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Teaching IFB Church Members About Every Cult But Theirs


I grew up in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches in the 1960s and 1970s. I later 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 love to talk about cults.

The IFB church movement generally believes 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 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.

My teaching presupposed that my interpretation and understanding of the Bible were 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 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 attended our church. They were friends with a couple who periodically attended Our Father’s House. By this time, I was much more open-minded 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 to infiltrate and evangelize instead of to bond over 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 that preached a false gospel. On Mondays, I would make cassette copies of the sermons and mail them to Church of Christ preachers 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 is 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 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, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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  1. Avatar
    John S.

    Yep- the book should be titled, “Everybody is part of a cult except me, and other bed time stories”.
    I don’t define a cultist as belonging to a certain religion/denomination so much as in the fervency and exclusivity of their belief practices and behaviors.
    Having experienced both, I think I can safely state that Assemblies of God are much more “cult-like” than the modern Catholic Church.

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    My dad grew up in the county in Kentucky that is adjacent to Monroe County where the Alexanders were from. His sister had told their mother after my granddad died and she moved into town that whatever she did to stay away from the Church of Christ. In that neck of the woods, the CoC was pretty strict as my aunt had found out when she married a CoC member. Her mother-in-law was just hell to live with. My grandmother joined the Methodist church.

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    I like the photoshop addition to the book cover “Except Christianity”. Ha ha cute.
    I recall reading (forget where now sadly, possibly “Lucifer’s Handbook”) that not only is Christianity a cult, but the cultish aspects of Christianity prime parishioners to become members of cults. Christianity with its espousing things like faith and belief make it very easy to have faith and beliefs in cults. A lot of cults, of course, are Christian derivatives (such as IFB) as well. The prospective cultist already has some of the beliefs already. It can be really easy to suck them in.

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    Karuna Gal

    “Fish-eaters”! Ha! Bruce, you’re dating yourself! I haven’t heard that in years. After Vatican II, we lowly Catholic laypeople were told it was no longer forbidden to eat meat on regular Fridays (but it was still verboten during Lent or on Good Friday. That’s where the “fish-eater” term came from.) So, after this news, and with some trepidation but also with a bit of guilty pleasure, I ate a hot dog at the amusement park on a Friday. And I didn’t get hit by lightning. 🙂🌭

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    It would help simple people (like myself) to have a simple definition of what is a cult. Rituals and systems of religious beliefs, exclusive and practices pretty well defines a cult except I would add that the rituals, systems, practices, beliefs, that define a cult lack a basis in reality, meaning they make no sense. Doesn’t it all come down to rationality and making sense?
    One of my Nieces was heavily into a now obvious cult called Age of Enlightenment, the scam of the notorious Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, now deceased. The main shtick was meditation which apparently has verifiable benefits for some people. The Maharishi established himself as the guru of this simple relaxation technique and managed to turn it into a movement and money generator. All thanks in no small part to the Beatles at the height of their popularity spending time with Maharishi, giving him and meditation instant fame.
    My Niece, a bright silicon valley computer scientist, was seduced into this cult like so many other bright people. The point where a simple definition might have helped her find her way back to reality was when Maharishi started promoting a higher level of meditation called “flying”. This was taught at special retreats at substantial costs of thousands of Dollars in the 70s and 80s. “Flying” involved meditating in the lotus position and the advanced meditator was supposed to levitate. This obviously defied gravity, rules of physics, and my sense of rationality. Being compulsively open to new ideas, I told her as soon as she accomplished this, I wanted to hear about it, day or night. The training cost her thousands of Dollars. She eventually informed me she “almost” lifted off the floor but rationalized it as her failure to meditate deeply enough. She was so invested that she rationalized the obvious flaws, failures, and nonsense. I dare say any reformed zealots will be able to identify. Ultimately many followers were disillusioned and sued for being fraudulently deprived of their money for bogus training in clairvoyance and levitation. Since those days Maharishi died leaving an immense fortune to be fought over and The Age of Enlightenment fell into disrepute. A school called Maharishi International University still exists. Age of Enlightenment was finally revealed to be fraudulent nonsense when it began promoting defying gravity and clairvoyance. Teaching belief in provable nonsense defined it as a cult in a way simple enough even I got it.

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        Interesting observation about MLM and cults. I’ve been recruited to MLMs and it was indeed similar to being proselytized by a religion. A devotion to the system and belief in success are prominent recruiting techniques. MLM schemes are not blatant nonsense in that some do make money. What is not obvious is that the nature of MLM and the volume of business being done make it unlikely everyone can make money as the recruiter would have you believe. There really is not an unlimited amount of money to be made in MLM. The grim reality is the majority actually end up losing money rendering any individual’s likelihood of making money almost non existent.

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          Karuna Gal

          Someone wanted to recruit me to a MLM company. She worked on me really hard. Her last attempt was to take me to lunch and drive me around in the expensive car she bought, hoping that this example of affluence from her MLM would do the trick. I cringed as she shrieked at me in the car, that’s how angry she was that I didn’t want to sign up immediately after all her efforts. Like I would, after being treated that way in the end. Her behavior was not unlike the way I’ve seen evangelicals act on Bruce’s blog, starting out all kissy face and then exploding in anger at the end when they don’t get their way.

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            The person who tried and failed to recruit me also went from Mr/ Nice Guy to Mr. Nasty Guy when I frustrated his efforts. The “winners” in MLM are a tiny minority who exploit the overwhelming majority who are the losers. You were a mark to this recruiter and you thwarted him/her. It’s easy to feel flattered by the attention and be taken in by the flowery wildly optimistic predictions of easy money to be made by everyone who does all the prescribed activities and buys all the prescribed supplies (on which your recruiter takes a cut). In my estimation it takes cold avarice to feign affection and manipulate people this way. It’s no surprise your recruiter revealed their true nasty side when their seduction came to nothing.
            In the end the nonsense test works to debunk MLM as it works to debunk cults and religions. MLMs closely examined fail the “does it makes sense” test.

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          Right you are. There’s a huge similarity between cults and MLMs. Many times with televangelists and other religious leaders being on stage with MLM personalities and if you turned the volume down on your TV, you oftentimes couldn’t tell the difference between an MLM presentation and a televangelist.

          Jim Bakker and others like him interacted with top Amway people, while Charles Stanley became a multimillionaire in that organization. He only quit when his elders said that was not the image he should have as a pastor.

          But he always parked his new Mercedes in his personal “Pastor Only” parking spot at the entrance to First Baptist Church of Atlanta, which of course was a splendid example of self-denial to the church members, most of whom couldn’t afford such luxuries and had to park far, far away from the church building.

  6. Avatar

    As a teen, I read Kingdom of the Cults cover to cover. I had gotten my hands on dozens of Martin’s lectures from the Christian Tape Lending Library, and would listen to them as I went to sleep each night.

    I was a weird kid, but I was sure God had called me to be involved in countercult apologetics. I tried to get the interest of the evangelistic Watchman Fellowship when I was working on my Bible degree. They came to my college town for an apologetics conference at a local church. Over dinner at Cracker Barrel, they gently discouraged me from following that path.

    It took a few more years for me to finally abandon that dream.

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    I remember the days of “Everybody is a cult but us” days. Fortunately, my mom, despite being Christian, didn’t push that idea. I was taught to tolerate other beliefs. Being in a huge family of Catholics, Protestants, and even a Hindu, this was necessary for family peace and togetherness.

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    ” but afterward, as was my custom at that time, I asked if there were any questions?”

    LOL, I often thought it would be better if every sermon ended with a chance for questions.

    My guess is that these questions not only benefitted the people listening, but also helped you learn other views. If more preachers ended the sermons with questions, more preachers might end up taking the path you eventually did.

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    ... Zoe ~

    Bruce Gerencser: “What I never considered is 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.”

    Zoe: I read Kingdom of the Cults front to back. I continued to read books on cults, especially as it related to spiritual abuse within the belief systems I was studying. It is safe to say, as my primary source when I started to dig deeper, I realized I was in a cult (IFB) here in Ontario, Canada.

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    I love watching documentaries about cults. And yes, MLMs can operate a lot like cults. MAGA also operates like a cult.

    I remember growing up being told that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons were cults.

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