Tag Archive: Worldliness

Why Many IFB Preachers Don’t Have Peaceful, Contented Lives

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac

For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a subset under the broad banner of Evangelicalism. IFB pastors and congregants tend to be theological, political, and social extremists. While their theological beliefs differ little from garden variety Evangelicals, how they engage and interact with the broader religious and secular cultures sets them apart from other Evangelicals.

Millions of Americans attend IFB churches. Millions more attend IFB-like churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. In the late 1960s through the early 1980s, many of the largest American churches were IFB congregations. As our society moved leftward socially and morally, IFB pastors and institutions dug in their heels and refused to adapt or change. Thinking the methods they used were timeless truths that must be religiously practiced, IFB churches hemorrhaged members, losing them to churches that were not as intolerant or extreme. By the 1990s, once-filled megachurch auditoriums were empty, resulting in more than few IFB churches filing for bankruptcy or closing their doors.

In the mid-1970s, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in the 1950s by Alabamian pulpiteer Tom Malone. Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, which at the time was one of the largest churches in America, boasting thousands each week in attendance. Midwestern was never a large college, but the institution was noted for turning out preachers and church planters. By the late 1980s, Midwestern and Emmanuel Baptist were in serious numerical and financial free fall. Eventually, Emmanuel closed its doors and Midwestern became a ministry of an IFB church in Orion, Michigan.

What happened to Emmanuel Baptist continues to happen to IFB churches today. IFB pastors, with few exceptions, are Biblical literalists who refuse to believe anything that contradicts their Fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. IFB pastors, to the man, believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Some pastors even go far as to say that only the King James Version of the Bible is the Word of God; that other translations are the works of Satan. Literalism and inerrancy are considered cardinal doctrines of the faith. This has resulted in IFB pastors and churches believing all sorts of absurdities. IFB pastors are, without exception, creationists. Most of them are young earth creationists, believing that God created the universe in six twenty-four-hour days, 6,022 years ago. Bible stories meant to illustrate greater spiritual truths are often taken literally, resulting in IFB adherents believing, among a host of absurdities, that the earth was destroyed by a universal flood 4,000 or so years ago, the sun and moon stood still (Joshua 10:13), and all humans trace their lineage back to two people — Adam and Eve.  Their commitment to literalism forces IFB pastors to defend fantastical things. If the Bible says it, it’s true. End of discussion!

While there is some eschatological diversity within the IFB church movement, literalism demands that pastors believe and teach that the events recorded in the book of Revelation will one day literally take place. Most IFB church members believe that the return of Jesus to earth is imminent. A wide, deep apocalyptic river runs through the IFB church movement, leading to an extreme love and devotion to God’s chosen people, Israel. President Trump’s plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol is sure to excite IFB preachers — yet another “sign” that the return of Jesus is nigh. That this move could ignite the entire region and lead to war, is of little concern to IFB preachers. They believe that things must continue to get worse; that Jesus won’t come back to earth until the world stage is set for his triumphal return. This means that a war of epic proportions must occur, ending in Armageddon. While IFB preachers might not admit it out loud, I am certain many of them would welcome nuclear war, believing that such a war will make the world ready to embrace first the anti-Christ and then later Jesus when he returns to earth on a literal white horse to defeat the anti-Christ and Satan.

IFB pastors and churches are politically right-wing. If a survey were conducted with IFB adherents, I suspect surveyors would find that church members overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, and are anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-same sex marriage, and very much in favor of returning prayer and Bible reading to public school classrooms (even though many of them either home school or have their children enrolled in Christian schools). In earlier years, the IFB church movement believed there was a strict separation of church and state. Today, many IFB pastors and churches no longer believe the wall of separation exists, and that the United States is a Christian nation — a country chosen by God. This thinking can be traced back to the late 1970s when IFB megachurch pastor Jerry Falwell, along with Paul Weyrich, started the Moral Majority. Since then, scores of IFB pastors have used their pulpits to advance certain (almost always Republican) political policies and candidates.

Bruce, I thought this post was about why IFB preachers (and many within their congregations) don’t have peaceful, contented lives. It is, but I felt it necessary to show how IFB pastor think and view the world before explaining why so many of them lack peace and contentment in their lives. If the IFB church movement is anything, it is anti-culture. IFB pastors see themselves as prophets or watchmen on the walls, warning all who will listen that God is real, the Bible is true, and hell awaits all those who reject the IFB way, truth, and life. IFB preachers think it is their duty to wage war against Satan and the enemies of God. I can only imagine how hysterical IFB preachers are over LGBTQ acceptance, same-sex marriage, and the increasing prominence of atheism. Anything that challenges their beliefs must be refuted and turned back. Add to this the internecine warfare IFB churches are famous for, and it should come as no surprise that pastors find themselves constantly battling the “forces of darkness and evil.”  Every dawn brings a new day with new battles that must be fought. Not only must IFB preachers wage war against Satan, cults, false Christianity, liberalism, and secularism, they must also fight against those in their own movement who want to make IFB churches more “worldly.”

The battles, then, never end. Day in and day out, IFB pastors are in fight mode. And those who are not? They are labelled compromisers and hirelings who are only concerned with money and prestige. Is it any wonder then that IFB preachers rarely have peaceful, contented lives? Their lives are in a constant state of turmoil. Satan and the world are pushing against their beliefs and values at every turn. Not fighting back is considered cowardly, a betrayal of everything IFB believers hold dear. Go to any town in America where there is an IFB church and ask mainline pastors how they view the local IFB pastor and church. In most instances, mainline pastors will say that local IFB churches have extreme beliefs and seem to thrive on controversy. IFB pastors are viewed as outliers on the fringe of Christianity — haters and dissemblers who have no tolerance for anyone but those who adhere to their narrow beliefs and practices.

Separation from the world and separation from erring Christians is a fundamental doctrine within IFB churches. This too leads to never ending angst and stress. Concerned over encroaching “worldliness,” IFB pastors often have long lists of rules (church standards) congregants are expected to follow. (please read The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) While the rules vary from church to church, they are meant to inoculate church members from becoming infected with “worldly” ideas.  The Apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Corinth, said:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)

1 John 2:15-17 states:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Verses such as these fuel IFB separatist beliefs and practices. The world is evil and must be, with few exceptions, avoided at all costs. This is why IFB pastors and institutions are the forefront of the Christian School and home school movements. What better way to avoid worldliness than to wall off families and children from the influence of “worldly” schools?

I am sure that many, if not most, IFB preachers would disagree with me when I say they don’t have peaceful contented lives. However, I would ask them to consider whether their constant battles against sin, worldliness, liberalism, and compromise have robbed them of the goodness, peace, and contentment life has to offer; that constantly being at odds with not only the “world,” but also fellow Christians, is bound to exact an emotional toll. Thinking you alone stand for God, truth, and righteousness requires constant diligence lest compromise and “worldliness” creep in. Aren’t you tired, preacher, of being constantly at war with everyone and everything around you? Maybe it is time for you lay down your weapons of war and rejoin the human race. Countless former IFB pastors and church members have done just that. Tired of the constant turmoil and unrest, they finally said, ENOUGH! and walked away. Most of them found kinder, gentler forms of faith, and a handful of ex-IFB believers have embraced agnosticism or atheism. Scary, I know, but not having to constantly be on guard lest Satan gain the advantage is worth the risk of judgment and hell. I am sure God will understand. A wild, wonderful world awaits those who dare to lay down their Fundamentalist beliefs and walk away. If you are ready to say ENOUGH! and want help plotting a life of peace and contentment, I would love to help you do so.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

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The Replacement Doctrine: How Evangelicals Attempt to Co-opt the “World”

evangelical-ghetto

The Wall around Vatican City, similar to the wall around the Christian Ghetto

Many Evangelicals see a clear dichotomy between the spiritual and the non-spiritual world. The spiritual world is where the Christian God rules and reigns. This world is dominated by Christianity and its God, Bible, and standard of morality and ethics. The non-spiritual world is one where Satan is king. The Bible says that Satan is the God of this world, the prince and power of the air. According to the book of 1 Peter, Satan walks about the earth as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. While Satan certainly is not equal in power or authority to God — after all he’s a created being — he can display near God-like powers such as causing death, sickness, and all sorts of catastrophes. Just as God the Holy Spirit does with Christians, Satan can invade non-Christian minds and bodies, taking up residence and controlling them.

Evangelicals believe that God and Satan, both on earth and in an unseen spiritual dimension, are locked in a battle for the souls of humanity. Satan wants to take as many souls to hell as he can, so Christians feel they are duty-bound to do all they can to make sure that as few people as possible end up in the Lake of Fire. They also believe that Satan, despite Christians being indwelt by the Spirit of God, can influence and, at times, control followers of Jesus. While Satan cannot take away their salvation, he can, through trial and temptation, keep them from being the kind of Christians they should be — people who follow the Lamb (Jesus) whithersoever he goeth. Such Satan-influenced Christians are often called carnal or worldly believers. Often these weaklings in the faith are called baby Christians. This terminology came up recently in public discussions about “Christian” Donald Trump’s abhorrent, vile behavior towards women. Desperately wanting to believe that the Republican candidate is God’s chosen leader for America, some Evangelical talking heads have suggested that Trump is a “baby” Christian. By labeling Trump this way, they dismiss virtually all of his narcissistic, psychopathic behavior.

Evangelical churches, pastors, and parachurch leaders, realizing that the overwhelming majority of American Christians are behaviorally no different from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, have decided that the best way to counteract and repel Satan and his atheistic, secularist followers is to build some sort of alternate reality, one that I often call the Christian ghetto. The goal is to wall off Christians, as much as possible, from the world. They do this by replacing the “things” of the world with Christianized versions. The Bible says in 1 John 2:15-17:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Knowing God’s view of the world while at the same time understanding that Christians are, after all, h-u-m-a-n, Evangelical leaders have developed programs and activities that allow Christians to feel that they are part of the human race without being tainted by worldliness. Every day, millions of Evangelicals, forced to work secular jobs, go out into the world and endure rubbing shoulders with the followers of Satan. They do all they can to put in a good word for Jesus through witnessing, handing out tracts, writing Jesus loves you on bathroom stalls, and decorating their cubicles with religious kitsch. When lunchtime comes, these light-in-darkness followers of Jesus will quietly bow their heads and offer up a prayer of thanks for the lunch. They will also likely ask God for strength to help them get through the day as they come in contact with “sinners.” Come 5 o’clock, these world-weary Christians file out to their cars, turn on the local Christian radio station or stream their favorite contemporary Christian artists to their car’s entertainment system, and head for home. Once home, they immerse themselves in the Evangelical replacement culture. Whether in their car, at home, or at church, Evangelicals do all they can to cleanse their minds and hearts from what they perceive to be the filth of the world. Many of them will offer up prayers of not only thankfulness, but of repentance, telling God they are sorry that they allowed the “world” to influence their behavior.

Evangelical churches and parachurch groups have spent the past seven decades building a Trump-worthy wall around the Christian ghetto. On Sundays, the front gate is opened so unsaved people — often viewed as Wildlings (Free Folk) in the Game of Thrones — can attend their services, hoping that the sinners will get saved. The rest of the time, the gate is shut, opened only when its inhabitants go out into the world to scavenge for food and earn money to pay their ties and offerings.

Inside the Christian ghetto is found a plethora of worldly things that have been Christianized. Today is Halloween, and many Evangelicals, not wanting to support Satanism and witchcraft, instead turn to Halloween-like parties and events that have been sanitized for Christian use. Children wear Bible character costumes instead of dressing up as witches, fairies, or Walking Dead characters. Some churches use Halloween as an opportunity to evangelize those who live outside the ghetto. These churches sponsor what are commonly called Hell houses. One such event was scheduled to be held at the Chicago public school, that is until school officials found out that the event included a re-creation of the Pulse nightclub shootings. The goal is to scare the hell out of people, and lead them to saving faith in Jesus Christ. As is often the case, Evangelicals are quite willing to use the world to further their agenda. The Catholic church wrote the playbook for this when it, centuries ago, co-opted pagan and secular holidays and turned them into religious holidays.

Most of the time, however, Evangelicals are content to live safely behind the walls of the Christian ghetto, reading Christian books, listening to Christian music, surfing Christian websites and blogs, and attending a plethora of services and activities meant to make fat sheep fatter. Evangelical pastors, churches, and parachurch leaders, know that most Christians want what the world has to offer. We humans want what we want, right? Despite everything the Bible says about the world and avoiding its soul-damaging influence, most Evangelicals want to enjoy all that life has to offer. While some Evangelical sects choose to develop rigid lists of rules that dictate what behaviors are permissible, other sects choose to allow congregants “freedom” to enjoy life, but only within the context of the Christian ghetto. Evangelical preachers will preach against rock music and secular musicians, encouraging church members to listen to contemporary Christian music or Christian rock. They also encourage members to listen to local Christian radio stations instead of tuning into classic rock or top 40 stations. The recent explosion of praise and worship bands onto the church scene allows pastors and church leaders to use rock ‘n’ roll music during worship services. Churches now have full-blown bands that almost rival Satan’s bands. I say almost, because, as anyone who has ever lived in the Christian ghetto knows, rarely are Christianized replacements as good as those which are found in the world. Sadly, much of the entertainment-driven worship found in many evangelical churches is a cheap imitation.

When presented with a choice between the real thing and a cheap imitation, many Evangelicals choose both, negating the purpose and reason for the Christian alternative. Fact is, despite an endless stream of Christianized entertainments, Evangelicals still love the world. DirecTV provides all sorts of Christian and “family” oriented channels and programming, and I am sure that cable TV does the same. Despite having a treasure trove of Christian programming at their disposal, Evangelicals still watch “worldly” programming, and are quite capable of having intelligent conversations about shows such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. The same Evangelicals listen to Christian music, but when pastors or fellow Christians are not around, they flip the channel to local classic radio stations and sing along to songs by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to give up on the replacement doctrine. It simply does not work. Evangelical parents can homeschool their children or send them to Christian schools for 13 years, hoping to shelter their offspring from Satan and his humanistic, secularist, immoral ways, but sooner or later these same children will have to go out into the world without mommy and daddy protecting them. And once out in the world these lambs become easy prey for those who really do want to hurt them. Or, as many of us can testify, once free from the constraints of Evangelical parents and churches, young adults will throw themselves headlong into “worldly” wants, pleasures, and desires, often making a big mess in the process. The solution is not to build higher walls around the ghetto, but instead to teach children how to navigate a world filled with things that could harm them. Instead of giving them long lists of things to avoid, children would be better served if they were taught to think for themselves. Instead of telling Evangelical teenagers that drinking alcohol and engaging in premarital sex are sins, perhaps it is better to teach them how to make responsible decisions when confronted with opportunities to engage in these behaviors. Of course, part of this training would mean teaching them a situational or relativistic view of human conduct, and therein lies the problem. Evangelicals are wed to the notion that the Bible is some sort of divine road map for life, and its directions must be followed at all times. Because of this, Evangelical girls end up pregnant and boys end up infected with sexually-transmitted diseases. No need to teach them to handle their sexuality responsibly, because God says it’s a sin and that is all they need to know. Well, God says lots of things are sins, yet from my seat in the pew it seems that most Evangelicals are not paying attention. Try as they might to play by the rules, Evangelicals need, want, and desire that which a bunch of Bronze-Age and First-Century men say they can’t have. Freedom awaits those who dare to consider leaving the Christian ghetto. The first step towards freedom is relegating the Bible to the dustbin of human history. Once free of the Bible, people can then embrace their humanity without fearing God or Satan is going to get them.

Did your parents practice the replacement doctrine? Did you as a Christian parent do so? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.