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Concluding Thoughts on the NTAIBC and the FBFI

In the Nick of Time

Kevin T. Bauder

Over the past several weeks I’ve been writing about the founding of the New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches and the renaming of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship from the old Conservative Baptist Fellowship. This is not ancient history, but it is history that has been largely forgotten. Many younger leaders who have come up in these circles do not know where the organizations have come from, how they are related to each other, or how they are connected to the larger world of Baptist fundamentalism. Some do not appreciate how momentous it was for the two groups to meet together in Watertown this year. Perhaps, having reviewed the history, a few observations are now in order.

1

New Testament churches have always enjoyed some level of cooperation and even organization outside of and beyond the local congregation. They have sought and offered mutual counsel, issued common statements, and engaged in mutual labors. They have often taken a mutual stand in the face of some common threat. The pattern for such extra-congregational cooperation can be found in the New Testament itself.

2

New Testament believers have not always organized their extra-congregational cooperation in exactly the same way. Sometimes churches have worked together, while at other times individuals have cooperated. Some forms of mutual work have involved both at the same time. As long as the autonomy of the local church is upheld, no particular pattern can be taken as the exclusive, biblical pattern (though some patterns are clearly anti-scriptural).

3

Cooperation against common dangers tends to drive us together more quickly than cooperation to achieve common goals. The experience of Baptist fundamentalism tends to illustrate this point. Fundamentalism began as a coalition of believers who perceived the danger of religious liberalism. More than anything else, they were driven together by their common opposition to liberalism. The awareness of danger tended to mask certain real and important differences between fundamentalists.

4

Over time, old threats fade away and new threats appear. Modernism gave way to neo-orthodoxy, and that to a bewildering variety of contemporary non-conservative theologies. Neo-evangelicalism began as an effort to build bridges to liberals (and neo-orthodox) in toleration, cooperation, and infiltration. Many theological conservatives adopted what can only be called a methodological liberalism. The Charismatic Movement arose to eviscerate the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Those who failed to identify the new threats found themselves fighting the battles of the past while capitulating to the enemy they ought to have been fighting at the moment.

READ
Dispensationalism

5

Organization to achieve common goals takes greater agreement than organization to oppose common enemies. Consequently, people who have organized for defense often find that they are unable to work as closely when the threat has ended and the focus shifts to constructive work. If the level of danger is sufficiently low, and if sufficient resources are available to individual churches, then organized cooperation begins to disintegrate. Churches focus on laboring individually rather than cooperatively, or they cooperate on a merely ad hoc basis.

6

Those who agree about principles and goals may nevertheless disagree about priorities and implementation. People regularly agree about good things they wish to do, only to find that they disagree deeply about how those things ought to be accomplished or the order they ought to be accomplished in. This phenomenon occurs because we live in a fallen world, view reality from limited perspectives, control limited resources, and must consequently weigh one good against another.

7

We are constantly tempted to identify the success of our own priorities, party, or even personal leadership with the success of our principles and goals. This tendency is natural: if we did not believe that our program was the best one overall, we would choose another. Nevertheless, we risk thinking that we are defending truth when we are actually defending ourselves.

8

These natural differences can be and often are compounded by personal factors. We simply dislike some people. We find that others are competing for exactly the thing that we hope to gain. Under these circumstances we can easily slide from questioning what our opponents are trying to do to questioning why they are trying to do it. We may find ourselves imputing evil motives to people who we find irritating.

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Belly Laugh: A Brief Digression

*  *  *

All of the above factors can be seen at work in the breakup of the Conservative Baptist Movement. The leaders of the soft policy failed to recognize the new danger of neo-evangelicalism. The hard core was held together initially by mutual opposition to the soft policy. When they tried to organize separately, however, they found that their co-belligerence had masked a difference in philosophy. Some favored church association while others favored a structured fellowship of individuals. The former vested more weight in congregational authority, the latter in pastoral leadership. Compounding this difference were personal factors, specifically the rivalry between the old Central Regional power structure and the West Coast faction. In the end, it is not surprising that the hard core perpetuated itself in two distinct groups.

We need to remember, however, just how much these groups held in common. Leaving aside their preferred form of organization, it is difficult to find any clear area of conviction in which they harbored any serious disagreement. Granted, each group represented a spectrum with its own internal shades of difference. Nevertheless, each included about the same range of differences as the other. They still do.

Because of their different structures, it would be difficult or impossible to merge the FBFI with the NTAIBC. A merger, however, is not essential to camaraderie and healthy cooperation. These are two good groups that ought to be able to bless and encourage each other in spite of their distinct organizations.

Furthermore, both groups are worth supporting. We need fellowships like the FBFI and the NTAIBC. They help us to pursue tasks together that would be difficult or impossible to accomplish individually. We are going to need them even more in the future. Christians in general, and Baptist fundamentalists in particular, are facing an increasingly hostile, brutal, and degraded secular culture. They are surrounded by a popular and institutional version of Christianity that has repeatedly demonstrated its readiness to capitulate to that culture at various levels.

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On Civil Disobedience

If danger is what drives us together, then the time to pull together has arrived. We should be reclaiming and rebuilding every structure that will help us provoke one another toward faithfulness, to speak with a common voice, to encourage each other in distress, and to carry on such work as we are still able to do. Both the NTAIBC and the FBFI are the kind of organizations that can do that.

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This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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Jesus Sinners Doth Receive

Erdmann Neumeister (1671–1756)

“Jesus sinners doth receive:”
word of surest consolation;
word all sorrow to relieve,
word of pardon, peace, salvation!
Naught like this can comfort give:
“Jesus sinners doth receive.”

On God’s grace we have no claim,
yet to us his pledge is given;
he hath sworn by his own name,
open are the gates of heaven.
Take to heart this word and live:
“Jesus sinners doth receive.”

When a helpless lamb doth stray,
after it, the Shepherd, pressing
thro’ each dark and dang’rous way,
brings it back, his own possessing.
Jesus seeks thee, O believe:
“Jesus sinners doth receive.”

Oh, how blest it is to know:
were as scarlet my transgression,
it shall be as white as snow
by thy blood and bitter passion;
for these words I now believe:
“Jesus sinners doth receive.”

Now my conscience is at peace,
from the Law I stand acquitted;
Christ hath purchased my release
and my every sin remitted.
Naught remains my soul to grieve—
“Jesus sinners doth receive.”

Kevin T. Bauder

About Kevin Bauder

Kevin T. Bauder is Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that this post expresses.

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