Friday, October 27, 2006
Leaving the IFBx* Fold
Recently I received an email with a link to this article by my friend, Voyle Glover. I enjoy his articles and this one is worth sharing. If you have not had a chance to check out the link on our sidebar to his website, Brevia Notes, I would encourage you to bookmark it and read some of his material. You can find it here.
It is never easy when we feel like we have disappointed someone we dearly love--my wife and I still have to battle some of these feelings of nostalgia. Nobody wants their family to believe that they are out of God's plan for their lives or that they have left the faith. The sooner we realize that our loyalties are to our LORD and Savior and not men the better off we will be. The bottom line is that although it is not easy to leave a church or ministry where we have put down roots, sometimes it is necessary. I want to encourage anyone reading this who is going through these difficult times to press on prayerfully--there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel! Feel free to email us in confidence and we will pray with you along the way!
Leaving the IFBX Fold
by Voyle A. Glover
Leaving a church where one has put nearly twenty years of roots down is not an easy task. I was reminded of the difficulties recently when, during a discussion with a friend, he mentioned a certain couple who were in the process of leaving their church, an Independent Fundamental Baptist church which has a philosophy and doctrinal perspectives, coupled with certain standards, which defy grace, whilst purporting to embrace traditional Christianity. In short, what I and others have come to call IFBx.
I thought of the incredibly difficult journey ahead for them.
When I left the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana in 1987, I knew, without anyone telling me, that I had been corrupted. I knew that. I wasn’t sure how corrupted, nor was I sure exactly where. I just knew that the God I’d learned about as a new Christian was not the same God I learned about in the nearly twenty years I’d spent in that church. I knew that many of the things I'd heard propounded as being the truths of God were, in fact, highly suspect.
It took some time, prayer, and an in-depth immersion into the Word of God for me to regain my spiritual equilibrium and for God to cleanse me from so many things that were either flat-out error, or were, in some instances, nonsensical; and not a few things that were simply the preferences of a man which had no biblical basis.
For example, I recall one evening service in my new church, less than a year or so after we’d left, when a lady stood up to sing a song. Suddenly, there was background music (a tape) and some background singers (also on the tape) who were singing along with her.
My thoughts were instantly negative. I did not like it. I did not feel that it belonged in church (a singer with backgrounded music). However, by this time, I’d developed a little mental routine when I had negative reactions to something or someone in the church. This time, it was a silent conversation with myself and went something like this:
Why is this wrong?
Well, it just is. The music tape is wrong.
Is the music bad?
Are the words bad?
If folks were there playing musical instruments, or an orchestra, would that be wrong?
If the background singers were there, would that be wrong?
Why then is this wrong?
This was a thought process that went very quickly and as I did the analysis, I realized I could posit no biblical justification for the position. I also quickly realized that I’d adopted the preferences of a man and given them spiritual significance, to wit, using a background tape for a singer was “wrong,” which meant it was not pleasing to God, which meant it was sin. (I found it fascinating on one level that I'd adopted this man's preferences so completely as to actually have strong feelings of it being sinful for a singer to use a background tape.)
But the difficult issues for me and others like myself (and which will come for virtually all those who leave an IFBx church) came from teachings that had been imprinted onto our psyche such that these ideas were infused into our spiritual makeup. Our perspective was that any church that deviated from these teachings was liberal and no place for a “good fundamental Baptist.” These teachings were wide-ranging, some taking on the trappings of doctrine, while others were imbued with doctrine-like importance.
There are five primary issues that every IFBx’r will run into when he or she leaves the IFBx fold. Those issues are, in about this order of importance: (1) is the church a red-hot “soul winning” church?; (2) Does the church permit the wearing of pants on women?; (3) Do the men all have short hair; (4) Is the music without a beat and non-contemporary Christian (CCM)?; and (5) Does the church prohibit attendance at the movie theater (watching them at home on video was all right)? While there are others, those are what I call the “Five Spiritual Straight-jackets.” It is not an exclusive list and in some churches, there may be other "major" issues of importance. (Today, in that same church I left, for example, the issue of the exclusive use of the KJV Bible is an absolute.) Once you’ve been sewed up in these spiritual straight-jackets, getting your mind and spirit free from them can be a feat worthy of the best efforts of Houdini.
The place of “soul winning” was, in terms of importance, almost up there with the doctrine of salvation. A Christian who didn’t go “soul winning” on a regular basis was considered more than just unspiritual, but was deemed unworthy of the name Christian. And if one dared voice opposition to this activity, such a person was probably not saved. Going out and knocking on doors was seen to be an activity that revealed the true spiritual nature of an individual. One could not be a spiritual Christian and neglect this activity.
Imagine the inner conflicts of a church member who leaves the IFBx fold and enters a church were there is not an emphasis on door-to-door “soul winning,” but emphasizes instead, a wide array of evangelistic methods, which, while permitting an individual church member to utilize such a method, does not actively promote such a method amongst its members. Or imagine an IFBx church member who comes into a church and immediately sees some of the women dressed in slacks, or one who comes to a Wednesday service and sees some of the women in jeans. Or they hear a solo is sung by a member who is a bit more contemporary than the usual fare. Or suppose the pianist’s hair is a bit long. The list is long. It is not uncommon in IFBx circles for preferences to on a level with doctrine.
It is almost a certainty that a former IFBx church member whose mind is still in the mold that was set so long ago, will recoil within from such things. It will be an automatic reaction caused by a conditioning very similar to the methods used on Pavlov's dog. (A dog was trained to salivatate when a bell was rung.) They will see so many negatives and never comprehend that they've been programmed to react that way.
For such Christians, a myriad of questions will arise within his or her mind. They will question why they left, whether it was the will of God, whether they are going to be chastened for it, whether they’ve been deceived by Satan, and on and on. They will begin second-guessing themselves. This is a process that may be instant, i.e., on the first visit to another church, or it might take months; and in some instances, it may surface years later because those issues were never resolved but instead, had been submerged. The mold was still in place, still shaping the mental focus and perspective without them realizing it until one day they sprang back in full force.
They left the IFBx fold but had not managed to leave the mold.
They left the particular IFBx church but the shaped doctrines, philosophies and standards had not left them. It was what brought them back, or in some instances, brought them such conflict as to negate their enjoyment of their new church (and their effectiveness there, as well).
Many Christians who leave the IFBx fold become very conflicted, some become bitter, some abandon church, being unwilling to return to the fold they left, unable to extract themselves from the mold into which they’ve been cast, and unwilling therefore to accept the “liberal” standards of the new church they had hoped to attend. There are some who stick it out in the new church, but become very critical, possessed of a spiritual smugness, and feeling they have a superior understanding of the way God would want the church run in certain areas (such as “soul winning” or the musical program). They can create havoc in their new church and are often the cause of much dissension within a church as they seek to impose their “more spiritual” ways upon the church. When they have resistance, they view this as coming from liberals, weak Christians who should have no say in running the church. Their own actions are perceived as being on a spiritual level and thus, justified actions. These individuals will continue their campaign unabated, even relentless, demanding conformity to the "biblical standards" to which they are accustomed and which they believe every "real" Christian church must adopt. It can and often does, get very ugly. It can and has caused church splits.
SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR THOSE WHO LEAVE THE WORLD OF IFBx
Here are some “musts” for you if you’re someone who is attempting to come out of the IFBx world. They worked for me and have worked for many others. If you don’t do this, then the odds are you’ll either return, or you’ll have a miserable existence in whatever non-IFBx church you join, such that eventually you’ll probably leave it; or you’ll just shut down spiritually because of the inner conflicts that keep arising, or you'll end up causing great contention within that church.
1. Get into the Word of God and ask God to show you TRUTH. Claim the promises of God. It is His will that we know truth and you have every right to expect God to lead you into His truth.
2. Assume that you have been corrupted. You don’t need to determine where or how. God will reveal that to you. Just adopt an attitude that is willing to (a) admit your error when it is revealed to you; and (b) allow yourself to be taught of the Lord. You have to have a teachable spirit.
Then sit back and expect God to open your eyes and show you things. Don’t be afraid to read books by men or women who you ordinarily might not read. Remember, YOU ARE ON A QUEST FOR TRUTH. Nothing else matters. You are not looking for the opinions of others. You are looking for God to reveal truth to you. Pray for guidance over every book you read, including the Bible. He will do that through His Word, through the teaching and preaching of others and by prayer. Bottom line is: God will show you truth. Are you willing to let Him lead you where that truth will take you? Never be afraid to learn truth. Never be afraid to go wherever truth leads, even if it leads your version of truth over the cliffs and onto the rocks.
3. Be patient. Do not be quick to make up your mind about things, either positive or negative. Cleansing comes slowly. Things that have been taught to you for years, things that are impressed on your spiritual psyche, are not easily erased. It is difficult for anyone to admit he or she has been wrong and has embraced error for years. For years, we labored under the notion that we had the truth. It is difficult to come to the conclusion that we embraced a lie. Trust me when I tell you that it takes the grace of God to overcome this.
4. Get off your high horse. Do not be offended at what you view as worldly Christians. In the IFBx world, spirituality is determined by a manifestation of externals, to wit, appearance, souls won, participation in “soul winning” and obedience to the pastor and leaders. In your new world, the spirituality of other Christians is often not readily visible until you examine their lives, where you will often find good deeds that are often unheralded; and good works that are not fancy, which lack the “wow” factor, and aren’t always on the “cup of cold water” level. But they are consistent, day by day good works that come from a heart and life that is sincere and loves God. Learn to examine their fruit without a critical spirit and without demanding to know the number of souls won that week. Be patient with people. Allow judgment of their spirituality to come from God, not you. God will judge the merit of their works. God has not blessed you with a closet full of blue ribbons to hand out in spiritual judging events you may wish to hold.
5. Pray constantly. Ask God to show you yourself. Ask God to reveal the real you to you. Ask God to open your eyes and to make you spiritual, to make you humble, to give you wisdom and understanding. Ask God to allow you to be used to help in the work of this new church in whatever role He chooses (as opposed to your volunteering to do “X” because you’re so good at doing “X”). In short, surrender to God and accept your place in this new church as a field in which God has placed you. Be prepared to help the weak Christians there, to mentor, to pray for, to teach, to reach out and help in whatever way God deems fit to use you in His service there. In short, BE A SERVANT THERE, not a Chief. If you view half the congregation as weak or liberal, then assume it is a mission field and you're there to serve God to be salt.
That’s it. If you’ll do those things and adopt that perspective, you’ll have joy, you’ll interact with the people there without being so judgmental and Pharisaical that no one can stand to be around you; and best of all, God will use you. You may never enjoy the music program as much as you did in your IFBx church, but you’ll learn to appreciate some of the new music and you’ll come to understand that the music program is designed for others besides yourself and that your preferences are not what governs the music program. You’ll realize that music that leaves you cold or “bothers” you is blessing someone else and lifting their hearts to God. You’ll actually accept the fact that tastes in music are very wide ranging and what blesses your soul may put someone else to sleep.
A final thought. This has not been an essay designed to “lure” anyone from their IFBx church and it certainly is not meant to be a critique of IFBx churches. (That would take more time and space than I care to devote.) It is simply designed to be a help for those of you who, for one reason or another, have decided that you no longer care to associate yourself with such a church. Realize that you have been psychologically imprinted far more than you know. If you’re going to break free, realize that true freedom lies in God, not in a book, not in a sermon or teachings and not in an essay such as this. These are merely tools God may use in His working to bring you along the path to liberty.
But that freedom ultimately lies in Christ.
You can move towards it and into it, or you can creep backwards into the cave of darkness from whence you came. It really is your call.
May your journey be blessed of God.
* IFBx is an abbreviation for what we refer to as the cultural or hysteric fundamentalists, not to be confused with the true branch of orthodox historic fundamentalism known still as IFB. Some common denominators of IFBx have already been touched on in Voyle's article and are as follows: extreme adulation/borderline worship of pastors, leaders, or other preachers; extreme and militant KJVOnly positions; arrogant "preaching" that is more screeching than anything else and void of much Biblical content; light on theology but heavy on "soulwinning" which usually amounts to little more than coercion without any regard to the work of the Holy Spirit of God. This is only the short definition. ;)