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.

Billy Graham, the disappointing enigma

Billy Graham: Prayer, Politics, Power
Directed by Sara Colt and written by Keven Mcalester
American Experience Series, PBS, 2021, 1:51:41

4 Stars

Billy Graham (1918-2018) is widely revered and beloved as the “greatest” Christian evangelist of the 20th Century. Any criticism of Graham is considered blasphemy by most evangelicals, but I’m definitely NOT a fan for several reasons that will be detailed below.

“Billy Graham: Prayer, Politics, Power” first aired on PBS on May 17th. This biographical documentary spans Graham’s entire life. In 1944, Graham began his career as an evangelist affiliated with Youth for Christ. He eventually branched out on his own and his 1949 Los Angeles tent crusade received a tremendous boost from Roman Catholic media mogul, William Randolph Hearst, who ordered his newspaper editors to “Puff Graham.” Graham alienated his fundamentalist supporters when he ignominiously accepted the backing of liberal clergymen in organizing his 1957 New York City crusade, part of a calculated strategy by Graham and allies, Carl Henry and Harold Ockenga, to create a more ecumenical “New Evangelicalism” movement. Graham eventually enlisted the support of local Roman Catholic bishops in organizing his crusades. Catholics who came forward at Graham’s crusades were referred back to Catholic workers who counseled the seekers that their acceptance of Christ was only a reaffirmation of their infant baptism and confirmation.

To further increase his popularity and influence, Graham forged a close relationship with President Dwight Eisenhower. At the height of the Cold War standoff with atheist Russia, Graham influenced Eisenhower to meld patriotism and religion by directing that “In God We Trust” be stamped on currency and that “…under God” be inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance. American Civil Religion was/is antithetical to Jesus Christ and genuine Christianity because it presents God as a nebulous “Supreme Being” that’s palatable to all American religionists – Catholics, nominal “Protestants,” Muslims, Hindus, Jews, etc. It was the glue that bound patriotic Americans together in the face of advancing Soviet communism. Even today with the steady rise of atheism, Americans of all religious persuasions still join together at ball games and other public events and sing, “God Bless America.” Graham would go on to have an even closer relationship with another president, Richard Nixon, but would afterwards distance himself from politics following the ignominy of the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation. However, Graham’s hobnobbing with presidents set the table for the Christian nationalists who followed, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Graham began drifting into Universalism in the mid-1970s. At a September 1977 interview session with McCall’s magazine journalist, James Michael Beam, Graham candidly revealed that he no longer believed people in foreign lands who had not heard the Gospel were going to hell. Incredulous? Hear Graham for yourself below in this 1:30 video snippet from 1997 tell “positivity gospel” propagator, Robert Schuller, that he believed all religions and even atheism were legitimate pathways to God.

I appreciated this PBS documentary for its critical examination of Billy Graham. Yes, many souls trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior through Graham’s ministry, however, Graham had several major flaws, including his strong desire for popularity, prestige, and political influence, his trailblazing propagation of ecumenism with Roman Catholicism, and his drift into Universalism. After trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior and leaving Roman Catholicism and its false salvation system of sacramental grace and merit in the early-1980s, I was shocked to discover that Billy Graham, evangelicalism’s favorite son, fully endorsed the Roman Catholic church with its false gospel as a Christian entity. Graham betrayed ex-Catholic evangelicals and Roman Catholics who needed to hear the genuine Gospel. The legacy of Billy Graham is that of a beloved evangelist who actually undermined and betrayed the Gospel on multiple levels. It’s not surprising that Satan would use Graham’s lust for numbers and popularity to subvert the Gospel.

See the PBS Graham documentary for a limited time here.

Postscript: Influential evangelical pastor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, declined to support Billy Graham and his crusades in the U.K. because of Graham’s ecumenism with liberal, nominal “Protestant” Bible-deniers and Roman Catholic prelates. Lloyd-Jones also objected to Graham’s use of “decisionism” (i.e., the use of the “sinner’s prayer” to affect conversions). Millions of people who attended Graham’s crusades undoubtedly had false conversion experiences based on coming forward at Graham’s invitations without true repentance.

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/

Backwoods, hillbilly, anti-Catholic fundamentalist?

My old blogging routine was to post articles Monday thru Saturday, but when I returned back to work in early-January I cut back to only four days per week. A recent cold meant A LOT of couch duty and time to ruminate and write some extra posts. So, in order to relieve the “glut,” I’ve decided to publish today and Friday.

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I was a Roman Catholic for my first twenty-seven years, until 1983 when I trusted in Jesus Christ as my Savior by faith alone. The Lord then put it in my heart to earnestly study my former religion and the many incompatible, irreconcilable doctrinal differences between Roman Catholicism and Gospel Christianity. Over the past five-and-a-half years of blogging, I’ve published many posts examining those differences. The prime difference between Catholicism and Gospel Christianity is in regards to how a person is saved. The Catholic church teaches that salvation is obtained by participating in its sacraments, whereby graces are allegedly received, supposedly enabling the Catholic to better obey the Ten Commandments (impossible!), in order to hopefully merit eternal life at the moment of death. Gospel Christians believe in salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. The theologies are diametrically opposed and cannot be reconciled. One is right and one is wrong. They cannot both be right.

One of the most disturbing things I’ve seen over the past thirty-eight years is how Gospel Christians have increasingly embraced my former religion, the false Roman Catholic church, as a Christian entity. Sixty-years ago, evangelicals rightly knew that the Roman church taught a false gospel. Since then, accommodators and compromisers within have chipped away at theological discernment. A consensus emerged and grew that proclaimed that, although the RCC had some quirky, un-Biblical beliefs, they got the basic Gospel right because they also talk about Jesus, “grace,” and “faith.” The rising tide of secularism motivated many undiscerning believers to dismiss doctrinal distinctives and to embrace Roman Catholics as “brothers in Christ” in an effort to present a semi-united “Christian” front in the culture/morality wars. Some evangelicals were also attracted to Catholic “intellectualism” and the false church’s ornate ritualism and ceremony.

These days, it appears* that the majority of those who identify as “evangelical” embrace “practicing” Roman Catholics as fellow-Christians. The consensus is that those who do not support ecumenism with Rome are akin to embarrassing, repugnant, anti-intellectual, backwoods, bigoted, unsophisticated, hillbilly fundamentalists of a bygone era. But Rome has not changed any of its major doctrines since 1960 and Catholics unabashedly admit that their church teaches salvation by (sacramental) grace and works. So what is the problem? Why did evangelicals cave when it came to Roman Catholicism, but still resolutely (at least for now) reject the Latter Day Saints and the Watchtower Society as false churches? Accommodating evangelical apologists (e.g., Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, Josh McDowell, etc.) readily admit that Roman Catholicism teaches a heterodox view of justification, but still dichotomously embrace it as a Christian entity. For ecumenical evangelicals, it is easier on their psyche to hold to a totally incongruous view (i.e., works-righteousness Catholicism is Christian) rather than swim against the tide and be thought of as an anti-Catholic fundamentalist.

In summary, a general consensus developed within evangelicalism over the past sixty years that says that Roman Catholicism teaches the genuine Gospel or something “close enough” EVEN DESPITE the RCC’s own unapologetic testimony to the contrary and despite evangelical theologians’ and apologists’ acknowledgement that Rome’s version of justification (baptismal regeneration, works righteousness) is heterodox and does not lead to salvation.

Because I point out that Rome teaches a false gospel, many evangelicals who visit my blog are embarrassed by my content, which doesn’t agree with the popular consensus/paradigm. In their eyes, I am a bigoted, anti-Catholic fundamentalist. They have been conditioned to be repulsed by those who say anything critical of Roman Catholicism. Warning Catholics and Christians of Rome’s false gospel is now viewed as distasteful and something akin to forcing people to sit at the back of the bus.

“If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.” – Council of Trent, Canon 14

“None of us can say…I am already saved.” – pope Francis, December 11, 2015

What Does the Roman Catholic Church Believe About Justification? by R.C. Sproul

*A 2015 Lifeway Research survey revealed only 23 percent of evangelical Christian pastors disagreed with the statement that the pope is a fellow Christian and a “brother in Christ” (see here).

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.

An awkward title, but an informative book about evangelical compromise

New Neutralism II: Exposing the Gray of Compromise
By John E. Ashbrook
Here I Stand Books, Second Printing, 2002, 110 pp.

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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.

Chapters:

  1. Why the New Neutralism?
  2. Separatism, Acceptance, and the Social Gospel
  3. The NAE, the WEF, and Camels
  4. Fuller Seminary – Exhibit A
  5. Billy Graham – The Mouthpiece of New Evangelicalism
  6. Billy Graham’s Catholic Connection
  7. Mr. Revolutionary (Bill Bright) and Campus Crusade
  8. Intellectuals in Residence
  9. The Popularizers
  10. Explos and Extravaganzas
  11. Jerry Falwell and the Gnu Evangelicalism
  12. The Institutions
  13. A View From the Top of the Hill

Jack Hyles: The Fundamental Man

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.