Pastor Tom Messer, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, home of Trinity Baptist College, provides the latest evidence. I don’t know Pastor Messer personally. He is probably a likeable guy, and I’m sure there are many commendable things at Trinity. That is not the issue. The issue is whether there is “death in the pot,” and I am convinced there is.
Messer believes that the Independent Baptist movement should take a stand against “divisiveness,” downplay issues such as music for the sake of world missions, pay attention to the church growth gurus, and put more emphasis on social work and social justice issues.
Consider the following statements from a recent blog entitled “Is the Independent Baptist Movement at a Crossroad?”
“The historic, unifying leadership of the independent Baptist movement has passed off the scene, leaving a leadership vacuum that has led to a more fractured and divisive movement. ...
“There is a growing awareness in our society and particularly in church life about the complex challenges we are facing in our world as it relates to social issues. These issues include: Poverty, Hunger, Education, Disease, Social injustice (abuse, neglect, racism, bigotry, genocide, etc.) ...
“The Great Commission has historically been, and must continue to be, the binding force that brings our unique and autonomous churches together. The alternative, our inability to bring lost people to Jesus Christ and begin church planting movements that will help us to reach the world, is a high price to pay for our divisiveness. ...
“I was speaking with Dr. Elmer Towns this week and he reminded me of a saying that I have heard and quoted many times. ‘Methods are many, principles are few, methods may change, principles never do’” (Tom Messer, “Is the Independent Baptist Movement at a Crossroad?”).
Messer is part of a rapidly-growing movement of Independent Baptists who are pursuing a new “paradigm” even while pretending to love the old one. Whether they admit it or not, it’s all very emerging.
One of Messer’s emerging IB buddies is Brad Powell, pastor of NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, Michigan. They shared pulpit duties at Southwide Baptist Fellowship a couple of years ago. In 1990, Brad took the pastorate of Temple Baptist Church of Detroit, which was formerly led by fighting fundamentalists such as J. Frank Norris and G.B. Vick, and trotted it down the emerging path. Today the church has Christian rock concerts, hosts radical ecumenists such as Michael Card (who works closely with John Michael Talbot, a Roman Catholic who prays to Mary) and who claims that “denominational distinctives” are not important. Brad tossed aside the church’s former stand on Bible versions, dress, music, and a host of other “non-essentials.” The name change in 2000 (from Temple Baptist to the much cooler-sounding generic NorthRidge Church) reflected the character change. Brad has recommended Bill Hybels of Willowcreek fame at his web site (Hybels spoke at the emerging church conference I attended with press credentials last year in San Diego). Brad even joined Rick Warren in a teaching seminar.
Brad claims that the old fundamental Baptist principles upon which Temple Baptist Church of Detroit was built (which produced thousands of members and a glorious evangelistic and missionary outreach under Norris and Vick) are “a pattern of irrelevance” (Don Boys, “Rise and Fall of Southwide Baptist Fellowship,” May 16, 2007). Brad holds the emerging principle that if churches don’t adopt a new “paradigm,” they will die in today’s new society.
One reason that Messer and Brad and that crowd are becoming emerging in their thinking is that they are associating with the wrong people and reading the wrong books.
We recall that Messer quotes Elmer Towns favorably. That alone is a loud warning. Towns, co-founder of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, took the New Evangelical path decades ago. He is a pragmatic church growth guru who studies churches to see what “works,” regardless of their worldliness and doctrinal error. His book Evangelism and Church Growth was dedicated to the Pentecostal heretic David Yonggi Cho. His book Church Growth State of the Art featured a chapter by John Wimber on “Signs and Wonders.” Towns’ philosophy is wrongheaded and unscriptural, and someone like Messer, who professes to stand in the same path as John R. Rice, should recognize this.
Where does the Bible support the idea that “principles are few”? That is the “in non-essentials liberty” philosophy, but the Bible nowhere divides its teaching into essentials and non-essentials. There is liberty when the Bible is silent, but when the Bible has spoken the only “liberty” is to obey. We are to observe ALL things that Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). Paul instructed Timothy to keep the commandment without spot (1 Timothy 6:13-14). Jude instructed God’s people to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3), not hinting that some parts of the faith are to be treated as non-essential. The point of Scripture that is to be defended is that point that happens to be under attack at any given time.
Messer harkens back to the “good old days” when John Rice, Jack Hyles, and Lee Roberson were at the helm of a large segment of the IB movement. He says that there was great unity then and implies that if they were alive today that unity would still be enjoyed.
In fact, the blissful IB unity that Messer talks about did not exist. For example, Hyles and Roberson and many prominent IB leaders moved away from Jerry Falwell when he took his stand for the ecumenical-contemporary philosophy and headed toward the SBC. By the late 1970s, students at Tennessee Temple and some other IB schools were warned about Falwell and Liberty University. And even in the 1970s, the IB movement was divided into distinct camps such as those represented by BJU and the Baptist briders and BBFI. I don’t recall unity or social justice being major themes of the IB movement in the 1970s, but I do recall truth being emphasized greatly. I can remember a LOT of preaching against rock & roll and immodest dress and CCM and modern Bible versions and ecumenicalism and New Evangelicalism and the social gospel and you name it!
Further, we live in a different time altogether. I have been an Independent Baptist for 36 years and graduated from Tennessee Temple in its hay day, so I know something about this matter. The fact is that Messer is misrepresenting former IB leaders. If they were alive today there is no reason to believe, for instance, that they would consider it a non-issue that Tennessee Temple and Highland Park Baptist Church, the home of the Southwide Baptist Fellowship, have joined the Southern Baptist Convention. There is no reason to think that they would ignore the fact that the large numbers of IB churches in the Southwide Baptist Fellowship use “Christian” rock and dress as indecently as the world. Those old IB leaders all preached against short skirts and pants on women and swimsuits and mixed bathing. In fact, John Rice, bless his late departed soul, even preached against bobbed-haired women!
Give us a break, Pastor Messer! Stop pretending that you and your emerging IB buddies are walking in the old paths! Though Hyles and Rice were not my personal heroes, I respect what they stood for much more than what the IB emergents do not stand for, and I seriously doubt that the old IB leaders would keep their mouths shut today and promote the unity in the essentials nonsense and support the direction in which the IB emergents are moving.
And even if they would, it would have no weight, because no man has the authority to support heresy.
Compromise begets compromise. I would urge my fellow Independent Baptists to stay away from men who are in the process of rejecting biblical separation and who are heeding the siren call of New Evangelicalism and the emerging church.
Their compromise is still relatively subtle, but it is real and if you don’t disassociate from compromise in its early stages it becomes much more difficult later on, because compromise has the power to lull one into spiritual stupor and rob one of the zeal for a forthright defense of the faith.
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