I’ve written before discussing the IFB as a cult trying to flesh out the characteristics of a cult and see if the IFB fits the profile. I recently received a question from a curious reader about the Independent Fundamental Baptist denomination as a cult and as I was considering the questions I began to realize that the more I understand what a cult is the more I’m beginning to see that the IFB fits the profile of a cult. Below please find the questions and my reply which may help us as we make efforts to define cult more precisely.
I am writing in regards to your article on the IFB being “cultish”. I use to be a Lutheran and started attending an IFB church because I wanted more preaching from the bible. I have been attending now for some time. I got saved and baptized in this church. Now I am a memeber. One big difference I noticed from the IFB and Lutheran church is the standards. Now I just went along with this, but for the past couple of months I have been getting the feeling that the IFB is “cultish”. Their preaching on “being seperate from the world” is what set off the alarms for me. It seems that the church gets too involved in peoples personal lives. Not only that but the preaching always seems to be aimed at making you feel guilty. They say its the Holy Spirit “convicting you of your sins” but I am starting to think its just a control technique. The IFB loves to use fear as a method of submission for its congregation.
Now my question to you is this, If the IFB is a “cult” then what is their motivation? I always thought a cult needs to have a purpose.
I am a young Christian, all I ever wanted is to have a relationship with the Lord and know that I am doing the right thing. Since you have left the IFB, how has your life been? I always here from my church that people who leave the church and go somewhere that doesn’t have a good bible preaching church end up in a world of hurt. I was just wondering how your life has been without it?
I have made a lot of good friends within this church and am worried what they are going to think if I end up leaving the church. I am starting to lose hope in Christianity and religion in general. I don’t think their is one “real” religion. Thats just food for thought. Anyways, I appreciate any advice you might give.
Those are good questions and ones that many people have. I may take this discussion and post it on the website. These are very important things to understand and I’m glad you are seeking answers.
The term “cult” itself is very ambiguous and as such, very difficult to define. I purposefully use the term “cultic” or “cultish” because of that ambiguity, however, there’s really no better or more relevant term to use. I used to think that the IFB wasn’t really a cult in the strictest sense of the word and as such simply “cultic” or “cultish” in nature (that is, containing some aspects of a cult but not actually a cult itself), but the more I study what a cult is the more I see the IFB fitting into the category of a cult.
Consider the following aspects or characteristics of a cult (as identified by the ICSA):
- Excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment (and loyalty) to (it and/or) its leader
- Questioning, doubt and dissent are discouraged and even punished
- Leadership dictates how people should think, act and feel (lists of dos and don’ts and “standards”)
- Elitist mentality
- Exclusivism and separateness
- Polarized ‘us vs. them’ mentality
- Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities
- The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members
- The group is preoccupied with making money (e.g., tithe)
- The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion
- Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members
Those all describe the IFB churches I was in and from what I’ve been able to gather over the years, many other people have had similar experiences with the IFB.
A cult doesn’t necessarily have to have a motivation per se, at least not a real one. I’d say that the IFB is motivated by a delusion. I know that’s harsh, but the thought process of a cult is cyclical. Their cultish practices only serve to reinforce their cultish mindset which in turn serves to reinforce their cultish practices. They are deluded into thinking that they have the corner on the truth. This is the most severe form of delusion. Most people who have a delusion truly believe with all their being that they are correct and no amount of rational discussion can or will change their minds. Some IFBs are motivated by prestige among other IFB churches (in competition fashion such as who can win the most people for Christ or bring in the most members), while others may be motivated by money (such as a strong focus on tithing), but overall I think that the primary motivation is pride. That elitist mentality says that they are better than everyone else and their teachings (doctrines, traditions, beliefs, etc.) are somehow truer than others.
There’s only one word that describes my life now… FREEDOM!!! I don’t know how else to explain it. I’m not bound by what the IFB wants me to believe. I’m not bound by their “standards” of living. I’m able to have a personal, individualized relationship with Christ without the bonds of legalism and other junk that the IFB heaps on people. There is some turmoil at times. Obviously any life change brings with it confusion, loneliness, doubt, etc., but the benefits FAR outweigh the risks. I’m definitely NOT in a “world of hurt” by any means. In fact, the exact opposite is true.
Not wanting to hurt people or lose friendships is a very tricky issue. I still have friends from my IFB days. I have friends who know about my site and others who don’t. I’ve also had to cut off friendships (or they have cut me off). That’s all painful and difficult to juggle, but we can’t live our lives worried about what other people think of us. We have to do what we think is best for our individual, unique walk with Christ. I would say that if you have to worry about losing friendships because you left the IFB then they weren’t really your friends to begin with. A friend will be supportive and understanding. An enemy will try to get you to do what they want you to do.
I’m OK if you lose hope in Christianity and religion. That doesn’t bother me in the least. We can have a relationship with Christ without being involved in Christianity. Christianity is just a religion. One can be a Christian (i.e., having an intimate relationship with and being a follower of Christ) without being a Christian (i.e., a follower of the religion Christianity). Does that make sense?
I hope that helps a little.