Those of us who grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement are painfully aware of the seemingly countless rules and regulations — also known as standards — that we were expected to obey. (Please see An Independent Baptist Hate List.) In particular, we remember clothing standards. Much like the Amish and Mennonites, IFB congregants wore clothing that distinguished them from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the “world.” Women were required to wear loose-fitting, long skirts and dresses. Tops were expected to cover breasts, with no cleavage or form exposed. Many churches regulated underwear, shoes, make-up, and jewelry. Women were not permitted to look like harlots; a harlot being any teen/woman who dared to expose her “flesh” or wear clothes that called attention to their shape. Men had fewer rules abide by: no shorts, no muscle shirts, no skinny jeans. For men, the bigger focus was on hair. Good Baptist boys/men were expected to keep their hair trimmed short, and facial hair was forbidden. (Please see Is it a Sin for a Man to Have Long Hair? and The Independent Baptist War Against Long Hair on Men.) Needless, to say, IFB congregants stood out in a crowd.
While many IFB churches have relaxed their standards over the years and are derided by purists for their worldliness, some churches still toe the line, demanding congregants obey the letter of the law. Several weeks ago. Polly and I were at the local Meijer store doing some shopping. Off in the distance I saw a woman wearing a long maxi-dress, six kids in tow. Spaced two years apart, the children each wore the appropriate Baptist uniform. The girls had long skirts and the boys had bowl-cut hair styles, complete with comb overs. Needless to say, they stood out. And that’s the point. IFB churches and pastors are to a large extent anti-culture. Their goal is to carve out a safe haven for Christians who want to keep themselves pure and untainted by the world. 1 John 2:15-17 says:
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
IFB adherents must venture out into the world for employment, shopping, and medical care, but outside of that church members are expected to live out their lives in the safe haven of the local church. Within its walls, congregants find safety and protection. IFB parents are strongly encouraged to either home school their children or send them to an approved Christian school. If students want to attend college, they are steered toward an approved — often unaccredited — Christian college. When it comes time to marry, they are expected to wed someone from an IFB church. All of these things are meant to protect them from the “world.”
As the mother and her children. came near, I whispered to Polly, just think that could have been us. She shook her head and said nothing. Both of us know how life would have been had we remained faithful, devoted followers of the IFB God (or the Evangelical God, for that matter). We truly feel sorry for people who are still deeply enmeshed in the IFB way of life. When you are in the IFB bubble, it all makes sense. Every rule/regulation/standard has a proof text. Living this way seems the right thing to do; that which is pleasing and honoring to God. However, once we were free from the bondage of the IFB church movement, we learned that we had been in a cult. And this is what saddens us the most. We have numerous family members, former friends, and one-time colleagues in the ministry, who are still busy going about separating themselves from the “world.” Little do they realize that the “world” is not the problem, their religion is.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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