The nation’s largest evangelical church has degenerated into a “Christian cult,” according to the author of a just-released book examining Indiana pastor Jack Hyles.

Fundamental Seduction: The Jack Hyles Case seems certain to reignite a controversy surrounding Hyles, pastor of the 12,000-member First Baptist Church of Hammond.

Written by Indiana deputy prosecutor Voyle Glover, the 402-page, self-published book is the latest and most lengthy condemnation of Hyles since May 1989, when he was accused, among other things, of having “an improper relationship” with the wife of one of his deacons.

Glover was a loyal church member for 19 years before parting ways with Hyles in 1987. The former western novelist said that at one time he aspired to write Hyles’s biography, but instead has penned an expose of the widely known independent Baptist leader.

Charges of moral laxity, doctrinal heresy, and financial impropriety have followed Hyles for over a year since he was the target of two lengthy articles written by Texas-based evangelist Robert Sumner in his publication, The Biblical Evangelist. In the two articles, Sumner charged Hyles with doctrinal error, in addition to supplying details of Hyles’s alleged improper relationship with a woman.

New Charges

In his book, Glover further develops most of Sumner’s original allegations and adds several new charges, including that Hyles:

• used church funds to pay his son David’s delinquent child-support payments (David Hyles was divorced in 1984);

• failed to account for at least $24 million in estimated income over the past 15 years from his publication company and placed the company under the “nonprofit umbrella of the church” without telling church members or seeking to be accountable to them;

• “engaged in a coverup that makes Watergate look like the Sunday School picnic” over David Hyles’s alleged numerous illicit sexual affairs while a staff member at his father’s church and as pastor of his own church in Garland, Texas.

But Glover said his most serious charge is that Hyles has deified himself to his congregation locally and to supporters around the nation. The author alleges that Hyles has wrongly glorified himself through what Glover terms in the book “How Great I Am Messages.”

Writes Glover, “He delivered his mind controls, his sophisticated psychological messages, his word and concept associations, his messages within the cloak of truth.”

Hyles has achieved virtual prophet-like status among many in the more than 12,000 independent Baptist congregations nationwide. His ministry is characterized by his fiery preaching, homespun wit, and keen insights into human nature.

The 64-year-old Texas native was one of the first major ultraconservative figures to depart the Southern Baptist Convention during the 1950s, giving birth to the independent Baptist movement. His books have been used as texts for evangelism and church organization, and his pastor’s school has been a training ground for many fundamentalist pastors, most notably Jerry Falwell.

Hung Jury

The accusations against Hyles have driven a wedge through the loosely organized churches. With no central church government to investigate him, individual pastors have been forced to take their own stance.

The movement’s largest and oldest organization, the 10,000-member Fundamentalist Baptist Fellowship, initially took a neutral position but recently issued a statement condemning Hyles. However, the group’s most widely circulated publication, The Sword of the Lord, has staunchly defended Hyles and continues to keep him as a member of its board of directors.

Hyles has denied all of the previous accusations, and has leveled charges that he is under attack because of his belief that the King James Version is the only reliable translation of the Bible, his strict separatist creed that forbids his followers from attending movies and listening to rock music, and his adherence to “confrontational soulwinning,” Hyles’s term for aggressive, door-to-door evangelism.

“The battle is also a philosophical one,” Hyles wrote in a published defense last year. “One of the main battles is old-fashioned, soul-winning, separatist, Hell-fire-and-brimstone Christianity versus a new watered-down Fundamentalism which is not Fundamentalism at all.” (Hyles did not return telephone calls requesting an interview for this article.)

Despite the allegations, Hyles still has “a heap” of supporters across the nation, according to Michigan pastor R. B. Ouellette. Pro-Hyles pastors recently held a summitlike meeting in Texas to discuss strategies aimed at defending Hyles. Said Ouellette, “The Devil wants to destroy the work that’s going on there. If these reports are true, then God will deal with them and God will bring forth evidence.”

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