The first time I listened to the RFP 3 years ago, I met it with skepticism. I had been raised in the fundamentalist movement, but the milder side. I knew the Tony Hutsons and John Hamblins were crazy, but I wasn’t part of them. I was a better version. My dad was my pastor my whole life until I went to Bible college. I went to a Sword of the Lord type college and really didn’t fit in with the culture. I was especially on the outs because I was a male music student. They tried their best to convince me that I was called to preach like my father and grandfather before me. To this day I have yet to receive the call.
All my life I had that pastor’s kid mentality of just doing right for the sake of doing right. There was a part of me that did it for God but in all honesty not much of it was for Him. It was for my parents and grandparents or for the sake of the ministry. I also found it easier to just fall in line and do as I was told. I didn’t get punished and found favor in the eyes of everyone. I was the “politician” version of the pastor’s kid. I knew exactly what to say and who to say it to. To this day it hurts me to think about the fakeness I put on for the sake of man.
My journey out of fundamentalism began with a desire to leave my home of Buffalo, NY. Other than college, I had lived in Buffalo my entire life. I loved it there. Did you all know we have good wings there? Why do people bake chicken wings?! Fry em or get out of my face. Anyways…my desire really wasn’t rooted in much sense or wisdom. I was leading our church choir, running the bus route, soulwinnin’! I was doing it all but was so incredibly empty. I thought moving out of my parents house would help change the feeling I had, but all the more I felt the emptiness of ministry and going through the daily motions.
I had cousins that lived in Maryland and asked if they would consider letting me move in with them and seeing something different in life. They were thrilled to have me. Little did I know that this simple move would change the course of my adult life. Thank God for the Holy Spirit and His leading, otherwise I might still be a slave to man and legalism.
The pastor of the church in Maryland at that time had made his way out of fundamentalism, but a little quieter and more gradually than most. He was saved into the sword of the lord church called the church of the open door (Jesus take the wheel) and that was all he knew. Through a series of many events and circumstances he took a church in Maryland that really became his first long term ministry. He started preaching expositionally through the Scriptures and eventually it became clear. He told me “I couldn’t make their agenda fit the Scripture.”
Enter me at 24 years old coming to Maryland in 2016. A fundy of fundies. No alcohol. No CCM. Went to a theater for the first time at 21 years old. Never been on a real date. Never had truly deep talks about Scripture and true spirituality. 3 to thrive. KJV (BLESS GOD). You name it I was it. This was the first time I had ever heard line by line expositional preaching. It took me time, but slowly the curtain was unveiling.
I started to crave more preaching that was line by line. True exposition. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I wanted it. I couldnt find that from the IFB. I heard a preacher tell me that they were doing a line by line study in 1 Peter and he said to me, “I’m so glad it’s almost over. I’m about ready to kill myself.” Now, clearly that was hyperbole, but that shows you how lost they truly are in their own pride. Imagine that the expounding of the Word drives you to that mentality, because you can’t rip something out of context and preach your own Gospel. Your own “truth.”
I found the OG Steven Lawson on sermon audio one day and was intrigued. He was preaching on Philippians 4:8. Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are pure…I’m sitting on a plane listening and ready to just get laid into. I was ready to just have him call me out on every sin I’ve ever done in my life and have an altar call in section C on Southwest flights. Instead, he gets through his introduction and gets into the passage. He gets to the point of the verse and says something like this: “I can’t tell you exactly what things you SHOULDN’T or SHOULD think about. That’s legalism. All I can do is show you what Scripture says and encourage you to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.”
I was dumbfounded. What do you mean you can’t tell me? Tell me that CCM music fills my heart with lustful thoughts cause of the beat. Tell me that if women wear pants or booty shorts it’s not my fault that I lusted for a few minutes. You have to tell me exactly what to think and what not to think otherwise I don’t know why you are here!
That simple concept sent me through a whirlwind of thoughts and confusion. Why would he just not tell me? Why can’t he just use his infinite wisdom as the man of God and tell me exactly what to do? Well, something came along that helped me find the answer…
It was shortly after this that I was introduced to the RFP. I joined in around episode 10. I made it just in time for Rager. Covid made it easy to catch up. I listened to them all in around a week. I was cautious but beyond curious. Questions filled my mind about whether the guys were really Christians or just backslidden bitter babies. I listened to Phil Kidd and still had my piety because at least I wasn’t fundy like that. I listened to Rager and said that dude is crazy so glad I’m not that kind of IFB.
I listened to Craig Edwards…I heard him say, “I see it! I see it!” I realized I had seen it too, but wasn’t sure exactly what I saw. I still had hangups. I clang bitterly to my music without a beat (how did I do that tho), to my KJV Bible (BLESS GOD), to my teetotalling.
As I had more personal talks with my pastor about what I was feeling he helped me and would have 3-4 hour long discussions with me. He took time with me while I was on my journey out of legalism. It didn’t hit me all at once. It took years for the veil to finally come off and for me to realize that I am free! Free indeed! I had taken off the yoke of my Savior and exchanged it for a mans yoke. I had been no better than the Pharisees with my tradition and lawful lifestyle. It took time, but praise the Lord for being patient with me.
I never related more to the guys when they said “Forgive me for what I said when I was IFB.” With the clarity comes guilt. I looked back at damaged relationships and missed opportunities because of legalism in my life. With tears I type this knowing the things I said and the damage I did to the cause of Christ. The reality hit me hard.
This leads me to recent events. I was privileged enough to attend the “For the Sake of the Gospel Campmeetin'” at Hope church in Danville. It was everything I had hoped for. I met a community of people that shared stories and shared a common goal: The Gospel! Every sermon was incredible, every song filled my heart, every conversation was encouraging. I felt an incredible peace being amongst my people. Being amongst the church.
The most touching part of the meeting was during the Q&A time with the RFP hosts. Almost every question was about how to deal with family relations after leaving the IFB. Mark Milioni prayed for healing for the people in the room. Healing for their hearts and healing for the strains that hurt our relationships.
My father currently pastors an IFB church. They are shoulder deep into it still and they don’t truly know where I am at in my walk. The more conversations I have with them the more I realize this is going to cause horrendous issues between us, so I keep it to myself for the most part. I find it sad that as I grow and learn more about Jesus I feel I have to hide it from my loved ones. Prayerfully, one day, I won’t have to feel this way.
I have moved past the bitterness that I felt and can truly say that I’m thankful for my roots. I learned about salvation at a young age. I saw my parents do amazing things to help people and care for them with genuine love and sincerity. There were literally hitch hikers in Buffalo that would not let me dad pick them up because they were sick of him telling them about Jesus! They knew him right away! I am 100% genuine when I say I thank God for what He has done in my life from beginning to now.
My goal right now is to help those I grew up with to find their way out of legalism. I have friends that are still in it. I want them to find the same freedom in Christ that I have found.
Brian, Nathan, and JC, you might never know the impact that you have had in the lives of so many. You willingly walked right back into the ring when you didn’t have to. I am beyond thankful for you doing that. I believe I would have made my way out eventually, but you helped me fast track it, and I am forever thankful. When you look back on this strange chapter of your lives, please know this one thing: you made a difference. Thank you thank you thank you for loving Jesus enough to do this. You’ve made a difference in my life and it is my hope and prayer that I can do a fraction of this in the lives of others.