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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 hard to do. After all, in many cases, the pastor started the church. He 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 illustrate how I preached.

Two school teachers attended the church I pastored. They were husband and wife — good people. They joined our church after the congregation they attended had a split (a 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 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. Ultimately, 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 Evangelicalism.

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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10 Comments

  1. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I was raised Roman Catholic but later became part of an Evangelical church with “hard”‘preaching.

    An argument that seems funny in retrospect broke out when a young couple said they couldn’t partake of a church lunch because they had just decided to be vegetarians—which, at the time,’was still fairly unusual.

    They based their argument on the Genesis account of the Garden, in verses 1:29-30. “Adam and Eve were vegetarians until the Fall,” they claimed. Of course, almost everyone else in the church claimed that the New Testament (in particular Mark 7:18-19) repudiates all food-based prohibitions enumerated in Leviticus and other parts of the Old Testament.

    A church deacon apparently didn’t know the difference between permission and a mandate. He—who had the pastor’s ear—claimed that one couldn’t be a “true” Christian without eating meat and thus got the church to nix vegetarian offerings at our gatherings.

    At least the Catholics had only one prohibition about food: You couldn’t eat meat on Fridays and on certain “holy” days. “Meat” seemed to include the flesh of land animals and birds, but not aquatic creatures. My mother was fairly devout, so we observed that rule in my family.

    (In 1089, Pope Urban II exempted Spain from this prohibition as a reward for its zealousness during the Crusades. After the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, Pope Pius V extended that exemption to Spain’s colonies.)

  2. Avatar
    TheDutchGuy

    What? So can Catholics in the Spanish colonies still eat meat on Fridays and not go to heck? If these rules arbitrarily end at the border, a devout Catholic can cross on Friday and have a steak in an exempt country without sinning. My parents house in Netherlands was on the Belgian border and their back yard bordered Belgium. How convenient. One wonders what other sins are territorially limited? I mean can I covet my neighbor’s maid servant without sin by crossing a border?
    We missed the glory days of the church. Witchcraft trials. Burning heretics. Tickets to Heaven for cash. Holy times for sure.

  3. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    It’s difficult for me to separate in which setting I heard certain ideas or preaching. We attended Southern Baptist church, so 2 services on Sunday and one on Wednesday. During the school year grades 6-12 we had chapel services twice a week. In the fall there was a week-long Bible Conference at school with preaching every day. It was boring, but at least we missed 3 Bible classes so no tests or quizzes. And occasionally the church would have a Revival, so more preaching. I heard a lot of sermons about this evil or that evil.

    I remember my grandfather being bothered when a preacher said cigarette smoking was a sin. Any given Sunday you’d see quite a number of mostly men outside church smoking before or after service, my grandfather among them. He was deacon for years, chairman for a term. I remember him muttering about pastor so-and-so needing to mind his own business because the Bible said nothing about smoking so it’s ok. 🤣🤣🤣 And that pastor so-and-so might want to rethink his fried chicken because the Bible DOES call gluttony a sin…..

    • Avatar
      Brocken

      https://www.grace-ebooks.com/library/Rolfe%20Barnard/Sermons%20of%20Rolfe%20Barnard%20The.pdf Obviously that Baptist church where Obstacle Chick’s Grandfather attended was filled with unconverted sinners. On page 176 of this book of Rolfe Barnard’s sermons, Mr. Barnard was disgusted by such fraudulent claims of having been converted at the mourner’s bench and then going back outside and lighting up a cigarette. The fact that such people kept on smoking cigarettes was proof that their conversion was false because their outward behavior hadn’t changed any after their false profession of faith.

  4. Avatar
    missimontana

    I’m so glad the church I grew up in was never this hard-assed about everything. Once in awhile, my Sunday School teach brought in reading materials from other churches. We never discussed them, but the kids read them on their own. The booklets had much more restrictive beliefs than our church. At the ripe old age of 12, I was permanently turned off by the “everything is a sin” viewpoint. Even when I was religious, I never cared for hard preaching.
    “If people were happy with my preaching, it meant I wasn’t preaching hard enough.” That made me laugh. 😹 Was the point to make people miserable?

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Yes, to make them fearful and guilty, inducing conviction of sin and repentance. Every sermon I preached, I expected congregants to make a decision.

      This was, of course, normal because that was the only thing I knew.

  5. Avatar
    Revival “I’m a Pervert for Jesus” Fires

    Becky and Tommy were going to prom after they went out to the football field and were making out in the bleachers when homeless mike walked up and violently puked in beckys lap all over her dress!

    BECKY: (SCREAMS) NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

    MIKE: (RETCH) SPLATTER!

  6. Avatar
    Matilda

    A woman joined our church having moved to our town. She enthused about her previous church which had been ‘on fire for Jesus’ since a new pastor had introduced happy clappy worship and tongues. I asked how big that church was now and she said it hadn’t grown. She added some words that my husband, new to the pastorate, never forgot. She said the church had had “some very blessed reductions” under the new pastor. Hubby vowed never to have such a callous attitude to anyone in any flock that he was responsible for.

    • Avatar
      John S.

      This is why I could not stay in the Assembly of God church, and why I would not stick around if I saw say a Methodist church going down the “happy clappy” performance-based worship road. The expectation of enthusiasm just did not work for me. Over time I found that high church liturgical style worship was what I was looking for. Of course in the church I grew up in anything even close to this type of worship was a no-no. I don’t have anything against the happy clappy/yay-Jesus! type of churches until they start casting dispersion on all the other folks who don’t see things their way…which is usually the case.

  7. Avatar
    Brocken

    https://time.com/archive/6617316/religion-friday-abstinence/ While at one time the Spanish Colonized area of the Americas were not required to abstain from meat on Fridays, that does not seem to be the case in more recent times. The first link is from Time magazine in 1951. https://sites.google.com/site/shaftesburycatholicchurch/tough-issues/friday-abstinence After some prior relaxation of the rules, Catholics in England and Wales are now supposed to observe meatless Fridays throughout most of the year.

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