Rather frequently I receive emails from readers who have stumbled across “my story.” Most of them thank me for taking the time to share as they have gone through similar circumstances and are helped by my own experience. Sometimes these emails include a detailed story from the reader, of their own journey with respect to fundamentalism. I shared one such story a while back, and now I have another reader’s story to share.
This particular story comes from an ugly side of fundamentalism. In my estimation, this kind of fundamentalism was quite widespread and common twenty or thirty years ago. It is less common now, I would think this kind of fundamentalism is at a decided minority when it comes to the movement as a whole. My prayer would be that people en masse would wake up to this problem and we would soon only encounter it in the history books. Sadly that is not true yet.
Feel free to comment on the story below, or contact me to share your own story.
I found your blog as I was doing some internet research on the heretical teachings of Charles Finney. Our pastor mentioned him in his sermon at church yesterday so I was finding things to copy and give to him. It is still beyond me how Finney is hailed as a hero in most Baptist circles, but that is another story for another day. While I visited your site, I was intrigued by your “story” and read it with all diligence. Everything you said rang true with me. I, too, was raised in an IFBx church in the Detroit area, with so much emphasis placed on the outward appearance that it has taken me years to come out from under that. The more “holy” you looked, the more “holy” you obviously were, true self righteousness at its finest. The men were not allowed to have facial hair of any kind as it was considered worldly. The deacon’s wives were not allowed to be seen in public wearing pants. We were preached sermons against playing cards of any kind, including Old Maid (I am showing my age here! HA HA). I remember one time during a period of economic decline of the church (which was VERY typical of the control freak stance of most pastors then who believed their authority gave them license to control everything, including the bookkeeping), our pastor even ordered the members to give their entire paychecks the following week. My dad was a deacon but thankfully did not allow himself to be led by such tyranny. Keep in mind this was during the late 60′s and early 70′s where most middle class people lived in modest frame homes, typically 2 or, at the most, 3 bedrooms and 1 bath. The fact that our pastor lived in a three-story home overlooking the lake and was provided a new luxury car by the church seemed a bit hypocritical to me. There was a mindset that prevailed in the church of extreme everything. It led to an over-the-top arrogancy on the part of its adherents, sometimes to the point of trying to “one up” the next guy by coming up with some new Pharisee-minded rule. True legalism leads to rebellion as people realize they will never be able to keep up, so many simply “jump ship” and pay the consequences of extremism in the opposite direction. I was no exception. I heard Calvinistic preachers like Spurgeon quoted by my pastor but obviously it was the Finney-style Pelagianism that prevailed in the church. I find it comical that many IFBs quote people like Spurgeon but don’t even realize the differences in their doctrinal stand. I am 53 years old and am so thankful that God truly delivered me from all that past. I shudder sometimes when I think of the sermons I regularly heard as a kid and which have stayed with me for all these years. The older I get and the more firmly grounded I get in God’s Word, I look back at these sermons not only with true regret as I see the impact they had on the people, but now it also seems almost comical that people would actually fall for stuff like that. Most of the young people I went to school and church with have simply walked away. Most of the older folks have continued with the legalistic mindset, with few of them being delivered from that. After all, it makes them feel better about themselves. When you mentioned Hyles-Anderson College, my interest piqued even more. My childhood was spent attending the church where ——— ———– of Hyles-Anderson College fame attended. I knew his family well as he, his wife, his three daughters and his sister and her family were church members there. I attended our church’s Christian school and made many trips to Hammond, Indiana for sports competitions against Hyles’ Christian school, of which I don’t even know still exists. I’m also very familiar with ——- ——– and his alma mater, Bob Jones University. Spent many hours there as well for musical competitions. By the time I was in high school, I began to question some of the things I was taught but was still too young and immature, both spiritually and emotionally, to fully understand the concept of my quandary. I wanted to thank you for expressing your thoughts and experiences with IFB theology. It has taken me many years and living through many experiences (many of them quite negative) to fully understand how grateful I am for God’s delivering me from that legalistic life. As I dug more into God’s Word, I realized that I was taught a very man-centered form of gospel. The list of rules and regulations seemed to team well with my already existent perfectionist personality but, as those who find “living by the law” unattainable, it only brought me to the point of defeat, guilt, remorse and a period of totally walking away from the church. I thank God for His ever-present nudging in my life and for Him bringing me full circle to where I am today. I have home schooled and raised my three kids, all are college graduates, faithful in church and thankfully see the heretical teachings of these extreme IFBPs (IFB preachers) that I grew up hearing. Even the never-ending “let’s-just-sing-one-more-verse” invitations still ring in my mind. Surely by playing on people’s emotions, they were determined to “get them saved one way or another”, only to be disgruntled when the “converts” would fall prey to “backsliding.” Instead of determining whether or not true conversion even took place, they always assumed the backsliders were just in need of revival. After all, they must be saved as they “walked the aisle and prayed the prayer.” Keep up the good work. I’m not a blogger (don’t have time) but consider me a faithful reader to what you so boldly have the guts to proclaim. God bless you for your efforts.
Then in a follow up email, she gave permission for me to share her story anonymously and provided some more reflections:
I was saved there at 9 years of age in 1967, although I have had to “come to grips” with all that since then. After all, “praying the prayer” doesn’t accomplish anything. “By their fruits you shall know them.” (Matt. chapter 7)…. We left ———— after one of those famous IFB church splits, and went to —————- when I was in the fifth grade. It was at ————- all those impressionable years that I truly received my IFB indoctrination. I went to [their] Christian school from its formation until my junior year in high school when I begged my parents to let me go to ———– High School. I have always been one of those “independent thinkers” which kept me in trouble a lot at ————-. I began to question things at an early age and stayed in the principal’s office a lot for “attitude problems” as they would say. Governing the school on the demerit system, I certainly got my share of paddlings in the principal’s office! HA HA You would receive a minimum of 3 demerits for each infraction. When you accumulated 10 demerits, you made the infamous walk to the principal’s office and would get your paddling. It was quite humiliating at the time, especially as the very large and thick paddle was used on both the boys and the girls alike. You had to bend over the principal’s desk and simply “take it.” When you returned to your classroom in tears from the pain, you would see the smirks and giggles from those who knew where you’d been. With my dad being a deacon, he was on the board of directors at the school so I guess my “rebellious attitude” had to be tamed somehow! These period of years caused quite a rebellion in my heart as I began to see the legalism prevail. Grace was certainly not a doctrine taught on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, I remember hearing more sermons on the outward appearances rather than having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. While having that relationship was mentioned, it was as if your daily Bible readings and prayer were things to be “checked off” so as to ensure holiness. To this day, I still struggle with the idea of a frowning stern God ready to punish me as opposed to cultivating that personal relationship with Christ. After all, I was taught that if you dot your i’s and cross your t’s, dress a certain way, abstain from all those “worldly” things, then by default, you MUST be holy! A lot of the people I grew up around would be able to put the original Pharisees to shame! As a disclaimer, I certainly do not blame my rebellion on anybody but myself, knowing that I was, and still am, fully accountable to God for my actions. I would never embrace the current culture’s practice of “being a victim” and milking that for all its worth, just to explain away my own sin. I simply want to express the fact that those early years of legalistic indoctrination took its toll. To this day, I am able to see legalism in people much sooner than my husband who was raised in a very traditional Southern Baptist environment. In his early adulthood when he began studying God’s Word seriously for himself, he began to see the thread of Sovereign Grace unfold and began to also question some of the Arminian thoughts and ideas of childhood. About ten years ago we purchased from www.crosstv.com their Sovereign of God series. By far, more people have borrowed that Bible study from us than anything else we’ve purchased through the years! That study had such a profound effect on us that we purchased more studies from them, many of which were done by other teachers. The Sovereignty of God series was explained in such a way that we were finally able to fully articulate to others how our viewpoints of God’s sovereignty had changed us. While all Christian claim to believe in the sovereignty of God, they still try to explain away their man-centered approach to the plan of salvation and other doctrines. They will say that God is sovereign, but they believe it still depends on man’s choice to accept it. We believe it to all be a paradox but simply cannot explain away the last several verses of Romans chapter 8 and tons of other scriptures throughout the Word that dealt with the sovereignty of God. We’ve definitely taken some heat for our Calvinistic stand by our Arminian relatives, at one point even being accused by a relative of not being saved at all. However, this 70-year-old accusing relative had to admit that if we were indeed correct then he himself had been taught wrong and he simply couldn’t come to grips with that!
I did not mean to ramble on so long. I just took the opportunity to express some of my thoughts regarding our common IFBx upbringing. To this day, I literally RUN from any IFB-minded people and/or preachers. I won’t even read any books and/or sermons from IFBPs or authors, fully knowing the lingo they will use. Sorry, but I walked away from that many years ago. I got so tired of topical preaching and taking scriptures out of context in order to fit their own agenda. Instead of expository preaching, where the entire counsel of God is being taught, they are famous for coming up with an idea and finding some verse that will fit. My goodness, even in true fashion of the Pharisees, the IBFPs I grew up with could actually supersede the real scriptures with their own man-made doctrines. While many sermons were indeed truthful, I am sad to report that many of them were based on their own ideas and you were expected to follow along. As I’m sure you remember, ALL IFBPs are indeed the boss of their church and they had no qualms in admitting it. Oh, the times I would hear people being told to simply leave the church if they didn’t like what they were hearing. The deacon board was simply in place in name only. After being elected to the deacon board, those men figured out very quickly that they were required to be “yes men” and any man questioning anything was considered a troublemaker. Our pastor would actually sit on the podium and take roll like a school teacher. If you watched him carefully during the song service, you would see him take out his trusty little “black book” and write down the names of the deacons who weren’t there. My dad confirmed it was taking place as he would receive inquiries as to why he wasn’t there every time the doors were open. My dad didn’t graduate from college until I was in high school so many weeknights of his were spent acquiring his bachelor’s degree in business administration from a small college in ————-. When he was unable to be at church on Wednesday nights or visitation on Tuesday nights, he was certainly read the riot act as he was reminded of his obligations. Most of the time he was required to report to the pastor that he was having classes on any given church night (except for Sunday, of course) and ultimately resigned from the deacon board as a result of what I’ve always called “cult style” religion. That may be an awful word to use, but I’ve always likened the IFBPs of my childhood to cult leaders. They demanded total control over your life, your finances, your children, your homes, how you dressed, etc. and if you refused to comply you were considered substandard Christians. I even remember MANY instances of adults being “called down” from the pulpit if they were “caught” whispering to each other, passing a note of some kind and the infraction of all infractions……..chewing gum. Of course, they were always encouraged to “get right with God.” I remember the pastor’s kids being no exception as he would single them out for any infraction, even to the point of making them stand up at the end of the sermon in order to call them down in front of everybody. Of course, there was always an altar call to follow if they needed to “set things straight” and many times would publicly apologize. Certainly not being against public apologies, I feel those apologies come from the heart of those who desire to give them and not being coerced by an all-controlling IFBP whose desire is humiliate you into conforming. No wonder so many young people of my day decided to bail out and jump ship!
Thank you for having the courage to speak out against IFBx indoctrinations. While these churches don’t seem to be as extreme as they were in my childhood, they are still very legalistic and believe in a man-centered salvation. I cringe at the thought of ever having to step foot in another one. I hope you won’t think I’ve spilled my guts too much. It’s just nice to hear somebody with a similar background extolling the virtues of seeing God’s Word for the Truth that it is. There’s not a day that passes that I am not thankful for the Lord helping me find my way through the legalism of my upbringing. What true transformation, freedom and liberty occurs when you are finally able to shed that old Pharisee cloak and learn how to have a TRUE relationship with your Savior! Why He chose me at all is a wonder beyond my imagination. I feel sorry for those still in the IFB quagmire and I pray they, too, will be released from their bondage.
Thanks for reading my ramblings,