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.
New Neutralism II: Exposing the Gray of Compromise By John E. Ashbrook Here I Stand Books, Second Printing, 2002, 110 pp.
I’ve recently reviewed a couple of excellent books about the sad history of evangelicalism’s slow and steady journey towards compromise and accommodation with Roman Catholicism and other errors. See my review of “Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism” by Rolland D. McCune here and my review of “We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics” by Neil J. Young here.
Fundamentalist pastor, John E. Ashbrook (d. 2011), expanded upon the themes of the 1958 booklet, “The New Neutralism,” written by his pastor father, William Ashbrook, to produce this short book, which was first published in 1992. By “neutralism,” the author is referring to compromise with error and religious unbelief. As with “Promise Unfulfilled,” Ashbrook examines the rise of “New Evangelicalism” and its wayward journey. New Evangelicalism was the brainchild of Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry, and Billy Graham. They determinedly broke from fundamentalist separatism in the late 1940s and plotted a course that would be more accommodating in relationship to modernists and Catholics. The initial idea was that “dialogue” would win more souls than confrontation, but, as might be predicted, accommodation with error gradually turned into acquiescence to error.
Ashbrook names many names and doesn’t pull his punches. His tone is angry, strident, and sometimes even sarcastic as befits a fundamentalist pastor with an ax to grind, but it’s hard to argue with much of what he’s written here. One need only turn on TBN to see the heterodox bitter fruit of Ockenga, Henry, and Graham’s “New Evangelicalism” vision.
Why the New Neutralism?
Separatism, Acceptance, and the Social Gospel
The NAE, the WEF, and Camels
Fuller Seminary – Exhibit A
Billy Graham – The Mouthpiece of New Evangelicalism
Billy Graham’s Catholic Connection
Mr. Revolutionary (Bill Bright) and Campus Crusade
Jack Frasure Hyles: The Fundamental Man By Cindy Hyles Schaap Hyles Publications, 1998, 528 pp.
Having started out at an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church as a new Christian back in the early-1980s, I have a continuing interest in the movement and its history.
Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001) was one of the biggest names in the IFB back when I was a new believer, with his First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana (23 miles from Chicago) being one of the largest churches in the nation at the time (15,000 weekly attendance). Hyles became a widely sought-after speaker and IFB pastors across the nation studied and emulated his methods. Hyles was the face of the IFB in the 1980s and 90s.
Cindy Hyles Schaap (photo left) wrote this adulatory tribute to her father three years before his death with Hyles’ full cooperation. God’s Word certainly exhorts us to honor our pastors, but this very handsomely-bound, 538-page, coffee-table book exemplifies the kind of leadership idolatry that’s prevalent within the IFB. Jack Hyles gets 95% of the glory in this book and Jesus Christ gets the scraps. I can imagine the apostle Paul’s reaction if someone tried to memorialize him in a similar fashion.
This lengthy biography presents an incredible amount of the detail from Hyles’ life, from his birth in Italy, Texas, to pastoring several small churches, to his break with the Southern Baptist Convention and his affiliation with John R. Rice and the IFB camp, to moving to Hammond and growing the largest church in America. As one might expect from a biography written by his daughter, this book is unabashedly hagiographical. Hyles most assuredly accomplished much good for the Lord as pastor of FBCH for 42 years, but there were also serious problems:
Hyles perpetuated and further popularized a preaching and pastoral style that was marked by arrogance, authoritarianism, intimidation, and bullying. Hyles was an absolute dictator at FBCH. There were very cultish aspects to Hyles’ pastorate at FBCH.
Hyles’ crusade to have the largest church in America turned conversions and baptisms into a numbers contest. Disingenuity and numbers-padding abounded.
Hyles promoted the popular and misguided notion of America as a Christian nation. His self-professed focus toward the end of his life was to “save America.”
Hyles’ arrogance and authoritarianism engendered an attitude of recklessness and entitlement. Scandal caught up with Jack Hyles in 1989, which Cindy Schaap refers to only briefly and without detail. She also circumspectly alludes to the scandal that brought down her brother, David Hyles, who had held a leadership position at FBCH. Cindy Schaap’s husband, Jack Schaap, succeeded Jack Hyles as pastor of FBCH in 2001 and emulated his predecessor’s arrogance and authoritarianism, but he was brought down by scandal in 2012, after which Cindy divorced him.
I enjoyed portions of this book despite its “rose colored glasses” perspective. I especially enjoyed the accounts of Hyles’ associations with John R. Rice, G.B. Vick, Lester Roloff, Bob Jones, Sr., and other prominent figures in the history of the IFB movement. Hyles’ history is a history of the IFB.
See my review of a book that took a much more critical view of Hyles here. One of Hyles’ other daughters, Linda Hyles Murphrey, presented a totally different view of Jack Hyles in this video.
I would recommend this idealized biography only for its revelations with regards to IFB history.
By Dr. Jeff Farnham
Sword of the Lord Publishers, 2019, 139 pp.
I saw this short book advertised in “The Sword of the Lord” recently and thought it might be interesting to read independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) pastor, Dr.* Jeff Farnham’s (formerly of LaGrange Baptist Church, LaGrange, Indiana) views on IFB churches that he contends have compromised their status from being fundamentalist to “fundamental-ish,” i.e., still teaching the fundamentals of the faith, but compromising on important secondaries.
In his opening section, Farnham rebuts the appeal to “Christian liberty” as an excuse to compromise fundamentalist principles. He argues that wise and mature fundamentalists must continue to uphold their convictions even more strongly so as not to be stumbling blocks to the weaker, less mature brethren.
Farnham then gets into the meat of the book; the specific areas where he believes compromising fundamentalists have become fundamental-ish:
Worship Music – Farnham is distressed that some compromising IFB pastors are incorporating Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and drums into their worship music. Farnham notes that CCM music employs “a syncopated thumping that accents the off-beat and diminishes the downbeat and creates agitation.” He judges all such music to be “spiritually oppressing and sensually provocative” (p.61). Farnham notes that IFB pastors in the past commonly referred to such music as “jungle music,” and while he acknowledges that many would find that term to be “racially insensitive,” he believes it is accurate.
Attire – Farnham judges that compromising IFB churches are allowing and encouraging people to wear inappropriate clothing. Amidst some other, superfluous examples, the PRIMARY issue for Farnham boils down to whether women should be able to wear pants. Farnham doesn’t believe so, citing Deuteronomy 22:5. He attempts to rebut all opposing rationale.
Education, Entertainment, Employment – Farnham contends that fundamental-ish compromisers allow their children to be educated at godless public schools and that they prioritize worldly entertainment and employment (working on Sundays) over God, church, and an obedient Christian lifestyle.
Church Names – Farnham bemoans the fact that some IFB churches have removed “Baptist” and/or “Church” from their names, opting instead for such compromised, culture-pleasing titles as “The Potter’s House” or “Messiah Fellowship.”
As Christians, we all have beliefs and opinions regarding these secondary issues. The IFB movement no doubt represents the most conservative of viewpoints. I attended an IFB church from 1983 to 1991 and the focus and constant brow-beating over the “dos and don’ts” is a bitter memory. The IFB is no doubt in steep decline compared to those days and this book testifies to the increasing squabbling and infighting as the movement struggles to survive and an ever-growing number of IFB pastors fail to “hold the line.” Some readers of this review may be surprised that pants and short hair on women are still issues. Yup, they are in the IFB. Farnham doesn’t mention it in this book, but another disturbing characteristic of IFB churches is their idolatrous propagation of American Christian nationalism. Whether IFB pastors like it or not, the term, “fundamentalist,” is resoundingly understood as a pejorative by the general public these days. The movement’s prideful loyalty to that other-era term is a stumbling block to the Gospel it professes to desire to sow.
Farnham has a few good points. As Christians we can rationalize and become too chummy with the world. But the IFB’s extremism and “majoring on the minors” breeds a “bunker mentality” that pits the Christian against the world rather than fostering an emissarial approach to the world.
Recommended only for those curious about the current state of the IFB movement.
*IFB pastors stereotypically love to append their honorary doctorate titles to their names.
Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism
By Rolland D. McCune
Ambassador International, 2004, 398 pp.
At the onset of the 20th-century, the old, mainline Protestant denominations were drifting into Bible-denying, theological liberalism. In reaction to the growing apostasy, Bible-believing theologians and pastors produced “The Fundamentals: A Testimony To The Truth,” a series of ninety essays, published between 1910 and 1915, that affirmed the five fundamentals of the Christian faith that were being attacked by theological liberals and modernists, those being:
The inerrancy of the Bible.
The literal nature of the biblical accounts, especially regarding Jesus Christ’s miracles and the creation account in Genesis.
The virgin birth of Christ.
The bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ.
The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross.
Understood to be included along with the five fundamentals was the Biblical mandate of ecclesiastical separation from churches and denominations that denied the basics of the Christian faith. Theologically-orthodox Christians* rallied around “The Fundamentals” and the movement gained momentum and advanced the genuine Gospel message throughout the United States and the world.
However, in the late-1940s, some fundamentalist theologians and pastors began to bridle against the separation principle. Their thinking was that fundamentalism had become fanatically insular and partisan and that they needed to be more accommodating with the unbelieving world. The founders of this self-dubbed Neo (or New) Evangelicalism, Carl Henry and Harold Ockenga, enlisted evangelist, Billy Graham,** as the public face of the movement and also established Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California as its intellectual/academic base. Edward John Carnell oversaw the early years of Fuller. In contrast to fundamentalists, who had openly disparaged academia and intellectualism, the Neo-Evangelicals craved academic respectability.
Neo-Evangelicals and fundamentalists were initially uneasy allies, but Graham famously broke with fundamentalism completely when he cooperated with Bible-denying, liberal clergymen in the organization of his four-month-long, 1957 New York City crusade. Graham defended himself saying, “I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the gospel of Christ.” However, fraternity and dialogue with apostasy is a two-way street and Neo-Evangelicalism gradually strayed from foundational Biblical principles and found itself enmeshed in debates over Scriptural inerrancy and the other basic tenets of Christian orthodoxy. Former restraints were gone, leading to the following:
Billy Graham blazed ecumenical trails with Roman Catholicism. Ernest Pickering accurately wrote in 1994, “Much of the current theological confusion with regard to the Roman Catholic Church can be laid at the feet of one man; Billy Graham.”
Pentecostal/charismatic beliefs and practices rapidly spread throughout evangelicalism. Pentecostalism got its start in 1901 at Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas.
The divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible have been increasingly contested. These days, Bible-believing students at apostate Fuller Theological Seminary must constantly parry attacks against their faith by the faculty.
Secular marketing methods have replaced traditional church.
Most evangelical Protestant churches have cut ties with the church history, avoiding any mention of the Reformation or the Five Solas.
Baptist fundamentalist scholar, Rolland McCune (1934-2019), does an excellent job of tracing the rise and decline of Neo-Evangelicalism. The first half of the book is devoted to the history of the movement, which I found most interesting. The second half focuses on the theological disintegration of Neo-Evangelicalism, which was challenging reading for this layperson, but not impossible. I’d been hoping to find an American counterpart to Iain Murray’s excellent “Evangelicalism Divided” (see my review here), and this book comes close.
*The Fundamentalist movement was comprised largely of Arminian-leaning conservative Baptists and Wesleyans. Mainline Presbyterianism had also begun drifting into liberalism in the 1910s and 1920s, just like the Arminian mainline denominations. In response, J. Gresham Machen and others founded the breakaway Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Firebrand pastor, Carl McIntire, was also a leader of the fundamentalist movement within Reformed churches. It’s interesting that both Baptist and Presbyterian fundamentalists revered the previous interdenominational leadership of D.L. Moody (1837-1899). As Neo-Evangelicalism has generally devolved into varying degrees of heterodoxy, the Baptist fundamentalism represented by McCune has declined steeply in numbers and influence.
**Billy Graham began his evangelistic career as a Baptist fundamentalist under the mentorship of John R. Rice and William Bell Riley.
Postscript: My wife and I attended an independent fundamental Baptist church from 1983 until 1991 after we were first saved. I enjoyed several aspects of the experience, but the pastor exemplified some of the stereotypical negative characteristics of IFB preachers including arrogance, pridefulness, leadership via coercion, majoring on the minors, conflating faith and nationalism, and an emphasis on guilt rather than on God’s grace. McCune understandably does not mention any of the problems within Baptist fundamentalism.
p.s. If you don’t think “evangelicalism” is in major trouble these days, just sit down on your couch and watch a day’s worth of TBN.
Part 1: Historical Antecedents
The Rise of Theological Liberalism
The Great Controversy
Part 2: The Formation of the New Evangelicalism
Four Crucial Issues
Part 3: Ecumenism
Ecumenical Church Councils
Ecumenical Accolades and Ecumenical Journalism
The Charismatic Movement
Part 4: Ecclesiastical Separation
The Rationale of Evangelical Non-Separatism
The Biblical Idea of Ecclesiastical Separation
Part 5: The Bible and Authority
Biblical Inspiration and Inerrancy
Further Issues, Events, and Publications Related to Inerrancy
The Aftermath of “The Battle For the Bible”
Part 6: Apologetics
The Development of New Evangelical Apologetics
An Analysis of New Evangelical Apologetics
Part 7: Social Involvement
New Evangelical Social Activism
The Biblical Idea of Social Action
Part 8: Doctrinal Storms
The Status of the Unevangelized
The Destiny of the Finally Impenitent
The Open View of God
Part 9: Conclusion
Evaluation and Prospects
Addendum 1: Review: The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World
Addendum 2: Major Events in the New Evangelical Movement: 1942-2003
Profaned Pulpit: The Jack Schaap Story
By Jerry P. Kaifetz, Ph.D.
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012, 192 pp.
Argh! How many times do I need to buy a self-published book before I wise up?
Recently, I’ve been delving into some of the history of the independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement and have posted some critical articles on former IFB leaders, John R. Rice (see here) and Jack Hyles (see here).
I stumbled upon the Kindle edition of this book about another IFB celebrity pastor, Jack Schaap (pronounced “skop,” rhymes with “pop”), a few years ago and finally got around to reading it.
Jack Schaap was a student at Hyles-Anderson College and after graduation became a teacher there of sermon homiletics. Schaap caught the eye of Cindy Hyles, Jack Hyles’ daughter, and the two married, an important career move for Schaap. Jack Hyles was both pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana (FBCH) and founder and chancellor of Hyles-Anderson. After Hyles died in 2001, Schaap succeeded him as pastor of FBCH, which boasted of a weekly attendance of 15,000 and a membership of 50,000, making it the largest IFB church in the country.
Schaap took homiletics into new territory, even by IFB standards, with his screaming and bullying from the pulpit. The arrogance was palpable. Members of FBCH cowered in fear of their pastor. How stunned they all must have been when the 55-year-old Schaap was arrested in 2012 for transporting a 16-year-old girl he was “counseling” across state lines for the purpose of having sexual relations. In March 2013, Schaap was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison. In hindsight, Schaap had time and time again interwoven God-dishonoring, perverted sexual themes into his sermons (see here) and into his books (see here), but nobody spoke up. The FBCH deacon board had been cowed into submission by autocratic Jack Hyles decades prior and were nothing more than ceremonial “yes men” and bobble heads.
FBCH continues on under the pastoral leadership of John Wilkerson. Were lessons learned after the Hyles and Schaap scandals? I imagine many members and attendees of FBCH dropped away. What became of them? Did they look for a solid church or did they allow pastoral malfeasance and scandal to draw them away from the Lord and shipwreck their faith? Been there, done that.
Author Kaifetz was a student at Hyles-Anderson in the early and mid-1980s and had associations with both Jack Hyles and Jack Schaap. When evidence of Hyles’ extramarital affair began surfacing in the late-1980s, Kaifetz initially defended the pastor (he began the “100% for Hyles” counter-scandal campaign), but he left FBCH in 1989 when the proof had become undeniable.
Kaifetz boasts that after learning about Schaap’s arrest in 2012, he sat down at his PC and banged out this book in only five days. I’m surprised it took him that long. Structurally, it’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Kaifetz does share a few memories of his personal encounters with Hyles and Schaap, but most of the information that’s presented can be gleaned off of the internet. This book is deceptively mis-titled. There’s actually very little information about Jack Schaap. Mostly, it’s just Kaifetz’s meandering criticisms of the IFB in general. IFB pastors are arrogant. Yup. There’s very little humbleness in IFB preaching. Yup, I get it. Save yourself the money, time, and effort and avoid “Profaned Pulpit.”
The bottom line of this post is to pray for your pastor and encourage him in his ministry.
Today, we continue our series on the (very) inaptly named “Christian Hall of Fame” located at Canton Baptist Temple in Canton, Ohio, as we review inductees 55 through 81. See the links far below for the first three posts in the series.
The names below are hyperlinked to their respective Wiki articles (in cases where a Wiki article was not available, a substitute is presented).
Jeremiah McAuley (1839-1884) – Ireland-US – Founder of America’s first rescue mission, Water Street Mission in Lower Manhattan.
Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) – Florence, Italy – Dominican Friar famous for opposing the corruption of the papacy of Alexander VI aka Rodrigo de Borja. Some evangelicals cite Savonarola as a “pre-reformer,” but the friar was a defender of Catholic sacramentalism and certainly did not preach the Gospel of grace.
Tomorrow, we’ll complete this series with a review of inductees 82 through 108.
This entire series can be accessed via the links below:
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.
John R. Rice: Man Sent from God
By Robert L. Sumner
Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1981, 323 pp.
When I was a young Christian back in the early 1980s, the independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement was still quite strong. One of the most prominent leaders of the IFB movement was John R. Rice (1895-1980), the editor and publisher of the very influential “Sword of the Lord” weekly newspaper. The first church my wife and I attended after we were saved was an IFB church and I subscribed to the “Sword” for several years. During the pandemic lockdown, I did some reading and research regarding the seamier side of the IFB (more on that below), which then led me to order a used copy of this biography of Rice.
John R. Rice was born near Gainesville, Texas in 1895. His father was a lay preacher and also a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a fact this complimentary biography conveniently omits. Following the death of his mother, John R. Rice accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior at the age of nine. As a young man, he obtained a teaching certificate, taught school, and pursued additional education at Decatur Baptist College and Baylor University. He was called to the ministry in 1920 and completed two years at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Southern Baptist Convention – SBC) in Waco, Texas before becoming an assistant pastor and then pastor. In 1926, Rice felt called to be an evangelist and staged revivals throughout Texas. He became associated with firebrand pastor, J. Frank Norris, of First Baptist Church in Fort Worth and soon was a regular speaker on Norris’s fledgling radio station, KFQB. Norris and Rice left the SBC in 1927 and became independent Baptists.
Rice subsequently planted a church in Dallas in 1932 as an outgrowth of one of his revivals and continued as pastor for seven years while also simultaneously conducting evangelization/revival campaigns. In 1934, he began the “Sword of the Lord” as another ministry. In 1940, he re-entered full-time evangelism and moved the “Sword” facilities to Wheaton, Illinois. The circulation of the paper grew dramatically and Rice galvanized the nationwide independent fundamental Baptist movement with yearly “Sword of the Lord Conferences,” which drew pastors throughout the country to the IFB mission of evangelism and discipleship.
In 1963, Rice moved the “Sword” facilities to Murfreesboro, Tennessee where he continued to lead the burgeoning IFB movement. The circulation of the “Sword” peaked in 1974 with 288,000 subscribers. John R. Rice died in 1980 at the age of eighty-five.
I enjoyed this book even though it’s much more of a gushing hagiography than an objective biography. The author, Robert Sumner, was an employee of Rice’s at the “Sword.” Sumner does delve into some controversy including the feud between Rice and J. Frank Norris involving pre-eminency over Texas independent Baptist fundamentalism, although Rice is portrayed entirely as the victim. Sumner also devotes twenty-five pages to the parting-of-ways between Rice and Billy Graham. It’s a fascinating story, folks. Graham began as a Baptist fundamentalist and was mentored by Rice and two other leaders in the IFB movement; Bob Jones, Sr. and William Bell Riley. But Graham increasingly bridled at the partisan separatism of the IFB camp and began, with some-like minded cohorts, the “New Evangelicalism” movement, which championed accommodation to theological liberalism and ecumenism. Many guessed that Graham left fundamentalism and its restrictions mainly in order to be able to expand his crusade numbers. Sumner deliberately avoids other well-known controversies involving Rice, such as his feud with Bob Jones, Jr. and the fact that some members of his Dallas congregation staged a church coup in the late 1930s because they felt Rice was devoting too much of his time to the “Sword” and evangelization/revival campaigns throughout the country rather than to pastoring.
The IFB movement has declined greatly since the passing of Rice in 1980. The “Sword of the Lord” is still published out of Murfreesboro although the circulation is about one-third of what it was at its height during Rice’s tenure. Rice and the IFB movement did great work for the Lord, but there were also some negatives:
There was a tendency within the IFB to “major on the minors,” with certain sins (drinking, smoking, bobbed hair and pants on women, hair below the collar on men, listening to Amy Grant, movie theater attendance, dancing, etc.) being absolute litmus tests for correct Christian living. IFB churches were notoriously HEAVY on guilt and light on God’s grace.
Pastors within the IFB were put on pedestals and absolutely idolized (and often feared) by their congregations. To be blunt, some of the attitudes and practices at IFB churches with regards to leadership were idolatrous and cultish and led to pastoral authoritarianism and manifold abuses. This gushing, “saintly” portrayal of Rice is an example of how IFB leaders were elevated far beyond Biblical standards. It’s disturbing how God is portrayed in this book as answering EVERY prayer of John R. Rice, EXACTLY as Rice desired, down to the most minute detail. This kind of exaggeration/mythology was characteristic of how pastors were venerated in the IFB movement. I’ll be posting about one particular IFB “superstar” pastor and his abuse of power on Wednesday.
Pastors within the competitive IFB and “Sword” network felt compelled to report higher and higher conversion and baptism numbers, leading to innumerable false professions in Christ. The “sinner’s prayer” was carelessly utilized in the relentless competition for numbers.
Christian nationalism was a VERY popular theme within the IFB movement.
John R. Rice and the IFB movement no doubt did some great work for the Lord, but there were also many abuses. After being a member of an IFB church for eight years, I finally left in 1991 and was so exasperated by the oppressive legalism and judgmentalism that I walked away from the Lord and didn’t return until twenty-three years later. Praise God for His mercy and patience! I have heard of others who attended heavy-handed IFB churches and likewise experienced the same trauma and burn-out.
Postscript: Some of the “superstar” pastors who contributed to the “Sword of the Lord” back when I was a reader included Jack Hyles, Tom Malone, Tom Wallace, Curtis Hutson, Robert G. Lee, Lee Roberson, W.A. Criswell, Hyman Appleman, Truman Dollar, Bob Gray, Sr., and Jerry Falwell, Sr. Hyles, Dollar, and Gray were later dogged by serious scandals while Falwell was almost completely sidetracked in his ministry by his propagation of Christian American nationalism.
It’s been almost two years since I last posted an installment in my IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist) Memories series, but the news of the death of televangelist, Jack Van Impe (pronounced van IM-pee), on January 18th brought back another memory. In the photo above, is Van Impe with his wife, Rexella.
I was a member of an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church from 1983 until 1991. The IFB movement was still very strong back in those days and one of the IFB’s leading figures was Jack Van Impe (1931-2020).
Van Impe graduated from Detroit Bible Institute in 1952 and briefly joined up with the Billy Graham Crusades and Youth for Christ. He then started Jack Van Impe Ministries, which grew to include a weekly telecast beginning in 1980. The format of the show was quickly established, with Jack’s wife, Rexella, reading the week’s news headlines followed by Jack interpreting the headlines according to his eschatological views/opinion. The show had quite a following back in the day. He was known as “The Walking Bible” because of his prodigious memorization of entire books of Scripture. Van Impe held a weekend crusade here Rochester N.Y. sometime during the 1980s, which I attended.
Van Impe was involved in some notable controversies. Back in the day, independent fundamental Baptists were split into two major camps; the extreme-conservative faction headed by Bob Jones and his progeny, and the more “moderate” faction headed by “Sword of the Lord” editor, John R. Rice. Bob Jones, Jr., had accused Rice and his allies, including Van Impe, of being soft on “second-degree separation.” Van Impe then wrote a hard-hitting rebuttal, “Heart Disease in Christ’s Body” (1984), aimed at the Jones camp.
Evangelist Van Impe made a niche for himself by focusing on eschatology; the study of Biblical prophecy regarding the end-times. Like some other eschatologists, he would sometimes awkwardly attempt to force-fit current news events with Biblical prophecy. He regularly made predictions that Jesus would return to earth at a specific year/time-period, but would then move the prediction back after the date had passed. As Muslim fundamentalist terrorism became more dangerous throughout the world, Van Impe repeatedly sounded the alarm and pointed a finger at (c)hristian leaders who promoted accommodation with Islam, such as Robert Schuller and Rick Warren. TBN subsequently booted Van Impe’s show from their lineup in 2011 due to the controversy, forcing him to buy airtime independently.
As the independent fundamental Baptist movement waned after the heady years of Jerry Falwell, Sr., Van Impe attempted to hang on to his decreasing audience numbers by embracing religious-political conservatives of all stripes, including conservative Roman Catholics. He regularly cited popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as genuine Christians and brothers in Christ on his telecasts. Van Impe advertised himself as “The Walking Bible” and the premier expert on eschatology, but he somehow could not comprehend the clear differences between Rome’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit and the Gospel of grace or Rome’s end-times role as the Mother of Harlots as prophesied in Revelation 17 & 18.
The feud between the Bob Jones and the John R. Rice factions of independent Baptist fundamentalism is now a distant memory that few know or care about. Jack Van Impe was one of the last of the old-school IFBers, but at the end he had strayed quite far from John R. Rice’s “Sword of the Lord” Baptist fundamentalism. And his preoccupancy with eschatology and dispensationalism, culminating in foolish predictions and foolish alliances, had made him a voice to avoid.
For more on Baptist fundamentalism and my IFB Memories series, see here.