Local churches have been in existence since the time of Christ. Groups of believers gathered together to form local congregations. Through the years, some churches have identified with various denominational groups. However, there have been independent churches during each period of church history. Such churches continue to flourish throughout many parts of the world today, effectively ministering God’s Word. What are the distinctives of a Biblically independent church?
Here are the Biblical criteria for such a church…
A Church That Is Independent
The churches established by the first century apostles of Christ began as independent churches. They were free from outside control over the affairs of the local church. Each local church as a self-governing body chose its own officers (Acts 6:1-6), and exercised its own discipline (I Corinthians 5:13). Internal problems were handled by the individual congregation (I Corinthians 6:1-5). Preservation of pure doctrine was the responsibility of the local assembly (I Timothy 3:15; Revelation 2:14-16).
Following this pattern, today’s independent church depends upon the Holy Spirit’s direction (Acts 13:1-3), chooses its own name, government, and programs. It is free to call its own pastor and invite into the pulpit any speakers it deems sound in the faith.
Another important characteristic is the liberty enjoyed in the matter of missionary support. Independent churches are free to seek God’s direction in supporting those ministries they find acceptable. The primary aim of all missionary and evangelistic efforts is personal salvation and discipleship through Christ.
The independence of a church simply enhances its dependence upon the Lord. Each church looks to Him for the provision of its every need. This encourages prayer, faith, and spiritual growth among its members.
An independent church is not only self-governing, it is also self-supporting through the freewill offerings of its constituents (I Corinthians 16:1, 2; II Corinthians 9:6-8).
A Church That Is Fundamentally Biblical
A Biblically independent church is one that stands for the historic fundamentals of the faith, upholding Biblical authority versus human theories. To be fundamentally Biblical means to believe in and proclaim beliefs such as
- The verbal, plenary, inerrant inspiration of the Bible.
- The virgin birth, absolute deity, and sinless life of Jesus Christ.
- The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to provide salvation for all.
- The person and work of the Holy Spirit.
- The reality of Satan and his destructive work today.
- The personal and bodily return of Jesus Christ.
- The bodily resurrection of all men; some to eternal life and some to everlasting punishment.
A Church That Is Bible-Centered
A Biblically independent church emphasizes the use of the Bible in the regular church services. The Bible is revered as the guide for daily Christian faith and living.
The pastor preaches directly from the Bible in his pulpit ministry. The educational program of the church is likewise centered in the Bible and is designed to develop Biblical values and standards by which to live. Sunday School teachers instruct from it. Teaching materials are based on it. Youth programs utilize it.
A Church With Distinctive Emphases
In addition to the things already mentioned, there are four additional distinctives of Biblically independent churches.
- A Unique Church Membership
A personal experience of the new birth is a prerequisite to church membership. Independent fundamental churches require testimony of one’s salvation before membership.
- Observance Of Two Ordinances
All who are truly born-again are invited to remember the Lord at the communion table regardless of church membership. All believers are encouraged to follow the Biblical teaching regarding water baptism as a testimony to their faith in Christ.
- Scriptural Giving
Financial support for the local church is received from the freewill offerings of those attending in accord with I Corinthians 16:1, 2 and II Corinthians 9:6-8.
- Independent But Not Isolated
Independence does not mean isolation. Biblically independent churches try to obey the “one another” of the Bible to develop a spirit of interdependence. According to the Scriptures, all who have trusted Christ as Savior belong to the “body of Christ” (Ephesians 1:22-23). In a spirit of oneness, many Biblically independent churches are involved in a vast network of fellowship, such as Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA) International.
Spiritual Unity Of All Believers
The body of Christ transcends all earthly denominations and organizations (Ephesians 1:22, 23). It is composed of all who have trusted Christ as Savior, regardless of organizational affiliation (I Corinthians 12:13).
Biblically independent churches strive to be loyal to Christ and His Word rather than to any organization. They seek to establish, preserve, and expand local churches according to the New Testament pattern (Matthew 28:18, 20; Acts 13:3, 4).