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

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on June 18, 2016 and has been revised.

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After we accepted the Lord in 1983, my wife and I attended an independent fundamental 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.

Edgar C. Whisenant

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!

Throwback Thursday: IFB Memories #3: “Using public restrooms could be fatal”

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on May 11, 2016 and has been revised. Speaking of epidemics/pandemics…

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The AIDS epidemic was already starting to make headlines when my wife and I began attending an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church back in 1983. The death toll was rising every year and would peak at 42,000 deaths in the US in 1995 with no cure in sight. People were frightened. How was AIDS transmitted? Could it be contracted by casual contact? If you were around in the 1980s, you’ll remember that AIDS was scary stuff.

The pastor at our church, Joe B, didn’t meet the crisis lying down. Sermons increasingly began to reference AIDS as being God’s judgement on homosexuality. After a while, it seemed like AIDS and homosexuality were the pastor’s prime focus. As the epidemic continued to ramp up, it became rare to hear a sermon that didn’t include a statement about the sin of homosexuality. I certainly know what the Bible says about homosexuality, but it became an obsession at our church. It became sin #1. But what about all the other sins against God? I got so sick of hearing about homosexuals during church sermons that I can remember getting physically agitated every time another harangue began.

In his sermons, Joe liked to mention that he had worked as a medical lab technician* before entering the seminary and he knew a thing or two about blood. Boy, did he know a thing or two. Sermons that referred to the blood of Christ were usually peppered with incomprehensible medical jargon. With the AIDS epidemic seemingly spreading like wildfire during a California dry spell, the pastor shared his “insider’s” perspective from the pulpit on exactly where the whole AIDS thing was headed; the impending “truth” that the government was too afraid to reveal to the public.

According to our former-medical-lab-technician pastor, men ran the risk of catching AIDS every time they visited a public lavatory. How so? The alarming scenario he laid out began with infected homosexual men using a restroom. When they subsequently flushed the toilet or urinal, the water and waste would naturally swirl together in the fixture, releasing microscopic droplets of infected urine into the surrounding air. Unsuspecting heterosexual men who entered the lavatory would inhale the contaminated vapor and contract AIDS. Yes, that hypothesis was preached as fact from the pulpit of our church to a congregation that was already skittish about the epidemic. For several months after that, I avoided public lavatories like the bubonic plague. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t at the time. The moral of the story is, don’t allow yourself or your family sit under the preaching of a megalomaniac. If there are no checks and balances on your pastor (the pastor is an absolute dictator in IFB churches), there’s a chance he could go off the deep end.

But some of our former pastor’s concerns were legitimate. Things have certainly changed since 1983 regarding homosexuality. In our post-modern, inclusive, pluralistic, tolerant society, sin is “out” and deviancy is “in.” Society has been tipped on its head. The exception is now presented as the norm. Old-school “morality” is pooh-poohed. Same-sex couples are now featured quite prominent in the popular media. Most anything goes these days. Whatever seems good to an individual is “right” for them as long as they don’t infringe upon anyone else. Christians are definitely going to catch increasing “heat” from secular society because of what the Bible says about homosexuality.

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” – Proverbs 21:2

*When I first began attending the church, pastor Joe regularly bragged that he had been a medical student before entering the seminary. A suspicious church member checked out the story and found the claim was untrue. After being confronted, the pastor tearfully confessed before the congregation that he had been a lab technician, not a doctoral student. Years later, the pastor made it known that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was considering him as Billy’s eventual replacement, another pretentious lie.

2021 Update: Pastor Joe B’s rants against homosexuals are beyond ironic in light of the revelation that he was arrested for child sex abuse and pleaded guilty in town court on June 2nd, 2021. See my relevant post here. This post is also sadly ironic because today’s COVID-19 virus is contracted largely via airborne transmission.

Throwback Thursday: IFB Memories #2: “Amy Grant is more dangerous than Adolf Hitler!” Huh?

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on May 9, 2016 and has been revised.

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My wife and I accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior in 1983 and we began attending an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church in our town shortly afterwards. The church somewhat followed the Jerry Falwell/Thomas Road Baptist Church and John R. Rice/Sword of the Lord models of Baptist fundamentalism for those of you who can remember back that far. In other words, the church wasn’t as extreme as those in the Bob Jones III or Peter Ruckman fundamentalist camps, but it was nowhere near as liberal as the compromising “New Evangelical” churches that were also sprouting up. If none of those names mean anything to you then you definitely missed Christian fundamentalism in the 1980s.

We grew in the Lord to a degree at that IFB church, but there were also many things that were preached from the pulpit that didn’t seem to me to be in accordance with God’s Word. The messages were often VERY heavy into legalism, politics, and supporting the culture battles to “reclaim America for Jesus.” After eight years of becoming increasingly agitated and uncomfortable, we decided we could no longer sit under the pastor’s preaching. I was so distraught about the church and Christianity in general that I walked away from the Lord for 23 years, just like the dumb prodigal son. But the Lord didn’t forsake me and I returned to Him in 2014.

When I returned to the Lord, I purposely wanted to avoid the fundamentalist church scene. We attended an SBC church for one year and we’ve been attending a non-denominational church for the last six months. But I’ve noticed a lot has changed in the church while I was away. It appears fundamentalism has been pretty much relegated to the fringes while the dreaded “New Evangelicalism” is in the driver’s seat. In fact, things seem to have become so loosey-goosey that what passes for evangelical Christianity these days often makes those old “New Evangelicals” look like Bob Jones-style fundamentalists.

Don’t get me wrong. Those IFB churches had some very good teaching, but they also got very tangled up in Pharisaism. Every once in a while I’d like to take a walk down memory lane with you and reminisce about some of our experiences at that IFB church in the 1980s. I recently shared a memory about a couple at the church who objected to pork meat shreds in their egg rolls. See here. Let’s continue this intermittent series by examining how our IFB church viewed rock music and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM).

When we first joined the IFB church, one of the frequent messages from the pulpit was that all rock and roll music was of the devil. The incessant, hypnotic drum beat of rock and roll was linked to the frenzied, pagan rituals of African jungle tribes (sorry, but that was how it was described) and opened up the listener to demonic influences. And those lyrics! Talk about demonic! Rock music promoted the use of drugs, promiscuous sex, and even atheism. Before I accepted Jesus, I had accumulated around 300 rock and roll LPs. Yes, 300! But I couldn’t argue with the pastor. I knew very well that the lyrics of the songs on some of the albums promoted drug use and promiscuity. At the very least, I knew the worldview that was advocated on many of those records didn’t agree with the Bible. I dumped all of those albums in a large, commercial dumpster. All 300. Ach! That was hard! I loved my rock music.

In the early 80s, singer, Amy Grant, was becoming very popular with Christians in general and with a few of our church members in particular. Grant and other pioneering CCM artists were taking rock music and adding Christian-themed lyrics. Sure, the lyrics might have mentioned Jesus and God, but the hypnotic beat was said to be of the devil and opened up the listener to all kinds of dark forces. Well, our pastor caught wind that some of the membership was listening to Amy Grant and he didn’t go for that at all. The pastor saw the spread of rock music into the church as an insidious plot hatched in the very depths of hell. Amy Grant was evil incarnate or at least the pawn of Satan. The pastor proclaimed from the pulpit that Amy Grant was more evil and more dangerous than Adolf Hitler.

[Pause for effect.]

Yes, you read that correctly. The pastor actually proclaimed from the pulpit, with quite a bit of angry passion as I vividly recall, that Amy Grant was more evil and more dangerous than Adolf Hitler! I had liked one popular Amy Grant song at the time, “El Shaddai,” which I heard on a compilation cassette tape that another church member had put together for me, but I hadn’t bought any of her “demonic” albums. But was Amy Grant really more evil than Hitler? That kind of heavy-handed fundamentalist rhetoric from the pulpit really gnawed at me. Why couldn’t Christian artists use contemporary music to proclaim a Gospel message? Were songs with drums really Satanic? It was obvious some of the opposition to CCM music was because of generational and church-culture opposition to any kind of “rock” music.

Flash forward to 2016. Contemporary songs with drums and electric guitars are widely featured in the worship music of evangelical churches throughout America. Music with a rock beat is no longer viewed as innately evil by most Christians. Sure, there’s a lot of bad and even heretical CCM music out there, but there were also some bad and doctrinally questionable hymns in the old hymn books. Most Christians these days would react with a hearty guffaw if they heard a pastor compare Amy Grant to Hitler. Young Christians aren’t aware of the great drama that took place in churches over this music issue.

As in all things, Christians must be discerning. Yes, there’s a lot of secular music out there that is unabashedly anti-God and should be avoided by Christians. But some of it is simply innocuous. Labeling ALL music that uses drums, electric guitars, and contemporary melodies as Satanic would be viewed by most Christians today as a ridiculously anachronistic attitude, and rightly so, although I know there are some IFB churches that still teach exactly that.

Note of tragic irony from 2021: The pastor referred to above pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse in Pittsford Town Court on June 2, 2021. See here.

Victory Baptist ‘Fight Church’ founding pastor pleads guilty to child sex abuse 3 years after son owned abuse charge

My wife and I began attending Victory Baptist Church (now Victory Church), an independent, fundamental Baptist church in Henrietta, (a suburb of Rochester) New York, as new Christians back in 1983. We continued there until 1991 (way too long) when we could no longer stomach macho-man pastor Joe Burress’ megalomania. It was a toxic church environment and the fundamentalist pastoral bullying and authoritarianism soured me on “churchianity” for many, many years.

As I reported back in September 2017 (see here), Joe’s son, Paul, took over as pastor of the church in 2011 when his father came down with an illness. With his keen interest in Mixed Martial Arts, Paul raised many eyebrows with his role as one of the primaries in the “Fight Church” (2014) documentary. After his recovery from illness, Joe continued at Victory as pastor-emeritus and Sunday School teacher for senior members.

Accusations that Paul was abusing young women at the church began surfacing on the internet in 2014. Paul was eventually arrested in 2017 and charged with molesting three young women who attended the church. In 2018, he pled guilty to one of the charges as part of a plea deal and received no jail time. Paul stepped down as pastor of Victory at the time of his arrest, but continued as a member there.

An old proverb states that an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but in this sickening twist, the tree was found to be in close proximity to its fallen apple. This morning, I was searching the news for stories for next weekend’s news round-up and came across the month-old article below.

https://www.christianpost.com/news/fight-church-founding-pastor-pleads-guilty-to-sex-abuse.html

This past June 2nd, 71-year-old Joe Burress pled guilty in town court to sexually abusing a female child. Two accusers had actually come forward testifying to abuse by Burress in the time periods of 2014 to 2017 and 2018 to 2020, but I suspect he was also allowed to plead guilty to only one of the charges as part of a plea deal. Both females were under the age of 14 at the time of the abuse. Burress is scheduled to be sentenced on September 2 in Town Court.

Below is a link to a video from one of the local television news channels regarding Joe Burress’ guilty plea. Note Joe’s demeanor as he exits the court building. Cocky and unrepentant to the bitter end.

The subscribers-only newspaper story below documents how three adult women have recently filed lawsuits against the Burresses and Victory for the toxic environment of abuse at the church dating back to the late-1970s.

Women say culture of secrecy at Victory Church enabled predators to abuse them as girls
https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2021/07/01/victory-church-henrietta-ny-lawsuit-women-accuse-sexual-abuse-child-victims-act/5325985001/

I declined to name names in my previous posts about “Victory” church, but the Burresses don’t deserve the anonymity.

Postscript: There is no acknowledgement of pastor-emeritus Joe Burress’ arrest or guilty plea on Victory Church’s Facebook page or website other than the page for his Sunday School seniors group, ironically-named, “Partners in Prime,” has been deleted.

Throwback Thursday: KJV 1611-Only?

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on May 19, 2016 and has been revised. I don’t usually dwell on disagreements over secondary issues, but sometimes they can’t be avoided, especially when proponents of a particular view insist it’s a salvation issue.

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The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?
By James R. White
Bethany House, 2009, 364 pages

5 Stars

I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior way back in 1983. There were many people and circumstances that pointed me to the Savior along the way, including a couple of guys at work. Jose and Ray knew I was interested in God and spiritual matters and would eagerly stop me in the hallway to strike up a conversation. I must admit, sometimes when I saw them coming from a distance, I turned and walked the other way. Can anyone else relate? But the Lord had been drawing me to Him for quite awhile, and I eventually accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.

Jose and Ray were thrilled that I had accepted Christ, but they cautioned me that I needed to immediately plug into a good, Bible-believing church that only used the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. They advised me that all of the modern Bible versions were corrupt. Although I had just received Christ, I was no stranger to Christianity. I had done much reading and was already aware of the claims of the KJV 1611-only advocates.

Jose and Ray invited me to their church, First Bible Baptist* in Rochester, NY, and I visited a couple of times, but the church’s strong stance on the KJV bothered me. I asked Ray, “If the KJV is the only legitimate translation, then what about all the other people in the world who can’t read English? What do they do?” Ray answered that if modern translators used the KJV as their source-text for non-English Bibles then everything would be fine. Well, no translator is going to translate a translation when the ancient manuscripts are available. I also knew enough about translating to know that no two individuals would translate the KJV’s 17th-century English into another language using the EXACT same wording. Who then would judge which of the translations would be the “authorized” one? If the KJV 1611-only view was correct, then it appeared that God preferred English-speaking people over non-English-speakers. We Americans often have a parochial, myopic view when it comes to the rest of the world and I saw the KJV 1611-only mindset as another example of that.

Not wanting to attend a KJV 1611-only church, I looked through the yellow pages and chose another independent Baptist church close to our home. The pastor there used the King James Version, but he wasn’t dogmatic about it. Not once in the 8 years that we attended did he preach about the sole legitimacy of the KJV. I used the KJV at church like most everyone else in the congregation, but I read from my New American Standard Bible (NASB) at home. The archaic 17th-century English of the KJV seemed to me to be unnecessary baggage to have to deal with while reading the Bible.

I observed the KJV 1611-only controversy from a distance. Peter Ruckman spoke at week-long services at First Bible Baptist a couple of times. Anyone else remember him? Pastor Ruckman was based down in Florida and was one of the standard bearers of the KJV 1611-only movement. Ruckman’s weekly church services were televised in our area and his sermons always seemed to bring up the inerrancy of the KJV and the corruption of the modern translations. His messages usually included ad hominem attacks on anyone who didn’t agree with his KJV 1611-only viewpoint. Ruckman even went so far as to claim that if a particular text was found in the KJV, but not in the early manuscripts (and there are examples), then the additions to the KJV were divinely inspired!

So, I’ve been aware of the KJV 1611-only controversy for quite some time, but never gave it too much attention. After having walked away from the Lord for a very long “season,” I returned to Him two years ago. I continue to use the NASB in my daily Bible reading,** but also have a New International Version (NIV) since that is the translation used by our pastor. I began this blog last July and I’ve noticed from reading other blogs that there are still very strong advocates of the KJV 1611-only viewpoint. To educate myself a bit better, I recently read “The King James Only Controversy” by apologist, James R. White. I was already familiar with White because of his outstanding work defending the Gospel against the errors of Roman Catholicism.

I enjoyed “The King James Only Controversy” and found it to be very informative. I sincerely doubt those who hold to the KJV 1611-only viewpoint would consider it, but the reader who is curious about the controversy might find White’s book as helpful as I did.

Some thoughts from the book:

  • The English language Bible has a long history. The KJV translators relied heavily on the previous work of earlier translators such as Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza. The KJV translators never considered their work to be inerrant and inspired, but only the best possible translation at the time. Early KJV Bibles referenced textual variations in the margins.
  • KJV 1611-only advocates are actually using a revision first published in 1769.
  • Several passages in the KJV are shown to be errors or extremely poor translations.
  • Variations in the ancient manuscripts can and should be examined objectively.
  • Modern translations (NASB, NIV, ESV, NKJV) are dependable. There are good reasons for the differences between the KJV and modern translations, but no translation is perfect, including the KJV.

Emotions run high on this issue. This post will surely offend some. Because KJV 1611-only advocates see the KJV as the inerrant, inspired translation of the Bible, they see any disagreement with their view as a direct attack on God’s Word and an attack on God Himself. There are actually many in the KJV 1611-only camp who go so far as to claim that anyone who does not use the KJV exclusively is not a genuine Christian. I’m not a Bible manuscript scholar, far from it, but I offer White’s book as a thoughtful rebuttal to the KJV 1611-only argument. This post is NOT an attack on God and His Word, although, if you’re a KJV 1611-only advocate, I’m sure you’ll see it that way.***

I’m not claiming that all translations are equal. Christians need to be discerning and must do a little homework. I would never recommend that anyone use a paraphrase Bible as their primary Bible, but I occasionally check a paraphrase Bible (NLT) as a resource.

The Pilgrims and Puritan Protestants came to America with the Geneva Bible, not the KJV. The translators of the KJV were high-church Anglicans and the Puritans viewed the KJV with great suspicion. The article below gives an interesting history of the English Bible for those who don’t want to go to all the trouble of buying and reading White’s book.


http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/

* The pastor of First Bible Baptist church at the time was James Modlish, a key figure in the KJV 1611-only movement.

**Note from 2021: I’ve been using the ESV the last several years.

***Another note from 2021: KJV 1611-Onlyism is still a popular paradigm within what remains of independent Baptist fundamentalism. Because of this book, KJV 1611-Onlyists view James R. White as a pawn of Satan.

Separation? How far?

God’s Word says believers are to separate themselves from sin and from worldliness.

15 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:15-17. See also 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.

But that doesn’t mean we should become like hermit monks and withdraw from the world.

15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. – John 17:15-19

We need to be ambassadors for the Lord and the Gospel in this world, but not get enmeshed in worldly sinfulness. Christians interpret separation from worldliness differently. The independent fundamental Baptist church that I attended back in the 80s and 90s had a very long list of verboten activities and at the top of the list were drinking, smoking, dancing, cardplaying, watching Hollywood movies, and listening to rock music. But the pastor was a karate blackbelt and conveniently bent the rules when it came to watching martial arts action movies.

One believer may think some thing or some activity is okay while another may not.

Let’s take a look at General Mills’ “Lucky Charms” cereal. The mythical leprechaun character on the box cover touts the “magically delicious” cereal inside, which includes some dehydrated marshmallowy thingys in the shapes of pagan good luck charms such as stars, horseshoes, clovers, and blue moons.

Some believers would be absolutely appalled at the idea of a box of Lucky Charms in their cupboard. Other believers would say, “Meh. It’s just a box of cereal. No need to get bent out of shape about it.”

We need to find a discerning balance in these matters. At one extreme are Christians who expound great energy on these separation issues and who develop a pharisaical “circle-the-wagons,” straining-at-gnats, bunker mentality. Being the “separation police” is the overriding theme of their Christian walk. At the other extreme are Christians who are totally enmeshed in worldly thinking and behavior. Each Christian needs to follow the Lord’s leading in these matters as they understand them and accept that not everyone will have the exact same understanding.

Question: What are YOUR thoughts on buying “Lucky Charms” and serving that cereal to your children? Me? I wouldn’t buy “Lucky Charms,” but I wouldn’t refuse to eat them if I was a guest at someone’s house and that’s what they served for breakfast (Yech!). It would be a good opportunity to share the Gospel!

Bonus question: The movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” premiered at movie theaters way back in 1939 and was first broadcast on television in 1956. The film features a wizard, a “bad” witch, a “good” witch, spells, and magical ruby slippers. Should Christian parents not allow their children to watch this movie or can they use it as a tool to teach discernment?

Devil in a Baptist Church

Devil in the Baptist Church: Bob Gray’s Unholy Trinity
By Tim Gilmore
JaxbyJax Literary Arts, 2016, 333 pp.

3 Stars

Four decades ago, the “Sword of the Lord” bi-weekly newspaper was the standard of the independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement and I was a loyal subscriber. Transcripts of Pastor Bob Gray’s sermons were regularly featured in the Sword along with a photo of Gray and his distinctive, black-rimmed glasses. Gray took over pastorship of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida in 1954. Trinity eventually became the first mega-church in Florida and one of the largest churches in America with a membership of approximately 6000. The fiery Gray was considered one of the preeminent leaders of the IFB.

Above: A photo of “Pastor” Bob Gray, an image very familiar to the readers of the Sword of the Lord forty years ago.

But rumors began spreading of Gray’s sexual abuse of children at Trinity. In the early-1980s, Gray was secretly sent to the Narramore Christian Foundation in Arcadia, California for counseling. He returned back to Trinity and the abuse continued. In 1992, Gray was allowed to…or rather encouraged to resign the pastorate and take the role of Trinity’s missionary to faraway Germany. Thirteen years later, in 2005, Gray returned to the United States, but was arrested the following year on charges of sexual abuse of multiple children. Eighty-one-year-old Bob Gray died in jail in November 2007 while awaiting trial.

Former Trinity member, Tim Gilmore, wrote this self-published exposé. To say the book is amateurishly written and that Gilmore has an ax to grind against Christianity would be understatements, however the information is important. The IFB culture of pastoral authoritarianism and arrogance, and the total lack of any pastoral oversight afforded a creep like Gray to run roughshod for almost forty years. The church’s “leadership” was complicit in Gray’s crimes by attempting to silence the victims, whisking Gray away to Germany in order to diffuse the escalating controversy, and denying his culpability even at the side of his grave. Read the glowing tributes to Gray in his 2007 obituary here.

Christians tend to want to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to these types of “improprieties,” which helps to enable and to perpetuate the abuse. Church leaders sought to “deal” with scandal “internally,” rather than contact civil authorities, which they thought would bring ignominy to the cause of Christ. The leadership at Trinity coddled the predator and threw his young victims under the bus.

While today’s Sword of the Lord regularly features sermons from IFB pastors of yesteryear, it understandably does not publish sermons from Bob Gray. There is no honest transparency at the Sword of the Lord in regards to preachers who were once put on pedestals, but fell (Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, Truman Dollar, Gray). They just disappear with no comment.

Former pastor talked openly with police about sex charges
https://www.news4jax.com/news/2007/11/21/former-pastor-talked-openly-with-police-about-sex-charges/

Throwback Thursday: IFB Memories #1: Picking through egg rolls?

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on April 28, 2016 and has been revised.

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I’ve mentioned several times that shortly after my wife and I accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior back in 1983, we joined an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church in our area. I can best describe it as a church that emulated Jerry Falwell and his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia; VERY heavy into politics and patriotism and also VERY heavy into waging culture battles. We grew in the Lord “somewhat” while we were there, but there were also A LOT of legalistic attitudes at that church, which eventually wore us down to the point that we stopped attending in 1991. I even walked away from the Lord for the next twenty-three years because I had become so exasperated with “churchianity.”

We have a lot of memories of that church, both good and bad, but some of the members did some outlandish things. I was driving home from work yesterday and recalled the following illustrative episode:

One day my wife and I went out to dinner with another couple from the church, Greg and Gail. We chose to eat at The Shanghai, a nearby Chinese restaurant, and just like at many Chinese restaurants, we were all served egg rolls as an appetizer. Both Greg and Gail immediately proceeded to cut open their egg rolls and pick out the tiny strands of pork that were embedded in the shredded cabbage with their forks. I asked them what they were doing and they answered the Bible forbids believers to eat pork. Hoo boy! I told them the Old Testament dietary laws were done away with by the New Testament covenant (see Mark 7:17-23 and Acts 10:9-15), but they were having none of it and continued to pick out the pork, but said for us to go ahead if we were fine with eating it. Yes, I know we’re told in Scripture not to offend those who still struggle with OT dietary laws (Romans 14:1-23), but those two were not Jewish and it was not 57 AD!!! Time to read the entire Bible, folks! Well, as you might suspect, I ate the entire contents of my egg rolls and savored every pork shred. I would not be a party to such un-Scriptural persnicketiness by also picking through my egg rolls. There were other, similar legalities that the people in that church engaged in. The general attitude fostered that kind of nitpicky scrupulosity and judgmentalism. These were my brothers and sisters in the Lord and I probably shouldn’t point out their foibles, but I use the experience as an example of how we should be on guard against scrupulous legalism.

Thank you, Jesus, for fulfilling the entire law and saving me by grace through faith in You alone. Help me to know Your entire Word. And thank you for pork chops and barbecue ribs – in moderation of course!

Revisiting the Sword of the Lord

I’ve published several posts over the years that referred to “The Sword of the Lord.” The bi-weekly newspaper was once an important resource for a large faction of the independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement here in the United States. The Sword of the Lord was first published on September 28, 1934 by evangelist John R. Rice, who edited the paper until his death on December 29, 1980.

The first Gospel-preaching church my wife attended after we were saved in 1983 was an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church that offered complimentary copies of the Sword on its information table. I subsequently subscribed to the Sword and enjoyed the sermons, editorials, columns, and news bites. The Sword heavily promoted Christian nationalism, a VERY popular viewpoint within the IFB movement and conservative evangelicalism, then and now.

We gradually became exasperated with the teaching at our IFB church and finally left in 1991. The legalistic harangues from the pulpit were beyond burdensome. I had also let my subscription to the Sword run out several years previously for the same reason.

This past summer, I wrote several posts about the IFB that rekindled my “arms length” interest in the movement (although I could never again attend an IFB church). I even resubscribed to the Sword of the Lord. I enjoy most of the contents, although I consume editor Shelton Smith’s columns and news bites propagating Christian nationalism with a very large grain of salt. The principle of “chewing on the meat and spitting out the bones” applies each time I read the Sword.

On page 10 of the October 2, 2020 issue of the Sword I noticed the annual circulation statement that’s found in all periodicals. The statement said there were currently 41,774 subscribers to the paper. Hmm. Interesting.

The biography, “John R. Rice: Man Sent from God” (1981), featured a table on pp. 130-131 showing the circulation of the Sword peaking in 1974 with 288,184 subscribers. There’s now only 42K subscribers? Wow! That’s quite a decline. That’s an indicator not only of the growing unpopularity of print media, but also an indicator of the decline of the IFB.

As I was writing this post, I asked myself if I would rather attend an IFB church where the Gospel is clear, but members must contend with the legalistic harangues and shamings from the pulpit or attend a hipster, seeker-sensitive mega-church, like the one we attended from 2015 to 2019, where the Gospel is shrouded by the laser light shows and amplifiers? Ach. That’s an impossible choice, like asking yourself which poison you would prefer.

Jesus and John Wayne?

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation
By Kristin Kobes Du Mez
Liveright Publishing, 2020, 356 pp.

2 Stars

Readers of this blog know I’m not a supporter of the still-popular “America the Christian Nation” paradigm. The conflation of faith and fervent nationalism by American Christians has led to a multitude of wrong turns, errors, and abuses ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620.

The unusual title of this book caught my attention, so I borrowed a copy from the library. The author documents the preliminary origins and rise of militant Falwellian Christian nationalism in the 1970s, which has continued in various permutations into the Trump presidency. Where does Hollywood actor, John Wayne,* fit in? The author posits that post-WWII-era Christians substituted Wayne, or rather the über-masculine and nationalistic ethos that the actor symbolized, for Jesus Christ and the genuine Gospel. The main propagators of Christian nationalism receive plenty of mention, including Pat Buchanan, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Sr., Jerry Falwell Jr., Bill Gothard, Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, D. James Kennedy, Al Mohler, Oliver North, Tony Perkins, Doug Phillips, Pat Robertson, Rousas Rushdoony, Phyllis Schlafly, and Doug Wilson, among others.

The author, Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of history at Calvin University** (Grand Rapids, MI) and a self-described “Christian feminist,” is at the opposite end of the spectrum of the Christian nationalists she critiques. Throughout the entire book, the reader must endure her shrill rants against “white patriarchalism.” I’m definitely not a supporter of Christian nationalism or inflated machismo, but Kobes Du Mez also frequently takes aim at doctrines that are basic to Biblical Christianity. According to her view, evangelical Christian nationalists are also misguided because they preach against homosexuality, desire to evangelize Muslims, and believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God.

I would have awarded this book only 1-star due to its theological heterodoxy, however I bumped it up to two stars because I did appreciate the author’s critical examination of the history of Falwellian Christian nationalism. Evangelical scholars are not apt to tackle this subject material either because (A) they’re sympathetic to Christian nationalism themselves or (B) they don’t want to alienate the bulk of American Christians who still hold to that paradigm in some form or fashion. However, the author’s own ax grinding on behalf Christian feminism and theological liberalism draws its own abundant criticisms.

I’ll be focusing on a very recent example of misguided Christian nationalism in the upcoming Weekend Roundup.

*John Wayne was a nominal Presbyterian before “converting” to Roman Catholicism two days before his death.

**Christian parents send their teens off to some “Christian” colleges such as Calvin University mistakenly assuming the faculty believes and teaches Biblical orthodoxy.