Knoxville Baptist Tablernacle, pastored by Tony Greene, is a Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Knoxville, Tennessee. According to the church’s website:
In May, 1952, Dr. R.W. “Bob” Bevington led a group of earnest Christians in establishing the Knoxville Baptist Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was founded on the principles of strong Bible preaching, house-to-house soul winning, separation from the world, and support for world-wide missions.
Through the years, some of America’s greatest preachers and soul-winners have spoken from our pulpit– men such as John R. Rice, Lee Roberson, Billy McCarroll, Fred Garland, Dolphus Price, Lester Roloff, among many others.
The Tabernacle was a participating host for many years of the International Fellowship of Fundamental Baptists.
Prior to Bro. Bob’s Homegoing in 2009, the Tabernacle called Bro. Tony Greene as its second pastor. Bro. Greene continues the ministry in the same vein as Bro. Bob, with a strong emphasis on evangelism…
The sign at the top of this post recently caused quite a bit of controversy. WATE.com reports:
A sign posted by a Knoxville church continues to raise eyebrows and spark both discussion and outrage after it was posted online.
The sign posted by Knoxville Baptist Tabernacle Church read “Remember Satan was the first to demand equal rights.” Many people posted the picture to the WATE 6 On Your Side Facebook and Twitter pages, starting a debate about what the sign really means.
The pastor says the purpose of the sign was to send a message about unity and spark conversation in the community. He says it wasn’t meant to offend anyone.
Our sign referencing Satan demanding his equal rights to ascend into the heavens and be God was simply ‘I’ and all about that individual,” said Pastor Tony Greene. “It was not a statement against any one group in particular, you know what about the rights of the unborn babies, the rights of children, the rights of everyone?”
After the picture was posted on Facebook, there was mixed reaction to the message. Stephanie Settlemyre said, “As a Christian, I find this highly offensive, these kinds of signs and messages are exactly the reason why people are turned off by Christianity.”
Adam Miller posted, “Honestly thought that the photo was shopped, I thought, “surely someone wouldn’t post such a thing,” said Miller. “Makes me sad I was wrong, and doubly sad that these folks are in my back yard.”
Ashley Smith wrote, “Church offends many anyway, you could write Jesus loves you and someone would get bent out of shape.”
Now the sign reads: “Glad you reading, did not intend to offend, we all need Christ.”
Pastor Greene spoke about why he made the change.
“We are a diversity congregation of people. We’ve reached people that know us and know our stand in this community know what we’ve done,” said Greene. “My heart breaks in the dividedness of our country.”
Greene says they like to interact with the community and they typically change the sign once a week. Greene says they will have another message posted later this week…
Here’s the updated sign:
Does anyone believe that Pastor Tony Greene and the Knoxville Baptist Tabernacle didn’t mean to offend? Does anyone believe they had no particular group in mind? Of course not. It is in the DNA of IFB pastors and churches to offend anyone and everyone who believes, thinks, acts, or lives differently than they do.
Pastor Greene’s message is clear: those demanding equal rights, you know homosexuals, lesbians, and feminists, are in league with Satan.
For seven months in 2004, our family attended a vibrant, growing, family oriented church in Central Ohio. We thought we had finally found a church to call home. One Sunday, after the morning service, Polly (my wife) was talking with a group of women who were trying to get to know her a bit better. One of the women asked Polly what she did during the day, and she, without a moment’s hesitation, said “I work.”
In a split second everything changed. You see, in this church, none of the women worked outside the home. The pastor taught that it was a violation of God’s divine order for women to work outside the home. They could have home-based money-making enterprises, but they were not to work outside the home. From that day forward, the women of the church were stand-offish towards Polly. Never mind that Polly had to work due to her husband’s disability. Never mind her job was the only thing that stood between us and living on the street. All that mattered was that our family was not ordered according to God’s divine plan. We stopped attending this church a short while later.
In the 1990’s, I co-pastored a growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church in Texas. A young woman in the church professed faith in Christ and desired to be baptized. Customarily, candidates for baptism were asked to give a public testimony before being baptized. This posed a problem for this particular woman because her husband not only believed that the Bible taught a divine order for the sexes and the home, he also believed women should be silent in church. (His wife also wore a head covering.) She wanted to give a public testimony but she didn’t want to disobey her husband. This standoff went on for weeks until, one day, the woman came to my office in tears, lamenting that her husband was keeping her from following Christ. I agreed with her and counseled her to disobey her husband. She was baptized a short time later.
This church also believed that “church business” was the domain of men. When the church held business meetings, women were not allowed to speak. If they had a question they had to whisper their question to a man and then the man could ask the question on their behalf. Women were allowed to verbally ask for prayer and sing, but everything else was the domain of men. Very few of the women worked outside the home.
While I found both of these positions to be somewhat excessive and quite demeaning to women, I also believed that such positions could be proved from the Bible. While I didn’t take things as far as the aforementioned churches, I certainly believed that God had a divine order for the family and the church. I believed that God had ordained men to rule and women were to submit to male rule and authority. The highest calling for a woman was to marry, bear children, and be a keeper of the home. Children were to submit to their parents and obey every command given to them.
I believed the Bible taught a hierarchical system that must be kept to enjoy the favor and blessing of God. God, through his son Jesus, was the head over all things. Of course, what this really meant was that the Bible was the head over all things. Christianity is, above all else, a text-based religion. Without the Bible there is no Christianity. (in any meaningful sense of the word) As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant words of God. The Bible was the final rule and authority for everything.
IFB pastors say that the Bible is the rule for everything, but what they really mean is that their interpretation of the Bible is the rule for everything. I cannot emphasize this point enough. At the heart of the IFB church movement, the Patriarchal movement, and the Quiverfull movement, is a literalist interpretation of the Bible by pastors. Pastors, the under shepherds of the church, under direct authority from God, have the singular responsibility of teaching the church what the Bible says. (or better put, what his interpretations are) The pastor, called by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is the mouthpiece of God.
Practically speaking, the pastor is the final authority in the church. He is the law-giver, and he alone has the final say on virtually everything. The Bible is clear, the pastor is to rule the church and church members are to submit to his rule. Pastors spend significant time reminding the church that God says he, the pastor, is the boss. The common phrase used to define this is pastoral authority. (1)
In a hierarchical system, God and the Bible came first. Underneath God and the Bible is the pastor. Church members are taught that submitting to the pastor’s teaching and authority is pleasing to God and, if practiced, will bring the blessing of God.
As an IFB pastor, I taught church members that God and the Bible clearly defined the roles of men (husbands), women (wives), and children. In my mind, the Bible was clear: the husband is the head of the home and the wife is commanded to submit to the authority and rule of her husband. Like the pastor in the church, the husband is the final authority in the home. It matters not if he is worthy of such responsibility. A husband is disobedient to God if he refuses to be the head of the home. The wife, if she refuses to submit to her husband’s authority, is a Jezebel and risks the judgment of God.
I taught women that God’s highest calling for them is marriage, having children, and keeping the home. I discouraged women from going to college. After all, why waste money going to college if you are going to be busy having children and keeping the home? I taught men that God’s highest calling for them is to be a leader. Men are called to lead the church, home,and the government. The strength or weakness of any culture, church, or home depended on whether men were fulfilling their divine calling to lead. Children are at the bottom of the hierarchical system. They are under the authority of God, the Bible, the pastor, their father, and their mother. (And according to my younger sons, their oldest brother) Children have one divine calling in life, obey!
Polly and I have been married almost 37 years. We have six children. Our older children went to a Christian school for a few years and for 17 years we home schooled our children. For the first 20 years of marriage, we followed the hierarchical system detailed above. For the most part, Polly didn’t work and I was the breadwinner. I pastored churches full-time but, due to the notoriously low pay in IFB churches, I also worked a number of secular jobs. For years on end, I worked 60-80 hours a week,and in doing so neglected my wife and children. Regardless of the neglect, I was still the authority in the home. I was the final answer for every question. I ruled our home with a rod of iron and my family feared me. Of course, I never called their fearfear. I called it a healthy respect for authority. I gave the orders and they obeyed.
For many years, my wife (2) and I followed the general tenets of the quiverfull movement. Our children are ages 35, 33, 30, 25, 23, and 21. Between our 30-year-old and 21-year-old we embraced Calvinism and became persuaded that using birth control was a sin. We believed that God was sovereign and He opened and closed the womb. Who were we to stand in the way of God blessing us with more children?
Our first child born under the “let God have his way”form of birth control was a beautiful redheaded girl with Down Syndrome. Two years later, almost to the day, we were blessed with another beautiful redheaded girl. 20 months later our youngest child, a son (should I call him beautiful?) was born.
Before we could blink, we had three more children, all in diapers. Polly was known in the family as Fertile Myrtle. I was persuaded that if I looked at her she would get pregnant. I have no doubt that we would have had 20 children if we had continued to abstain from using birth control.
Fortunately, Polly’s doctor intervened and told us in no uncertain terms that Polly’s last pregnancy had taken a huge physical toll on her and any future pregnancies could kill her. We decided, God’s will be damned, that we were not going to have any more children. I was considered a hypocrite for not trusting God in this matter, but I had no desire to be wifeless with six children. Sadly, my motivation was selfish. Several years later, Polly had a tubal ligation and the rabbit died.
In a future article, I plan to write about how the thinking mentioned in this post affected the churches I pastored and how it affected my family. I want to detail how this kind of thinking almost destroyed my marriage and how abandoning such thinking transformed my relationship with Polly and our children.
(1) Pastoral authority, IFB style, leads to dictatorial autocrats ruling over and controlling virtually every aspect of church members lives. Some churches recognize the problem with one man having so much power, so they have a plurality of elders or a board of elders or deacons. Sadly, all this does is make a group of men dictatorial autocrats ruling over and controlling virtually every aspect of church members lives
(2) I don’t like using phrases like my wife and my children. While most people see these phrases as harmless, they are a reminder of the past, a past where Polly and the children were treated like slaves and property. I try to avoid using these phrases, but in some instances they cannot be avoided.
As anyone who spent any time in an IFB church can tell you, divorce is forbidden. The thinking goes…God hates divorce and God intends for marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. While IFB church members do divorce from time to time, it is not a common occurrence.
For months now, rumors have been flying over the marriage of Cindy Schaap and Jack Schaap. Are they still married? Did they get a divorce? Well, wonder no more, you who are looking for the latest dirt on the Hyles/Schaap crime family. According to a document sent to me today, on May 28, 2014, Cindy Schaap was granted a divorce from Jack Schaap.
Let me be clear, I have no problem with Cindy Schaap divorcing her husband. No one should be forced to remain married to someone they no longer want to be married to. Whatever her reasons, it is her decision, end of story. What interests me is how her divorce will be “explained” within the Kingdom of Jack Hyles and the broader IFB church movement.
Later this week, I plan to write a post about marriage and divorce and how IFB churches handle divorce.
When Jack Schaap, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana — now a convicted felon — was accused of having a sexual relationship with a teenager in his church, apologists for the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and the Hyles/Schaap crime family came out in force to defend their own. They told me things like:
He is a man of God and he wouldn’t/couldn’t do such a thing
The girl was a whore
The girl seduced him
The girl was “almost” of age
If Schaap hadn’t taken her across the State line, the sex would have been consensual
Here are some of the messages that Schaap sent the girl:
From a birthday card
I can’t get you out of my mind. I keep thinking about how much I enjoy talking with you, how great you look when you smile, and how much I like your laugh. I daydream about you off an on all day, replaying pieces of our conversation . . .laughing again about funny things you said or did. I’ve memorized your face and the way you look at me . . . it melts my heart every time I think about it. And I catch myself smiling when I imagine what will happen the next time we’re together. You must be something really special, because I can’t remember the last time I felt so strongly about someone. Even though neither of us knows what the future holds, I know one thing for sure – you’re one of the very best things that’s happened to me in a long time.
From a handwritten letter
Hi [Jane Doe],
Because my time with you is so limited, I find great comfort in writing to you. Certainly it is no substitute for being with you – nothing is – in fact, being with you is unlike anything I have ever experienced.
You have a gift of making me feel more alive and more happy than I have ever felt! THANK YOU! I’ve been doing much thinking about you – our brief journey together has been like a spiritual allegory (a story that illustrates a truth . . .
Your life began to deteriorate w/ actions + activities that were self-destructive + that would have brought great tragedy eventually. Then, as your Pastor, I began to counsel you [unintelligible] you to God, the truth, and to a better path of living – that’s what we call Righteousness. Almost immediately, I felt such a profound tug in my heart for you – an intense desire to pull you away from destructive habits + to pull you into pure love + acceptance. I felt the only hope I had to truly make that difference was to pull you 1st to myself – if I could get you to trust me + open your heart to me. I could not have anticipated or hoped for what happened.
You opened your heart wide to me – you made me more than a Pastor/Rescuer – you made me your friend your confidant, your beloved. You gave me your trust, your heart, your love, + your affection. [Unintelligible] must feel when a sinner makes Him more than a Savior – he/she makes Him a beloved lover + friend. I have never felt so truly loved in my life. It is a feeling that is incomprehensible! (off the charts)In our “fantasy talk,” you have affectionately spoken of being “my wife.” That is exactly what Christ desires for us. He wants to marry us + become eternal lovers!
I tried to craftily catch your heart so that I could lead you into a better life. You have caught my heart + I have never felt so loved by anyone! Thank you[Jane Doe]. Thank you for the privilege of helping a struggling teenager. Thank you for opening your heart. Thank you for your trust. Thank you for your love. My hope and prayer is that someday you will comprehend what an impact you have made on your Pastor and friend.
[Jane Doe] you have such a wonderful life ahead of you. I must be careful not to spoil that with any of my selfish fantasy desires. It would be grossly unkind to you for me to hold you captive in any fashion. When we get scared, Jesus sends His spirit to live within us. But He does not personally live with us. He waits until we have fully matured before he takes us to Heaven to live with Him. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are exceedingly so – sorta like [name redacted] (sp?) or a young child dying too young.
I must follow the example of Christ. I have espoused you to Him as a chaste virgin. You are pure + lovely + perfect in His eyes. Now you must mature in His grace until the time he brings you to Himself. Until then, I am here to guide you + help you. [Unintelligible] your heart.
I could only wish you would carry my love for you with you + in you forever. For me to wish for more would only be hurtful to the beautiful life He has planned for you. I will die 10,000 deaths knowing I cannot have you in my life as I would desire. But I would far rather die those deaths than to hurt you in any way by injuring your future.I would gladly do anything for you + I must lay down my life – my desires – for you
I will ALWAYS be here for you [Jane Doe]!! Always And I will carry you in my very soul as a part of me forever. I ‘ve never met anyone like you. Please keep on becoming what you are becoming now. I’ve tried to point you in the right direction. PLEEEAASSE don’t ever go back to what you were when we found each other. That would put my soul in Hell!
I promised you I would do anything to help you – and I have shown you what I mean by that. I still promise you I would do anything TO HELP YOU but I be me let + can you when see to by stop time- time from Text you! hurt would that anything do>part of your life + decision-making. But live your life – the life God has for you. Be 17 + enjoy this great stage of life. I’ll always be watching + always be pulling for you. I will always love you –
FOREVER! Your BFF, Pastor.
From another handwritten letter
Hey Baby, Hope you slept well.
I’m sitting at my table reading the Words that help me through powerful emotions that are surging through me. I miss my Bible Reading partner. It was fun to have our Bible Study yesterday morning. I Have my good music on – “I will trust in You” + the “Power of the Cross.” Good music drives me to the Scriptures to find the strength to go forward when my emotions want me to “freeze” time + go back to yesterday.
No matter how glorious the past, the future is the only direction we can go without dying inside. The past 3 days w/ you were beyond my imagination :! But what I hope you take from this wk. is more than the “magic” we enjoyed but also some better understanding of how incredibly important + special + awesome you are to Jesus! I wanted you to feel + know how much He loves you! I wanted to let some of the hurt + headache – the bad hurt – out of your heart.
This week, [Jane Doe], I tried to climb into your heart and write the graffiti of the Gospel on the walls. I wanted to spray paint in Neon colors that you are Priceless + Precious + are “off the charts” important – yes – to me personally -but especially to OUR Savior Jesus Christ. I’m reading my Bible now to draw a little closer to God – even if it’s a millimeter closer – because if we both get a little closer to Him, we also get closer + stronger + deeper w/ each other.
Every relationship not built around that truth eventually must die – that’s what happened w/ you + J. And that’s why afterwards you pursued “dead” things + “dead”relationships. My passion this week was to show you a living relationship + how to keep it alive! [Jane Doe], however, whenever God takes our love, we never have to[unintelligible] to each other. Keep pursuing Good and we keep living because He is Life!!
I have a special gift for you that I want to give you Sunday if you would stop by my office when you arrive. Also, I really want you to download the App Olive Tree Bible Reader when you get it, I’ll teach you how to use it.These days w/ you are tattooed on my heart + in my mind – Forever!
But these days, also gave me great insight to the profound needs of my teens + young adults. You’ve helped me. Finally, I want to thank YOU for giving me something I was not planning to receive. Through you, I have felt very loved by God. I gave Him my heart when I was 5, I gave Him my life when I was 17. And yes I love Him + know Him +understand much about Him, but, sometimes I just need to “feel” His love in away that only He can provide . . . and this week, through you, I have “felt” His love.
I absolutely cannot thank you enough!! It is obvious to me that God must trust you very much. He gave you the work of caring or ministering to His servant- just as the angel ministered to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemine. Of course,you have been given enormous responsibility. The Scriptures do not tell us what the Angel said, how he arrived or how he left + apparently no one knows to this day – 2000 years later – what happened. That’s a very wise Angel! And so are you, Baby! 1432444!!!!!
Jack Schaap is not an outlier when it comes to sexual misconduct and abuse in the IFB church. His father-in-law Jack Hyles and his brother-in-law David Hyles preceded him at First Baptist in Hammond. Jack Hyles had a least one inappropriate sexual relationship and David Hyles had dozens. The list of abusers and predators that were trained by Jack Hyles and Hyles-Anderson College is long. Taken cumulatively, it is hard not to think there is something very wrong in Hammond and other IFB schools and churches.
Bill Wininger, former pastor of Kingsway Baptist Church
In 2013, Bethany Foeller Leonard alleged that Bill Wininger, pastor of King’s Way Baptist Church, Douglasville, Georgia, molested her 20 years ago when he was the pastor of North Sharon Baptist Church, Grass Lake, Michigan. Several other women came forward and added their voices to the accusation. Due to the statute of limitations, Wininger will never face justice for what he did in Michigan, but Leonard”s accusation did result in his resignation from King’s Way. Last year, in an unrelated case, Wininger was arrested and charged with four counts of misdemeanor battery of a female church member. He will likely receive probation and court ordered counseling.
When Leonard first made her accusation, apologists for Pastor Bill Wininger loudly defended him and said Leonard was lying. Some of you may remember the comments and emails I received when I first wrote about Bill Wininger being outed as a sexual predator.
Apologists for the IFB church movement and Bill Wininger couldn’t call Bethany Foeller Leonard and the other women sluts, whores, home wreckers, or church destroyers. After all, they were little girls, the age my granddaughters are now, when the abuse took place. So, they had to take a different approach when defending the most holy IFB church and Bill Wininger. They attempted to use the time honored if you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen defense to silence those of us who aired Bill Wininger’s secret.
Take Jason, a young man who vociferously defended the IFB church movement, King’s Way Baptist Church, and Bill Wininger, even though he said he was not a part of the IFB church movement. Here is what Jason had to say about the accusations (spelling in the original, emphases mine).
Wow. I haven’t heard this much wining in a long time. It’s sad when Christians contribute to the pussifacation of America. I would be ashamed if this is how I had to get 15 mins of fame. When I first saw this I thought this was a joke but then I realized you people are serious. There are consequences that come with attacking a man called by God. Everyone who is pointing a finger needs to realize that no person is blameless. I have not seen one bit of proof that proves any of these theories. My advice… Shut up and worry about your own life and let ALMIGHTY GOD worry about everyone else
The definition of pussifacation is the state in which a society becomes less and less tough. As a whole men and women in America are becoming this way. For example I recently read about a man who’s daughter was allegedly molested. 20 years later he decides to say something about it. To me this man has no backbone whatsoever and has joined many others in the realms of weak and pathetic. Maybe you should talk to ________. She has shown more backbone in here by standing up for herself and the people she loves. My father taught me to be a man. You asked me what if this happened to your daughter. Let me explain that it would never happen to my daughter simply because child molesters target weak people. This is how they get away with what they do. There would be no getting away with anything should this happen to my daughter and justice would not begin 20 years later. IF any of your accusations hold any truth which I doubt considerably then you should get real life smoking gun evidenced and prosecute. Obviously you dont have this or you wouldnt be wasting time here.
Actually I am not in the ifb. I know this crushes your idea of how narrow minded I must be. However I do not see the point of targeting them out specifically or even more so targeting a single church which seems to be what is happening here. Cassandra the point is that without physical evidence of child molestation BW is innocent of this accusation. Without physical evidence of rape BW is innocent of this accusation as well which means that IF another woman was involved it was consensual.
Bruce how else would a woman excuse a relationship with a married man but pawn it off as “molestation”? In this day and age nothing is personal cultural suicide. You give me the evidence that supports these accusations and I will have concern for these alleged victims. Until then I will support innocence until proven guilty by a court of law. I will not take your moth to the flame approach just because someone made an accusation. Didn’t you say “After all, the lies told about a person always make for better news than the truth”? Sounds to me like you have your own koolaid for people to drink. I stand by my words. A year from now they will not be foolish nor will they 10 years from now. You dont want to hear what I have to say because you cant combat it. You deflect everything like you have no idea what to say. Its obvious that you have no idea what to do about my voice so you dismiss me. Sorry to ruin your pity party but there are 2 sides to every story. Here is a thought for you. Instead of blasting away at a man or a church or an entire religion why not open a thread that actually helps people who are truly victims? If your intentions are pure it would not matter what religion or church or person it happened with. Not all victims are from a church or a specific religion. You may even sound like you really care about them instead of sounding like a bitter ex-church member who is using this to harp on the ifb.
Let the words of the greatest preacher since the Apostle Paul, the late Jack Hyles, state the official IFB position on abuse:
The late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana — a man considered by some of his followers to be the greatest preacher since the Apostle Paul — made famous the statement:
If You Didn’t See it, It Didn’t Happen
Over the years, at Sword of the Lord conferences and Bible conferences, I heard Jack Hyles make this statement. When Hyles was accused of having an illicit relationship with his secretary, it is this very line he and his followers used. This, If-You-Didn’t-See-it-it-Didn’t-Happen, thinking was taught to countless pastors at Pastor’s School and Hyles-Anderson College. These Hyles-trained men carried this thinking home to their churches and used it to rebuff accusations of impropriety and immorality.
This is the argument that one commenter used when dismissing Bethany Foeller Leonard’s accusations against Pastor Bill Wininger. Since the abuse occurred almost two decades ago, there is no physical proof that Wininger sexually molested Leonard. While others have now come forward and added their name to the accusations, they too have produced no hard, physical evidence to prove their claims.
According to this commenter, since there is no actual physical evidence, it is likely the abuse never happened. According to him, Bethany Leonard and others are lying and are out to ruin a man of God. In his mind, since there is no Monica Lewinsky blue dress, any claims of abuse should be rejected out of hand.
This is the same kind of argument that Ken Ham uses when ignoring the overwhelming evidence for evolution and the age of the universe being billions of years and not thousands of years old. Countless Evangelicals have been swayed by Ham’s Jack Hyles impersonation when he says, were you there? Since none of us was there when the earth was birthed into existence, we can not know how old the universe, earth, and the human race is. We should accept what God says in his inspired, infallible, inerrant Word — that the universe is 6,019 years old. According to Bishop James Ussher, a 17th century Ken Ham, creation began on the “nightfall preceding 23 October 4004 BC.”
While this kind of thinking sounds insane to people who are not Evangelical, millions of American Evangelicals believe as Ken Ham does. Since none of us was there, we must accept what the Bible says about the beginning of the universe. Never mind the fact that the writers of the book of Genesis weren’t there either. The oldest manuscripts, which are not the originals, are dated thousands of years after the events recorded in Genesis. Even if Moses actually wrote the book of Genesis, and we have no evidence for this other than that the BIBLE says he did, he would have written the book of Genesis thousands of years after the events recorded in Genesis. In other words, Moses, or whoever the authors were, weren’t there at the moment of creation, so how can they know what happened?
The commenter I mentioned earlier refuses to believe that Bill Wininger sexually abused Bethany Foeller Leonard because there is no physical evidence to prove Leonard’s claims. No one saw it, there is no proof of it, so it didn’t happen.
I wonder if this commenter, and others who think like him, realize the huge problem they are creating for themselves. As Christians, they believe:
Jesus came to earth and was born of a virgin
Jesus worked miracles in Palestine more than 1,980 years ago
Jesus was crucified on the cross
Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later
Jesus ascended into the clouds and left the earth 40 days after he resurrected from the dead
Every Christian believes these things to be facts, yet there is no evidence for any of these claims. None. Nada. Zip. Using the commenters objection to Bill Wininger being considered a child molester, should he not refrain from calling himself a Christian or from evangelizing others in hope that they will put their faith in Jesus? Where is the evidence?
When it comes to Bethany Foeller Leonard and others who are claim they were abused by their pastor, we have living people who can be questioned. Yet, according to the one commenter, their claims should be rejected. Their testimony, which Leonard has put in written form, can be read by everyone, yet, because there is no physical evidence, the claims must be rejected out of hand. Why is this same rationale NOT applied to the Bible and the claims Evangelicals make for Jesus?
I can know Bethany Foeller Leonard wrote a letter about Bill Wininger abusing her, however I have no way of knowing who wrote the various books of the New Testament. I wasn’t there, to use Ken Ham’s illogical logic, and I didn’t see it, so it must not have happened, to use Jack Hyles’ illogical logic. Surely this is one of those what-is–good-for-the-goose-is-good-for-the-gander moments.
Please explain to me how it is reasonable and rational to reject Leonard’s claim out of hand, but not apply the same thinking to the claims made for Jesus that I mentioned above? Or, can reasonable people put their faith in Leonard and the others and come to the conclusion that they are telling the truth, just as the Christian would do concerning the historic witness of the Christian church concerning the claims the Bible makes for Jesus Christ?
Why are people such as the commenter mentioned above so willing to accept what they are told about Jesus, a Jesus they have never met, never seen, and for which there is no physical evidence, yet when a few women say, this man abused me, their claims are rejected out of hand?
Bill Wininger, former pastor of King’s Way Baptist Church in Douglasville, Georgia
Shelly Foeller, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) mother, tells the horrifying story of her daughter who was sexually abused by Bill Wininger, then pastor of North Sharon Baptist Church:
If you will bear with me, I’d like to tell you a story. It is a true story of a little girl with incredible blue eyes. The church her family attended voted in a new pastor the same year she was born. Her family was very excited about this new pastor, and the little girl became very fond of him as well. She was a delightful child—very smart and tender-hearted. At a young age she expressed an interest in the Gospel, and at her mother’s knee, prayed to give her heart to Jesus.
When she was still quite young, unbeknownst to anyone else,something very terrible started to happen. Her pastor, whom she loved and trusted, began to take advantage of her on numerous occasions, violating her little body in unspeakable ways. Because of her tender age, she did not understand this at all. Since her young mind was incapable of processing these terrifying events, the dark memories of these assaults became sealed in the deep recesses of her conscience. Though she did not speak of the things that had occurred, she carried an overwhelming heaviness in her little heart,a pain that she could not put into words…
The pastor moved away, and years later:
Finally she reached the point when she knew the only hope for her survival was to face what was at the bottom of her festering wounds—the truth of what had happened to her as a little girl. Very gradually her memories surfaced, and she bravely, though timidly, started to talk about them. As she recalled details of these life altering events, her mother soon recognized and remembered specific opportunities for their occurrence.
Over time, as more details were remembered and shared, the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together and make sense.The courageous little girl, who for many years had been unable to tell, had finally found her voice. The silence had ended.This same little girl is now a beautiful young woman, our beloved daughter, Bethany.It didn’t take long for us to learn that there were other young ladies, as well as adult women, who had been victimized by the same man. All their stories agree together and have a ring of similarity. The truth is undeniable. The perpetrator, unfortunately,was Pastor Bill Wininger. The time frame was when he was our pastor at North Sharon Baptist Church from 1988 to 1995.
I wish I could say that this heartbreaking story is unusual, but it is not. Just in the last two weeks alone, three women have emailed me about being sexually assaulted as a child or teenager by a deacon or the pastor of the IFB church they attended. Quite frankly, these kinds of things are far too common and every bit as scandalous as the sex scandal of the Catholic church. We should be grateful that, through the internet, women and men can now tell their story of sexual abuse at the hands of men of God.
All videos and sermons from him have been removed. The church, following the IFB practice of defiance against the Scripture, is maintaining a curtain of secrecy, even though Paul directly commands that elders who fall into sin are to be rebuked before the entire church. It is not to be a secret. And yes, the goal is to make miscreants afraid of abusing church office.
The good news is, thanks to the internet and those of us who refuse to allow these predators hide, we can hopefully keep them from molesting and harming other children and teens. More and more women and men are coming forward, willing to tell their stories of sexual abuse. Telling their stories takes great courage, because I know the hell that the IFB church movement releases on those who dare tell their secrets.
This is not an issue of Christianity vs. atheism. This is about sexual predators hiding in plain sight in Christian churches. They abuse their way through the church and then move on to another church of prey. They are the lowest of low and they deserve every bit of scorn and ridicule they receive. They also deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Sadly, many avoid prosecution for lack of evidence, or the statute of limitations runs out. Public shaming is often the ONLY recourse their victims have at their disposal.
Several days ago, a friend of mine told me about a recent service at former IFB pastor — now convicted felon — Jack Schaap’s church, First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. It was mentioned during the service that Schaap had led someone to Christ in prison! Praise Jesus. Soon his despicable acts will be forgotten, just like those of his brother-in-law David Hyles and his father-in-law Jack Hyles. In time, we will hear of souls being saved and the life of Jack Schaap being rehabilitated to the glory of God. As I mockingly told my friend, by the time Jack Schaap is out of prison, he will be pastoring the largest prison church in America.
Someone from Sharon Baptist Church sent me the following:
Our current pastor did do something about what Bethany ________ told about Bill Wininger. He went to the Michigan police about it & reported it. The police are the ones who are not doing anything about it. What would you have the current pastor say to the world about something that happened when he was not there, and didn’t know about until years later? Our church is not covering up for Bill Wininger. We were the ones who turned him in.
I replied to the question, what would you have us say to the world:
I would have them, on their website, say EXACTLY what you said here. Saying nothing is not an option.
All of the churches mentioned in this post are Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, King-James-Only, Separated, Soulwinning churches.
If I remember correctly, there were students from North Sharon Baptist Church when Polly and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the mid-1970s.
Ironically, Bill Wininger wrote a book while he was pastor of North Sharon Baptist Church.
Revival Fires, the ministry of Dennis Corle, carries the book. Their website says this about the book:
In a country church two male workers are accused of committing horrible crimes against children while running Sunday school bus routes. What should they do? How should they react in the midst of a county-wide scandal? How does a pastor keep from seeing his ministry, at the least, paralyzed and, at the worst, destroyed? How does he deal with the accused and their accusers?
Pastor Bill Wininger tells the amazing story of a church which experienced just such a traumatic event and amazingly, survived the ordeal with minimal damage done to the church. A Church Falsely Accused is the astonishing story of the North Sharon Baptist Church, a country church whose commitment to Christ and to the lost in its community saw victory through a vicious scandal.
UPDATE: August 2014
In August 2014, Wininger was arrested and charged with four counts of simple battery. AJC.com reports:
A former Douglasville pastor was released from jail Friday after spending a night there on charges of having inappropriate sexual contact with a member of the staff at the church and school that is one of the oldest private Christian academies in Georgia.
Four misdemeanor charges of simple battery against the Rev. Bill Wininger involve one woman on the Kings Way staff and are detailed in the charges brought by the Douglas County solicitor general.
Three counts accuse him of having unwanted physical contact with the woman by “grabbing and hugging” her. The fourth charge was that he made “physical contact of an insulting and provoking nature” when he pressed against her with a part of his body that was aroused. The events detailed in the accusation are alleged to have happened between August 2012 and
Each charge carries a maximum punishment of 12 months in jail.
Wininger was arrested Thursday night and he posted a $10,000 bond Friday afternoon following a brief court appearance. No other court date has been scheduled.
One of the conditions of his release was that he have no contact with members of King’s Way Baptist Church or employees of the school. Wininger must have a psycho-sexual evaluation and receive treatment if necessary…
…“The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office spent the past 10 months investigating this individual,” Solicitor General Matthew Krull said. “It is my job to make sure that everyone in Douglas County is afforded the opportunity to live free of unwanted and unsolicited physical contact.”
Krull said there were other accusers but his office decided to prosecute Wininger just on the allegations of one woman, whom The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is not identifying because of the nature of the charges.
Krull said Friday the investigation did not involve any allegations that Wininger targeted children.
Wininger resigned last October after 15 years at the church when allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused children in Michigan 20 years ago. He was never charged on those allegations…
I found no further reports about Wininger’s case.
I find it interesting that IFB churches and pastors preach against psychology and suggest every human misbehavior is sin, but once they are caught in their own web of sin and face criminal charges, they are quick to seek a psycho-sexual evaluation and treatment. Anything, to keep themselves out of jail. Why not stand on the unshakable ground of the King James Version of the Bible and refuse the evaluation and treatment? Shouldn’t Wininger just pray a David Hyles forgive me Lord prayer® and get back to winning souls for Jesus? Isn’t that the IFB way?
I am grateful that local law enforcement officials took the accusations seriously. Far too often, law enforcement ignores allegations against pastors because they have the naïve notion that clergy are above the fray, immune to the passions of mere mortals. As should be clear to all who are paying attention, countless pastors use their place of power and authority to manipulate and abuse others. Yes, most pastors are decent human beings, but a sizable percentage of them are predators lurking in the shadows waiting to rob people of their faith and trust.
A former Douglasville pastor accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with a staff member will be in court Friday when he is expected to enter a plea.
Unfortunately, the story is behind a paywall. Once other news agencies report the story, I will update this post.
UPDATE: October 9, 2015:
A former Douglas County minister was sentenced Friday to two years on probation, resolving accusations that he forced inappropriate contact on a staff member of his church and school.
Rev. Bill Wininger was accused of “grabbing and hugging” one woman at the The King’s Way Baptist Church and King’s Way Christian School, one of the oldest Christian academies in Georgia. He also was accused of “physical contact of an insulting and provoking nature” when he pressed against her with an inappropriate part of his body.
Wininger pleaded no contest to two counts of simple battery.
“This plea brings justice for this victim and hopefully gives her some closure to a horrible series of events that happened in her life,” Douglas County Solicitor General Matthew Krull said in an emailed statement. “The victim gave a voice to all those that have been too afraid to stand up to defendant’s unacceptable behavior. This case was very troubling, to see … a preacher in a position of trust and power, use that position for his own selfish needs.”..
…As part of his probation, Wininger was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service at a location that does not assist women or children…
The King’s Way Baptist Church in Douglasville will pay $25,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of a kindergarten teacher who complained the church’s pastor sexually harassed her.
The independent Baptist church, which operates King’s Way Christian School, also will furnish other relief, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced in a news release.
The EEOC filed suit in 2015 on behalf of Marsha Pearson, a kindergarten teacher at the school, who said she was fired after complaining that the pastor, who was also school superintendent, had harassed her.
Former King’s Way pastor The Rev. Bill Wininger was arrested in 2014 on four misdemeanor charges of simple battery against a female employee.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Pearson complained in 2013 that the pastor had been sexually harassing her. Upon reporting the abuse, King’s Way officials “told her that she allowed the harassment to happen to her” and that she was being fired, according to the suit.
Peanut Gallery, a group of people whose opinions are considered unimportant, a source of insignificant criticism, the cheap seats.
One of the good consequences of taking a break from blogging is that the peanut gallery stops sending me email. It’s only a matter of time before my inbox is once again flooded with emails from those who disagree with something I have written. Disagreement is fine. As a public figure, I know that there will always be people who disagree with me. If someone emails me and their comment shows that they were taught by their mother to play well with others, I will usually respond to them. I am quite happy to answer questions and clear up misunderstandings.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who have a problem playing well with others. They love the anonymity the internet gives them. They can be the playground bully, safe from getting their ass kicked by someone bigger than them. They are free to say things in an email that they would never say to my face, knowing that saying it to my face might result in a crooked nose.
From time to time, I plan to publish some of the emails from the peanut gallery. Enjoy!
The first email is purportedly from a man named James Barr. I say purportedly, because people often use fake email addresses. Barr wrote:
Seems hard times have changed your focus. The Lord is very much alive. For one who was very much involved in the ministry,you have fallen away. God is faithful. Have you ever thought your health problems is God trying to get your attention? For one who saids he is an atheist, why would Bro Hyles even matter?
Ah yes, the God is making you sick to get your attention argument. Now, if I had been a picture of perfect health before I left the ministry and deconverted, this argument might carry some weight with me. However, my health problems started 14 years before I left the ministry. Back then, I thought that God was testing me or making me stronger. Evidently, I failed the test or I was a weakling, because my health continued to decline. I was still a Christian in 2007 when I went through extensive testing to determine if I had Multiple Sclerosis. In fact, I was sick longer as a Christian than as an atheist.
As to the writer’s question, “why would Bro. Hyles matter”, the answer is simple. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement continues to manipulate and hurt people and their families. My email inbox tells me that there are a lot of people who have been emotionally and mentally scarred by the abusive, controlling authoritarian beliefs and practices of IFB pastors. It is for these reasons I continue to write about Jack Hyles and the IFB church movement.
The last two emails come from a Canadian man. He used fake email address and names, so there is no way to know his name and gender, but based on the overall tenor of this writing, I suspect he is a man.
Are you enjoying your rants, and posting fake names ? After reading through your blog, you sound like a hypocrite, not treating others as you have taught before. Right ? Our world has been made a more legalistic place. Have you got anymore rules you wanna add , fat nosed ? Your name and website has just begun to be exposed for all the world to see, laugh, and puke at you.
Your blog has been voted the worst in USA, Canada & Mexico. Let me know if you would like to see the links.
Like showing the world what prestigious writer you are? blah blah blah blah blah
Colin (your hu-animist too)
Not much I can say about these works of literary genius. They speak for themselves. I think I know who this is, but since I can’t know for sure, I won’t mention his name.
If you are a Christian and you believe the Bible is truth then the answer is an emphatic YES. People killed by tornadoes? God’s doing. The people killed by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy? God’s doing. Mudslides, floods, tsunamis, lightning, thunderstorms, blizzards, ice storms…all of these come from the hand of God and God is ultimately responsible for any death or injury caused by these weather events.
The Bible is clear:
And the LORD turned a mighty strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt. Exodus 10:19
And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day’s journey on this side, and as it were a day’s journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth. Numbers 11:31
For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven; To make the weight for the winds; and he weigheth the waters by measure. When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder: Job 28:24-26
But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. Jonah 1:4
But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live. Jonah 4:7,8
He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind. Psalm 78:26
These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. Psalm 107:24,25
He causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings for the rain; he bringeth the wind out of his treasuries. Psalm 135:7
And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him! Matthew 8:25-27
Behold, to morrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now. Exodus 9:18
And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. Exodus 9:22
Thou shalt be visited of the LORD of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire. Isaiah 29:6
And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.Genesis 6:17
Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst up mighty rivers. The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun. Psalm 74:16
For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; 2 Peter 2:4-6
For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. Genesis 7:4
And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. Deuteronomy 11:13-15
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:45
For he saith to the snow, Be thou on the earth; likewise to the small rain, and to the great rain of his strength. Job 37:6
There is no doubt about who is in control of the weather. The Bible makes it clear that God controls the weather. If God controls the weather then HE is responsible for the devastation and death that comes when bad weather comes our way.
Not Mother Nature.
Not any God, the Christian God.
Dear Christian friend, the next time you are bitching about the weather please turn your bitching towards your God. He is the one to blame.
Several years ago, a Christian commenter left this gem:
The thing is you want a God in your own image. You are justifying yourself and bringing him down to a human level. Complain, mock all you want. Like a crybaby. He is God and is right and as God can make the rules, not you. He is truth, whether you like it or not. The creator has the right to impose what he deems correct on His creation according to His standards. I am sorry for whatever has brought you to the point that you have set yourself against Him so, but it is just pitiful that in the end you are going to find out that the reason He does what he does is for your good and final happiness also, not because He is a tyrant like you think. But you will have missed out, because all you think of is “poor me.”
According to the Bible, this commenter is correct. Basically, God is God and he can do whatever he wants to do. How dare any pimple on the ass of God human beings say anything about what God does.
Every day, somewhere in the world, the Christian God is using his control of the weather to bring devastation and death.
If you are an atheist, agnostic, secularist, or liberal Christian and you often find yourself in discussions with Evangelicals/fundamentalists about the Bible, then I want to recommend you download the E-Sword Bible Study Program. The program is free. There are additional modules you can buy, but I think you’ll find the free program is sufficient for looking up Bible verses, reading commentaries, and looking at the Hebrew/Greek text.
The free version includes (not a complete list):
King James Version with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
American Standard Version
English Standard Version
Contemporary English Version
Revised Standard Version
German, French, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian translations of the Bible (along with a number of other languages)
Hebrew New Testament
Hebrew Old Testament with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
Greek New Testament Majority Text
Greek New Testament with Variants
Greek Old Testament, Septuagint with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
Commentaries by Albert Barnes, John Gill, Matthew Henry, Jamieson Fausett Brown, Keil & Delitzsch
There is also an iPad ($4.99) and iPhone ($1.99) version. I use the iPad version quite often when I need to look up a verse or study a particular passage of Scripture. Right now, the program is Windows only, but a Mac version is in the works.
Rebellion is a common word in the vocabulary of Evangelical Christian pastors, church leaders, husbands, and parents.
Here’s what the Bible says about God’s view of rebellion:
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. (1 Samuel 15:23)
Those who practiced witchcraft were to be put to death (Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:9-11), so it is clear that God considered rebellion a serious matter.
God commanded a harsh punishment for a rebellious son:
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them;Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you and all Israel shall hear, and fear. Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
The Old Testament is the written record of how a Holy God dealt with a rebellious people, Israel. Page after page details God’s judgments against his people and those who got in his way.
When we get to the New Testament, the word rebellion is not used. Does this mean that God has changed? Of course not. How is it possible for a perfect God to change? Malachi 3:6 says:
For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
The Bible says, speaking of Jesus:
Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8)
It is clear that God is immutable. He doesn’t change. (though there are a few texts that seem to suggest otherwise)
The Evangelical Church is a sect that accepts both Testaments as authoritative. (especially those Old Testament verses about tithing) Granted, Evangelicals are quite contradictory in their interpretations of the Old Testament, picking and choosing what they want to believe, but they do say all sixty-six books of the Bible are authoritative.
The key word is AUTHORATATIVE.
Evangelicals take seriously the matter of rebellion because they believe that the Bible is an authoritative text and from that text they deduce an authority structure.
It goes something like this:
The Christian God is the supreme authority over everything. He is the sovereign over all. He is the creator. He is in complete and absolute control. Even with salvation, no one can be saved unless God permits them to be saved. (both Calvinists and Arminians believe God is the final arbiter when it comes to salvation)
The Christian God has established authority in the church. Under Jesus Christ, pastors (elders, bishops) are the head of the church. They have been called by God to teach, correct, lead, and direct the church. They are to initiate discipline when necessary to ensure the church is a pure, holy body. (though many churches have a pretty low standard for pure and holy)
The Christian God has established authority in the home. Again, under Jesus Christ, the husband is the head of the home and his wife is to submit to his authority. Children are to obey their parents and submit to their authority.
The Christian God has established authority in nations. All nations are to bow to the authority of the Christian God. Their laws should reflect God’s law. Better yet, theocracy, God rule, is the best form of government.
The Evangelical Christian believes God rules over all. There is no King but Jesus and no God but the Christian God.
The problem here is that Evangelical Christians are human. Contrary to all their talk about being saved and sanctified, Christians are pretty much like the rest of us. For all their praying and confessing sin, they live and talk just like everyone else. Simply put, like all of us, they do what they want to do.
And that is a big, big problem.
You see the God of the authoritative Bible demands obedience. God expects Christians to implicitly obey his commands. All of them. God will have none of this picking and choosing that American Christians love to do.
So everywhere you look you have Christians in some form of rebellion against God, the pastor, their parents, or their husband. No matter how much they pray, read the Bible, go to the altar, and promise to really obey God this time, they continue to lapse into sin and rebellion.
This is what Jesus told his followers in Matthew 5:48:
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
It seems Jesus didn’t lower the standard. God expects and demands perfection. God will have none of this “I am not perfect just forgiven” cheap grace Christianity. Jesus expects his followers to walk in his steps. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they have been given everything they need pertaining to life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)
But, let me say again:
The problem here is that Evangelical Christians are human. Contrary to all their talk about being saved and sanctified, Christians are pretty much just like the rest of us. For all their praying and confessing sin they live and talk just like everyone else. Simply put, like all of us, they do what they want to do.
The difference between the atheist and the Evangelical Christian is guilt. The Christian lives in a constant cycle of living right, rebelling, feeling guilty, repenting, and back to living right. This cycle can go on numerous times a day. The atheist can feel guilty at times, but since they are not encumbered by a long list of laws, commands, rules, regulations, precepts, or standards, they are less likely to feel guilty. With no God hovering over them and no pastor preaching at them, the atheist is pretty much free to enjoy life. The atheist tired to live by the maxim: don’t hurt other people, and when they fails they are likely to make restitution and ask for forgiveness from the person they hurt. No need for a God, Bible, church, or pastor. As a human, the atheist has all the faculties necessary to be a good person.
What makes it worse for the Christian is that they go to church on Sunday and their pastor reminds them, from the Bible of course, of how rebellious they are. He points out their sin and reminds them that God hates sin. He calls on them to repent. You would think that people would get tired of all this, but each week they dutifully return to church so their pastor can remind them about their sinfulness and need of repentance.
Children, especially teenagers, get this same treatment from their parents. When they don’t obey their parents they are chastised and reminded that God hates rebellion. But kids will be kids, as every parent knows, and in Christian homes it seems that children are either starting into rebellion or coming out of it.
Parents are commanded by God to beat the rebellion out of their children. God provides himself as a good role model to follow. Hebrews 12:5-10 says:
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
The Bible records how God goes about chastising rebellious Christians. He maims them, makes them sick, kills their family, takes away their possessions, starves them, and, if necessary, kills them. God goes to great lengths to make sure a Christian seeks after the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11)
Here’s how God expects Evangelical Christian parents to respond to the rebellion of their children:
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)
Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. (Proverbs 23:13,14)
Let me tie this all together.
An authoritative text from an authoritarian God establishes authority structures for the church, family, and nations. Disobedience to authority is to be punished.
For those of us raised in this kind of Christianity (and all forms of Christianity have some of this, even liberal iterations of Christianity) we well know how this practically works out.The Bible, in the hands of God’s man, the pastor, is used to dominate and control people. Individuality and freedom is discouraged, and, in some cases, severely punished.
Pastors remind the church of pastoral authority. Parents remind children that they are to be obedient and threaten them with punishment if they don’t. Husbands remind their subservient wives that they are the head of the home and their word is f-i-n-a-l. Collectively, Christians warn government officials that Jesus is the Lord of Lords and King of Kings and God demands they submit to the authority of God, the Bible, and his people. (this is the essence of the theocracy movement in this country)
Some readers are likely weeping by now. Their mind goes back twenty or thirty years to a time when they were teenagers. Their parents considered them rebellious. Often their rebellion was things like listening to rock music, smoking, getting pregnant, talking back, having sex, or smoking marijuana.Their parents, needing to show them that they were in charge, sent them off to group homes to get their “rebellion” problem fixed. What really happened is that they were cruelly misused, abused, and debased. Years later, their lives still bear the marks of the Godly “rebellion” treatment they received.
It is hard not to see cultism in all of this. I am sure Bible-believing Christians, people of the book, will scream foul, but the marks of a cult are there for all to see if they dare but open their eyes. Millions of people attend churches that believe the things I have written about in this post. This is what Bible literalism gets you. How could it be otherwise?
Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.
I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Christian church. Baptized a Lutheran and later making a public profession of faith in a Baptist church at the age of fifteen, I had been a part of the Christian church most of my life. I preached my first sermon at the age of fifteen, attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college as a young man, and pastored churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.
I never went through the angst many people go through when determining what to do with their lives. At the age of five, I told my mother I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. From the age of fifteen to the age of fifty, I was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had no doubt that God had called me to preach to sinners the unsearchable riches of Christ.
I am an all in kind of guy. I have little tolerance for doing things halfway. When Jesus called to me and told me to leave my proverbial nets, I did so immediately. I was a devoted, committed, sold-out follower of Jesus Christ. My passion was for God, his church, and the Word of God. For twenty-five years, my life was consumed by the ministry and the work I believed God had called me to do.
Up until I started blogging in 2007, no one had ever doubted that I was saved, that I was a devoted, committed follower of Jesus. A person who years ago knew me quite well, was shocked when she heard that I was no longer a pastor and that I was now an atheist. She said, Butch (my family nickname) was the real deal. It is important to understand this point. NO ONE…out of the thousands of people I came in contact with, ever expressed doubt about my salvation. Not one teacher, not one deacon, not one evangelist, not one church member, not one fellow pastor, ever expressed doubt that I was a Christian or that I was a God-called preacher.
Those who now contend I was never a Christian or that I was a false teacher make their judgment based not on the evidence of the life I lived, but their peculiar interpretation of the Bible. For the Baptists, Calvinists, and many Evangelicals, the only way to square my life with their theology is for them to say I never was a Christian or that I still am a Christian Arminians have less of a problem explaining my life. While they are “troubled” by my apostasy, they recognize that I was a Christian. In their eyes, I fell from grace, and I am now no longer a Christian.
I realize that I am a rare bird. While there are many men who leave the ministry, few leave it as I did so late in life. Many of the notable preacher-turned-atheists, apostatized and left the ministry in their twenties and thirties. I left at the age of fifty. This does not make me special in any way, but it does make me an exception to the rule. And this is why Christian people have a hard time understanding how it is possible for a man to be a Christian for most of his life and to pastor churches for twenty-five years, to then just walk away from it all and renounce Jesus.
Those who know me personally have a difficult time wrapping their mind around Pastor Bruce being an atheist. To quote Nicodemus in John 3, how can these things be? But, whether they can understand it or not, here I am. I once was a Christian, I once was a man of God, and now I am not.
My life was motivated by the following verses:
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me, For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24,25)
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2)
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:15,16)
For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. (James 4:14,15)
These verses, along with my commitment to follow every command in the Bible, led me to a life of self-denial and economic simplicity. While most people around me were focused on earning a living, providing for their family, and accumulating material goods, I was focused on making just enough money to keep a roof over my family’s head. I took seriously the command to “learn in whatever state I am to be content.” I practiced a Baptist version of voluntary poverty, and as the head of the home, I led my family to do the same. I figured that whatever money and material goods we had was what God wanted us to have. To desire, require, or want more was a sure sign that I was in love with the things of the world.
Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, my family and I were economically at or below the poverty line. For many years we drove junk cars and for five years our family of eight lived in a three bedroom 12’x60’ mobile home. I paid $2,800 for the mobile home and parked it next to the church. It was a ratty old mobile home to which I had to do extensive work so we could live in it. As I look back on it now, I see this mobile home as a snapshot of my/our life of self-denial.
Somewhere in the late 1990s, I woke up one day, looked around, and realized that our family was the only one living this way. Everyone else, pastor friends included, were busy building their kingdom on this earth. Their focus was on their job, career, home, land, education, and retirement. My focus was on living a voluntary life of self-denial so that I might preach the gospel. I saw myself as following in the steps of Jesus and Paul. Why wasn’t anyone else living this way?
I still think my interpretation of the Bible was essentially correct. It wasn’t that I took Christianity too seriously, it was that most everyone else didn’t take it seriously enough. After all, did Jesus not say:
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (Matthew 6:24, 25)
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19,20)
My heart was squarely focused on Jesus. I treasured the Word of God and preaching the gospel. I saw the world neatly divided into saved and lost. As a saved man, one who believed in a literal hell, how could I idly sit by while knowing that most people did not know the saving grace of Jesus Christ? I spent most of my married life hustling for Jesus. Preaching, teaching, witnessing, preaching on the street, preaching at nursing homes, visiting prison inmates, knocking on doors, visiting bus routes, handing out tracts, and starting churches. Like the Apostle Paul, I believed, woe unto me if I preach not the gospel!
Our son Jaime, and our two girls, Bethany and Laura.
I took seriously Ezekiel 3:17-19:
Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me, When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
I believed that God would hold me accountable for every soul that went to hell because I did not witness to them. I felt I was duty bound to warn sinners of their wicked ways and of the judgment to come. My preaching, methodology, and lifestyle reflected this. Even though I was more committed than anyone else I knew, I also knew I was far from perfect, that I was far from being as committed as I could be. I pleaded with God to give me more of his power, more of his Spirit, just like he gave to great preachers like DL Moody, Hudson Taylor, David Brainerd, John Wesley, Charles Finney, Adoniram Judson, and Charles Spurgeon.
I left the ministry in 2005 and I left Christianity in 2008. It is hard for me not to look back on my/our life of self-denial with bitter regret. Yes, I helped a lot of people and yes, in spite of our poverty, we had a good life. But, a lifetime of self-denial has put my wife and me in an economically difficult place. We are by no means poor. We have more than enough money to pay our bills and live a comfortable life. We still live simply, and outside of a 2015 Ford Escape sitting in the driveway, our home and its furnishings are modest. When we bought our home in 2007, we bought a fixer-upper and we have been fixing it up ever since. Our life is comfortable, dare I say blessed. But, I can’t help thinking about where we might now be if I had not been so focused on living a life of self-denial? In about three years, I will officially “retire.” I will draw a minimal social security check because I didn’t pay social security tax for most of the years I was in the ministry. I have no other retirement plan. Polly will likely have to work after she reaches retirement age. I deeply regret this, but decisions have consequences, and because I made a decision years ago to not pay social security tax and because I thought Jesus and the church would take care of me when I was old, I made no other plans for the future. After all, I planned on dying with my boots on.
Life is one long lesson learned. How about you? Were you a devoted follower of Jesus? Did you take seriously the verses I mentioned in this post? If so, what did your life of self-denial look like? Did you do without for the sake of Jesus and the church? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.