Grace Fellowship in Kokomo, Indiana, describes itself this way:
The teaching at Grace is perhaps the best part of our time together. We are a church that believes that What God Says, [sic] Matters, and Pastor Ray is uniquely gifted at teaching about what God says.
I want to focus on two statements made by the church:
- We are a church that believes that “What God Says Matters.”
- Pastor Ray [Tetrault] is uniquely gifted at teaching about what “God says.”
Sunday after Sunday, for twenty-five years, I stood before congregations in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan and taught them what “God says.” I believed, at the time, that I was a God-called preacher whose calling in life was to preach the words of God to others. I believed that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. When I read the words of the Bible and, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, preached from them, I believed that God was speaking through me. Thus, to the degree that my words aligned with my interpretation of the Bible, my words were God’s words. I expected congregants to submit to my teaching and preaching obediently, to embrace my words as God speaking to them.
As I look back on the 4,000+ sermons I preached from the ages of fifteen to forty-eight — thirty-three-years — one thing is clear: the words church members heard were mine, not God’s; that the words I read from the Bible were the words of its authors, not God.
Preaching, from start to finish, is a human endeavor. Why, then, did I believe that God was speaking through me and that the Bible was the very words of God?
First, these beliefs were modeled to me by my pastors and the churches I grew up in. When my pastors preached their sermons, I believed I was hearing from God himself. I can recount sermons that were delivered in what I thought were demonstrations of the power of God. It was as if Jesus himself was standing behind the pulpit preaching the words of his Father. Of course, I heard countless sermons by men who were hopelessly incompetent speakers. I still tried to look beyond the man and “hear” what God was saying. Instead of focusing on the messenger, I focused on the message. That said, I was human. I heard more than a few forty-minute sermons that were forty-one minutes too long. I thought, “can we please get to the benediction?”
Second, my beliefs were built upon and sustained by numerous presuppositions:
- God exists, and that deity is the God of the Protestant Christian Bible, as interpreted by the pastor.
- The Bible is inerrant and infallible, written by God through human instrumentality.
- God chooses to speak to humans through men called by him to preach and teach the words of the Bible.
- God, at times, speaks to humans through the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, but when he does, what the Holy Spirit says perfectly aligns with the words of the Bible, as interpreted by pastors.
- The Bible was big T Truth, the ultimate source of wisdom and knowledge.
- God’s favor and blessing were dependent on people hearing, applying, and practicing the words of God.
Knowing these things, is it any wonder that my sermons were ventriloquist shows of sorts? That I was a dummy that the triune God of the Bible used to speak to both Christians and unbelievers alike?
As an Evangelical-turned-atheist, I now see that my past presuppositions were irrational nonsense. I assumed so much, never challenging whether what I believed was true. It wasn’t until I read books written by men such as John Shelby Spong and Bart Ehrman that I was forced to confront the fact that what I believed about the nature and history of the Bible was false. It was only after my beliefs about the Bible came crumbling down that I was free to question other beliefs, including whether the Christian God exists.
Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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