Denominations

Independent Baptist vs Evangelical Free – What’s the Difference?

Independent Baptist vs Evangelical Free – What’s the Difference?

In this article, what I am referring to as “Independent Baptist” is what also may be called “Independent fundamental Baptist”. It is the more theologically conservative side of Baptist churches. There are some independent Baptists that may not exactly fit in this mold, and there are some Baptist churches which are part of conventions or associations that may fit this discussion too, even though they aren’t exactly “independent.”

Independent Baptist Churches and Evangelical Free churches can look extremely similar. Let’s discuss some of the similarities first.

The word “free” in “Evangelical Free” is much the same as the word “Independent” in “independent Baptist.” Each church is Autonomous – there is no hierarchical structure, no organization at the top to give account to. “Free” also means that the church is not and has not been under state control, which also aligns with the Baptist belief in the separation of church and state.

Because Independent Baptist Churches are completely autonomous, for any issue they could be different than the norm, but in the following areas, the very vast majority of Independent Baptists believe the same way.

Both Evangelical free and Independent Baptist Churches teach the same on several major tenets of Christianity. They believe in the resurrection, the trinity, the virgin Birth, bodily resurrection of Christ, inerrancy of scripture, and other mainstream Christian beliefs.

Evangelical Free churches do not ordain women as pastors, and neither do Independent Baptist Churches. Both Evangelical Free and Independent Baptist churches only accept marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Like other Evangelical churches, Evangelical Free churches teach a “Born again” theology – that a person must have a moment in their life where they experience “Conversion”, often called being “saved.” This is also true in independent Baptist Churches.

Independent Baptists and Evangelical Free Churches can be either Arminian or Calvinist. Some Baptist Churches believe in eternal security, and some don’t and this is the same for Evangelical Free churches, although the vast majority in both Independent Baptist and Evangelical Free do hold to Eternal Security.

Both independent Baptist Churches and Evangelical free churches have within their ranks varying opinions on the second coming of Christ in relation to the tribulation period. The Evangelical Free Church in America has is their statement of faith a statement that they believe in premillennialism (as opposed to postmillennial or millennial positions, however 42% of pastors in the EFCA recently surveyed thought this should be removed from the doctrinal statement.[1]

The principle difference between independent Baptists and Evangelical Free churches is their teachings on baptism. Baptists require baptism after salvation, called “believer’s baptism”, and someone who was baptized as a baby would not be considered truly baptized. Baptists also believe in baptism by immersion only, and do not consider pouring or sprinkling to be legitimate baptism. Baptists require a person to be baptized to join their church, and if the person being baptized was not baptized in a church that they consider to have the proper authority, even if they were baptized by immersion as believers, the Baptist church will require them to be re-baptized.

In contrast, the Evangelical Free church allows individual churches to decide for themselves on that matter. Some practice believer’s baptism, others infant baptism. Some by immersion, others by pouring or sprinkling. Many Evangelical free churches do not require a person to be baptized to be a member of the church, and are indifferent to the baptism from many other churches of differing opinions. It doesn’t matter if you were baptized in a Lutheran church or a Baptist one.

Evangelical Free churches also don’t have a set opinion on the Lord’s Supper. Although the latest statement of faith from the Evangelical Free Church of America denies the Catholic concept of Transubstantiation, they intentionally allow vagueness for other protestant views of the presence of Christ in the elements, whereas Baptist churches view communion as strictly symbolic. Many Baptist churches will practice closed communion, only allowing their own church members to participate in the Lord’s Supper, or perhaps close communion, limiting the elements to those of like faith and practice. In contrast, Evangelical Free churches hold to open communion – they do not restrict anyone from participating.

The reason for the Evangelical free indifference on baptism and the Lord ’s Supper is one of their doctrines, called “the significance of silence.” In the 2011 book “Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the EFCA”, the meaning of this is explained this way:

“This expression does not mean that we will not discuss and debate these issues but simp ly that we will not divide over them”[2]

How does this differ from Baptists? The difference is the doctrine of separation. Most independent Baptists will, on a church-by-church basis, separate from other churches, including Baptist churches, that do not agree on certain issues. A Baptist church that teaches Eternal security will separate from churches that do not. Evangelical free churches will not separate. Baptist churches separate on the mode and subject of baptism, and non-Calvinist churches will separate from Calvinist ones. Baptist churches often will take a stance on a young earth, and separate from churches that teach an old earth, but Evangelical free churches will not separate. According to a 2013 survey, 40% of Evangelical Free churches in America do not believe in a literal 6-day creation.

These issues often mark the major dividing points of other denominations. Methodists are Arminian, and Presbyterians are Calvinist. Baptists believe in Believer’s baptism, but Methodists and Presbyterians accept infant baptism. Reformed churches often believe in a spiritual presence of Christ in the communion elements, Methodists say that in communion the real presence of Christ is communicated to the believer as a mystery, and Baptists say it is symbolic.

In contrast, Evangelical Free churches allow any view on these issues. Another quote from the book “Evangelical Convictions says the following”:

Once [the early Free Church leaders] began to put in writing what was commonly believed among them, they were silent on those doctrines which through the centuries had divided Christians of equal dedication, Biblical knowledge, spiritual maturity and love for Christ.’ This ‘significance of silence’ reflected our strong concern for Evangelical unity in the gospel.

Because of this variance in beliefs, one particular church may look very Methodist, believing in the Arminian doctrine of falling from grace, holding to infant baptism, with a view on communion that the real presence of Christ is communicated to the believer as a mystery. Another church may hold to the 5 points of Calvinism, practice Believer’s baptism and view communion as wholly symbolic.

In the area of miraculous gifts, such as prophecy, the majority of Independent Baptists are cessationist, teaching that these gifts are no longer available. However, the 2013 survey of Evangelical free Churches in America showed only 11% believe that way. Evangelical Free churches do take the position however that the holy spirit is received at salvation, and that speaking in tongues is not required to demonstrate one’s receiving the Holy Spirit, as Pentecostal churches teach.

A very significant amount of Independent Baptist Churches are King James only, and there are also large amounts that are King James preferred or hold to a traditional text or Byzantine priority view of Textual criticism. Evangelical free churches do not take a position on Bible versions, generally.

Evangelical Free churches are much more likely than Baptist churches to be led by a team of elders or pastors. The 2014 doctrinal survey showed 87% agreement with the statement “The church is governed by corporate congregational discernment of God’s will led largely by a team of pastors/elders” and only 2.4% accepted the statement “the church is led by corporate congregational discernment of God’s will led largely by the Lead pastor.” The latter view is held by the vast majority of Independent Baptist churches.

Many Independent Baptist Churches hold to a view of Baptist succession, that Baptist churches did not form out of the protestant reformation, but that they have always existed, though under other names, through groups extending back to the time of Christ, such as the Montanists, Novations, Waldenses, and others. From this Baptist view, they would view Evangelical Free churches as illegitimate because of them not being started under proper authority. This also means that many Baptist churches will not accept the baptism of someone baptized by immersion in an Evangelical Free church, as the baptism will be viewed as done under improper authority.

A final but also significant distinction of Evangelical Free churches relates to application of Biblical principle within the church. Most Independent Baptist churches apply or enforce principle within worship and sometimes without. For example, Independent Baptist churches will apply standards of music, with many condemning Contemporary Christian Music. They may have dress standards, and preaching against mixed-gender swimming, movies or television, violent video games, dancing, and several other related issues. Very rarely are these discussed in Evangelical free churches. Most Evangelical Free churches would view Contemporary Christian Music favorably, and be open to having rock concerts in the church, dancing in the church, and not be concerned at all about clothing.

As with any denomination, there are exceptions – but this is the norm across Evangelical Free churches.

[1] //www.efca.org/sites/default/files/resources/docs/2014/05/efca_doctrinal_survey_and_summary_4.pdf (Accessed 11/19/2018)

[2] Cited from //www.efca.org/blog/understanding-scripture/significance-silence-unity-essentials-dialogue-differences (Accessed 11/19/2018)

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