People are often intrigued when they find out that our church is "Independent" Baptist. They often have many questions about how an Independent Baptist church can function and thrive in this world.
Being an Independent Baptist church makes us different from any other church or group, even those who have "Baptist" in their church name. Many "Baptist" churches have a similar, if not identical, statement of faith as their Independent Baptist counterparts, but the difference is easily seen in the practical application of that statement of faith.
First of all, an Independent Baptist church is different because it follows the pattern of the church that Jesus established. This is a broad, sweeping statement, which will surely raise the hackles of those who would defend their denomination. Still, I think it is clear that many churches and denominations do not follow the pattern of the church that Jesus established.
One way in which Independent Baptist churches follow the pattern of the church that Jesus established is by rejecting any form of hierarchy. This hierarchy can be seen both internally and externally among the many non-independent (denominational) "Baptist" churches.
When there is an internal hierarchy, there is no level ground among the church membership. In an internal hierarchy, those who hold a particular position in the church have a greater say in what goes on than another member who faithfully serves the Lord but holds no position. Still, others have boards and committees who make all the pertinent decisions that need to be made within the church, and no other members are consulted in these decisions. In both of these cases, there is an internal hierarchy. This is not the pattern that is laid out for us in the New Testament. When there was a decision to be made, the Pastor brought the issue to the attention of the congregation, who decided by 1) seeking God's direction, and 2) by majority vote (Act 1:15-26; 6:1-6; 15:13-23).
When there is an external hierarchy, there is no consideration of the church membership. Different denominations are set up in different ways, but there is always something bigger and more important than the church itself. There may be a provincial, regional, national, and international group of which the individual congregation, or church, is a part. No one cares about the individual church, because the focus always goes to the top, where the president, council, or synod makes decisions for all their member churches as a whole. This is not the pattern that is laid out in the New Testament. There are only two offices within a New Testament church: pastor (also called bishop or elder) and deacon. The New Testament knows nothing about any position that would supersede the authority of an individual church.
Another way in which Independent Baptist churches follow the pattern of the church that Jesus established is by emphasizing the church. While many churches will emphasize their denomination, an Independent Baptist church will emphasize the church. Jesus taught the importance of the church by making the church the last resort for reconciliation between fellow believers (Mat 18:17). Jesus taught the importance of the church by making it the thing that would overcome the gates of hell (Mat 16:18). Throughout the New Testament, it is the church that is emphasized, rather than anything over the church.
Secondly, an Independent Baptist church is different because she acknowledges Jesus Christ alone as her Head (Eph 1:23; 5:23; Col 1:18). This is impossible in any form of hierarchy or denomination because the hierarchy or denomination forms the head of those churches that make up that denomination. Many "Baptist" churches do not even take the time to put together a statement of faith, because they claim the denominational statement of faith as their own. This means, that if the denomination chooses to change their statement of faith, they have changed the statement of faith of a great number of the churches which make up that denomination. This is not recognizing Christ as the Head of each church, but the denomination! However, every Independent Baptist church will seek the face of Christ for her doctrine, direction, devotion, and demeanor, because He is her Head!
Thirdly, an Independent Baptist church is different because she has one goal. Many denominational churches, including "Baptist" churches, have a different goal set for them each year by their hierarchy or denominational leadership. These goals may be social, and they may be humanitarian, but they are not the same from year to year. The goal of the Independent Baptist church does not change from year to year, because we follow the goal that was set for us by our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ! Before ascending back to Heaven, Jesus gave the Great Commission to the church He had founded during His earthly ministry. This Great Commission is delineated for us in Matthew 28:19-20: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." This Great Commission, in all of its parts, is the one goal of every true Independent Baptist church. We have a desire for all people groups of the world to hear the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. We also have a desire for every believer to follow after the Lord in Scriptural baptism, and to continue to grow as they are taught and trained in the things of God. In focusing on these things, we are carrying out the goal of fulfilling the Great Commission!
Fourthly, and Independent Baptist church is different because we have one rule book. Most denominations have rules by which they are governed, even to the point of governing the manner of worship within each church. If the individual church fails to follow the rules laid out by the hierarchy or denomination, they run the risk of being removed from the denomination, or even of having their goods and property confiscated by the denomination. An Independent Baptist church has only the Bible as her rule book. If the Bible says that something is sin, the Independent Baptist church will preach that such a thing is a sin. If the Bible promotes something as good, the Independent Baptist church will preach that such a thing is good. We do not appeal to the Church Fathers, commentaries, or the writings of men to find what it is we should preach and practice. We believe that God has already written down the things we need to know within the pages of His Book!
Fifthly, an Independent Baptist church is different because we can glorify God (Eph 3:21). When a denominational church does something special, the praise and glory go to the denomination. When an Independent Baptist church does something special, all the praise and glory go to God, because it is obvious that no human wisdom or ability was able to accomplish what that church has done! We aren't here to honour our denomination; we are here to honour God through Christ! The only way by which we can honestly accomplish this is by being an Independent Baptist church!
No, as an Independent Baptist church, we are not the same as all the other churches around, even those who carry the name "Baptist." There are some important, Biblical differences to which we hold and practice tenaciously, as we seek to please the Saviour!