In part five of this series, I want to deal with the elevation of men in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. (If you don’t know what an IFB church is, please read What is an IFB Church?) In the IFB church movement, egalitarianism is strictly forbidden. According to IFB preachers, God, in the inspired, infallible, inerrant Bible, has decreed a hierarchy that must be followed if a church or a family wants to be blessed by God. Failure to follow the Biblical hierarchy could result in the judgment of God, along with failed churches, marriages, and rebellious children.
Last year, in a post titled Are You a Real Man, I wrote:
The Bible, they say, teaches a hierarchy for the family. The husband is the head of the home. He is the provider and protector and he is the authority God has placed in the home. The wife is to submit to her husband. Why? Because the Bible says so:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
The Bible also says that the husband is to RULE over his wife:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. (Genesis 3:16)
Not only are men rule over women in the home, they also are to rule over them in the church:
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)
In the instructions that Paul gives to the young preacher Timothy, he tells him that elders (pastors) in the church are to be :
one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;(for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Timothy 3:4.5)
The family hierarchy found in the Bible is explicitly complementarian. (each sex have separate, defined roles in the church and in the home)
Why do women need to be ruled? Is there something inherently wrong with women that they need someone to rule over them? The Bible has this to say about women:
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands…For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord…Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel… (1 Peter 3:1-7)
Why are women commanded to submit to their husbands, to be in subjection to them, to have men rule over them in the home and the church? Because they are the WEAKER vessel. Married women, women in the church, and daughters who live at home, all need men to protect them, care for them, and provide a covering for them. It is hard not to conclude, based on these verses, that women would perish from the earth if it were not for men.
The same kind of thinking applies to the church. In a post titled The IFB pastor, I wrote:
IFB pastors generally see themselves as a New Testament version of an Old Testament prophet. Called by God, given an inspired, inerrant Bible, the IFB pastor proclaims the Words of God. He is God’s mouthpiece. He has been given the responsibility to rule the church. He has been called by God to labor in word and doctrine. He is responsible for the care of the church. (deacons are given the responsibility of caring for the temporal needs of the church, Acts 6)
Next to God, the pastor is head of the church. As a man called by God, and as a man who God uniquely speaks to through the work of the Holy Spirit, the pastor is God’s authority in the church. (not much different from the Pope in the Catholic church)
Let me illustrate this for you. Here are a few excerpts from a noted IFB church’s constitution:
…The Holy Scriptures. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the verbally and plenarily inspired Word of God. The Scriptures are inerrant, infallible and God-breathed, and therefore are the final authority for faith and life. The sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament are the complete and divine revelation of God to man. The Scriptures shall be interpreted according to their normal grammatical-historical meaning, and all issues of interpretation and meaning shall be determined by the Pastor. The King James Version of the Bible shall be the official and only translation used by the church (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter1:20-21)…
…On becoming a member of this church, in addition to the Statement of Faith, each one further covenants to love, honor, and esteem the pastor; to pray for him; to recognize his authority in spiritual affairs of the church; to cherish a brotherly love for all members of the church; to support the church in prayer, tithes, offerings, and with other financial support as the Lord enables; and in accordance with Biblical Commands, to support through a lifestyle walk the beliefs and practices of the church…
…This congregation functions not as a pure democracy, but as a body under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ and the direction of the pastor as the undershepherd with the counsel of the board of deacons. Determinations of the internal affairs of this church are ecclesiastical matters and shall be determined exclusively by the church’s own rules and procedures. The pastor shall oversee and/or conduct all aspects of this church. The board of deacons shall give counsel and assistance to the pastor…
…Membership in this church does not afford the members with any property, contractual, or civil rights based on principles of democratic government. Although the general public is invited to all of the church’s worship services, the church property remains private property. The pastor (or in his absence, an individual designated by the board of deacons) has the authority to suspend or revoke the right of any person, including a member, to enter or remain on church property. If, after being notified of such a suspension or revocation, the person enters or remains on church property, the person may, in the discretion of the pastor (or in his absence, an individual designated by the board of deacons), be treated as a trespasser…
…The membership of any individual member shall be automatically terminated without notice if the member in question has not attended a regular worship service of the church in the preceding six months. Upon good cause being shown to the pastor, this provision for termination may be waived in the case of any individual member at the discretion of the pastor…
This church’s constitution states very clearly who is in charge of the church when it details the duties and powers of officers:
(A) The pastor shall preach the Gospel regularly and shall be at liberty to preach the whole counsel of the Word of God as the Lord leads him. He shall administer the ordinances of the church, act as moderator at all church meetings for the transaction of church matters, supervise the teaching ministries of the church, and tenderly watch over the spiritual interest of the membership.The Pastor shall serve as the president of the corporation. He shall publicly inform all newly appointed deacons of the particular function and the responsibilities of their respective offices and perform such other duties as generally appertain to such a position. The pastor shall be free to choose the means and methods by which he exercises the ministry that God has given him.(B) All appointments for public worship and Bible study and the arrangements thereof, including time and place and the use of the property belonging to the church for purposes other than the stated appointments, shall be under the control of the pastor.
In most IFB churches, the church is under the control and authority of one man, the pastor. While some IFB churches have a deacon board or elder board, these boards often are little more than YES men for the pastor. This is especially the case in IFB churches where the pastor has been there for a number of years. (young IFB preachers are encouraged to pastor one church for their entire life)
Every major office in the IFB church is filled a man. It is men who have the final say on what goes on in the church. While women may be allowed to vote at congregational meetings, they have very little actual power in the church. They are relegated to secretarial work, nursery duty, teaching children, playing the piano, singing in the choir, cooking food for fellowship dinners, or cleaning the church. Again, according to the Biblical hierarchy men are to lead and women are to quietly and submissively follow. (You might be interested in reading, Why Would Any Woman Want to be an Evangelical Christian?)
It should be readily evident to all but those blinded by their IFB beliefs, that this kind of hierarchical thinking leads to all kinds of mental, emotional, and, at times, physical abuse. Male pastors are given almost absolute control and power over the congregation. Husbands,following the teachings of their pastor tend to exert absolute control and power over their wife and children. In the church and in the home, women are often reminded that God put men in charge because they are a weaker vessel in need of a man’s protection. They are also frequently reminded that their role, ordered by God, is to marry, bear children, spread their legs when their husband demands it, and keep the home.
Quite like the Catholic church, the IFB church is a male-only club. While women are tolerated because of the benefits they give to men, they are in no way equal or valued. While I am sure that most IFB preachers and leaders will strenuously object to this, all one has to do is sit down with former female IFB church members and ask them how they felt while attending an IFB church. Ask them about their preacher’s sermons on the home, marriage, pastoral authority, and God’s divine order. Their testimonies will bear witness to the truth of what I have written her.
Is this kind of thinking cultic? Ask yourself, is it cultic to use a religious text to control, dominate, and demean others? Is it cultic to rob women of personal autonomy and self-esteem? Is it cultic to threaten church members with God’s judgment if they go against the pastor? Is it cultic for one man or a small group of men to control every aspect of a church member’s life?
I think you know the answer.
What is hard for many of us to admit is that we were once a part of a cult or a church that had cultic tendencies. This is doubly so for someone like me who was an IFB church member and an IFB pastor. While I was not as extreme as some in the IFB church, I must admit that some of my preaching and tactics had a cultic ring to it. While I left this kind of thinking behind years before I left the ministry, I still must bear the burden of those I hurt through my preaching. I must bear the burden of wives and children who were emotionally and physically harmed by men who took seriously my preaching on men being the authority figure in the home. I must also bear the burden of how this kind of thinking hurt my own wife and family. While I was simply modeling what I had been taught and I was ignorant of the implications of my beliefs, I am still accountable for what happened as a result of my preaching.