Bruce Gerencser, Findlay Ohio, 1970, Eighth Grade
I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio at a very crucial and foundational point in my life. It was during my time at Trinity, from the ages of thirteen to seventeen, that the core doctrines that would guide me for the next two decades were drilled into my head.
I heard preaching three times a week. I also went to Sunday school and youth group meetings. I attended every Bible conference, mission conference, youth rally, and revival. I went to summer youth camp and I even skipped school so I could attend the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship preacher’s meeting that was held one year at Trinity.
From listening to the preaching, I began to develop a core set of beliefs. The beliefs of the preacher’s I heard became my beliefs. In Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, parishioners are presented with one viewpoint, God’s, and are expected to believe this viewpoint without dissent or disagreement. Actually, God’s viewpoint is the preacher’s viewpoint, but as anyone raised in the IFB church movement will tell you, the preacher’s viewpoint, as a man ordained and called by God, is the equivalent of hearing directly from God. As long as what the preacher was saying could be proved from the Bible, it was expected that church members would accept his words as coming directly from God.
What did Trinity pastors Gene Milioni, Ron Johnson, Bruce Turner, and uncounted other guest preachers teach me?
They taught me that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The Bible was originally written by holy men as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. They taught me the dictation theory of inspiration, a theory that says God dictated each word of the Bible to the authors. Every word, every jot, every tittle is without error. The history and the science taught in the Bible is true, perfect in every detail. As a result, pastors Milioni, Johnson, and Turner taught me that the universe was created in six 24 hour days and that the universe is 6,000 years old. From the Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, the history recorded in the Bible is accurate and without error.
The Bible that they believed was inspired and inerrant is the King James Bible. To this day, these pastors still believe the King James Bible is the perfect words of God for English-speaking people. They taught me that other Bible translations were tools of Satan meant to obscure and corrupt the Word of God At Trinity Baptist Church, every word, every jot, every tittle of the King James Bible was 100%, God-approved truth.
From the King James Bible, preachers taught me the basics of the Christian faith. The soteriology taught at Trinity was orthodox and indistinguishable from any other Baptist church I had been a part of. The battles over grace and lordship salvation had not yet roiled the IFB church movement. The essential, cardinal doctrines of Evangelical Christianity were taught and believed. Being a Baptist church, Trinity practiced two ordinances, baptism by immersion and memorial communion. The preaching, typical of the time, was topical and most often focused on the need of personal salvation and separation from the world.
The preachers also taught me some things that were peculiar to our brand of Christianity. They taught me that the Baptist church is the true church. The thinking went something like this: John THE Baptist baptized Jesus, which made Jesus a Baptist. The apostles were all called by Jesus so they were Baptists. The first Christian churches were started by the apostles so they were Baptist churches. This belief is commonly called Landmarkism or Baptist Bride. This belief was popularized in a little red booklet titled The Trail of Blood, written by 19th century Baptist preacher J.M. Carroll. Here’s an excerpt:
…It is a significant fact well established in credible history that even as far back as the fourth century those refusing to go into the Hierarchy, and refusing to accept the baptism or those baptized in infancy, and refusing to accept the doctrine of “Baptismal Regeneration” and demanding rebaptism for all those who came to them from the Hierarchy, were called “Ana-Baptists.” No matter what other names they then bore, they were always referred to as “Ana-Baptists.” Near the beginning of the sixteenth century, the “Ana” was dropped, and the name shortened to simply “Baptist,” and gradually all other names were dropped. Evidently, if Bunyan had lived in an earlier period his followers would have been called “Bunyanites” or “Ana-Baptists.” Probably they would have been called by both names as were others preceding him.
The name “Baptist” is a “nickname,” and was given to them by their enemies (unless the name can be rightfully attributed to them as having been given to them by the Savior Himself, when He referred to John as “The Baptist”). To this day, the name has never been officially adopted by any group of Baptists. The name, however, has become fixed and is willingly accepted and proudly borne. It snugly fits. It was the distinguishing name of the forerunner of Christ, the first to teach the doctrine to which the Baptists now hold…
… These Christians, during these dark days of many centuries, were called by many different names, all given to them by their enemies. These names were sometimes given because of some specially prominent and heroic leader and sometimes from other causes; and sometimes, yea, many times, the same people, holding the same views, were called by different names in different localities. But amid all the many changes of names, there was one special name or rather designation, which clung to at least some of these Christians, throughout all the “Dark Ages,” that designation being “Ana-Baptist.” This compound word applied as a designation of some certain Christians was first found in history during the third century; and a suggestive fact soon after the origin of Infant Baptism, and a more suggestive fact even prior to the use of the name Catholic. Thus the name “Ana-Baptists” is the oldest denominational name in history.
A striking peculiarity of these Christians was and continued to be in succeeding centuries: They rejected the man-made doctrine of “Infant Baptism” and demanded rebaptism, even though done by immersion for all those who came to them, having been baptized in infancy. For this peculiarity they were called “Ana-Baptists.”
This, special designation was applied to many of these Christians who bore other nicknames; especially is this true of the Donatists, Paulicians, Albigenses and Ancient Waldenses and others. In later centuries this designation came to be a regular name, applied to a distinct group. These were simply called “Ana- Baptists” and gradually all other names were dropped. Very early in the sixteenth century, even prior to the origin of the Lutheran Church, the first of all the Protestant Churches, the word “ana” was beginning to be left off, and they were simply called “Baptists.”…
The preachers also taught me that the rapture of the church, the removing of all the Christians from the earth, was imminent. Jesus Christ was coming soon, it could happen today, was drilled into my head by every preacher that preached from the Trinity pulpit. There was a sense of urgency in their preaching; get saved today, lest it be too late. As was typical for Evangelicals churches in the 1970’s, the preachers spent a fair amount of time preaching on eschatological subjects like the rapture, the tribulation, the second coming, the premillennial return of Christ, the 1,000 year reign of Christ, the great white throne judgment, and the BEMA seat judgment Eschatological preaching was the fuel that stoked the furnace of evangelism. Jesus is coming soon, church members were told. Time to be busy winning souls and working while it is yet day, for night cometh when no man can work.
The beliefs I have shared so far were innocuous. However, there were other beliefs that, once rooted in my mind, later caused great damage. What follows caused great harm, not only to me, but to my family and those who would later call me pastor. In some ways, due to guilt, these beliefs still affect me.
The preachers taught me a rules based Christianity. This is commonly called legalism. While the pastors at Trinity preached salvation by grace, what I understood from their preaching was that to be a real Christian you had to follow the rules. While I am now of the opinion that virtually all forms of Christianity and religion have legalistic influences, the rules at Trinity and the rules that are pervasive in the IFB church movement are legalism on steroids.
The preachers were dispensationalists, adhering to the eschatological teachings of Clarence Larkin and the Scofield Reference Bible. They taught that we were no longer under the dispensation of law. Thanks to Jesus’s death, resurrection from the dead, and ascension back to heaven, we now live in the dispensation of grace. In the dispensation of grace, the New Covenant teachings of the New Testament are considered God’s law. Well that and any inference, application, rule, or standard IFB preachers made up based on their own convictions and preferences. While every preacher would say their laws, also called standards, were from the Bible, it seemed every preacher had a different set of rules and laws.
As I shared in posts titled An Independent Baptist Hate List, and How Fundamentalist Preachers Take the Fun Out of Everything, there were rules for almost everything, from clothing and hair to music and movies and from hand holding and dating to dancing and gambling. The older I got, the longer my list of sins became. While these sins didn’t keep someone from being a Christian, it was made clear that a real Christian would obey all the rules, especially those with a proof text attached to them.
The preachers taught me to be judgmental, not only of myself, but of others. Everything was judged according to the rules, the standards of the church. I wasn’t allowed to go to dances, square dance in gym class, listen to secular music, have long hair, wear worldly clothing, date non-Baptist girls, or sing secular songs in choir. The world was evil and so was the flesh. Only in Jesus and the teachings of the King James Bible, could I, or anyone for that matter, find purpose, meaning, calling, and fulfillment. According to the preachers, a life without Jesus and the teachings of the King James Bible was empty and filled with brokenness and heartache.