My name is Stephanie. This is my “rescue story.” The IFB church is all I knew from birth until the age of 25. We were in church every Sunday morning, Wednesday night, and Sunday night and every Revival meeting in between. I was the poster child for being in attendance “every time the church doors were open.” I attended a very small, country, IFB church. The KJV was the only version. If you used any other version, you, definitely were NOT reading the Bible. Rules and regulations meant that you had “standards”, so the more rules, the better. I never questioned any of it. It was all I knew. The pastor would read the text at the beginning of the message and never preached the context of the very verses he read. He cherry picked verses that supported his topic. I knew all about the issues issues of the day that were rendered “ungodly.” The preaching was hard, mean spirited, and even laced with racism. I remember as a teenager, the pastor made the comment from the pulpit that if he ever saw one of us with someone of another race, he would, “jerk a knot in us.” There was so much anger and bitterness spewed, yet presented as gospel truth. Tradition was elevated higher than truth. In fact, I never really knew truth. I was a spoon fed Believer, yet the messages left me anorexic to the real message of the Bible. I was a “good girl.” A rule follower. I was a worker. I sang in the choir, taught Sunday School, went to door to door visitation. I did everything I was taught and told. I thought it was a good day in church if I felt like a failure and went to the alter under conviction. I knew all about the God of the Bible, but I never experienced Him or had a real relationship with Him. Even though the pastor preached against a works-based salvation, it was ingrained in me more works than grace. In fact, I never remember a single message on the grace of God that was ever preached in that church. I never grasped the concept that God is FOR me. I had a very skewed view of who God was.
In 1999, my freshman year of Bible college, I heard a pastor say, “God’s love for you is unconditional. No matter how much you do, or don’t do, He can never love you any more or any less than He does right now.” That was my light bulb moment. I went back to my dorm room after the service and surrendered my life to Christ and put my faith in Him. Six years later, my husband and I decided to start visiting another church. This church was not an IFB church. It was in this church that our eyes were opened and pointed to truth and not tradition. I have a real, authentic, genuine relationship with Him that is based on the authority of Scripture. I am experiencing God at work in my life. He is showing me who He really is. I feel like a huge chain has been broken. I pray I never get over the amazing feeling of freedom.
I have to be completely honest. As wonderful and as meaningful that my relationship with Christ has been, there has been plenty of push-back from my family. My dad and my sister are still very much involved in the IFB movement. They have put us on the prayer list at their church. My sister constantly reminds me that I was not raised this way. They always appear to be disappointed with me. Even though I am the most joyful I have ever been, they still treat me as if I have no relationship with the Lord at all. I think one of the most sad phrases I have ever heard is, “We have always done it this way.” That is the essence of where I believe they are. They are where I was. Stuck. I still struggle with being a people pleaser. I cannot talk to them or ask them questions. They will talk over me and do not value my words at all. My sister actually told me last week, “the things you say are tradition are what I believe the Bible says is truth.” When I ask her to show me from Scripture, she never does. Some days, I really struggle with the rejection. I am so thankful for a podcast like yours that reminds me that God’s opinion is the only one that matters. It helps me to know that I have a support system that will encourage me and point me to the Savior. It helps me to see clearly that I am not alone on my journey. As hard as it was to leave the comfort zone of ritual, it has been the best decision that I have ever made. I’m so thankful that I listened to the voice of Truth. Thank you for being the voice of encouragement to the ones, like myself, that have felt trapped and stuck on the hamster wheel of tradition.