason why is because it was through a Baptistic church that I first heard the gospel. No other reason, but that God saw fit for me to first hear the gospel in a small independent Bible church in upstate New York that so happened to be Baptist in doctrine. I was saved and discipled in that church, and it was through that same independent church that I surrendered to full-time ministry. Let me transition by stating this, that is where my independence stops and the gospel wins. Let me explain.
The reality of me calling myself an Independent Baptist does not entirely identify who I am. Our identity as Christians is ultimately in Christ, and Him alone. For instance, if I would have first heard the gospel in an “affiliated” Southern Baptist church, and responded to the gospel by faith in Christ alone, my identity would have been ultimately in Christ the same – no difference. The gospel makes that possible! (Galatians 2:1-14; Acts 15:1-31) In fact, paramount to the Christian’s walk in Christ is their understanding of who they are in Him alone. It is when we construct man-made barriers, between ourselves and the rest of the body of Christ, that our independence is not gospel-centered. Ultimately Christ shatters my independence when it comes to loving and associating with the genuine family of God. The body of Christ extends beyond any man-made denominational line, independent or not. Truthfully, we hardly ever give God enough credit as to how big his family is.
“Ultimately Christ shatters my independence when it comes to loving and associating with the genuine family of God. The body of Christ extends beyond any man-made denominational line, independent or not.”
How is it that we have come to the point that independence trumps the entirety of the body of Christ? It would seem that just as denominations can by nature separate and divide, so can independence. Being independent is not necessarily a virtue. A value – yes, but far from virtuous when misunderstood and misapplied. In fact, what does being independent mean? Even more, what does it “not” mean?
1. INDEPENDENT DOES NOT MEAN ABSOLUTE SEPARATION.
For some reason, some identify independence as total separation from anyone that does not wholly see eye-to-eye with them. The idea of being independent is valuable in that we can, in a self-governing fashion, serve Christ as the Holy Spirit leads. After all, the church is His body, and not our own, to run and rule. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). No two Christians will ever agree on all things at the same time. How sad to have gone through the experience of someone telling others to separate from someone else just because they are not independent enough – whatever that means! Let me go further, if you are separating from someone just because they are not an independent Baptist – you are missing the point of genuine independence. Independent does not mean absolute separation because someone differs with you- but rather it liberates the autonomy of the believer – which enables them to differ from you! It is the priesthood of every believer that enables him/her to be independent – not run or ruled by others, or by ruling bodies, but rather by the Holy Spirit’s leading alone. (Please do not misunderstand me, I am not saying we should never separate from someone – that is not the point.) The point is, Independent does not mean absolute separation.
2. INDEPENDENT DOES NOT MEAN UNACCOUNTABLE.
Accountability is a friend to all, and yet an acquaintance of few. There is a huge problem today in Christianity – unaccountability. While remaining independent has given us the freedom to practice our faith as the Bible prescribes and as the Holy Spirit leads, it has also given way to possible-dangerous unaccountability. This is a danger of the ministry in particular. Paul David Tripp, in his book “Dangerous Calling,” writes:
“It is my grief to say that individualized, privatized Christianity still lives. Sadly, it lives in the lives and ministries of many pastors who have forged or been allowed to forge a life that is lived above or outside of the body of Christ.” – Dangerous Calling, Paul David Tripp, (84)
The ecclesiastical independence that we see in the Bible is ironically very much inter-dependent. (Read: Ephesians 4:1-16, I Corinthians 12:12-26, and Hebrews 3:12-13) Inter-dependence is characteristic of the church both internally and externally (local church and not so local). Perhaps the most significant move that any Christian could ever make is becoming more Christian-community oriented (Hebrews 10:25). Independent does not mean unaccountable, and there are plenty of examples throughout history why any Christian should never become “individualized” or be able to “forge a life” that is unaccountable. Never become so independent that you forsake the biblical prescriptions of community and inter-dependence of the family of God (on the local level or not). Independent does not mean unaccountable.
3. INDEPENDENT DOES NOT MEAN ALONE.
When my parents began the process of divorce, the only thing that helped us was knowing that we still had a mom and dad who loved us. Honestly, though, the separation factor still created a state of fear and uncertainty. We were so young and no matter what our parents said, we still felt alone in some sense. There is something powerful about living as a Christian in and among Christian-community. As an Independent Baptist, I am not alone, and there are countless people that I would consider my friends and family in Christ. B.R. Laken once stated, “Be friends to all those who are friends of Christ.” I would have no issues whatsoever doing community or fellowship with genuine believers from various denominations or fellowships – with discernment of course. It would be absolutely foolish to say that I would rather be alone, in my own circle, than to fellowship or associate with someone that is in another denomination. How sad it is to see two independent Baptists be so independent that they are not even willing to fellowship with one another! Apparently, even in that case, being an Independent Baptist, by title, is not the test of fellowship. We are not called to do this alone. Find someone who is a friend in Christ and friend them!
“Be friends to all those who are friends of Christ.” – B.R. Lakin
What freedom it is to know that we do not have to go around avoiding those who do not see eye-to-eye with us! The gospel truly liberates and creates divine inroads toward new and ongoing unity among the brethren. The family of God is far bigger than we give God credit! Independent does not mean we have to be absolutely separatists or sectarians. Nor does it mean that we remain unaccountable or that we do this all alone. Christ never intended for the church – his body, to do anything alone. (Matthew 28:20) Again, I am an Independent Baptist, but not at the expense of the family of God. That is where my independence stops and the gospel truly wins.