Independent Baptists, often also known as Independent Fundamental Baptists (IFB), are a group that started within the greater Baptist denominations in the late 19th to early 20th century. At the time, many national Baptist denominations were moving away from biblical inerrancy and other conservative beliefs, leading many local churches to withdraw from denominational affiliation and take the “Independent” label. With their strong stance on the fundamentals of the faith, they also adopted the name “Fundamentalist.” For identification purposes, most IFB churches will advertise themselves as “Independent, Fundamental, Bible-Believing,” and, in some cases, “KJV-only.”
Many within the IFB movement will claim to trace their origin to Jesus’ ministry. They point out that many groups through history maintained Baptist principles and were therefore “Baptist” in practice, if not in name. Groups identified as progenitors of the Baptist tradition include Messalians, Montanists, Novationists, Donatists, Paulicians, Waldenses, Albigenses, Lyonists, Arnoldites, Mennonites, and Anabaptists. In the seventeenth century, the name “Baptist” finally emerged.
Contemporary Independent Baptists believe in strict separation from the world and any church not associated with the Independent Baptist name. They refer to Ephesians 5:11, “Have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them,” as a proof text for not associating with churches outside the IFB movement.
Independent Baptists interpret Scripture literally. They do claim to interpret based on the historical-grammatical context, but if a literal interpretation “makes good sense,” then that is the understanding they take from Scripture. They are conservative in their dress: most women still dress in below-knee-length skirts, and the men wear collared shirts. They do not wear flashy clothes, and they tend to keep their social interaction within the IFB. Traditionally, they only sing hymns in their churches and reject the use of drums and recorded music. Most IFB churches use only the King James Version of the Bible. They may not believe the KJV is the “inspired” translation, but they do believe the Textus Receptus is the only collection of manuscripts that truly preserves the inspired Word of God.
Independent Baptist Churches believe the following “Independent Baptist Distinctives”:
1. The New Testament is the authority in all matters of faith and practice.
This means that IFB churches do not look to creeds, confessions, or church councils to determine their doctrinal positions. They articulate their doctrine only from the Scripture and claim to operate their churches according to what is presented in Scripture and not based on tradition or denominational preference (2 Timothy 3:16).
2. The church is made up of saved, baptized believers.
This means that membership in the local church requires first putting personal trust in Jesus, which produces regeneration, and baptism by immersion. IFB churches reject infant baptism and sprinkling. Baptism is only appropriate after someone comes to faith in Jesus (Acts 2:41–42).
3. Strict separation of church and state.
“Independent” is part of their name for a reason. IFB churches believe that no one has authority over the church except Jesus Christ. The IFB rejects any governmental authority over the operation of the church (2 Corinthians 6:14).
4. The priesthood of believers.
IFB churches believe that each believer has the ability to interact with God on his or her own. No one is required to use a priest, as in the Old Testament, to connect with God. The believer can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
5. The autonomy of the local church.
This doctrine supports the idea that the local church of baptized believers is the highest ecclesiastical authority on earth. In matters of church polity and procedure, the local church is not subject to civil authorities or denominational conventions. Each local church is self-governing. Some Independent Baptist churches emphasize their autonomy to such an extent that they will not accept a baptism from any other church—if a new member was baptized in another church, he must be rebaptized by the Independent Baptist church for his membership to be valid.
Many Independent Baptists follow the church government model of congregationalism. Each member is allotted one vote on all matters concerning the church. Even though the pastor is the established leader of the church, no decision is made for the church without it first coming to a vote before the entire congregation. Congregationalism rejects using boards and associations for governing the affairs of the church. This model is based on the belief that all believers are priests and capable of making decisions that will direct the local church.
For the most part, Independent Baptist Churches are preaching the Word of God faithfully and hold to the essentials of the gospel. However, the exclusivism they foster and their tendency toward the KJV-only mentality are troublesome. Also, many Independent Baptist churches have fallen into the errors of landmarkism and “Baptist Bride” theology. So, discernment is needed before officially joining an IFB church.