The following is published with permission of Pastor Buddy Smith of Malanda, Queensland
Dear Brother ___________
Regarding the IBFI conference and website, there is no doubt in my mind that you know more about it than I, simply because of your personal acquaintance with Bro. Sexton. My observations from a distance are as follows:
I) I understand and agree that Bro. Sexton is not attempting to start a new denomination. He has no doubt invested an enormous amount of time, manpower, and effort into hosting this conference. I expect he hopes to accomplish many good things out of it.
II) I appreciate him using the best speakers he could find to promote his efforts to unify the diversity that exists among Baptists. From his statements I gather he seriously believes that all Independent Baptists can and should see each other as friends and work together.
III) Bro. Sexton's registering of thousands of churches on a website list, and doing so without their permission, has the potential of being a very divisive issue. I wonder if he has considered the consequences of this action?
I take it that Bro. Sexton believes the same things we do about the local church. I would be surprised if he didn't.
1) That there is no authority on earth that has the right to exercise control over the local church. Each church has one head, Jesus Christ, and must look to Him alone for guidance. Because we hold to the New Testament doctrine of the local church, we do not submit to any who would dictate to us what we must believe or practice. This Bible precept was what brought the wrath of Roman Catholicism down upon the Waldenses for over a thousand years.
2) We believe in the autonomy of the local church. Ideally, we stand aloof from all denominational hierarchies. In our own church constitution we have a clause that states that our local church cannot join anything outside itself. The list of churches on the IBFI website comes close to being a membership, simply because it was compiled in support of Bro. Sexton's "friendship" agenda. The reader of the list cannot escape thinking that all these churches agree with Bro. Sexton's agenda. No matter what disclaimers are posted on the site, those who look over the list of churches are left with the impression that these pastors, churches, and colleges agree with Bro. Sexton's thesis.
3) We believe that doctrine has always determined the basis for fellowship, both inside the local church, and between churches. I John 1:3 states, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." We believe that we are free to fellowship with those we agree with and refuse to fellowship with those we disagree with. Amos 3:3 is still in the Bible.
4) We (used to?) believe in the independence of the local church, in that each local church preached and practiced all that it discerned of the mind of God in the Scriptures. As much good as may be done through Pastors Fellowships and conferences, we (used to?) believe that church policy and polity are determined at a local church level, not at a conference level. Any attempt on the part of one pastor to tell other pastors (in conference or out) that they must conform to his methodology is immediately suspect.
5) We believe that each local church is to strive for purity in doctrine, in morals, and in fellowship. This purifying work is the thrust of Ephesians 5:25 - 27, which reads, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; That He might sanctify it and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." The Head of the church loves it so much that He gave His life to purify it, not contaminate it with worldly thinking and methods. II Cor. 6:14 - 7:1 is a vital passage on the purifying of the church and ends with these words, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Separation is the full fruition of holiness, not "joining up" with everybody.
Here are a few conclusions I have drawn from these truths:
(See #1 above) - Whether Bro. Sexton intended to do so I do not know, but he (or a committee?) decided that thousands of churches' names and contact details should be listed on the IBFI webpage. (Many of them are inaccurate.) No doubt many churches do desire to be listed there. Others do not. Yes, there are other lists of churches which have our churches' names on them, and we had no say in it. There is a list of churches in every telephone directory in the free world. I asked to have our name included on one Bro. Cloud's website because we largely agree with his doctrines. The difficulty I see with Bro. Sexton's list is that, whether it involves membership or not, it identifies all the churches on the list with his agenda, i.e. declaring himself a friend of all IB pastors, AND telling us that we must be their friends as well. That position, for him and for us, is simply not tenable. Bro. Sexton is not a friend to all IB pastors, any more than you or I are. It will become increasingly apparent as time goes on that Bro. Sexton will not be a friend to any who oppose his "friendship" agenda. Some of our pastor friends will jump on the bandwagon and will tell all and sundry that we must climb aboard, too, and when we don't they will no longer be our friends. Oh, we seemed to get along well enough until we were told we HAD to climb aboard, but now we don't. Doesn't that seem a bit strange, that one brother's program for unifying the brethren has alienated and separated pastors more than ever? I noticed on one video clip that Bro. Sexton clearly silenced any dissent in a meeting where he proposed his agenda. Do you think it was wise to do so? What sort of image does that project to other pastors? I think the agenda issue is the key to deciding whether I want my church to be listed on someone's register of churches. If their agenda is simply to make available to others our church's contact details, I MAY agree to have it published on their list. If they have a doubtful agenda they want to pursue, as I believe Bro. Sexton is doing, then I am opposed.
(See #2 above) It is no new phenomenon for Bible colleges to exert a large influence (even control at times) over their alumni. Bob Jones University has done it for years. So does BBC in Springfield, Mo, where I attended. Tennessee Temple and Ambassador and Crown and Hyles Anderson are no exception. In this case, Bro. Sexton appears to be using his church and college to draw thousands of pastors and churches into a loose circle of agreement, or sphere of influence, that ultimately has the potential of overriding the autonomy of the local church. Surely, pastors have the right to choose whether to attend or not attend his conference, to embrace his agenda of "friendship" with all other IB pastors or not to embrace it. I believe every local church has the right to choose whether it wishes to be identified with his agenda. In fact, if Independent Baptists practiced biblically Christian ethics, no local church's contact details would be added to anybody's list without their knowledge.
(See #3 above) - It is in the area of doctrine that I perceive the greatest danger. You will notice that I attached an article that clarifies this matter of doctrine determining fellowship. It is by a pastor (now deceased) in the GARB group of IB churches in the states. It is well worth reading. Several pastors have expressed their concern over the Calvinist who was invited to speak at the IBFI conference. I am sure he did not preach his views. Nor did the Free Will Baptist chap, nor did the men who love CCM or Westcott and Hort's Alexandrian text. There is a sad fact that our generation is forgetting, and that is, "Whenever any group of men who hold differing views begin to work together, they will ultimately descend to the viewpoint of the lowest among them." It is what the centuries preach to the hours. The evangelicals who met at Fuller Seminary in 1948 determined to repudiate the biblical doctrine of separation (from modernism, in particular.) They expressed a desire to embrace all who named the name of Christ. Sixty years later they are being swallowed up by the modernists they thought they would convert to Christ. Evolutionists and Mormons and modernists teach in their seminaries. This is all documented and should be a lesson to any who attempt to unify those who differ from one another.
(See # 4 above) - The COC (charismatic) denomination in Australia, according to one of their local pastors, requires them to go to Brisbane every year and have hands laid on them to get a fresh anointing. When I went into the ministry in 1966 there was something similar done in the BBF. On a regional level all the pastors were expected to come to every pastors' fellowship, and once a year, to go to the big national fellowship meeting. Otherwise, they had no chance of promotion. One strength of IB pastors in Australia has always been their refusal to lick the boots of denominational leaders. Not all the popes are found in Catholicism. Baptists have popes and anti-popes, too. We IB pastors may have been too independent. We probably were. But we are not likely to fix the problem by surrendering the autonomy of the local church to a magisterium of our own making. I believe we have outgrown some of the isolationism of the past, but movements like the IBFI tend to become increasingly inclusive. Bro. Sexton may differentiate between fellowship and friendship, but if so, I have not seen a statement to that effect. It appears that he is saying that the churches on the register are in fellowship with each other. I heartily disagree with this concept. If he means by the word "friendship" something other than "fellowship" I think he will find it very difficult to support this from Scripture.
(See # 5 above) - Every pastor has the burden of leading his church wisely. None of us do it perfectly. It is our responsiblity to keep out of our pulpits the men we perceive to be unsound in doctrine or practice, and fill our pulpits with men of wisdom, godly men who are well versed in Scripture and who will stand for the truths of the gospel. Certainly, we cut some men a bit of slack, but we all exercise discernment in who we expose our people to. I have decided not to knowingly consider Calvinists or charismatics to be my friends, or fellowship with them. I believe I would be sending a false signal to others if I were to indicate to them that I am a friend to all the men who call themselves Independent Baptists. They may be saved men, and I am courteous to them in the street. You, too, have certain standards you hold to. There are IB pastors you will not have in your pulpit. I may be one of them. We will not agree on some things. I want you to know that I will fight for your right to believe the things you believe, even if I do not agree with them.
If you can afford the time to read the attachment by Bro. Nettleton, you will see the greatest danger in every form of inclusivism. It is simply this, in order to fellowship with divergent views, we will have to limit our message. Or in other words, inclusivism in fellowship results in minimalism in beliefs. The larger the circle of viewpoints we will tolerate, the smaller the circumference of doctrine we will be able to preach. Our expansion of cooperation means there will be a shrinkage of truth. That's why New Evangelicalism's toleration of error has helped modernism to survive the death it deserved. Ockenga and Co. helped the enemies of the gospel more than they realised. Their refusal to separate from modernists helped the modernists to survive long enough to mutate into new forms, such as the Emerging Church. Broadmindedness breeds syncretism, and syncretism suffocates doctrine. Because there were certain men present, those who preached at the IBFI conference had to carefully avoid preaching on Unlimited Atonement, or the Security of the Believer, or The Doctrine of the Preservation of the Text, or Why CCM Is Destructive To Fundamental Churches. They had to limit the content of their messages so they could enlarge their fellowship.
There is a parallel corollary. The doctrinal anemia that has increasingly infected fundamentalism over the past fifty years has provided us with us leaders who command us to cooperate with heterodoxy, and almost nobody raises the alarm! The henhouse has a chicken thief in it, and so the farmer shoots old Fido for barking and telling on the thief. And few will realise what has happened until there are no more eggs for breakfast.
It is in this area that I believe Bro. Sexton has offended against the brethren. He certainly has the right to make friends with any preacher he likes. But he has no right to require any other pastor or church to agree with him. And he has no right to shoot Fido for barking, either.
I'm with Fido, even it means dodging buckshot.
Bro. Buddy Smith
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