Religion

Is the IFB Church Movement Christian?

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Many people who leave the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement come to the conclusion that the IFB church is not Christian at all. If it is a cult, it can’t be Christian, right?  I find this especially true for former IFB church members/pastors who are now Calvinists. They often consider the IFB church a false religion preaching a false gospel. Of course, their new church is the true Christian religion, preaching the true gospel.

IFB churches believe what they do because of their commitment to a literal interpretation of an ancient text they consider given to them by God. The former IFB church member/pastor turned Calvinist is no different. They too are committed to a literal interpretation of an ancient text they consider given to them by God. Many Christian sects, especially Evangelical sects, adhere to a literalistic interpretation of the Bible. It is from this foundation that a cult is born.

So, when I am asked if I think IFB church members are Christians, I say absolutely yes. Their core doctrines are orthodox and they believe that salvation is found in and through Jesus Christ.  It is their literalistic interpretation of a small set of Bible verses, primarily dealing with ecclesiology, complementarian hierarchy, and sex that the seeds of cultism is found. These same cultic seeds can be found in countless American churches, so it is not an IFB church problem alone.

Many cultic IFB pastors are quite sincere. They believe that they are following the clear teachings of the Bible, the very same beliefs they were taught when they were young or in college. They are Christian in the same way that an Orthodox Jew is Jewish. Their literal interpretation is the problem, but this does not mean they are not Christian.

I wanted to be clear on this issue. Just because I think the IFB church movement is a cult or has cultic tendencies does not mean that I do not think it is Christian. Cultism can be found in the Christian church throughout its history. In fact, some people think ALL Christian sects are cultic to some degree or another. Christians themselves are quite willing to point out the cultic tendencies of other Christian sects but often seem unable to spot the same cultic tendencies in the sect they are a part of. Over the years, I have corresponded with a number of people who left the IFB church movement for what they called true Christianity. Upon examining closely their new church/sect, I have generally found that they have traded one cult for another.

Published: April 23, 2014 | Comments: 3

Is the IFB Church Movement a Cult? Part Five

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Is the IFB Church a Cult?

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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.

pastoral authority

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.

Note

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.

Published: April 23, 2014 | Comments: 0

My Life as a Missionary Kid Part Eight

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series My Life as a Missionary Kid

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What follows is part eight of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid. (MK) I hope readers will enjoy this series. Please leave  Josh your comments in the comment section.

Part 8: Easter in the Philippines

Imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment.

Imagine you are a man in his thirties.

Now picture yourself outside, the hot afternoon sun beating down on you. You are walking through a dusty street while a crowd watches on.

The walk is difficult. You are encumbered by a heavy wooden object you need to carry. It is called a cross.

You feel exhausted and dehydrated but, as you near your destination, you know the worst is still to come.

When you reach the designated place the cross is taken from you and placed on the ground. Obediently you lie on top as rope is wound around your arms securing you to the cross-beam.

Then come the nails.

Quickly, indeed efficiently, they are driven through your hands and feet into the wood you rest on. You wince, maybe even cry out, but you already knew what to expect. You had known this was coming for a while now.

The cross is raised upright with you fastened to it. Perhaps you might be getting used to pain.

Perhaps not.

You look skyward knowing that this will end. It will be finished. You just need to endure a little longer.

From your lofty position you survey the crowd and notice there are more people than last year. A few of them appear to be foreigners. Perhaps they are tourists – but you aren’t sure. All you know is that now you must wait for before you are let back down off the cross.

And once you are down you know it will another year before you have to endure this again. Another year until next Easter.

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Okay you can stop imagining. Feeling alright? Good. Hopefully that “exercise” wasn’t too horrible and, for the record, I was trying to make it jarring – not grotesque. If I achieved that then great but, if not, blame my writing.

Because this is Easter time I thought I would talk a bit about how Easter is celebrated in the Philippines. And before anyone asks, yes, that description above does portray something very real that goes on there. But I will get to back to that later.

In a lot of places Easter is a big deal. In New Zealand it marks a long weekend where both Good Friday and the next Monday are public holidays. We celebrate by taking a short vacation and eating a few specific foods. On Good Friday it is traditional to eat hot-cross buns and on Easter Sunday chocolate eggs and rabbits are consumed – mostly by children. That is how we do things in NZ. If you are not Christian, and most of the country isn’t, it is low-key holiday.

In the Philippines it is a big deal too. But more so. And it is very religious.

Remember how around 90% of the population are Roman Catholic? Well this has a big impact on their Easter celebrations.

The Holy week begins on Palm Sunday and then, on Maundy Thursday (for those not familiar with the nomenclature it is the day before Good Friday) most of the business close down through Black Saturday until Resurrection Sunday – when the whole country celebrates Jesus rising from the dead. Those of you familiar with Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity may not know the names for all those days but, believe me, the Catholics do. They also know how to exhibit devotion.

By that I mean: they know how to put it on. This goes beyond mass every day and special homilies. I am talking about pilgrimages, processions and penance (yes, I realise there are three “p”s – that was actually on accident).

The pilgrimages are exactly what they sound like. During holy week people will make their way to sacred shrines or large cathedrals in their area. My family lived near a one of these Cathedrals in an area called Cainta. Every year thousands of people would flood the main highway on route to the Cathedral. The highway would get so crowded that you couldn’t actually drive on it – not that there was anywhere you could go during this time.

Most of the pilgrims would simply walk, often praying and clutching rosary beads, but there were always a few who didn’t make things so easy on themselves (as if walking a long distance is “easy”). Whether it was for penance or to show devotion there were those who elected to go barefoot, crawl on hands and knees, or simply walk while whipping their bare-backs.

Students of church history will note that there is a long tradition of these sorts of displays dating back to the middle ages. To see it in the modern world can be quite startling.

As intriguing as the pilgrimages are to watch they are quite mundane compared to the Easter Processions. Throughout the holy week large Easter parades are organized through the main streets of cities, towns and even small villages. Different Dioceses and Archdioceses have them on different days so if you timed it right you could travel through the country and see a local procession each day.

These are not small-scale either. Hundreds of people will march in the procession wearing coordinated costumes or driving elaborate floats. These aren’t for commercial or entertainment – these parades are purely religious. Candles, crucifixes, statues and icons are all on full display. While a lot of the objects are supplied by the local church there will also be private items that local politicians and wealthy families will bring from their personal collections. The statues can range from the small Barbie-doll sized figures to human sized carvings of Jesus, Mary and revered saints.

The size, amount and lavish design of the items in a procession are often a way of gauging the relative wealth a small town possesses. Are there only a handful of smaller statues and a banner or two? Probably a poorer area. On the other had are their numerous statues with the main Jesus statue being life-sized, carved out of ebony , seated on a gold-plated throne and inside an ornate box with panes of glass on all four sides? That’s probably a wealthy area indeed.

Finally the penance. Easter is a great time to get one’s soul in order and there are a wide array of options for the penitent. I have already mentioned the pilgrims whipping themselves or crawling for miles but if those don’t interest you – I can supply other some others. Try a large donation to the church – either cash or the commissioning of a new statue. If that is too expensive (which means you are poor) then you could forego a particular pleasure for the next year or maybe undergo a public act of contrition. If you want to really show your commitment though; there is always the crucifixion option.

And here we are back to the beginning.

Yes indeed. You can – if you are really super-duper penitent (or just want to shave some years off your time in purgatory) – get crucified for a while. I have seen a couple of people have this done to them and, I will be honest, it is quite freaky. This isn’t something that just faded into the darker recesses of my memory. Seeing someone carrying a cross, being whipped (in fairness – not scourged), and then actually being nailed to a cross for an hour or so is something that stays with a person – especially when viewed as a teenager.

Crucifixion, while rare, is something that is done around Easter in some areas of the Philippines (including mine). Often it is a form of repentance from sins but there are other reasons too. Some of them are very devout and consider it to be following in Jesus footsteps. They are true bible literalists after all didn’t Jesus say “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27 NIV)? Then there are those that do it out of obligation. Think of this scenario; a father finds that their child is dying and they can’t afford to get the medicine necessary to save them (the Philippines is a capitalist paradise after all). He prays day and night promising God that if his child recovers he will be crucified every Easter for the next five years (for example). His child pulls through and so this man, in turn, fulfills his promise.

Obviously in none of these cases is the crucifixion supposed to kill the participant. This is purely an outward sign of an inward truth (I suppose in the same way baptism isn’t literally killing and resurrecting the participant). As strange as it may sound to those with different Christian traditions this isn’t just made up whole-cloth – it does have a biblical basis (arguments about interpretation aside).

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So why talk about that? Well, first of all, it’s something most westerners (which is the demographic of the readers here) probably won’t know about these other ways of celebrating Easter. Hopefully those of you in that camp found it interesting. The other point I want to make is this: the way NZ (and most of the west) celebrate Easter is actually more, not less, secular than the Filipino Roman Catholics. Almost everything done in Filipino Easter Celebrations is part of their devotion to the Christian gospel story.

Protestant and evangelicals will dismiss these practices as “works-based” but that is not a fair picture. If you asked the average pilgrim, penitent or procession member they would all say their actions are reflect a deeper reality, their statues are symbols and their pain (if they go for that side of things) is to glorify God. Those willing to be crucified are extreme examples, to be sure, but even they have a scriptural basis for the practice.

So next time a pampered, prosperous Christian appears on TV bemoaning the creeping secularization of the holiday – ask yourself how committed they really are to making Easter more religious. Would they walk for miles to show their devotion? Would they crawl? Would they get whipped let alone crucified?

I doubt it. I doubt they would want to change anything that would make them less comfortable. They may claim unending devotion to God but only if it means their traditions being upheld. Realize that there are other, more hard-core, ways of celebrating Easter that the Christian culture warrior wouldn’t have the courage to touch.

Perhaps that is overly harsh on my part but I have to admit that I have seen the true face of devotion and it wasn’t standing behind a pulpit.

Anyway if you want to know more I am sure there are articles online. And on that note – have a great Easter.

Published: April 21, 2014 | Comments: 0

God Abhors You

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In his classic sermon on The Wonders of Self Esteem, Jonathan Edwards,an 18th century Calvinistic preacher who was an instrumental part of the First Great Awakening, had this to say about the human race:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks on you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. (excerpted from the sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God)

This view of humanity is on regular display in countless Evangelical, Baptist, and/or Calvinistic churches. Is it any wonder that so many people who are involved in such churches need therapy after they break free? Their self-esteem is destroyed, having spent a lifetime being told what a worthless, wicked, vile, evil, sinful person they are. Even as a saved person, they are reminded that the only reason that God does not pour out his hatred and wrath on them and send them to hell is because of the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross on their behalf.

Published: April 17, 2014 | Comments: 7

Is the IFB Church Movement a Cult? Part Four

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Is the IFB Church a Cult?

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Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches are known for being sticklers about doctrine. Doctrinal diversity and difference of opinion is rarely tolerated and those who march to the beat of a different doctrinal drum are “encouraged” to leave and find a church that believes like they do.  In a post titled What is an IFB Church, I listed the following doctrines that ALL IFB churches/preachers believe:

  • The inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible
  • The sinfulness, depravity of man
  • The deity of Christ
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • The blood atonement of Christ for man’s sin
  • The resurrection of Christ from the dead
  • The second coming of Christ
  • Separation from the world
  • Salvation from sin is by and through Christ alone
  • Personal responsibility to share the gospel with sinners
  • Heaven and hell are literal places
  • Hierarchical authority (God, Jesus, church, pastor, husband, wife)
  • Autonomy and independence of the local church

IFB preachers are certain that these beliefs are the “faith once delivered to the saints”, that these beliefs were what the first century church believed. It is not uncommon to find IFB churches/preachers that believe the early church, founded by Jesus, was Baptist. Landmarkism (Baptist Brider) can be traced back to the mid-1800′s and the teachings of Southern Baptist preachers James Graves and Ben Bogard.  Just like the Catholics IFB preachers love to hate, Landmark IFB churches believe they are the one true church.

While IFB churches/preachers demand doctrinal purity, it should not be assumed that they are well schooled on these doctrines. Church members, along with many pastors, do very little reading outside of the Bible. They proudly consider themselves people of the book, true Christians who are committed to believing ALL of the Bible. These fundamental doctrines are never questioned or challenged. You’ll never hear an IFB preacher preaching on the controversies that surround each of the fundamental doctrines. In the rare occasion that these controversies are mentioned, they are always shown to be  false, the philosophy of the world, or the beliefs of “liberals.”

From 1976-79, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was a staunch IFB school, founded by Tom Malone in the 1950′s. The school demanded doctrinal purity from all of its teachers and students. Deviating from these doctrines resulted in immediate termination or expulsion.

While I was at Midwestern, there were two controversies that resulted the termination of a professor and the expulsion of several students. The first controversy had to do with Bible translations. In 1978, the NIV was released and several students asked their Greek teacher about the it. When the teacher did not endorse the King James Version Only position, he was immediately reported and it was not long before he was no longer teaching at Midwestern. Dr. Malone, in a chapel sermon, made it very clear that there was only one Bible, the King James version.

The second controversy had to do with Calvinism. In my sophomore systematic theology class, a student asked the professor about Calvinism. His answer was short…we don’t believe that here. I had no idea what Calvinism was. The professor made no attempt to refute Calvinism. A simple statement of, we don’t believe that here, was all that was needed to stifle any further discussion of the matter. Unfortunately, several students continued to discuss Calvinism in the dormitory. Their “heresy” resulted in their expulsion from the college and Dr. Malone warning the student body that any discussion of Calvinism would not be tolerated.

In the IFB church, doctrinal purity is all about control and conformity. IFB churches/preachers are certain that they are right and they expect every church member to conform to the stated doctrines of the church. Not conforming is a sure sign that the church member is being influenced by heresy, liberalism, the world, or Satan. I pastored a handful of people who did not have the same doctrinal beliefs as I did. They loved my preaching or liked me as a person, so they were willing to set aside their doctrinal differences and attend the church I pastored.  I was fine with this as long as they did not publicize their doctrinal differences. In almost every instance, their beliefs eventually resulted in conflict and them leaving the church. (one Arminian couple joined and left the church three times over doctrinal differences)

While many IFB churches have doctrinal statements or confessions of faith, the true arbiter of what the church believes is the preacher. As I will share in a later post, the pastor is the gatekeeper, God’s man. What he believes, the church must believe. Since church members airing doctrinal differences are a threat to the preacher’s authority and control of the church, “heretics” are quickly dealt with. While the pastor’s actions will be justified with words like “standing for the truth” or “defending the faith”, the real issue is the preacher’s need to control the church. If he does not insist on purity of doctrine, then it is impossible for him to control the church.

The demand for doctrinal purity shuts off intellectual pursuit. Church members are encouraged to read only books that are approved by the preacher or found in the church library. They are warned about reading the books of “liberal” Christians. (and in some IFB churches John MacArthur is considered a liberal)  They are warned that reading these books could lead them astray and destroy their relationship with God. Of course, for those of us who successfully broke free from the IFB church, we know that reading heretical/liberal books were tremendously helpful in our escape from the IFB cult. Once our intellectual eyes were opened we began to see that there was more than one way to look at most everything. Faith once delivered to the saints? No such thing. Doctrinal purity? No such thing.

The antidote for IFB cultism is education. Once an IFB church member is exposed to the broader writings and beliefs of Christianity, they will find it hard to continue to believe IFB dogma. Once they are exposed to non-IFB Christian church history books, they will find it hard to continue to believe that the Baptist church is the one, true church. Exposure to authors like Bart Ehrman, if read openly and honestly, will destroy the IFB belief about the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible.

If you are trying to help someone break free from the IFB church, the best thing you can do for them is encourage them to read. Of course, therein lies the problem. Generally, IFB church members don’t read and study theology or church history.  They like the certainty of believing what the preacher believes. They like having all their beliefs settled. They like thinking that what they believe is exactly what the early church believed. It is this intellectual laziness that must be confronted head on. Until they are willing to look outside of the box they are in, it is almost impossible to help them. (see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it All Makes Sense When You are in a Box and What I Found When I Left the Box)

Published: April 17, 2014 | Comments: 1

The Way International: Carol’s Story Part Five

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What follows is the last part of Carol’s story about her involvement with The Way International and her journey out of it. I thought it would be interesting for readers to read the story of someone who journeyed out of a non-orthodox Christian religion. I hope you have enjoyed reading Carol’s story. (though it is hard to read this last post and say the word “enjoy.”)

In the summer of 2005, one of my counselors asked if I would write my health story to be included in a book. She asked a few of her clients this same request. She had specific topics she wanted covered…and thus the content of the following narrative, a rendition of what I submitted for the book.

It took me about nine months to write the narrative. At the time, varying factors made it an arduous tasks.

In the midst of writing it, I made the life-changing decision to exit The Way International to which I’d been a loyal follower for 28 years. I had gotten deeply involved with The Way in 1977 at the age of 18.

During my fourth year of Way loyalty, at age 22, I developed asthma and other symptoms of an over-responsive immune system. These symptoms worsened during subsequent years and continued for the following seventeen years. At the age of 41, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II, a diagnosis which was later questioned with evidence that a more accurate diagnosis would be PTSD or C-PTSD.

In 1998 during my twenty-first year of Way loyalty, at 39 years old, out of desperation, I began to journal. In 2005, seven years and over a dozen journals later, I left The Way; I literally wrote my way out. I had allowed myself to begin to understand that certain Way doctrines had played a major role in my emotional suppression which manifested as chronic illness.

The Way teaches a health and wealth gospel.

Seeking Life Along The Way: III John 2 ?

(Addendum to Parts 1 through 4)

[Originally penned in 2005, with later adaptations.]

At 46 years old I sat across from my counselor. She looked in my eyes and stated, “Carol, I want you to start thinking like a well person.”

The statement stunned me. I felt nebulously lost within it having no concept of what her words meant. Over the next few days I rolled the statement over and over in my head and heart. The ensuing story is part of the journey endeavoring to discover what it means to think like a well person.

I choose the 39th year of my life as the threshold for the following meandering, a snippet of my journey. It was in that year that I began to submerge myself in ink and page, writing my way toward wellness. Journaling changed my course from death to life, from despair to hope.

At 39 years old I was married with two children, ages 8 and 10. For the last 17 years I had suffered with severe asthma; numerous bouts of pneumonia; multiple sinus surgeries; environmental, chemical, food, and inhalant allergies; hives, welts, and various skin disorders; systemic candida; depression; anxiety; mood swings; chronic fatigue; body aches; and a myriad of other symptoms that go with an over-responsive and depleted immune system. I had been pumped with intravenous drugs, swallowed or inhaled a host of pharmaceuticals (including 1000′s of doses of steroids), been pricked with needles 100′s (if not 1000′s) of times for various reasons, and received a myriad of allergy antigens. Alongside with conventional treatments, I had utilized alternative therapies including homeopathy, oral and intravenous vitamin/mineral supplementation, strict dietary protocols, acupuncture, herbs, bodywork, and some psychological counseling.

Exhaustion and depression were constant companions. I was caught in a sticky, mucous-coated, stagnant, thickened, stringy web that felt like it morphed in every tissue and cell beneath my skin. I felt trapped in my own body. I craved to breathe freely. I thirsted for fluid energy and to move without pain. I dreamed of running like a deer, graceful and free through the woods. I hungered for freedom.

I often felt like a complete failure as a believer, as a mother, as a person. Shame coursed through my veins. My suicide plan was foolproof, but I couldn’t leave my children with the legacy that their mother had committed suicide. My children were my saving grace, my reason to keep drawing one more breath, to keep trying.

Life was not always dreary; I had stretches of hope, using affirmations to convince myself of improvement. Yet now my hope was depleted; it was time to quit hoping. I had clung to a belief that, according to the scriptures, God’s will for me was complete health. It was time to give up the dream that I could actually get well; death seemed the only alternative for release. Instead of a pistol for death, I chose a pen and began to write.

Emotions crystallized into words upon the page detailing the self loathing, the asthma attacks, the pain that racked my body, the exhaustion, the anger, the murky darkness of it all. I felt such deep, deep shame and self-hatred. Day after day I filled the pages; I held nothing back. I poured it all onto paper, including dreams and hopes. I wrote because I had to; I did not know what else to do. I never imagined that by putting pen to parchment my circumstances would begin to change, but they did in a most powerful way.

Within a few months of starting to journal I was hospitalized yet again (October, 1998) and connected with a doctor that discovered I was suffering with mercury toxicity, a typical cause for immune dysfunction. In January, 1999, I was again hospitalized and connected with a different doctor who confirmed the mercury toxicity. That same month I began an intense two-year detox regimen which included oral chelation therapy, intravenous and oral vitamin and mineral therapy, hydrocolon therapy, low heat saunas, and coffee enemas. I continued to journal profusely and began to re-educate myself on healing; I began to have hope again. My doctors believed I could gain wellness. Unknown to me at that time, I suffered my last severe episode of asthma attacks.

After six months from the last asthma attacks, I was able to start addressing more definitively other symptoms: fatigue, mood swings, hives that crawled on and under my skin. Aches and pains surfaced all over my body, like chained prisoners desperately crying for release. Yet I was hopeful; the asthma was curbed. I had new treatments to try. Maybe my body could get well; if I could learn better how to listen to what it was trying to communicate to me, maybe I could allow it to heal itself. Maybe, maybe, just maybe….

The next regimen on my agenda was a treatment known as Enzyme Potentiated Desensitization (EPD), a complex treatment that approached the reprogramming of miscoded T-helper cells. Every eight weeks, for 1-1/2 years, I would receive an injection containing over 200 antigens mixed with an enzyme to penetrate the miscoded cells; go into quarantine for five days; and eat only venison, tapioca flour with water, and sweet potatoes. My health improved with EPD: a “sore spot” in my left lung that had been present since my last bout with pneumonia cleared; some skin conditions improved; my sense of smell was restored; allergic reactions and energy improved. My hope was growing. Then the FDA abruptly stopped the use of EPD in the United States. My sense of smell was stolen again and some allergy troubles resurfaced. But I remained hopeful that other doors would open for me.

With the improvements and hope, I pulled out books I had previously read regarding healing and reviewed them. I was led to new books and devoured them. During this time I was diagnosed with a herniated disc, confirmed with an MRI. A friend loaned me the book, Healing Back Pain, by Dr. John Sarno. Within six weeks of applying what I had read, the back spasms were 80% better; after five months they were completely gone.

Due to the improvements gained from applying what I had learned via Sarno’s work, I was prompted to delve more deeply into the relationship between my emotions and my physical illnesses, the effects of the dance between the two. How many of my illnesses and symptoms could be due to suppressed emotions? Was I honest enough to be able to open up and see what really lurked in my soul? In late 2000, I began weekly psychological counseling. This soul excavation was a gruesome task at times, but in the end was more than worth the effort.

Over the following four years, as I delved deeper into this excavation, I developed a support network and program which consisted of journaling, bibliotherapy, and relationships with a handful of people and professionals that I could call upon. The support network was vital for me. I grew in my ability to open up, to peek within and see the ugliness and the beauty. Of course I saw more ugliness than beauty. But I began to understand that even what I perceived as “ugly” was okay; I didn’t have to fear it. My hope grew. My life was changing.

During these four years my symptoms became less intense and then plateaued. I lived managing mood swings; hives and sneezing attacks a few times a week; and a hormone dysfunction that would manifest in severe aches, depression, and cognitive impairment at least five days per month. I continued my search for relief through conventional means (including medications for the depression), bodywork, nutrition, homeopathy, and energy medicine. I took about 50 pills a day in the form of supplements. I continued with counseling and journaling. I began to think that this was as well as I could get.

Then, in latter-2004, I was introduced to a nutritional product that had more life-changing effects. Within nine months of consuming this product my hives completely disappeared. The mood swings and debilitating hormone dysfunction were probably 85% better. I was able to get off my daily psychiatric medications. My energy was more stable. I went from feeling I was hit by an 18-wheeler at least five days a month to being hit by a bicycle a few days a month. I was beginning to taste freedom.

It was during this time, when I began to taste freedom, that my counselor stated those unforgettable words , “Carol I want you to start thinking like a well person.” My adult life had revolved around sickness – a science of schedules and charts and foods and medications and tests and treatments. This new experience of wellness was scary. Oddly I found myself wanting to break down, but couldn’t. I thought I would run free once liberated from this tyranny of entrapment. Yet, I was in new territory, unfamiliar, uncomfortable. What was I to do with myself now? It took me six to eight months to become comfortable with being “well.”

In the fall of 2005 I was well enough to make some major religious/spiritual changes; after 28 years of involvement, I chose to leave, what I had slowly come to see, was an abusive religious organization. In hindsight, I have no doubt that certain doctrines and practices of this group were a major contributor to the chronic illnesses with which I had been ensnared. Without the wellness I had been granted by 2005, I don’t know if I could have made the break from that organization; it took much resolve and energy that I didn’t have prior to 2004.

Since divorcing the organization, personal relationships that were shunned from decades past have been renewed; crevices I had sealed have been exhumed; step by step hidden bubbles have surfaced and closet doors have opened. Certain of these exposures allowed my heart a resuscitation, new life. I came face to face with neglect and abandonment issues, grief, and loss. I see with greater clarity underlying emotional causes that contributed to those decades of illness from the age of 22 until I was 46. My relationship with my husband has been restored. Music and poetry have become integral parts of my life. I have been able to tap into my heart again.

What are my maintenance practices? Decent nutrition, medications as needed, rest; movement, nature, play; mindfulness, reading, writing; music, movies, laughter; and relationships. Relationships with myself, my environment, and loved ones are the fabric of life instilling hope and encouragement, even when times look dim and dark and when it seems the sun will not rise again. When I experience physiological symptoms or tumultuous emotions I endeavor to seek self-awareness and then to listen and follow the paths that offer relief.

What does it mean to think like a well person? It means I recognize that I am significant, worthy of love, fully human, and a vital member of the human family. I am not an appliance that requires fixing; rather, I am a yearning individual with an innate need for love, acknowledgment, and to know my value.

 Notes

The book, Healing Back Pain (mentioned above), prompted me to dig deeper for a specific program to help guide me in uncovering emotional causes for physical symptoms.  That search led me to MindBodyMedicine.com by Dr. David Schechter. Dr. Schechter, has a specifically designed journaling, reading, and education program that enabled me to better tap into emotional causes that had prompted certain physical symptoms, thus providing healing and relief in those areas.

Addendum to the addendum

  • In 2008, at age 49, I had full, left hip replacement surgery. Doctors speculate that my left hip bone degeneration was brought on by the high doses of steroids I consumed in the past – consumed to keep me breathing. That said, all in all under the circumstances, my bones are in good shape
  • In 2010, I contracted MRSA, which erupted 4 different times that year.
  • In 2011, I developed an “idiosyncratic serum sickness like response” to oral terbinafine.
  • In May, 2013, the “serum sickness like response” diagnosis was changed to drug-induced peripheral neuropathy, specifically polyradiculitus (inflammation of the nerve roots), which has produced nerve damage in all my limbs. My body and brain and heart are still coming to terms with the nerve damage as I continue to seek answers.

Published: April 16, 2014 | Comments: 10

Women, Don’t You Feel Special?

women in the home

In the early 1980′s, I heard Jerry Falwell, the fundamentalist Baptist pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, say, We don’t believe in equal rights for women, we believe in superior rights. Falwell went on to say that the Bible actually elevates women on a pedestal and that equal rights for women would actually be a step down for them.  Evidently, Falwell’s Bible didn’t have the verses that gave approval to men treating women as property or the verses that countless Evangelical preachers have used to justify their “women should be ignorant, barefoot, pregnant, keepers of the home” belief.

Last year, in a post titled, Why Would Any Woman Want to Be and Evangelical Christian, I wrote:

Why would any woman want to be a Christian? If the Bible is the Word of God, inspired by God, and every word is true, why would any modern, thinking woman ever darken the door of an Evangelical church?

Over the past hundred years women have continued to gain rights and privileges kept from them by men, law, and social propriety. The right to vote. Equal pay for equal work. The right to use birth control. The right to have an abortion. The right to divorce.  While women do not yet have equal rights and privileges in this country, huge progress has been made to that end.

Why don’t women have true equal rights and privileges in America? Don’t deceive yourself into thinking they do. There are still places in our society where the signs say Men Only.

The primary reason women are denied basic civil rights and social privileges is the teachings of the Christian Bible. While we rightly criticize the patriarchy movement, the basic tenets of the movement were common practice a hundred years ago.

Christianity teaches that women are inferior to men. The Bible calls women a weaker vessel. The Bible teaches women are to be married, keepers of the home, bearers of children, and sex partners for their husband. (unless the husband goes Old Testament and has multiple wives and concubines). Quite simply, the Bible teaches that the world of women revolves around husband, food, children, and sex.

If the Bible is meant to be taken as written, women have no part in the governance of society or the church. Women are relegated to teaching children, and, as women age, they are given the task of teaching younger women how to be a good wife…

You can read the entire post here.

Derick Dickens, in an article for the The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website, takes the same approach Falwell did thirty years ago. (Dickens is a graduate of Liberty University)  Dickens  thinks that women, the weaker vessel, should received high honor rather than equal rights. He goes on to blame many of the woes women have on feminism and their demand for equality. Dickens writes:

…It demands us to ask some serious questions.  Has the last century of women’s rights not touched the home?  Has women’s equality not turned the tide of divorce?  Has it not lifted women out of poverty instead of sinking them further into poverty?  Women’s equality has failed precisely because it is misplaced from the Biblical understanding of women.  It has failed precisely because it misunderstands the honor God has given to women.

In short, if you think women are equal to men, then you have too low of a view of women.  Women are not merely equal, they are to be honored and esteemed unlike that of a man.

Honoring women is not merely my opinion, but this is the Christian ethic.  It is why men traditionally bent on one knee to ask for a woman’s hand in marriage, men would open the door for her, and men willingly sacrificed their life to save a woman.

Granted, abuses have often taken place in our culture and previous cultures.  However, this should not be looked at with the ever critical eye that fails to realize all the facts of the situation.  There were abuses of the past because of mankind’s inherent selfishness, pride, arrogance, and destructive personality.

Rather than see these abuses subside, they have escalated in modern times.  For instance, women account for 75% of all people trapped in the slave trade.  For every three childhood victims of human trafficking, two are girls (Source: UNODC).  The heinous injustice brought upon girls and women should make our blood boil in anger and every decent human being cry out for the eradication of this evil.

The abuses that are easier to “live with” are those couched in the language of modernity.  Women, for profit and sale, are treated as sex objects on magazines and television.  Being remade to look nothing like they appear, women are donned in scant bikinis to sell products like beer, cars, football, and even tools.  Parts of our society have made women utilitarian.  This may be better than the sex slave trade but only by degree (Matthew 5:28)

What may be an attempt by some overreacting to abuses towards women has been an effort to make women completely the same as men.  In some cases, this has forced women to be a clone of their male counterparts, or in other cases forced men to be exactly like women.  In both cases, this is a travesty to women.

Women do not find their greatest worth in being like men but in being a woman.  It is her uniqueness that should be cherished, but not to the extremes either side tends to push her.  One celebrates the woman as having a utilitarian purpose in satisfying the sinful lusts of man, the other celebrates her distinct from her sexuality.

Both are wrong.  Both seek to diminish women from being what they were created to be–a woman.

In turning to the Scripture, we extinguish the often cited critique that women are not as smart or capable as men.  Proverbs 31, for instance, shows the virtuous woman as possessing gifts that would make most men jealous.  She is intelligent, resourceful, hard working, and respectful–a tremendous force of dignity and wisdom.

These qualities, though, should not make us treat women like men.  Women are to be treated distinctly like a woman.  Husbands are called to reflect towards these women a demonstration of the greatest love ever shown, a love that willingly died in her place (Ephesians 5:25).  For a man, he should represent her as a person worthy enough for us to die for, to present as pure, to uplift as glorious, and acknowledged as magnificent…

…In the Biblical Worldview, women have a dignity all their own that allows us, men, to selflessly serve until our dying days.  They are bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, but they are much more.  They are women and for that reason we should give them a greater honor.

You can read entire article here.

Dickens speaks in glowing terms about how women are treated when the Biblical pattern for the sexes is followed. According to Professor Dickens, our culture’s unwillingness to follow this pattern has resulted in women being far worse off today than they were before equal rights for women and modern feminism convinced women that they had equal status in our culture. (and equality for women is still an unrealized goal, like with racism, we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go before we can say, women are equal)

Dickens seems deliberately ignorant of history, both ancient history and American history. Rather than seeing the Bible and Christianity as the source of many of abuses and ill-treatment women have received, Dickens thinks “mankind’s inherent selfishness, pride, arrogance, and destructive personality” is the problem. Evidently, he can not see that perhaps Christianity and Bible wedded to “mankind’s inherent selfishness, pride, arrogance, and destructive personality” is the real explanation for the deplorable treatment of women throughout much of the history of the United States.

Dickens article is a poignant reminder that little has changed for Evangelical women. Their overlords continue to use the Bible to subjugate and control them. Sadly, for many Evangelical women, including my wife for many years, they know of no other world but one where the Derick Dickens of the world are their lords. These lords convince them, through words supposedly from the mouth of God, that their highest calling in life is to be a weaker vessel, a wife, a mother, and a keeper of the home. Wanting any other kind of life is a step away from God’s wonderful, super-super plan for their life.

So what do you think readers? I am especially interested in hearing from female readers. Do you desire to return to days before equality and feminism? Now that you are free from the strictures of Bible, how has your life changed? For the better, for the worse? Please share your thoughts!!

Notes

Dickens teaches business for Santa Barbara Business College and Geneva College.

Derick Dickens blog

Derick Dickens Twitter

Published: April 16, 2014 | Comments: 9

If Jesus Had a Wife

The Christian world is buzzing with the news that Jesus might have had a wife. You can read about the debate here. This debate doesn’t interest me much, but a recently discovered First Century video clip sure does. It’s hard to believe, but video archeologists have found a video tape of the married Jesus with his wife:

YouTube Preview Image

 

Published: April 16, 2014 | Comments: 3