Still in Seminary
After my senior year of college and before my first year of graduate school in 1984, I served in a summer intern program at a church in Eastern Pennsylvania. I attended the pastor/preacher boy conference with Calvary Baptist Church in Lansdale, led by Pastor E. Robert Jordan. There was much I respected about Calvary Lansdale, including their emphasis on expository preaching, to which I was already committed. Their style of preaching was a good basic model for how to preach in a church.
However, I never attended Calvary for several reasons. One, the professors and many graduates mocked the King James Version. E. Robert Jordan was a King James advocate, but the school already ridiculed the translation while he was still the pastor of the church. I'm not saying they took a different position. I'm saying that they scoffed the King James. Two, many mocked positions of personal holiness, like stands against mixed swimming, the movie theater, and modest dress. The churches held activities at the swim park. I know because I went to one, thinking that perhaps I was amiss in my thinking about that. What I saw were wet women in less than their underwear and with permissible touching and frolicking, all excused by the proximity to water. Afterwards, we had "devotions." Questioning it was met with derision. FBF national leaders preached there. Greenville and Lansdale had made a truce around the time the latter started a seminary. Three, it was obvious that Lansdale had even then a strong affinity for new-evangelicalism, much praise and little criticism for non-separatists, resulting in the departure of longtime faculty over to new-evangelicalism. I wondered how that fundamentalism could coexist with Calvary in Lansdale, but it did. It still does.
The Blood Issue
Between 1984 and 1987 was when the blood issue rose to the surface between Bob Jones University and John MacArthur. I had heard MacArthur on the radio, and even though I knew he wasn't a separatist and was off in some of his positions, he was someone I respected for preaching the Bible, unlike almost anything else I heard. I really did wonder how MacArthur could be so wrong, and yet have preaching that was so much better than anything else I was hearing.
When Bob Jones attacked MacArthur in their magazine, Faith for the Family, I already knew what MacArthur's position was on the blood of Christ. Fundamentalist leaders said that MacArthur denied the blood. I knew that wasn't true, because I had read through his Hebrews commentary. The type of argumentation used against MacArthur was so superficial and silly that I was mystified. To start, MacArthur did not deny the blood, but even if he did, his error should have been pointed out from scripture. Bob Jones and its surrogates really did argue a strawman at the time. Once they saw that they had misrepresented MacArthur, they should have recanted right away, but they dug in for over a decade in typical fundamentalist fashion. As the winds toward MacArthur began to change among young fundamentalists, Bob Jones came out with a weak apology many years later.
I don't believe like MacArthur on the blood. Blood is more than a metonym for death, like MacArthur espouses. However, fundamentalism's treatment of MacArthur was so typical of how I witnessed fundamentalism to operate.
Early Years Pastoring
As a Bible college and graduate school student, I was immersed in fundamentalism. A fundamentalist college begets fundamentalist graduates of one stripe or another. However, fundamentalism wasn't what I was thinking when my new wife and I left to evangelize the East San Francisco Bay Area, north of Oakland. We would first meet in the multipurpose room of a public elementary school in Hercules, California, so I knocked on the first door next to that building, and then kept knocking.
My church membership moved from Calvary Baptist in Watertown, Wisconsin along with my wife from New Hampshire to Calvary Baptist in San Francisco. The former and the latter were fundamentalist, Baptist churches. We held our first meeting on October 17, 1987. My new world was work, a wife, paying the bills, and evangelizing all without fundamentalism on my radar. Except when I attended pastors meetings, fundamentalist ones.
There were two groups of fundamentalists in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1980s---the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship (FBF) guys and the Hyles guys. Those two groups had been represented in my life at Lucerne up at Clear Lake, Maranatha Week, with Hyles and Bell, parts one and two.
I attended FBF meetings with high hopes, not knowing what to expect. I came out with three observations. One, FBF preaching was a lot about old loyalties and Bob Jones University. The men preached sermons against things that almost no one needed, especially if he really was a fundamentalist---against Promise Keepers, against pseudo-fundamentalism, Jack Van Impe, the Moral Majority, etc. The real problems of the FBF were never touched, for instance, church discipline and discipleship and second blessing theology. At an FBF meeting, I never heard anything preached on the gospel and evangelism. Never did I hear anything preached against Jack Hyles. Rarely did I ever hear a good expository sermon.
The fellowship, I guess, was supposed to take place at meal time during a conference. I assumed that bringing up some point from scripture would be the norm. It wasn't. Men were just not free to have those kinds of discussion. The things you really wanted to talk about and needed to talk about couldn't be talked about. Men in leadership would not and could not talk about a controversial subject from the Bible. The areas that you wanted to discuss the most were off limits. Fellowship around the FBF was not about the Bible. It was about who was doing what or preaching with whom or how many so and so was running or how very bad the new-evangelicals were. We didn't know what fellowship, biblical fellowship, was even about. That would have been a good place to start, but that would have exposed many of the errors in the FBF itself. We were coming together mainly based upon fundamentalist tradition, approved primarily by Bob Jones University.
Not only did I attend FBF meetings, but I also went to the National Pastors and Workers Conference at North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, where Jack Trieber was pastor. We had some of those preachers into Maranatha. When I left to go to California, the dean of academic affairs, John Brock, encouraged me to go out to California and outgrow North Valley and Trieber. I just nodded, but I didn't have anything like that in mind. When I went down to Santa Clara, which was about 1 1/2 hours from me, I wasn't comfortable, because I remembered the sermons from Hyles at Maranatha. Rarely did I hear one that I believed was scriptural. Hyles mocked expository preaching---he would say that it was like treating the Bible like a "math book."
You may wonder how I could ever have attended Trieber's conference. Rumors were out there about problems in Hammond and with Dave Hyles, but nothing substantiated from my point of view until a year or two later. I had an open mind and was giving it an opportunity. Maybe I was judgmental, so something was wrong with me. However, one attendance of that school delivered me from ever going again.
When you arrived at North Valley, the place was immaculate. If you've never been to any place like that, I could hardly describe to you how the ministry philosophy pervades even the grounds. Much good could be said about certain high standards, but it is impossible to separate the manipulativeness of the place from the grooming of the property, down to the color of the carpet, the paint, and the lighting. The music, the timing, the dress, everything is choreographed for the maximum effect upon the visitor.
The preaching was horrible. I really only remember two sermons. One was from Clarence Sexton, who I'd never heard before. One word stands out from his speech: screaming. He was also a consummate showman, dressed to the "T." This was the first I had seen of the immense honoring of the preacher. I was called to the front in one of the evenings to be thanked and given a Bible and applauded. It was something very different than what I read in 1 Corinthians, where Paul wrote that the one who sows and the one who waters, both are nothing.
None of the sessions sorted out what Scripture said about ministry. All of them talked about what worked and therefore God was obviously using. Everything was very slick, very well put together. Most of it was a walk by sight and not by faith.
I had read Jack Hyles' Meet the Holy Spirit. I knew it was bad, very bad. But I was accustomed in fundamentalism to overlooking false doctrine. I had gotten the picture that it was all a matter of degree and that you were going to have to put up with some stink. After all, none of us are perfect. It never had even occurred to me that Hyles and most of his followers were preaching a false gospel, from which everyone should separate.
Hyles was coming to the National Pastor's Conference and when he preached, we met at the San Jose Convention Center. It was a sight to behold. Packed out. Full. I drove a van down to the meeting. I really was being convicted about it. My justification was that Hyles would light a fire under our people. They would leave his presentation far more interested in "soulwinning" than they were. That would be a good thing. So I prayed all the way down that Hyles would not preach on the Holy Spirit. Of course, that was no prayer that God would answer, and Hyles did preach an unbiblical sermon on the Holy Spirit, buttressed by story after story in which Jack Hyles was the hero.
I'm serious when I say that every single person in the auditorium went forward that night. Thousands. Except for me, my family, and the church members who sat with me. Even a church member who went separately got swept onto the conveyor belt to the front. I saw that family weeping and kneeling. It was hard to get forward, because there was nowhere to move. People in front of us just dropped right where they were and when they got up, they stared at us sitting there, looking at us with disdain that we could be so unmoved. I resolved in that meeting never to attend one of those events again. I apologized to our people and explained to them what was wrong with the sermon. No damage came out of it.
I would still receive the invitations and the flyers from Jack Trieber, obviously his form letters. After several years, I decided to write him to inform him why I would never be coming. I gave four or five reasons. I told him I wanted to stop receiving his invitations. I got a letter back a few weeks later, thanking me for the letter. That was it. And I kept receiving the materials in the mail. Still do.
It wasn't long afterwards that I walked down the hill of our property to the mailbox and picked up a copy of the Biblical Evangelist. I don't remember how I got on Robert Sumner's mailing list, but I liked looking through those types of papers. I saw one of the arresting headlines on the front page was something like "The Saddest Story You'll Ever Read." I laughed because of what seemed like an obvious tease of the reader. Of course, I wanted to find out what the saddest story was. Very little of the article was on the front page. I leafed through the paper as I walked back up to the church building, and I saw then page after page with Hyles name on it. Hyles. Hyles. Hyles. Wow. So then I went back to the beginning and began reading with amazement for the first time. After that, I got everything I could get on the subject. I read Voyle Glover's book, Fundamental Seduction, Wizard of God by Vic Nischik, the follow up articles by Sumner and then the answers from Hyles, and listened to a three hour sermon on tape, preached by Roger Voegtlin from Fairhaven Baptist Church in Chesterton, IN. Whatever was left of the Hyles' influence on me, it was gone.
The worst effect of Hyles on fundamentalism, I believe, was in his second blessing theology, his creation of first and second class conditions depending on after salvation experiences not taught in the Bible. Hyles said that his success came from the power of God. Despite having this power, he also needed a complex system of promotion, marketing, and gimmicks, but he said that he got his ability in a post-salvation period on his father's grave. For a period time, I coveted that same experience. I wanted size and success like Hyles, and if it was the power that was necessary, I wanted it. I was never convinced from the Bible that I needed it, but by the stories of Hyles. And Hyles was a fundamentalist.
More to Come.