A Clean Name or a New Name?

April 27, 2011 by Paul Chappell

Thoughts for Independent Baptists


Over the past several years, there has been an increase of internet dialog and major network reporting on various types of scandals and abuse in religion. A recent television program carried a story on such occurrences in some independent Baptist churches.

Although I disagree with the media’s approach at casting aspersion on thousands of pastors and about two and a half million good Christians (stats according to Church Still Works, pp. 14, 15) because of the sin of a few, there can be a good result to this criticism—if we respond properly.

The Bible says, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1). Although I have given much of my life to strengthening pastors and churches within the independent Baptist ranks, I have, along with many others, been burdened for the testimony of our biblical heritage because of the actions and attitudes of some.

The nature of independent Baptists as a whole is different than organized denominations. There are many strengths to following a biblical pattern of autonomous, indigenous churches; however, like every group (organized or not), there are problems that develop and must be handled biblically. Furthermore, because of our independent status, there is no board or president to speak for the whole. While no one person can speak for all the churches, neither can one person (reporter or pastor)—unless they are omnipresent and omniscient—declare all the churches corrupt, cultic, or any other stereo-typed criticism.

While those of us within this group cry “foul” at such broad attempts, I believe these reports reveal problems that have and do exist in some places. (I am not speaking specifically about the cases in recent media exposés because I do not know the individuals or facts of those situations.) This should concern all of us.

For the past few decades, those who have attended Spiritual Leadership Conference would testify to the fact that we have tried to emphasize a servant-styled, Christ-like leadership model. We have taught against the caustic and fleshly leadership that fosters unhealthy relationships, lacks accountability in leadership, and creates unbiblical loyalties to personalities or institutions. We have tried to emphasize nurturing and maintaining a genuine heart for God and the work of the Holy Spirit in individual lives.

I wrote at length about these very issues in my book Guided by Grace. In this book, I told my story of having to unlearn certain models and philosophies that the Holy Spirit convicted me about. Like you, my spiritual growth is a work in progress, but I learned long ago, Jesus is the goal—not “standards” or institutions, but knowing Him. (I don’t deny that schools, colleges, and in some ways, all organizations need rules or boundaries of conduct, but we cannot lose the essence of a relationship with Jesus in the midst of the rules and institutional structure or order.)

Sometimes in life it’s good to step back and remember who you are as a person. When I make a list to describe those personal priorities, I always begin with a single word—“Christian.” I accepted Jesus as my Saviour on April 5, 1972. He was merciful to forgive me and has kept me by His grace since that day.

There are many other words I might use to describe myself—husband, father, grandfather, and yes, in the right context, I would say my biblical beliefs are “fundamental”—or based upon the clear doctrines of the Bible. I am not ashamed of those fundamental truths. These fundamentals include my Lord’s deity and His blood atonement for my sin. But even those truths remind me that I am a Christian first—before any other title. Sadly, I have known some “staunch fundamentalists” who were lousy Christians. And I have seen many who have redefined the word “fundamental” to include much more than doctrine. For many, the word includes personal preferences, strong opinions, and even bizarre viewpoints or practices.

So what do we do when a name becomes tarnished? I suppose a lot of people are thinking about that these days. What comes to your mind when you hear the term “Roman Catholic Priest”? I haven’t heard the media refer to the Catholics as a cult, but maybe they have. Perhaps they will label every group with abuse and misconduct as a cult. Perhaps it is only my paradigm, but eastern religions and Islam seem to get a pass in these discussions.

For the moment, allow me a broad statement. “Every family or religious tree has a few nuts.” Before we declare everyone in any group to be cultic or vile or abusive, we should pause for perspective. Is your extended family pure of all corruption and sin? Is your parish or entire denomination scandal-free or sinless? Mishandling of sinful skeletons is not unique to any religious, social, or civic group. Sexual deviance is rampant in our culture—from the home to the workplace to the public schools to every religious and civic group.

However, I am deeply grieved that innocent Christians have been hurt and that leaders have not been forthright in churches that carry the name “Baptist.” I hope this will be a time of learning from mistakes and criticisms, and a time of strengthened commitment to handling these crimes lawfully and biblically in Bible-believing churches. Frankly, every story of sin or abuse from any Christian group grieves me. When issues arise about churches that are more closely aligned to our own position, it is saddening to my heart. I, for one, do not believe the first response should be anger. Our response should be prayer.

While I have friends and acquaintances in independent Bible churches and with other affiliations, I personally have been an independent Baptist all of my life. Although I have had my share of disappointment and hurt, I am thankful for the many great aspects of my development and ministry years. In my study, I have a Bible with the signatures of Dr. Monroe Parker, Dr. B. Myron Cedarholm, Dr. Jerry Falwell, Dr B.R. Lakin, Dr. G.B. Vick, and many others. Their preaching and vision were inspirational and helpful to thousands. In their heyday, they gave independent Baptists a good name.

Being independent fundamental Baptist has traditionally meant:

  • The church came out of a denomination that denied fundamental doctrine or chose not to affiliate with such churches.
  • The church supports missionaries directly with financial support, rather than through a headquarters.
  • The churches were fundamental in doctrine, conservative in lifestyle, and evangelistic in ministry.

As America has changed, these conservative churches in America look increasingly strange to our culture. I suppose that has been and will always be true. We are called to be “salt and light” (Matthew 13–16).

What is bothersome to our name, however, is that in some places, being independent fundamental Baptist is not simply about doctrine.

Many times, in these days, the churches are known for:

  • Mishandling sinful issues
  • Pastors living without accountability or not being approachable
  • Recommending immoral pastors to other churches
  • Preferential divisiveness fostered by fruitless men with a computer and angry men with a pulpit
  • Excessive loyalty to a personality or institution
  • A Christianity focused more on externals than the heart
  • Emphasis on the fear of man more than on the fear of God

This list could go on and on, but it seems like an unbalanced few, with the help of technology, have sent a sad, “name damaging” message that is cast upon the whole.

Frankly, the media would consider all truly biblical ministries from any denomination “weird.” But the world and the media should easily find integrity when viewing how we respond to issues such as the handling of abuse. Warren Wiersbe in his book, The Integrity Crisis wrote, “The Church has grown accustomed to hearing people question the message of the gospel, because to them the message is foolish. But today, the situation is embarrassingly reversed, for now the messenger is suspect.”

We should not let our good be evil spoken of. In fact, most pastors I know, including leaders in our own ministry, have diligently reported cases of abuse to the authorities and have worked sacrificially and compassionately to help those who have been abused. We understand, appreciate, and fully support the process of “mandatory reporting.”

I believe it’s time for revival in our midst. It’s time for a name cleansing or a renaming. It’s time for some to move from:

  • Bully pulpits with straw man issues back to authentic Bible preaching and teaching
  • Mishandling sin to handling sin with integrity and biblical principle
  • Paranoid isolation (for pastors/church members) to loving engagement with family, neighbors, and the community
  • Petty preferences to personal holiness
  • Excuse-making to church building
  • Critical spirits to edification and encouragement

After many years of ministry, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit, by His work of grace, is better than my best program at growing godly, happy Christians. Let’s move back to lifting up Christ and encouraging others to grow in grace through the work of the Holy Spirit. All of this can be accomplished in the context of a fundamental and biblically separated ministry!

Independent Baptists have no headquarters or pope. (And, from the past falls of others, we see that having such organization is no guarantee of freedom from failure or reproach.)

But perhaps we should consider and discuss a voluntary agreement among pastors to model Christ-like ministry. I think this would be a great start. The following statement is just meant to begin some discussion among friends, but here’s a first try for an agreement that we could share as Bible-believing Baptists. I’m sure others would have better ideas, and I realize no real good ideas could come from a Californian! But here’s a rough-draft try:

A Suggested Statement of Agreement

As pastor of an autonomous Baptist church, I affirm my belief in the historic fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith including the depravity of man, the deity of Christ, the blood atonement, death, burial, and resurrection for the sins of man.

It is my pledge to uphold truth of God’s Word in the love of Christ, to be guided by grace and accountable to other godly men as I serve God’s people.

Our ministry will biblically respond to sin and ethically and diligently report abuse to the authorities. We will seek to love, counsel, encourage, and edify the offended and hurting.

While we realize anyone may refer to a strong stand for biblical truth as unkind or even abusive, we will ardently endeavor to teach and model holiness in an environment of grace and acceptance after the Spirit of Christ.

We will carefully screen and check backgrounds of church workers. We will not refer a staff member or church member who has been involved in or accused of sexual abuse to another ministry without notifying the leadership of that church.

As a church, we will obey the Great Commission. We will strive together to win the lost and reach the world with the Gospel. We will continue to fulfill our role as a local church to be the pillar and ground of the truth.

I suppose the list could go on, but these are good starting principles for every church concerned about having a good name.

This is just food for thought. If you are a pastor of an independent Baptist church, I would like to hear your feedback and ideas. What thoughts does the Lord place on your heart that may help Bible-believing Baptists establish a clean name or a new name? I’m looking forward to continuing the discussion at our Spiritual Leadership Conference in a couple of months. I hope you will consider joining us.

Although I’m not saying we must change our name, over the years I have taught we must define the meaning of terms to a suspicious culture. It’s time we do a better job at defining ourselves than those who “say all manner of evil…falsely” (Matthew 5:11).

Finally, I am so thankful for the name that is above every name—JESUS. He is why we should be concerned of any name that is a reflection on His church. And He has promised to build His church! Let’s try to stay out of His way.


31 Comments »

  1. Great article. Our church theme for 2011 is With Love (1 Corinthians 16:14) and this media coverage has emphasized our objective. It has challenged me to lead with Christ-like grace and love.

    Comment by Chris Armer — April 27, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

  2. I am not a Pastor, awesome article. I am praying for you, Pastor Chappell. This will help me in praying for my Pastors and the Pastors that are on my prayer list to take this stand.

    Comment by Tony Sulpizio — April 28, 2011 @ 2:57 am

  3. Thank you for a thoughtful and gracious response to some legitimate concerns. Your willingness to confront these issues is necessary, and your spirit in doing so is refreshing.

    Comment by Kurt Skelly — April 28, 2011 @ 5:12 am

  4. I do not know how I could be anything but Baptist or anything other than Independent. I did not watch the tv program, but I believe that in being Independent we open ourselves to the same dangers as when we live by grace. I believe that there is a generation of young Independent Baptists; preachers and the children of Independent Baptists who have been crying against these issues and leaving our ranks for years. We must not change our name, but live up to its definitions and not abuse its graces.

    Comment by Jeff Bowersock — April 28, 2011 @ 7:12 am

  5. Pastor Chappell,

    Thank you for such an appropriate and timely article. I am thankful you have raised the topic of renaming or redefining. While proud to be a fundamental Baptist, in many other religious sects the term fundamentalist refers to extremists (i.e. terrorist in the name of Islam, etc.). Certainly prayer and seeking God’s face will show us what the correct answer is for the future.

    I’m thankful for the humility you have modeled to younger men in the ministry (like myself) and for the grace in which you have broached this topic.

    Praying for your ministry,
    Noah Lomax

    Comment by Noah Lomax — April 28, 2011 @ 7:39 am

  6. Pastor Chappell,
    Great article addressing the blanket statements made on 20/20 a few weeks ago. Being quite close to the situation that the program revolved around, it was quite upsetting that some of the facts were so grossly misconstrued. I am thankful for these encouraging words. Preach on.
    In Christ, DM

    Comment by David Morse — April 28, 2011 @ 7:44 am

  7. Important and timely article! Thanks for addressing this sensitive and needful topic with grace and candor.

    Comment by Andrew O'Neal — April 28, 2011 @ 7:47 am

  8. Thank you for this timely post. Your comments echo what I believe many of us are thinking. Thank you for your thoughts.

    Comment by Joshua Irmler — April 28, 2011 @ 7:48 am

  9. Pastor Chappell,
    I agree wholeheartedly! This is something that has pained me, especially since God allowed me to pastor this wonderful church that I do. I’m not sure I have much more to offer as of right now, but prayer is much needed from all!

    Thank you for being willing to address this issue. I know I have been told that I am not a true independent fundamental Baptist because I do not hold to someone’s personal preferences. In many instances, supposed IFB pastors have turned into Pharisees, emphasizing the external, while the inward heart is corrupt in many.

    The Lord knows I have far to come in my walk with Him and as a pastor. I am still, and will continue, learning. May God help us all to be the pastors and church members that He wants us to be, based solely on His Word!

    Praying for you and your ministry!
    Pastor Eric Brown

    Comment by Eric Brown — April 28, 2011 @ 8:04 am

  10. Pastor Chappell, Thank you for this article. I appreciate the time you have taken to address these issues Biblically. I am proud to be a fundamental Baptist, and I am especially thankful for the very well balanced training we received at West Coast. Before coming to West Coast, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a Fundamental Indapendant Baptist, i honestly didn’t know. Because of the preaching, teaching, and the modeling that was placed before our family, I learned what it really meant to follow and live for Christ. To look beyond myself and see the world and it’s need for Jesus. To develop a genuine heart for Jesus & have a real walk with him. I have learned very quickly not all fundamentalists view it the same. To be honest some of it seems very sadly warped. Thank you for showing my family what it meant to be a Christian! Thank you for balance!

    Comment by Laurie — April 28, 2011 @ 8:43 am

  11. I agree with Noah – This was a good article. It is obvious to me that the question of loyalty to the terms \Fundamental\ and \Independent\ is on the minds of many young pastors. Growing up in an \independent\ baptist church and being trained in \independent\ baptist colleges and seminaries we have ben taught loyalty to the Scriptures alone. That when an institution, denomination or local church strays from the fundamental truths of the Word of God we are to leave those institutions, denominations and local churches. I agree completely with Paul Chappell when he says that he is a \Christian\ first and foremost. I only call myself a Baptist for one reason: Baptists believe what I believe about the Bible. I have no loyalty to the term \independent\ other than it describes the fact that I have no denominational loyalties. I have no loyalty to the term \fundamentalist\ other than it used to describe the fact that I believed in Orthodox Bible Doctrine. Now that these terms have been tarnished, the questions do loom.

    So, I look forward to the conversation with other like-minded men!

    Comment by Joshua Teis — April 28, 2011 @ 9:11 am

  12. Pastor Chappell, I have never been to LBC, I did not attend WCBC, and have yet to make it to a Leadership Conference [though I would love to attend]. I have, however, appreciated and learned from your ministry from afar through Striving Together, Ministry 127, and the Baptist Voice. I am a 34 year old pastor who grew up in and was sent out of an excellent independent, fundamental Baptist church with two exemplary pastors in her history, Fairfax Baptist Temple, Fairfax Station, VA.
    I came to plant a church in an area in Central Kentucky where Baptists as a whole have lost their way. Being titled an IFB church here is akin to having leprosy. The disdain stems from decades of tyrannical pastors, entrenched Calvinistic theology and a Baptist Bride/Landmarkism mentality that have so engulfed churches known as IFB.
    Thankfully, our church plant after 2 1/2 years has taken off [avg. 48 in morning worship], overcoming the stigma and reproach that two generations of IFB churches and pastors have implanted here. I was told by a man who had pastored here for 26 years that our church really isn’t an IFB church, with regards to how IFB’s are perceived in Central Kentucky, for which I praise God!
    I seriously considered in our visitation, soulwinning and outreach efforts of dropping the independent moniker, because of it’s association, but chose not to, simply because the words are significant and simplistic in describing who we are, and what we believe. I have taken great joy here in Central Kentucky in reestablishing what a biblical IFB church should be and how it should behave. I am so thankful for what God is doing through His people here at Bluegrass. We are, by our name seen as different, and yet through the love, devotion and hard work of God’s people, through the Spirit’s leading, we are helping others see our name differently as well.
    Like-minded men, of like-minded faith, will inevitably find each other, to accomplish the work of the ministry. Philippi was not a IFB church in name, yet it’s faith and practice was identical to God’s work here in Georgetown, KY at Bluegrass. Holding on to a name is silly, just to hold on to it, but we also should not be quick to “throw the baby out with the bath water,” simply because the Media has belittled our name and certain ravenous wolves have corrupted our pulpits.
    I am thankful for your faithfulness, and my Pastor, Dr. Bud Calvert’s, faithfulness to Christ and to being truly a biblical independent fundamental Baptist.

    Comment by Kyle Fannin — April 28, 2011 @ 11:13 am

  13. I appreciate the spirit of humility and desire to seek God’s leading in this article and associated comments. It has often been said that you reap a harvest where you place an emphasis. Throughout history the emphasis of a movement, tradition, terminology, etc. has tended to reap misguided ambition and poor judgement. Conversely, emphasizing balanced, biblical ministry has tended to yield a fruitful, Christ-centered attitude and philosophy. I believe you can be an independent, fundamental Baptist and emphasize the right things. Great article pastor Chappell!

    Comment by Brian Leversee — April 28, 2011 @ 11:31 am

  14. My first response to the recent TV documentary was grief, then prayer for good Pastors, Churches, and the advancement of the Gospel! Thank you for your timely article! May the Lord help our leadership to see the importance of Christlikeness and sincere compassion for others.

    Comment by Mike Norris — April 28, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

  15. Your voice is a respected one in this light because of the excellent spirit & name that your ministry continues to reflect. Your ministry is a breath of fresh air to a movement that has often become choked by some of the things mentioned in this article. I believe it would do us all well to reflect that the only perfection we will find in any other ministry is it’s picture of Christ & the presence of the Holy Spirit. The closer we identify with the name of Jesus & not the names of men the better our ministries will be. Thank you.

    Comment by Chris Teis — April 28, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

  16. Thank you my brother for this helpful, timely, balanced article. I see in it many of the characteristics that drew me to you when we first met many years ago. It, like you, is honest, transparent, Biblical and Spirit-led. It is blessing to see a leader of your stature admit our faults while unashamedly standing for our scriptural beliefs.

    Comment by R. B. Ouellette — April 28, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

  17. Thanks Pastor Chappell for speaking the Word of God, the Heart of God, and doing it all in and through the Spirit of God.

    Comment by Eric Rader — April 28, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

  18. This article is excellent and right on target. I believe that because of our strong biblical position, which is very unpopular in our increasingly unbiblical culture, we have to be very careful to show the world a Christ-like disposition.

    I also agree wholeheartedly regarding the fences that need to be put up in our ministries that will help protect our people, not to mention our image in the community.

    Comment by Pastor Phil Erickson — April 28, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

  19. Pastor Chappell, Thank you for this fantastic article. The clarity that you have brought to this issue by both addressing the problem but also restating the traditional Independent Fundamental Baptist position is a great help. This is a strong reminder of the great need that exists to communicate who we are and what we believe in a way that is both clear and edifying to the communities in which we serve.

    Comment by Jeremy Stalnecker — April 28, 2011 @ 5:29 pm

  20. Your article is very good and thought provoking. I have often thought that I agree with the position of the fundamentalist but not the disposition of the fundamentalist. In our quest for contending we have become contentious. However, there is no doubt we love and defend the truth. I agree that a serious discussion should be made on considering a more accurate name for our position as brethren.

    May God help us to keep the main thing the main thing.

    Comment by Pastor Rick Stonestreet — April 28, 2011 @ 6:46 pm

  21. Brother Chappell – Thank you for your candor. I agree with you 100%. While I am an independent Baptist, I prefer to consider myself an interdependent Baptist. We need each other (Prov. 27:17). I appreciate the spirit in which you write.

    Comment by Al Hughes — April 29, 2011 @ 3:53 am

  22. As we all know, our culture is opposed to God and His Word. It is imperative that we stand for Him in our society and speak the truth in love. May the Lore help all of us to do so.

    Comment by Tim Rabon — April 29, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

  23. Thank you for a well-written article that addresses legitimate concerns and does so with a fair and balanced viewpoint as well as a good spirit!

    Comment by Ray Cazis — April 29, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

  24. Pastor Chappell,

    Thank you for your willingness to lovingly address a delicate topic that all in ministry has had to consider; especially in recent weeks. Your keen insight and ability to communicate a position shared by many of us, while still acknowledging faults, is encouraging. Your hospitable spirit to all has been greatly evidenced in the annual Spiritual Leadership Conferences. Thank you for giving all of us much to consider in our cause to reach others for Christ; may your article help all of us in our own ministries.

    You are an ongoing tremendous blessing with your love for other pastors, passionate preaching, and artful ability to communicate through writing. Thank You!

    Comment by Pastor Brent Armstrong — April 29, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

  25. Thank you for taking the time to address the necessity of having the right position and being the right person. I agree wholeheartedly with what you have written. Thank you for being a voice on behalf of those who share the same core convictions.

    Comment by Alan Fong — April 29, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

  26. Great article. We stopped using the term fundamental about 20 years ago because of the stigma attached to it. Instead we refer to ourselves as an Independent Baptist Church or a Bible-believing Baptist Church. I have not changed my convictions or philosophy of ministry in these 20 years of not using the term “fundamental” to describe our church. I do not see a reason to hold onto a non-biblical term which is consistently misrepresented in the media.

    Comment by Pastor Dwight Tomlinson — April 29, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

  27. Pastor, thank you for dealing with an important issue with such grace and humility. I am excited about the future of the gospel among our strong independent Baptist churches. I believe that if I can keep the two ministry-crippling enemies of Envy and Strife out of my own heart, then I will be well equipped to lead the flock God has called me to lead while dwelling peaceably with my fellow brethren – whether they err or excel.

    James 3:16-18 “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”

    Call it what you will – let’s all stay grounded Scripturally, lead transparent and honestly, while ministering graciously to each of the communities that we have been called to reach!

    Comment by Rob Badger — May 1, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

  28. It is this sort of intuitive Biblical reasoning that we are in need of. Thankful for Pastor Chappell and his leadership.

    Comment by Dave Delaney — May 2, 2011 @ 8:54 am

  29. I believe this article is not only informative concerning the fundamental Baptist position, but it is also helpful in where we should be standing and how we should be standing. Thank you, Dr. Chappell, for your leadership; and may the Lord help us to be what He wants His church to be in this world. I Timothy 3:15, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

    Comment by Frank Gagliano — May 3, 2011 @ 7:23 am

  30. Dr. Chappell,
    Thanks so very much for the refreshing article written with a spirit of grace. These issues not only effect us at home in the US, they effect us on the mission field as well. Here in London, we refer to ourselves as a Free Baptist Church. This is the exact wording that Mr. Spurgeon used in reference to the Metropolitan Tabernacle following the Downgrade Controversy.
    We thank God for the heritage that has been handed to us, may God help each of us continue in that which is right and correct that which is not in a spirit of meekness!

    Comment by John Anderson — May 5, 2011 @ 7:34 am

  31. Thank you, Dr. Chappell, for a clear presentation of what Independent Baptist are. I agree that we have much to learn and that we desperately need revival in our local churches. We should be grateful for our differences as well as the many things that we agree on.

    Thank you for your leadership and you continued efforts be all that God would have you to be and for being a blessing to so many preachers and churches.

    Don Sisk (director/president emeritus BIMI)

    Comment by Don Sisk — May 17, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

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