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Welcome to the Church BBQ

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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.

The church.

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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  1. Avatar
    Susannah Anderson

    Back in my church planting days, I had teamed up with a pastor trying to start a Spanish-speaking church in my city. We had a core group of about half a dozen couples, most of them new Christians. One Sunday he preached about marriage and re-marriage, which he called outright adultery, regardless of the history. Over and over, he repeated, “There will be no adulterers in my church!”

    All of our core couples were in their second marriage. None ever came back. Nor did I.

    The next time I saw him, he was ranting about how the Charismatics had stolen all his flock and he was having to start all over.

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    The Southern Baptist church I grew up in called a preacher like that in the early 80s. Since I was away in school, I was only exposed to him during summer and at holidays. One sermon I vividly remember was his warning to the women to not wear short shorts lest they be caught in short shorts when the rapture came.

    He also would not perform a marriage for anyone who had been divorced, but to my recollection he did not run off those who were already there and in second marriages. One of those couples was my mother and step-father. She had been a widow and he was divorced when they married about 5 yrs prior. She was also the church pianist, so I think he figured out pretty quick it was best to let that sleeping dog lay.

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    I’m a 25 year old Christian and I’ve been reading your blog for a while. No, I will not try to convert you or say I’ll pray for you like other commenters have.

    I do like reading your perspectives on things. My uncles were pastors of the Missionary Alliance churches when we grew up in San Francisco, but one of them moved back to the Philippines (where we are from) and another one moved to Chicago. My parents stopped going because they were super busy (we weren’t as well off as we are now) and because my dad hated my uncle’s wife (my mom’s sister in law). Also, a few members said my younger sister was demon possessed. My parents hated the hypocrisy.

    My dad was (he passed away 2 years ago) a Christian but he was never the type that converted people or even talked about his faith to people. I told him one time I was interested in the Episcopal church and he said to “go where your heart takes you”. I guess because he grew up in the Iglesia ni Cristo church (look them up), cultish religion in the Philippines, and they are very anti-Catholic (which is what 80-90% of Filipinos are). He married my mom (who was Catholic before she and my relatives became evangelical) and he got booted out of INC.

    I have been with my boyfriend for almost 6 years. He is half Filipino and he grew up in the Catholic church and strayed away but we are really interested in the Episcopal Church because it meets us in the middle. Anyway, when we first started dating (when I was 19) I was going to a young adult Christian group at an Assemblies of God megachurch in Norcal. Of course since it’s the 18-35 group there is ALWAYS talks about dating, marriage, etc. they made me feel bad about dating him because he didn’t believe in God at the time, they wanted to invite him, they always asked me about him, etc. so you can imagine how mortified he felt, and how he didn’t exactly feel God’s love. So I started feeling conviction and I broke up with him, and even though my mom and older sister are devout Christians (my sister also has the same liberal views!), they encouraged me to go back out with him and how screwed up it was for them to convince me to break up with him. So now we’ve been together for 6 years. Where were they during the times I was hospitalized for my lupus? Where were they when my dad passed away? I only have one friend left there, and she is one of my closest friends. She has been there with me throughout everything. So has my boyfriend. He was a constant when all those friends weren’t present.

    My mom still goes to another AoG church (I introduced her there and she says it’s the best church she’s been to) closer to us, and they are very loving and sweet. They are encouraging but I still want to join the Episcopal church because of they don’t hate gays or treat women like objects. Also they are into learning deeper, not just taking the Bible at face value. I guess I worry that my family will think I’m going the dark side or something.

    Also, that young adult group I used to go to…they are really into having accountability partners so you stay “pure” and they wanna know the business of the person you’re dating. My boyfriend and I are very private, introverted people. Also, you have to confess what kind of sins you have so they pray over it. One time during a Bible study, a girl said she was struggling with masturbating…how can you put yourself out there like that? That was also the day she told me I shouldn’t be with my boyfriend, she prayed over me about it…then she said something along the lines of “Yes it’s ok to have friends who are nonbelievers, but you know who you’re kick it group should be” I was saddened because I like having friends and acquaintances who come from all walks of life.

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    This has been a problem for religion since well before Christianity, but fundamentalist Christianity is certainly the poster child. People intuitively recognize that certain things are harmful. To keep people from doing those things they assign prohibitions against them to their god or gods. Consequently, the sin in these doings isn’t just the harm they cause others, but the offense incurred by the deity. If I aspire to intimacy with the deity, I must aspire to live purely according to certain prohibitions.

    But what if there are others who also so aspire? What if others live as purely as I do? How will I stand out from the crowd? One solution is to find even deeper prohibitions and accuse anyone who doesn’t also adhere to them of being unrighteous. For instance, adultery is no longer just a man sleeping with a woman who’s not his wife, it’s simply looking at the wrong woman in lust. Murder isn’t confined to actually taking a life, it’s now also hating one’s brother.

    Among those who are competing for righteousness there will be this endless escalation in what’s considered sin. Eventually, the strictures become so tightened around our necks that they choke us. You actually find some sense in what Peter argued in Acts 15:10: “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” Alas, Peter, despite his good intentions, was complicit in establishing a religion that unavoidably promoted the proclivity to keep inventing sin upon sin until it wasn’t possible to be human without transgressing.

    Now wonder people, in droves, are either abandoning it or modifying it beyond the point where the great divines of old would recognize it!

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Reading Hannah’s contribution from 2015 breaks my heart and dredges up many slivers, jabs them into nerves and the hurt that never ends. I too broke up with my friend when she refused to see the light of Christianity and insisted on continuing her own dark ways in the Bahai cult. She was very patient with my witnessing and she claimed to have tried very hard to read the exposition of the Hebrews that I bought and read with her in mind.
    How miserably ignorant I was! How hardened by the triune truth of the one and only way to heaven! Luckily, my friend (now my wife of a quarter century) grew up in an abusive home and was ‘scrueled’ early on in life to withstand harsh ignorance and harm.
    But isn’t it sad. I was so utterly convinced that she was deluded when it was me who could only see one thing and only one. So many years on now, I never forget that and remain humbled when I am certain about something, about anything.
    Thank goodness Science acknowledges that reality and truth is not a fixed thing, but demonstrates a willingness to be the subject of proofs and not emotional belief. Following a careful method, Science uncovers our wishful thinking, our efforts to skew the numbers in favor of our hoped-for outcome.
    I wonder if Hannah has been fortunate enough to keep leaving the land of belief and care for herself without the self-harm of behavior sargeants in religion… I have a dear Filipino friend, a poet in Macau, and so I know about the environment in the Philipines with religion. My friend, Oscar, almost became a priest but luckily got away in time. I send my best wishes to Hannah.

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    Bruce, I don’t think I would have liked being in your church when you were a hardcore legalistic preacher!

    The fundamentalist Christian school I attended had mean hard preaching like this. They wanted to keep us kids on the straight and narrow. It worked for some kids, not so much for others…

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    davey crockett

    What I remember attending in my teen years with their kind was the all knowing arrogance of their ministering. They were absolute certain their style of pulpit bitching and sermon choices were perfect, all encompassing and of course straight on from god above. And if you don’t listen to them, don’t cry to god’s anointed twin about the consequences that were coming for yourself – the result of sin in the camp might hurt others. Their pulpit and their holy being dispensed everything that one could ever need to have the complete and perfect life. They also tended to not hear the thoughts and needs of their people for sermon topics or study. This one preacher claimed matter of fact that if someone expressed such a need, he could discern what their need actually was and his choice was what was best for them. Sad…. Deaf blind and dumb. So in love with themselves and their ambition of making perfect followers. Calling people in and then thinning out “those who had crept in unawares”. People leaving was a sign (and their sin) they were doing things right. I and my wife did music for many services which helped draw people in. And we got to watch him chase many away. Pathetic. Pathetic we stayed so long. Pathetic shepherds. Pathetic church going and time spent in a pew. They filled up your time and you got nothing but chewed on and depressed. And yes you are absolutely correct that if you have a service or talent they want bad enough, concessions or looking the other way can happen quite easily.

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    This brought back a lot of memories…I prided myself on teaching great lessons in Sunday school and training Union.
    After doing a study on cults, I too railed against the Masons! One of the husbands of a couple told me he had left the Masonic lodge after my teaching…the Lodge his entire family had belonged to for years! They practically disowned him, and it was my fault!
    I still feel bad after many years.

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Bruce Gerencser