Friends Can't Criticize Friends
In my estimation, the worst problem with Clarence Sexton’s Independent Baptist Friends International movement is that it has circled the wagons against “criticism.”
Soon after I was converted in 1973 I joined an Independent Baptist church after visiting several other types, being particularly drawn by the zeal I witnessed there for separated Christian living, a willingness to take the whole Bible seriously, even “fanatically,” and a bold defense of the faith. They not only believed the Bible; they contended for it (Jude 3)! As a young Christian I was devouring the Bible and I saw much there about separation and contention for the faith, but I had never seen this emphasized in the Southern Baptist congregations in which I had grown up. This is not surprising as the SBC is the denomination of Billy Graham, the king of non-judgmentalism and the chief enemy of separation in our generation. Being convinced that the Graham philosophy is unscriptural, I joined the Independent Baptists.
Even as a young Christian I saw glimmers of the rejection of “judgmentalism” among Independent Baptists. At Tennessee Temple, even in its heyday in the mid 1970s, we were encouraged not to criticize “men of God” such as Jerry Falwell. At Hyles Anderson College in those days it was a law that you could not criticize “the man of God” and his school. This was less, though, a rejection of biblical judging as it was an undue exaltation of man.
It was not until the early 1990s that I first saw signs of a bold rejection of separation among Independent Baptists and the spread of the damnable New Evangelical “judge not” philosophy. This occurred in conjunction with the rapid growth of Contemporary Christian Music and its contemporary Southern Gospel counterpart. Widespread love for carnal music accelerated the spread of the non-judgmental philosophy among Independent Baptists. Music, we are told, is an inconsequential issue. The Promise Keepers movement was another catalyst for the non-judgmental philosophy. Several prominent Independent Baptist voices, primarily within the Baptist Bible Fellowship International, supported Promise Keepers in spite of its radical ecumenism and brash inclusion of Roman Catholics as speakers and leaders. When I exposed the error of Promise Keepers and issued warnings against participating with them, I was rebuked and mocked by the aforementioned IB leaders. They argued that the good far outweighed the bad and that we should be glad that men were being taught to assume their spiritual responsibilities and we should therefore shut our mouths.
This is exactly the message that is coming out of Clarence Sexton’s camp today. It is the theme-song of Independent Baptist Friends International. When I wrote a lengthy e-mail to Pastor Sexton (I tried to communicate with him privately before deciding to make the letter public when it went unanswered), a gracious and respectful e-mail, expressing my concerns, he did not even acknowledge its receipt. He knows of me and my ministry. He has preached in my home church and has talked with my pastor on several occasions. I believe that he knows I am no crack pot. I realize the man is busy, and I did not expect a lengthy reply, but he has a staff to help him and he could have said something like, “I have received your e-mail and will take it into consideration; pray for us.” I have heard from several other men who have tried to communicate with Sexton about this matter and have been ignored, some of whom consider him a personal friend and all of whom appreciate him as a brother in the Lord and a fellow soldier for Christ.
I am not talking about ignoring warnings from a man’s hateful enemies; I am talking about ignoring warnings from friends. And not just ignoring the warnings, but even treating the warners as troublemakers. I have received angry e-mails from several men rebuking me for speaking out against Independent Baptist Friends. They say that I should shut up and just focus on the “big issues.”
Well, I’m not going to shut up. Big problems usually grow from small ones. God has instructed me to prove ALL things, to preach with rebuke and reproof, to earnestly contend for the faith. Without judging and reproof, there is no mechanism of correction and error can grow apace.
Sexton urges all of us to be friends, and I am all for it. God’s Word tells me that the wounds of a friend are faithful (Prov. 27:6). Paul was a friend when he rebuked Peter’s “small” hypocrisy. He was a friend when he reproved the church at Corinth for their errors, including such “small” things as the sin of misusing the Lord’s supper and taking one another to court.
I urge Clarence Sexton to stop stonewalling reproof, to stop pretending that criticism of IB Friends is some sort of carnal persecution. I urge him to publicly acknowledge that his friends have every biblical right and responsibility to criticize what he is doing. I have a suspicion that his critics in this matter are the best friends that he has.
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