Topical Studies

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What the Bible says about Independent Christians
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Professional sports has popularized the term "free agency." It is a contractual concept by which a professional athlete, after serving, playing or performing under contract for a certain number of years, becomes free to negotiate a new contract with any other team. When that time expires, he is a "free agent." He no longer "belongs" to the team with which he originally signed.

Though it is very financially rewarding to the players, this concept is playing a major role in destroying fan loyalty. Players, especially the very good ones, are becoming little more than "hired guns" who give their talents to the highest bidder. They move from team to team, wherever they feel it will be most lucrative for them to play. Free agency is exposing the public to the greed that lies at the foundation of each player's heart and is turning people off by the tens of thousands. Fan loyalty to a team is being overcome by disgust.

The same negative force is at work in the church in the wake of the doctrinal changes. Many in the ministry are considered to be little more than hirelings to whom a paycheck, severance pay, or retirement income and benefits mean more than the truth of God and the spiritual health of the sheep. Many of the sheep feel abandoned and unprotected.

This distrust of the ministry is producing a fairly large number of "independent" Christians. These people will not join with any group. They are going to float and/or just go it alone because, they say, their Sabbaths are so much better now that they are free to pursue their own studies and teach their own families. They are relieved that they do not have to put up with all the hassles in the congregation or listen to another boring sermon. Besides all this, they distrust the church government and/or do not care for the policies. I have heard all of these expressions of independence uttered or written more than I care to hear or see.

This approach may very well destroy them! In them, the principle that the church is a "spiritual organism" is stretched to its very limit! In this extreme approach, there can be no such thing as an "independent" Christian since a Christian is made part of Christ's body when he receives the Holy Spirit. The spiritual body is one though it has many members (I Corinthians 12:20).

The independents like to give the appearance of being wise and strong—strong enough to stand alone and be independent, to be real leaders. But, in reality, they are just as devastated as anybody. In fact, they might be among the most devastated; their attitude and corresponding reaction are exposing the underlying problem. They are those who, in battlefield triage, would be left to die because they are too far gone, and little or nothing can be done for them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust

Related Topics: Distrust | Independent Christians


In the United States, we can see the effect of this mistrust in the form of militias, paramilitary groups mustered from citizens dissatisfied with big government, and expanding federal control. These militias are born of mistrust in the country's leadership and direction. Instead of regaining citizens' rights, their actions present Americans with more rights being removed through anti-terrorist legislation aimed against them and the ghastly specter of civil war.

Some groups are pursuing the idea of "sovereign citizenship." Under this general term, several variations of this status exist, one of which is the Freemen holed up by the FBI in Jordan, Montana. Affiliation with sovereign citizenship ideas causes a person to scrutinize tax, federal, state, and local laws carefully to find flaws and loopholes.

A sovereign citizen—because he is sovereign, that is, he possesses supreme authority—feels justified in not obeying any law with which he personally disagrees. He will often not pay taxes, get a driver's license, pay traffic fines, incorporate his business, get a marriage license, build a home to code, or in any way submit to government. He feels that doing such things will enfranchise him to the state.

Some have carried this concept over into religious areas. The resulting religion, though sincere, is one that requires much effort, as it goes against the grain of more organized churches, and its fruit and attitude are bad. Since, as sovereign, they are above all human authority, they will not submit to the spiritual guidance of the church. They lean on the understanding that they are accountable to God alone, but even in this they have deceived themselves! In their pride they have only made themselves accountable to God on their own terms and according to their own views of God's law.

This attitude of sovereign citizenship is one that is sweeping this country in one form or another. If we are not careful, it can influence us in God's church. In fact, it has already caused several of our brethren to leave us to join the growing ranks of "independent Christians."

John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Should We Obey the Laws of Our Government?

Realizing the tremendous growth in the federal government from 1930-1980, Americans in the nineties have taken "Reduce the size of government!" as a battle cry. Grassroots movements have sprung up everywhere to lobby for handing control of the country back to the people. The national government is the "bad guy" who has over the years taken more than its constituted powers allow, and the people have organized to wrest it back.

Such a scenario was the backdrop for the 1994 "Republican Revolution," where voters booted scores of career politicians from their congressional seats and replaced them with conservative republicans who campaigned on a platform of reducing government. Because the polls showed this to be the country's mood, President Clinton embraced the idea, appointing Vice President Al Gore to head a commission to streamline Washington's bureaucracy. In its ever-so-slow manner, Congress began to return some power to state and local governments. Calling "town meetings," a form of "pure democracy," is a favorite ploy among politicians to seem to be acceding to the people's demands.

Is it any surprise that government and turning control over the church to the laymembership are also primary concerns of many brethren? They have been immersed in this worldly mood for a few decades! No wonder they think government of any kind is the enemy of the people; power should be spread among many to limit the control of any person or group over the church; and all the members of the church are holy, so all should have a say in all its functions.

Some have become so dead-set against government in the church that any attempt to show government from the Bible is harshly rejected as twisting Scripture. No amount of proof will satisfy them! They deny verses from the Old Testament because they are "Old Covenant." They turn plain, literal meanings of New Testament scriptures on their heads to say the opposite. Arguing with such people, as Paul says, just "increase[s] to more ungodliness . . . [and] generate[s] strife" (II Timothy 2:16, 23).

Does God support democracy any more than totalitarianism? What does the Bible say? Basically, it says that God has set up His government like a family, with a father in authority. All His governmental systems contain one person in authority, constrained by His law and motivated by His Spirit. If the members, also likewise constrained and motivated, work in harmony with the person in charge, they produce great fruit.

However, any government—even those using God's form—will make mistakes because fallible human beings run it. Rejecting government in the church because of past mistakes is "throwing the baby out with the bath water." The government is not the problem—sinful men are!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Scratching Our Itches

Pharisee means separatist. The Pharisees of the first century were "holier than thou" types who separated themselves, both physically and spiritually from the main body of Jewish worshippers in their day. They strained over technical points, missing the loving intent of far larger issues, and as a result, they created a gulf between themselves and their fellow Jews. Jesus blasted them for this.

The church is an assembly. It is intended for fellowship, despite all its flaws. It is very clear from Paul's epistles that they were all addressed to church assemblies and that God intends His people assemble for worship.

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part One)

Related Topics: Independent Christians | Pharisees | Worship


Many have said over these last few years, "I'll never follow another man." Hurt by following poor leadership, they think to rectify the situation by going it alone. This is not a good solution. God has always worked through men, and continues to do so because it is the best way. Even though His human instruments are not perfect, this does not absolve us of responsibility. Godly character must be our own, despite the imperfect spiritual condition of God's ministers.

Mike Ford (1955-2021)

Related Topics: Independent Christians


In His wisdom, God has always put a man between Himself and those with whom He is dealing. At one time, it was the man Jesus Christ. Sometimes it was a prophet or an apostle. Nevertheless, there seems always to be a man there.

Yet, there are people who think that they can be spiritually independent of others, even though God's Word says that is impossible. He always works through the chain of authority that He has established. He is consistent in this. It is a good principle to remember.

The apostles learned it from Jesus Christ, and they in turn passed it on to others, who in turn passed it on to others, and others to others, until it came down to us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
We Are Unique!

Ezekiel 11:19-20

We once said in our carnal ignorance, "I will not have this One to rule over me." We may not have uttered these exact words, but our conduct in breaking God's commandments and being conformed to this world spoke as if we were literally saying them. That has changed to some degree, has it not? If it happened to us, why can it not happen to anybody? It can, but only if God gives the same things to them as He has given to us. To understand and appreciate properly what He has given us, we must recall our lives before conversion and honestly recognize what we lacked compared to what we now have because of God's calling.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six

Matthew 16:18

These very words of Christ clearly show He had a corporate body of human beings in mind, not just a spiritual organism. He used ekklesia, meaning an assembly of people, a group, and He confirmed this by using Hades, a pit into which dead bodies are cast. He thus shows His church to exist continuously as flesh-and-blood human beings.

It is clearly His will that all those having the Spirit of God be fellowshipping and serving together on a regular basis (Hebrews 10:25). A person may delude himself into thinking he can better serve Christ and prepare for the Kingdom of God free from all the pressures of a congregation, but the Word of God shows otherwise. He could even be condemning himself to the flames of the Lake of Fire by showing God that he is not pleased to associate with God's own sons and daughters, His holy people. The "independent Christian" must repent of his independence if he wants to glorify God, truly serve His people, and become spiritually mature.

John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust

Matthew 25:32-33

Christ concludes His interpretation of the parable in verse 46, where He indicates that the sheep are given eternal life, but the goats are cast into the Lake of Fire. It is clear from this section of Scripture that we want the attributes of sheep and not those of goats!

What is it about goats that causes God to use them in such a negative light? Goats are capricious. They are impulsive and unpredictable, devious and contrary. If they are not poking their heads through fences, they may be standing on their hind legs, stretching for those tender leaves just out of reach. Goats are never content with what they have.

They are experts in opening gates and squeezing through small gaps because they hate to be confined. Fences that will handle sheep, cattle, and horses will not hold goats. They will work tirelessly to spring themselves from any situation they deem inhibiting.

Consequently, goats are not very good followers. "Gregarious behavior" is a term that refers to the flocking or herding instinct which is found strongly in sheep, cattle, and horses. Again, this quality is rather weak in goats; they prefer leading or going off on their own. Meat packers use this instinct in sheep and goats to their advantage. They will train an old goat, appropriately called a "Judas," to lead sheep to the pens for slaughter. A well-trained Judas will lead group after group of sheep to the slaughter all day long.

A sheep follows its Shepherd, peacefully moving forward with the flock. He is content to be led because he has faith in Him. A sheep responds to his Shepherd's voice and goes where He directs. On the other hand, a goat follows only its own lead, creating disunity when he comes in contact with others in the flock. Because of his independent nature, he often finds himself in contention with the Shepherd for leadership of the flock, leading some astray. A goat often eats things—a symbol of ingesting spiritual instruction—sheep would avoid because they have no real value and cause sickness.

Goats are not inherently evil, but some of their traits could be deadly—spiritually—if found in a Christian. A Christian who is unpredictable, who thinks he is above it all, who independently does his own thing, who wants to take over, has trouble functioning in a group, or does not want to be led, is exhibiting the characteristics of a goat—one Christ says will be cast into the Lake of Fire!

Mike Ford (1955-2021)
Goats on the Left

Luke 11:33-36

If we indeed allow God's light (John 8:12) to be placed within the lamp, us, and then do nothing with it, it is like hiding it in a secret place. This is true in our everyday experiences and within the church. This hiding of God's light is another form of spiritual myopia, and perhaps surprisingly, it concerns our relationships with and how we view others. If we become shortsighted in our relations with other people—seeing only what we want to see and not all that we should see—we can become judgmental and critical or patronizing and denigrating to others. In effect, we become the standard, the barometer, that only we know and by which we judge all others.

A common problem with the church today is this lack of light and focus on truly godly issues rather than trivial ones. Seeing only one's personal point of view has caused a general blindness within the church, spawning many of the current issues and problems. Too many members can focus only on their ideas and viewpoints, lacking the insight to see beyond the comfort of their own secret places. Even when the points such people espouse are true, their demeanor toward their brethren is often hostile and their efforts to overcome are lackluster or not based on godly principles.

We can also see elements of spiritual myopia in the independent mindset that many within the church embrace today. Looking exclusively inward, some see themselves as the only viable holders and/or purveyors of God's truth. Though they may attend with a larger group, they see themselves as independent thinkers or needing only themselves and God. Some have taken this independent spirit to the extreme of forsaking others in service and church attendance (Hebrews 10:25). They can even become quite comfortable in their own shortsighted way, wanting little or no interaction with any others who might not see things exactly as they do.

One interesting facet of Luke 11:33-36 is that Jesus alludes to the fact that not everything is distinctly black or white. Verse 35 implies that there are varying degrees of light: "Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness." All light we see is not at the same level of brightness, so some may see part of the truth but not its fullness. It can also suggest that each person may be "in the dark" on any given matter at any point in their relationship with God and others, while being "in the light" on other matters. Similarly, this can illustrate our relative levels of conversion as well.

Since we know that the true light comes only from God, any variance in intensity must come from how we see or not see something. While verse 34 treats the extremes of how we view things, whether optimistically or pessimistically, many of God's people are somewhere in the middle, like the Laodiceans "neither cold nor hot" (Revelation 3:15). Christ's wish is that we are one or the other!

Of course, the most obvious lesson of these verses is that we should desire Christ's light as our light, seeing and doing things as He would. When we fail in this, Satan's influence and dark ways can become our ways over time. We can totally lose the proper vision and allow his deceptions to blind us. We are all part way down this path; we all have our spiritual blind spots, seeing life and the church through unfocused eyes. Unfortunately, too many of us are not using the aids that would remedy our myopia and put us back on track.

Christian Myopia

Acts 8:1

The church is under attack. A powerful persecution is under way, and many sheep have been scattered. But what is often heard among "independent Christians" are cries such as, "I'll never follow another man!" or "No man is going to tell me what to do!" or "Beware of any group that has a hierarchical governmental structure."

While a limited amount of wisdom may be in such thinking, these independents may be failing to see a very real problem because they are looking in only one direction. While they critically examine others, problems of equal or greater magnitude in the areas of ignorance of God's Word, of respect for government, or gross intolerance for another's weaknesses may be in them.

They have reacted by divorcing themselves from any group and "floating" among many groups. Their attitude is such that, even when they do attend, they are in reality just passing through. It is very much like the modern practice of a man and woman living together without commitment. Each "takes" what they can get from the relationship, but one is always free to leave if things do not go quite as planned.

Daniel writes:

Then I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever, that it shall be for a time, times, and half a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered [scattered, KJV], all these things shall be finished. (Daniel 12:7)

Surely the enemy has attacked, and the sheep are scattered! Jesus says,

And when he [the true shepherd] brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:4-5)

We had good reason to flee our former association: The voice of a stranger was heard within it, and we could not follow him. But is it possible that the "independents" still do not hear the True Shepherd's voice? Could they have fled for different reasons? This is why these people may be in very real danger. They cannot come to any shepherd because their confusion and governmental problems are preventing it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Was there ever a man who was given as many gifts as the apostle Paul? Judging from how much God wrote through him—how much God used his mind, intellect, training, experience, yieldedness, and willingness to work and sacrifice himself on behalf of God and the church—it might have been very easy for him to have been puffed up. He even said himself that nobody worked any harder than he did, writing, "I labored more abundantly than they all" (I Corinthians 15:10).

However, he was not bragging. It is not wrong to take the right kind of pride and to speak the truth about what we really have done. There is nothing wrong with a developed skill and confidence in our ability to do it. If we do not have any confidence, will we ever offer ourselves in service to others? There must also be a proper recognition of where all that power, strength, and everything flows from. It flows from the gifts, from what God has given.

God mercifully allowed Paul to suffer a physical problem to keep him mindful of his dependence on Him. The truly humble are knowledgeable of their dependence, and they cry out to God continually for help, for what God only can supply: His Holy Spirit, His love, His faith, the forgiveness of sin, etc. Theirs is not just a feeling of weakness, because everyone, the converted and the unconverted, experiences weakness.

People with pride experience a feeling of weakness too, but they compensate, not by seeking God's help, but by flaunting what they think others will accept and bring praise to them. As long as a person continues to depend on himself, this world will continue as it is. Nothing will change. This attitude is illustrated in the beginning so simply. Without actually saying the words, Adam and Eve told God in Genesis 3, "We don't need you."

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Seven)

Hebrews 10:24-26

What commandment is most specifically involved in these verses? When are God's people commanded to assemble together? On the Sabbath day! Though it is not directly stated, the implication is strong that certain people, weak people, were separating themselves from the people of God—from the church of God; they were not assembling where God was assembling with His people on the Sabbath day.

He goes on to say that "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" because the sin becomes deliberate. It is a rejection of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to break this commandment willfully (or any commandment, for that matter).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 1)

1 Peter 5:1-5

Notice all the words that suggest leading and/or following: elder(s), shepherd, flock, serving, overseers, lords, entrusted, and examples. This clearly establishes that God's church is a body in which He has placed leaders to oversee and care for His people. Further, the leadership is to provide examples for them to follow.

The Bible nowhere anticipates independent Christians in its instructions, but it always assumes the body has ministers given by Christ to provide teaching and guidance. Too frequently, people separate from one group then regroup around a person whom Christ has not appointed to teach His Word. It is not that this person cannot teach at all but that Christ has not given him the gifts to teach His people in His behalf. He was not placed in the body for that purpose. Steady spiritual degeneration within that group occurs.

John W. Ritenbaugh
'I'll Never Follow Another Man!'

1 Peter 5:1-3

The apostle Peter called Jesus "the Chief Shepherd" (I Peter 5:4). But this same Peter also admonished earth-bound men, elders of the church, to be shepherds to the church of God.

Many "independent Christians" maintain the notion that they are going to follow only Christ. The unspoken (and sometimes spoken) charge is that there is no need for the ministry. If that is so, why then does God consider scattered sheep as not being in a fold? Notice Jeremiah 23:1-4:

"Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!" says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: "You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings," says the Lord. "But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking," says the Lord.

This same principle is expressed in Ezekiel 34.

The independents are scattered, but they think they are in the fold. If their premise is correct, then why all the instruction in the Bible about gathering those who are scattered? The Bible gives the impression that a person is not in the fold unless he is with the group. Why else did Jesus give the parable of leaving the ninety-nine sheep to rescue the one not with the flock? It is interesting that Jesus depicted the separated sheep in His parable in Matthew 18:12-14 as having gone astray, and in Luke 15:4-7 as being lost.

Jesus has set certain men in His church as shepherds to tend His flock under Him. They are described in Ephesians 4:11-16 as His gift to the church. In giving this gift to the church, He in turn gave gifts to them to enable them to perform their job. Like all others, some perform their appointed tasks faithfully (Matthew 25:21, 23), while others are unjust stewards of their responsibilities (Acts 20:30).

To whom much is given, much is required, and so the minister will have to answer for his use of those gifts. James makes it very clear that the teacher will receive the stricter judgment (James 3:1). But the independent has a strong proclivity to paint all with one brush, perhaps forgetting that he also will have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to answer for his use of his gifts and for his possibly too critical judgments.

What is the independent looking for? Is he looking for a pastor completely unstained by any hint of defect in character or expression of personality? Where will he find him? Is he looking for a leader with absolutely perfect doctrine? What is it? Is he looking for a teacher who has exquisite ability to express the teaching with clarity and beauty? Is he looking for the fruits of that person's ministry? I think a person should look for these things. It would be wonderful to find such a person, but at the same time we must realize that finding all of them in perfection in one man will be very difficult. Especially in this difficult time, one should not make his search with the attitude that he will settle down and take root only when he finds a pastor who deserves to have him in the congregation!

God makes it very clear that other shepherds besides Christ are necessary for leading and caring for His people. Zechariah 10:2 says, "For the idols speak delusion; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain. Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd." The context makes very clear that God is speaking of human leaders.

Moses understood the need for human leadership even though Israel had the cloud to follow in the wilderness (Numbers 27:15-20). The context shows God's clear assent to Moses' proposal that He appoint a human leader to assume his responsibilities upon his death.

Making a diligent and honest search for a true shepherd of the church of God is everyone's responsibility. It is imperative that we find a fold where we can be properly fed and where we can serve. The enemy has scattered the flock through the extensive doctrinal changes, and God has permitted it for our good.

John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust

1 Peter 5:8

The animal kingdom teaches us that predators like lions usually look for and attack the animals that are alone and have wandered away from the flock. Such strays are in an exposed position because they lack the protection afforded by the large numbers of others of like kind. Our adversary likes nothing better than pouncing on sheep who try to "go it alone."

We do not have to be so vulnerable! The protection of the flock is available. Our place and our protection are found in worshipping and fellowshipping with the people of God in "the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15).

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
For the Perfecting of the Saints


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