I grew up in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches in the 1960s and 1970s. I latter attended an IFB college — Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Next to evangelizing the lost, preaching against “sin,” and trumpeting the soon return of Jesus, IFB preachers loved to talk about cults.
The IFB church movement generally believed themselves to be God’s true church. Some preachers — called Landmark Baptists or Baptists Briders — believed they could, much like Roman Catholics, trace their church’s lineage all the way back to Jesus and the New Testament. While most IFB preachers will grudgingly admit that some other Christian sects include True Christians®, many non-IFB groups are labeled cults. Seventh Day Adventists? Roman Catholics? Mormons? Church of Christ? Charismatics? Pentecostals? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Calvinists? Cults, the lot of them.
As an IFB pastor, I thought it important to teach church members about the teachings of cults. Sunday School was a perfect place to introduce teaching about cults. Congregants loved learning about cults. After all, learning about the heretical beliefs of cults only reinforced the notion that their pastor and church had the “right” beliefs. What was never considered was the fact that Christianity itself is a cult, as is the IFB church movement.
M teaching presupposed that my interpretation and understanding of the Bible was equivalent to the faith once delivered to the saints. Thus, it was easy to “prove” that certain sects were cults. Just compare their beliefs to mine. See! There’s all the evidence you need to prove that baby-baptizing, Virgin-Mary-worshiping Catholicism is a cult. That’s why I could go to a town of 1,600 people that had two Catholic churches, a Methodist Church, a Lutheran Church, and a Church of Christ, and start a new church — a true New Testament Baptist congregation. I was convinced that I knew the truth, and I was duty-bound to deliver the residents of Somerset and Perry County of the hold cults had on their souls. Especially those fish-eaters.
People raised in IFB churches have likely read or heard of Walter Martin’s seminal work, The Kingdom of the Cults. This book takes up a prominent place on the bookshelves of many IFB preachers. It was a necessary tool in the raging war against cults. Ironically, Martin did not believe the Seventh Day Adventist Church was a cult.
Two stories come to mind from my days as a cult-busting preacher. One year, I had been teaching on Mormonism. During the class, a visitor stood up and challenged what I was teaching. Unbeknownst to me, this man had gotten wind of my teaching and decided to visit our church so he could put in a good word for Mormonism. Needless to say, his attempt to set me straight didn’t go well. My retort was simple, THE BIBLE SAYS! That was always my answer when my preaching or teaching was challenged.
Later in my ministry, as pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, a Seventh Day Adventist man and wife had been attending our church. They were friends with a couple who periodically attend Our Father’s House. By this time, I was much more openminded towards other sects. In fact, the front doors of our church building said, “The Church Where the Only Label that Matters is Christian.” I was friends with the local Church of Christ preacher, and a member of the local ministerial group — a cardinal sin back in my IFB days.
I believed, at the time, that this Seventh Day Adventist couple genuinely wanted “Christian fellowship.” One Sunday evening, I learned differently. I don’t remember what I had preached on that night, but afterward, as was my custom at that time, I asked if there were any questions? The Seventh Day Adventist man stood up and started condemning my preaching. I was shocked by his behavior. I told him that he was wrong to assume that we believed what we did out of ignorance. We went back and forth for a few moments, and then I put an end to our “discussion.” This couple never came back. I suspect that they were there for the purpose of infiltrating and evangelizing instead of food, fun, and fellowship.
Both of these confrontations troubled me, not because I thought my beliefs were wrong, but because I never dreamed of visiting a different church so I could evangelize or set them straight. Back in the 1980s, I preached a series of messages about the Church of Christ, showing that they were a cult who preached a false gospel. On Mondays, I would make cassette copies of the sermons and mail them to every Church of Christ preacher in a four-county area. This, of course provoked all sorts of outrage. I received several cassette sermons in the mail from Church of Christ preachers. Their sermons were their attempt to expose the Baptists as a cult! How dare they! I was a member of True Church®. In the 1800s, the Baptists expelled Campbellites — Alexander Campbell and his father Thomas Campbell were the founders of the Church of Christ (along with Barton Stone) — from their midst for heresy. Cults, the lot of them.
What I never considered, of course, that I too was a cultist; that Christianity, in general, was a cult. According to the TheSage Dictionary, a cult is a system of religious beliefs and rituals; cultists are followers of an exclusive system of religious beliefs and practices. Pretty well describes Christianity in general, and the IFB church movement in particular, does it not? I could see the “cult” in every sect but my own.
Want to enrage Evangelical/IFB preachers? Call them cultists. Out will come their Bibles, proof-texts, and evidence that “proves” that their brand of Christianity is that which was founded by Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul. Blinded by arrogance and hubris, they cannot see that their sects and churches are cults too.
To these True Christians® I say: by all means continue to fight among To these True Christians® I say: by all means, continue to fight among yourselves. Keep waging internecine warfare against each other. Keep slinging words such as cult or heretic. You are doing good work, exposing the bankruptcy of your beliefs.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.
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I think a cult has started to be any group we don’t agree with and that we seek to de-legitimize.
The image of those blistering cassette tapes going back and forth between you and the Church of Christ minister is hilarious!
You know what? That Adventist couple were obnoxious. I never knew anyone personally who would do that to a pastor of another faith. But there were enough self-righteous Adventists that I can believe it happening, and not just too you.
My book of cults was Larson’s, a real crack-jacker of preacher excorist. He did some time expelling the devil overseas and I think he used teenagers to do it too, one of them his own daughter…. now there is a movie script waiting for Hollywood. Out! You foreign devil! Out Satan, in tha name of Jesus and these teenage girls!
Lots of nostalgia comig up for me in this post! Thank-you Bruce! Very well said…
One thing that planted another seed of doubt was when I took a college course on the history of Christian thought. It dawned on me that the Catholic church had been the only game in town in the West from the 300s until the reformation in the 1500s. Why was God ok with the evil Catholic church being the only option for nearly 1200 years and the majority of those poor souls being lost? It didn’t make sense. Plus, I had a Catholic friend in college and went to some masses with her – except for the statues and their belief about communion, they didn’t seem that bad. But when I married a nominally Catholic guy I convinced him that we shouldn’t baptize our babies – instead, we should let them make their own choices and take believer baptism if they wanted to. Neither has chosen any sort of religion, though I do wonder if one of my in-laws may have done a bathtub baptism without our knowledge. There’s a story of my husband’s grandfather baptizing his 5 grandchildren whose father was Jewish and the family were nonreligious. It’s considered “cute”, but I thought it was offensive. Fortunately his daughter and son-in-law didn’t care as they didn’t believe baptism meant anything anyway.
I studied this book among others from cover to cover.
It was through the study of cults that I came to realize I was in one.
oh my, the whole our church lineage goes directly back to jesus thing. i sat thru tons of arguments on this very thing between my late father in law and others. he prided himself on driving others out of the church. he also believed his church was the one true church. thanks for exposing this sickness. i had no idea baptists were like this until i made the mistake of joining the inlaws church when i married. took us 10 years and a cross country move to break the control. they really are a cult.
Bruce, you made my day! I grew up in “The One True Church” non-instrumental Church of Christ. The fact that IFB preachers thought we were a cult pleases me. After I left “TOTC” I spent 25 years in another cult, The Roman Catholic Church, which brought me to the realization that all of Christianity is a cult.
Hey Bruce. What do you know about the Campbellite Churches of Christ that make them heretical and a cult—–from the IFB perspective? Can you list for me a few traits of their beliefs that would make them so. The Church of Christ has been something of a mystery to me over the years. I know they do not allow musical instruments to be played in their church services, but I am not sure how that could be defined as heretical???? There has to be more to it than just that alone. Any list you could provide would be most appreciated. Thanks!!!
The disagreement is over baptism. Take the Greek word eis in Acts 2:38. Campbellites believe eis means “for,” the Baptists “because of.” The Baptist says “because my sins have been remitted, I am baptized — an outward testimony to an inward act. The Campbellite says “for the remission of my sins, I am baptized.”
What interests me to think about is why all these people want to be in all these cults.
The daughter of Walter Martin is on my local “Muslims, Gays, Commies and the Coronavirus is Going to Get US!” radio stations, oops “Christian” radio. She is a guest on “Understanding the Times”. The host of the show, Jan Markell, considers her show a “discernment ministry”. According to Markell, this type of ministry points out those ministries, churches, preachers, etc who are heretics and the spreaders of “error”. Jill Martin Ritchie considers herself a “true” follower of her father. Your article points out the craziness of declaring one’s own version of Christianity as the “true” version very well.
The other thing I want use an example of the craziness of finding the “true and perfect” version of something. I am a hardcore Star Trek fan. I love all of the series: Star Trek, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery and Picard. There are also 4 more series in process: Lower Decks, Strange New Worlds, Section 31 and an untitled series for Nickelodeon. The debate amongst us hardwares can be: “What is True Star Trek?” It brings out the passion in us Trekkers. It’s a perfect metaphor for the differences between different Christian sects. The debate is fun for us, unlike the Christians, our weapons only light up and make noise. And we have the Prime Directive of non-interference in other cultures or fandoms.
The difference between a religion and a cult?
A religion has a university.
Many years ago my church hosted Walter Martin for a weeklong series of presentations on cults. I attended each lecture and remember him as charismatic and authoritative. By using critical thinking and references to scripture he was able to help me see how all of these belief systems were cults and nonsense. Years later I did the same to escape evangelical Christianity
Christianity is destroying my well-being. I agree with another poster – ALL of Christianity is a cult. There’s nothing good in it.
Haha, I remember being a part of an IFB church, they criticized other IFB preachers. Guess what happened when I finally decided to criticise those particular preachers they held dear? Yes, various apparent hurt feelings and attempts at excuses and to make peace (they did not want me to leave). Though, for me, the writing was already on the wall when I realized that the so called unwashed world had more time and care for those in need, and the gospel was hollow without a life behind it.
Gotta love the IFB ❤