Religion

As Seen on Social Media: Why Atheists Are Praying for the Rapture

Graphics, Memes, Quotes, and Comments I’ve spotted on Facebook or Twitter.  Today’s graphic comes from Facebook. I think it accurately describes how many atheists feel about the rapture. That great day, sometime in the near future, when every Evangelical will be raptured from the earth and taken to their reserved seat in Heaven where they will gleefully watch God savagely maim and kill the majority of the human race.

rapture

What One Catholic Doctor Taught Me About Christianity

william fiorini

Dr. William Fiorini

In the 1960’s, the Gerencser family moved to California, the land of promise and a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. Like many who traveled west, my parents found out that life in San Diego was not much different from the life they left in rural NW Ohio. Like in Ohio, my Dad worked sales jobs and drove truck. For the Gerencser family, the pot of gold was empty and three or so years later we left California and moved back to Bryan, Ohio.

While moving to California and back proved to be a financial disaster for my parents, they did find Jesus at Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego, a fundamentalist church pastored by Tim LaHaye. Both of my parents made a profession of faith at Scott Memorial, as did I when I was five years old. From this point forward, the Gerencser family, no matter where we lived, attended a fundamentalist Baptist church.

Not only were my parents fundamentalist Baptists, they were also members of the John Birch Society. While in California, my Mom actively campaigned for Barry Goldwater, and later, back in Ohio, she campaigned for George Wallace. Right wing religious and political beliefs were very much a part of my young life, so it should come as no surprise that I turned out to be a fire-breathing right-wing Republican and a fundamentalist Baptist preacher.

If the Baptist church taught me anything, it taught me to hate Catholics. According to my Sunday School teachers and pastors, and later my college professors and colleagues, the Catholic church was the whore of Babylon, a false church, the church of Satan and the Antichrist. I was taught that Catholics believed in salvation by works and believed many things that weren’t found in the Bible. Things like: purgatory, church magisterium, Pope is the Vicar of Christ, transubstantiation, infant baptism, confirmation, priests not permitted to marry, praying to statutes, worshiping the dead , and worshiping Mary. These things were never put in any sort of historical context for me, so by the time I left Midwestern Baptist College in 1979, I was a certified hater of all things Catholic.

In 1991, something happened that caused me to reassess my view of Catholics. My dogma ran head-on into a Catholic that didn’t fit my narrow, bigoted beliefs. In 1989, our fourth child and first daughter was born. We named her Bethany. Our family doctor was William Fiorini. He operated the Somerset Medical Clinic in Somerset, Ohio, the same town where I pastored Somerset Baptist Church.  Dr. Fiorini was a devout Catholic, a post Vatican II Catholic who had been greatly influenced by the charismatic revival that swept through the Catholic church in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He was a kind and compassionate man. He knew our family didn’t have insurance or much money and more than a few times the treatment slip turned in after a visit said N/C. (no charge)

Bethany seemed quite normal at first. It wasn’t until she was sixteen months old that we began to see things that worried us. Her development was slow and she couldn’t walk. One evening, we drove over to Charity Baptist Church in Beavercreek, Ohio to attend a Bible conference. The woman watching the nursery asked us about Bethany having Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome? Out little girl wasn’t retarded. How dare this woman even suggest that there was something wrong with our daughter.

Bethany continued to struggle, reaching development stages months after infants and toddlers typically do. Finally, we went to see Dr. Fiorini. He suggested that we have Bethany genetically tested. We took her over to Ohio State University Hospital for the test and a few weeks later, just days before Bethany’s second birthday and the birth of our daughter Laura, we received a phone call from Dr. Fiorini. He told us the test results were back and he wanted to talk to us about them. He told us to come to his office after he finished seeing patients for the day and he would sit down and talk with us about the test results.

The test showed that Bethany had Down Syndrome. Her Down Syndrome features were so mild that the obstetrician missed it. Here we were two years later finding out that our oldest daughter had a serious mental handicap.  Our Catholic doctor, a man I thought was a member of the church Satan built and headed for hell, sat down with us, and with great love and compassion, shared the test results. He told us that many miscarriages are fetuses with Down Syndrome, and that it was evident that God wanted to bless us with a special child like Bethany. He answered every question and treated us he would a member of his own family.

This Catholic didn’t fit my narrow, bigoted picture of what a Catholic was. Here was a man who loved people, who came to an area that had one the highest poverty and unemployment rates in Ohio and started a one doctor practice. (he later added a Nurse practitioner, a nun who treated us when we couldn’t get in to see the doctor) He worked selflessly to help everyone he could. On more than one occasion, I would drive by him on the highway as his wife shuttled him from Zanesville to Lancaster, the locations of the nearest hospitals. Often, he was slumped over and asleep in the passenger’s seat. He was the kind of doctor who gave me his home phone number and said to call him if I ever needed his help. He told us there was no need to take our kids to the emergency room for stitches or broken bones. He would gladly stitch them up, even if we didn’t have an appointment.

Dr. Fiorini wasn’t perfect. One time, he almost killed me. He regularly treated me for throat infections, ear infections, and the like. Preaching as often as I did, I abused my voice box and throat. I have enlarged adenoids and tonsils and I breathe mostly through my mouth. As a result, I battled throat and voice problems my entire preaching career. One day, I came to see Dr. Fiorini for a-n-o-t-h-e-r  throat infection. He prescribed an antibiotic and told me to take it easy. He knew, like himself, I was a work-a-holic and would likely ignore his take it easy advice. Take the drug, wait a few weeks, and just like always I would be good as new.  However, this time it didn’t work. Over the course of two months, as I got sicker and sicker, he tried different treatments. Finally, he did some additional testing and found out I had mononucleosis; the kissing disease for teens, a deadly disease for a thirty four year old. Two days later, I was in the hospital with a 104 degree fever, a swollen spleen and liver, and an immune system on the verge of collapse.

An internist came in to talk with my wife and I. He told us that if my immune system didn’t pick up and fight there was nothing he could do. Fortunately, my body fought back and I am here to write about it. My bout with mononucleosis dramatically altered my immune system, making me susceptible to bacterial and viral infection. A strange result of the mononucleosis was that my normal body temperature dropped from 98.6 to 97.0. I lost 50 pounds and was unable to preach for several months.

Once I was back on my feet, Dr, Fiorini apologized to me for missing the mononucleosis. I was shocked by his admission. He showed me true humility by admitting his mistake. I wish I could say that I immediately stopped hating Catholics and condemning them to hell, but it would be several years before I finally came to the place where I embraced everyone who called themselves a Christian. In late 1990’s, while pastoring Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, I embraced what is commonly called the social gospel. Doctrine no longer mattered to me. Moving from a text oriented belief system, I began to focus on good works. Tell me how you live. Better yet, show me, and in the showing, a Catholic doctor taught me what it really meant to be a Christian.

The gods Have Clay Feet: A Few Thoughts About Pastors

pastors gods with feet of clay

The Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian church has many gods. While they will profess to worship the true and living God, the God of the Bible, often their true object of worship is human and not divine. Most Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian churches have a congregational form of church government. Some churches have adopted an elder rule form of government. Regardless of what form of government a church adopts, there can be no doubt about who really runs the church. The CEO, the boss man, the head honcho is the pastor, also known as  the senior pastor, executive pastor, and prophet, priest and king.

The pastor is the hub upon which the wheel of the church turns. He (there are very few she’s) is the man who runs the show. He sets the course for the church. He is a modern-day Moses leading the church to the Promised Land. He is the visionary with a vision that the church is expected to follow. He is, after all, the man of God. He is divinely called by God, a call that can not be explained with human words. He is the man of God, given a message by God, to speak to the people of God.

He is a man not to be trifled with. He has been anointed by God. He has been set apart by God to do the most important work in the world.  His calling is higher than even the President of  the United States. The congregation is reminded that the Bible says “touch not mine anointed.” They are also told the story about the Elisha, the mocking boys, and the bears:

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. 2 Kings 2:23, 24

You have been warned, says God’s man. Say anything negative about the pastor and you run the risk of bears eating you; or cancer, heart attack, accident, or death.

The pastor is the Lone Ranger’s Tonto. He is the Green Hornet’s Bruce. He is Batman’s Robin.  God and the pastor are joined at the hip. After all, the pastor has a divine calling; a calling that can’t be explained. In fact, the only way anyone knows for sure a pastor is God-called is because he says he is.

Most Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian churches are independent. Even those who belong to denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention are independent. Each church is a local, autonomous entity, accountable to no one but themselves. The Southern Baptist Convention has a HUGE sex abuse problem, yet little is done by the Convention because each church governs itself. The convention has no power over churches or pastors, or so they conveniently claim.

Since most Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian churches are independent, there are few standards or requirements for starting a church. Anyone can start a church. Anyone can claim to be a pastor. Anyone, Anyone, Anyone. In most states, there are no legal requirements for starting a church. The Federal government, by default, treats churches as exempt from taxation. By default, they receive most of the benefits of 501c3 status without actually applying for it. Starting a church is a con artist’s dream. Just tune into a Christian TV channel for proof of this. There are no educational requirements; no ordination requirements. Anyone can become a pastor. It really is that easy. (Please see What is a Church According to the IRS)

In charismatic/pentecostal circles, some pastors have added titles to their name. Not content to be called pastor, they demand that they be called bishop or apostle. Several apostles have set up shop right here in the county I live in . Once again, a man is an apostle or bishop because he says he is. God has imparted to the man a special anointing, a special dose of Holy G-h-o-s-t power that raises the man to a higher level in the church. Or so he says.

Now let me try to tie all this together. I am writing under the anointing right now, so it is hard to put this all together for you common folks. But  I will try.

We have independent churches with independent pastors without any checks or balances. A man can start a church whenever and wherever. The church becomes his church, the religious equivalent of a corporation. The pastor is considered divinely called by God because he says he is. How dare anyone question GOD! This type of religion flourishes in America. We are a people who applaud the entrepreneurial spirit. Starting a church is akin to starting a business. We worship personalities: entertainers, sports figures, preachers, playmate of the month, etal. We are a lazy people, content to let others think for us.

So what do we have? Churches operated by entrepreneurial pastors. These churches are often filled with people who love to worship personalities, and in this case the personality is the pastor. Content to let the pastor think for them, run the show, and speak to them on God’s  behalf, many Christians have surrendered their autonomy for a seat at the feet of the most awesome pastor in town.

The pastor becomes god. He is given so much control and power that it is almost impossible to unseat the god when the church finds out the pastor has feet of clay. I said almost… Daily news reports of pastors committing crimes, seducing church members, sexually abusing children, and stealing money are too common to be just aberrations.  I could write for hours about pastors I know who have a scandalous past, yet they are still pastors. They just moved down the road and started a new church or they stood their ground and ran off their accusers.

In the 1980’s Jack Hyles, at the time pastor of the largest church in the United States, was accused of sexual improprieties with a married woman in his church. The evidence against him was overwhelming. Yet, he successfully withstood his accusers, and when he died two decades later he was still pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. The church that Jack built lost thousands of members, but he remained god until he went the way of all human gods.

Jack Hyles’ son David was also accused of sexual improprieties. He left the church and moved on to another church in Texas, a church his father previously pastored, Not one word of his past peccadilloes was shared with the new church. David Hyles continued his sexual exploits and  conquests. He had sex with women in the church and was only exposed after compromising photos were accidentally found by someone in the church.

After Jack Hyles died, his son-in-law, Jack Schaap became the Pastor CEO of  Hyles Industries. Like his father-in-law and brother-in-law, Schaap had a problem with fidelity. Schaap was accused of having sex with a church teenager. He was later convicted and is now serving a twelve-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.

Aberration? Hardly. In many churches, the pastor has incredible power. They become gods. The pastor does the preaching, does the counseling, and is the chairman of  the board. Everything goes through him. In some churches, the pastor even checks the tithing records to see who is giving and how much they are giving. One pastor was told by the Church treasurer that the many of the Christian school teachers were not tithing. The next Sunday he berated the teachers and told them that he was going to have their tithe taken out as a payroll deduction if they didn’t start tithing. Never mind the fact the church paid the teachers poverty wages, and if they tithed they would be well BELOW the poverty line.

One pastor decided one Sunday to preach against the evils of attending the Prom. When it came time to preach, he instructed the ushers to lock the doors so no one could leave. Everyone was going to hear what he had to say. This same pastor had the deacons secretly follow church members to see what they were up to. Young couples considering having children were encouraged (required?) to counsel with the pastor first before engaging in procreation.

One pastor had a portrait of he and his wife hung over the water fountain in the church foyer. He joked “that way every time someone  gets a drink they have to bow to me.”Funny? Not when you consider the horrific mental and emotional damage caused by these megalomaniacs.

Children who grow up in Fundamentalist/Evangelical churches are conditioned to accept that the pastor is the final authority. Even in matters of faith, the Bible is not the final authority, the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible is. The church believes whatever the pastor says the church believes. If he started the church, he likely wrote the church’s doctrinal statement, constitution, and bylaws.  He determines what is truth and what is error. Remember he is God called; God speaks through him.

It should come as no surprise then that some men aspire to be pastors for reasons other than serving others. It’s the perfect job. No one to answer to but God, and he seems to never have anything to say. Conscientious, faithful men do a wonderful work and serve the church, however, far too many men are corrupted by the power they are given. Some men have ulterior motives and the pastorate becomes a safe place to hide. I know of men who had irregularities in their past and the pastorate allowed them to keep from being held accountable for their past deeds.

One pastor had no social security number. He had not filed an income tax return in years. His church paid him in cash. When the IRS changed reporting requirements, requiring evangelists and special speakers to be given 1099’s if paid over a certain amount, some churches began giving evangelists and special speakers (pastors) cash offerings. Many a pastor has received a brown-bag offering.

Pastors have incredible, and quite legal,  ways to avoid income tax. Some incorporate as a charity or a ministry. The ministry has a “board” that is made up of the pastor’s family or friends  By incorporating they avail themselves to the tax benefits that corporations receive. Pastors buy cars, trucks, travel trailers, and houses and put them in the church’s name. They receive a tax-free housing allowance. Many pastors have little taxable income. even though they live quite comfortably, It is a great gig if you can get it.

One day, the inevitable happens.The pastor, the god, falls from his exalted throne. Over time, people become disillusioned with the pastor. They  take issue with his preaching, his vision, his wife, his children, his theology, his suit, his hairstyle, his entertainments, etc. People tire of pastors just like they do the other gods they worship. Perhaps he commits a grievous sin. He has an affair,steals money from the church, or embraces a teaching that the power brokers in the church consider heresy; heresy being anything they disagree with.

All of a sudden, the church remembers that IT has power. They remember they can take down their god and vote him out of the church. And so they do… The god may fight to keep his power, to keep his throne, but most often he negotiates a settlement package, the conditions of surrender,  and moves on to another church. The church promises to never let another pastor have the power that he had.

But then a new god comes to the church. A new vision, a new inside track with God. He is a wonderful preacher. His wife and kids are adorable. He is given the reins of the church and once again the pastor is restored to his throne. And so it goes…

In no way do I wish to disparage good men and women who conscientiously serve their churches; people who sacrifice and work selflessly day in day out. But they, most of all, should know that what I write is true. The American Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian church is overrun with power-hungry, ambitious  men who have an eye on their own kingdom and not God’s. They are the god of the church, not the God they preach about.  Sadly it seems, in many cases, this is exactly what the church wants.

While I no longer believe in the Christian God, I  did spend 50 years in the church. For many of those years, I was on the inside, knowing its secrets, knowing who did what and where the bodies are buried. I know whereof I speak.  I know what I have seen and what I have done myself in the name of God. I know too much and I have seen too much for it to be anecdotal or coincidental.

I am not sure I have any answers. We can’t look to the structured denominational churches for answers.  They too have their power-hungry gods. They too have  scandals, as is clear for all to see with the scandal ridden Catholic church. It is hard not to at least question whether the Christian church is hopelessly corrupt. Regardless of the good men and women who serve selflessly, perhaps the church is irreparably broken.

Some people, realizing this, start new movements,but, over time, they most often become just like that what they opposed and despised. They organize, men gain power, and over time there are new gods to worship. Perhaps the best we can hope for is individuals who take the ethical and moral teachings of Christ seriously and live accordingly. They steer clear of organized religion. They seek no place of power or authority. They seek only to love God and love their neighbor.

I am convinced that Jesus, real or not, has been lost in the mire and corruption of the modern Christian church. I have little confidence that he can be found. He has been swallowed by a Leviathan called Christianity, and if Jesus appeared today he would most likely be nailed to a cross by those who say they worship him.

No Bible No Christianity: Why Do Many Christians Distance Themselves From the Bible?

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If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. St.Augustine

Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. St. Jerome

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. Irenaeus

This seal have thou ever on thy mind; which now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant, shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture proofs. For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures. Cyril of Jerusalem

“The generality of men still fluctuate in their opinions about this, which are as erroneous as they are numerous. As for ourselves, if the Gentile philosophy, which deals methodically with all these points, were really adequate for a demonstration, it would certainly be superfluous to add a discussion on the soul to those speculations. But while the latter proceeded, on the subject of the soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.” Gregory of Nyssa

Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right Basil the Great

There is no Christianity without the Bible. Bruce Almighty, Bishop of Ney

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16, 17

I am becoming increasingly weary of attempting to interact with Christians who refuse to see that the Bible is central to their faith. It seems that an increasing number of American Christians are uncomfortable with the teachings of the Bible. They think by saying I don’t worship the Bible, I worship God, or I am a follower of Jesus, not a follower of the Bible that they are somehow free of the Bible and its uncomfortable dictates.

No Bible Christians like to remind me that the early church operated according to oral traditions, as if this is somehow the end-all answer to my criticism. The problem with this line of thinking is that the oral traditions were codified in the letters that make up the New Testament, and this was completed within eighty years of the death of Christ. Go ahead and focus on the oral tradition of the church, but that has not been the standard for the Christian church for 1,900 years.

Take a look at Jewish temple practice during the lifetime of Jesus. Were they people of a book? Sure. The Scriptures were central to their religious practice. The first converts to Christianity were Jewish. They were very familiar and comfortable with the propagation and use of religious texts. For those who continue to disagree with me on this subject, I have several things I would like for you to consider.

When you attend Church this Sunday, how much of your religious practice will be according to what your particular denomination believes the Bible teaches concerning the proper way to worship God? (whether you believe in the normative or regulative principle) When you recite the Lord’s Prayer or the creed of your church, what is their foundation? Oral traditions or the Bible? When your pastor stands up and preaches, what will he be preaching from? Oral traditions or the Bible? Would it be okay for your pastor to set the Bible aside and spend his time talking about this or that oral tradition, with you having no way of knowing whether he is telling the truth? What is your church’s objective standard of truth?

When a person says they are a Christian he or she is saying they are a follower of Jesus Christ. By their profession of faith they are willingly submitting themselves to the teachings of Christ. Where are the teachings of Christ found? How does one become a follower of Jesus Christ? Where do we find the necessary steps for becoming a Christian?

Your church has certain practices and beliefs because they believe that the Bible clearly teaches them. Even people who love to sit on the three-legged stool of Bible, reason, and tradition seem to forget, as they are busy extolling how reasonable their church is, that ONE of the legs IS the Bible. Even tradition oriented churches like the Roman Catholic Church appeal to the Bible as a rule and standard.

Imagine for a moment a world without the Bible. Would you naturally come to the same beliefs about God, Jesus, Christianity, etc? Of course not. There is little historical proof apart from the Bible that Jesus ever existed, and no evidence that a person named Jesus was born of a virgin, worked miracles, or resurrected from the dead.

For those who contend they can have Christianity without the Bible, please tell me how that is possible. Without Jesus there is no Christianity and without the Bible there is no Jesus. The foundation of the Christian church is the Bible, or perhaps better put, what the Bible says about God, Jesus, and salvation is the foundation of the church. Evangelicals go to churches that proudly say “Thus saith the Lord” . The Thuses are codified in the Christian Bible. Every Sunday, Christians gather together to worship their God, and in doing so they prove that the Bible is central to their faith.

Even liberal Christians are held captive by the Bible. Every liberal Christian, at some point or another, must say this or that part of the Bible is truth. No matter how much some liberals try to distance themselves from the Bible by appealing to tradition, reason, common sense,or their theology training, sooner of later they must return to the Bible as the ground of their faith. It is the Bible that tells them of Jesus. They can’t get that information anywhere else but the Bible.

It is quite amusing that I believe in the Bible more than many Christians do. I don’t see it as a divine text nor do I think any god had anything to do with its writing, but I do recognize that the foundation and hope of the Christian church is found within its pages. Either you believe the Bible is truth or you don’t. Either it is your rule for faith and practice or it is not, Either you embrace the God and Jesus of the Bible or you don’t.

I get it, the Bible is a book hopelessly out of touch with the 21st century. It is a book that endorses things we now consider immoral and criminal. It is a book that glorifies a God that is mean, vindictive,violent, and petty. The problems with the Bible are legion. It has errors, mistakes, and contradictions, but it is still the foundation of Christianity. If a person is not willing to embrace the Bible, then it is time for them to admit they are not a Christian. They might be spiritual or think Jesus was a great teacher, prophet, or example, but they are most certainly not a Christian. (I am not talking here about belief-independent cultural Christianity.)

For twenty centuries, the standard of the Christian church has been the Bible. Regardless of what part reason and tradition played, the central focus of the Christian church is the teachings of the Bible, particularly the teachings of the New Testament. Those attempting to jettison the Bible while still claiming to be a Christian are actually promoting a new religion, a religion that is not found in the history of the Christian church.

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Dear Pastor, Why Should I Listen to You?

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(in this post I use authority and expert interchangeably)

If you have spent significant time in Evangelical churches, you know the pastor is considered the pope of the church. He is the go-to guy about everything. The pastor takes seriously Paul’s statement, “I became all things to all men.” Not only is the pastor an expert on the Bible and theology, he is also an expert on current events, history, archeology, politics, science, sports, medicine, sex, construction, child rearing, meal planning, and auto repair.

If the pastor doesn’t know it, it ain’t worth knowing.

Now here is the truth.

Most pastors are barely proficient when it comes to their chosen profession.  Many church members would be surprised to know how little actual Bible training their pastor received while attending an Evangelical college. It should never be assumed that any pastor is adequately trained in understanding and teaching the Bible.  Personally, I am of the opinion that it is almost impossible, due to their ideological bent, for a pastor to get a proper education about the Bible in an Evangelical institution.

Most pastors know enough Greek to make them dangerous. Few pastors know any Hebrew at all. A parishioner would be mistaken to accept the pastor as the authority on the Bible without inquiring as to WHY he should be accepted as an authority. Should he be accepted as an authority just because of the position he holds or because the Bible says he must be accepted as an authority?  Perhaps church members need to start asking their pastor, WHY should I listen to you?

No pastor is an oracle who knows everything. His office does not make him an authority. Becoming an authority on a matter requires work, hard work. There are some things I am good at. I work very hard to know what I know and to be able to do what I do. Granted, many of us are good at some things because they come easy for us, but no one should be faulted for that. For example,  I am very good at being a pain in the ass. It comes easy for me.

Early in the ministry, I was flattered that people would come to me for advice. I was glad to be the answer man. For many years, I even had a “Ask the Pastor” question time one Sunday night a month. Parishioners could ask me any question they wanted. I answered every question, no matter what the question was. I came off as a man with a vast knowledge of virtually everything. In reality I was like a fart in a forty mile per hour wind. I was  five miles wide and one inch deep. In other words, I was a pompous, arrogant know-little know-it-all.

In the latter years of my time in the ministry, I became less willing to answer questions that were not within the  range of my expertise. I’ve had to learn that there is a difference between having an opinion about something and actually knowing about something.  Since leaving the ministry and leaving Christianity, I have worked very hard to fill in some of the glaring knowledge gaps I have. As a pastor, I would pontificate about Darwin, creation,  and evolution, yet I didn’t know a damned thing about science. In high school I took earth science and biology. In college I took one science class, a biology class that had no lab and a teacher who had no actual science training beyond being able to read the textbook.  So science is an area where I am working very hard to fill in the gaps.

Years ago, a liberal Baptist pastor and I got into a discussion about psychology. At the time, I was an Evangelical.  He brought up Maslow.  I waxed eloquently about what I had read in a book opposing psychology.  The liberal  Baptist preacher could tell I didn’t really know anything, so he called my bluff and then he told me I was full of shit. He was right.

Pastors should stick to what they know. If their calling is to teach and preach then they owe it to their congregations to be educated about the Bible and to learn communication skills that will allow them to be the best preacher possible. Sadly, over the years, I’ve heard countless preachers preach that were illiterate concerning theology and who had little or no training in public discourse.

Want to talk about the Bible, church history, Evangelicalism, fundamentalism, tax issues in the ministry, photography, or Windows computers, I’m your man. If you want to talk about gardening, environmental issues, politics, or sports, I am “kinda” your man, depending on the specific subject. Most everything else, I am just a man with an opinion. An intellectual jack of all trades, master of none.

The next time someone speaks as an authority ask yourself,  WHY should I accept this person’s word on this matter?”  Each of us should think critically about the people we grant authority to. In the 1960’s young people were challenged to question authority. The pastors of the churches I attended  as a youth said,  submit to authority. Their authority.  I was raised in an environment that frowned upon, and sometimes punished, any challenge to authority. The college I attended had the same methodology.  Imagine where we would be today if no one ever questioned or challenged authority.

The internet has brought us a vast store of information. No longer do we have to take someone’s word for anything. We can investigate a matter and determine if a person is being factual.  Before granting anyone the vaulted position of an authority, it is always wise and prudent to fact-check their claims. Even then, a person we accept as an authority might not be equally authoritative on everything.

Here’s the bottom line. Be careful about who you allow to be an authority in your life. WHY should they be granted this noble position of authority?  No person can be an authority on everything. Be wary of any man, especially a holy man, who passes himself off as a know-it-all. Such a person can not be trusted.

At the same time, we should not be guilty of showing no respect for authority at all. When a man or a woman give themselves to learning a particular discipline they should not be dismissed without reason or cause. I am always amused when people dismiss Bart Ehrman out of hand without ever engaging or understanding what he writes. He’s an agnostic, an unbeliever, why should I listen to him, they say.  Regardless of his spiritual state, he IS an expert in the fields he writes about.  Since I am NOT an expert, I must determine if I can trust his expertise. I do. Others don’t. Such is the nature of choosing which experts we will believe.

The same could be said of the science surrounding climate change. Few of us are experts. We must choose which experts we will believe. Personally, my money is on the 95% of climate scientists who say global climate change is real. I am aware of the other 5%, but I don’t think they are right. Granted, I am not a science expert, and I am willing to even admit I am poorly trained in science, but I can read. I do have a rational mind that still has a modicum of sharpness that allows me to make an educated choice about which expert I will believe.

How do you decide who to grant authority in your life? How do you determine which expert to believe?  Have you ever been deceived by an  “expert”? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

An Errant Inerrant Bible

inerrancy

Wander into any Evangelical church on a Sunday…

You will likely find the pastor preaching from the Bible.

Pastor, is the Bible the Word of God?

Yes.

Pastor, is the Bible the truth?

Yes.

Pastor, are there any errors in the Bible?

No

Pastor, is the Bible inspired by God?

Yes.

Hundreds of millions of Christians believe the Bible (translation) they hold in their hands or hear preached from on Sunday is THE Word of God. They believe every word is true because God inspired (breathed out) the words. Not one time has their pastor told them differently.

Come Monday, the pastor gathers with fellow clergy and talks a different line.

Come Tuesday, and throughout the week, he prepares his sermon, consulting commentaries, lexicons, and the like, hoping to find an answer to the discrepancies, errors, and contradictions in the text. He says to himself, how can I best explain this so the church will still believe the Bible is inerrant? Should I tell them the truth about the text?

All of a sudden, the Bible is not quite as perfect as the pastor led everyone to believe on Sunday.

In other words, he lied.

Why did the pastor lie?

To tell the truth would bring  down the Evangelical house of cards. The entire movement is predicated on an inerrant Bible.

An inerrant Bible must be maintained at all costs.

So they obfuscate by playing word games. What do you mean by the word error? What do you mean by the word Bible?

As Bart Ehrman showed in his debate with William Lane Craig, the basic question remains…….are there any errors in the Bible?

An honest pastor must, privately, in a whispering voice, say YES.  In public however, they lie and tell their congregations,  YES, the Bible is without error; the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God; every word of the Bible is true.

If a pastor can’t be trusted to tell the truth about inerrancy why should he be trusted to tell the truth about anything else?

John 3:16, The Simplest Verse in the Bible, Right?

john 3 16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Christians tout John 3:16 as the simplest verse in the Bible. They revel in the simplicity of the message. It is often the first verse children are taught to memorize.

Is John 3:16 really the simplest verse in the Bible?  What if we looked at  John 3:16 through the lens of the plethora of theological beliefs within the Christian church?

First, we would have to settle who wrote the gospel of John in general and John 3:16 in particular.  We know chapter and verse numbers were added fifteen centuries after the  writing of John. There’s a lot of debate about who wrote John, when it was written, and whether it should even be considered a gospel or a part of the canon of Christian scripture.

Once we settle the legitimacy issue, we would then have to decide who is actually doing the speaking in John 3:16. The author of John?  Jesus?  Did the author actually hear Jesus speak these words? Is John 3:16 a verbatim quote of what Jesus said?

Now to the verse.

For God

Right away we are forced to decide which God the Bible is talking about. Christianity is hardly unified on the God question. Witness a Baptist and an Apostolic fight over whether the trinity is taught in the Bible. Is God one? Is God three in one?

So Loved the World

It would seem that this part of the verse is pretty straight forward. God loves the world. World means God loves everyone. However, as millions of Calvinists will quickly tell you, all doesn’t necessarily mean all, and world doesn’t necessarily mean world. First, you have to take the verse and push it through the Calvinist sieve and then you can interpret John 3:16 correctly. World doesn’t mean everyone. It means out of every kindred, tribe and tongue God has people he loves and people he intends to saved. In other words, God doesn’t savingly love everyone. It is right there in the verse, can’t YOU see it?

At about this point Calvinists launch into a discussion about  the difference between God’s love for everyone (common grace) and the love he has for those he has chosen from before the foundation of the world. Of course, Arminians have a far different view of the scope of God’s love and grace.   Let the never-ending debate begin.

That He Gave His only Begotten Son

We will assume that son means Jesus. This raises an issue right away, an issue that many Christians have fumed about over the years. Was Jesus always the son of God? One side adamantly says yes. The other side says he became the son and there was a time when he wasn’t the son.

Then we have to deal with the only son issue. Did God have more sons or daughters?  As Mormonism becomes a mainstream American religion, what about their belief that Lucifer (the devil, Satan) is Jesus’ brother?

The next issue we have to deal is “how” Jesus was begotten. Did Jesus have a sperm donating father?  If the Holy Spirit  “begat” Jesus, how did that happen?  Did God have sex with Mary? Virgin birth? What a laugher, many liberal Christians say. Everyone knows virgins can’t be pregnant. Besides, the word virgin means young woman. Liberals and fundamentalists battle back and forth, each certain their view is correct.

That Whosoever Believeth in Him

Whosoever. Once again does this refer to everyone? No matter who you are, where you are, if you believe in Jesus you will have everlasting life? What about reprobates? Does whosoever apply to them?  The Calvinist, the party of the exception, says whosoever doesn’t mean everyone. Only the elect will savingly believe in Jesus. Everyone else, even if they wanted to, cannot savingly believe in Jesus. If you are not elect, predestined, chosen you are bound for an eternity in the Lake of Fire. God decided before you were even born that you would burn forever.

What does it mean to believe? What do we have to believe? Here is where the whole issue becomes every religion for itself. Every flavor of Christian ice cream has its own take on what it means to believe and what it is a person must believe to be saved. Even among churches of the same denomination there are differences about what it means to believe and what one must believe  to be saved.

Should not Perish

What does it mean to perish?  Death? First or second death? Hell? Lake of fire? Purgatory? Eternal punishment? Temporary punishment? Annihilation?

But Have Everlasting Life

When it comes to life after death, all Christians believe that they will go heaven after they die.  No matter what road they take, what theology they have, every sect/church believes everlasting life is the prize for those who believe.  Though … I do remember a debate among preachers about the difference between eternal life and everlasting life. It goes something like …

Here’s my point.  Even the simplest verse in the Bible can be interpreted different ways. Each interpreter believes their interpretation to be the correct one.  There is no such thing as Biblical truth. All we have is Individual sects/churches/pastors/individuals saying their interpretation is the truth. Armed with study bibles, concordances, and dictionaries, many Christians believe they are ready to emphatically tell anyone who will listen what the Bible teaches.

Imagine a person who has never heard about any of the religions of the world.  He has lived his life in isolation. One day he comes upon an inscription on a cave wall that says:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

What conclusions would he come to?  Would he naturally come to the conclusions I mentioned above? Not likely. Perhaps he would start a religion. What is the likelihood that it would resemble any of the Christian sects? Once again, not likely.

This is why I don’t involve myself in long debates or discussions about the Bible. Such discussions become like ten students looking at a Monet, each giving their own interpretation. Then the teacher says, NO! NO! NO!, all of you are wrong. The picture is saying ________________.

After all, the Bible does say,  Let every man be persuaded in his own mind …

052717

One Millions Moms Says a Boy is a Boy Even if She is a Girl

 

girl scouts

One Millions Moms (OMM), the outrage wing of the American Family Association, issued an action alert today condemning the Girl Scouts’ policy on transgender youth. The action alert states:

A new Girl Scouts of the USA policy states it will extend membership to boys who identify as girls…

…This means girls in the organization will be forced to recognize and accept transgenderism as a normal lifestyle. Boys in skirts, boys in make-up and boys in tents will become a part of the program. This change will put young innocent girls at risk.

Adults are willing to experiment on our kids – both the boys who are confused and the girls who will wonder why a boy in a dress is in the bathroom with them…

Here’s the Girl Scouts policy that has OMM upset:

Girl Scouts is proud to be the premiere leadership organization for girls in the country. Placement of transgender youth is handled on a case-by-case basis, with the welfare and best interests of the child and the members of the troop/group in question a top priority. That said, if the child is recognized by the family and school/community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, then Girl Scouts is an organization that can serve her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe.

Simply put, if a child is recognized as a girl by their family and school and lives culturally as a girl, the Girl Scouts will allow the child to be a part of their group. OMM refuses to admit that matters of sexual orientation and sexual identity can be fluid and complex and that biologically sexuality is nuanced and complex. In their mind, God made male and female, end of story. If you are born with a penis you are a male and if you are born with a vagina you are a female. However, if you have done any reading on sexual orientation and sexual identity, you know that, thanks to science, matters orientation and identity are complex. These days, to be conversant on these issues, one must understand terms like heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual,pansexual,polysexual, androphilia, gynephila, intersex, cisgender, transsexual, transgender, etc. In the simplistic world of the OMM, God, through genetic voodoo makes humans male or female. However, God’s genetic voodoo act can result with in a child being born with the “wrong” genitals or other chromosomal aberrations. God must have been having a bad day, eh? ( Transgender, Intersex, Sexual Orientation)

As with seemingly every American culture conflict, Christian fundamentalism and literalistic interpretations of the Bible are the primary agitators. Science continues to undermine and discredit fundamentalist beliefs. Christian fundamentalists have two choices: they can grudgingly accept the findings of science or they can ignorantly and blindly wage war. Sadly, most fundamentalists choose the latter. Until the light of reason finds a way into their mind, there is no hope of reaching them. All we can do is keep them from hurting others. Like children with scissors, we need to make sure that OMM’s scissors have blunt ends so they can’t hurt themselves or others.

You Can’t Judge Christianity by the Product it Produces

love with actions not words

You can’t judge Christianity by the product it produces.

Or so I am told.

Even though we judge the veracity of virtually of everything by the product it produces, Christians think that Christianity should be exempt from such examination.

Raise the issue of the disconnect between the way Christians live and the truth they say they believe, and you’ll be told the only issue is the truth of the gospel.

“Christians are hypocrites”

So what. The gospel message is what matters.

“Christians live lives that are not any different from their non-Christian neighbors.”

So what. The gospel message is what matters.

Christians go around with bumper stickers that say “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” and  expect non-Christians to understand.

Non-Christians are told time and again that Jesus is the answer to what ails them.

Jesus will change their life if they will  trust him as their Lord and Savior.

Jesus fixes the broken, heals the hurting, and make every follower of him a new creation.

Jesus forgives sin, wipes the slate clean, and the Holy Spirit lives inside every believer to teach and guide them.

The Bible says Christians have the mind of Christ.

The Bible also says that Christians are to be perfect, even as their Father in Heaven is perfect.

Christians are even told in the book of James their lives must be sinless and 1 John says anyone who sins is of the devil.

The Bible also says they are to be holy just like God is holy.

The same Bible that tells us the gospel message that we are told we must accept as truth also presents a Christian lifestyle radically different from how Christians live today.

A lifestyle, it seems, that despite having their sins forgiven, being made a new creature in Christ, and having God live inside them, Christians are unable to live it.

We live in a nation inundated with Christian churches, Christian books, Christian TV and radio. Christianity is the professed religion of 78% of Americans. One out of four Americans are Evangelical. The United States is the most Christian nation on earth.

Yet, for the most part, those who profess they are Christian live are no differently than their non-Christian neighbor.

They preach Jesus is the answer, but the non-Christian looks at the Christian and says “how’s that working out for you?

If Christians truly want to impress the world, if Christians want to give the world a reason to pause and consider the truth of the gospel, then live like it matters.

Stop preaching and start living.

In other word put up or shut up.

While I believe the Bible to be an errant, fallible, non-inspired work of men, if Christians truly lived their lives according to the words of Jesus, it might make me pause for a moment to consider the message of Jesus.

But, I know I am safe. Christians love money, food, power, sex, pleasure, entertainment, material goods, etc just like the rest of us. For all their talk of heaven, they seem to want to stay alive right here on earth with the rest of us.

The product produced shows that the advertising is false.

Change the product and people might start believing the advertising.

I see nothing within Christianity that says to me “come home.”

I like my new  residence.

And I can sleep in on Sunday.

Bruce, What Do Think of the Marjoe Gortner Story?

young marjoe gortner

Marjoe Gortner

Several weeks back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Geoff asked:

Hi Bruce .. what do you think of the Marjoe story?

For those not familiar with Marjoe Gortner:

Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner (generally known as Marjoe Gortner; born January 14, 1944 in Long Beach, California) is a controversial former evangelist preacher and actor. He first gained public attention during the late 1940s when his parents arranged for him at age four to be ordained as a preacher, due to his extraordinary speaking ability; he was the youngest known in that position. As a young man, he preached on the revival circuit and bought celebrity to the revival movement.

He became a celebrity during the 1970s when he starred in Marjoe (1972), a behind-the-scenes documentary about the lucrative business of Pentecostal preaching. This won the 1972 Academy Award for Best Documentary Film. This documentary is now noted as one of the most vehement criticisms of Pentecostal praxis…

…Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner was born in 1944 in Long Beach, California, into a long evangelical heritage. The name “Marjoe” is a portmanteau of the biblical names “Mary” and “Joseph”. His father Vernon was a third-generation Christian evangelical minister who preached at revivals. His mother, who has been labelled as “exuberant”, was the person who introduced him as a preacher and is notable for his success as a child. Vernon noticed his son’s talent for mimicry and his fearlessness of strangers and public settings. His parents claimed that the boy had received a vision from God during a bath, and started preaching. Marjoe later said this was a fictional story that his parents forced him to repeat. He claimed they compelled him to do this by using mock-drowning episodes; they did not beat him as they did not want to leave bruises that might be noticed during his many public appearances.

They trained him to deliver sermons, complete with dramatic gestures and emphatic lunges. When he was four, his parents arranged for him to perform a marriage ceremony attended by the press, including photographers from Life and Paramount studios.Until his teenage years, Gortner and his parents traveled throughout the United States holding revival meetings,[7] and by 1951 his younger brother Vernoe had been incorporated into the act. As well as teaching Marjoe scriptural passages, his parents also taught him several money-raising tactics, including the sale of supposedly “holy” articles at revivals. He would promise that such items could be used to heal the sick and dying. He was however for the majority of his childhood unknown and “relatively insignificant” as an evangelist, as he found fame much later from his documentary…

…Gortner spent the remainder of his teenage years as an itinerant hippie until his early twenties. Hard-pressed for money, he decided to put his old skills to work and re-emerged on the preaching circuit with a charismatic stage-show modeled after those of contemporary rock stars, most notably Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. He made enough to take six months off every year, during which he returned to California and lived off his earnings before returning to the circuit.

In the late 1960s, Gortner experienced a crisis of conscience about his double life. He decided his performing talents might be put to better use as an actor or singer. When approached by documentarians Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan, he agreed to let their film crew follow him during 1971 on a final tour of revival meetings in California, Texas, and Michigan. Unbeknownst to everyone involved – including, at one point, his father – he gave “backstage” interviews to the filmmakers between sermons and revivals, explaining intimate details of how he and other ministers operated. The filmmakers also shot his counting the money he had collected during the day later in his hotel room. The resulting film, Marjoe, won the 1972 Academy Award for best documentary…

If you have not watched the documentary Marjoe, I encourage you to do so. While it is over forty years old, it still provides a behind the scenes look at what goes on in pentecostal and charismatic tent meetings, revivals, and healing services.

Video Link

Video Link

As a Baptist, I had a healthy mistrust and hate for all things pentecostal and charismatic. I saw their preachers as charlatans and false prophets. A good friend of mine and fellow non-believer was a charismatic pastor for twenty years. We never could have been friends while we were in the ministry because I thought people like him were being used by Satan to deceive the masses.

When it comes to stories like Marjoe, the question I have is whether the person was sincere. Were they a true blue believer? Did they really believe they could heal people? Did they really believe God used them to work miracles? In Marjoe’s case, he was conditioned and indoctrinated by his parents to believe that he really had these gifts. Were his parents true blue believers? That’s the bigger question. Were they just passing on the gifts to their talented, precocious son or were they con artists, Elmer Gantry-like hustlers for God?

Thanks to modern technology and dogged investigative reporters, we now know that many of the pentecostal and charismatic evangelists are frauds. People like Peter Popoff, Ernest Angley, Robert Tilton, WV Grant, Leroy Jenkins,Bob Larson, and Benny Hinn are hustlers out to fleece the flock of God. Many of the prosperity gospel preachers are con-artists who have found a way to become fabulously rich off the pain, suffering, and poverty of others. One quick way to judge an evangelist or ministry is to look at their checkbook. Where’s the money going? Whose being enriched by the “ministry” of Bro Heal Them All? In the case of Marjoe, not only did he make quite a bit of money, so did his parents. The family business was hustling for Jesus and it paid quite well. In the end, Marjoe’s father ran off with the cash and left his son and wife behind.

When I was in college, I cleaned a local Sweden House restaurant. One night, a couple of pentecostal evangelists had rented one of the banquet rooms for a healing service. After the service, not knowing I was standing around the corner, I heard the evangelists bitterly complaining about how poor the offering was. This was my first taste of money driven Christianity. As I would learn later, Baptists had their own problem with money-grubbing con-artists, men who preached up a storm only so it would rain twenty-dollar bills. I think the average Christian would be shocked to find out how many of the preachers they love, trust, and support are in it for fame and money. I know of several well known IFB preachers who retired from the ministry as millionaires. Ain’t God good?

In the mid 1970’s, I lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona. I worked for a local grocery store. Every week, several van loads of Pentecostals would come into Food Giant to shop. They were from Miracle Valley, Arizona, the home of evangelist AA Allen. Allen, an alcoholic died in 1970 after a heavy drinking binge. He was 59. The van loads of long dressed women were from one of the Miracle Valley pentecostal ministries or colleges. This was my first exposure to Pentecostals. At the time, I thought, nice looking women, too much clothing. My girlfriend, at the time, wore skirts and dresses that were in keeping with style of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s In other words, I could see her legs.

As I was doing some research for this post, I came upon an interesting story on Wikipedia about one of the pentecostal groups that took up residence in Miracle Valley:

In 1978-80 approximately 300 members of the Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church (CMHCC) moved from Mississippi and Chicago. They purchased property in the subdivision on the north side of Highway 92 across from the bible college. Thomas was a former disciple of Allen’s at MVBC and attempted to purchase it after his death. Over the following two years numerous conflicts arose between the church and its members, and the local community and law enforcement on the other. Tensions escalated when it was discovered that five young children of church members had died over the previous year, with one and possibly four due to the church’s refusal to seek medical attention. Faith healing was a major component of the church’s teachings. Conflicts also arose when the church refused access to parents and law enforcement in retrieving he children of at least two families who had been illegally transported to the Valley against their parents’ wishes. Racial tensions arose between the African American church members and the mostly white residents. In late 1982 a variety of incidents with law enforcement culminated when local sheriff deputies, with backup by state law enforcement, attempted to serve bench warrants for the arrest of 3 members of the church. A large group of church members confronted the officials and in the ensuing “shootout” two church members were killed and seven law enforcement officers were injured. One church member and one sheriff’s deputy would later die of their injuries. The church and its members departed Miracle Valley in early 1983.

My brother lives near Miracle Valley in Tombstone. He was, at one time, the marshal of Tombstone. He can tell all kinds of stories about all kinds of crazy that went on in out-of-the-way places in Cochise County, Arizona.

I attended a charismatic healing service in the mid 1980’s at the Somerset Elementary School in Somerset, Ohio. At the time, I was pastor of the Baptist church and I want to see firsthand what went on at a healing service. The show was quite intense and towards the end the evangelist started going down the rows laying hands on people. Next to me was an old scruffy woman with dirty and greasy hair. When the evangelist came to her, he looked at her head and kept his hand a few inches above it. Right then and there I knew that this guy was a con artist. What, a bit of greasy hair going to keep you from healing someone? When he came to me, I gave him my keep on moving look. I wonder, did I miss out on God healing me? Am I cursed with sickness to this day because I didn’t let Elmer Gantry’s cousin lay hands on me?

Here’s my take on Marjoe, pentecostal evangelists, and faith healers. I think some of them are true blue believers. Indoctrinated from an early age, they sincerely believe what they are preaching. When it comes to the money they make, they view it as God blessing them. But, I also think that a large number of preachers, evangelists, and faith healers are scam artists, frauds who have found a way to make lots of money without doing much work. They are, at best, entertainers, at worst they are predators who prey an ignorant, gullible Christians.

1972 Roger Ebert Interview with Marjoe.

Marjoe Gortner by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman

Note

If you happened to watch the videos above and see the emotional craziness that went on at Marjoe’s meetings, I should let you know that I saw similar behavior at Baptist revival meetings, preacher’s meetings, camp meetings; especially those held south of the Mason-Dixon line. The only difference? Everyone spoke in English. I’ve seen aisle running, pew jumping, flag waving, shouting, and screaming at countless old-fashioned revivals or camp meetings. I’ve seen churches and preachers collect Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets of cash; thousands of dollars collected for “the Lord”,

Bruce, Did You Encourage Church Members to Think for Themselves?

think for yourself

Several weeks back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to ask. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Appalachian Agnostic asked:

When you were a pastor, did you encourage church goers to think for themselves or did you prefer that they accepted everything you preached without measuring it against their own perceptions?

If I had been asked this question when I was a pastor, I would have answered YES! I encouraged people to read and study the Bible. I recommended books that I thought would be helpful in their walk with God. Some of the fundamentalist churches I grew up in discouraged intellectual pursuit. In their mind, all a Christian needed was the Holy Spirit, a sound Bible preaching church, a God-called pastor, and a Scofield King James Version Bible. Church members were encouraged to be people of the book. Better to know THE one book well than to have read thousands of books and not thoroughly know and understand the one book that matters.

By the time I started pastoring churches, I had begun reading orthodox theological books, never straying beyond safe, theologically correct authors. So, I recommended church members read and expand their theological horizons, but I made sure they only read books that were written by Evangelicals. I was encouraging them to “think” but only within the box I provided for them. So the real answer to the question is NO!

I never would have recommended books written by liberal Christians or people like Bart Ehrman. According to the Bible,  I was to watch and care for their souls, making sure they weren’t led astray by false teachers. In doing so, I kept them safe from the wolves that roamed outside the door of the church. I wrote about this in The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You Are in It and What I Found When I Left the Box.

While I expected people to check my preaching by the Word of God, I also expected them to trust me. After all, I was the man of God, the one God had appointed to be their teacher. And quite frankly, when it came to knowing and understanding theology, I was at the head of the class in every church I pastored. As is the case in most churches, members took my word for it. Their theology was actually my theology. At one church, I became quite Calvinistic in my theology and began aggressively teaching the five points of Calvinism. Only one family had a problem with what I was preaching. Everyone else? Sure preacher, we’ll take your word for it.

Generally, I found that most church members were not interested in diligently studying the Bible or reading theology books. One reason for this is that they had a life and very little time to devote to such pursuits. I was paid to study the Bible and read books. A great gig for someone like me, but it is unfair for a pastor to expect church members to spend the same amount of time he does studying the Bible and reading theological books. When church members did read, they read light Christian romance novels or fiction. This used to drive me crazy. I was, and still am, a non-fiction reader. I very rarely read fiction. My thinking  is, why read fiction when you can read TRUE stories? I now know that church members often read fiction because it allows them to escape or to fantasize. Fiction allowed them to check out from the grueling grind of life and enter a world of suspense, intrigue, and temptation. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion were no match for Erica Jong.