When I was growing up, Bob Jones University (BJU) was the primary college of choice. Our pastor was a BJU grad and we had BJU ensembles and speakers come through our church all the time. I’ve heard Bob Jones, Jr. and Bob Jones III speak in our church and have had pictures taken of them and with them. I was one of those kids that would go to the preacher after the service and have them sign my Bible. I know I had their signatures and many, many others but unfortunately I lost that Bible at a hay ride youth activity at South Mountain when I was in high school.
While I was in high school, it seemed to me that if you were to go to college, you were supposed to go to a Christian college and the ones who did mostly went to BJU but a few went to Maranatha Baptist Bible College (MBBC) and even less went to Pensacola Christian College (PCC). These were the colleges that we grew up hearing about. Any other college that we may have heard of was considered too liberal or headed in that direction.
I would have followed everyone else’s footsteps but in my junior year of high school our church started its own college, International Baptist College (IBC). I decided to stay home and I did my first two years of college at IBC but joined the Marine Corps Reserves during my last semester and that summer disappeared into the military for about six months. When I came back, for a number of reasons, I did not go back to school at IBC.
Over the years, my siblings and I have gone to and graduated from four different Bible colleges. One sibling has a degree from MBBC and BJU. The other went to PCC but graduated from BJU. I went to PCC for two years but graduated from IBC and almost finished a master’s degree. A couple years later I went to MBBC and earned a second bachelor’s degree. Although I never took classes at BJU, I’ve been on their campus several times over the years.
My point is that my siblings and I grew up in a church that was and still is independent, fundamental, Baptist and the Christian school that was associated with it and we have been a part of four major colleges that heavily influence the IFB world as we know it.
This whole situation with BJU, Chuck Phelps, and the rest of the IFB, really hurts me deeply. It’s a huge betrayal of all that I was taught. I grew up hearing quotes like: “Do right until the stars fall” and “The greatest ability is dependability” and "Don't sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate" and many others. I grew up to admire these men, thinking they were men of God. What they said, we thought was “gospel” because they said it with authority and used Scripture to back up what they said.
In the classroom, I was taught Greek, Hebrew, Hermeneutics, Bible doctrine, Theology, Bible, and all the classes pertaining to becoming a preacher. I sat under preaching during chapel and church services that espoused everything that you would expect to hear while a college student at a Bible college. I learned a lot and took it to heart, especially when it talked about what it took to be a man of God, a good husband and father, and other sermons and lessons regarding the character a person of God should possess. When I prepared sermons, I did what they taught me and I looked at context, studied the Greek, and applied what I was taught in my various classes. It never occurred to me to take a verse and use it as a jumping off place to preach what I wanted it to mean. I didn’t realize how many preachers did this because I was moved by their stories and enthusiasm and I wished I had that talent.
I’m disappointed with Chuck Phelps because he is the opposite of what I’ve always been taught that a man of God should be. Confidence is one thing but pride and arrogance are another. Authority is one thing but abusing that authority is another. Honesty and integrity is one thing but twisting or rewording the truth to make yourself look better is another. Guidance and counsel is one thing but manipulation is another. If you made a mistake, own up to it. Ask for forgiveness. Do your part in righting a wrong instead of compounding it by trying to hide what you know to be the truth so that you can “save face” in front others.
I’m disappointed with Bob Jones University because, even though I didn’t go there, I thought they stood up for what was right. If someone was on their board or a teacher in their school that did not hold the values that they taught, I would have expected them to make some changes. Instead, they refused to listen to those with legitimate concerns and just blew them off with an attitude of pride and self-righteousness. This is not the first time this has happened but it’s the most current and maybe the most obvious example of the superiority mindset of the school. It makes me concerned that the students coming out of there are picking up the same mindset which influences the churches and schools where they minister.
What bothers me most is their extra-Biblical teaching. Their views have been modified based on the changing of the times, bad press from the media, social activism, and many other reasons. But, If racism is wrong, it’s always wrong. If mixed marriages are wrong, they’re always wrong. If accreditation is wrong, it’s always wrong. If it’s a preference or an opinion, say so and say why but don’t condemn others because they disagree with you.
They, and many others like them, have taught and preached about things using Scripture but they were misusing Scripture and then their students come out doing the same thing. When I look back on myself, I did the very same thing. I was taught certain things and thought it was based on Scripture, only to realize later that it’s really a preference or another man’s opinion. I accepted and adopted philosophies as my own because those I thought that those with more experience knew what they were talking about.
I’m disappointed in fundamentalist Baptists as a whole. There are exceptions but over the past year and a half my eyes have been opened by their lack of compassion, their lack of integrity, their lack of standing up for the abused. They’d rather protect their image than to protect their character. They’re afraid of how people will look at them on the outside and not how God looks at them on the inside. The things I’ve learned over the past year about the movement that I grew up in has made me realize that I never want to be an independent, fundamental, Baptist again. I believe in the fundamentals of the faith as taught through Scripture but I found out that Baptists do not have the market cornered on Bible truths.
I’m also disappointed in myself. I realized years ago that there are different churches for different kinds of people but I had it in my mind, due to my training and background, that if churches and people didn’t do things like I did then they were less spiritual and as they grew spiritually, they would look more like me and my church. It wasn’t until we made a decision that we couldn’t stay at our current church that I was forced to decide where to go, which also caused me to evaluate what I believed and what I had been taught. I realized that your music doesn’t indicate your level of spirituality. A church’s worship team was not an indication of apostasy. A person's appearance is not a manifestation of a person's heart towards God. The “world” is not the things you do, such as: clothes, food, drink, music, movies, tattoos, etc. but the mentality of your heart, such as: greed, lust, hate, pride, and many more.
When I looked at Scripture I thought I was the tax collector praying “be merciful to me a sinner” but I came to realize that I was the Pharisee saying “I am not like…(other sinners)..” Then I felt like I became like the Pharisee who came to Jesus at night and had to learn what Scripture really said and not what I thought and taught it was saying. Eventually, just like that Pharisee, I left. I had to leave. I lost a lot with that move but I gained so much more.
I’m not saying that all IFB church members and pastors are Pharisees but looking back on myself, I was and I didn’t even realize it. Maybe you are too. I’m far from perfect and I still wear a mask at times to others but in my new surroundings I can be more honest and open about who I am because I don’t have to worry about looking perfect. I can be more honest about my faults and learn from others who might have the same weaknesses and struggles that I have. It’s been very enlightening and encouraging.
This is my question, “Is it more important what people think about you by the way you act and dress OR what you really are on the inside, the person that God sees?”