John Wilkerson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana
Wilkerson became pastor of First Baptist in 2013, following Jack Schaap (pastorate 2001-2012) and Jack Hyles (pastorate 1959-2001). Schaap, Hyles’ son-in-law, is still in prison for an immoral relationship with a teenage church member. Schaap’s wife, Cindy, subsequently divorced him and remarried. Pastor Wilkerson and his wife, Linda, are graduates of Hyles-Anderson College (he in 1989, she in 1990). He previously pastored First Baptist Church of Long Beach, California. One of their nine children died in an automobile accident, and they have glorified the Lord through this tragedy.
Pastor Wilkerson seems to be a gracious, humble, and approachable man, and we conversed as Christian gentlemen. We thanked Pastor Wilkerson for the good testimony in his personal life and home, which is in great contrast to that of his predecessors. It appears to me that he is a sincere Christian man who is steeped in Hyles-Sword tradition and methodology, a man who has never looked beyond the tradition he has been taught, a man who hasn’t given serious consideration to the Bible-based critiques of Hyles-First Baptist, a man, in fact, who has been brainwashed with the idea that it is wrong to test and warn and who, therefore, has a knee-jerk reaction against such things.
Pastor Lewis and I shared with Wilkerson some of our personal experiences with the Hyles’ style “quick prayerism” that has spread throughout the world from First Baptist. (Afterward, Pastor Lewis wrote to me as follows: “I want your readers to know that I wasn’t just ‘along for the ride’ with the meeting with Pastor Wilkerson. I wholeheartedly reject easy prayerism and believe that the things I have seen in the past need to be exposed now more than ever.”)
I told Pastor Wilkerson about my experience in the bus ministry at Highland Park Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee, as a Tennessee Temple student in 1974, how that the children were dealt with quickly and carelessly and were led in a sinner’s prayer without proper understanding and with no hint of repentance and rarely producing evidence of regeneration. At Tennessee Temple I was trained in the Hyles’ soul-winning techniques that were designed to produce a high number of “professions of faith.” (Hyles preached at my graduation in 1977.) Preaching repentance was not part of the technique. In fact, there was no hint that there would be any sort of God-wrought change of life. The methodology focused, rather, on manipulating people to acknowledge that they were sinners (in a casual, shallow manner), to state that they would like to go to heaven when they die, and to pray a sinner’s prayer. Those who prayed the prayer were immediately told they were saved, given assurance of salvation, and reported as saved, though the vast majority demonstrated no biblical evidence of salvation.
I told him about my experience following up a Hyles’ Phoster Club program in a church in Lakeland, Florida, in 1977. The pastor told me, “Brother Cloud, our women have seen a lot of people saved, but we aren’t following them up.” My wife and I were given a stack of cards, but we did not find even one of these “saved people” to be interested in talking with us about spiritual matters.
I told Mr. Wilkerson about how that in Oklahoma City in 2000 we followed up a county fair gospel ministry modeled after the Hyles’ soul winning plan. Of the hundreds of names that were signed up and reported as “saved,” not one individual was interested in even talking about Christ.
I told Mr. Wilkerson about a pastor friend, Ken Shaver, who followed up on the more than 100 “salvation decisions” that were made at a county fair ministry in Kentucky in 2011, and he did not find one soul who was even interested enough in Christ to attend church.
Pastor Courtney Lewis told Mr. Wilkerson of his experience on Hylescost, May 3, 1998. Jack Hyles boasted that more people were saved at First Baptist that day than were saved at Pentecost. He claimed 15,000 salvations and 5,112 baptisms. At the time, Lewis was a student at Fairhaven Baptist College in Chesterton, Indiana, about 25 miles east of Hammond. He was involved with Fairhaven’s bus ministry and spent Saturdays and Sundays working with street kids in Chicago. He found out that First Baptist bus workers had contacted some of the kids he was working with and that they were going to participate in the big day, so he got permission to observe some of the proceedings. He told Pastor Wilkerson the following testimony:
This was First Baptist’s Quick Prayerism assembly line, and it was the pattern of soul winning that spread worldwide.
“First Baptist rented out satellite buildings in the area, and one of those was in Chicago, close to where we were ministering. They had rented out a Seventh-day Adventist church and were holding this rally for the kids. ... So we went to that meeting. We sat in the back, and a bus pulled up and unloaded about 50 or 60 kids. We saw the kids that we were ministering to on normal Sundays get off the bus. They brought all of the kids into a classroom. They sat the kids down, and a worker came up and led the kids in one verse of ‘Amazing Grace.’ He sat down and another man came up and gave a five- or seven-minute presentation of the gospel to a these children--street kids, who had [for the most part] never heard the gospel. I was a street kid; I know what is going on in Chicago. There was no mention of repentance. It was just a basic Romans Road survey. Very weak. He said, ‘Bow your heads and close your eyes. Every one who wants to be sure that you are going to heaven, raise your hand.’ Several kids raised their hands, including one or two of the kids that we knew. As they raised their hands, there were workers that sat down with them there in that room. They pulled up a chair next to a kid and opened up the Bible. The worker that I was watching in particular was saying to the kid, ‘If you want to know for sure that you are going to heaven, here are the things that you have to know.’ While talking, the worker was continually looking around the room, totally disinterested in the kid, but telling him, ‘Number 1, you are a sinner; number 2, Jesus died on the cross for your sins; number 3 you have to accept Him as your Saviour. Would you like to do that?’ The kid said yes, so the worker said, ‘Let’s bow our heads and pray this prayer.’ Several of the kids in that room did that. When that was done, they took the kids that prayed that prayer out of the classroom and they had set the auditorium up so that there was a baptismal tank with a curtain on one side for the girls and a curtain on the other side for the guys. There was a worker standing right by the baptismal tank with a clipboard. The kids changed behind the curtain and were brought one by one into the baptistry. As they did, the worker with the clipboard put a check mark for each baptism. He was nonchalantly making check marks: check, check, check, check, check. The kids were then taken out of that room and lined up at the door where they had entered, given a hotdog, put on the bus, the bus pulled away, and another bus pulled up, and the whole circuit started all over again. I saw it with my own eyes. ... I say, that is wicked! ... At least one of the kids that we had been working with was baptized that day. The next Sunday he was back at our church, and we said to him, ‘You were there last week and you got baptized. Why did you get baptized?’ He just shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘I don’t know.’ That was my experience.”
Then there is the immorality associated with the church and school. This, too, is a worldwide phenomenon. Immorality has been absolutely rife among members of First Baptist Church and graduates of Hyles-Anderson. Rife! I have preached in hundreds of churches in every state of the Union except Hawaii, and in many other countries, and everywhere I have traveled I have learned about fallen preachers who were associated closely with First Baptist and Hyles-Anderson College. I knew some of these men personally and in many other cases I knew men personally who had firsthand knowledge of the dirty business. The Bible says that the truth is established at the mouth of two or three witnesses. Reports documenting the immorality at First Baptist of Hammond include the following, each of which offers substantial corroborative documentation.
Fundamental Seduction: The Jack Hyles Case by Voyle Glover, a lawyer and former member of First Baptist and long-time associate of Hyles (485 pages)
An Open Letter to Jack Hyles by George Godfrey, a professor at Hyles-Anderson for 16 years
The Wizard of God: My Life with Jack Hyles by Victor Nischik, former deacon of First Baptist
The Saddest Story We Ever Published by Evangelist Robert Sumner (1989) who received first-hand testimonies from a large number of people
Preying from the Pulpit--The Immoral Influences of Jack Hyles, a documentary exposé by a Detroit television station (available from Bible for Today, Collingswood, NJ, VHS or audio tape # 2354)
Sin in the Camp of Fundamentalists, a report by 25 independent Baptist pastors who met at Indianapolis Baptist Temple in January 27, 1992, to examine Hyles’ teaching and actions
Why I Am Not 100% for Hyles by Roger Voegtlin, an hour and a half sermon preached at Fairhaven Baptist Church, Chesterton, Indiana, June 25, 1989.
A report in the Chicago Magazine for January 2013, was entitled “Let Us Prey: Big Trouble at First Baptist Church.” It documented ten cases of sexual escapades committed by pastors associated with the church. These are Ted Butler, Christopher Settlemoir, Dave Hyles, Charles Shifflett, Joseph Combs, Chester Mulligan, William Beith, Craig Sission, Kerry Martin, and Jack Schaap, who was the pastor of the church until he was caught having an immoral relationship with a teenage girl. The report said, “A string of assaults and sexual crimes committed by pastors across the country have one thing in common: The perpetrators have ties to the megachurch in Hammond, Indiana.”
What a public reproach to the cause of Jesus Christ!
Chicago Magazine documented how that the church’s late pastor, Jack Hyles, created a cultic climate in which church members were not allowed to test anything by God’s Word and immoralities were routinely covered up. For example, during a Sunday sermon, Hyles held up a cup bearing the image of the skull and bones, which is a warning that the contents are poisonous. He said to Johnny Colsten, one of the men sitting behind him on the platform, “I’d like for you, if you don’t mind, to drink this,” and Colsten did not hesitate to drink the potential cool-aid (“Let Us Prey: Big Trouble at First Baptist,” Chicago Magazine, January 2013). Hyles said on more than one occasion that if he told his deacons to jump off a bridge, they would do it.
The Lord knows Chicago Magazine’s motives and they will give account for their business, but its case against First Baptist of Hammond is solid. With no great difficulty, they could have documented 100 more examples. What they got wrong is the implication that all independent Baptists are cultic.
NO PUBLIC REPENTANCE
While discussing these things, Pastor Wilkerson said he was “grieved” by the type of soul winning we related to him.
A question that comes immediately to mind is this, and I asked it of Wilkerson: “If you disagree with what was practiced at First Baptist in the past, what have you stated publicly to renounce the past and to set First Baptist today apart from its former history?”
Pastor Wilkerson replied that there has been no public statement.
Pastor Wilkerson asked me what I would suggest that he do. I emphasized to him that First Baptist, Hammond, has been ground zero for the promotion of some really wrong, truly evil, things. First Baptist Church has sinned against the whole world. Multitudes have been given false assurance by the Hyles methodology. This was taught and promoted through Hyles’ books, conferences, tapes, the college, and the annual Pastors School. Hyles was the king of Quick Prayerism. As far as I have been able to discover, Hyles invented the “do you want to go to heaven when you die, then pray this prayer after me” methodology, and the Sword of the Lord gave him a large forum to promote it, starting in the 1960s (“Let’s Go Soul Winning,” 1962). First Baptist was ground zero for the promotion of this horrible practice. Multitudes of people around the world have been abused with an unscriptural method of soul winning. They have been left with the false idea that they are “saved” and “going to heaven” just because they responded to a cheap salesmanship program. Much of the fault lies at the feet of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana.
Public sin requires public repentance. The church needs to publicly repent for what was formerly taught, practiced, and countenanced.
Pastor Wilkinson was non-committal.
I ended our conversation by telling Pastor Wilkerson that I have learned not to listen to a preacher’s words unless I can see it backed up by his life and ministry.
Though Pastor Wilkerson said he agrees with us to some extent in the matters we broached, I have seen nothing to indicate that he believes in biblical repentance or that he has rejected the damnable practice of Quick Prayerism.
As of April 16, 2022, the First Baptist Church’s web site contains no mention of repentance. There is not not even a hint of the idea that a sinner must repent or that there will be a change of life. This is true for “The Bible Way to Heaven,” which is Wilkerson’s own gospel video presentation, and this is true for the church’s statement of faith. What is presented is the typical Hyles’ “1-2-3 now pray this prayer and you are going to heaven” program.
First Baptist Church’s statement of faith on “Salvation” says, “We believe that God in His love provided salvation by sending His Son to become sin for us, taking the penalty of death upon Himself, dying in our place, shedding His own blood as the only acceptable atonement for our sin. Christ was buried and rose again the third day. This salvation is available as a free gift of God’s grace to all who will receive Him by faith. At the moment one stops trusting in his own way and places his trust rather in Christ and His finished work, he is born of God and granted eternal life.”
That sounds fine to a generation steeped in a no-repentance gospel. Yet the New Testament mentions “repent” and “repentance” at least 66 times. It is preached and demanded by John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul, and the apostle Peter.
“except ye REPENT, ye shall all likewise perish” (Lu. 13:3).
“And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that REPENTANCE and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lu. 24:46-47).
“REPENT, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Ac. 2:38).
“REPENT ye therefore, and be converted” (Ac. 3:19).
“Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted REPENTANCE unto life” (Ac. 11:19).
“God ... now commandeth all men every where to REPENT” (Ac. 17:30).
“Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, REPENTANCE toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ac. 20:21).
“Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should REPENT and turn to God, and do works meet for REPENTANCE” (Ac. 26:19-20).
“In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them REPENTANCE to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Ti. 2:25).
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to REPENTANCE” (2 Pe. 3:9).
“And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet REPENTED not of the works of their hands ... Neither REPENTED they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts” (Re. 9:20-21).
The salvation we see in the New Testament requires a turning and always results in the new birth and a dramatic change in life. There is not one example to the contrary.
“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Th. 1:9).
Pastor Wilkerson told us that he does not care about and promote numbers, but his biographical sketch says this of his former church in California: “The Sunday school program grew in attendance from 849 to over 1,700 in the 12 years that he was pastor” (fbchammond.com, hylesanderson.edu, brrm.org). This is a boasting in numbers, and it is a nearly meaningless statistic as a spiritual measure of a church. Instead of counting the numbers of a promotionally hyped Sunday School program, it would be wiser and more scriptural to count the members who give clear evidence of salvation, who are true disciples of Jesus Christ, who are actively looking for the return of Christ (Heb. 9:28), who are prayer warriors (“continued in ... prayers,” Ac. 2:42), who are skillful in the Scriptures (Heb. 5:13-14), who are raising a godly seed in the homes, who are active in the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:16), etc. These are the only true measures of a New Testament church, which is described in Scripture as a spiritual house made of living stones (regenerated saints) who are active as holy priests (1 Pe. 2:5).
As for me, I want nothing to do with First Baptist Church of Hammond. I renounce its public, Christ-shaming sins. I would much rather endure the wrath of the entire fundamental Baptist “good old boys network” than keep my mouth shut in the face of the great sins that have brought such ruination to churches and such reproach to the name of Jesus Christ. I won’t regret this at the judgment seat of Christ. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11).
The following is excerpted from Thomas Ross, “Hyles Anderson College and First Baptist Church of Hammond: Do They Now Please God?” Feb. 2020 -
“The current senior pastor at First Baptist of Hammond, which still runs Hyles-Anderson College, is John Wilkerson. Pastor Wilkerson has done some good things at First Baptist of Hammond. Unlike Jack Hyles, Mr. Wilkerson does not quote a verse at the beginning of a message and then just say stuff without ever referring to the Bible again. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Mr. Wilkerson is a child molester like the previous pastor, Mr. Schapp. ... Nor is there any evidence that Mr. Wilkerson has been immoral and disqualified himself from the ministry ... All of the above is good and a vast improvement from the hellish evils under Hyles and Schapp.
“However, John Wilkerson has not led First Baptist of Hammond and Hyles-Anderson to reject Jack Hyles’ false gospel. The heretical books by Jack Hyles, which call Biblical repentance an ‘enemy of soulwinning’ and which say that to receive Christ as Lord and Savior is (allegedly) works salvation, are still on sale in their bookstore, as are resources by Jack Hyles on how to do salesmanship soulwinning, and so on. Of course, nothing defending the Biblical gospel or Biblical repentance is for sale. When Mr. Wilkerson gives someone his idea of the gospel on the First Baptist website, he completely omits the word and the idea of Biblical repentance but says that one must do two things, believe and then say the sinner's prayer in order to be saved. The Hyles-Anderson doctrinal statement says nothing about repentance, leaving out the word and the idea from how the lost must be saved. The mission agency run by First Baptist of Hammond ... ‘Fundamental Baptist Missions International’ totally omits both the word and the idea of repentance in its doctrinal statement about salvation, rejecting what Baptists have historically believed about repentance and the gospel.
“Mr. Wilkerson has not repudiated the false gospel preached by Jack Hyles, but continues to promote Jack Hyles and his false gospel.
“Furthermore, corporate repentance involves acknowledging corporate guilt. Consider the prayer of Nehemiah: ‘Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses’ (Nehemiah 1:6-7).
“There has been no corporate repentance for the sins of Jack Hyles and First Baptist. ...
“In Revelation 2-3 Christ called on disobedient churches and their pastors to repent. If First Baptist of Hammond takes the name of Jack Hyles off from their college, publicly rejects and warns about Jack Hyles’ false gospel, stops selling Jack Hyles’ heretical books, stops covering up his immorality and admits he was disqualified from the ministry both for his own sins and those of his son (1 Timothy 3), renames its Jack Hyles Memorial Auditorium, cries out to God for mercy for the millions of people now in hell whom its members and others have influenced with its wicked, pseudo-soulwinning philosophy around the world, people who have been led into false professions, and is honest about its past, then we could conclude that perhaps, based on Revelation 2-3, Christ is now pleased with First Baptist of Hammond. Until then, no--no way. ...
“Christ did not say to cover up well-documented sin in people who are ‘big shots’ and pretend it never happened. On the contrary, He commanded in His Word: ‘Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality’ (1 Timothy 5:20-21).”
For much more on this subject see THE HYLES EFFECT: A SPREADING BLIGHT, a free eBook available from www.wayoflife.org
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