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Category: Evangelicalism

For the Evangelical Christian, It’s Not About the Evidence

birth of jesus

Here’s one thing that atheists and agnostics need to understand. A person becoming an Evangelical Christian has never been JUST about the evidence. We mistakenly think that if we just show a Christian the evidence that they will abandon their Christianity and embrace atheism or agnosticism. How’s that working for us?

The truth is, Christianity as a belief system is all about faith. Hebrews 11:1-3 says:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

How does a person become a Christian? Ephesians 2:8,9 says For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

The Christian, by faith, decides to believe certain things. By faith, he believes the Bible is the word of God and what it says is truth.  By faith, he believes that the central teachings of Christianity found in the Bible are true regardless of the fact that they contradict what we otherwise know to be true.

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, that he was born of a woman named Mary who was impregnated by God. It is common knowledge that virgins can’t have a baby. Unless a woman is impregnated by a man’s sperm there can be no baby forthcoming. The Christian knows this, but chooses to disregard it because, by faith, he believes the story in the Bible about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

It is also common knowledge that when people die they stay dead. I know of no evidence that suggests that a person laying dead in the grave for three days has any hope or possibility of coming back to life. When you’re dead you stay dead. The Christian knows this, but chooses to disregard it because,by faith, he believes the story in the Bible of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. By faith, he believes that God will someday resurrect his body from the grave and make it brand new.

The Virgin birth of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead are two essential doctrines of the Christian faith. There is absolutely no evidence for these two events outside of the Bible. It requires faith to believe these two cardinal Christian doctrines. The same could be said for the Bible stories about Jesus walking on water, walking through walls, turning water into wine, and walking though a crowd of people without being detected. Reason demands we reject such stories, but by faith the Christian believes them to be true.

Christians do a great disservice to their religion by attempting to argue for Christianity on an evidence alone basis. This is an argument that they cannot win and they only hurt their own cause when they attempt to argue faith claims in an evidence arena. Outside of the Bible, there is no proof that virgins can have babies or dead people can get out of the grave and live again. These are stubborn facts that cannot be refuted.

Does this mean that Christians are stupid or ignorant? Of course not. I recognize that Christianity has never been just about the evidence. Christianity purports to answer what we call the big questions of life. Where did we come from? What is the purpose of life? Is there life after death? The Christian Bible answers these questions and more. For atheists and agnostics, the answers to these questions seem empty and of little value, but we need to remember not everyone is like us.

Who am I to stand in the way of what helps someone get through the night? It matters not whether I think their beliefs are a flight of fancy. All that matters is whether their Christian beliefs meet the need they have in their life. We often forget that many people come to the Christian faith in a time of crisis. Let’s face it, atheism doesn’t do a very good job of comforting people when they are hurting, sick, or dying. Often, all we have to offer is love and compassion wrapped in the reality that life is shitty and hard and everyone dies in the end. Brutal I know, but it is the truth.

Ask yourself, when is the last time you have won over a Christian by argument and evidence? Doesn’t happen much does it? Christianity is much more complex than that. It’s not the end of the world if a Christian dies thinking they will go to heaven. At the end of the day who cares? For whatever reason, the Christian needs faith to make it through life and they need to think that there is something better awaiting them after they die. I don’t fault them for believing these things.

But, as an atheist I cannot believe the things that Christians believe. Why? I don’t have faith. All I have is a Bible that Christians tell me is the truth, but I find no persuasive evidence for its truth claim. I know that faith would fix the lack of evidence problem for me, but I’m not willing to relegate matters of life and death to such a subjective thing like faith. I wish I could, but I can’t.

Is a 34 Year Old Murder Case Connected to New Bethany Home for Girls?

unidentified homicide victim
A composite drawing from LSU FACES Laboratory shows what investigators believe a woman found dead on Jan. 28, 1981, may have looked like before she was stabbed to death four to six weeks before her body was located in a wooded area in east-central Bossier Parish.

Rebecca Catalanello writes:

Her stab-pocked body was found in the woods off a public logging trail in north Louisiana on Jan. 28, 1981. She was in her late teens or early 20s and had been dead for four to six weeks, a coroner determined. There were scribbles on her sneakers, including a name written on the inside: “D. Davies.” It looked like she had removed the braces from her teeth.

In 34 years, no one has identified the body of the 5-foot-6 blonde found off Louisiana Highway 157. But now Bossier Parish law enforcement officials are investigating a potential link between the woman they now call “Bossier Doe” and a notorious girls home 40 miles away.

Lt. Shannon Mack, lead detective in Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office cold case No. 81-018329, said she first learned of New Bethany Home for Girls in Arcadia, after creating a public Facebook profile for Bossier Doe on Friday (Feb. 6) in an attempt to generate more leads. She has since reached out to former New Bethany residents for help.

Open from 1971 to 2001, New Bethany marketed itself as a boarding school for troubled girls. Youth came from across the country, some court-ordered, others by request of parents or guardians. Bienville Parish law enforcement and nearby residents became accustomed to encountering runaways from the strict, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist home, located behind barbed wire fences in a rural area off of Louisiana Highway 9.

Simone Jones, 47, a former resident who herself scaled the fences and ran to law enforcement seeking an escape, said that when Mack reached out to her about the 1981 case Sunday, her mind started spinning.

Jones, who was at the home from 1981 to 1984, said that while she doesn’t remember anyone by this name or description, details about Bossier Doe’s case were reminiscent of New Bethany:

  • Girls were required to write their names in marker on the insides of their shoes and on all their clothes, as it appeared someone did inside the victim’s shoes. When Bossier Doe was found, she was wearing size 7 Evonne Goolagong brand, a washable canvas sneaker sold by Sears. Other names were scribbled in ink on the outside of the shoes, including “Resha,” “David” and “Dena & Michael Brisco.”
  • Bossier Doe was wearing white athletic socks with blue and yellow stripes, Mack said. The New Bethany uniform at the time included white athletic socks with stripes on them. Jones said the uniform required the stripes be red or blue. “But there were other colors around,” she said.
  • To date, law enforcement has found no indication anyone by this young woman’s description was ever reported missing. It’s well-established that many of the girls of New Bethany were often disconnected from their families — either by force of the school’s rules, by circumstance that led them there, or both. In 2013, for example, Bienville Parish Sheriff John Ballance told NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune that after he encountered an 18-year-old runaway from New Bethany in 1975, he contacted her father by phone and was told the man wanted nothing to do with her.

Here’s another detail that raised interest of the former New Bethany residents.

Bossier Doe had bonding residue from braces on her teeth, Mack said, which led investigators to believe either she or someone else had removed her braces without the help of a professional.

Teresa Frye, 47, another former resident who Mack reached Sunday, said that detail stood out to her. When Frye arrived at New Bethany in 1982 from North Carolina, she was taken to have her braces professionally removed earlier than her orthodontist had instructed. Frye said she believes it was done so that she wouldn’t require additional medical care while at the home.

Many former New Bethany residents interviewed by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune since 2013 have described being denied medical care, a complaint that was also documented in a child welfare investigation in the 1980s. It would not be implausible, said Jones and Frye, for a resident to attempt to remove her own braces.

Mack said she is looking to speak with anyone whose memory might be jogged by the details of this girl’s death…

You can read the entire post here.

If you have not read Sex Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls, I encourage you to do so.

Simple Contact Form for Evangelicals

Dear Evangelical,

Today you stumbled upon The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.  You did a Google or Bing search and  The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser was on the first page of search results. You are shocked and upset by what this Bruce Gerencser guy writes. You want to give him a piece of your mind, in Jesus’s name, so you went to the contact form page to do so. On the page you read:

If you would like to contact Bruce Gerencser, please use the following form.  If your email warrants a response I will respond as soon as possible. Due to persistent health problems, I cannot guarantee a timely response. Sometimes,I am several weeks behind on responding to email. My delay doesn’t mean I don’t care. It does mean I can only do what I can do. I hope you understand.

If you are an Evangelical Christian that has a pathological need to evangelize, I am not interested in hearing from you. Threats of hell, God’s judgment, and the like are not welcome. Neither are “I’m praying for you” emails or emails with Bible quotes. Whatever you think God wants you to tell me, I have already heard it. Thousands have come before you, so there is no need for you to email me. If you ignore my request, please be advised that I reserve the right to make your message, name, and email address public.

I do not accept unsolicited guest posts.  Please do not email me about writing a guest post. I will not respond to your request.

I have no need of help with SEO, Google ranking, or web design. I use a managed WordPress service and my ranking on Google is first page on most subjects I write about. I do NOT need your help, so please do not email me trying to selling me the latest, greatest way to improve my Google ranking.

I have no interest in buying Facebook likes, Twitter followers, or anything else you might be selling. Please do not email me with your sales pitch.

Everyone else? I would love to hear from you.

You thought, who cares what this Bruce Gerencser guys thinks? GOD wants me to send him an email. GOD wants me to set him straight!! And so you furiously type away and click SEND.

Your email will be just like the email of hundreds of Evangelicals (Fundamentalists) before you. In an effort to help Evangelical readers save some time so they will have more time to pray, read their Bible, and evangelize people who don’t want evangelized, I have made the following Simple Contact Form for Evangelicals:

Name: (Put in fake name because you are so fearless)

Email Address: (Put in fake email address because God knows who you are)

Reason for Contacting Bruce Gerencser (Check all that apply)

_____To tell him he is wrong

_____To preach to him

_____To quote Bible verses to him

_____To evangelize him

_____To tell him he doesn’t know anything about the Bible

_____To let him know God still loves him

_____To let him know I am praying for him

_____To tell him he never was a Christian

_____To tell him he is going to hell

_____To tell him he is still saved and can never be un-saved

_____To tell him he was/is a false prophet

_____To tell him he was/is a wolf in sheep’s clothing

_____To tell him he is angry

_____To tell him he is bitter

_____To tell him his writing shows he has been hurt

_____To tell him he is fat

_____To tell him I hope he burns in hell

_____To tell him that I am praying God will kill him

_____To tell him that he has a meaningless, empty life

_____To tell him he is going to die soon and then he will find out THE TRUTH!

_____To tell him that I know THE TRUTH about him!

Once you have completed the form, please click the send button below.

send button

What? You can’t send it? This must be an atheist conspiracy to keep you from exercising your Christian nation Constitutional right to say whatever you want to Bruce Gerencser. By all means, please continue to click the send button. After you have done so a few hundred times and are thoroughly frustrated and irritated, then you will know how I feel after hundreds of Evangelicals have sent me repetitive emails saying one or more of the things listed above.

Here are a few things you need to understand about me:

  • I likely know more about the Bible and theology than you do
  • You are not going to tell me anything I have not heard before
  • I am an unrepentant apostate
  • I have no interest in Christianity, Jesus, or your interpretation of the Bible
  • I am immune to threats of harm or death, in real life I would probably kick your ass
  • I am a committed and circumcised atheist
  • I am a happy if you know it say amen humanist
  • I do go to church every Sunday in the fall and winter, the church of the NFL
  • I am a good, decent, kind, caring man, husband, father, grandfather, and friend
  • I love my neighbor as myself

Now, go in peace, and find someone who really wants to buy what you are selling. I don’t.

Did My Journey Out of Christianity Begin with Evidence?

evidence

Sometimes, atheists and agnostics forget how they got to where they are today. We pride ourselves on being evidence-based skeptics, seekers of truth wherever it may be found. We are conversant in all things Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris. We have read numerous books, magazines, and blog posts. We have watched more YouTube videos than we care to admit.

We investigated the claims of the religion we once held dear. We re-studied and reinterpreted the Bible. We read Bart Ehrman, the 21st century prophet to the godless. We now know how errant and man-made the Bible is. We are rational and logical, no longer in bondage to a mystical, mythical religion. We are free to be whomever and whatever we want to be.

But, here’s the problem: many atheists and agnostics forget that what they are now is not what they once were. They forget how their journey out of Christianity began. They forget how fearful they were when they first considered the God question. They forget the nights where sleep eluded them as they wrestled with sincerely held beliefs about God, salvation, Jesus, heaven, hell, and eternity. Have I really been living a lie all these years? we asked in the stillness of the night.

The journey out of Christianity rarely begins with evidence. Seldom does a person decide to leave Christianity on an evidentiary basis, especially those of us who were Christians for many years. While we NOW see clearly the falseness of Christianity, I doubt our vision was so clear when we first dared to consider the truthfulness of our beliefs.

Most often, the journey out of Christianity begins with our emotions. I am often accused of being angry and bitter, and, quite frankly, at some point along my journey out of Christianity, I am sure I was angry and bitter. How could it be otherwise?

Leaving Christianity is no small matter. Leaving the religion of your parents is not easy. Leaving the religion that gave you peace, comfort, hope, security, meaning and purpose is a decision laden with emotional baggage. We must be willing to admit this lest we lose authenticity. We must account for everything that brought us to where we are now. To leave anything out paints an incomplete picture of our life.

My journey out of Christianity likely began when I became a disaffected, disillusioned Christian and pastor. I was tired of the meaningless I saw everywhere I looked. Nothing mattered. Everywhere I looked I saw passivity. In the rare occasion where I saw committed, serious Christianity, I also saw arrogance, hatred, and pride. I saw a divisive, sectarian spirit that bore no resemblance to the Jesus of the Bible.

I was worn out from long hours pastoring churches that rarely paid well. I was tired of all the moving. The pettiness in every church I ever pastored sickened me. Struggles with church power brokers left me wounded. I was hurt by hateful and mean-spirited  church leaders and fellow pastors.

When I stopped pastoring churches it was a relief. Sleeping in on Sunday morning — what a joy unspeakable and full of glory! The stress level in our home and marriage when down dramatically. What a difference godlessness made.

I realize I just gave my critics a boatload of ammunition to use against me. I will now be accused of leaving Christianity for emotional reasons. I was angry, bitter, and hurt. I was tired and worn out. Here’s what my critics don’t understand: while these things played a part in the first step I took out of Christianity, they were not the last steps I took. What may have had an emotional beginning didn’t have an emotional ending.

As my emotions abated the evidence took over. As I read and studied I came to the conclusion that the truth claims of Christianity were false. My studies led to me conclude that the Bible is not a divine book, that it is a fallible, man-made, errant text written by unknown authors centuries ago. While it may offer some valuable insights, it should not be considered a divine road map for life, a blueprint for living. Many of its teaching are immoral. It is a book that’s been used to prop up violent governments, enslave people, and its pages are soaked in the blood of innocents. I view the Bible like a morsel of edible food in a garbage can filled with rotting, smelly food. I am no longer willing to dig through the rotting garbage just to find a morsel to eat.

What took root in disaffection soon became a search for truth. This forced me to re-investigate everything I once believed was true. I had to reevaluate my moral and ethical beliefs. My entire worldview was being challenged. At times, I was fearful. What if I am wrong? What if God really exists? I wrestled with Pascal’s Wager long before I ever knew what it was.

I am sympathetic towards atheists and agnostics who hide the emotional aspect of their journey. They don’t want to have to deal with constant questions about motives. They acknowledge the emotional component of their journey, as I did, but emotions were not the primary or deciding factor. When every factor is considered, it was the evidence that led them from God to godlessness.

I think admitting that emotions played a vital part in our deconversion will be extremely helpful to people considering leaving Christianity. We need to think about those who come after us. They need to know it is normal to experience a broad range of emotions such as anger, fear, hatred, and bitterness as they consider whether to abandon Christianity.

Be careful, dear Christian, before charging me or other members of the godless fraternity with leaving Christianity for emotional reasons. That street runs both ways. Did you become a Christian solely for intellectual reasons? Was it the evidence alone that caused you to embrace Christianity? I already know the answer to these questions. Over the years, I have watched hundreds of people profess faith in Jesus Christ. In every instance emotions played a part in the conversion process. In fact, decisions to profess faith in Jesus Christ without emotion are considered suspect. Becoming a Christian is the single biggest decision a person will ever make in his or her life, just like the decision a Christian makes to deconvert. How can such a dramatic decision NOT elicit a deep emotional response from us?

081116

 

False Christians Such as I Am Never Had a Love for the Things of Christ

head not heart knowledge

Several years ago, the late Ken Silva, a fundamentalist Baptist, and discerner of all things truly Christian, posted the following quote from C.F.W. Walther on his Apprising Ministries website:

A person may pretend to be a Christian while in reality he is not. As long as he is in this condition, he is quite content with his knowledge of the mere outlines of the Christian doctrines. Everything beyond that, he says, is for pastors and theologians.

To perceive as clearly as possible everything that God has revealed is something in which a non-Christian has no interest. However, the moment a person becomes a Christian there arises in him a keen desire for the doctrine of Christ.

Even the most uncultured peasant who is still unconverted is suddenly roused in the moment of his conversion and begins to reflect on God and heaven, salvation and damnation, etc. He becomes occupied with the highest problems of human life. An instance of this kind is afforded by those Jews who flocked to Christ and also by the apostle.

What about the increasing number of atheist/agnostic pastors/evangelists/professors/denominational leaders who spent many years delving deeply into the Word of God?

For thirty-five years I had a keen desire for things of Christ. I read the Bible from cover to cover numerous times. I spent thousands of hours studying the Bible. I read hundreds and hundreds of Christian books, magazines, and newspapers. I listened to countless sermon tapes, attended Bible conferences, revival meetings, and mission conferences. I did my best to put into practice all that I read and heard. Jesus was the way, truth, and life to me, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I was as deeply immersed in the things of Christ as one could be.

In Silva’s world, only Christians who think like him are really Christians. Silva thought that most people who profess Christianity are false professors. They professed Christ but never possessed Christ (Christian cliché 101).

These days, I know a lot of Christians turned Atheist. Almost every one of them was a conscientious, serious person who believed the teachings of the Bible and sincerely desired the things of Christ. To suggest these people didn’t really have any interest in the things of Christ is laughable. Most Christians turned Atheist I know understand the Bible quite well. Of course, according to the Ken Silva’s of the world,  they have a head knowledge and not a heart knowledge (Christian cliché 102).

081116

25 Questions for Those who say Abortion is Murder

questions

I have some questions for those who believe that abortion is murder.

  1. Does life begin at conception?  How do you know it does? Is your view based on science or is it based on a religious belief?
  2. If life begins at conception, why are you supporting an Ohio bill that makes it illegal to have an abortion once a heartbeat is detected? Does life begin at conception or at first heartbeat?
  3. Do you support the use of emergency contraception (morning after) drugs? Why not?
  4. Should a pro-life pharmacist have the right to not dispense emergency contraception drugs?  Should I be allowed to opt out of anything that goes against my moral or ethical beliefs?
  5. Is abortion murder?
  6. Do you believe murderers should be prosecuted?
  7. Do you believe that driving the get-away car makes a person just as guilty as the person who robbed the bank?
  8. Do you believe a woman who has an abortion should be prosecuted for murder? How about the doctor who performs the procedure? How about the nurse that assisted in the procedure? How about the person who drove the woman to the clinic? If you believe in the death penalty, do you support the execution of murderers?
  9. Do you use birth control pills?
  10. Should you be prosecuted for murder since birth control pills can, and do, cause spontaneous abortion?
  11. Should abortion be allowed for reasons of rape, incest, or saving the life of the mother?
  12. If you answered yes to question eleven, do you support murdering the fetus if it is the product of rape or incest?
  13. Should a fetus be aborted if the mother’s life is at risk?
  14. Do you support murdering the unborn if it saves the life of the mother?
  15. Is your viewpoint on abortion a religious belief?
  16. What passage in the Bible prohibits abortion? Does this passage define life beginning at conception?
  17. Has God ever killed the unborn?
  18. In Genesis, God destroyed every human save eight by drowning them in a flood. Were any of the women who drowned pregnant? Did God kill the fetuses they were carrying? (Kill the mother, kill the fetus.)
  19. Do you support the death penalty? Do you support war?
  20. If you answered yes to question nineteen, why do you oppose the killing of the unborn but support the killing of those already born?
  21. Why do you believe that killing the unborn is murder but consider an American bomb killing a baby 3 hours old a tragic result of war, collateral damage, but not murder?
  22. Do you support birth control being readily available in every school? Isn’t your objective is to reduce or eliminate the need for an abortion. Wouldn’t easily available, free access to birth control reduce the abortion rate?
  23. Do you believe it is better for a severely deformed child to live for a day and die than for the fetus to be aborted? If so, explain why it is better for the child to suffer needlessly?
  24. Do you believe that God is in control of everything? Does everything include children being born deformed or with serious defects that will result in a life of extreme suffering and pain?
  25. Is someone a Christian if he or she supports abortion?

My view on abortion

I do not think that life begins at conception nor do I think it begins at first heartbeat. That said, I do not support abortion on demand. Approximately 63% of abortions occur in the first eight weeks, and 89% of abortions occur in the first trimester. I do not support any law that restricts access to an abortion in the first trimester.  Once fetus viability (the ability to live outside the womb) is established, I do not support the right to an abortion except when the life of the mother is at stake.

when abortion occur
At What Time in the Pregnancy Abortions Occur

I support women having full access to reproductive services (including access to birth control), as well as school-aged girls and young women. For women who have an at-risk pregnancy, I support government-sponsored access to genetic testing and amniocentesis that will reveal severe birth defects. Better to have an abortion earlier in a pregnancy than to have a child born without a brain who will die a few moments or days after birth.

I support sex education for junior high and high school students and health education for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. Since girls often reach menses at ages as young as ten, waiting until they are sixteen to educate them about reproduction is irresponsible and leads to unintended pregnancies. I do not support “Just say No” programs that take the “aspirin between the knees” approach and ignore the reality that most teenagers will, at some point, be sexually active. Yes, teens should wait, but they don’t, and everyone should agree that teenagers having babies is not a good idea. If we agree that this is not a good idea, then making sure they can’t get pregnant should be a top priority.

I support the radical change of adoption laws in this country.  The government should make it easy and affordable for people to adopt a child (after being thoroughly vetted). By changing the law, this will make it more likely for a woman with an unplanned pregnancy to carry the fetus to term. This would also put out of business adoption agencies, many of them Christian, that charge extortion level fees for an adoption.

3 day old human embyro
Three Day Old Human Embryo.

God, the Bible, papal decrees, or religious rhetoric have no sway over me. Showing me bloody pictures of dismembered late-term aborted fetuses also have no effect on me. I know that only 1.2% of abortions occur after the 21st week. In 2011, 1.06 million abortions were performed in the United States. Roughly 12,000 abortions were performed from the 21st week to term. Why don’t pro-lifers wave around pictures of zygotes or other pictures from the chronological time period when most abortions take place? Simple: such pictures wouldn’t excite, inflame, and manipulate the passions of the faithful like a bloody, gory picture of a dismembered fetus does.

081116

Preachers and The Lies They Tell About Heaven

heaven and hell
Heaven and Hell

Several years ago, 3 young Ohio boys fell through the ice on the Sandusky River and drowned. What a terrible, terrible tragedy. Two of the boys were brothers.

The pastor of the church where their funeral was held said the following: (link no longer active)

A minister has told mourners that three Ohio boys who fell through ice and died together in a river are now playing together in heaven.

This statement is restated many different ways during countless Christian funerals.

  • Granny is running around heaven now with no pain!
  • Gramps is in heaven now and doesn’t need a wheelchair to get around any more.
  • ________is in heaven and there is no more pain, sickness, disease, suffering, etc.

Here’s the problem…

Statements like these are not true.

Historic, orthodox Christian doctrine teaches that when people die, they go to the grave. They are DEAD. The body remains in the grave until the resurrection. At the resurrection those who have died will receive a new body (1 Cor 15).

So why is it that preachers lie? Why did I lie?

Sentimentality.

Families are grieving. They have lost a loved one. They want to believe there is a divine purpose, and they want to believe that life continues after the grave.

So preachers concoct grand stories about heaven and the immediate transport of the dead from earth to heaven.

Belief in the afterlife requires faith. No one has ever come back from the dead to tell us the what lies beyond the grave (if anything). Anyone who says he has is a liar.

Even Jesus himself didn’t talk about the afterlife after his resurrection from the dead. His disciples did, the apostles did, but not Jesus. He told his disciples that wherever he was they too would be some day. He never mentioned one time any of the things commonly heard in Christian funeral sermons.

Even the notion of spending eternity in heaven is not taught in the Bible. Search all you might, it is not there.

What IS taught in the Bible is that followers of Jesus Christ will live forever in God’s eternal kingdom (on a new earth). On this point the Jehovah’s Witnesses are probably closer in belief to what the Bible teaches than many Evangelical Christians.

The same could be said about hell. Those who are not followers of Jesus will NOT spend eternity in hell. The Bible doesn’t teach that. The Bible DOES teach that unbelievers will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14).

Sentimentality allows preachers, who are supposed to be guardians of Christian doctrine, to ignore what the Bible teaches in favor of telling stories to comfort a grieving family.

I understand WHY they do it but let me be clear here…

Preacher, if you can’t tell the truth when it really matters the most, how can you expect people to believe anything you say? If sentimentality allows you to ignore what the Bible teaches about heaven (and hell) how do we know that you are telling the truth any other time? Not telling the truth in hard circumstances results in a loss of credibility.

As an atheist, I have serious reservations about the notion of an afterlife. At this point in life I lack the requisite faith necessary to believe. I am of the opinion that each of us had best get to living life because it is the only one we have. That said, if you are a Christian you are bound by what the Bible teaches. As a preacher you are obligated to tell the truth. In fact you owe it to your congregants to tell them the truth, even when it is hard to do so.

06/04/16

Songs of Sacrilege: God Shuffled His Feet by Crash Test Dummies

This is the fourth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is God Shuffled His Feet  by Crash Test Dummies, folk rock/alternative rock band from Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Video Link

Lyrics

After seven days
He was quite tired so God said:
“Let there be a day
Just for picnics, with wine and bread”
He gathered up some people he had made
Created blankets and laid back in the shade

The people sipped their wine
And what with God there, they asked him questions
Like: do you have to eat
Or get your hair cut in heaven?
And if your eye got poked out in this life
Would it be waiting up in heaven with your wife?

God shuffled his feet and glanced around at them;
The people cleared their throats and stared right back at him

So he said:”Once there was a boy
Who woke up with blue hair
To him it was a joy
Until he ran out into the warm air
He thought of how his friends would come to see;
And would they laugh, or had he got some strange disease?

God shuffled his feet and glanced around at them;
The people cleared their throats and stared right back at him

The people sat waiting
Out on their blankets in the garden
But God said nothing
So someone asked him: “I beg your pardon:
I’m not quite clear about what you just spoke
Was that a parable, or a very subtle joke?”

God shuffled his feet and glanced around at them;
The people cleared their throats and stared right back at him

Taking Off the Sheep Clothes — the Musings of a Wolf

wolf sheeps clothing

As my fame continues to spread across the internet, people who used to know me are finding out that I am no longer a pastor, a Christian, a believer in God, etc.  I suppose this is how it must be. If I am going to write publicly, use my real name, and talk about my life as a minister, I am going to be “found out.”

I know I am responsible for this. I choose to write what I write. I choose to be honest and direct. I choose to recount my past and present life as I understand it (and I say this because I realize others may see my life and the past differently).

I could have chosen to write anonymously. I could have made this blog (and the previous iterations of it) private. But, that’s not me. I have always been direct and open.  Rarely have I heard someone say about me “I don’t know what you mean.” In my younger years, directness and openness were better described as blunt and abusive. As a minister-in-training, I was taught to speak the truth without regard to the feelings of others.

This way of speaking my mind has served me well over the years, but it also has provided me many opportunities to apologize for the times when silence would have been the better course of action. I continue to be schooled in the fine art of shutting upwhether with the words I speak or the words I write.

Just recently, I had the opportunity to apologize to a former church member for running her family out of the church because she wore pants. Her husband asked me if I thought his wife wearing pants was a sin. In no uncertain terms I said YES! In every way this couple were fine church members, dedicated followers of Jesus. The husband drove one of our church buses. Yet, because I thought women wearing pants was a sin, the church lost a good family. How much better would things have turned out if I had said, Well that’s between you and God. But I couldn’t do so. I was God’s man and directness was the only way to speak God’s truth.

These days, I suspect my openness and directness threatens some people, especially those who have had an intimate relationship with me in the past. They would rather I leave things alone. They would rather I leave the past buried in the past. No need to talk about old times best forgottenOne former pastor friend told me that I shouldn’t talk about the past and my defection from the faith lest I cause others to lose their faith.

I can’t do that. While I don’t want to be a person who lives in the past, I realize that understanding the past is essential to my well-being in the future. If I learn nothing from the past, there can be no growth in my life in the present.  The key is not to be shackled by the past. I must learn from it, embrace it, but I must not allow the past to keep me from moving forward in my life.

It seems my “outing” is working its way down my résumé and list of family and friends. I told my wife the other day that I thought most everyone now knows about my apostasy from the Christian faith. Well, maybe my first grade teacher doesn’t know.

In First Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul writes about it being commonly reported that there was incest going on in First Baptist Church of Corinth. Based on these common reports, Paul made a judgment about what was going on in the church. So it is with me. It is now commonly reported that Bruce Gerencser has apostatized. Sermons are even preached about me. (here, here, and here)

As many of you know. I co-pastored the Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. I was excommunicated from the Church in 1994. Several years ago, a member of the church stumbled upon my deconversion story at John Loftus’s blog, Debunking Christianity.   Here’s the comment left by her:

So the wolf has finally taken off his sheep’s clothes. Took a while.

When the Church officials excommunicated me in 1994, they declared that I was a publican and a heathen. The Bible says in Matthew 18:

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

My apostasy makes perfect sense to the people in San Antonio. It is simply the full manifestation of what they declared I was in 1994, a publican and a heathen. I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing (John 10:12 and Matthew 7:15) , a satanic angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) , a false prophet (2 Peter 2).

But what does this say about them? They were certain it was the will of God for me to be their pastor. Evidently, they were not as discerning as they should have been. This lack of discernment  has been a common problem for them. Prior to my excommunication, they had excommunicated 2 other pastors, and countless Church members.

I was not excommunicated for anything one might consider grounds for being booted out of a church. No stealing of church funds or screwing the church secretary. No trying to foment a church split (although I could have). No deep, dark, secret sins. No, my transgression was that I butted heads with the man who started the church. He was bull-headed, arrogant, opinionated, and temperamental and so was I. Like two little children, we both wanted our own way. Eventually, I decided I no longer wanted to play and I was excommunicated for my refusal to play.

In a church service akin to a scene from a Catholic Inquisition, I was in absentia found guilty and excommunicated, not only from Community Baptist Church, but from Christianity altogether. For a few years, I tried to resolve the conflict between me and the other pastor (Pat Horner). He rebuffed every attempt at reconciliation. I saw the conflict as a personal matter. He saw it as a matter between me and the Church and God. (Horner is no longer the pastor; Kyle White is.) In the eyes of Community Baptist Church, I am, and will always remain, a publican and a heathen. Unless I return on hands and knees to the church and repent of my sins, there is no salvation for me.

Well, that’s not going happen. I am having too much fun enjoying my life as a publican and heathen.

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UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored

david hyles
David Hyles, present day

If you have not read The Legacy of Jack Hyles, I encourage you to do so.

David Hyles, son of adulterer Jack Hyles, once an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor and a serial adulterer, has come out of the hole he crawled into (Hyles deleted his blog after it was publicized) over twenty years ago, and he telling all who will listen that he has been restored.

Restoration in the IFB movement is like a slum lord who remodels a house. The slum lord is only concerned about the rent money so he rehabs the house just enough to make it look acceptable and then he puts the FOR RENT sign in the window. Behind the paint and underneath the stained carpet is the same cockroach-infested house that existed before the slum lord rehabbed the house. So it is with restoration in the IFB church movement and in much of Evangelicalism.

David Hyles has found two preachers to help him rehab his life: Mike Johnston and David Baker. Johnston runs a ministry called Promise Ministries International Center for Biblical Studies (PMI) in Battle Creek, Michigan. PMI is a distance Bible and pastoral training ministry that focuses its efforts on people in prison.

David Baker, a graduate of Hyles-Anderson College,  is the pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Columbia, Tennessee.

What kind of church is Lighthouse Baptist? A screenshot from the church’s web page will tell us all we need to know:

lighthouse baptist church columbia tennessee
Lighthouse Baptist Church, Columbia, Tennessee

David Hyles has found two pastors who hold to his dead father’s philosophies and beliefs to help him restore his life. Asking IFB pastors, especially those who hold to a perverted, truncated, cheap view of grace, to help you restore your life is like asking the town drunk to help you stop drinking.

I am all for people trying to turn their lives around. I am all for people trying to change their ways. However, I think to do so a person must own his past behavior, be honest about his actions, and not expect people to just forgive and forget.

David Hyles, by all accounts, was a serial adulterer. He had sex with numerous women in multiple churches. Some of them may have been underage. His sexual conquests are well documented. His father covered up his son’s perverse behavior and helped him get a fresh start at a new church. At the new church David Hyles repeated the same conduct that got him into trouble in the first place.

In 2007, the following expose of David Hyles appeared on The Conservative Babylon website (no longer active):

Claims to fame: Son of Jack Hyles; former Youth Minister, First Baptist Church of Hammond; ex-pastor, Miller Road Baptist Church (Garland, Texas); accused serial adulterer; divorcé; cohabitator; alleged child abuser; suspected child killer

Moral apex: As the story goes (we don’t know; we weren’t there), somebody at Hyles’s church discovered porn magazines containing ads for group sex which, they reportedly claimed, featured photos of Hyles having sex with church member Brenda Stevens (by some accounts, the daughter of a deacon). A story soon surfaced that Hyles had had extramarital sex with some 19 female members of the church.

Every one of these women was apparently stupid enough to think she was Brother Dave’s “one-and-only,” according to a voice on a taped phone conversation attributed to Dave’s wife Paula. And, as you can guess, it appears more than a few marriages where destroyed when the truth came out.

What happened next: It appears to outsiders that Miller Road Baptist threw him out, and his wife divorced him and took off with their two kids, and he started living with Stevens (out of — gasp! — wedlock) in Illinois.

Where it gets really tragic: Stevens had a small son, Brent. Dave Hyles was suspected of abusing the boy — who had suffered some eight or nine broken bones in his short life, which had never been treated. Brent was taken out of Hyles and Steven’s Illinois home and given to his biological father in Texas. Within a few months, for reasons beyond comprehension, Brent was returned to Stevens.

And then, in late 1985, 15-month-old Brent was found dead in his crib. Hyles, who had been alone with the child, claimed he found him not breathing, and called police. It has been suggested in a few online articles that Dave’s father Jack arrived before the cops did.

A coroner’s inquest into Brent’s death (at which Hyles took exercised his Fifth Amendment rights — and which the baby’s mother doesn’t appear to have attended) was apparently thwarted because the little boy had been embalmed and buried (reportedly the very next day after his death), before a proper autopsy could be performed. (An empty bottle of Actifed — for which a prescription had been filled only the day before Brent’s death — was found at the scene.)

Without any physical evidence of wrongdoing, Hyles was not indicted. The case remains open.

If those who follow the Hyles story are correct (waving at the Fighting Fundamentalists!), n the mid-1990s Hyles went to work teaching Sunday school at a Pinellas Park Baptist Church in Florida — which reportedly expelled him on charges of adultery. It’s also been reported that he was thrown out of the next church he attended (Berean Baptist Church in Orange Park, Florida), for “sexual misconduct” with three different women.

(One of those women is assumed to be church secretary Joyce Phaneuf, who appears to have been arrested for prostitution in 2003. Assuming this is the same Joyce Phaneuf, her mug shot and arrest report — which notes the tattoo on her right-upper thigh, reading “David’s Girl” — are available at everybody’s favorite finger-wagging site, The Smoking Gun.)

Just when you think it can’t get any more tragic: Hyles, it’s said, finally married Stevens and they had their own child together, a boy named Jack David. In March, 1999, when the child was five years old, Stevens was reported to have run over him with her car, killing him. According to news reports, she claimed he must have fallen out of the vehicle, and she didn’t know it….

What does David Hyles say to reports like the one on The Conservative Babylon? He ignores it and refuses to directly confirm or reject the behaviors he is accused of. Instead, in a blog page titled, David Hyles: My Story (page no longer available), Hyles writes:

Others may be reading this book merely out of curiosity. You heard of me and read many of the horrible stories about me. Now you want to know what I am going to say in defense or in explanation. I trust you will not be too disappointed, but this is not a tell all book. I have no intention of defending myself nor do I plan on trying to separate the truth from the legion of lies. I do not believe it would bring honor to God for me to try and explain what is and is not true. Explanation often leads to excuse or blame and I desperately fear that. You do not need to read about my sins. You just need to know that whatever I did do when I was away from the Father, God in His rich mercy and grace has restored me to HIMSELF. This is a book about grace. I trust that God’s grace and not my sins will be glorified.

In other words, whatever Hyles did or didn’t do, he ain’t tellin’. God has forgiven him, it’s under the blood, time to move on. Time to move on meaning, I have written a book I want you to buy.

david hyles greatest men
Jack Hyles, David Hyles, Jim Krall, World’s Greatest Men

Hyles has some sharp words for his critics:

First you are hurting the lost. Several years ago I worked with a young man who knew I was a Christian. This young man was searching. He had dabbled into several religions in his search. He respected me and began to question me about Christ. God was working in his life and I felt he was very close to accepting Christ as his Savior. Someone, in an attempt to hurt my business began circulating an email through my workplace and he received it, anonymously, of course. He never again listened to me and eventually our paths parted. I pray every day for God to save him. It was not MY sins that turned him away. No, actually it was the evil spirit of those my accusers who claimed to be Christians. He wanted no part of that.

Secondly, you are hurting the fallen. Countless Christians have seen what you have done to me and to others who have fallen and decided to just disappear rather than being restored. I believe that there have been suicides and other tragedies that could have been prevented if a fallen brother or sister had felt there was hope. You diatribes on your filthy forums serve Satan’s purpose well.

Thirdly you are hurting those who I have hurt. Please hear me on this. Every fallen pastor or Christian leaves hurting people in their sinful wake. I did. I know that. It breaks my heart. David did too and his heart was broken. There is little we can do to repair the damage. Their deliverance must come from God and it will not come from revenge or retribution. It will come only from forgiveness. Please allow God to be God and to deal with his children as He will. Stay out of it and encourage those who have been hurt to find their peace from God not from your vigilante system of internet justice.

Allow me to elaborate on this just a bit more. People who are hurt by a sinner are destroyed by bitterness. No one’s sin can destroy your life. Our loving Father would not allow that. He stands ready as a loving Father to pick you up and mend your broken heart. Sinners (and that includes us all) do bad things that affect other’s lives. For all have sinned… However, if we get them to take their eyes off of the offender and place it on the Savior they can be healed. Closure does not come from our flawed idea of justice. It comes from letting God heal us even as He deals with the one who offended or hurt us.

Fourthly you are hurting you! The manure you are hurling fails to hit me but your hands sure do smell of the filth you have no business picking up. I am sorry for the pain that makes you feel that somehow you will gain some kind of satisfaction from trying to hurt me. I wish this book could give you the peace you are lacking but I sincerely doubt it will.

Finally and most importantly, you are hurting the Father. I have news for you that is not going to please you, but here goes. GOD LOVES ME and I AM SAVED AND FORGIVEN! I fell but, you see, when a Christian falls we do not fall away from grace, we fall into it, hence the name of this book. I am in His grace and one day I will stand before Him clothed in the righteousness of His Son and not the sin of my own.  Why would you dare try and hurt the heart of God? Is it because there is unconfessed sin in your life? Are you so far from Him that you have lost the sweetness of His mercy and grace in your own life? That is sad.

David Hyles, in the manner of countless abusers before him, refuses to own his past behavior and points the finger at those who attempt to hold him accountable for what he did. Hyles thinks he has a get out of jail free card. He thinks the blood of Jesus has cleansed him from all of his past actions, and if God has forgiven him so should everyone else.

David Hyles perpetrated acts against real flesh-and-blood people, and if he is serious about turning his life around he MUST deal with the men, women, and children he hurt. Putting his past actions under the blood, cast into the sea of God’s forgetfulness, might play well in IFB churches, but here in the real world where real hurt must be atoned for, David Hyles is expected to own his past behavior, make a complete confession, and, as much as is humanly possible, make restitution to those he hurt.

It is clear from David Hyles’ blog, Fallen In Grace, (which he deleted once it was publicized) that he is still a believer in IFB doctrine. No matter what “sins” he committed, no matter how perverse his life was, because of the IFB doctrine of “once saved, always saved,” Hyles was always a Christian. No matter how many people he hurt and abused, he was always God’s child.  This turns the Christian gospel of grace on its head, and no matter what a person might have done, if he, at one time or the other, mouthed the right prayer, he is a Christian.

This is why David Hyles can reinvent himself and start fresh. As countless preachers before him, his God has hosed off the shit from his life, and he is a clean, fresh-smelling Christian. However, I suspect the people David Hyles hurt and abused can still smell the shit. Their lives were forever marred by the perverse actions of David Hyles.

I have no doubt David Hyles will convince a lot of people that he is truly a new man and that God has a wonderful, new, exciting ministry for him. Christians love a comeback story and Hyles is counting on their gullibility to make a new life for himself.

For those of us who lived through the David Hyles scandals and the Jack Hyles scandal, we are not easily fooled. When David Hyles demonstrates true acts of repentance and restitution, then people such as I might, in time, be willing to give him a twelfth chance. Based on what Hyles has written so far, he sees no need for repentance or restitution. He sees no need to make things right with those he victimized. God has forgiven him and THAT is all that matters. Because of this, I am inclined to think that David Hyles is just another disgraced IFB preacher trying to make a comeback because he needs some money.

jack hyles passion for sunday school

Just today, Bob Gray, retired pastor of Longview Baptist Temple, Longview, Texas, announced that his publishing house will soon release a book by David Hyles.  Longview, you might remember, is the church that gave David Hyles a rousing and warm welcome when he visited there a couple of years ago.

Bob Gray’s version of Christianity leaves no one beyond the grace of God. It requires no repentance or restitution. It requires no accounting of crimes committed or people defrauded. All that matters is that a sinner prays the prayer and his or her ticket for heaven is punched. According to Gray, David Hyles has a fire insurance policy that can’t be revoked.

The publishing of this book is a reminder that David Hyles, like his father, is a narcissist. Imagine if Hyles wrote a book titled, I was Wrong: My Apology to Those I Hurt. Most people would appreciate his willingness to come clean about the past (though fessing up to what might have been murder might land him in the slammer). Instead, Hyles writes a book about his father. By doing so, Hyles reminds everyone that is paying attention that nothing has changed. Ain’t God good!

Notes

Let me be clear, I don’t think David Hyles is evil personified. He is a man with a wife and a family. He has sisters and a mother. I must never forget that is he a fellow human being. But, he also has a sordid past, a past he is unwilling to deal with. His unwillingness to do so casts a long shadow over his present life. Hyles thinks that the blood of Jesus is some sort of magic potion that makes the past disappear. While that might play well in places like the Longview Baptist Temple, there are a number of people, IFB pastors and church members included, who are outraged by Hyles’ narcissistic, unrepentant behavior. To these people, men like Bob Gray are enablers who encourage people to make light of their sin. Is there no sin that carries a societal and church death penalty? In Bob Gray’s world, evidently not. A decade from now, when convicted sex offender Jack Schaap is released from the federal penitentiary, I have no doubt he will find a home at the Longview Baptist Temple. Why, he might even become a worker in the youth group, sharing, like the Apostle Paul, stories from prison.

David hyles facebook
David Hyles’ Facebook Profile Picture

You can check out David Hyles’ Facebook page here

Much of Hyles’ Facebook wall is private, but his older status updates are public. Take a few minutes to read them. I suspect you will notice, as I did, that he loves to quote himself, proving that he is a chip off of his father’s block.

David Hyles Google+ page

Several preachers are listed as friends on Hyles’ Google+ page including  Bob Gray, retired pastor of Longview Baptist Temple, Bob Gray II, current pastor of Longview Baptist, and Joel Fugate, assistant pastor Clays Mill Road Baptist Church. (Jeff Fugate’s son)

David Hyles’ mother, Beverly, has a blog

David Stewart’s defense of David Hyles

Romulus, Michigan Police Department report about one of David Hyles’ girlfriends. You can read the full report at the Smoking Gun.

Police Report for Joyce Phaneuf, a Church Secretary and Once a Girlfriend to David Hyles. Notice the Report Mentions a Tattoo, David's Girl?
Police Report for Joyce Phaneuf, a Church Secretary and once a girlfriend to David Hyles. Notice the report mentions a tattoo, David’s Girl?

David Hyles at a monument to his Dad

david hyles at monument for his dad
David Hyles, at a monument to memorializing Jack Hyles. I think the phallic design is fitting.

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Let’s Go Soulwinning

lets go soulwinning
Let’s Go Soulwinning by Jack Hyles

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Proverbs 11:30

Soulwinning — the art, the endeavor of sharing the gospel with sinners and leading them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. A metaphor for evangelism or witnessing. (It is not a word found in the English dictionary.)

Soulwinner —  a person whose purpose, desire, and motivation is to share the gospel with sinners and lead them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. (It is not a word found in the English dictionary.)

The Bible makes it clear that every church should be a soulwinning church and every Christian should be a soulwinner.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19-20

Matthew 28:19,20 is commonly called the Great Commission. While some may argue that the Great Commission was given ONLY to the eleven disciples, most sects and pastors think the Great Commission is a command given by Christ to every Christian.

Why is it then that most Christians never verbally share the gospel with another person? I am not talking about inviting them to church so the head soulwinner, the pastor, can preach the gospel to them. I am not talking about nonverbal, just let your light shine or any of the other excuses Christians give for not verbalizing the gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Why is it that most Christians never, one time, in a clear, concise way, share the good news of the gospel with a lost, hell bound sinner? Isn’t not doing so a direct repudiation of the Great Commission, a direct command given by Jesus to his followers?

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has turned soulwinning into a fine art. Churches hold soulwinning conferences and clinics. These special events are used to light a fire under church members who are not soulwinners. They are also used to train members in the best soulwinning techniques. Technique matters. Dennis Corle bragged to me that he could win a soul in five minutes. According to him, all a soulwinner had to do is follow the script. Follow the script, use proper technique and you too can be a great soulwinner like Dennis Corle.

No one was a bigger promoter of soulwinning than Jack Hyles, the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. Hyles was famous for telling stories like this:

A few years ago I was in a Bible Conference in Houston, Texas. After a morning service, I returned to my room at one of the large motels on the north side of Houston. To my surprise, the door to my room was open and I heard singing coming from the bathroom. After checking the room number with my key, I realized I was in the right room. Perhaps someone else was in the wrong room.

I hollered through the door, inquiring who was there, only to find it was the Negro maid cleaning out the bathtub. She was actually down in the tub cleaning out the ring.

I asked her if she were a Christian. She said, “Mercy, no! I am as mean as the devil.” I got my Testament out and showed her the plan of salvation. All the time she was in the bathtub. After I showed her how to be saved, she knelt in the tub and received the Saviour.

I have laughed many times about this and have jokingly said, “I guess I am the only preacher in the world who ever won a lady in a bathtub!” This is just another of the many unusual experiences that God gives to soul winners. We should be on the lookout constantly for people who need the Saviour

I have won people to Christ in train stations, in bus depots, on airplanes, in grocery stores, in barber shops, in shine parlors, in service stations, in garages, in school buildings, on ball diamonds, and in many other places. There are many hungry hearts waiting for someone to tell them the story.

You can read more of Hyles’s soulwinning stories here. (Hyles was a powerful preacher and a masterful storyteller. He was also a pathological liar.)

You can read more of Hyles’s soulwinning stories here. (Hyles was a powerful preacher and a masterful storyteller. He was also a pathological liar.)

For decades, Hyles and First Baptist Church conducted what they called Pastor’s School —  a week-long event used to motivate pastors and church leaders to win more souls. Under the leadership of John R. Rice and Curtis Hutson, the Sword of the Lord held Soulwinning Conferences all over the country. These conferences were used to encourage and motivate pastors and churches that had forgotten Jesus’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

From the 1960’s-1980’s, countless IFB churches experienced explosive growth as they went into the highway and hedges and compelled (without vampire powers) sinners to put their faith in Jesus. In the 1970’s, most of the 100 largest churches in America were IFB churches.

Today? First Baptist Church in Hammond, once the largest church in the world, no longer conducts the Pastor’s School,  The Sword of the Lord no longer holds soulwinning conferences all over the country. Based on the 2013 Outreach 100 Largest Churches List, there is not one IFB church on the list. (Many large IFB churches refuse to publish their actual attendance numbers.) Most of the IFB churches that made the Top 100 list in the 1960s-1980s are shells of what they once were. Some have even closed their doors. What happened?

In 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern, a small IFB college, was known for producing preachers who were great soulwinners. Tom Malone, the founder and chancellor of Midwestern, was also the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Every student was required to attend Emmanuel.

For many years, thanks to its bus ministry,  Emmanuel experienced explosive attendance growth and was listed as a Top 100 church. Emmanuel saw high attendance days of over 5,000. Soulwinning was the lifeblood of the college and church. Students were required to go out soulwinning at least once a week, and each week were required to account for their soulwinning activities.

Midwestern held a soulwinning contest while I was studied there. Students competed with each other to see who could win the most souls. The winner of the contest usually won a hundred or more souls. Every student was required to participate in the soulwinning contest. One year, the college put up a big banner and chart that was used to track who was winning the most souls. In the mind of Tom Malone, soulwinning was all that mattered.

for sale sign midwestern baptist college
For Sale Sign in Front of Midwestern Baptist College

Today? Midwestern has its campus up for sale, having moved its small student body to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion Michigan. Emmanuel, a church that once bragged about being a Top 100 church is no more. As with the college, its facilities are up for sale.

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac
For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

What happened? Why is Emmanuel closed, Midwestern a shell of what it once was, and the IFB church movement facing steep attendance declines?

If you ask IFB pastors this question, he will likely tell you that the WORLD is the cause for the attendance decline. People love their sin more than they love Jesus. They might even point the finger at Evangelical mega churches and their slick marketing, worship bands, and relational sermons. Where they will never point the finger is at themselves. In their minds, they are the true church, preaching the true gospel. They seem unable to see that it is their theology and methods that have led to their decline.

Instead of preaching a transformative, holistic gospel, they preached decisional regeneration, also known as easy-believism. Salvation became a simple transaction between a sinner and God. Sinners were told to pray a prayer:

 

Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Come into my heart and save me from my sins. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. I am trusting you to take me to heaven when I die. Amen.

If people prayed that prayer, they were considered born-again Christians. Millions of Americans have prayed a prayer such as this. From Billy Graham crusades and Campus Crusade outreaches to Southern Baptist churches  and IFB churches, the sinner’s prayer contained the magic words that made one a child of God. This bastardized version of the gospel filled churches with people who had no idea about  what it meant to a Christian or a member of a Christian church.

The sin of the soulwinning movement and the IFB church is that they thought that winning souls was just a matter of using the right techniques. Pastors taught church members to use certain formulas such as The Roman’s Road to lead people to saving faith. Got Questions, a fundamentalist website explains The Roman’s Road like this:

The Romans Road to salvation is a way of explaining the good news of salvation using verses from the Book of Romans. It is a simple yet powerful method of explaining why we need salvation, how God provided salvation, how we can receive salvation, and what are the results of salvation.

The first verse on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We have all sinned. We have all done things that are displeasing to God. There is no one who is innocent. Romans 3:10-18 gives a detailed picture of what sin looks like in our lives.

The second Scripture on the Romans Road to salvation, Romans 6:23, teaches us about the consequences of sin – “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The punishment that we have earned for our sins is death. Not just physical death, but eternal death!

The third verse on the Romans Road to salvation picks up where Romans 6:23 left off, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus Christ died for us! Jesus’ death paid for the price of our sins. Jesus’ resurrection proves that God accepted Jesus’ death as the payment for our sins.

The fourth stop on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, all we have to do is believe in Him, trusting His death as the payment for our sins – and we will be saved! Romans 10:13 says it again, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins and rescue us from eternal death. Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, is available to anyone who will trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The final aspect of the Romans Road to salvation is the results of salvation. Romans 5:1 has this wonderful message, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through Jesus Christ we can have a relationship of peace with God. Romans 8:1 teaches us, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, we will never be condemned for our sins. Finally, we have this precious promise of God from Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Would you like to follow the Romans Road to salvation? If so, here is a simple prayer you can pray to God. Saying this prayer is a way to declare to God that you are relying on Jesus Christ for your salvation. The words themselves will not save you. Only faith in Jesus Christ can provide salvation! “God, I know that I have sinned against you and am deserving of punishment. But Jesus Christ took the punishment that I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. With your help, I place my trust in You for salvation. Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness – the gift of eternal life! Amen!”

Have you made a decision for Christ because of what you have learned through the Romans Road to salvation? If so, please click on the “I have accepted Christ today” button below.

The soulwinners were told to stay on point, reiterating the points in the soulwinning plan. If the sinner asked questions not related to salvation, the questions were to be ignored and the sinner steered back to the soulwinning plan. They were to give the sinner just enough information to get saved. Questions would be answered later after they were baptized and became a part of the church.

Think for a moment about what I have written here. Doesn’t all of this sound similar to a sales program used by Amway or some other direct marketer? Work the plan! Stay on point! Press the prospect to make a decision! Close the sale!

When I was in college, I sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners. My Dad sold them for many years and I thought, like father, like son. Every Saturday, the local Kirby office would hold mandatory sales meetings for their salesmen. These meetings were pep rallies meant to motivate salesmen to sell more vacuüm cleaners. They even sang songs with lyrics like There’s power, power wonder working power in a Kirby, sung to the tune of the There’s Power in the Blood.

The Kirby pep rallies were quite similar to that which took place at Hyles’ Pastor’s School and Sword of the Lord Soulwinning Conferences. The goal was the same: motivate salesmen to hit the street and sell merchandise. In the case of the IFB church, the merchandise was Jesus, salvation, and fire insurance.

Were you a member of an IFB church? Were you a soulwinner? Was your church an aggressive soulwinning church? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

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What I Found When I Left the Box

Man hiding in box

Yesterday, I wrote a post titled The Danger of Being In a Box and Why It All Makes Sense When You Are in a Box.  A commenter on Reddit asked if I would elaborate on this part:

“But is wasn’t. My mind was filled with thoughts of all the wonders I found outside the box. Things that those in my box said were bad for me; things that they were sure would ruin me. They told me that the box was all I needed. They feared I was becoming a wanderlust.

And they were right. I wandered once again outside the box, and just like before I fell down the slope of the slippery hill. This happened to me many times before I finally gave up and stayed at the bottom of the hill. When I did this,  the box I had lived in for almost 50 years no longer large enough for me. For the first time, the things I had found in the box seemed odd, peculiar, and contradictory.”

Every time I left the box I found new and wondrous things, things I had never heard about before, things I had never experienced. The box I was in for five decades was a box  whose dimensions were clearly defined. There was no guessing about the length, width, or depth of the box. Over time, the box had to be replaced. Those outside the box constantly battered the box with bats, bricks, and rocks. Sometimes, these attacks would cause gaping holes in the box and it became necessary to replace the box.

The new box was not like the old box at all. The dimensions were different and it held fewer people. Everyone in the box pretended that the box was just like the old box. An old-fashioned box, we were told. We knew the box was not like the old one, but giving the appearance that the new box was the same as the old box was more important that coming to grips with the reality that the box was different. The box keeper was adamant. He said our box was just like the first box, that the box had stood strong for 2000 years.

On one of my trips outside of the box, I found out that the box keeper wasn’t telling the truth. He was trying to preserve something that never existed. Perhaps he really didn’t know since he had never been outside the box.  I found out the box manual had errors and contradictions. People outside the box questioned whether the box manual was the correct manual. For a time, fear plagued me every time I went outside the box. I realized if the box manual wasn’t true, then everything I believed about the box was wrong. I thought, I am smart guy. How could I have been deceived for almost 50 years? Surely ALL these people in the box can’t be wrong?

As I strayed farther and farther away from the box, though, I found that there were all kinds of boxes. Every group of people had its own box, — some were religions, some were political, some were social, and some were economic boxes. I always knew there were other boxes, but I considered all other boxes but the one I was in to be false boxes.

Those of us in the box always mocked those in the atheist box. None of us actually knew an atheist, nor had we ever read a book written by an atheist, but Dr. I-Have-The-Truth told us he knew all there was to know about the atheist box and he was certain the atheist box was a false box with no bottom that led straight to hell. He told us many horrible things about the atheist box. I was glad I was not one of THOSE kinds of box dwellers.

Imagine my surprise to find out that the atheist box was nothing like Dr. I-Have-The-Truth said it was. In fact, I found out there was quite a bit of diversity in the atheist box. They argued back and forth with each other, but once they were done arguing they all went to the bar and were still friends. I had never seen such interaction before. In my box, when arguments broke out they usually ended  with one party calling  the other party not-a-true box dweller. Some of them even went so far as to leave the box and, just a few feet away, build another box. They said they were a new and DIFFERENT box, but everyone knew that the only thing different was the location of the box.

I found that I liked the atheist box. Those in the atheist box encouraged me to be skeptical of the every box. I had never heard this before. In the box I was from, we were told to never question the box and certainly to never question or doubt the box manual. The box keeper warned us that doubt led many a box dweller outside of the box never to return. We wondered, did they end up being recycled?

This new-found freedom to question and to be skeptical was quite liberating. It also caused a good bit of conflict for me. People from the box I had left were questioning whether I was ever a “real” box dweller. They said, Yes he was in the box but he never really believed the box manual. They called me a deceiver. Some even thought I was deluded. The box keeper used me as an illustration of what happens when a person becomes skeptical and asks questions

For a time, my wanderlust, while liberating, caused me a great deal of mental conflict. There seemed to be a constant tug and pull. I felt as if  I were going to be pulled apart. I heard about a man who specialized in helping people who left boxes similar to the one I was in. So I went to see him and I knew immediately that he could help with the tug and pull that was trying to tear me apart.

Over time, I began to see how the box, the box keeper, and the box manual had taken over my life to such a degree that I lost any concept of who I was. Every time I saw the specialist I reclaimed some of the self that I had lost. As this happened, I began to deal with the questions I had about the box and the box manual.

I am not sure when the moment was, but I do remember coming to a place where I felt completely free. I felt “born again.” I thought, I am a “born again” atheist. I no longer felt any pull to return to the box. Of course those in the box said “See what happens when you stay outside the box for a long time?”

Seven years have gone by since I found myself at the bottom of the slippery hill. It is hard to believe — seven years. People in the atheist box, the box I now call home told me that things would be better with time. They encouraged me to read and study. They told me “go where the data, the evidence leads you.”

Over time, I learned that the atheist box, and for that matter no box, is perfect. In every box there are arrogant, nasty, vindictive box dwellers. No box is perfect, but some boxes are definitely better than others. That’s the greatest wonder of all…I now have the  ability to freely choose the box (es) I want to be in.

I guess the best thing to say is this…I no longer feel boxed in.

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