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“Old-Fashioned” Preaching: Calling Sin Sin, Stepping on Toes, And Naming Names

old-fashioned preaching jack hyles

“Old-fashioned” is a word used by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers and churches to describe their ministries and preaching. It is not uncommon to hear of IFB churches labeling themselves as “old-fashioned” churches. When asked what they mean by the word “old-fashioned,” IFB preachers will say “our churches are like the first-century churches in the Bible.” Never mind the fact that their churches don’t remotely resemble early Christian churches. IFB preachers see themselves as the keepers of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3) They believe that their Baptist theology is the same as that which Jesus, the 12 disciples, and the Apostle Paul preached almost 2,000 years ago. Sound like something straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? It is. As anyone who has spent time in “old-fashioned” IFB churches knows, such churches pattern themselves after 1950s Evangelical churches, and not the churches founded by  Peter, Timothy, and Paul. There’s nothing in IFB belief and practice that resembles early church practices. N-o-t-h-i-n-g.

IFB pastors frequently say that they are “old-fashioned” preachers, preaching the “old-fashioned” faith. What, exactly, is “old-fashioned” preaching? In what way does it differ from modern preaching? “Old-fashioned” IFB pastors think that “old-fashioned” preaching requires stepping on toes, calling sin sin, and naming names. “Old-fashioned” preaching is also called “hard” preaching. As opposed to what — “soft preaching”; on viagra preaching as opposed to erectile dysfunction preaching?

billy sunday preaching
Evangelist Billy Sunday, an IFB Idol

“Old-fashioned” preaching usually includes theatrics by preachers: loud preaching, shouting, pacing the platform, standing on the pews, pounding the pulpit, running the aisles with Bible raised high, to name a few. Such preaching is quite entertaining, but “old-fashioned?” Hardly. Such preaching styles find their roots in southern revivalism. People attend “old-fashioned” churches because they want to emotionally “feel” God. Thinking that they are “feeling” the Holy Ghost, well-intentioned congregants are blind to the fact that they are being psychologically manipulated by purveyors of “old-fashioned” preaching.

If I stopped writing at this point, most readers would laugh and dismiss “old-fashioned” preaching as a harmless cultural artifact of Christian Fundamentalism. However, many IFB preachers use “old-fashioned” preaching to abuse, manipulate, and control congregants. Imagine sitting in church on Sunday and hearing your pastor preach on the very “sins” you confessed to him during counseling? Or imagine being called out by name from the pulpit? Imagine having to sit in church and silently endure belittling sermons that are used by expert manipulators to control your behavior and that of your fellow church members? I spent decades of my adult life attending IFB churches. Such sermons are common. As an IFB pastor, I preached similar “old-fashioned” sermons. Imagine the poor school teachers who had to endure my sermon on the evil of unions. Or pants-wearing women who had to silently suffer as I lambasted them for their slutty dress. There was no “sin” that couldn’t be turned into a forty-minute, better-wear-steel-toed-boots, “old-fashioned” hellfire and brimstone sermon. I look back on that period of my ministerial career, and all I can say is this: “Bruce, you were a raving lunatic.” And so were my colleagues in the ministry, and the preachers I heard at preacher’s meetings and conferences.

Fortunately, I didn’t remain an “old-fashioned” preacher. In the late 1980s, I realized that what I was supposed to do as a pastor was teach the Bible to congregants and help them in their day-to-day lives. Of course, some of my colleagues thought I had abandoned “old-fashioned” Christianity or had lost my “fire.” Perhaps, but I came to a place in my life where I was content to just teach the Bible and let God do his work as he saw fit. I stopped the pulpit theatrics and abandoned the use of psychologically manipulative sermon illustrations. I also stopped giving altar calls. Granted, my new-found Calvinistic theology drove some of these changes, but the bigger issue for me is that I was tired of beating congregants over the head with the proverbial “sin” stick.

Did you attend an “old-fashioned” church? Did your pastor preach “old-fashioned” sermons? Please leave your “old-fashioned” thoughts in the comment section. 🙂

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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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  1. Avatar
    Tom Flora

    I did, in Kingsport, TN in the late 70s. Even though I’m not a believer now, i kind of look back on that time fondly. I don’t recall the psychological abuse as in Hyles, etc. Our pastor was actually a good man. I do recall the theatrics you mentioned! Once an evangelist tried to “slay me in the Holy Spirit”, I think it was called-basically pushing my forehead. Once had a guy who memorized several books recite from the pulpit extremely fast. Even though I believed then, I thought it was kind of pointless..

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    I think there’s good evidence, based on all the successful church plants, that Paul must have been a pretty good preacher. I think it’s clear, if you read his ‘real’ letters carefully, that he was pretty impressed with himself and his own opinions. Yet I suspect that, were he somehow transported to an ‘old-fashioned’ IFB church (with language no barrier) and treated to one of these sermons, he might whisper to a congregant, “Is thy brother well? He seemeth possessed in his zeal.”

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    It is sad that “sin-hating” comes before both Bible-preaching and soul-winning in his speech. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but why does judging come before informing and communing? That comes across as awfully hostile.

    That photo of Evangelist Billy Sunday makes me think “snake oil salesman”. Which is funny. 😀

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      The thinking goes something like this: the pastor is the under shepherd of the sheep, commanded by God to care and watch for their souls. Calling out people and their sins is the duty of a “loving” pastor.

      • Avatar
        davey crockett

        Yes the last preacher I lived thru was of this type. Even on his sign out front – the good shepherd gives his life for his sheep. He was very much in love with his perfection (destroyed deacon board) and became obsessed with finding those who had crept in unawares. Some of those lost in his purges were the best. Stupid stuff over the kjv bible or putting a roof on their family’s house on sundays. And yes calling names. What he really did was push his people to learn how to hide themselves better and better. He became what he went into a world war to destroy – a ruthless dictator. They are right they are old fashioned and those ways do not work any better today than then. I can’t believe how long it took for me to smarten up and leave that poisonous atmosphere. Educating myself and observing what was happening helped change my life. And I thank you Bruce for your part in this.

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    Even as an adolescent and teen, I thought that type of preaching and those types of theatrics were anti-intellectual, and I despised having to sit through them. Of course, I understood that I was guilty of the sin of pride for thinking such thoughts, but I couldn’t shed the disdain I held for that type of preacher. I preferred the quieter preachers who would tell us some of the history of the time in which the passage was written. I was a lot happier attending Catholic or progressive Christian churches where the sermons were more like classroom lectures than rantings of a judgmental pastor.

    • Avatar

      ‘Anti-intellectual’ made me recall when my husband was an undergraduate at Cambridge University 50 yrs ago. With a group of fellow-students, he went to hear a well-known pentecostal preacher who was holding a mission in a nearby town. The guy tried and failed to whip up a frenzy of tongues and hallelujahs and in desperation said ‘What ever’s the matter with you people? It’s not like this is Cambridge you’re all brainy students from the University.’ Husband’s group walked out at that point!

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    Famous victorian preacher C H Spurgeon apparently had a memo in the margin of his sermon notes ‘Shout loudly here, argument weak.’ Welsh nonconfromism held the whole country in its grip up for centuries – until its members began to question the hypocrisy, the false claims, the lies etc etc that were in full view. But the preaching was always hellfire, with lots of arm waving and yelling. I always wonder if the advent of TV, cinemas etc which came late to remoter parts of the country heralded the death knell of this style. Churchgoers could now see theatricals much much better acted by professionals all week, so the silly amateur antics performed from pulpits were seen for what they were, cheap, insincere and attention seeking.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    My dad was a wee bit too kind to really shine as a preacher. He occassionally erupted into shouting but never rolled his eyes and went viral for Jesus. Billy Sunday would have made my dad look like a ‘lukewarm’ believer but dad did know the abusive steps of basic Sunday morning preaching. I have shared before about him sometimes focussing on children and letting them know the penalty of their badness, the sad truth that all are born fallen and hopeless without Christ and that we all needed to make a public profession of our faith, not just ask Jesus into our hearts. I will never forget a certain Sunday morning when he preached us all, all of us kids, right to the front of the church where we cried in a row and admitted our evil hearts. Jesus saved us all and I think my dad was happy with the souls saved. I was saved several times after that but ‘fell away’.
    Calling out children and their sins is the duty of a “loving” pastor too. Git’em while they are young and they have less likelihood of going to hell. The preacher chooses to be an agent of the big delusion called God. He chooses to harm himself and to give his life to harming others and he grieves that he cannot seem to get to some lost souls to hurt them. He preys and preys. Organized religion is one of the great failures of humanity. It is sprituality given a life-sentence.

  7. Avatar

    Our preacher used to say, “if I’m not stepping on your toes or making you mad, I’m not doing my job!”
    What a job! The crazy ol’ timey preaching was always done by the traveling evangelists that came to our church twice a year. They didn’t have to live with the congregants after lambasting us!
    Also, talking about early church vs today…the altar call was invented by Charles Finney in the 1800’s, if I remember.

    • Avatar
      Hugh D. Young

      I always wondered among preachers that feel like they have to act that way….What exactly do they believe ‘god’ is doing, or DID AT THE CROSS , if they honestly see it as being their job to keep ‘souls out of hell’?

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    I’m curious to hear your thoughts about the New IFB (Steven Anderson) vs. the old-fashioned IFB. The last conference that the New IFB’ers had leaves me a bit worried as they seemed to focus a lot on why the government needs to arrest and kill gay people. They seem more unhinged than Westboro Baptist (at least it’s mostly protesting with awful signs) and I could see them getting to the point of violence.

  9. Avatar

    Pentecostal survivor here-everyone and everything was sin. God hated the world and we were all lucky enough to have found the true church so we could be saved. but we had to be saved every day/week as any sin or thought might send us to hell if we did not repent and died. I hated sitting thru this preaching. the screaming,running,crying etc. not to mention the extreme length of the sermons. this could go on a minimum of 1 hr to 2plus hrs. I remember being so hungry at lunch on sunday and knowing that if the rant really got fired up, it could be past 1 or 2 pm before this ended and close to 3 pm before any food. then at the evening service people would really go nuts and this would last late into the night. try being a kid going to school Monday morning having been up until midnight or later. then mom and dad would fuss if we complained about being tired or did not do well in school on Mondays. remember going home on sunday nights and we were all starved and just binging on anything and everything. mom mostly did this to decompress from being on as a pastors wife. us kids were plain hungry and then went to bed late on a full stomach. my whole family still struggles w/weight and food issues due to this wild eating on sundays due to church services. all because jesus. I cannot even go into a church anymore, it makes me feel physically ill and panicky. thanks for keeping a spotlight on this abuse.

    • Avatar
      Hugh D. Young

      Well if it’s any consolation, Christianity is slowly dying because of this brand of CRAP! People, I’m one of them, are finding NO SOLUTIONS in this program for what ails them in their day t0 day lives. For me, things went from JESUS IS GOING TO HEAL MY MIND from the severe bi polar disorder, and PTSD I was suffering from to-I actually became MORE neurotic, and my condition got worse from living in near CONSTANT fear of going to hell for just about anything/ everything. I used to go to church on Sunday evenings, and regarding taking medication, I literally had 2 conversations about 20 minutes apart where one guy told me that those ‘drugs are the devil, and showing a clear lack of trust in god if I continue to take them’ to ‘god has given man the ability to develop these CRAZYMEDS, and he(god) expects me to be doing everything I can to improve my situation, and that may very well include taking my meds. Not doing so, if I know they help me,( let’s not even get into the often AWFUL side effects of many of these drugs bring about), is ‘willful disobedience, and a grievous SIN’! As atheist writer/ speaker Dan Barker says, ‘Christians cannot agree on even one single issue across the doctrinal spectrum. Wouldn’t you think, at the very least, with our ‘eternities’ on the line here, that a LOVING GOD should be able/ willing to make his wishes ABUNDANTLY CLEAR’?

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Bruce Gerencser