Local Church Autonomy and Other Silly Arguments
December 13, 2017 (first published April 25, 2012 by the title “Shooting the Wounded...” )
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
The following is excerpted from the December 2017 edition of Why Most Independent Baptist Churches Will Be Emerging within 20 Years, which is available in print or as a free eBook from the Way of Life web site, www.wayoflife.org.

The following are some of the most common arguments that are used against those who publicly reprove the compromise and error of influential Baptist leaders.

Shooting the Wounded

Through the years, I have frequently heard the accusation that preachers who give warnings about Christian leaders are guilty of “shooting their own wounded.”

I received the following e-mail that charged me with doing this in regard to an open exhortation I published about Clarence Sexton’s Friendship Conferences (“An Open Letter to Clarence Sexton about the Friendship Conference,” March 3, 2010).

“I am deeply upset at the private letter you posted on your website to Dr Sexton. Thanks for shooting your own and not calling Pastor Sexton personally to get all of the facts.”

The fact is that I had sent that letter to Dr. Sexton via his own website months before I published it, and I received no reply. I found out later that he says that he doesn’t use e-mail, and that is fine, but he could have dictated a reply to one of his many co-workers or secretaries.

Another example of the accusation of “shooting the wounded” is contained in the following e-mail that I received a few years ago:

“I grew up in Murfreesboro, TN and was and am still associated with the Sword of the Lord and the Bill Rice Ranch. I hated it then and still do when a Christian brother bashes another Christian brother over things instead of preaching and trying to win souls to Christ. It is said that the Christian Army is the only army that stabs its wounded and kills off its own. I have to say it is very true. I am also a Marine, and we were taught to pick up those who are wounded and even dead, not leave them to die or to be mutilated by the enemy. We as Christians do just the opposite many times.”

In my warnings and about compromise and error, I have never injured a wounded person or shot anyone in any sense whatsoever. To charge me with doing so is to confuse godly warning, reproof, and correction with carnal assault.

The leaders that I warn about are not wounded! They are willfully and steadfastly committed to error or compromise in spite of having been warned, and they are influencing others in a negative way that is going to bring ruin farther down the road.

By the way, these men don’t mind “shooting” back!

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus Christ taught His people to beware of false prophets and to test their fruit (Mat. 7:15-20). In the Pastoral Epistles, the apostle Paul names the names of false teachers and compromisers 10 different times in his warnings (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17; 3:8; 4:10, 14).

All of the men that Paul warned about claimed to be Christians and it is likely that they felt that Paul was being unfair and mean-spirited in singling them out.

When Paul warned Timothy that Demas had abandoned him because he loved this present world (2 Tim. 4:10), Paul was not shooting at a wounded man. Demas had been a minister of the gospel, a co-worker with Paul, but he made a willful choice to cast his lot toward the world. Doubtless he had been warned, but he remained steadfast in his compromise and was influencing others. Note that Paul didn’t say that Demas had left Christianity; he had only left Paul. This might mean that Demas was compromising his ministry with the world after the fashion of the doctrine of Balaam (Rev. 2:14) and the teaching of Jezebel (Rev. 2:20). It appears that he was one of the early proponents of an “emerging church,” arguing that Paul’s Christianity was too strict, too separatistic, too ineffective, and that we need to adapt ourselves to the world “a bit” to reach people.

The Lord has instructed us to separate from brethren who are walking in disobedience (2 Thess. 3:6). Is that shooting the wounded?

It often happens that those who are disobedient mistake biblical correction for persecution and confuse biblical reproof with personal assault.

Paul rebuked sin in the churches in letters that were anything but private. His epistles to the individual churches were distributed among all the churches (Colossians 4:16). Therefore, when Paul told of how that Demas had left him, having loved this present world, it was a public matter. When he rebuked the believers at Corinth for their sin and compromise and error, it was a public matter. When he warned of Alexander the Coppersmith, it was a public warning.

Some matters are private and they should be dealt with privately, but other matters are public and should be dealt with publicly.

If a man has a public ministry that influences others, that ministry should be critiqued publicly.

Evangelist Chuck Cofty is a highly decorated United States Marine officer who survived shocking battlefield experiences. Since he understands these matters, both from the side of the physical and of the spiritual, I asked him to reply to the accusation in the e-mail that I quoted earlier.

Following is his reply:

“Dear Brother Cloud: To my knowledge you have not struck anyone violently or injured them by striking. He no doubt is referring to the many truths that appear in your writings as well as the writings of others concerning contemporary theology that you quote. Some, perhaps even this man, are so timid that when truth is revealed they find it difficult to accept and wind up tolerating error or ignorance for fear of offending someone. When men are named, places identified and error revealed, it is upsetting to those that are ‘moderate’ in their position. Brother Cloud, it is true that marines never leave their dead on the field of battle and will on occasion render aid to a wounded enemy. This however is situational and conditional as we will not allow such aid to encumber us, slow us down, deter us from our mission or jeopardize our success. Our desire to serve our dear Lord must be the same. I personally think that this dear brother’s analogy is poor and his accusation unfounded.”

Pastor Wilbert Unger of Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario, observes:

“Was our Lord shooting the first century churches in Revelation 2 and 3 when He walked in their midst and exposed their sins and failures, and commanded them to repent? The kindest and most biblical thing a faithful servant of God can do is expose unscriptural conduct to lead to repentance, lest God step in and judge severely and chasten in a most severe matter. I think the worst chastening that we Independent Baptists could receive from the hand of God is if He would just leave us alone and let us go on in our compromise. We are so bent on exalting man and lightly esteeming the Word of God.  One day, we will be like Samson when it is said, ‘he wist not that the Lord had departed from him’ (Judges 16:20). May God be gracious and wake us up to listen to the rebuke of those who see the error in our faith and practice. No man is above rebuke. May we come to see the love and grace in those who would be so kind as to rebuke us.”

Matthew 18

Whenever I publish a warning about an influential Baptist leader, I am asked by some if I followed the guidelines of Matthew 18.

“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:15-20).

For example, when I published an open challenge to Clarence Sexton about the Friendship Conferences, I received the following:

“I am deeply upset at the private letter you posted on your website to Dr Sexton. Thanks for shooting your own and not calling Pastor Sexton personally to get all of the facts. I guess you don’t read Matthew 18 all that often.”

The fact is that I did try to contact Pastor Sexton personally months before the publication of the article and received zero reply.

But as for Matthew 18, it has absolutely nothing to do with the issue.

Matthew 18 gives instructions for dealing with
personal problems between Christians and particularly between Christians who are members of the same church. It does not address how to deal with public teachings and actions by Christian leaders.

Clarence Sexton or Paul Chappell, etc., have not trespassed against me personally, and it would be impossible to follow Matthew 18 in such situations.

I have no way to take this issue “unto the church.” I am not a member of these men’s churches. Their churches have no authority over me, and I have no business with them (and I am sure they would ignore any attempt I might make to charge these men with error). Similarly, these men are not members of my church, so they have no business with it and it has no authority over them. To attempt to follow Matthew 18 in such matters would be confusion.

When men publish materials and distribute them in the public forum, I have every right before God to examine those materials and to issue critiques in the same forum. Public material and ministry should be critiqued publicly.

Following are some of the Scriptures that give authority for this:

“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11).

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).

“These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:15).

“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

Human nature does not like to be corrected, and the bigger a man’s ministry the more he tends to think himself as being beyond criticism.

Touch Not the Lord’s Anointed

A third argument that is used against the public reproof of influential Baptist preachers is “touch not the Lord’s anointed,” which is lifted from the situation in which David refused to touch King Saul.

“Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that the LORD had delivered thee to day into mine hand in the cave: and some bade me kill thee: but mine eye spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the LORD'S anointed” (1 Samuel 24:10).

The context of this verse has to do with killing an anointed king of Israel. By applying this to themselves, apparently some independent Baptist preachers think they are kings! And they must also think, strangely, that someone who reproves them is trying to kill them.

Jack Hyles certainly acted like a king and put himself above reproof and discipline, and so did Jack Schaap and many others who are imitating this exceedingly unscriptural, ungodly type of pastoral model.

But even an Israelite king was not above reproof. David didn’t kill King Saul, but the prophet Samuel did not draw back from reproving him, and the prophet Nathan did not draw back from reproving King David, and we could continue at length with other examples.

Azariah the high priest, joined by 80 other priests, confronted King Uzziah when he arrogantly usurped the office of a priest by offering incense in the Temple (2 Ch. 26:16-19).

A Baptist pastor is not an Israelite king, but even kings could be reproved by God’s preachers.

So can Baptist pastors, and not only in private.

Local Church Autonomy

Another popular argument that is used against those who publicly reprove the compromise and error of influential Baptist preachers is
Local Church Autonomy.

In other words, the affairs of a pastor and his church are no one’s business outside of that congregation’s membership.

I’ve heard this argument trotted out countless times over the years. It is persistently and consistently used when an outsider tries to point out sin and error in a congregation, and that congregation refuses to repent.

But to say that a pastor and a church can do whatever they will and not give account for their
influence is contrary to sound reason and Scripture.

If a church’s doctrine and practice remains its own business and it doesn’t
influence others, that is no business of mine. But if a church’s doctrine and practice influences other churches, that ceases to be a matter of “local church autonomy” and becomes a public issue that can and must be dealt with in the public forum.

Take a church like Lancaster Baptist Church of Lancaster, California. It has massive influence in other churches through its Bible College, its conferences, its publications, and its web sites and blogs. By these means, the church’s leaders aggressively seek to teach and influence people outside of their congregation.

It is nonsense to argue that the business of such a church is its own business and is off limits for others and that those who critique it are somehow disobeying the biblical doctrine of church autonomy.

The same is true for smaller churches that have a smaller, though very real, influence. If a church has an influence in other churches in its area through its music programs, Bible conferences, youth activities, etc., that is no longer a “local church” affair. That is now a public affair.

If a pastor’s error and compromise influences other churches, those other churches have a very real obligation to reprove him and to warn about him in such a way that their own people are protected.

Paul dealt with the sins and errors of churches in public letters. The New Testament Epistles were not private letters that were intended for select eyes only. They were public letters that were intended for the use of all of the churches (Colossians 4:16), and in those letters Paul dealt with a wide variety of sins and errors. He even warned church members by name (e.g., Eudias and Syntyche, Philippians 4:2).

The same is true for Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. Those were personal letters in one sense, but they were very public in another. They were never intended for the eyes of Timothy and Titus only. And in those letters, Paul warned about such things as Demas’s worldliness. Imagine if you were Demas in that day. He could have said, “Paul, you are wrong to make my business a public matter,” but Paul wasn’t wrong, because Demas’s compromise was not strictly a private matter.

These things are written for our example.

Every preacher is commanded to “reprove, rebuke, exhort.” This reproof is nowhere limited to his own congregation (2 Timothy 4:2).

Titus was instructed to “speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). Nowhere does Paul tell him that this ministry was limited to the members of one church.

Private business is private business, and private sin is private sin; but public sin and error is not private business.


These are some of the catchy little sayings that are used to malign biblical warning and reproof among Independent Baptists, but the very fact that these wrongheaded, unscriptural sayings are so widely used is another of the reasons why I am convinced that most Independent Baptist churches will be emerging within 10-20 years.

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