“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have received, and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly: and by good words and fair speeches deceive the simple.” (Romans 16:17-18)
Have you heard critical references by Christian people to the “I. F. B.”? In recent years these initials have been used in a negative way to refer to the “Independent Fundamental Baptists.” Some especially angry folks even call this religious movement “the I. F. B. cult.” Of course something must be wrong with condemning these people as if they are a single entity when, by definition, each of their churches is “independent.” Church-goers and would-be church-goers have been misled about the people and the churches classified in this way, and a reasonable explanation of who they are, what they represent, is in order, and, for some, even overdue. I am a member of one of these “I. F. B.” churches, and hope I can clear things up so that folks can make more reasonable decisions about us. The best way to explain the “I. F. B.” churches is for me to look at the letters backwards, and explain them from my own experience.
You might say that my introduction to Christianity began in the church where my parents were members when I was born. I was christened into the denomination and taken to Sunday school and church year after year. But that early experience with what I was told was the religion of Christ was a false experience since our denomination had long since departed from the faith of their founders. I thought I was a Christian because I had been baptized as a baby and joined our church as an adolescent, but nobody becomes a real Christian that way.
Then I finally heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ presented to me in an understandable way, and was drawn by God to receive Jesus Christ personally as my Savior and Lord. According to the Bible, and my own transformation, I was “born again” and entered into a new life and a real knowledge of the living God. Then, as I studied my Bible, I began to grow.
A friend soon introduced me to a Baptist church, and I started attending it because I was certainly not going back to the theologically “liberal” church that had kept me in darkness for so long. I had heard the Gospel through a radio ministry, and now was ready to start attending a Bible-teaching church. So I thought I might try the Baptists.
I was also reading the Bible every day, and came to see in the book of Matthew that baptism was not the same as I had seen it in church growing up. They baptized converts in the New Testament after and because they had repented and believed. Babies haven’t repented and believed in Jesus Christ, and babies were not baptized in the New Testament accounts. Also it was evident that those baptized in the Bible were not sprinkled with a little water. They were taken down to the river to be baptized, and went into the water and came up. It looked to me as if they had been dipped. So I asked the Baptist preacher to answer some questions for me about baptism, and he came to my house and showed me clearly that those to be baptized are those who had turned to Christ, and that baptism was by immersion in water, representing the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. By being baptized a new believer was identifying himself with Christ, and confessing Him as Lord and Savior. So I wanted to do it, and arrangements were made for me to be baptized the Bible way at the Baptist church. I was the first person I ever saw baptized by dipping! In this way I became a Baptist, and part of a Baptist church.
Historically, Baptists are Christians who seek to follow the Bible in every way. The Baptist movement is based on this principle. Really, every true believer in Jesus should be a Baptist, and every church of Jesus should operate according to what is regarded as the Baptist distinctives, because they are the Biblical practices. I have no problem with being a Baptist. The label “Baptist” is defined historically as referring to Christians who follow the practices of the churches in the New Testament.
Look at Matthew 3:1-17, Acts 2:41-47, and Acts 8:35-40, and Romans 6:3-4.
The church that nurtured me as a new Christian, the people who baptized me and taught me my first lessons about living the new life, was affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. I knew nothing about this organization, which was and is the largest non-Catholic denomination in the United States, and had no real opinions for or against it. But after just a few years of serving in my church, I was disturbed about what was going on in our denomination’s affairs. First of all, our church and my pastor had no problem with the pastor or the church from which I came. My old church and denomination were “liberals” theologically, and did not insist that a Christian must believe in the deity of Jesus, His virgin birth, the necessity of the new birth, or even His resurrection as a literal bodily event. They did not believe that the Bible is always accurate, nor in the miracles of the Bible, and yet my Baptist church regarded them as Christians and their church as preaching the Gospel. Of course, I knew different.
The radio ministry that had led me to Christ identified itself as not only Christian but also as “Fundamentalist.” As a result I had plenty of Fundamentalist influence throughout my Christian experience, even though I did not really understand it at first. The Fundamentalist movement began in the early twentieth century as a grass-roots reaction against the infiltration and influence of liberal theology and liberal ministers in the great evangelical (Gospel-preaching) denominations of America. Liberals and liberalism preached a “social gospel” and sought to redeem society rather than individuals, and allowed that some of the cherished doctrines of our Faith might not be true. The name Fundamentalist conveys the fact that Fundamentalists insist that Christianity be defined by certain cardinal (and fundamental or essential) doctrines. It doesn’t allow that a viewpoint represents true Christianity just because it reflects the “spirit of Jesus” or holds to the ethical teachings of Christ. Christianity is based on the Gospel of Christ, the Fundamentalists say, and that Gospel does and always has taught certain great truths, which are fundamental to it: that the scripture is the written Word of God, infallible and without error; that Jesus is the Son of God and God the Son; that He died as an atonement for our sins; that He arose bodily from the dead; and that sinners are saved only by faith in Him. There are many more truths in the Bible, but without believing the fundamentals of the Gospel, one is not truly a Christian. Fundamentalism is the right way to look at Christianity, and forms the basis of the right way to deal with heretics in the church: expel them or separate from churches that won’t. A series of experiences showed me that the Southern Baptist churches were not distinguishing the truth of the Gospel from false doctrine and false teachers. I was not only a Baptist but also a Fundamentalist. Gospel truth is not only to be believed and preached; it is to be cherished as the foundation of Christianity. I must insist that only those who stood for the fundamentals are Christians.
Look at Romans 16:17-20, First Corinthians 15:1-4, Second Corinthians 11:1-15, Titus 3:9-11, and Jude 3.
It didn’t take long for me to investigate and find that unbelieving liberals were employed by many of our Southern Baptist Convention agencies, and that my tithes and offerings were being used to support them. So now the issue of affiliation with my beloved local church came to the fore. I spoke with my pastor respectfully about these problems, and when he offered no solution, I began to look for a Fundamentalist church in our town that did not affiliate, support, or acknowledge as sound ministries, churches, and preachers who did not acknowledge the Bible as the Word of God. Soon the Lord led me to such a congregation, and I joined it. This church in North Carolina was the first of a series over the of Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches to which I have happily belonged.
Look at Second Corinthians 6:14-18, Ephesians 4:11-16, and Ephesians 5:8-11.
The letters “I. F. B.,” to anyone who knows what he is talking about, do not refer to a denomination, cult, or association. They stand for important New Testament principles that should be followed by every child of God, and by every Biblical church.
Media coverage of certain scandals at particular fundamentalist churches spread the practice of broad-brushing conservative churches in general with the smell of corruption by the use of the term “I. F. B.” Critics of fundamentalism picked up this practice and have slandered good people and some of the best churches by using the label with such invalid implications. The fact of church scandals cannot be denied, in Baptist (both affiliated and independent) churches, as in Catholic institutions and other church organizations. But it isn’t fair to say that the thousands of Independent Fundament Baptist churches across the nation are all, mostly, or largely corrupt. Nor can the other charges against the “I. F. B.” that are widely disseminated on the internet or the grapevine be validated. Some wrongdoing in some of the I. F. B. churches does not say that all of them are guilty. Saying so is using the old “guilt by association” method of slander.
It is also charged by some that the I. F. B. churches have an authoritarian leadership style, for example, but this cannot truthfully be said either, across the board. When the most authoritarian fundamental churches of the past taught others to adopt their policies, they were strongly rebuked and opposed by many other I. F. B. preachers and publications. It is said that I. F. B. churches enforce unreasonable and unscriptural standards of life on their members. Although this charge may be supported against some churches, the truth is that independent churches everywhere teach and support every imaginable level, high or low, of Christian living, both to their credit and to their shame, and it is impossible correctly to generalize about this. Although some have and do rise up to influence and give leadership to preachers and churches in the absence of ecclesiastical hierarchy (this is natural), it cannot be proven or effectively argued that there is an “I. F. B. cult.” Some unaffiliated churches and preachers over the years have been influenced by prominent preachers, churches, and institutions to which they have had no binding connection. We are independent because that we believe Jesus to be Head of each local congregation, and because we refuse to be part of major denominations that have betrayed the Faith. We are fundamental because we stand for the doctrines that make up the Faith. We are Baptists because we try to follow Biblical practices as well as Bible doctrines. We are not I. F. B. because we joined any cult or network. The Lord and the Bible make us what we are in regard to these important issues.
Let every Christian man or woman, and every Christian family, give attention to sound doctrine, and avoid those who depart from it, and let us gather in churches that stand for the truth. Let us not be influenced by the Enemy to do or say things that are wrong, based on bitterness over problems we faced in the past in a Bible-preaching church. Let us follow our Lord into a new era of being witnesses to His Person and His Word as His Light in this dark and needy world.
by Rick Flanders