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Tag: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Colleges

1976-1979: My Midwestern Baptist College Transcript

midwestern baptist college freshman class 1976
Midwestern Baptist College, 1976-77 Freshman Class. Polly is in the front row, the first person from the left. Bruce is in the third row, the eighth person from the left. Seventy percent of the students in the class did not graduate.

I have a college education, of sorts. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — for almost three years. Educationally, Midwestern was inferior in every way. Most classes were either taught by incompetent professors, or the instruction was at a Sunday School class level. Here are the classes I took at Midwestern:

  • Basic Music Theory [or how to wave your arm in 4/4 time]
  • Fundamentals of Speech
  • Homiletics [ignore everything you learned in speech class]
  • Western Civilization [emphasis on the Christian era]
  • American Literature
  • English Grammar [God, do we have to diagram more sentences?]
  • Biology [God did it]
  • Introduction to Missions [awesome real-life stories from an IFB missionary/pastor]
  • Baptist History [think The Trail of Blood]
  • Social Problems [sin is the problem, Christ is the solution]
  • Christian Counseling [psychology bad, Bible-based counseling good]
  • Personal Evangelism [one, two, three, repeat after me, bless God, you are SAVED!]
  • Bus Ministry
  • Physical Education [I aced this class]
  • Major Prophets
  • Bible Doctrines [but only approved IFB doctrines]
  • Life of Christ [Jesus, Jesus, Jesus]
  • Pentateuch [main takeaway: Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible]
  • Revelation [a literalist, dispensational, pretribulational, premillennial interpretation]
  • Pastoral Epistles [never forget what the Bible says about pastoral authority]
  • Hermeneutics [how to read the Bible like a Fundamentalist Baptist]

I had several professors who were top-notch. Larry Clouse and Dr. Tom Malone, come to mind. However, they were the exceptions to the rule. Most of my professors were either pastors or pastor’s wives. Evidently, being a pastor or married to a preacher automatically qualifies you to be a competent professor.

Five professor stories come to mind that I would like to share with readers. I won’t mention them by name, but students who attended Midwestern in the 1970s will certainly know who I am talking about.

One professor believed it was his duty to keep Polly and me away from each other. He was friends with Polly’s father. At the time, Polly’s mom — she wore the pants in the family — had told Polly that she would not permit her to marry me. This finally came to a head when Polly stood up to her mom for the first time, informing her that we were getting married with or without her blessing. Forty-two years later, we are still married, and my mother-in-law still thinks Polly could have married a better man.

Polly was a fast-fingered typist. I, on the other hand, typed with two fingers. Polly, madly in love with the man she called her “bad boy,” typed all my term papers for me. The aforementioned teacher would grade our papers, giving Polly As and me Ds. He would write notes on my papers about my formatting and typos. Polly received no such corrections, even though she was the one typing my reports.

Another professor was a deeply closeted gay man who lived in the dormitory. Early in the second semester of his class, he and I got into a heated discussion over his sexual proclivities. I let him know that I knew exactly “what” he was, as did every man in the dorm. It was the 70s, and I was quite the homophobe. He informed me that I was no longer welcome in his class; that he would give me a passing grade for staying away. Worked for me. More time for basketball.

Another professor was a pastor’s wife. She taught Western Civilization. She made no attempt to interact with students. Day after day, she read the textbook to us. That’s it. The highlight of this class was trying to figure out who farted or who was snoring.

One professor became so enraged at me over dropping his hermeneutics class that he took me to task in his next chapel sermon. While he didn’t mention me by name, he directly looked at me as he railed against a student who dropped his class, a student who was a quitter, who lacked character.

And finally, let me talk about the pastor who taught Biology. Midwestern had no lab. The class consisted of lectures and reading an ancient Bob Jones Press published textbook. What I most remember is this professor’s racist lecture on the importance of marrying your own “kind.” I wonder what he meant?

I was hardly a good student. The reasons for this are many, which I shall explain in a moment. My grades were average, and I had a few Ds and one F. Polly graduated second in her high school class. She was and is one smart cookie — whatever the hell that means. Yet, when I look at her transcript, I see that she struggled in some of her classes too. What happened? It couldn’t have been the difficulty of the classes. I can understand why I was an average student, but Polly? She should have aced her classes. All of them.

Consider my schedule for a moment. I had classes in the morning and then went to work, a full-time job, in the afternoon. I often arrived home after lights out. When, exactly, was I supposed to do my school work? After lights out schoolwork was forbidden. Students would receive demerits for having their lights on after 11:00 pm. On the weekends, I worked in the bus ministry, spending hours on Saturday visiting my bus route. On Sundays, I got up early to drive a bus and then attended Sunday School and morning church. Sunday afternoons, I drove to Detroit to preach at a drug rehabilitation center. And then I would go to church on Sunday night. Throw in going on weekend dates with Polly, fixing my seemingly always broken-down automobiles, playing basketball, attending dorm devotions, and horsing around with my friends; I had little time for school work.

I have long believed that Midwestern used a med school regimen to wash out men they deemed “weak” or “unfit” for the ministry. Tom Malone, the chancellor of the school, may have denied evolution, but he definitely believed in the survival of the fittest. He had no tolerance for weakness. Malone and other chapel speakers frequently railed against quitters. When Polly and I left Midwestern in the Spring of 1979 (she was six months pregnant and I was unemployed), we were labeled quitters. We were told by school administrators and friends alike that God didn’t use quitters. This meant, of course, that if we didn’t graduate, God wouldn’t “bless” our lives and use us in any significant way.

In the mid-1980s, Malone was preaching a conference for Jim Dennis, a 1960s Midwestern graduate and Polly’s uncle. Malone had heard from Polly’s father — also a Midwestern grad and pastor of a nearby IFB church — that I was pastoring a fast-growing IFB church in southeast Ohio. Before beginning his sermon, Malone mentioned me by name, complimenting me on my work. He then admitted, “if Bruce had stayed any longer at Midwestern, we probably would have ruined him.” I guess I wasn’t a quitter, after all.

I didn’t receive much of an education at Midwestern. I met the love of life while there, so there’s that, but preparing me intellectually for the ministry? Midwestern failed miserably at this task. “But, Bruce, you know so much about the Bible and Christianity. How did that happen?” After Midwestern, I went on to get a twenty-five-year education in the privacy of my study. I devoted myself to filling in the massive gaps in my education. I studied hours and hours each week, reading countless theological tomes as I prepared my sermons. All told, I preached over 4,000 sermons.

I refused to wing it, as many of my preacher friends did. One IFB evangelist, Dennis Corle, told me that I was wasting time studying, that 4-5 hours a week of preparation was all I needed, that I should spend the bulk of my time winning souls. I ignored Corle’s ignorant career advice, choosing instead to devote myself to preparing to preach the best sermons possible. My congregants deserved my very best, and with the rare exception, I gave it to them.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

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

ifb preachers importance

Repost from 2015-2016. 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-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

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-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

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 2015-2016. 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-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

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.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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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Bruce Gerencser