There are a couple verses that IFB preachers start throwing around when their congregation has the audacity to do things like, y’know, ask questions. They usually revolve around having the “faith of a child,” and you can find them in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Basically, it goes something like this: “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (<— I just committed a huge crime right there, by using the, oh, horrors, English Standard Version instead of the God-Breathed, infallible, plenary-inspired Word of God, otherwise known as the Authorized Version, if you’re going to be fancy, the KJV if you’re not.)
Setting aside any honest practice of bibliology or hermeneutics, the typical IFB man interprets this verse as “unless you come to God with unquestioning-of-the-man-of-God, blind obedience, you’re a-gonna go to hell.” Not in so many words, of course, but when you couple the hammering of these verses with the fact that they’re usually hammered into the people asking questions, what you get is “shut up and color.”
The interesting thing to note that questioning the pastor’s interpretation of Scripture is almost always equal to questioning Scripture itself in the way it usually gets handled. So it’s not surprising that questioning the pastor at all can land you in a peck of trouble.
Take, for example, my encounter with one IFB pastor in Georgia.
I’d just finished my freshman year at a radically conservative Christian college, and that summer my parents packed my sister and I off to summer camp. It was the first time I’d get to be a “camp counselor,” although since most of the girls going were 16+, it seemed a little redundant. This camp was in the middle of a swamp, and if you’ve ever been in a swamp, in Georgia, in the middle of July, you’ll understand the level of torture this was. The mattresses had bed bugs, the showers were open-air, filled with mud and daddy-long-legs, and the “camp” involved going to chapel five times a day. Twice in the morning, once in the afternoon, and twice in the evening. Participation in sports was mandatory. As a maladroit girl, that was worse than sitting under five different “hacking preachers” daily. (If you don’t already know what a “hacking preacher” is, I’m sorry, you’re missing out on one of the funniest things you’ll ever hear, but it can’t be explained. It involves lots of gasping and spitting.)
Another mandatory event was to answer a Bible trivia question before you could get into the chow hall to eat. Usually, they were pretty simple. Name a disciple. Name a judge. Name a place.
The “name a place” is where I got tripped up. I was waiting in line in the sweltering, sauna-like heat with the sun pounding down, when the young man in front of me answered the “name a place” with Syracuse. The pastor who was guarding the entrance like St. Peter himself, told this young man that no, Syracuse, was most definitely not in the Bible.
“Wait a minute, yes it is.” I blurt out.
Unfortunately, I am one of those people who have trouble letting factual inaccuracies, no matter how minor, slide. I’m basically Ted from How I Met your Mother when it comes to this. I, just… can’t. It’s reflexive. Horrible, I know, but I’ve kinda given up on fixing it. If it means you can’t be my friend, well, I understand, and that’s ok. We all do annoying things. This is mine.
It also gets me into trouble occasionally. Like now.
The pastor leered down at me, smugly and obviously superior. “Now lookee here little lady, Syracuse is not in the Bible.” (I swear I’m only exaggerating for effect a little bit. But only a little.)
But, you see, I’d just finished my first semester at a radically conservative Bible college, and I’d just finished two semesters of New Testament surveys, including an overview of the missionary journeys of Paul. For some reason, my brain had latched onto the Syracuse bit in Acts 28:12 and connected it with the voyages of Sinbad and the Book of Peace. So yes, I knew it was in the Bible, and just as luck would have it, lunch immediately followed two rounds of church, so guess what I had with me?
You guessed it. My KJV Bible.
And guess what I also remembered, for the first time in my life?
I whipped it open to Acts 28, where Paul cures diseases, snakebites, and stays in Alexandria for a bit, and point to the word “Syracuse” in verse 12.
“Huh,” and the pastor waved the young mad inside, who, sadly, did not appreciate my help. A girl had just stuck up for him, and that’s not exactly cool anywhere, but especially not there.
One of my girlfriends at the time also happened to be my pastor’s daughter, and she could barely restrain herself before we got inside. She grabbed my arm and physically hauled me out of the lunch line. Away from the fried chicken– so frustrating.
“What in the world do you think you were doing?” She hissed.
“You can’t correct a man of God like that.”
“Huh– wha, wait– why? He was wrong.”
“It doesn’t matter. He’s a man of God. You don’t get to do that, not to him.”
“But he was wrong.”
“That doesn’t matter. You’re more wrong. He made an honest mistake, but what you did, that was sin.”
“That’s so stupid! What if it’s not just some little silly little fact that barely matters at all, and it actually matters if he’s wrong?”
“Men of God can’t be wrong, don’t be ridiculous.”
And that last statement sums up a lot of what’s wrong with IFB preachers and the way they become the end-all-be-all of Scripture to their churches. I got into trouble with my pastor later, as the IFB-St. Peter and my friend both told him what I’d done. I ended up spending the next four days in the kitchen scrubbing pots and pans, but that was just fine with me.
I got to escape going to the church services, and got to hang out with all the other reprobates like me.