IFB Memories #12: Church and politics

There’s always been a tension within Christianity regarding what kind of a relationship the church should have with politics and the state. The early Reformers unfortunately adopted the Roman Catholic viewpoint that the state was the divinely ordained agent of the church. That concept still lingers in varying degrees throughout the West but especially in the United States. European countries still have official state-supported denominations although few people attend services.

In American evangelicalism today, at one end of the spectrum are Christians who argue the church and state should work hand in glove; elect Christian-friendly politicians, ensure the appointment of Christian-friendly judges, and legislate laws that reflect Judeo-Christian beliefs and values. At the other end of the spectrum are Christians who argue the job of the church is to evangelize and disciple and not to become entangled in worldly concerns. We are ambassadors of our Father in Heaven on a mission to evangelize, not to be deeply-rooted, nationalistic patriots.

My wife and I accepted Christ back in the early-1980s and we began attending an independent fundamental Baptist church that patterned itself after Jerry Falwell (pictured) and his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Falwell and his Moral Majority were so focused on championing conservative causes that the Gospel was relegated to the back seat. Co-belligerency alongside religious unbelievers (e.g., conservative Catholics) eventually contributed to an “ecumenism of the trenches” as Chuck Colson once approvingly noted.

Our pastor regularly mixed the Gospel with politics from the pulpit. America was presented as a Christian nation that was in a covenant with God in the very same way as was ancient Israel. Old Testament passages meant only for Israel were regularly misapplied to the United States. Our church was heavily involved with New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a political advocacy group supported by IFB and conservative evangelical churches in the state (see last article below). During election years, candidates from both parties were invited to our church to discuss their political positions but only Republicans bothered to show up. That church’s heavy involvement in politics and the constant harangues about the culture wars from the pulpit led to our decision to leave, among other reasons.

I don’t know exactly where the line is regarding the church’s involvement with politics and the state but I’m quite happy politics are never mentioned from the pulpit of our current church.

I’m currently reading “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” by Frances FitzGerald, which was published in April. It’s a history of evangelicalism in America from an unbeliever’s perspective. It’s not always complimentary but the facts are fascinating, especially regarding the struggle to determine the church’s relationship with the state. Review to follow.

Below are a few articles that touch upon this church-state dichotomy:

With God on Their Side: How Evangelicals Entered American Politics

Don’t compromise the gospel in social cooperation
http://news.sbts.edu/2017/04/13/dont-compromise-gospel-social-cooperation-says-mohler-tgc-workshop/

Evangelicals gather in Albany
http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/273279/evangelicals-gather-in-albany/

IFB Memories #11: “The Sword of the Lord”

Shortly after accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior back in 1983, my wife and I beganFront page of the Sword of the Lord, October 8, 1954 attending an independent fundamental Baptist church and we stayed there for eight years. I’ve already shared several memories from that time, both good and not so good (see here). Another memory from our stay at that church was “The Sword of the Lord” newspaper.

I’m an information person. I love to read, always have. As a baby Christian, I was drawn to our church’s information table, which was well-stocked with tracts (including Chick tracts), along with copies of “Our Daily Bread” and “The Sword of the Lord.” What? You’ve never heard of the “Sword of the Lord”? Well, back before the internet age, people used to get their news and information from the printed page and independent Baptists of a particular strain relied on “The Sword of the Lord.” I fell in love with the bi-weekly newspaper and subscribed immediately.

Pastor and evangelist, John R. Rice (1895-1980), first began publishing the Sword in 1934. The readership grew and grew as did Rice’s influence. Circulation of the newspaper peaked at 300,000 in the mid-1970s. Although independent Baptist churches are autonomous, there is a certain degree of networking through conferences, seminary support, etc. The major camps in the independent Baptist movement back in the 60s, 70s and 80s were the Sword group, spearheaded by Rice, and the Bob Jones group led by Bob Jones, Jr. and Bob Jones III. Rice and Jones, Jr. had split over the issue of separation, with the latter taking a much harder stand against the Southern Baptist “compromisers” (and racial integration).

Rice had died by the time I had started subscribing to the Sword, but the paper was continued by his successor, Curtis Hutson. I looked forward to seeing the Sword in our mailbox every other week. There was news, columns, and sermons from Sword regulars and Rice allies, Jack Hyles, Lee Roberson, Tom Malone, Bob Gray, Truman Dollar, Lester Roloff, Jerry Falwell, etc., along with classic sermons from Spurgeon, Moody, and Sunday. Very helpful to me were the advertisements from ministries to Catholics including The Conversion Center (Donald Maconaghie), Mission to Catholics (Bart Brewer), and Christians Evangelizing Catholics (Bill Jackson), all of which I contacted for resources.

There was a lot of good stuff in the pages of the Sword but some of the information also bothered me. Patriotism and nationalism in excess were constant themes. There was also a certain degree of spiritual arrogance and moral superiority that characterized the messages, as if to say, “We are such good Christians and wonderful people who do right as opposed to those terribly wicked unbelievers (and non-IFBers).” The hearts of the contributors didn’t always seem to be humble and contrite before the Lord. One could even sense a spirit of pomposity and Pharisaism. There seemed to be more “Dr.”s in the pages of the SOTL than a medical journal. It’s sad to say but public scandal eventually caught up with some of the names I mentioned above.

After a couple of years I let my subscription to the Sword run out. I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. Shelton Smith succeeded Hutson as publisher in 1995. Circulation has dropped to around 100,000. Independent Baptist Fundamentalism isn’t what it used to be and that’s both good and bad. Praise the Lord for men like John R. Rice who upheld the Gospel of grace by faith in opposition to those who began to accommodate and compromise (Billy Graham & Co.). But something went sour with the Rice camp and some of the other Baptist fundamentalists. They often came across as arrogant WE ARE SOMEBODYS rather than humble sinners saved by grace.

There’s a lesson there for all of us.

http://www.swordofthelord.com/

IFB Memories #10: Joy!

Over the past several months, I’ve shared several memories that were critical of themp experience at our first church, but there were some joyous times in those years as well.

I accepted Jesus as my Savior in 1983 at the age of 27. What a joy it was to know all my sins had been forgiven through faith in Christ. Do you remember the day you accepted Christ? It felt kind of like I had been in prison, on death row, and the governor had given me a pardon, but even better. Not only did Jesus pay my sin debt for me but then He beckoned me to walk with Him throughout eternity as Lord and Friend! What can possibly compare to that?

Immediately after accepting Christ I leafed through the yellow pages (remember those?) and found an independent Bible church in my area. Between constantly reading God’s Word (with a new understanding and appreciation), attending church services Sunday AM, Sunday PM, and Wednesday PM, and listening to previous sermon cassettes (remember those?) my life had become Jesus 24/7. There’s nothing quite like the zeal of a new convert to Christ.

Did I mention what my unsaved wife thought about all of this? My wife watched all of these goings on with a very jaundiced eye. What had I gotten myself into now? She thought I had gotten mixed up in a cult. My wife was raised Roman Catholic as I had been but she wasn’t gung ho about her religion by any stretch. I began sharing the Gospel with her as much as possible but the harder I pushed the more she resisted. And she definitely resented the new love of my life and the time and energy I was devoting to Him.

This went on for several months and our marriage was definitely headed for trouble. How could such a good thing like accepting Christ lead to such heartache? Why wouldn’t my wife just accept Christ? Why didn’t she understand? I prayed and prayed but things only got worse. In desperation I made an appointment with the pastor. I explained my situation and he gave me some godly advice. He told me to keep praying, be the best husband I could be, and leave the rest to the Lord. He said not to even mention Jesus to my wife. I drove home wondering how the pastor’s counsel could possibly work. It seemed counter-intuitive. My wife’s unbelief was a “problem” that I needed to fix but now I was being told to get out of the way and let God take control? I grudgingly heeded the pastor’s advice and totally gave the situation over to the Lord. I put my energy into loving my wife the way the Lord wanted me to and kept completely quiet about Jesus. After several months I could see the Lord was working on my wife and that her heart was softening. When she started coming to me with questions about God I tried to remain cool and composed.

My wife finally accepted Christ. Oh, happy day! I readily admit it was all the Lord’s doing. I was just getting in the way. We’ve had some trials in our marriage over the years. What couple hasn’t? It didn’t help when I walked away from the Lord for an extended time. We even divorced for a year fifteen years ago. But the Lord got us back together and He also graciously accepted me back. My wife and I now read the Lord’s Word and pray together almost daily. What a miracle! I sit next to my wife at church and silently tell the Lord how grateful I am.

I know things don’t always work out for everyone the way they have for my wife and I. Sometimes a married person accepts Christ but their spouse never does. Sometimes a believing married couple separate permanently. Although my wife accepted Christ, our two sons have not. Whatever your circumstances, I think back to the advice the pastor gave me: give it all to God. The frustration, the pain, the regrets. The Lord desires that we live our lives with our focus on Him and not be chained to the past or allow ourselves to be conquered by our current circumstances.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” – Philippians 3:14-16

Jack Chick dead at 92

Chick Publications has announced that its founder, the mysterious Jack Chick, died this past Sunday at thechick age of 92.

Several months ago, I posted my memories of Chick tracts. See here. Chick took a conspiratorial approach to Rome and managed to blame every calamity that beset the Western world on the Vatican and/or the Jesuits.

“According to Chick, the Vatican was responsible for creating Islam, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He also accused the Catholic Church of having been responsible for the Holocaust, the founding of Communism, Nazism, and the Ku Klux Klan; starting the World Wars; masterminding the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Great Depression and the assassinations of U.S. Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy.” – from Wikipedia

Whoops! The author/s of the Wikipedia article forgot to mention that Chick also claimed the Vatican created Freemasonry and Christian Science and that Jim Jones of the People’s Temple was a secret Jesuit who orchestrated the Jonestown Massacre in order to discredit Protestantism.

Chick’s outrageous allegations against the Vatican and the Jesuits impeded the efforts of responsible outreach to Roman Catholics. Taking a cue from his conspiracy mania, could it be that Chick was secretly a Jesuit agent, under orders to undermine credible Gospel witness to Catholics? No, I’m not serious, but who can argue with the end results? In the final analysis, Jack Chick was the Jesuits’ best friend by making outreach to Catholics look ridiculous in the minds of many.

Jack Chick, fundamentalist Christian cartoonist, dies at 92 – Associated Press article

Jack Chick – Wikipedia article

IFB Memories #9: Pain and sorrow

Yesterday was a very sad and disturbing day for me. As I’ve mentioned several timestina before, very shortly after accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior in 1983, my wife and I began attending an independent fundamentalist church in the area and we continued there for eight years. There were many good things about our stay at that church, but there were also many negatives. The pastor was a martial arts enthusiast who lorded over the church through intimidation – physical, psychological, and spiritual. His exaggerated macho swagger was caricaturish. In hindsight, I can say with confidence it was a spiritually toxic atmosphere. I’m ashamed we stayed as long as we did and I’m especially ashamed I allowed my increasing bitterness and our eventual exit from that church to draw me away from the Lord for many years. Men will always fail us but the Lord is our Rock.

Shortly after I returned to the Lord a couple of years ago, I was made aware of some terrible accusations against my former church via an internet report. Many years after we left, the pastor handed over the pastorate to his son who is also heavily involved in mixed martial arts fighting and the church was subsequently embroiled in multiple accusations of sexual abuse and cover-up spanning a couple of decades. None of this was surprising to me given the atmosphere at that church.

Yesterday I came across the blog of one of the victims and a post she wrote last year detailing some of the abuse. I knew this person when she was a pre-teen during the period she was abused at the church and I also knew her abusers (one of whom was around 40-years-old at the time and the other was an individual who was close to her in age and abused her as a child and later as an adult). Argh!!!! I was sickened, sickened, sickened as I read her accounts of repeated abuse. I was angered by the cover-up orchestrated by the church “leadership.” I’m grateful the former victim is now following the Lord after walking away from Him but my heart was very heavy about the sin that engulfed that church and the pain that was inflicted. The son continues as pastor with his father at his side as pastor emeritus although many of the members I knew have left.

We’re all aware of the abuse of children by pedophile Catholic priests but, unfortunately, there’s also been abuse within evangelical churches. Beware of churches in which the pastor is a spiritual bully and there is little if any credible oversight. Make sure checks and safeguards are in place in the children ministries at your church. I was a Sunday School teacher for six years at the church in question and there were ZERO protocols in place protecting children. In God we trust, all others have fallen natures.

I’m not a district attorney so all of this must be filed under “accusations” but as I said, the alleged crimes fit the circumstances as I remember them.

I pray for this woman and the others who were abused at my former church by those they trusted, that they give their pain and anger over to the Lord and draw ever closer to Him. I pray for the abusers, that they sincerely repent and beg the Lord for forgiveness.

IFB Memories #8: Beating up people for Jesus

My wife and I attended an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church back in the 80s.MMO We have many good memories of the church as well as some disturbing ones. I became so increasingly upset by some of the things that went on at that church that we finally stopped attending and I even walked away from the Lord for a couple of decades. That was obviously a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE mistake. If I had been walking closely with the Lord, I would have just asked Him to find us another church right away.

Anyway, over the last couple of months I’ve been able to look back at some of the unusual, outrageous, and even comical events that we witnessed at that church. Here’s another one.

The pastor of our IFB church was on the short side but somewhat hefty. His suit jackets strained to contain his bulky chest and arms. He wasn’t someone you would want to mess with from his appearance. He was also a black belt karate master. Karate classes were eventually started at the church and many of the youth signed up. A couple of times the pastor put on his “karategi” (white karate uniform) and black belt and gave karate demonstrations, breaking wooden boards and cement cinder blocks, during church services.

The pastor’s sermons were usually peppered with references to physical fighting. He became especially animated when he preached on Old Testament passages in which one of God’s followers beat the snot out of some deserving pagan. Oftentimes, he would speak about desiring to straighten out some wayward Christian or some unsaved God-mocker he knew by “kicking their butt, in Christian love of course.” He always added that last part to make his aggression “okay.” He frequently encouraged the congregation by telling us, “if you don’t like my preaching, don’t let the door hit you in the behind.” Nice.

Initially, this in-your-face style of Christianity was an entertaining novelty. I was used to limp-wristed priests and brothers in Catholicism so this macho-man brand of Christianity was refreshing. The pastor often said Jesus was a tough guy, a carpenter-mason with thick, calloused hands who wasn’t afraid to go nose to nose with the religious big shots. But after the novelty wore off, the pastor’s tough guy approach became increasingly annoying. The Jesus who I read about in the New Testament was nothing like the he-man caricature the pastor spoke of.

As I remember, many other independent Baptist pastors took the crack-the-whip approach in their ministry back in the 80s but I think a lot of that has fizzled out. Our old pastor made tough guy, Mark Driscoll, look like Joel Osteen.

Application: If there’s a megalomaniac in the pulpit, don’t give up on God, find another church.

Post script: A wealthly church member bequeathed a large sum of cash to the church sixteen years ago. The money was used to build a large recreation center on the church campus. The pastor retired about five years ago because of health reasons and handed down the pastorate to his son, predictably, another martial arts enthusiast. The son has turned the rec center into a training facility for mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting. Can anyone imagine Jesus Christ beating someone’s face to a pulp in an MMA cage?

IFB Memories #7: Apocalypse now…and I mean NOW!

After we accepted the Lord in 1983, my wife and I attended an independent fundamentalAAAAAA Baptist (IFB) church for eight years. We were firmly grounded in God’s Word at that church, but the pastor also took the congregation down some strange rabbit holes. I can laugh about it now.

In the early part of 1988, a small booklet was creating quite a stir at our church as well as at thousands of other evangelical and fundamentalist churches. Former NASA engineer, Edgar C. Whisenant, had written “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.” Based on information from the Bible and using his own mathematical calculations, Whisenant had determined the Rapture of the church would occur sometime between September 11th and September 13th of 1988. 4.5 million copies of the booklet ended up being distributed.

Like most IFB preachers, our pastor often taught the Rapture – the taking up of Christians bodily into Heaven prior to the seven-year Tribulation that will engulf the world prior to the second coming of Christ. Most eschatology “end-times” teaching is based on the prophesies from the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation although relevant passages can also be found in many other books of the Bible. The teaching of the Rapture of the church is taught primarily from 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

The little booklet began making inroads into our church and someone even began leaving bulk copies on the information table (right next to complimentary copies of The Sword of the Lord and Our Daily Bread). People were being whipped into a frenzy. Was it true? Were we going to be raptured in September? We turned to Pastor Joe for guidance. In one of his sermons, the pastor said he had studied Whisenant’s information for days and days looking for a miscalculation. His judgement? Pastor Joe said that while he could not endorse the booklet’s predictions completely, he also could not find anything that would contradict Whisenant’s claims. The result? Many people at our church assumed the Rapture would take place during the three days specified by Whisenant. When the days came and went our pastor said, “Well of course, ‘But of that day and hour knoweth no man’ (Matthew 24:36).” Hmmm. Shouldn’t he have been saying that previous to all the frenzy? I don’t mean to justify myself but some of my disillusionment with the church, which led to me walking away from the Lord for 23 years, was because of this type of nonsense.

Many Christians study eschatology. If it wasn’t important it wouldn’t be in God’s Word. I generally don’t concentrate on it a lot myself, maybe in part because of the Whisenant fiasco, but I do appreciate other bloggers who keep me up to speed. Given all of the INCREDIBLY WEIRD things that are happening in the world recently, I think, yes, we may be approaching the end, but nobody knows for sure. If someone starts giving you dates, RUN, don’t walk, away. In the meantime, let’s be about our Father’s business.

For a PDF copy of “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988,” see here. Oh, the painful memories!