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Category: Evangelicalism

Songs of Sacrilege: Jesus Was a Wino by Lydia Loveless

lydia loveless

This is the latest 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 send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Jesus Was a Wino by Lydia Loveless.

Video Link

Lyrics

Well, some days you wake up,
Life feels meaningless.
You don’t even have
the strength to get up and get dressed.
Then when you do,
you see your clothes are all torn to shreds.
And you can’t even afford to buy a needle and thread.
So you might go to church
to bow your head and pray
But that ain’t always enough to get it through the day
Sometimes you’ll feel bitter
You figure this priest is a mooch
And you might just take all of your tithes
to a bottle of hooch.
And if people knew, they would look down on you
Don’t they know that it’s true:
Jesus was a wino, too.

Plus, people may ask, “Why have your lips turned black?”
“Hey, what the hell is so funny, man?
Why have your eyes gone slack?”
They’re gonna feel high and mightier to you
And I can barely stand
I’ll just tell them I couldn’t turn down one more glass of the blood of the lamb

Because if people knew, they would call me a fool
I wish they knew it was true
Jesus was a wino, too

And this here six-dollar bottle is just about all that I can afford
And if I can’t find a corkscrew
I’ll just smash it open right here on the floor
And you might call me crazy
For lapping this off the ground
But a few years ago I would be drinkin’ with Jesus right now
‘Cause they may not have had Carlo Rossi way back in His day
Jesus had only water but he turned it to wine anyway

And nobody asked, “What would Jesus do?”
‘Cause everybody knew
Jesus was a wino too

No, nobody asked, “What would Jesus do?”
‘Cause everybody knew
Jesus was a wino too

Oooh, uh huh
Uh huh.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Sounds of Fundamentalism: Evangelical Calvinist Explains the Term “Christian Nationalist”

christian nationalism

The Sounds of Fundamentalism is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of an Evangelical Calvinist explaining the term “Christian Nationalist.” According to her, we are all under the authority of Christ whether we accept it or not. She explains atheist morality this way: “if stardust rapes stardust who cares?

Enjoy! 🙂

Video Link

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce, What Happened to Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan?

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

I recently received the following email from a reader named Dan:

I wrote before but never received any response. I just had some curious questions and have had them for a while so thought you might know. I am from originally Downriver and former IFB. Whatever happened to Dr. Tom Malone Jr ? I could be wrong but it seems like in the early 80’s he vanished and Emmanuel Baptist seemed to sort of brush him under a rug.

Another question why do you think Emmanuel [Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan] fell apart so rapidly? I know we are aware of the “personality cult” etc. but is there a more unique reason why it just collapsed? It was collapsing while Dr. Malone was still alive, yet First Baptist Church of Hammond and some other IFB [churches] didn’t collapse. (Yes many did) I am just sort of mystified about Emmanuel. I know Temple [Baptist Church] moved out of Detroit and was successful in Plymouth not being IFB. I was just curious about your opinion on the unique collapse of Emmanuel.

Dr. Tom Malone was the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan. Malone started Emmanuel in 1942, and by the late 1960s, the church was one of the largest congregations in the United States. Malone, a graduate of Bob Jones College started his ministerial career as an evangelist. His travels later brought him to Pontiac where he pastored several churches. In 1942, according to his biographer Joyce Malone Vick, Malone resigned from Marimont Baptist Church due to “denominationalism, doctrinal heresy, and liberalism.” From this point forward until his death on January 7, 2007, Malone was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, evangelist, and conference speaker. One month later, his son Tommy, Jr., also an IFB preacher, died.

Malone started Midwestern Baptist College in 1954. Advertising itself as a “character-building factory,” Midwestern was primarily a training school for preachers. Not a large school, perhaps 400 or so students in its heyday, Midwestern trained hundreds of men, sending them across the country and to foreign countries to start IFB churches. My wife, Polly, and I attended Midwestern from 1976-1979. While we left Midwestern before our senior year due to Polly being pregnant and me being out of work, the college and Malone made a deep impression on our lives. Polly’s father, the late Lee Shope, attended Midwestern from 1972-1976, and her uncle, the late James Dennis, the former pastor of Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, attended the college from 1961-1965.

Midwestern students were required to attend Emmanuel and work in its ministries. Without the college’s students, the church’s ministries would have collapsed overnight. I worked in the bus ministry, taught Sunday school, worked in the youth department, and held afternoon services at SHAR House, a drug rehabilitation facility in Detroit. Polly worked in the bus ministry her freshman year and sang in the choir. She also was part of a traveling handbell group for two years. All students were required to attend church every time the doors were open, tithe and give offerings, and go on visitation one or more times per week. Students were required to account for in writing their “works” over the past week.

By the time, Polly and I arrived at Midwestern, Emmanuel was already in decline numerically and financially. By 1980, Emmanuel was no longer listed on Elmer Towns’ list of the largest churches/Sunday schools in America. Other IFB churches topped the list, with First Baptist Church of Hammond, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, and Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, coming in one, two, and three. Most of the churches on the 1980 list were IFB and Southern Baptist congregations. Today, only First Baptist of Hammond remains on the list. Hundreds of IFB megachurches have either drastically declined in attendance or closed their doors. Emmanuel was one such church.

By the late 1980s, Emmanuel was in steep decline. Sometime in the 1990s (I can’t find the actual date), Malone left the church, leading to wholesale attendance loss. Several years later, Malone would return, hoping to save his baby, but it was too late. Emmanuel eventually closed its doors. The church’s and college’s properties were sold off. Who received the proceeds from these sales is unknown. Midwestern, as an institution, moved classes to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan. While Midwestern technically “exists,” it only has a handful of students (and may be defunct) and its website has not been updated in two years.

Dan wants to know what, exactly, happened that led to Emmanuel’s decline and closure. What follows is my educated opinion on the matter.

Tom Malone was a southerner. His preaching style reflected the style found in southern churches. Malone was a powerful preacher, an orator, and a pulpiteer. In the 1940s-1960s, southerners who had come north to Pontiac and Detroit to work in the auto plants found their way to Emmanuel — a church that felt and sounded like home. These well-paid workers helped fund Emmanuel, as did students who worked at the various auto plants. (Students could get a job at Truck and Coach by going to the admission office and putting their name on a list. Polly’s dad worked at Truck and Coach for four years. More than a few students, after graduating from Midwestern, stayed in Pontiac, unwilling to leave their good wages for the paltry wages of the ministry.) By the 1980s, the auto industry was in decline. One need only visit Detroit to see the ravages of this decline. Job losses caused numeric and economic problems for churches, including Emmanuel. Fewer people meant fewer workers. Less money meant less building maintenance and staff. During the three years Polly and I attended Emmanuel and Midwestern, pleas for money were common. By 1980, buildings and buses needed major repairs. The bus fleet, in particular, was a rolling junkyard. Emmanuel ran 60-80 busses in the 1970s, though the fleet reduction was already underway by 1979, starting with the routes operated in Detroit. The church and college continued to hemorrhage people and money throughout the 1990s, leading to their eventual closure.

As student attendance at Midwestern declined, Emmanuel had problems staffing their various ministries. Increasing pressure was put on students to do more. While Polly and I attended Midwestern, we were expected to find non-student church members to fill in for us when we went home for Christmas. Good luck with that. Non-student church members were largely uninvolved in Emmanuel’s ministries. Without Midwestern students, the Sunday school and bus ministry would have collapsed overnight.

Fewer students meant less money and fewer workers. Students gave thousands of dollars to the church, and funded college fundraising campaigns. Without student money and work, Emmanuel had a big problem on their hands. Non-student members had become passive members, expecting students to do most of the work. Now that college enrollment was in precipitous decline, members were expected to pull their weight. This did not go over well. As offerings declined due to attendance loss, Malone cut ministries, hoping to stave off serious financial problems. By this time, I suspect the big money givers that helped fund Emmanuel’s rise to megachurch status were gone. In the Detroit metro area, there are IFB churches on virtually every street corner. Get pissed off at one church? Move on to another. Church hopping is common.

While Malone was a charismatic preacher, he could also be a bully, as could many church and college staff members. This kind of behavior is common in IFB churches and institutions. The IFB church movement revolves around men. These men can be quite demanding and controlling (generally speaking). Abuse and trauma are common — just ask former IFB church members. I suspect that over time, church members were less willing to put up with Malone’s authoritarianism. Rumors abound, but what actually went on behind closed doors remains unknown. Malone’s devotees continue to paint him as a saint, but Doc was a flawed, sinful man, a product of his time. I wish the people who knew him the best would be honest about the past. I have in my possession the book, Tom Malone: The Preacher From Pontiac. Written by his daughter Joyce Vick, the book glosses over Malone’s character flaws, foibles, and church problems. Such books are common in IFB circles. Man is deified, lest people think IFB preachers have feet of clay.

bruce and polly gerencser 1976
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976

IFB churches and their pastors are known for being unmovable and unchangeable. Malone was no different. As the culture around him changed socially, religiously, politically, and economically, Malone dug his feet in, vowing to defend “old-fashioned” Christianity — “old-fashioned” meaning 1950s. I suspect his immovability caused some members to seek out churches that weren’t as ardently Fundamentalist.

Take the things mentioned in this post and combine them, you have a recipe for a church’s decline and death. Scores of IFB churches that once ran thousands in attendance are now closed. Other IFB churches are shells of what they once were. In time, unless it changes, the IFB church movement will decline to such a degree that it will become a footnote in history. Every IFB church and institution I was associated with is in numerical and economic decline. Gone are the days of burgeoning attendances and overflowing offering plates. Now, it seems, IFB churches are focused on “quality, not quantity,” a philosophy they roundly decried 30-40 years ago.

Tom “Tommy” Malone, Jr. was a graduate of Midwestern, its vice president, and the church’s assistant pastor. While Malone, Sr. has an earned doctorate from Wayne State University — a rarity in IFB circles — Malone, Jr, had an honorary doctorate granted to him by his father. (Malone, Jr. did have an earned master’s degree from the University of Detroit. Midwestern gave numerous supporters of the college honorary doctorates. If you happen to come across a Midwestern grad parroting the fact he has a doctorate, it is most likely an honorary degree or a doctorate from an unaccredited diploma mill. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor.)

I know very little about what happened to Malone, Jr. I know he and his wife divorced. Malone, Jr. according to rumors, wandered away from the Lord, later returning to the fold. Malone, Jr, died one month after his father, in February 2007.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Evangelical Hysteria Surrounding Y2K

y2k

Remember Y2K?

Wikipedia has this to say about Y2K:

The year 2000 problem, also known as the Y2K problem, Y2K scare, millennium bug, Y2K bug, Y2K glitch, Y2K error, or simply Y2K refers to potential computer errors related to the formatting and storage of calendar data for dates in and after the year 2000. Many programs represented four-digit years with only the final two digits, making the year 2000 indistinguishable from 1900. Computer systems’ inability to distinguish dates correctly had the potential to bring down worldwide infrastructures for industries ranging from banking to air travel.

In the years leading up to the turn of the century, the public gradually became aware of the “Y2K scare,” and individual companies predicted the global damage caused by the bug would require anything between $400 million and $600 billion to rectify. A lack of clarity regarding the potential dangers of the bug led some to stock up on food, water, and arms, purchase backup generators, and withdraw large sums of money in anticipation of a computer-induced apocalypse.

Contrary to public expectations, few major errors actually occurred in 2000. Supporters of the Y2K remediation effort argued that this was primarily due to the pre-emptive action of many computer programmers and information technology experts. Companies and organizations in some countries, but not all, had checked, fixed, and upgraded their computer systems to address the problem. Then-U.S. president Bill Clinton, who organized efforts to minimize the damage in the United States, labeled Y2K as “the first challenge of the 21st century successfully met,” and retrospectives on the event typically commend the programmers who worked to avert the anticipated disaster.

Critics pointed out that even in countries where very little had been done to fix software, problems were minimal. The same was true in sectors such as schools and small businesses where compliance with Y2K policies was patchy at best.

I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan for twenty-five years. During this time, there were two predicted events that fueled widespread worry and panic among the people I pastored.

The first event was Edgar Whisenant’s prediction that the rapture — a moment when Jesus returns in the clouds and carries away every Christian from the earth — would take place between September 11-13, 1988. Whisenant wrote a small book titled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. Almost five million copies of the book were given away free and sold at Christian bookstores.

The hysteria got so bad in the church I was pastoring that I had to preach a sermon denouncing the book. I was a Calvinist, so I believed nothing happened apart from God’s divine plan. My eschatological beliefs were different from many of the people I pastored. I was amillennial and posttribulational. I believed the church would go through the seven-year tribulation — a time of judgment and purification — before Jesus returned to earth. I rejected IFB eschatology, including the false notion that the rapture of the church was imminent.

On Sunday, September 11, Somerset Baptist Church had its largest attendance of the year. There was a buzz in the air, as people gathered together in anticipation of the rapture. I explained during my sermon the Biblical reasons why the rapture wasn’t nigh. I repudiated Whisenant’s claims. While some church members felt relief after hearing my sermon, others asked me, “preacher, what if you are wrong?” September 11-13 came and went. Jesus was nowhere to be found. Thirty-four years later, Evangelicals are still saying, albeit with much less gusto, that Jesus could return at any moment. Sure, and the 2022 Cincinnati Reds are going to make the playoffs and win the World Series.

The second event was Y2K. By this time, I was pastoring Our Father’s House, a nondenominational church in West Unity, Ohio. Our Father’s House was a close-knit congregation of 40-50 people. It was, by far, the best church I ever pastored. Outside of losing three crotchety older couples over our use of praise and worship music, Our Father’s House was the most peaceable church I ever had the privilege to lead.

As hysterical stories about Y2K began to circulate among church members, some people became worried and fearful. This led some families to start acting like survivalists. One family was so afraid of what might happen that they bought cases and cases of canned goods from nearby Campbell’s, made sure they could heat and light their home with kerosene, and bought numerous other items that would help them ride out the coming apocalypse.

Evangelical pastors in Williams County started a Y2K group. The goal was to help our churches survive what could happen on January 1, 2000. I attended all of one meeting. The group was dominated by pretribulational rapturists who saw Y2K as a sure sign of the imminent return of Jesus to earth to rapture away Evangelicals. I was still amillennial and posttribulational, and much as I did in 1988, I took to the pulpit to denounce the notion that the rapture was going to take place on January 1. Unfortunately, many congregants held Left Behind eschatological beliefs. What amused me was the fact that people were hoarding food, fuel, and other goods. Why? If the rapture was nigh, why leave huge caches of food to be used by the heathens left behind?

As with Edgar Whisenant’s failed rapture prediction, Y2K proved to be much ado about nothing (though it can be argued that coders likely fixed many of the date issues that could have caused serious problems). The family that hoarded all the food later donated it to our church’s food pantry. It took us two years to get rid of cases of canned food.

Do you have a Y2K story to tell? Please share it in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Southern Baptist Denny Burk Says Monkeypox Divine Judgment on Gay People

denny burk

Those who engage in this activity [homosexual sex] receive in their own person the due penalty of their error. There are consequences to sexual immorality. The most severe consequences are eternal for those who do not repent and turn to Christ. But there are temporal consequences as well, and diseases like Monkeypox are evidence of that. This does not mean that Monkeypox will only affect those who engage in homosexual immorality. No doubt, its ravages will extend outward from that community to people who are otherwise innocent of such behavior. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that the spread of this disease is being driven largely by those who have been given over to “degrading passions.”

I don’t know how bad the Monkeypox outbreak will get. I don’t wish it on anyone. In fact, my prayers are quite the opposite. I’m praying that in wrath the Lord would remember mercy (Habakkuk 3:2). Mercy on those who are innocent of sexual immorality and mercy on those who aren’t. I hope others are praying that way as well. But as we do, we must have moral clarity about what is happening. God made this world, and he made us. The structure of reality, therefore, is entirely according to His design and purpose. Anyone who impenitently defies that structure should expect painful consequences in this life and in the next. This latest plague is a reminder of that inexorable truth. We do no one any favors to pretend otherwise.

— Denny Burk, Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, Denny Burk, Homosexual Immorality Driving a World Health Emergency, July 23, 2022

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

How My Mind Was Set Free

guest post

Guest Post by Merle Hertzler. Merle blogs at The Mind Set Free.

I learned early that I was not to question my religion. I was to simply have faith. And yet somehow the questions would still come. I would sometimes question the Bible. How did we know it was God’s Word? I would sometimes question Jesus. How did we know he was God? I never dared to ask these questions out loud, but in my own mind, yes, I asked these questions often.

The questions demanded attention. But simultaneously, there was always the nagging fear of what would happen if I died while I was in a state that questioned the faith. I simply could not take that chance. The consequences of dying in doubt could well be unimaginable.

So, I asked questions, yes, but I always knew what the answer needed to be. The side of my mind that argued for Christ had to beat out the side that argued against.

It is as if my mind included an advocate for the faith, an advocate against the faith, and a referee. The referee always sided with the advocate for the faith. And so, the advocate for the faith always won, two to one.

Those times were never fun. I longed to be free from doubts. And so, by sheer willpower, I pushed those questions aside.

But my mind was not really free.

Many years later, the dam would break. The questions would come out–gradually at first, then with a rush. And when it was all over, my mind was free.

I grew up in a conservative Mennonite home. We didn’t listen to secular music, watched only a select few TV shows, and centered our lives on conservative religion.

When I was 14 years old, my family and I joined a fundamentalist church, one that did not question the Bible. Fundamentalism became a way of life for me. Everything that entered my mind had to come through its filter. I soaked it all in.

I was terrified of hell and would often lie awake at night worrying about it. Even in social settings, I would be sitting there thinking about hell. Fundamentalism offered a solution. It said that all one had to do was accept Jesus. So, I did it. Did I do it right? I didn’t know. So, I did it again. I still wasn’t sure that I had done it right. And so, I did it again and again in my mind. I prayed that God would be merciful to me a sinner. I invited Jesus into my heart. Over and over, I accepted him in any way I could think to accept Christ.

One day I read the tract, What Must I Do to Be Saved, by John R Rice. It told me I did not need to concentrate on getting the act of believing right or saying the right words. I just needed to choose to believe. That’s it? All I needed to do was choose to believe? Fine. I chose to believe. Case closed. Let’s move on.

And so, I proceeded in life as though the case was closed. What a relief! I thought that everybody else surely had similar worries and needed to know this news of deliverance from hell.

“Grace, my fears relieved”, the old song says, but before that, “It was grace that taught my heart to fear.” Religion offered a cure for my fears. But what had caused the fears? Religion. Does Christianity invent the fears it then relieves? Is it solving a problem that it created?

I found relief from my fears. But to tell you the truth, faith did not do a really good job of it. The fear of hell had finally become manageable, yes, but it was always in the background.

As a Fundamentalist Baptist

In college, I joined an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, which then controlled every aspect of my life. I went door to door on the streets of the Bible belt, witnessing to those who may have missed God’s plan of salvation. Everybody at this church was told to be a soul winner. The pastor boomed his message from the pulpit, yelling at those who stayed home on visitation night. We had to be out there winning souls.

We didn’t want anybody to die and go to hell without knowing the way of salvation. If somebody didn’t know, then we needed to tell them. I wonder now, why did God need us to tell that story? Didn’t he have all the resources he needed? If we failed to tell somebody, and as a result that person suffered for eternity without ever having known the escape plan, how could a loving God let that happen? I never asked those questions back then. I was winning souls.

The pastor also yelled at those that listened to rock music, gave less than 10% of their income to the church, had the wrong haircut, or attended a movie theater. We were told exactly how to live our lives, and we obediently followed. It was the only life we knew.

In my senior year of college (1978) the pastor moved to another church, and the church deteriorated into disarray. I was confused. This was all I had to live for, and it had fallen apart. I saw the dark side of the church. There was chaos at some church functions. Once when we were singing Just as I Am over and over as an alter call, people became so bored that the song died in the middle and we never finished it. I had thought that we were saving the world. Now I looked at the lives that had been saved and wondered if it had meant anything.

Meanwhile, I watched as the story of Jim Jones and the mass suicide in Guyana appeared on TV. The story of those poor people following every command of their leader seemed all too real to me. I had been living my life much like they had. I could understand why they followed so obediently. Religion can do that to a person. Had I been deluded also?

There was something else that bothered me. I had been reading through the Bible every year since I was in 11th grade–every word of every verse–and was disturbed about what I was reading. Have you ever read the tales of killing, greed, and arrogance that fill the Old Testament? Do you ever question their relevance? I was not sure that I could trust the Bible any longer. As my confidence in the Bible withered, apathy set in.

Despair

I graduated from college with no meaning to life. My Christian hope had gone. I cannot begin to describe the despair that filled my life for the first two years after graduation. There was nothing to live for. I wanted to be happy, but I didn’t know why that would matter. Two hundred years from now, who would ever care if the bones left behind had supported a happy person or a sad person? Probably nobody would ever care.

But somehow, I cared. And I wasn’t sure why. I wanted to be happy. But instead, I knew apathy, bitterness, struggle, frustration, anger and confusion.

When my Christian hope had faded, why didn’t I look for something else? I didn’t know there was another way. I had grown up in Christian schools, Sunday schools, and Bible studies. The Bible was the only hope I knew, and it now seemed so inadequate. I never thought to look elsewhere–such is the grip that religion can have. I wish now that somebody had told me how to live the good life without the Bible. But I would not learn that until many years later.

Digging out

In desperation, I turned to Christian books. I had no intention of going back to my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist days. I thought that perhaps a milder brand of Christianity could help. As I read, I felt encouraged. Was God leading me back to himself? I thought that he was. And so, I made a commitment to walk close to the Lord again. I found that Christianity worked much better for me than apathy.

I would often go to a park and find a forsaken place alone with God where I could pray. I would pour out my heart to God, and I would leave refreshed. I took this as proof that Christianity was true.

I was soon to find the writings of C. S. Lewis. I found them fascinating. He did not just quote Bible verses. He used reason. I liked that. I read his books with enthusiasm and formed a new outlook on life.

I was back to seeing myself and others as rebellious sinners against God. I believed that I had rebelled against God, and that this had brought on the two years of depression. It was all my fault.

I saw others also in the same light as I saw myself. If somebody did something that hurt me, then I figured they must be doing it because they had given in to their evil, sinful nature. I would get bitter at those who had followed their inner sinful self in ways that hurt me. Sometimes I snapped at people and let them know how bad they were. That wasn’t good.

But I also found that religion helped me to keep my mouth shut. If inside I was bad, then I needed to keep that bad anger inside. It came from my fallen nature. I would not want my fallen nature to express itself like this. I wanted only my new positive nature, as produced by the Holy Spirit, to come out. So, the old, angry words were constrained. I set out to surrender my basic wants and desires to God.

I now was turning back to faith, not because I feared hell, but because I needed to avoid the despair associated with depression. I was no longer following the Independent Baptist tradition, but one thing I knew: I had had purpose and hope in those college days. And that was certainly better than the depression that had followed. So even if I was not convinced that my Independent Baptist days were on the right path, I figured that at least my life back then had been better. So I thought I needed faith to have purpose in this life. I just needed to make a few adjustments.

The Problem of Pain

I had a low view of human nature. Such views may look strange in light of what many now say in today’s Evangelical churches. These churches have often adopted a feel-good, psychological approach to life that seeks to build our self-esteem and encourages us to accept ourselves and our feelings. Many Evangelicals do this in spite of the doctrine of human depravity that is still in Evangelical theology.

It was not long ago that the view of humanity as totally depraved was dominant, not only in fundamentalist churches, but in mainstream Protestant sources like the writings of C.S. Lewis. Since Lewis’s views were so foundational to me at that time, I will digress here to discuss the view of humanity that appears in his book, The Problem of Pain. He writes:

A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity. Christ takes it for granted that men are bad. Until we really feel this assumption of His to be true, though we are part of the world He came to save, we are not part of the audience to whom his words are addressed,

Lewis thought that we are bad people, and that God was angry with us for being bad. Lewis thought that Christianity offered no hope to those who did not share this view.

He went on to say that some Christians might ask, “What call has God, of all beings, to be angry with us?” Lewis responded to his own rhetorical question, declaring it to be a blasphemous question:

Now at the moment when a man feels real guilt–moments too rare in our lives–all of these blasphemies vanish away… At such a moment we really do know that our character, as revealed in [some sinful] action, is, and ought to be, hateful to all good men, and, if there are powers above man, to them. A God who did not regard this with unappeasable distaste would not be a good being…When we merely say that we are bad, the “wrath” of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere corollary from God’s goodness.

Guilt is far too rare? Really? Lewis was not merely telling us that our actions are bad, but also that our very character is something that God hates with unappeasable distaste. He was saying that God is justified in having wrath toward us. For after all, at our very core, we are guilty, bad people.

Why are we so bad? Lewis contended that it is because of Adam’s sin. Can God then blame us for Adam’s sin? Lewis responds to this question:

Theoretically, I suppose, we might say “Yes, we behave like vermin, but then that is because we are vermin. And that, at any rate, is not our fault.” But the fact that we are vermin, so far from being felt as an excuse, is a greater shame and grief to us than any of the particular acts which it leads us to commit.

So we find that we are born as vermin. And Lewis says that it is a shame and grief to us that we are vermin. What is the Christian to do? He continues,

Now the proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator… In the world as we know it, the problem is how to recover this self-surrender. We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are, as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms…Hence the necessity to die daily: however often we think we have broken the rebellious self we shall still find it alive…The human spirit will not even begin to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it.

Do you get the picture? Lewis describes us all as inherently depraved descendants of Adam, as evil rebels. We need to die to our own internal wants. Suffering, he claims, is the tool that God uses to affect this change. His books were the biggest influence in my philosophy of life at that time. I also knew of a number of scripture verses to support this low view of humanity (e.g. Job 42:6Is 64:6Lu.17:10, and Rom. 3:10-19).

I look at it now, and do not think that I had a very healthy perspective. But this philosophy was mild compared with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist tradition that I had come out of. And it certainly worked better than apathy. This outlook gave me a reason to live. At the time I assumed that it worked because it was right. Now, I think that it worked because it gave me a purpose. Other ways would have worked better.

C. S. Lewis showed me that life was rough, yes, but that was because we needed pain to change us from vermin to what we should be. Fine. Life is hard, but there was a reason for it. God was dealing with the old me, the vermin. I pushed onwards. And it seemed to be working.

I had found this one great pillar to support my rebuild of faith: Christianity is worthwhile because the path that I had found within Christianity works, at least it works for me.

That pillar would one day collapse on me when it was shown to be inadequate. The observation that faith made me feel better is simply not a good reason to say that the faith is true. But at that time the reasoning seemed solid.

Creationism

There was a second great pillar on which I based my faith. This pillar had stood firm even during the days of despair. I was quite familiar with the teachings of Henry Morris and the young Earth creationists. I thought that this was the most logical explanation for how life began. They argued that the Earth was created by God a few thousand years ago, just as the Bible said. During the time of Noah, a great flood covered the Earth. This flood buried many animals, I was told, and these became the fossils we see today. Creationists argued that all this was supported by scientific findings.

Creationists argued that evolution was impossible. They said that creationism was consistent with true science, but evolution was pseudoscience. I listened to this side only and was convinced.

Other things in the Bible may perhaps be wrong. I was finding simply too many problems with the Bible. But I had these two great pillars of my faith: a belief that Christianity as I knew it worked; and a belief that Genesis was the best explanation of origins.

Exposure to Enlightened Views

In 1987 I moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia and found an exciting Evangelical church. I met many wonderful people and quickly became involved in many aspects of the program. I had found a home and was happy.

Some of the Christians at this church came from a range of religious backgrounds. This was new to me. Some people disagreed with the way I understood Christianity. Some did not agree with me that the earth was only a few thousand years old, for instance, or that the fossils had come from Noah’s flood.

Others told me that my religious philosophy did not work, that other philosophies worked better. There were big differences. I thought that we should despise our evil inner self; they thought that we should love ourselves. I thought that we must work hard to keep the evil anger inside of us from coming out; they thought that anger was there because we had not vented our anger. I thought that the big problem was overestimating oneself and overconfidence; they thought that the big problem was low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. I thought that we needed to die to ourselves; they thought that we need to discover ourselves and self-actualize. I thought that God made us feel guilty about our evil feelings; they thought it was the devil that wanted us to feel guilty about natural feelings. I thought that God allowed people to mistreat us because that was his way of molding our character; they thought that mistreatment damaged our psyche, often requiring counseling to overcome the effects. They thought my philosophy was depressing.

Do you understand why this was a difficult pill for me to swallow? This was a main pillar of my Christian faith–the belief that my Bible-supported views worked. Now here were Christians telling me that my version did not work well. What did they mean it didn’t work well? It absolutely did work. It worked far better for me than the apathy and the depression I had been in. And I had scripture to back it up.

It was not easy for me to accept that my way did not work well and was not based on truth. So, I prayed about it and read the Bible. And what do you think happened when I prayed? That’s right. I was convinced that God was telling me I was right. Seriously, who was I to go against what God was saying to me?

My friends and I all agreed that Christianity had the best answers to life. My experience and prayers told me that my version worked better. Their experiences and prayers told them that their version worked better. Who was right?

Computer Debates

I was soon to have my eyes opened to many other philosophies that supposedly worked best. I would soon meet believers in Mormonism, Islam, Bahai, Judaism, Wicca, and Atheism. Each was sure that his way had worked for him, thus showing that it was the best.

I was going to also hear of many psychological solutions, again with testimonials for each claiming that it was better than other techniques. I was not the only one who had claimed that my experience proved that I was right. Lots of people were claiming that they had tried something, and this made them feel better. Do all philosophies work? Some researchers had looked at the conflicting cures within psychology and wrote, “Is it true that ‘Everyone has won, and all must have prizes’?”Indeed!

I met these people of many religions in the CompuServe debate forum, back in the days when one used a modem to dial into a computer instead of using the Internet. I began to participate in the religion section. I actively debated religion and psychology with anybody that wanted to discuss them. This was to become an important focus of my life.

The biggest lesson I learned during these debates was how to form an argument. It was not enough for me to state that Jay Adams, C. S. Lewis, or Thomas Szasz had written something that agreed with me on a particular point. After all, one can find somebody who will agree with almost any religious viewpoint that he expresses. I needed a more effective argument.

My favorite resource was the Psychoheresy Awareness Ministry of Martin and Deidre Bobgan. They referred to psychological experiments to support their arguments, and often quoted scientific journals. I found that when I described experiments people often listened to what I had to say and were less likely to attack my writings. I developed a love for scientific experiments and the scientific journals that described them.

And so began a regular series of trips to the Philadelphia Public Library, and later, a university library. I would make lists of articles that favored my positions and would go to the library to get more ammunition for my side.

Cracks in the Foundation

These trips became time-consuming, and so, in 1992, I subscribed to my favorite journal, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. At $247 a year, this represented a major desire to learn the truth. Having made the commitment, I was determined to learn something from each issue. I began to read papers whether I thought they agreed with my position or not. This was a change for me. I was not merely reading to prove I was right. I was reading to learn.

I read some papers that were enlightening. I read that trying to suppress thoughts can make them stronger. Were my efforts to keep my true thoughts under control making those repressed thoughts stronger? I learned more about the function of self-esteem. Was my viewpoint of myself as an evil sinner harmful? Did my Christianity really not work as well as I had persuaded myself it had? Slowly, microscopic cracks began to develop in this great pillar of my faith. It was slow and subtle, but the cracks were beginning.

The Creationism Pillar Caves

Meanwhile, a strange twist of fate put me right into the middle of the creation-evolution debate. That was not where I wanted to be, for these fights were often quite nasty. I couldn’t believe that I was there in the middle of it all. But I was not about to leave a good debate. I decided to let people know that evolution could not possibly happen.

I made some progress arguing that the complexity of genes made evolution difficult, but somebody wanted to know where all of those fossils had come from, if not from hundreds of millions of years of evolution. I suggested they might have been caused by Noah’s flood. My argument was defeated in one round. I was asked to explain how it is that we find rocks made of wind-blown sand in the midst of all these rocks under the earth. I had no answer. Wind certainly wouldn’t be blowing sand around under the floodwaters. I told myself the problem was that I was not familiar enough with that issue. So, I avoided the flood altogether until I could find better answers.

I never did find a satisfactory answer to this simple question, nor to many of the other problems with Noah’s flood. So, I concentrated instead on problems that I perceived with the mechanism of evolution.

To make a long story short, this led me to a moment of epiphany in which I found myself in a library completely overwhelmed with the evidence for evolution. In shock, it dawned on me that I had no convincing case for my young Earth Creationism.

After the dust had settled, 18 months later, I had switched to arguing for evolution. I describe this transition elsewhere, and won’t repeat it here.

It was a complete change. Many people have survived the switch to evolution, and they still have faith. But the switch to evolution was traumatic for me. For I had two strong pillars left in my faith, the supposed evidence for creationism, and the understanding that Christianity works. The creationism pillar was now gone. The building above was resting on one unstable column.

The Second Pillar Caves

Meanwhile the other pillar of my faith–the one that said conservative Christian philosophy worked–was severely cracking. When I had met people offering all kinds of psychological cures for the condition of the human heart, I had argued that some researchers had found that it was not just the specifics of the cure that helped people, but that it was the caring, nurturing relationship with a friendly helper that was doing more to build hope, and thus help troubled people. I argued that, therefore, others could not force a view on me that they found had worked for them. Perhaps the fact that they felt better had nothing to do with their method. Perhaps they were feeling better only because they were making a cooperative effort with others to address the problem.

One day somebody turned that argument on its end. He asked me how I knew that Christianity worked. Perhaps people were helped within Christianity because they were in a nurturing relationship with caring people, not because of the specifics of the Bible. I had been caught by my own argument, and I had no answer. I knew I could not be sure that it was Christianity that made the difference.

As this was happening, I was also needing to deal with the errors in the Bible. I had known about these problems for years, ever since I had read through the entire Bible six times in my youth. But I had found those two great pillars of my faith, and thus could ignore the Bible’s problems. Those pillars were now in shambles. And I was seeing skeptics on the forum arguing that the Bible commanded massacres (e.g. 1 Samuel 15); praised terrorism (e.g. Psalm 137); and allowed slavery (e.g. Exodus 21). They pointed out contradictions in the Bible. I knew I had no chance against their arguments. It was no longer possible to ignore what the Bible said. My faith was crumbling.

What should I do?

I began to rapidly incorporate new ideas into my mind. I did my best to piece together a progressive philosophy of life that would keep my faith in spite of these problems. I experimented with ways to include evolution, an obviously errant Bible, a higher view of the self, and even Humanism into my Christianity.

Meanwhile, I moved on to other interests: country dancing, movies, and romance. Ah yes, romance. I fell in love with a very special lady, who has become my best companion in life. She has supported me through some tough times, and I am very grateful to her. She has a compassion and concern for others that I can only dream about. I had found somebody that I could love with all of my heart. We were soon to be married. She has not agreed with where my skepticism has finally led me, but she is always my best friend.

I had drifted away from participation in church. I now made one last effort to find my place again. There had been a radical change in my thought process. I was no longer the most conservative thinker on the block. Now I was perhaps the most liberal thinker at church. I persuaded myself that I could still fit in–after all it was the progressive element at church that started me on my journey–but I found it increasingly hard to identify with the church program. And I asked questions that surprised everyone.

There is no stopping the mind set free. It is like that first leak of water through the dam. It reaches a critical size, and then bursts free. My thoughts refused to stop. The dam had been broken. I read books that were critical of the Bible. I read the Bible from a whole new viewpoint. I found skeptical sites on the Internet. I asked many questions–many of which are on my website. I found it harder and harder to identify myself as a Christian.

Even the label of Liberal Christian was losing its appeal. I could no longer believe the basics of Christianity. If I still identified as a Christian, while sidestepping the problems, was I committing the sin of silence?

Where it All Led

In 2002 I decided that I could no longer identify myself as a Christian. What am I? I am now an Ex-Christian, an Agnostic, a Humanist, and a Freethinker. In September 2002 I created the website Questioning: An Examination of Christian Belief to discuss my questions and to explain what had happened to me.

I have not chosen an easy path. It is not easy to tell people that I no longer believe that this message is true. But I find the evidence overwhelming. If the weight of the evidence were marginal, I would follow the believing crowd and not raise the issue. I do not like to be different. I prefer to follow the crowd. All of my life I have been a follower. I have always wanted to fit in. But there are just too many problems with the Bible. I simply cannot unlearn what I have learned. Knowing what I know, I cannot be a Christian. So, I choose the road less traveled.

I am not asking you to follow me. You have a mind of your own. You can decide for yourself. But perhaps you could learn from me.

I now have a different perspective in life. I wrote earlier of how I once saw people that hurt me as being evil. If somebody hurts me now, I think they must do it because, from their perspective and current knowledge, it seems best for them to do what they do. Years ago, it was hard to forgive hateful vermin who did hateful things. It is much easier to forgive confused but well-meaning individuals. This change in perspective works wonders. Instead of concentrating on bridling the tongue, one can concentrate on understanding the person who did hurtful things. Rational questioning changes perspectives, and changed perspectives change lives.

I find that I am far happier without the bonds of a preset religion. My mind has been set free. I am free to explore the world without the need to fit everything into a predefined religious bias.

It is fine to question. It is safe to explore. There is always more to learn. I hope that neither you nor I will ever stop questioning.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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My IFB Lineage

ifb

Dear Lord,

I know that I am a sinner.

I know that you died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead three days later.

I am sorry for my sin.

Please forgive me of my sin and come into my heart to save me.

In Jesus’s name,

Amen

And so it began.

In 1962, the Gerencser family started attending Scott Memorial Baptist Church in El Cajon, California. My parents soon made public professions of faith, becoming born again. It was not long after that I also was saved. One Sunday, a junior church leader asked if there was anyone who wanted to ask Jesus into their heart. With my black and white saddle shoes tucked under my seat so no one could see I was wearing “girls” shoes, I timidly raised my hand. A worker came to where I was seated and shared the plan of salvation with me. After the worker was finished, she asked me if I wanted to get saved. I said “yes.” I prayed a prayer similar to the one above, and sixty seconds later, I went from a child of Satan to a child of God. I was five. Forty-five years later, I walked out of the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, never to return to a Christian church for anything other than weddings and funerals. After several months of pondering what it was I had become, I publicly admitted I was an atheist.

It is not uncommon for Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) children to make several salvation decisions. At the age of fifteen, during a revival meeting at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, the “Holy Spirit,” also known as Evangelist Al Lacy, brought conviction of sin and need of salvation into my heart, leading me to step out of my pew during the invitation and come forward to get saved. Ray Salisbury, a deacon, knelt with me at the altar, sharing with me the Romans Road. He asked me if I would like to ask Jesus to save me, and I said yes. And just like I did a decade before, I prayed a simple prayer, asking Jesus to forgive me, save me, and come into my life. From that moment forward, I knew I was a born-again Christian. Two weeks later, I went forward again and professed to the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. Four years later, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. While at Midwestern, I married an IFB pastor’s daughter. In 1979, we left Midwestern, moving to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth. Two weeks later, I started working for Montpelier Baptist Church, an IFB church affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC).

I am a product of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. That said, there came a time when I left the IFB church movement. One of the biggest problems I have as a writer is with people pigeonholing me. They will read a few posts and then make sweeping judgments about my life. Recently, I had a mainline Christian dismiss something I said because of my IFB past. In his mind, once a Fundamentalist, always a Fundamentalist. I reminded him that my comment was Bruce speaking NOW, not Bruce from forty years ago. My thinking and understanding have greatly changed over the years, but some people refuse to see this, instead dismissing me with a wave of their hands, saying, “Once a Fundy, Always a Fundy.” Instead of granting me the space to grow and mature, they pick out a particular moment on my timeline and say, “whatever Bruce believed in _______ (put in a year), he still believes today.” This is patently untrue and reveals that my interlocutor has not invested the requisite time necessary to understand my story and evolving beliefs. There’s not much I can do about this. We live in a day of quick takes and sound bites. This, of course, leads to erroneous conclusions about my life. In this post, I want to talk about my IFB lineage and at what point in my life I stopped being an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. My IFB beginning is easy to pin down: Scott Memorial Baptist Church and its pastor Tim LaHaye. However, pinning down when I was no longer IFB provides a greater challenge. At what point did I completely abandon IFB beliefs and practices? Or did I ever completely repudiate the IFB? Answering these questions requires more work than just pointing to a pin on my timeline.

As a child, I regularly attended IFB churches with my parents and siblings. Two of the churches we attended were Bible churches — IFB churches without the label. We also attended a Southern Baptist church plant, Eastland Baptist Church, in Bryan. There’s no material difference between an IFB church and an SBC church. In fact, many of the early leaders of the IFB church movement were Southern Baptist and American Baptist pastors who left their respective conventions because of perceived liberalism.

In the summer of 1970, we moved to Findlay, Ohio. I was thirteen. We started attending Calvary Baptist Church (a GARBC congregation), but after a couple of months, we moved toTrinity Baptist Church on Trenton Ave. Trinity was affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF), one of the many IFB fellowship groups. It was at Trinity that I immersed myself in all things IFB, especially after I got saved in the fall of 1972. My parents divorced in April 1972, leaving the church, never to return. I, on the other hand, embraced Trinity as my family. To their credit, they gave me the love and support my parents were unable or unwilling to provide.

In the spring of my tenth-grade year, my dad moved us to Tucson, Arizona. As I had been taught to do by my pastors, I quickly sought out a new church to attend, the Tucson Baptist Temple, pastored by Louis Johnson. Tucson Baptist was affiliated with the BBF.

Over the next three years, I moved back and forth between my dad’s home and my mom’s. Every time I moved, I found a new IFB church to attend. I was attending First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio in the fall of 1976 when I moved to Pontiac to attend Midwestern.

Midwestern was a small, but well-respected IFB college. Dr. Tom Malone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church (one of the largest churches in the country at the time) started Midwestern in 1954. The college advertised itself as a “character-building factory.” Midwestern was IFB through and through, so it should come as no surprise that when I left Midwestern in the spring of 1979, I was a hardcore, King James-only, Fundamentalist Baptist preacher.

As I mentioned above, the first church I worked for was Montpelier Baptist Church. After seven months, we moved to Newark, Ohio, the home of Polly’s parents. For a while, we attended the Newark Baptist Temple, pastored by Polly’s uncle, James Dennis. (The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis. In the early 1980s, Polly’s father, who was an assistant pastor at the Baptist Temple, decided to start a new IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. Never feeling at home at the Baptist Temple, Polly and I decided to help Dad with his new church. For the next two years, I was the assistant pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church (also called the “Bean Pot Church” because we met a former restaurant building called the Bean Pot).

In July 1983, I started a new IFB church in Somerset, Ohio. I pastored this church for eleven years. I was still quite IFB when I started Somerset Baptist Church, but by the time I resigned and moved to San Antonio, Texas to co-pastor Community Baptist Church I had stopped identifying as IFB. What happened?

Two things happened that forced me to reconsider my sincerely held IFB beliefs. First, there was the Jack Hyles scandal. (Please see The Legacy of IFB Pastor Jack Hyles.) Hyles was an IFB demigod who pastored the largest church in the United States, First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. In 1989, Hyles was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with his secretary:

Accusations of improper sexual behavior and financial and emotional abuse are elements of Hyles’ legacy. In 1989, the paper The Biblical Evangelist published a story “The Saddest Story We Ever Published,” accusing Hyles of sexual scandals, financial misappropriation and doctrinal errors. These charges were denied by Hyles who deemed them “lies.” He was accused of a decade long affair with his secretary, Jennie Nischik, who happened to be the wife of a church deacon, Victor Nischik.

It was during this time that rumors were circulating about the predatory behavior of David Hyles, Jack Hyles’ son. David Hyles was a youth pastor at First Baptist. During his tenure, he sexually preyed on teen girls. Jack Hyles covered up his son’s crimes and shipped him off to a church in Texas. While there, he had numerous affairs with church women. David Hyles’ immoral behavior has continued over the years, yet there are still IFB preachers who support him.

The Hyles scandals caused an uproar in the IFB community. Some people were Pro-Hyles, others were not. I was not. The blind loyalty and support for both Jack and David Hyles troubled me, causing me to question whether I still wanted to be associated with the IFB church movement.

The second thing that happened was the release of John MacArthur’s seminal book, The Gospel According to Jesus. This book fundamentally changed how I viewed the gospel. I concluded that I had been preaching a truncated, bastardized gospel, one that was little more than one-two-three-repeat-after-me easy believism (also called decisional regeneration). Coming to this conclusion forced me to radically change my beliefs and practices. I embraced Calvinism and started preaching expositionally. Some of my colleagues in the ministry deemed me a liberal and broke fellowship with me. I made new friends with men associated with Sovereign Grace and Reformed Baptists. Was this the moment I left the IFB?

Many of my new friends were former IFB and Southern Baptist pastors. Much like me, these men saw the bankruptcy of the IFB church movement and wanted nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, my new friends and I left the IFB, but its worldview was still very much with us. I knew a number of Sovereign Grace and Reformed Baptist pastors who were every bit as Fundamentalist as the IFB pastors/churches they despised.

It would not be until the early 2000s that I was finally free from the IFB church movement. While I was still Evangelical theologically, I was no longer KJV-only, I no longer stressed social Fundamentalism, and I was quite ecumenical in my approach to other Christians. I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio from 1995-2002. Started as Grace Baptist Church, I changed the church’s name to better reflect its moderation and ecumenism. My theological and political beliefs continued to move leftward. I voted Democrat in 2000, a sure sign of my increasing liberalism. I also started to question what it meant to be a Christian. I concluded that it was our works that determined whether we were Christians, not mental assent to a list of propositional facts.

In 2005, I pastored my last church, Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. Victory was affiliated with the SBC. One Sunday a theologically astute young man who was a member of Somerset Baptist Church in the early 1990s visited Victory to hear me preach. He told me that my preaching had changed; that I was preaching a “social gospel.” I am sure this alarmed him. The focus of my preaching had indeed changed. While I still affirmed the central claims of Christianity, my focus had changed. I came to see that the religion of Jesus was all about good works, not right beliefs; that our eternal destiny was determined by how we lived, not what we believed.

While I was still an Evangelical preacher, I had abandoned the beliefs and practices of the IFB church movement. In the eyes of some of my colleagues in the ministry, I was a liberal or an apostate. I will leave it to others to judge my life. All I know is that I loved Jesus to the end. My theology may have changed, but my love for my Savior never changed — until it did.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Evangelical Young Adult Pastor J.D. Rodgers Says Bruce Gerencser is Still a Christian!

jd rogers

J.D. Rodgers is the young adult pastor (young adults associate director) at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas. Recently, Rodgers delivered a sermon that categorically stated that once a person is saved (born from above) he can never, never lose his salvation. No matter what a person says, does, or believes, once he is married to Jesus, it’s forever.

Rodgers said:

If you can revoke your salvation, you are saying that the Holy Spirit can be unsealed, that the Holy Spirit won’t keep His promise to give you your inheritance. What is your inheritance? Glory. Eternal life. John 3:16 says that we will as Christians’ receive eternal life.’ If there’s something that you can do to take back the gift of eternal life, was it ever truly eternal?

He [ Jesus] lived on the earth 33 years. He then died a sinner’s death on a cross. He hung there. And on that cross, He took every sin that you committed against God that deserved death. He took it and He died in your place on the cross. And if you put your faith in that, what happens? You are justified. You are now a Christian because you’ve been justified by faith.

You were once opposed to God. Now, therefore, ‘because we have been justified by faith, we now have peace with God.’ Because of the death, burial and resurrection, Jesus went to the grave [for] three days. Three days later, He rose from the grave, conquering sin, conquering your shame, your guilt. So now, you don’t have to be afraid of death. You don’t have to be afraid of a penalty. You can stand free before God because of Jesus. You are justified.

Rodgers went on to say:

[Christians who say you] “can lose your salvation” [are saying they can] “change the definition of the gift of eternal life that you receive the moment you were saved. To say you can lose your salvation [is] to say that God is not trustworthy, that God will take back what He’s promised and God will take back the gift that He’s given to you. All three of those things are inconsistent with what the Bible says is the character of God. God is trustworthy. God has given the gift of His Son of eternal life freely. He’s not taking it back. No matter what you’ve done

So there ya have it, once saved, always saved. I was saved at the age of fifteen at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Two weeks later, God called me to preach. Four years later I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College to study for the ministry. I married a pastor’s daughter, and for twenty-five years I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. By all accounts, I was a devoted follower of Jesus. I loved the Lord, my God, with all my heart, soul, and might. Colleagues in the ministry and parishioners recognized that I was a man who loved Jesus; a man who devoted his life to preaching the gospel, winning souls, and ministering to the church. That’s the facts. Anyone who suggests otherwise has an agenda or wants to discredit me.

In November 2008, I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time. A few months later, I sent out a letter to family, friends, and former church members declaring that I was not a Christian. It was not long before I self-identified as an atheist.

According to Rodgers, I am still a Christian — a Christian atheist. 🙂

Recognizing that he has a theological conundrum on his hands, Rodgers, ends his sermon by completely contradicting what he said earlier. Realizing that there are people like me who “once proclaimed they were ‘in the faith’ left the faith to practice a different lifestyle or became an atheist,” Rodgers states:

“The problem with these two oppositions is they come with the assumption that these people were actually Christians to begin with.”

“1 John also actually says that, ‘if you walked with us, and you looked like us, and then you walked away, you were never one of us.’ 1 John 2:23-24, it says, ‘No one who denies the Son has the Father.’… So if there’s any point in your life where you say, ‘No, I don’t believe Jesus has done this for me,’ you do not have the Father. You never had the Father. That’s what the Bible would teach.”

So which is it? Am I still a Christian or was I never a Christian? Rodgers miserably fails to account for people like me. Either he must claim that I was never a Christian; that I was a false prophet; that I successfully deceived scores of Christians over the years, or I am still a bought-by-the-blood child of God.

Arminians, of course, will argue that I once was saved, and now I am lost; that I was a Christian who fell from grace. The problem with this position is all the Bible verses that suggest that once a person is saved, he can never lose his salvation. Who is right? Both appeal to the Bible to justify their positions. How can I possibly ever know whether I’m going to Heaven or Hell? 🙂 Not that I care. I’m an atheist. I will leave it to God’s chosen ones to debate and settle the eternal destiny of my non-existent soul. In the meantime, I’ll be cheering on the Reds and Bengals and having wild sex with my smoking hot heathen girlfriend. 🙂

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser