I often refer to the IFB as “cult like” or “cultish” and I receive great condemnation from IFBers as a result. This post is being written to set the record straight and to provide a little more detail about what I mean by “cult like” or “cultish”.
Let’s first look at the definition of “cult”. The Random House Dictionary defines a cult as: 1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies. 2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers 3. the object of such devotion 4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc. 5. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols. 6. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader. 7. the members of such a religion or sect. 8. any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.
In case you didn’t notice, the definitions are pretty broad. The term “cult” can be a bit ambiguous and is often open to individual interpretation. As a result I will try to narrow down the definitions and streamline my focus. I would like to focus on definitions numbered 1, 2, 4 and 6.
We all know of the particular cults that have come and gone. One of the more famous cults was the Branch Davidian cult in Waco Texas lead by David Koresh. If you aren’t familiar with it I would encourage you to look them up. It’s pretty interesting. Basically, David Koresh lead a group of people to their deaths because of a false ideology and set of beliefs that was unorthodox, extremist AND with members living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader, (see definition 6).
The only reason I mention David Koresh in this context is to set apart what we typically think of as a cult. The Branch Davidians characterized ALL the stipulations of definition 6 above so this is an easy one to spot. Organizations like the IFB are not so easy to spot and often have subtle variations of definition 6 – the one we typically think of when we hear the word cult – or they are purposefully deceptive about their status in society in order to deceive people into joining their group (don’t get all defensive, I’m just using deception as an example of a subtle difference to distinguish what we think we know a cult to be and what a cult really is).
Yes, I know that the IFB doesn’t EXACTLY fit definition 6 so before you decide that you want to shoot me (or at least leave this webpage) read on because I’m going to tell you why I think that the IFB fits the definition of a cult.
In a way, ALL belief systems START out as a cult by the definition of 6 above. Just think about the way Jesus must have been portrayed in his society during the time of his ministry. Do you think unorthodox, unscientific, charismatic, extremist, etc. would be words the Pharisees and people of his day used to describe him? You bet they would. Today Christianity is one of the largest religions in the world, but I think that in its early stages people might have looked at Christians as members of a cult as defined by definition 6 above.
But as you can see, the definition of a cult is NOT limited to simply definition 6. Like I said, my focus will also be on definition numbers 1, 2 and 4. Let me repeat them in case you forgot. 1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies. 2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers 4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc. Upon HONEST inspection can you really read those definitions as say the IFB isn’t a cult according to those definitions? If not you are either delusional, extremely self deceptive or so enmeshed with the IFB that you simply can’t see it.
Yes, I know that I’m partially playing a semantics game here, but that’s why I use the term “cult like” or “cultish” instead of calling the IFB a cult outright. In the BROADIST sense we could certainly see how the IFB ACTS like a cult, in some ways, when looking at definition 6. We often see IFBers promoting the idea that we are to be “separate” (living outside conventional society), “independent” – not belonging to an over seeing body of leadership and following the leadership of the local church pastor (under the direction of a charismatic leader). We can see that the IFB promotes misinterpretations of scripture as fact – as evidenced on this site and many others (religion or sect considered to be false). We see that the IFB promotes the idea of fundamentalism (extremist) in many ways such as women wearing skirts, not going to movies or dances, etc (unorthodox) (these are simply to provide examples and are not by any means all inclusive). However, in the TRUEST sense of the word the IFB doesn’t ESACTLY fit the definition of a cult and if definition 6 above were the ONLY definition we had then I think I would have a harder time convincing people that the IFB is cultish or cult like.
However, understanding that the IFB does indeed fit SOME of what definition 6 refers to and understanding that definition 6 is NOT THE ONLY DEFINITION that’s given for a cult we must logically conclude that not all cults can be boiled down to just ones that fit definition 6. We still have seven other definitions, four of which mention the terms “religion” and/or “sect”. This is too significant to ignore.
Now, again, I play word games here, but for good reason (there are times when arguments of semantics are relevant). Since we can’t, in good conscience, call the IFB a cult, according to definition 6 – again which is what most people think of when the term cult is mentioned and according to what we as a society have come to understand a cult to be – and the IFB does display some cult like or cultish characteristics, then we need to consider the other definitions of a cult and come to a logical conclusion about this matter.
So let’s just take each definition and see if the IFB fits the description. First, definition 1: 1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies. The IFB has distinct rites and ceremonies that set it apart from all other denominations. This is interesting because the IFB WANTS to be considered “set apart” yet they refuse to acknowledge the consequence of this line of thinking, which is the perception of cult like atmosphere. The IFB as a whole, has distinct features, traditions and beliefs that set it apart from other denominations (I know some of the IFBers reading this will object to the IFB being called a denomination, but that isn’t the focus of this article so please read the article on Independent Deception for more information about that topic). The simple fact that IFBers considers themselves as “Independent” and “Fundamental” (separated from all else in Christianity) lends credence to this definition.
Second, definition 2: 2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers. Many will read this definition and conveniently ignore the “OR” in it. The veneration doesn’t necessarily have to be a person, although one could easily argue the IFB’s veneration of the local church’s pastor. The main reverence and focus of the IFB is their unique way of doing church which, according to them, is the right way and everyone else is wrong. The IFB way of doing church has become the idol around which life revolves. The IFB will deny this of course, but those of us who have come out of the IFB can understand why. The IFB has become so good at defending their way of doing church that people can no longer see past the deception. IFBers have come to venerate the ideals of the IFB which has lead to those outside of the IFB seeing them as a cult.
Finally, definition 4: 4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc. Again we see here that the IFB is a group or sect that has very strong bonds to a particular way of doing church. The IFB fits the definition of a cult by its regard for and reverence towards particular traditions, beliefs and teachings that are currently considered by most in Christianity to be unorthodox and extreme.
So it is with this in mind that we see the IFB could certainly fit the description of a cult, however, I have chosen to use the term “cultish” or “cult like” in order to show some respect to the system and the individuals that make up the IFB. When I use the terms “cultish” or “cult like” I’m referring to the characteristics of the IFB that make is closely resemble a cult.
After writing this article and getting a few comments and some rather nasty emails, I realized that a little more clarification would be needed to help avert misunderstandings. As I’ve said multiple times throughout this site, I’m not trying to paint all Independent Fundamental Baptists with the same brush nor am I making sweeping generalizations (by the way, comments that accuse me of sweeping generalizations will not be responded to by this author since I’ve clearly answered this accusation here and elsewhere on the site. Please read thoroughly before you make such an accusatory comment). It is up to the reader to determine if their church has such characteristics. I simply urge you to read with an open mind and consider the possibility.
Now, having said that, it’s important that you know that I realize that the term cult is somewhat ambiguous, but cults are often defined by how much CONTROL the group and/or group leader tries to have over it’s members.
According to the International Cultic Studies Association and cult expert Steve Hassan, areas of the cult member’s life such as thoughts, behaviors, emotions and information are controlled so that the member is kept in strict conformity. Based on this, I’ve devised a little summary of how the IFB acts in such ways to control the congregation.
Please consider the following aspects of a cult as I try to help you understand their fit among the IFB.
Control over Emotions:
In a cult, a normal range of emotions is discouraged and often not allowed. In my IFB experience, if you aren’t happy then there is something wrong in your relationship with God. If you are depressed, for example, then there is sin in your life.
Use of guilt tactics is another example of the IFB’s control over emotions. This is often seen by excessive use of what I call “sin language” (not SIGN language, but SIN language). According to the IFB, you are sinning if you don’t do church the way the IFB has determined that a Christian should. This is especially true when it comes to paying tithes. For example, “If you aren’t tithing then you are robbing God. How can a good Christian rob God?!?!?!” How many times have you heard that one? I heard it almost every week and sometimes three or four times a week when the pastor did a sermon series on tithing.
Another popular tactic of the IFB in this category is pressuring its members to perform soul winning activities. A high focus on bringing in new members is a classis cult emphasis and was very prevalent in the IFB.
Control over Thought:
Rigid, inflexible and all or nothing thinking (more commonly known as black and white thinking) where issues are either right or wrong and no room is given for a middle ground or grey areas is a sure sign of a cult. This is very strong among the IFB.
The IFB effectively discourages critical thinking, negative thoughts and thinking that originates independent of the group. The IFB encourages the use of ONLY positive thinking and speaking. Hassan shares that this is often done by infusing “thought-terminating clichés”…which “constrict rather than expand understanding”…and “function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous ‘buzz words’”.*
“Pray about it” is an example that sticks in my mind. When I would have a dilemma or life issue the advice was simply “pray about it”. This might not be the best example, but if simply praying about it was helpful I wouldn’t have been having trouble in the first place since I’d been praying about it for years.
We all know the typical Christian clichés that are used among the Christian community, but the IFB takes this to a cultish level, by restricting other forms of thought and communication.
Control over Information:
In a cult, attending another church or group is often discouraged. The message that only the IFB has the truth and if you attend another type of church you can’t get saved or you are further from God then if you attended an IFB is evidence of this characteristic.
The KJV only issue is a perfect example of this among the IFB. If one doesn’t understand the KJV then they are to rely on the Pastor or a “more mature” Christian in the IFB to interpret it for them.
Individual interpretation of scripture is discouraged. Questioning or disagreeing with what the IFB teaches is discouraged. One should accept what the pastor or Sunday school teacher says with unwavering, unquestioning acceptance is the prevailing message among the IFB.
In the IFB, pastors are trained by IFB educators and seminaries. Information is tightly controlled among the leader instruction. The church I grew up in had a “Baptist Bible Institute” which trained all the pastors and Sunday school teachers. One couldn’t serve unless he/she went through that unique training program. This is plain and simple mind control.
Another evident issue in this category is limited access to alternate information. Member access to non-IFB literature is discouraged and/or prevented.
The three mentioned above are often more subtle. The more obvious one is Control over Behaviors:
Control over what to do, where to go and who to associate with is common among cults and we see this among the IFB in the obvious “standards” that the IFB has set regarding dress, hair style, music, movies, food/beverage consumption and associated friends (among many others).
An example from my experience is vacation time. We were taught to never miss church even for vacation. I always remember my parents scheduling family vacations to end on Saturday so that we could be in church on Sunday. What confused me, though, was that the pastor always took a vacation that lasted through Sunday.
Being pressured to make sacrifices is another form of controlling behaviors. We see this among the IFB as well in the form of monetary and time commitments.
Well, I hope this information has been helpful. For more information on cults visit: www.icsahome.com and www.freedomofmind.com/bite/
* Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves