Ask anyone from rural Northwest Ohio which local community is the most religious and they will likely tell you Archbold. Home to Sauder Woodworking, a 2,000-employee manufacturing concern started by Mennonite Erie Sauder in the 1930s, Archbold has three large Mennonite churches. For those not interested in the Mennonite flavor of Christianity, there are a plethora of Evangelical and mainline churches to meet their spiritual needs. Several years ago, one of the mainline churches affiliated with the United Church of Christ left the UCC and became an independent Evangelical church. While local mainline churches are certainly more liberal than, say, one of the two Pentecostal churches in Archbold, their liberalness is a matter of degree. Compared to liberal west or east-coast mainline churches, these rural enclaves are quite conservative. Several years ago in nearby Bryan, Ohio, one of the Methodist churches had a pastor who graduated from Bob Jones University, and until recently, the Ney-Farmer United Methodist circuit was pastored by a man who trained at Ohio Christian University. Currently, I don’t know of any local mainline pastor who would publicly tout their liberal theology and social views. I know several pastors who are liberals, but for the sake of congregational unity and a continued paycheck, they keep their heresy to themselves. One small glimmer of hope came two years ago when St. John United Church of Christ in Defiance came out as a LGBTQ-affirming church. Outside of this blip on the liberal radar, the local scene continues to be dominated by Evangelical/Fundamentalist/conservative Christianity with its attendant right-wing Republican politics.
Knowing well the local demographics, I find it hilarious that Toledo-based Northwest Baptist Church has decided to start a church in Archbold. Archbold’s nickname is Jerusalem, a somewhat humorous label meant to reflect the community’s overwhelming religiosity. Simply put, Jesus is not hard to find in Archbold, Ohio. However, I am sure that, as zealots from Northwest Baptist “prayed” about starting a sin-hating, devil-chasing, King James-only Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), church, they concluded that the Christians in Archbold were not real/true/right kind of Christians. Deemed spiritually suspect or lost, Archbold Christians will now be the targets of aggressive IFB evangelistic techniques. Northwest Baptist is pastored by “Dr.” Andrew Edwards, III, a 1985 graduate of Jack Hyles’ monument to ignorance, Hyles-Anderson College. Joe Ballard, Northwest Baptist’s assistant pastor, is the pastor of Archbold Baptist Chapel.
Archbold Baptist does not have a website, but Northwest Baptist does, and from its website we can find out what type of church is being planted in Archbold. When IFB churches plant new churches, they typically establish clones of the mother churches. Ignoring demographics and need, IFB churches tend to replicate themselves in new communities. It matters not that Archbold is overwhelmingly Christian. What matters is that there is not an IFB church in town, a congregation that believes the King James Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible — even the italicized words — word of God. And if this is not enough a reason, God told Edwards, III to plant a church in Archbold, and when God speaks, well, end of story.
Based on what can be found on Northwest Baptist’s website, Archbold residents can expect to have their Christianity challenged and questioned by Archbold Baptist soulwinners. Northwest Baptist’s website states:
We believe it is the duty and responsibility of every child of God, regardless of age, race, or background, to be personally involved in spreading the Gospel, the good news of salvation. Every week we actively seek to witness to the lost through our Soul Winning Program. Here are the regularly scheduled visitation times: Teen Soul Winning – Wednesday @4:30, Church-wide Soul Winning – Thursday @ 6:00pm & Saturday @ 10:00am
Archbold residents, get ready. The Baptist version of Jehovah’s Witnesses has come to town.
As I mentioned above, Archbold is heavily influenced by Mennonite religious beliefs. While most local Mennonite churches are conservative theologically and politically, a handful are more centrist and focused on social issues. Sadly, many local Mennonites are pro-war, a contradiction if there ever was one. This reflects how deeply Republican politics have infected these congregations. Several years ago, we attended a nearby Quaker church, thinking that it would be anti-war. Imagine our surprise when we found out that the church was a flag-waving, Jesus-loving, gun-toting supporter of Bush’s immoral incursions in the Middle East. I asked this pastor, along with several Mennonite pastors how they squared their pro-war views with historic Quaker and Mennonite belief and practice. All of them told me their denominations take a neutral view on the matter, allowing each congregation to determine its beliefs.
While Archbold Baptist Chapel will attempt to paint itself as unique or different — the purveyors of the true gospel of Jesus Christ — what they really are is just another bland, generic Evangelical church who thinks Jerusalem needs yet another church. It will be interesting to watch as Archbold Baptist Chapel attempts to establish a beachhead. Will they find sinners to save in Archbold, or will they, as is often the case, be a magnet for disgruntled Baptists and church hoppers who jump from church to church looking for the latest, greatest thing. I do know this: that within fifteen or so miles there are at least ten IFB/GARBC/Southern Baptist churches, all in an area that has a static, aging population. (Please read How to Start an Independent Baptist Church and Evangelical Cannibalism: How New Evangelical Churches Grow.)
Currently, Archbold Baptist Chapel is meeting on Sunday afternoons and Thursday evenings at Archbold High School. Last week, I attended a girls’ high school basketball tournament at Archbold High. As I was leaving, I noticed advertisements for Archbold Baptist Chapel sitting on a table. Earlier in the day, as my wife and I were tooling around Archbold taking photographs of church signs, I mentioned to Polly that the only flavor of church Archbold didn’t have is Baptist. Little did I know that Baptists had indeed come to town, ready and willing to evangelize Archbold’s lost sinners — all two of them, anyway.
I gathered up the advertisements and took them with me, knowing that while churches are free to rent public school facilities, they may not evangelize on school property or leave sectarian materials lying around for students to “find.” (Please read UPDATED: Village of Archbold Removes Christian References From Their Website and Logo.) I am a big proponent of religious freedom, so I support Archbold Baptist Chapel’s right to hold services at Archbold High and to preach the IFB gospel anywhere not prohibited by law. That doesn’t mean, however, that I support their beliefs. I don’t. In fact, I stand opposed to everything they hold dear. IFB beliefs and practices are often cultic and psychologically harmful. It would irresponsible for me to not warn Archbold residents about the new church in town, especially if they attempt to evangelize local children.
Churches come and go. Evidently, God has a hard time making up his mind. One day God tells someone to start a new church, and a year or two later God changes his mind and tells church planters to go somewhere else. It will be interesting to see if Archbold Baptist Chapel can attract a crowd, and if they don’t, how long they will stay before “hearing” God telling them to move on. As is ofttimes the case, God’s “voice” matches the whims, wants, needs, and desires of those who purport to hear his voice. This is particularly the case with IFB churches where great value is placed on certainty, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and doing the perfect will of God. For now, God has clearly led Northwest Baptist to plant a clone of itself in Archbold. It remains to be seen if Archbold Baptist can be a growing church for a coming Lord. My money is on “no.”
Archbold needs fewer churches, not more, and the same came be said for every other nearby community. I told Polly a few days ago that churches should band together and buy the local mall when it closes, turning into a church buffet, of sorts. Think of all the money, time, and effort that would be saved. On Sundays, shoppers, uh, I mean worshipers of Jesus, could choose from any of number of churches to attend. Of course, this would mean local churches would have to admit that, despite all their crowing, Christian churches are all pretty much the same. Setting liturgy, ecclesiology, and worship style aside, the only thing different are the names over the doors. Granted, IFB churches would never support such a Satanic ecumenical affair. Ecclesiastically separated until the bitter end, IFB churches think that they are the holders of the faith once delivered to the saints. If Archbold Baptist Chapel congregants didn’t believe this, there would be no reason for them to have a church in Archbold. But they do, so Archbold residents can expect to have their faith and beliefs questioned. In time, IFB evangelizers will be stopping by, asking them, If you died today, would you go to heaven? Zeus help the people who say, I am a Mennonite. Yes, but are you a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N? the response will be. Every effort will be made to take every local through God’s plan of salvation. What is that plan?
And certainly, a handful of Archbold residents will get saved, but I suspect most residents will just want to be “saved” from the zealots standing at their doors.
I am sure those associated with Northwest Baptist and Archbold Baptist will wonder why I am “attacking” them. You are an atheist, so why do you care if we start a new church? I care, because IFB beliefs and practices are inherently harmful. As I put the finishing touches on this post, I am listening to a sermon (link no longer active) by Northwest Baptist’s pastor Andrew Edwards, III. In the sermon, Edwards is advocating beating children as God’s ordained way of disciplining children. This is enough for me to say that Northwest Baptist is NOT a church safe for children. You can check out other sermons here. (link no longer active)