I was an Independent, Fundamentalist, Sin-Hating, Devil-Chasing, Pulpit-Pounding, King-James-Waving, Baptist preacher. I prided myself on HARD preaching, just like old-time Baptist preachers.
If people were happy with my preaching it meant I wasn’t preaching hard enough.
Cecil Hodges, an old IFB preacher from Georgia said one time:
We hit our people over the head with the sin stick so often that they duck when we begin to preach.
I was one of those kinds of preachers.
Preach long. Preach loud.
No subject was spared.
Preaching the whole counsel of God required preaching about EVERY sin, even the unpopular ones — such as chewing gum during church, writing notes in church, and using the bathroom during the sermon.
One young preacher I heard about was upset over people getting up to use the bathroom during his sermon. He sternly told his flock:
I don’t want anyone using the bathroom while I am preaching. If you need to use the bathroom, pee in your shoes. You can wring out your socks after the service.
He was fired several weeks later.
In IFB churches, the pastor is god. He’s the law. What he says goes. The Church CAN fire him, but it is often very hard to do. After all, in many cases, the pastor started the church. He often has a following no matter what he says or does.
When the pastor stands up and preaches, whatever he says is taken to be the gospel. A good IFB church member hates what the pastor hates and loves what the pastor loves. To go against the pastor usually meant you were looking for another church to attend.
Two incidents stand out for me that I think would be illustrative of how I preached.
There were two school teachers who attended the church I pastored. They were husband and wife — good people. They had joined our church after the church they attended had a split (a very common occurrence in IFB churches). I will call them The Smiths.
The Smiths taught high school. Mr. Smith was a girls’ high school basketball coach and taught English. Mrs. Smith taught business classes. Both of them were members of the teacher’s union.
One week, the teacher’s union took a policy position that was contrary to what I thought the Bible taught. I concluded that a Christian who was right with God could NOT be a member of the Teacher’s Union.
Sunday came and I entered the pulpit ready to do battle with the sin of being part of the teacher’s union. I preached long and hard. I exposed the sin of belonging to the teacher’s union. I called on all teachers in the church (all two of them) to leave the teacher’s union.
They left all right.
Early in my ministry, I became convinced that the Masonic Lodge was a satanic, evil organization. The local Masons had come to me and asked to use our church bus to attend a Masonic function in a nearby city. I told them absolutely not, and then proceeded to let them know how satanic the Masonic Lodge was.
On the following Sunday, I entered the pulpit ready to do battle with the sin of being a member of the Masonic Lodge. I made it very clear that a person could not be a Christian and a Mason, and no one who was a member of the Masonic Lodge could be a member of our church.
There were several members of the Masonic Lodge visiting our church.
They got the message.
We never saw them again.
I am sure some of my more liberal Christian readers are saying WOW about now. You should be.
I was taught in Bible college that God often builds a church by subtraction. Losing people could be a good thing. After all, fellowship is a bunch of fellows in a ship all rowing in the same direction (often right over a waterfall).
When people left it was never my fault.
After all the Bible says:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. 1 John 2:19
I saw leavers as carnal, soft, weak people who had no stomach for real, hard, Holy Ghost-inspired Bible preaching.
I was wrong.
I do not have enough life left to repent of all the foolishness I did in God’s name. I ran off a lot of good people — people who had the misfortune of thinking differently from me.
I was not an oddity within the Baptist church. In Independent and Southern Baptist churches, I would have been considered typical, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. As many of the readers of this blog can testify, preachers such as I are quite common. Legalism and cultic control of people (now called spiritual abuse) is far too common, not just in Baptist churches, but in every branch of the Evangelical church.
I should note that I did not remain the preacher described in this post. Over time, I came to realize how abusive I was. In the late 1980s, I learned to preach expositionally, and doing so helped to get me away from the type of preaching with which I started my ministry. Towards the end of my ministry, I was considered a liberal by many of my Baptist preacher friends. They thought I had gone soft (and from their perspective I had).
A survey of atheists and agnostics will certainly show that a large number of them were raised in rigid, legalistic Christian environments. Fundamentalism extracts a huge price from everyone it touches.
Were you raised in a church that prided itself on hard preaching? How did this kind of preaching affect you psychologically? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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