The Hyles Effect: A Spreading Blight
By David Cloud
Way of Life Literature, 2012, 157 pp.
Caution: Sensitive readers may be offended by some of the information below.
I attended an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church for eight years (1983-1991) after I was saved. While IFB churches were independent in principle, there were loose alliances based upon leadership and secondary beliefs. Our church loosely identified with the “Sword of the Lord” and Baptist Bible Fellowship networks. On the information table of our IFB church was always a stack of the latest issue of the “Sword of the Lord” newspaper, which was founded by evangelist, John R. Rice, and edited by his successor, Curtis Hutson, by the time I subscribed to it. A large percentage of the IFB churches followed the leadership of “The Sword.” In the pages of the bi-weekly newspaper one could find sermons and articles from notable pastors such as Lester Roloff, Lee Roberson, Bob Gray, Hyman Appelman, Tom Malone, Truman Dollar, and Hugh Pyle. These were all influential pastors with big churches, but perhaps the biggest star* of the “Sword” IFB camp was Jack Hyles, who pastored First Baptist Church (FBC) of Hammond, Indiana (24 miles from Chicago city center).
Jack Hyles (1926-2001) took over the pastorate of FBC Hammond in 1959 and built it up into the largest church in America with weekly attendance averaging around 15,000.** Yup, 15,000! Hyles was widely admired, but also had his critics. In this book, IFB gadfly, David Cloud, examines the controversial 42-year tenure of Hyles at FBC Hammond.
Hyles built his attendance through his revolutionary bus ministry. 1000 workers in 230 buses ferried thousands from Greater Chicago to services in Hammond every Sunday. Numbers predictably became king. Contests were held with prizes for members who brought the most visitors. Reported conversion numbers, based upon responses to the invitation/”sinners prayer,” were spectacular if mostly only short-lived. Cloud blames Hyles for popularizing shallow, “quick prayerism” conversions as the standard throughout the IFB. It became all about numbers, numbers, numbers. In 1972, Hyles founded Hyles-Anderson College to train future pastors in his methods. Every young IFB pastor’s dream was to become the next Jack Hyles.
As potentate of a large and growing church empire, Hyles became increasingly authoritarian. Absolute loyalty was demanded of his deacon board and his membership. When visiting pastors came to FBC Hammond, Hyles would occasionally entertain them by selecting a deacon and having the person sit and stand at his command to demonstrate their unhesitating fealty. Hyles once ordered associate pastor, Johnny Colsten, to drink from a bottle labeled as poisonous after the deadly contents had been replaced with a harmless substitute. Hyles began many of his sermons by quoting a few Bible verses and then instructing the congregation to “close your Bibles and listen to me.” The membership loved Jack Hyles, but also greatly feared him. Hyles attacked noncompliant members from the pulpit.
In this climate of authoritarian control, Hyles succumbed to temptation. Hyles became romantically involved with one of the church’s secretaries; the wife of his best friend and FBC Hammond deacon, Vic Nischik. The deacon knew of the relationship, but reluctantly acquiesced to it for over a decade because of Hyle’s absolute control. Incredulous? Remember, David Koresh and Jim Jones also took control of their followers’ wives. When the relationship became public in the late 1980s, Hyles, of course, denied it. A “100% For Hyles” counter-scandal campaign was launched within the church. However, a decade after Hyles’ death, one of his daughters, Linda Hyles Murphrey, publicly corroborated the allegations. During Hyles’ tenure, his son, David, had been promoted to head of FBC Hammond’s youth ministry, but after several adulterous relationships were exposed, he was whisked away to Hyles’ former church in Texas where he continued his behaviors until his expulsion. Hyles’ son-in-law, Jack Schaap, became pastor of FBC Hammond after Hyles’ death in 2001. Schaap mimicked Hyles’ authoritarian style, directing his wrath from the pulpit at anyone in the congregation who was not giving him their 100% undivided loyalty. Schaap’s tenure came to an end in 2012 after the fifty-five-year-old was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female member of the congregation. There are a few extant videos on YouTube of Schaap’s absolutely unacceptable behavior behind the pulpit prior to his arrest (e.g., see here), but the members of FBC Hammond had been conditioned decades ago by Hyles to NEVER question anything about their pastor’s conduct.
This book is not a breezy read at the beach. Some would criticize author Cloud for throwing stones at “God’s anointed,” but all churches should be above-board and transparent, which FBC Hammond definitely wasn’t. Secrecy is the enemy of godly ministry. Many IFB churches, like FBC Hammond, were cultish because of leadership idolatry and unquestioned fealty to the pastor. The pastor of the IFB church we attended back in the 1980s was also a megalomaniac who controlled the congregation through intimidation and fear.*** His son succeeded him as pastor in 2011 and brought the church down two years ago when he was charged with sexually abusing four young women and was subsequently convicted on one count as part of a plea deal.
The IFB movement has definitely declined since its heyday back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. IFB missionary, David Cloud, who wrote this stinging examination, has carved out a following with his hard-hitting, controversial literature, but I would be hard pressed to name another IFB pastor besides him and extremist, Steven Anderson. I wouldn’t recommend Anderson and his hateful venom to anybody. It comes as no surprise that Anderson attended Hyles-Anderson College for several years.
*Jerry Falwell would eventually eclipse Hyles as the most famous of the “Sword”-affiliated IFB pastors.
**FBC Hammond claimed a membership of 50,000, although “only” 15,000 people attended each week.
***After my 8-year experience in an IFB church, I walked away from the Lord for 23-years. I have heard and read the testimonies of other believers who had attended IFB churches in the past who similarly felt that they had been steamrolled.