My thoughts on ABC’s 20/20, Elizabeth Vargas, and the IFB Church

Posted by:

After watching the Elizabeth Vargas report on 20/20 on Friday, April 8, 2011, I feel compelled to comment from a few different angles.

First, abuse of any kind is wicked and ungodly, and is particularly disgusting when it is cloaked in the guise of religiosity.  My heart goes out to anyone who has been the victim of a crime at home, church, school, or any other place.  I pray that in time you will be healed and justice will be served.

Tragically, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse has darkened the doors of virtually every denomination and religious group at various times in American history, as well as every other arena of society (politicians, teachers, businesses, families, etc.).  Every time another incident of abuse is uncovered, it is cause for great sorrow.

Having said that, it should come as no surprise that the mainstream media would take a fringe group of extremists and paint thousands of churches and individuals with a single brush.  The media regularly uses the same tactics in the political realm in attempt to quiet opposing voices (i.e. the Tea Party, political conservatives, etc.).

I do not know all of the facts from the particular stories that were referenced in the 20/20 episode, and cannot begin to validate or repudiate the claims.  However, out of fairness to Dr. Chuck Phelps (Tina Anderson’s former pastor), I would encourage you to read his statements posted at  I do know that members of the media rarely accurately present the whole story.  Often the presentation is from a biased perspective used to further a liberal agenda.

I could say more on that, but my real purpose is to clarify a few things:

The label IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist) was used repeatedly in the episode.  That label does not represent a particular denomination, association, or club of churches.  In other words there is not an IFB denomination.  Those three terms simply describe what certain churches believe and how they operate.  Let’s take them one at a time:

Independent: An independent church is not a member of an association, denomination, or organization that provides authority or hierarchy outside of the local assembly.  It is self-governing, just like a local political or social club that is formed with its own charter and by-laws, and with the oversight and direction by its own membership and congregationally elected board.  By nature of that fact, “independent” churches can differ from one to the next like night and day.  The beliefs and leadership of each independent church determine the atmosphere and practice.  To say that all “independent” churches are like the ones portrayed in the 20/20 episode (regardless of the accuracy of the portrayal) and paint them with one broad brush is intellectually dishonest since the very nature of independence means that each one is free to operate “independently.”

Fundamental: A Biblical church is one that believes in the fundamental doctrines of the Bible.  Are there churches that add to the “fundamentals” other biases, rules, and, legalistic standards?  Are there some churches that even go so far as to knowingly allow sin to run rampant and unchecked within the assembly?  Of course!  But, those would be perversions of and additions to Scripture and would not in any way reflect the fundamentals of the Bible.  Any real Christian would want to go to a church that believes in the fundamentals of the Bible.  In fact, it is when a church departs from the fundamentals of the Bible and begins teaching and preaching man’s opinion instead of God’s Word that problems surface.

Baptist: What is a Baptist Church?  There are many different “stripes” of Baptists in America in the 21st Century.  Again, they can be very different in practice from one to the next.  However, when a church takes the name Baptist, it has historically meant that it believes the following “Baptist Distinctives:”

Biblical Authority
utonomy of the Local Church
riesthood of the Believers
wo Ordinances of the Church
ndividual Soul Liberty
aved and Baptized Church Membership
wo Offices of the Church
eparation of Church and State

Without going into great detail about each one of those, let me summarize by saying this:  True Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches are simply those churches that believe and preach the Bible. In short, they love God, they love others, and they are committed to sharing that love with their local communities.

They are the kind of churches that speak the truth of the Bible in love and proclaim the gospel message of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What is that message?  If you get nothing else from what I have said thus far, be sure to get this:

1) All men are sinners and have broken God’s law. (Romans 3:23)

2) Because of sin, all people are condemned to death in hell as the punishment for sin. (Romans 6:23)

3) Jesus Christ, the only perfectly guiltless one to ever live, stood in as a substitute and took the punishment for every sinner including you and me. (Romans 5:8 and 1 Peter 3:18)

4) There is nothing that you or I can do to earn or deserve what Christ has done for us. (Titus 3:5-6 and Ephesians 2:8-9)

5) All you and I have to do to benefit from the work that Jesus Christ has done for us is to believe that this account is true, accept it for ourselves by calling out to Jesus to save us from our sins, and commit our lives to live for Him from now on.  (John 3:16, Romans 10:13, Acts 16:31).

6) God promises that anyone who does this will receive eternal life in heaven because Jesus Christ paid the price for us to go there.  (John 5:24)

To conclude, what is the label that flies on the flag of your life?  I believe that the label of IFB has been misrepresented and abused, but that is not what is most important in this discussion.  The label that is of utmost importance is this: Are you a true believer in Jesus Christ?  That is what will make all the difference in eternity!

If you use Facebook, please take a moment to comment on this post below. Or, use the buttons to the left to send this post to your followers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ or Pinterest. I appreciate the feedback and doing this helps other people learn about my resources. If you do not use social media, please still leave a comment using the alternate form at the bottom of this page. Thank you very much!

Comment with Facebook, or scroll down to post only on this blog page:



  1. Sara Richardson  April 9, 2011

    Well said John. I did not see all of the presentation. I only caught the tail end of it. I did see enough and I also believe the label IFB was misrepresented and abused. I like the way you broke it down word by word. I agree with all you wrote. Thank you for posting your comments.

  2. Picky  April 9, 2011

    Huzzah. Very well put. Now if only 20/20 would give the other side of the story found at Pastor Phelps’ website.

  3. Matt Rowley  April 9, 2011

    Thank you for your post! Elizabeth Vargas and 20/20 gave a very biased view of the story. Thank you for publishing a better perspective!

  4. beenodamarine  April 11, 2011

    Reminds me of the Bible College in DeeLand Fl. One of the students was arrested and convicted of stalking – chased down a hispanic girl and tried to get her to have relations with him, bad thing was, this guy was father of 5. The pastor got the deacon lawyer to rep him in court and kept in quiet, let the guy finish bible school and now pastor in Nova Scotia. Wonder how many he has molested there?
    IFB pastors nothing but little hitlers running their own country. No check or balances.

  5. Cory Nelson  April 12, 2011

    Well stated. I appreciate you adding the salvation message at the end because in all, that’s what it’s all about.

  6. Peggy  April 13, 2011

    The apology that is given to the church congregation (in front of the people) is something that is asked of members who are not living according to what the Bible says. All sin that is not dealt with is brought to the IFB churches. It will be interesting to see the final outcome of both sides.

  7. Katisha  April 21, 2011

    As a pastor’s wife and member of IFB churches my whole life, I found the 20/20 report to actually be very balanced. Surprisingly, my husband did, too. 20/20 did give Chuck Phelps’ (I refuse to refer to him as a pastor) side of the story; his written statement and his lawyer’s statement were read as part of the report. The thing is, Phelps’ story has changed through the years and Tina Anderson’s has not. She’s saying the same thing now in her late 20’s as she said when she was 15/16 years old.

    I can see the objection to having all IFB churches painted with the same broad brush. What I find interesting, though, is that IFB churches are simultaneously claiming “We’re independent of each other; we have nothing to do with *them!*” and “Don’t malign all IFBs.” If we truly are independent of one another, then it shouldn’t be a “black eye” so to speak on all IFB churches when several are caught in this web of abuse and deceit. Those IFB churches who are truly God-fearing should be rejoicing that these things are being brought out into the open and justice is finally being served.

Add a Comment