I grew up in IFB churches of various stripes in Georgia in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I spent a lot of time worrying that I would get caught wearing shorts or listening to non-southern gospel music or that preachers would think my hair was too long or that I would be thought unspiritual if I didn’t go to the altar during every altar call. I was forced to do a lot of things to please preachers, not necessarily because they were biblical. I experienced every fundamentalist stereotype you can think of, but I didn’t experience genuine salvation until I was in my early 30s (I had had false professions throughout my earlier life). I then began to examine everything I had been raised to believe in light of scripture. Reading the Bible honestly and accurately drove me away from IFB (as it will anyone). I tried various IFB churches during my adult life thinking the problem was with specific churches, but ultimately had to conclude that entire movement was rotten, ignorant, and cultic. The day I left was one of the most liberating day of my life even though I left friends and family.
While IFB churches vary in degrees on a number of issues, I observed the following common doctrinal and practical errors that drove me away. What compounds these errors is that IFBs often make these tests of fellowship or even tests of salvation.
- Easy-believism – a shallow evangelistic approach to the gospel, reducing salvation to a mere intellectual assent to a checklist of facts, emotional quick-decision methodology, Romans Road, sinner’s prayers, altar calls, no repentance (or unbiblically redefining it), no Lordship, presenting the gospel as a get out of hell free card, wanting to report large fake conversion numbers, etc.
- KJV-onlyism – complete ignorance on how Bible translation works. James White’s book on The King James Only Controversy answers every argument from that camp and released me from a shackle that kept me in IFB churches for a long time.
- Unaccountable, untouchable, and uncriticizable preachers who run their churches as dictators with the expectation the members will be unquestioning sycophants. This unbiblical form of church government is probably the driving force of all the errors of IFBs.
- Shallow topical preaching with horrible hermeneutics. Cool, creative, alliterative outlines with zero substance. Every IFB sermon can be classified into one of three categories: 1. A weak gospel presentation 2. Legalism 3. An emotional pep rally. You never learned good doctrine, theology, apologetics, or church history (“old time way” = something that came about less than 200 years ago as apparently the truth did not exist for 1800 years of church history). A lot of preaching was putting on a show for other preachers or quite frankly just having a mad fit. No spiritual growth or discipleship – I just learned to be against stuff and how to create conflict by saying outlandish things.
- Legalism – big lists of extrabiblical dos and don’ts called standards. Spirituality is determined by whose list of what they are against is longer (whoever is against the most stuff wins). We had record and tape burnings, and one guy even threw his TV in the creek where we baptized.
- Over-emphasis on eschatology – slavish devotion to Scofield Reference Bible style dispensationalism (and the nonsensical Gap Theory that goes along with it).
I suppose I should be somewhat thankful for my upbringing as it taught me explicitly what NOT to do as a Christian. I am certainly thankful that my children won’t have to be damaged by the nonsense that is IFB. I am also grateful that fake, cultic Christianity didn’t drive me away from the real thing as it has many. I am actively involved in my current church and have grown so much in the last 15 years.
Thank you for your show. Listening to people who know exactly what I endured growing up is refreshing and encouraging. I love my pastors and friends at my church, but very few can really understand my upbringing. I would love to help others come out of IFB as well.