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Tag: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Colleges

IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor

ifb preachers importance

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I know a lot of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers who love being called Doctor. They expect church members to call them Doctor and their undoctored colleagues to bow in reverence to them. In the IFB church movement, to have a doctorate means you have arrived, that your dick is bigger than that of your fellow pastors.  Having a doctorate gives one an air of importance and respectability. Go to any of the big IFB conferences, and you’ll find the scheduled speakers list littered with the names of men who have doctorates. But, here’s the thing: the overwhelming majority of preachers sporting a doctorate didn’t earn the moniker. Most likely, one of their preacher buddies, who just so happens to run an unaccredited Bible college, gave them their doctorate. Or, they did minimal coursework at one of many IFB diploma mills. Either way, their doctorate is nothing more than the plume of a peacock. Look, look, look at me, I am special, I am important, I am a Doctor.

Even at the IFB college, university, and seminary level, many of the professors have doctorates that were granted to them by the institution at which they are teaching or some other unaccredited college. I spent 25 years in the ministry, and I came in contact with a lot of Doctors. In every case but one, the doctorates were either honorary or “earned” through minimal work done at diploma mills. The only person I knew that had an earned doctorate was Tom Malone — the founder and chancellor of Midwestern Baptist College. Dr. Malone had a Ph.D. in education from Wayne State University.

Christian Bible College is a good example of an IFB diploma mill:

costs christian bible college
Course Costs Christian Bible College
course requirements for christian bible college
Course Requirements for Christian Bible College

Andersonville Theological Seminary is another good example of a diploma mill:

doctor of theology andersonville
Course Requirement for Andersonville Theological Seminary
costs andersonville
Costs Andersonville Theological Seminary

I know several IFB preachers who advertise that they have a doctorate in counseling. Andersonville offers a doctorate in counseling, complete with licensure from the National Christian Counselors Association. (NCCA) Here’s what Andersonville has to say about their counseling doctorate and NCCA licensure:

counseling doctorate andersonville
Counseling Doctorate Andersonville Theological Seminary

This has all the making of a Holiday Inn commercial: I’m not a licensed, qualified counselor but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night.

I suspect that most IFB church members don’t have a clue about how their pastor got his doctorate. They naïvely assume their pastor is just like their medical doctor or a professor at the local college. They likely think their pastor went through the rigors of a Ph.D. program and is eminently qualified to teach them the Bible. Little do they know that their pastor’s doctorate is nothing more than a high-five from a friend who operates a college, or a piece of paper given to him after paying a fee and doing minimal course work.

On one level, who cares, right? But, many of these “Doctors” are counseling people with serious mental health problems. A troubled church member goes to their pastor thinking he is qualified to help them. After all, he has a doctorate in counseling, right? He is just as qualified as the psychologist at the local mental health clinic, right? Unbeknownst to the church member, their pastor’s doctorate is little more than words scrawled on used toilet paper.

As Paul Harvey used to say: now you know the rest of the story.

Doctorate-sporting IFB preachers are like Diotrephes in III John: they love to have the preeminence. Go to an IFB church or conference and watch how Dr. Bob or Dr. Jack or Dr. Paul are fawned over and treated like gods. I wonder when these Doctors last preached on James 2:

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

(Please see The Evangelical Cult of Personality.)

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps

camps

To properly understand the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, you must first understand the IFB concept of camps. In the IFB, a camp is the tribe to which you belong. It is a membership group that is defined by such things as what Bible version is considered the “true” Word of God, what college the pastor attended, approval or disapproval of Calvinism, open or closed communion, or ecclesiastical, personal, and secondary separation. Many IFB camps will have multiple “positions” that define their group, and admission to the group is dependent on fidelity to these positions. Many pastors and churches belong to more than one camp.

IFB churches, colleges, parachurch organizations, evangelists, missionaries, and pastors are quick to state that they are totally independent of any authority or control but God. Much like the Churches of Christ, the IFB church movement is anti-denomination and any suggestion that they are a denomination brings outrage and denunciation.

The IFB church movement found its footing as a reaction to the perceived liberalism in denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the American Baptist Convention. In the 1970s and early 1980s, I heard IFB luminaries such as Jack Hyles go on preaching tirades against the Southern Baptist Convention. Hyles would run down a list of the top 100 churches in America, attendance-wise, and proudly remind people that the list contained only a handful of Southern Baptist churches. Hyles made it clear that the attendance numbers were proof that God was blessing the IFB church movement. Hyles, along with other noted IFB preachers, encouraged young pastors to either infiltrate Southern Baptist churches and pull them out of the Convention or start new independent churches.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many local Southern Baptist churches, under the direction of their area missionaries, would not accept resumes from men trained in IFB colleges when there was a pulpit vacancy. They rightly feared that if they hired an IFB-trained man, he might try to pull their churches out of the Convention. This was not paranoid thinking. Almost every IFB pastor who came of age in the 1960s-1980s heard sermons or classes on how to infiltrate a denominational church and change it or take it over. Pastors were schooled in things such as diluting the power base. They were told that one of the first things they should do as a new pastor is determine who the power brokers were. Could they be brought over to the pastor’s way of thinking? If so, he should befriend them. If not, he should work to marginalize their power by adding pastor-friendly men to church boards and by flooding the church membership with new converts. The goal was to further cripple denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention and to establish IFB churches in every community in the United States.

For decades, this plan worked and countless churches abandoned their denominational affiliations and became IFB churches. Added to this number were thousands of new IFB churches that were planted all over the United States. The IFB church movement, as a collective whole, was a religious force to be reckoned with. Their rape-and-pillage policy left carnage and destruction in its wake, not unlike the Charismatic movement during the same time period.

Despite taking over countless churches, starting new churches, establishing colleges, and sending missionaries across the globe, the IFB church movement could not maintain its meteoric growth. Over time, internal squabbles, scandal, doctrinal extremism, worship of personalities, charges of cultism, and a changing culture eroded what had been built.

IFB pastors were quite proud of the fact that many of the largest churches in America were King James-loving, old-fashioned, fire-and-brimstone preaching IFB churches. Today, there is only one IFB church on the Top 100 list — First Baptist Church of Hammond.

Outside of Jerry Falwell’s church, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia — now a Southern Baptist congregation — none of the IFB churches on the Top 100 list in 1972 have as many people attending their churches today as they did in 1972. Some, such as Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan — the church I attended while in college — and the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, have closed their doors. Others, such as the Canton Baptist Temple, Akron Baptist Temple, Landmark Baptist Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio, Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida are mere shadows of what they once were.

In 2008, only one IFB church was on the Top 100 Churches list:  First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. They were listed as the 19th largest church in the United States, with a weekly attendance of 13,678.  This attendance number is less than their average attendance number in 1976.  Outreach Magazine lists NO IFB churches on their 2017 Top 100 Churches list. This does not necessarily mean that there are no IFB churches that are large enough to make the list. I suspect many of the larger IFB churches have stopped bragging about their attendance numbers or they don’t want to be grouped together with churches they consider “liberal.” 

Most of the IFB colleges that saw meteoric growth during the 1960s-1980s, now face static or declining enrollment numbers. Some have even closed their doors. Publications such as the Sword of the Lord, the IFB newspaper started by John R Rice, have lost thousands of subscribers. Everywhere one looks, the signs of decay and death are readily evident. A movement that once proudly crowed of its numerical significance has, in three generations, become little more than an insignificant footnote in U.S. religious history. While millions of people still attend IFB or IFB-like churches, their numbers continue to decline and there is nothing that suggests this decline will stop.

Many current IFB leaders live in denial about the true state of the IFB church movement. They now convince themselves that the numeric decline is due to their unflinching, uncompromising beliefs and preaching. Upton Sinclair wrote:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

I think this aptly describes what is going on among the leaders of the IFB church movement. Their continued power, control, and economic gain depend on them maintaining the illusion that the IFB church movement is healthy and still blessed by God. However, the facts on the ground clearly show that the IFB church movement is on life support and there is little chance that it will survive. Those who survive will liberalize, change their name, and try to forget their IFB past.

Every IFB church, pastor, and college has what I call a camp identity. While they claim to be Big I Independent, their identity is closely connected to the people, groups, and institutions they associate with.

Some IFB churches and pastors group around colleges such as Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, Cedarville University, Baptist Bible College, The Crown College, Maranatha Baptist University, Texas Independent Baptist Seminary, West Coast Baptist College, Massillon Baptist College, or Hyles Anderson College. Others group around specific doctrinal beliefs, as do Sovereign Grace Baptists, Association of Reformed Baptist Churches in America, or the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelical Churches. Some, such as Missionary Baptists and Landmark Baptists group around certain ecclesiastical beliefs.  Still others group around missionary endeavors. There are also countless churches that are IFB churches — churches such as John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church — but refuse to claim the IFB moniker. The Bible church movement, IFB in every way but the name, has fellowship groups such as The Independent Fundamental Churches of America.

Some of these groups will likely object to being considered the same as other IFB groups. Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptists will most certainly resent being talked about in the same discussion as the Sword of the Lord and Jack Hyles. But many Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptist pastors come from an IFB church background. While certain aspects of their theology might have changed, much of the IFB methodology and thinking remains. Some of the most arrogant, mean-spirited pastors I ever met were Sovereign Grace or Reformed Baptist pastors. They may have been five-point Calvinists, but they were in every other way Independent Fundamentalist Baptists.

Most people don’t know that groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches are really fellowship groups of like-minded pastors and churches. While they have many of the hallmarks of a denomination, their churches and pastors remain, for the most part, independent, under no authority but the local church (and God).

IFB churches and pastors trumpet their independent nature and, as their history has clearly shown, this independence has resulted in horrible abuse and scandal. But, despite their claim of independence, IFB churches and pastors are quite denominational and territorial. They tend to group together in their various camps, only supporting churches, colleges, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries, that are in their respective camps.

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio. I contacted Gene Milioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church — the church where I was saved and called to preach — and asked him about the church supporting us financially. Milioni asked me if I was going to become a part of the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship. He wanted to know if the church was going to be a BBF church. I told him no, and he told me that I could expect no support from Trinity unless I was willing to be a BBF pastor. I ran into similar problems with other pastors who demanded I be part of their camp in order to receive help.

Only one church financially supported me: First Baptist Church in Dresden, Ohio.  First Baptist, pastored by Midwestern Baptist College grad Mark Kruchkow, sent me $50 a month for a year or so. Every other dime of startup money came from my own pocket or the pockets of family members. I learned right away what it meant to be a true Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.

Over the years, I floated in and out of various IFB camps. I attended Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship meetings, Midwestern Baptist College meetings, Massillon Baptist College meetings, Sword of the Lord conferences, Bill Rice Ranch rallies, and the Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship. For a few years, I attended a gathering of Calvinistic Baptist pastors called the Pastor’s Clinic in Mansfield Ohio. When I pastored in Texas, I fellowshipped with like-minded Sovereign Grace Baptist pastors.

Every group demanded something from me, be it money, commitment, or fidelity to certain beliefs. If I were to be part of the group, I was expected to support the colleges, churches, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries the group approved of. Stepping beyond these approved entities brought disapproval, distance, and censure.

The next time an IFB church member or pastor tries to tell you he is an INDEPENDENT Baptist, I hope you will remember this post. Take a look at the colleges, missionaries, churches, and pastors, the IFB church member or pastor supports. It won’t take you long to figure out what camp they are in, and once you figure out what camp they are in, you will know what they believe and what they consider important. The old adage, birds of a feather flock together, is certainly true when it comes to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Midwestern Baptist College Preacher Who Became an Atheist

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977
Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977, Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet, the only time we were allowed to be closer than six inches apart.

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly also attended the college, as did her father and uncle before her. While not as large or as prestigious as institutions such as Bob Jones University, Hyles-Anderson College, Tennessee Temple, or Pensacola Christian College, Midwestern is known for turning out men who are church planters and fierce defenders of the Word of God. Started in 1953 by Dr. Tom Malone, Midwestern once had an enrollment of over 400 students. These days, the enrollment is less than a hundred, and in 2010 the college moved its location to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan.

At one time, Midwestern advertised itself as a character building factory. Over the past 67 years, this factory has graduated hundreds of men and women, each devoted to the IFB faith. While some of the students who attended Midwestern no longer wear the Fundamentalists label, I do not know of one Midwestern attendee who is a liberal. As best I can tell, there is only one man who became a liberal, and that is yours truly. Certainly, many churches pastored by Midwestern-trained men are Evangelical and to the left of the Fundamentalism taught by the college, but none of them, as far as I know, are liberals theologically. Even more amazing, as far as atheism is concerned, I am the only person who attended Midwestern and entered the ministry as a Midwestern-trained preacher who is now an atheist.

i am special

I am soooo special.  From time to time, I see in the logs search strings such as “the Midwestern Baptist College preacher who became an atheist.” Google? This site is number one, top of the page. Same with Bing.  Even when generically searching for “Midwestern Baptist College Pontiac” this site is listed twice on the first page, fifth and sixth, respectively. I am quite sure that the prominence of my writing in search engine results for Midwestern irritates the hell out those who still profess fealty to the IFB religion and who still view the late Tom Malone as a demigod.

I am as rare as a real science exhibit at Ken “Hambo” Ham’s Creationist Museum. I am sure there are others who attended Midwestern who no longer believe, but I am the only person who has dared to poke his head above the proverbial ground and say so.

Are you a former Midwestern attendee or graduate who is no longer a Christian? I would love to hear from you. Please use the Contact Form to send me an email. Much like the search for extraterrestrial life, surely, somewhere there’s another former Midwestern student who no longer believes. I’m listening. . .

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Anatomy of the IFB Church Movement

ifb

History of the IFB Church Movement

The roots of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) can be traced back to the internecine battles between American Fundamentalists and Modernists in the twentieth century. Denominations such as the American Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention had become theologically and socially liberal, leading churches and preachers to withdraw from their denominations, becoming independent congregations.

The IFB church movement saw rapid numeric growth in the 1960s-1980s. During this time, many of the largest churches in the United States were IFB congregations. The largest church in America, pastored by the Jack Hyles, a former American Baptist pastor, was First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. Today, the IFB church movement is a shell of what it once was. Few, if any, IFB congregations are on the 100 Largest Churches in America list today. Many of the ginormous IFB churches of yesteryear are now closed. While a student at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, I attended nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Pastored by IFB pulpiteer Tom Malone, Emmanuel was one the largest churches in the country. Today? It’s doors are shuttered.

The IFB church movement, despite its decline, still remains a force in our culture. Take, for example, the churches that refuse to close their doors during the present pandemic. Many of these rebellious congregations are IFB churches. This should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the IFB church movement. IFB churches tend to be to fiercely independent and exclusionary. IFB churches also typically tend to be anti-government.

What is an IFB Church?

What, exactly, is an IFB church? Attempting to answer this question will bring IFB zealots out of the woodwork, each saying that my description of IFB churches does NOT describe them. Regardless, I am confident that I can generally answer this question.

I stands for Independent

The local, visible church is an independent body of believers who are not associated or affiliated with any denomination. The pastor answers only to God, and to a lesser degree, the church. The church answers to no one but God. Most IFB churches oppose any form of government involvement or intrusion into its affairs. While some IFB churches have deacon boards or elders, almost all of them have a congregational form of government.

F stands for Fundamentalist (or Fundamental)

The independent church is fundamentalist in its doctrine and practice. IFB churches are social and theological fundamentalists. (see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Fundamentalists adhere to an external code of conduct, often called church standards. The Bible, or should I say the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible, is the rule by which church members are expected to live. IFB churches spend a significant amount of time preaching and teaching about how the pastor expects people to live.

IFB churches are also theological fundamentalists. They adhere to a certain and specific theological standard, a standard by which all other Christians and denominations are judged. Every IFB pastor and church believes things such as:

  • The inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible
  • The sinfulness, depravity of man
  • The deity of Christ
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • The blood atonement of Christ for man’s sin
  • The resurrection of Christ from the dead
  • The second coming of Christ
  • Separation from the world
  • Salvation from sin is by and through Christ alone
  • Personal responsibility to share the gospel with sinners
  • Heaven and hell are literal places
  • Hierarchical authority (God, Jesus, church, pastor, husband, wife)
  • Autonomy and independence of the local church

I am sure there are other doctrines that could be added to this list, but the list above is a concise statement of ALL things an IFB church and pastor must believe to be considered an IFB church.

B stands for Baptist

IFB congregations are Baptist churches adhering to the ecclesiology and theology mentioned above. Some IFB churches are landmark Baptists or Baptist briders. They believe the Baptist church is the true church and all other churches are false churches. John the Baptist baptized Jesus, which made him a Baptist, and the first churches established by the Baptist apostles were Baptist churches. Churches like this go to great lengths to prove that their Baptist lineage dates all the way back to John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles. (See The Trail of Blood by J.M. Carroll.)

Other IFB churches and pastors believe that Baptist ecclesiology and theology are what the Bible clearly teaches. They grudgingly admit that other denominations “might” be Christian too, but they are quick to say, “why be a part of a bastardized form of Christianity when you can have the real deal.”

Some Southern Baptist churches are IFB. They are Southern Baptist in name only. It is not uncommon for an IFB pastor to pastor a Southern Baptist church with the intent of pulling the church out of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Because of this, often Southern Baptist churches will reject résumés from pastors with an IFB background. Southern Baptist area missionaries warn churches about pernicious IFB pastors who desire to take over churches and pull the churches out of the convention.

The Societal Structure of IFB Churches

To properly understand the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist IFB church movement, you must first understand the IFB concept of camps. In the IFB, a camp is the tribe to which you belong. It is a membership group that is defined by such things as what Bible version is considered the “true” Word of God, what college the pastor attended, approval or disapproval of Calvinism, open or closed communion, or ecclesiastical, personal, and secondary separation. Many IFB camps will have multiple “positions” that define their group, and admission to the group is dependent on fidelity to these positions. Many pastors and churches belong to more than one camp.

IFB churches, colleges, parachurch organizations, evangelists, missionaries, and pastors are quick to state that they are totally independent of any authority or control but God. Like Churches of Christ, the IFB church movement is anti-denomination, and any suggestion that they are a denomination brings outrage and denunciation.

Every IFB church, pastor, and college has what I call a camp identity. While they claim to be Independent, their identity is closely connected to the people, groups, and institutions they associate with.

Some churches and pastors group around colleges such as Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, Cedarville University, Baptist Bible College, The Crown College, Maranatha Baptist University, Texas Independent Baptist Seminary, West Coast Baptist College, Massillon Baptist College, or Hyles Anderson College. Others coalesce around specific doctrinal beliefs such as Sovereign Grace Baptists, Association of Reformed Baptist Churches in America, or the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelical Churches. Some, such as Missionary Baptists and Landmark Baptists group around certain ecclesiastical beliefs. Others group around missionary endeavors. There are also countless churches that are IFB churches — churches such as John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church — but refuse to claim the IFB moniker. The Bible church movement, IFB in every way but the name, has fellowship groups such as The Independent Fundamental Churches of America.

Some of these groups will likely object to being considered the same as other IFB groups. Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptists will most certainly resent being talked about in the same discussion as the Sword of the Lord and Jack Hyles. However, many Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptist pastors come from IFB backgrounds. While certain aspects of their theology might have changed, much of the IFB methodology and thinking remains. Some of the most arrogant, mean-spirited pastors I ever met were Sovereign Grace or Reformed Baptist pastors. They may have been five-point Calvinists, but they were in every other way Independent Fundamentalist Baptists.

Most people don’t know that groups such the Southern Baptist Convention and the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches are really fellowship groups of like-minded pastors and churches. While they have many of the hallmarks of a denomination, their churches and pastors remain, for the most part, independent, under no authority but the local church.

IFB churches and pastors trumpet their independent nature and, as their history has clearly shown, this independence has resulted in horrible abuse and scandal.  But, despite their claim of independence, IFB churches and pastors are quite denominational and territorial. They tend to group together in their various camps, only supporting churches, colleges, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries who are in their respective camps.

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. I contacted Gene Milioni, then the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church — the church where I was saved and called to preach — and asked him about the church supporting us financially. Milioni asked me if I was going to become a part of the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship. He wanted to know if the church was going to be a BBF church. I told Gene no, and he told me that I could expect no support from Trinity unless I was willing to be a BBF pastor and church. I ran into similar problems with other pastors who demanded I be part of their camp in order to receive help.

Only one church financially supported me: First Baptist Church in Dresden, Ohio.  First Baptist, pastored by Midwestern Baptist College grad Mark Kruchkow, sent me $50 a month for a year or so. Every other dime of startup money came from my own pocket or the pockets of family members. I learned right away what it meant to be a true Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.

Over the years, I floated in and out of various IFB camps. I attended Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship meetings, Midwestern Baptist College meetings, Massillon Baptist College meetings, Sword of the Lord conferences, Bill Rice Ranch rallies, and the now-defunct Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship. For a few years, I attended a gathering of Calvinistic Baptist pastors called the Pastor’s Clinic in Mansfield Ohio. When I pastored in Texas, I fellowshipped with like-minded Sovereign Grace Baptist pastors.

Every group demanded something from me, be it money, commitment, or fidelity to certain beliefs. If I were part of the group, I was expected to support the colleges, churches, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries the group approved of. Stepping beyond these approved entities brought disapproval, distance, and censure.

The next time an IFB preacher tries to tell you he is an INDEPENDENT Baptist, I hope you will remember this post. Take a look at the colleges, missionaries, churches, and pastors he supports. It won’t take you long to figure out what camp he is in, and once you figure out his camp, you will know what he believes and considers important. The old adage, birds of a feather flock together, is certainly true when it comes to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement.

Is There a Difference Between the IFB and New IFB?

Several years ago, Steven Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, started group called the New IFB. (Please see Understanding Steven Anderson, Pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church, Tempe, Arizona and James Ach Says Steven Anderson Isn’t Really IFB.) Put off by perceived “liberalness” within the IFB church movement, Anderson started his own fellowship group of likeminded churches. While the NEW IFB has distinctives that differentiate it from run-of-the-mill IFB churches, the differences are inconsequential. Like it or not, Anderson is an IFB pastor.

In a post titled, Warning: Law of Liberty Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. Teaches False New IFB teaching, Joshua Lindsey, the son of an IFB pastor, attempted to delineate the differences between IFB and New IFB churches. As I read Lindsey’s post, I had to snicker. I thought, “what a selective explanation of the differences between the two groups.” Typical manipulation of facts to achieve the desired conclusion. Many within the IFB church movement hate Anderson. He is a nasty piece of work, so I understand why IFB preachers and churches want to distance themselves from Anderson. However, when the noise is stripped away, I see very little difference between the New IFB and the IFB. Sorry, IFB preachers, Anderson is your crazy uncle, and as anyone who follows the IFB church movement knows, there are plenty of crazy uncles to go around.

Conclusion

The IFB church movement will remain very much a part of the American religious landscape. Yes, IFB churches are, for the most part, dying, but the movement is a long way away from coding. These churches will remain anti-cultural institutions, attracting people looking for what they perceive is old-time or old-fashioned Christianity. (Please see What Independent Baptists Mean When They Use the Phrase “Old-Fashioned” and “Old-Fashioned” Preaching: Calling Sin Sin, Stepping on Toes, And Naming Names.) As the world continues its slide towards secularism, IFB churches will promote themselves as shelters for people seeking safety and protection from the “world.” Want the Christianity of the 1950s? Visit your local IFB church.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

I’m a Prophet, Preacher, or Evangelist Because I Say I Am

calling of god

Have you ever wondered how, exactly, an Evangelical man (or, in some instances, woman) becomes a prophet, preacher, or evangelist? What’s the process one goes through to become a spokesperson for the Evangelical God? In this post, I will detail how someone becomes an out-front spokesperson for the one true God.

Salvation Experience

First, a candidate for the ministry must be a saved/born again/bought-by-the-blood child of God. A prospective prophet, preacher, or evangelist must a clear, definitive testimony of salvation. An added bonus is a life before Jesus that includes drug use, drunkenness, sexual deviance, Satan worship, or atheism. The more fantastical the testimony, the more likely it is that congregants will think a person is a bona fide man of God.

Baptism

Second, a candidate for the ministry must be baptized. This is the first step new believers take in their new life with Christ. Some Evangelical sects also believe that ministerial candidates must give evidence that they have been baptized with the Holy Ghost. Such Spirit baptism is often evidenced by speaking in tongues.

Calling

Third, a candidate for the ministry must know that God is calling him to be a prophet, preacher, or evangelist. How does one know that God is calling him? Well, he just knows. Calling is a feeling, a psychological/emotional impression. I was saved and baptized at the age of fifteen. Several weeks after my conversion, I felt led by the Holy Spirit to go forward and confess to the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. The church was thrilled over my confession of ministerial ambition. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon. For the next thirty-five years, I never one time questioned my calling. I just knew beyond all shadow of doubt that God had called me into the ministry. I was as sure of this calling as I was the fact that Jesus had saved me from my sins.

Educational Requirements

While some Evangelical sects have educational requirements for ministerial candidates, other sects, along with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Charismatic, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, and non-denominational churches have no requirements others than salvation, baptism, and calling. Countless Evangelical churches are pastored by men and women who don’t have a lick of post-high school education. The same can be said for evangelists. Years ago, I attended a revival meeting at a holiness church near the Baptist congregation I was pastoring at the time. The evangelist, an older man, would have his wife read the Bible for him. I had seen this tag-team approach before, but this evangelist was having his wife read because he, himself, could not read. Yet, I am sure if I asked if he was a God-called preacher of the gospel, he would have said with great assurance and certainty, yes.

Within the broad, diverse Evangelical tent, it is not uncommon to find prophets, preachers, or evangelists with little or no relevant ministerial training. God saved and called them, end of discussion. And as long as they believe God called them, that is all that matters. Sure, scores of Evangelical ministers have college educations. However, a closer examination of their educational backgrounds often reveals that they attended unaccredited Bible colleges or institutes (local church-based schools). These institutions often provide perfunctory, superficial educations that are little more than Sunday school classes. Even for men who attend accredited Evangelical colleges and universities, the academic level of their instruction is often woefully lacking. Readers might be surprised to know that the overwhelming majority of Evangelical ministerial graduates lack through, comprehensive training in the teachings of the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible. All too often, ministerial students take survey classes that are little more than shallow commentaries on the Bible. Worse yet, most Evangelical pastors are not fluent in the original languages the Bible was written in — Hebrew and Greek.

Ordination

Many Evangelical sects and churches use ordination as a gateway of sorts for men and women who say God has called them to be a prophet, preacher, or evangelist. Ordination is a stamp of approval put on the candidate by the denomination or church. In the IFB church movement, churches often call for a council of like-minded pastors to come together to examine the prospective ministerial candidate. Often, these examinations are little more than rubber-stamp approvals of the candidates. Who are they to say to no to what God has said yes to. How does the council know God has called a person into the ministry? Do they get some sort of impression or feeling that affirms to them that the candidate is a God-called prophet, preacher, or evangelist? Nope. they just take the candidate’s word for it.

External Evidence

Certainly, sects, churches, and ordination councils look for external evidence of calling. Is the prospective prophet, preacher, or evangelist active in the church? Does he or she have a passion for soulwinning? Does he have the requisite skills necessary to preach and teach? You would think this last point would be essential, but having listened to scads of sermons, I can tell you that a lot of pastors and evangelists are terrible communicators. In the early 1980s, I helped my father-in-law start an IFB church in Buckeye, Lake, Ohio. Dad had a real passion for evangelism, but his sermons, to put it bluntly, were atrocious. Dad graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in 1976. Somehow, he got all the way through college without ever learning to construct an outline and deliver a coherent sermon. Outlining always came easy for me, so I sat down with Dad one day and tried to teach him how to make a sermon outline. Sadly, my instruction did not stick. How he got through Midwestern without learning the basics of sermon construction is impossible to comprehend. I suspect that to his professors and pastors, Dad saying he was called by God into the ministry was all the mattered. Hey, who are we to say this guy isn’t fit to be a preacher? I left the church in Buckeye Lake in 1983, moving a half-hour south to Somerset to start a new IFB church. Dad closed the church six years later, and never pastored another church again. He continued to preach, but most often his congregations were found in nursing homes and jails — places where sermon quality didn’t matter.

Lone Rangers

What happens if a man’s church or sect doubts his calling? Does that mean the prospective candidate can’t be a prophet, preacher, or evangelist? Silly boy, of course not. You see, the calling card trumps all others. If a man says God has called him, how dare any sect or church say no to what God has said yes to. This is especially true with churches that are non-affiliated or independent. If a man finds disapproval in these settings, he’s free to move on to another church that is willing to acknowledge his calling. And if he can’t find a church that will put their stamp of approval on his life, there’s nothing to keep him from starting his own church. Thanks to the First Amendment and non-existent tax laws governing churches, little stands in the way of a man starting a new church. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I started four churches and pastored three churches that were first-generation church plants. Nothing ecclesiastically or governmentally stood in my way. I was a God-called preacher of the gospel, and that’s all that mattered. With Bruce and God, all things were possible.

Are you a former Evangelical prophet, preacher, or evangelist? Did you consider yourself called by God into the ministry? Were you ordained? Did you have a Bible college education? How in-depth was your training? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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The Midwestern Baptist College Handbook

midwestern baptist college freshman class 1976
1976 Midwestern Baptist College Freshman Class. Polly is the first person on the left in the first row. Bruce is in the third row, eighth person from the left.

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

What follows are some of the 2013-14 rules and regulations for students at  Midwestern Baptist College — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. I attended Midwestern and met my wife-to-be there when the campus was located on Golf Drive in Pontiac, Michigan. The school moved several years ago to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. It is a withering ghost of what it was when Polly and I enrolled in 1976. I fully expect to hear of its demise one day. 

I give Midwestern credit for putting most of their rules and regulations out there for all to see. Many Fundamentalist colleges do not make their rules and regulations public. They don’t want to be misunderstood, they tell me. Either that or they know they will not have as many students if they let them know beforehand that they are going to a college that is like a prison. I suspect this is why Midwestern does not make their dating rules available before students arrives on campus. (See The Six Inch Rule.)

The handbook is more complex and lengthy than when Polly and I were students at Midwestern from 1976-1979. It is quite evident from the rules that Fundamentalist girls have really gotten worldly. There are SIX attire rules for men and FIFTEEN for women. Of course, the rules for women are so men won’t lust after them and be forced to masturbate in the dorm shower. Those future preacher-boys must be protected from their sexuality. How will they ever be able to someday preach the IFB moral and purity standard if they couldn’t keep it themselves while at Midwestern? (Oh, the stories I could tell!)

This is not the complete handbook. These are the parts I thought readers might find interesting. I have done some reformatting to make the text suited for the internet.

General Policies

Midwestern Baptist College, as a Christian institution, expects its students to live lives that are above reproach and to exemplify Christian usefulness and kindness in their dealings with their instructors and their fellow students. We believe that Christian young people should manifest loyalty to Jesus Christ by living consecrated Christian lives. Midwestern Baptist College does not permit dancing, the use of tobacco, alcoholic drinks, non prescribed drugs, gambling, obscenity, and other forms of worldly indulgence. Complaining, destructive criticism, and cynical attitudes are not allowed. The college expects the cooperation of all students in respect for and enforcement of the rules and regulations of the college.

Dress and Appearance

Dress standards at Midwestern are based upon the principles of modesty, self-respect, and concern for the reputation of the school. Some principles are spiritual; others are professional. As spiritual and professional leaders in the church, students are expected to set an example. In connection with the following rules and to help the student maintain a well-groomed appearance, all students will be expected to follow a healthy hygiene regimen daily. This includes showering, shaving, brushing teeth, and hair care. Furthermore, students are expected to have all of their clothing maintained in a neat, washed, and pressed condition.

Since fashion continually changes, the appropriateness of trends in both men’s and women’s clothing may be addressed, and the dress code amended during the school year as the need arises. Students are to abide by the dress code at all times, both on campus and in public.

Wearing inappropriate apparel is a demerit offense. Demerits will be assigned in proportion to the offense. Non-dormitory students are expected to follow the same guidelines as dormitory students.

POLICY FOR MEN

Hairstyle: 

Men are to be neat in appearance and dressed properly at all times. The hair is to be cut over the ears and tapered at the back above the collar. Sideburns are to be no lower than the middle of the ear. Hair must be no longer than the middle of the forehead in front. Men may not have facial hair unless approved by the Dean of Students. Such facial hair must be neatly groomed at all times. Faddish, worldly hairstyles will not be tolerated. The final decision as to the appropriateness of a hairstyle will rest with the Administration.

Attire:

  1. Dress pants may not have patch-pockets or topstitched side-seams. Fatigues, work jeans, sweatpants, and wind-pants are considered athletic and/or work apparel. They are not to be worn on campus other than in the dormitory, in the gym, or to work. Pants with frayed cuffs, tears, or holes are not to be worn.
  2. No recreational pull-overs or jackets are to be worn to church, chapel, library, or classes.
  3. Dress shirts may be long or short sleeved with a collar and must button down the front. The top button must be buttoned when wearing a tie. Shirt-tails are to be tucked in at all times. A tie and suit coat/jacket are required for classes, chapel, and church services. We ask that men wear their suit coat/ jackets until 1:00 PM.
  4. Men must wear a belt with their pants at all times.
  5. Necklaces and bracelets may not be worn by male students unless they are of a mandatory medical nature. Men are not permitted to obtain tattoos while enrolled as a student, or body piercings, or to wear earrings.
  6. No sweatshirt or tee-shirt with inappropriate writing may ever be worn. Sweatshirts may not be worn to classes or church services.

POLICY FOR WOMEN

Hairstyle: 

Hair must be neatly cut, groomed, cleaned, brushed, and styled in such a way that it does not resemble a man’s haircut. Hair should not naturally fall over the face. Unnatural colors are not to be used. Faddish, worldly hairstyles will not be tolerated. The final decision as to the appropriateness of a hairstyle will rest with the Administration.

Attire: 

  1. Modest apparel must be worn for all occasions.
  2. Dresses or skirts must come to the middle of the knee. When ladies are seated, the knees are to be covered. Dresses or skirts having slits must not be slit above the knee. Dresses worn for formal occasions (i.e. Banquets and concerts) must be approved by the Deans Office at least one week prior to the event. No tight skirts or dresses are permitted. NOTE: A skirt must fall freely from the hips when lifted or it will be considered too tight.
  3. Sleeveless dresses and blouses may not be worn unless a blouse or jacket is worn over them or a blouse under them. Spaghetti strap dresses may not be worn.
  4. Low necklines or backs are forbidden. Generally, necklines should be no lower than three fingers width below the hollow of the neck.
  5. Ladies are not required to wear hosiery and may wear socks. We ask ladies to wear a slip beneath their clothing except when in casual or recreational apparel.
  6. All tops must be long enough that the midriff is never exposed.
  7. All culottes of appropriate length must be approved by the Dean’s Office. These items may only be worn for approved recreational activities or work. NOTE: All items of this sort must come to the middle of the knee.
  8. Jeans, slacks, gauchos, spandex, sweatpants, and capri-pants are considered inappropriate apparel for campus wear.
  9. Undergarments may not be visible through the clothing.
  10. Shoes may not be masculine in appearance. Heels on dress shoes should not exceed 3 inches. No “flip-flops” are to be worn to classes, chapel, or church services.
  11. No recreational pull-overs, denim jackets, or fleeces are to be worn to church, chapel, or classes.
  12. Jewelry, make-up, and fingernails may not be gaudy, faddish, or unnatural in appearance. Earrings may be worn in the lobe of the ear (maximum of two sets). All other body piercing is prohibited. Ladies are not permitted to obtain tattoos.
  13. Garments having the appearance of lingerie may not be worn as outer wear.
  14. Sweatshirts may not be worn to classes or church services. Nice sweatshirts are considered casual wear and athletic sweatshirts are considered recreational dress.
  15. No sweatshirt or ladies tee-shirt with inappropriate writing may ever be worn.

RESTRICTIONS 

All students

  1. Students may not attend any church service other than Shalom Baptist Church without permission.
  2. Students must not patronize a bar, saloon or a place of ill repute.
  3. The College and church offices are not loitering places for students.
  4. The kitchen is not a gathering place for students. Students are not to eat in the kitchen.
  5. Students are not to be in the church auditorium except for services. Practice for special music is to be done in classrooms that have pianos, unless requested by the church staff.
  6. Off campus students must have permission from the Dean of Students to visit the dormitory.
  7. Men may not go to the Women’s quarters for any reason nor Women to the Men’s quarters.

Dormitory Students 

  1. Dormitory students are not allowed beyond an 8-mile radius (without permission).
  2. Dorm students may not visit homes of other students or church members without first an invitation and then permission.
  3. Men and women may not go shopping together unless as double dates.
  4. Any public performance (without permission) is prohibited.
  5. Movie theaters are off limits (no permission granted)
  6. Sports arenas (without permission) are prohibited.
  7. Dorm students may not accept invitations without permission.
  8. The guest rooms are always off limits except when students are cleaning them. Privacy for our guests must be maintained at all times. Ladies may not baby-sit in unsaved person’s homes or where tobacco and alcohol are used. Baby-sitting will be considered work and must be approved by the Dean Office.
  9. Ladies are not allowed to work in any situation where they are not treated with respect by the employer and other workers.

DATING POLICIES

Dating Regulations are available from the Dean of Students. Copies will be explained and distributed to the Dormitory Students during dormitory orientation.

I recently came upon an old Midwestern Baptist College handbook for the 1977-78 school year (our sophomore year). I want to focus on two sections: Maintaining a Christian Testimony and Griping not Tolerated.

Maintaining a Christian Testimony

  1. Midwestern does not permit dancing, the use of tobacco, or alcoholic drinks, dope or harmful drugs, gambling, obscenity, and other such forms or worldly indulgence in which young people so often engage.
  2. It is the conviction of the institution that griping, destructive criticism, and cynical attitudes grieve the Holy Spirit and they are destructive to Christian growth and Christian development. Constructive criticisms which are made to the proper authority will always be appreciated, but griping will not be tolerated. Penalty: 50 demerits
  3. The school expects the cooperation of all students in the development of the respect for and the enforcement of the rules and regulations of the school.
  4. The cooperation of every student is expected in the development of goodwill of the institution throughout the community. Therefore, each student and his family must live above reproach at all times in maintaining the testimony of Christ.
  5. The discipline committee reserves the right to issue demerits for attitudes of disloyalty, destructive criticism, or griping. The committee wishes to work with the student in a fair, helpful manner. Faculty members desired to offer advice when needs and conferences may be requested.

Griping not Tolerated

  1. Any student showing any attitude of complaining about our policies at Midwestern will be dealt with by the administration
  2. Students complaining to faculty or staff about another member of the staff or faculty will be considered out-of-line and shall be dealt with severely.
  3. Students showing a mean, insubordinate attitude toward any faculty or staff member shall be reported to the discipline committee and dealt with severely.
  4. Griping not tolerated about the dress code and standards.
  5. Griping not tolerated about the food served.
  6. Griping not tolerated comparing our school unfavorably with another.

As you can see, Midwestern had a strict policy concerning what the school president Tom Malone and administrators called “griping.” The no-griping law can be summed up this way: shut up and do/believe what you are told. Classic IFB thinking, is it not? We have the right beliefs and practices, and you are expected to happily obey them without deviation or criticism. Don’t do what you are told? You will be dealt with severely. Every year, students were expelled over griping; for daring to have an opinion of their own; for daring to challenge the school’s beliefs and practices. 

Male students who made it to graduation were ordained at nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church — the official Midwestern megachurch, pastored by Tom Malone. Ordination required students swearing before God that they believed and practiced the doctrines and tenets of the IFB faith. Students holding different beliefs would not be ordained. 

Graduates scatted across the United States to start new churches or pastor established congregations, taking four years of indoctrination with them. Is it any surprise, then, that many Midwestern graduates take a “shut up and do/believe what you are told” approach to the ministry? Midwestern was not special in this regard. All of us tend to practice and follow that which we were taught. For Midwestern students, growing up in IFB churches and four years of “shut up and do/believe what you are told ” turned them into psychologically damaged goods; who then, following in the footsteps of their pastors, Tom Malone, and college professors, inflicted psychological damage on their congregations.

This cycle of harm continues unabated unless those involved one day see the error of their ways and consider that there just might be a better way to treat people. Sadly, more than a few of the men I knew when we were students at Midwestern — over forty years ago now — are still faithfully preaching the gospel of “shut up and do/believe what you are told.” Their churches are ruled with rods of iron, with absolutely no griping allowed. Such churches are in decline, but the harm they cause is great, and often multi-generational in scope. One of the reasons for the existence of this site is to help people escape the pernicious hold IFB churches and pastors have on their lives.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic

newark baptist temple heath ohio

Mark Falls is the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. The Baptist Temple, as it is commonly called, is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. The church also operates the Licking County Christian Academy. My wife’s uncle, the late James Dennis, pastored the Baptist Temple for over forty years. Polly and I attended the church for a short time in the 1980s. Polly’s dad moved his wife and two teen daughters to Newark in 1976 so he could become the church’s assistant pastor. Dad left the Baptist Temple in 1981 to start a new IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. Polly and I joined him there, helping to build the church until we left in 1983 and moved to Somerset, Ohio to start a new church.

Polly’s parents have lived in Newark for forty-five years. Both are in their 80s, in poor health, and depending on the day, knocking on death’s door. After closing the church in Buckeye Lake, Polly’s parents returned to the Baptist Temple, and remain faithful tithing members to this day.

By way of a disclaimer, readers should know that my wife and I have an adversarial and complicated relationship with the Baptist Temple. While we have many fond memories of our time at the church, we also bad memories that have left deep, lasting scars. That’s why when we briefly returned to the Newark area in 2005, we joined the Fallsburg Baptist Church, pastored by my best friend at the time Keith Troyer, and not the Baptist Temple. Art Ball, a missionary associated with the Baptist Temple, emailed me at the time, wondering why we weren’t planning to attend the Baptist Temple. Art made it clear that from his perspective the Baptist Temple was the only church in town! I refrained from sharing our backstory with him. I told Art that family history is complicated and there were a lot of things he didn’t know. He did not inquire further.

After James “Jim” Dennis retired, Mark Falls, a graduate of uber-fundamentalist Pensacola Christian College and Seminary, became pastor. While I appreciate many of the peripheral changes Falls has made to the church, he is, at heart, a Christian Fundamentalist. I have not met Falls personally, nor do I intend to do so. The only time Polly and I plan to darken to doors of the Baptist Temple is for funerals and weddings. Polly was last at the Baptist Temple for her uncle’s funeral (I was too sick to attend). I have not attended anything at the Baptist Temple since the 1990s. Along with Polly’s parents, we have a number of other relatives who either attend the Baptist Temple or are closely affiliated with the church. While we are, thus, symbiotically connected to the church, we certainly do not consider the Baptist Temple and its pastor our friends. I plan this year, health willing, to write a series of posts about our experiences at the Baptist Temple and with its former pastor, James Dennis. It’s a story that needs to be told, but for obvious reasons, I have been hesitant to tell it. As long as COVID-19 doesn’t get me, you can count on reading “The Baptist Temple” series in the coming months.

Polly calls her mother every Sunday at 10:00 PM. It is a ritual Polly’s mom looks forward too, and one that I remind Polly is very important, even if she doesn’t see that importance now. My mom committed suicide at age 54. Dad died of a stroke at age 49. Whatever my relationship may have been with my parents, I sure wish I could pick the phone up and call them, just to hear their voice and to tell them that I love them. There will come a day, sooner rather than later, that next call we get from Newark will be from one of our nephews telling us mom or dad is dead. We are prepared for such an eventuality, but I am of the opinion that it is important to keep in contact with our elderly parents. I don’t want Polly to regret not talking to her parents. I don’t want her sitting home on a Sunday evening wishing she could hear their voices one more time. The past fifteen years have certainly strained the relationship we have with Polly’s parents. Our leaving the ministry and Christianity is something Polly’s parents can not/will not understand. How is it possible that we are now unbelievers; atheists who have no interest in God, Jesus, the Bible, or church? While mom reminds us that she prays for our family every day, we have yet to have an honest discussion with Polly’s parents about why we no longer believe. And frankly, I doubt we will ever have this discussion. We are fine with that. Our concern is for their quality of life, and it is this issue that brings me to the subject of this post.

pastor mark falls
Mark Falls and his wife, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple

Last Saturday, March 14, Pastor Falls posted a live video to the Baptist Temple’s Facebook page detailing how he and the church would be handling the Coronavirus pandemic. I made an audio copy of the video which is posted below. Please forgive the lack of technical quality, but you should be able to hear my introduction and Falls’ words just fine. The audio clip is a little over six minutes long. I hope you will listen to it.

Audio recording of Mark Falls, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple, explaining the church’s plan for the Coronavirus pandemic

I have been listening to IFB preachers speak for most of my life. From the 1960s, when Tim LaHaye was my pastor, until today, I have heard countless sermons and preached thousands of sermons myself. I know firsthand the lingo, what I call preacher-speak. I also know how IFB preachers manipulate congregants with their words to achieve a desired objective. That psychological manipulation was on showroom display in Pastor Falls’ Facebook video. While I have no doubt that Falls will vehemently object to me characterizing his words as manipulative, the fact remains, through the use of Bible verses, appeals to distrust of government, and challenges to the depth of the faith of people who might stay home, Falls makes it clear that he expects people to be presented and accounted for the next day.

Falls begins his video by appealing to the distrust congregants have of government. While Falls praises Ohio governor Mike DeWine for exempting houses of worship from his “no social gathering” order, he also makes it clear that if DeWine ordered churches to close their doors that he would view this order as the state ordering churches to not obey God.

In Acts 5:29, Peter and the other Apostles said: We ought to obey God rather than men. Over the years I heard countless sermons and preached sermons on Acts 5:29. Christians are duty-bound to obey God, and not men (government), IFB preachers say. If the government asks churches/Christians to do anything that runs contrary to their interpretation of the Protestant Bible, they are expected to disobey. This thinking runs deep in the lifeblood of the Baptist Temple. Years ago, the Baptist Temple operated an unlicensed daycare called Temple Tots. Polly worked there for several years until she was summarily fired for not being a member of the church (we were living in Buckeye Lake at the time, helping Polly’s father start a church). The State of Ohio determined that ALL daycares had to be licensed by the state. The Baptist Temple appealed to Acts 5:29, and refused to be licensed. This, of course, put them in breach of the law, creating several years of back-and-forth litigation. The State finally won the battle, and rather than accept state licensure, the Baptist Temple closed its daycare. The Baptist Temple has other conflicts with government over the years, fueled by their insistence that the State had no to right to meddle in their business.

Falls then appeals to the mother of all guilt-inducing verses in the Bible, Hebrews 10:25:

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

This verse is used to remind congregants that GOD expects them to be in church every time the doors are open. And if you aren’t at the church’s Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night services, you’d better be so sick you can’t drag your sorry, backslidden ass to church. Real Christians cough, man up, and go to church. God will bless you if you do! Or so the thinking goes, anyway. I preached countless sermons so sick that I could have passed out at any moment. It took mononucleosis to knock me out of the pulpit for the first time (1991). Bless God, I was going to be there every time the doors where open. I planned to die with my boots on.

Of course, I passed this mentality on to the people I pastored. They genuinely feared God (or Pastor Bruce) would get them if they didn’t show up for churches. I routinely excoriated people who skipped church services. Lazy. Backslidden. Why, they might not even be saved! What kind of person chooses the lake, reunion, or their wedding anniversary over attending church and listening to my wonderful, Bible-based, Spirit-filled sermons?

It is clear, at least to me, that Falls expected church members to be at church unless they were really, really, really, I mean r-e-a-l-l-y sick. Falls did say that if people had Coronavirus symptoms that it was okay for them to miss church. Thanks, preacher. I wonder if the good pastor realized that this virus can be and is passed on by people not exhibiting ANY symptoms; that there could be Coronavirus Marys and Marks walking in the midst of the congregation infecting everyone they come in contact with?

Falls plants in the mind of congregants that he has serious doubts about what government is telling us about the Coronavirus. I didn’t realize Falls was a scientist, an epidemiologist, or an infectious disease expert. He is, however, an avid supporter of President Donald Trump, so that might help to explain things a bit. While Trump has now had a come to Jesus moment when it comes to COVID-19, I am sure he still believes that a lot of what experts are saying is “fake” news, attempts by the media, liberals, China, and non-Christians to destroy his presidency and foil his reelection. I doubt that Pastor Falls believes the media is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the Coronavirus Pandemic. By planting that seed in the minds of church members, he is affirming their conspiratorial doubts too.

Finally, Falls reminds church members that their God is still on the throne. This is his way of saying, “Look, Jesus, the Great Physician, has everything under control. There’s no need to fear a silly little virus. God will protect us, and if some us come down with COVID-19, well, that means it was God’s will. Live or die, it’s all in God’s hand. Now, get your ass down to 81 Licking View Drive and listen to some old-fashioned IFB preaching and singing!

Here’s why all this matters to me, and matters to my wife. Polly’s parents were in attendance Sunday night. Both of them have serious health problems. Mom has congestive heart failure. Her cardiologist told her to prepare to meet her maker. She is quite proud, however, of the fact that she has beaten the doctor’s time-of-death estimations. We are glad that she is still among the living too. That said, we hope that she doesn’t check out any time soon. We have our own health concerns to worry about, so we would like to think that everyone at their church, especially their pastor, has their best interests at heart. Unfortunately, as the story I am about to share with you will show, Pastor Falls does not care about what is best for them.

I told Polly that perhaps Falls should call each elderly/sick congregant and encourage them to stay home. Let them know that God understands. In IFB churches, pastors wield a tremendous amount of control and power. Falls could use these things for good, but, instead, he’s more concerned with making a stand against intrusive government intervention. He’s more concerned with preaching up faith and making sure people obey the Bible than he is caring for their physical welfare.

After the service, Falls greeted Polly’s mom and, I kid you not, shook her hand. He did question the wisdom of doing so, but likely at my mother-in-law’s insistence, Falls went ahead and shook her hand. As I listened to Mom recounting this story to Polly, I wanted to scream. How can you be so stupid? How can you be so reckless? How can you be so indifferent to the health and welfare of others? That goes for Pastor Falls AND my mother-in-law.

It remains to be seen how the Coronavirus pandemic shakes out. I do know this. If we all follow the example of Pastor Falls and the Newark Baptist Temple, there will be no controlling or mitigating this pandemic. Falls has a duty and obligation to care for his flock. He has failed to do so. He cannot know whether he himself has been exposed to the virus, or anyone else in attendance, for that matter. Instead, he has let his theology and politics dictate what he deems proper care. He’s young, so he has little risk of dying from COVID-19. Polly’s parents? They are at the front of the death line, and it’s a shame that their pastor is indifferent towards their frail condition. They have given more than half of their lives to the Baptist Temple. They deserve better.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Questions: Bruce, How Was the Quality of the Education You Received From an IFB College?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Troy asked, “How Was the Quality of the Education You Received From an IFB College?”

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from the fall of 1976 to the spring of 1979. Midwestern was a small, unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution started by Dr. Tom Malone — who had an earned doctorate in education from Wayne State University — in the 1950s. Dr. Malone called Midwestern “a character building factory.” It existed for the express purpose of training pastors, evangelists, and missionaries (and providing them with wives). Most of the professors were either men and women with degrees (and honorary doctorates) from Midwestern or men and women with degrees from other Fundamentalist Christian institutions. Malone preferred having Midwestern men teach Midwestern students. It was quite incestuous.

Were the classes I took at Midwestern inferior? I guess I would have to ask, inferior to what? I took some classes out at the local community college, and I found that they were every bit as superficial and worthless as some of the classes I took at Midwestern. I found at both institutions that the quality and depth of a particular class depended on the professor’s commitment to excellence. My world history professor at Midwestern basically read the book to the class and had us take tests. Yawn. I had similar classes at the community college. The best teachers were men and women who loved teaching and enjoyed engaging students in raucous discussions. Such discussions were rare at Midwestern because what teachers could teach and talk about was limited by the college’s commitment to certain doctrinal beliefs. For example, ministerial students were required to take one year of Greek. Good idea, right? However, the professor was only allowed to talk about certain manuscripts — those that supported the Midwestern’s King James-only position. Discussions about minority texts, alternate translations, etc., were verboten.

Generally, Midwestern’s classes were easy (as were the classes at the local community college). Part of the reason for this was that Midwestern was unaccredited. Students received NO financial aid. Most students worked their way through college. I worked a forty-hour-a-week job while taking classes full time. I also attended church three times a week, taught Sunday School, worked on a bus route and took out my girlfriend twice on the weekends. A truly rigorous academic program would have been too much for most students, considering all they had to do outside of school. As it was, most students washed out, and by their senior year, seventy-percent of students had dropped out of college. This wash-out rate, in the eyes of the school administration, was God winnowing the chaff from the wheat. Married, with a child on the way, and laid off from work, I dropped out in the spring of my junior year. That said, Dr. Malone publicly said of me at a pastor’s conference, Bruce, we would probably have ruined you had you stayed in college. At the time, I was pastoring a fast-growing IFB church in Southeast Ohio. I was told when I left college that God would NEVER use me, yet here I was pastoring a successful church — a sure sign that God was indeed using me.

Most of my theological education came post-Midwestern. I read countless religious tomes and studied the Bible for hours on end. I committed myself to being a student of the Bible, and spent two decades educating myself in the finer points of Christian belief. In one church I pastored, one of the congregants was a PhD candidate at Westminster Theological Seminary. I was able to intelligently converse with him, and I never felt educationally inferior. In my mind, it’s not the degrees that matter as much as what you know. In 2005, I saw a young family medicine doctor for treatment of Fibromyalgia. He was honest, telling me that his whole knowledge of Fibromyalgia came from one class period on the subject. He knew that I had read virtually every book on the condition, so he asked me to recommend books for him to read. He was a humble man who had sense enough to know when he didn’t know something. He quickly got up to speed and was able to meaningfully help me with my condition.

I learned very little “Bible” at Bible college. Ironic, I know, but most of my Bible classes were Sunday School level survey classes. Study the text, take a few tests, write a few papers, done. On to the next one. There were two classes that did help me tremendously as a pastor: speech class and homiletics. My speech teacher was Gary Mayberry, He taught me how to structure and deliver a speech. My homiletics teacher was a southern preacher by the name of Levi Corey. On the first day of class, he said, forget everything you learned in speech class. Corey taught me how to craft a sermon and deliver it with personality and passion. I owe much of my preaching success to him.

Evangelical colleges such as Midwestern do not exist to educate men as much as they exist to indoctrinate another generation in dogma. Unfettered intellectual inquiry is never permitted, and professors who dare to foster such a climate are summarily dismissed. The goal is purity of belief and practice. The only way to achieve this goal is to stifle teaching and discussion that challenges or contradicts the approved narrative.

Midwestern did give me one thing: Polly. Whatever my current opinion of Midwestern might be, I am indeed grateful that the college was the vehicle that brought Polly and me together. I may not have gotten a good education, but I sure got a wonderful wife, lover, and friend. I’ll take that any day!

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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.