lessons we learned

IFB Power-Brokers

A recurring Independent Fundamental Baptist theme is that we know better than you. You are supposed to sit down, be quiet, and learn.

This means that your IFB pastor is supposed to direct the relationship [if you call it that]. IFB pastors say that the power is God’s. But demeanor, relations with members and ministry show that if God has all the power, it is IFB pastors themselves who exercise that power.

If members begin changing the direction of their relationship with the pastor and/or other members, that’s damning. That diminishes pastor power and weakens his stranglehold on members. As his ability to bully, intimidate, manipulate, cheat, cow and deceive members slips away, IFB pastors discern that God is calling them to another ministry.

Some of the lessons we’ve been learning are relevant to these things.

Lessons Learned

  1. Quoting texts at people and getting in faces for unbelief because issues and questions remain helps nothing. This alienates people from God. It is also an obstacle to faith. It is far better to formulate intelligent, rational questions and bring these to Scripture as we did with God’s gentleness.
  2. With a good concordance or Bible program plus time and effort, average believers can do competent Bible study without textbooks or pastors prompting and/or telling them what to find in their Bibles.
  3. By the time they study and meditate on several key biblical motifs and divine attributes, average believers will be better theologians than many, overpaid, broadly-recognized IFB preachers.
  4. Good churches attempt to impart those skills to believers. They are not threatened by the growing theological comprehension or the questions of the membership. Instead, they are thrilled by it.
  5. IFB self-promotion, denigration of others, schismatic tendencies, bickering, disputing, infighting and other forms of behavioral malfeasance manifest the very behaviors Phil 2 forbids. IFB pastors are on the wrong side of Phil 2 however 2:12 is translated. But they evade correction much more easily if members can only quote their Bibles and nothing else.

The Image of God Again

Fundamentalist sects err by not seeing that we all image God uniquely. In Fundamentalism, God’s compassion, mercy, justice, love, goodness, etc. are filtered from view. We are allowed to see God’s law, severity, rage, etc. Having discovered a wrathful, hateful God, they develop a twisted system of holiness/righteousness/justice to serve God with dutiful obedience.

This leaves those made to reflect such traits with little means to do so in Fundamentalist sects. Those God gifts for compassion, mercy, justice, love, goodness, etc. have minimal opportunity to edify others or to serve in meaningful ways. And under such circumstances, little growth or Christian maturity occurs.

Church, Not Sectarianism

Within the eternal fellowship of Trinitarian life, all of God’s attributes interrelate continually. As God’s image, we reflect few of those attributes, maybe only one or two. But in her unity, the whole church reflects much more fully the fellowship between Father, Son and Spirit. God’s attributes open a world of possibilities for love, life, worship, witness, peace, joy, justice, grace, glory, deliverance and incarnational living!

Jesus prayed:

‘that they may all be one even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me’ [Jo 17:21].

The tragedy of the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement is that by their ‘separation,’ they exclude themselves from this blessedness.

God’s Attributes, God’s Image, Non-IFB Spirituality

We are God's Image

‘…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [Philippians 2:12].

‘The Message translates it as “reverent and sensitive before God.” I think that sounds much more gentle.’

Dear First time caller:

I think your reading of Phil 2:12 arises from God’s image, which you are. We are God’s image; but we don’t all image God the same way. Each of us images God uniquely. As I unpack this, I hope it will be for you a window to gain perspective on HOW we can read Scripture with ‘new eyes.’

God’s Attributes, God’s Image

A list of God’s attributes will include such things as God’s perfection, love, holiness, faithfulness, goodness, justice, mercy, grace, truth, wisdom and power, etc. But some attributes we recognize also as traits in others — traits by which they reflect God’s attributes. We’ve all heard things like:

Mary finds faith so easy — nothing seems to shake her! John is so persevering – for all he’s faced, he just keeps plowing! Amy is so gracious — she can put herself at anyone’s disposal in an instant and never resents it! Bill is so giving — he would hand the shirt off his back to the stranger who just cussed him!

Some call this ‘spiritual giftedness.’ Perhaps it is; but this is also how we uniquely image God’s character. One has the wisdom/insight to navigate a minefield of logical traps and linguistic chicaneries. Another can declare truth prophetically to the nation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes to mind.

No one reveals all God’s attributes; no one reveals any attribute in all its glory. Jesus Christ alone is ‘the exact representation’ of God’s being. We are smaller, much dimmer reflections of God’s being. But we do reflect God’s glory by virtue of our being God’s image.

Attributes as an Interpretative Aid

If with our spiritual makeup/gifts/calling we uniquely image God, how could this NOT also inform and shape our reading of Scripture?

When you said, ‘I think that [reverent and sensitive before God] sounds much more gentle,’ you read Scripture through the lens of God’s gentleness. In other words, God’s Spirit IS leading you already…just as promised.

Can God’s gentleness guide us to spiritual understanding? Can it lead us into practices that honor God, that imitate Christ, that bring grace to our communities? Can God’s gentleness teach us to discern how God is with us, leads us, deals with and saves us? Can God’s gentleness function as a lens by which to read Scripture with new eyes? Those questions require another post! But several more points before closing this installment.

Why all this Matters

  1. Why turn to ‘gentleness’ as a possible, preferred reading of Phil 2:12? Perhaps I’m wrong, First time caller, but I think the likelihood is good that you did so because THAT is how God made you. If you met your Christian friends and all discussed what they see in each other, I suspect that you’d be nominated for the ‘gentleness’ award.
  2. If I’m off the mark and some other aspect of God’s nature more naturally quickens your faith, THAT attribute can also aid spiritual understanding and function as a key to reading Scripture with ‘new eyes.’
  3. Evangelical and Fundamentalist sects are overpowered by a tendency to elevate a few aspects of God’s nature above all others. God’s goodness, mercy, kindness, loving-kindness are mentioned as a point of orthodoxy. These are quickly set aside. Then God’s rage, authority, judgment and a few more fill the whole picture. These define how God is perceived. These become the starting point for their initiates’ relationship with God.
  4. Beyond teaching us to think about God in distorted and unhealthy ways, such ‘theology’ fosters extreme spiritual debilitation. It also means IFB members have little opportunity to relate to God or to reflect the aspect[s] of God’s character for which God primarily made them.

An Alternative to IFB Sects

Such an environment does not support spiritual growth. It does not aid believers to read Scripture through ‘new eyes.’ It is no surprise that IFB sects come to regard ‘maturity’ as church busyness — drive the bus, teach church school, sing in choir, go witnessing, lead the youth group, etc. Nor is it any surprise that ‘knowing the Bible’ means little more than being able to cite the stock passages on any given IFB line.

But once God’s attributes and God’s image are recognized as a key for spiritual growth and reading Scripture, a world of possibilities opens to us. We can now study passages from the perspective of any number of attributes of God. We can study passages to discern which aspects of God’s nature seem most at work in a passage. And we can ask what it means for us to reflect that aspect of God’s character from the text in our lives.