Archive

I am a Publican and a Heathen Part One

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner

Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. (Matthew 18:15-17)

Should church members be allowed to leave the church without permission? Bobby Jamieson, writing for 9Marks, answered the question this way:

…I think the biblical answer is a resounding “No.” Here’s why: When your church made that person a member, you were declaring to the world that this person belongs to the kingdom of Jesus. By regarding this person as a member, your church affirmed that he is indeed a “brother” in Christ…

…So what’s the problem? Hebrews 10:24-25 commands us not to forsake assembling together. Therefore, any professing Christian who quits going to church is living in habitual, unrepentant sin. And the way a church addresses unrepentant sin is not by merrily sending that person on his way, but by removing their affirmation of “member” and “brother”. When the player quits showing up on game day, the team has to take back his jersey.

So pastors, just as you pay careful attention to the front door of your church, keep a close eye on the back door, too. Make sure that the sheep can’t simply open the gate themselves and disappear from sight. Refuse to allow people to resign into thin air, both for the sake of your church’s witness to the gospel and for the good of every single sheep—especially those who tend to wander off.”…

The purpose of the aforementioned quotations will become readily evident once you have read this series. I had planned for this to be one post, but as I started writing, I realized I need to split it into several posts.

In July of 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist in Somerset, Ohio. I pastored the church until March of 1994. In the late 1980s, I became quite disenchanted with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I came to the conclusion that the IFB gospel was a bastardized, corrupt gospel that made no demands of those who said they were a follower of Jesus Christ.

Through the writings of Charles Finney, I came to see that repentance, a turning FROM sin and a turning TO Christ, was an essential component of the gospel. In 1989, I read John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus, and this fundamentally changed my soteriology (theology concerning salvation).

I began to read books written by the Puritans: men such as Thomas Watson and John Owens. I also read the works of men such as John BunyanCharles SpurgeonJC RyleAW PinkAndrew Fuller, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  I also began listening to Calvinistic preaching tapes from the Chapel Tape Library.

rolfe barnard

One preacher’s taped sermons really got my attention, and that was the sermons by the late Rolfe Barnard. Barnard was a fiery Southern Baptist preacher of the Calvinist gospel. I listened to his sermons over and over, and it became clear to me that I had been preaching a false gospel. I also felt that my college professors and mentors had lied to me. Why had they never shared with me the sovereign grace gospel? (Short bio of Rolfe Barnard)

In a sermon titled, Seeking the Lord, Rolfe Barnard said:

…This generation would like to get to heaven, but they just haven’t got time. They had time to make a profession and join a church, but they just haven’t got time to seek the Lord. When I started to preach 36 years ago, people would come hear me preach and I could keep a crowd for a while, and in that way somebody would listen to the Word of God. And since no man has saving faith, and God has to give it to men, He gives it as men hear His Word, and after a while they say “that’s God talking”.

You must hear the law of God preached long enough for God to reveal to you that you are a guilty lost sinner before you will be interested in hearing the good news of the Gospel of Christ. If God can get you lost, He will save you. If God can get you to sit still long enough to let a little of His Word sink in and grant you repentance and faith, He will save you. If you don’t have time to seek the Lord till He is pleased to reveal Himself to you and speak peace to you, why you will just live on a little while, then go to hell. You haven’t had time to hear what is being said.

A personal confrontation of the soul by a gracious redeeming God; this leads to repentance and faith, this leads to the terminating of a self-centered existence, and the beginning of a Christ indwelled life. You will lay down the arms of rebellion and run up the white flag of surrender. That’s what it means to be saved. I don’t know how long it will take you to get there, but it would be time well spent if you got to Christ…

In a sermon titled, A Lack of Repentance Preaching has Filled Modern Churches with Hypocrites, (link no longer active) Barnard said:

…I am dead certain that the mess we are in religiously and spiritually now, the love-sick so-called “church” people, the sickly sentimental crop of so-called “believers” who are enthusiastic about a fair or a frolic but are conspicuously absent from prayer meeting — I am sure that this is due to the fact that our churches are full of people who are not born right…

Somehow or another they got into our professing churches without ever having come face to face with the holy demands of a Holy God, and being brought in the face of those demands to the place of throwing up all hands of self-effort and self-confidence and turning one’s self over lock, stock and barrel to the Sovereign Christ. Somehow or another they have missed the main business. Somehow or another they got in what we call the church without turning in abhorrence and in utter conviction against sin, without turning from their sin to obedience unto God.

And, of course, their lives fail! If we dodge this step [repentance], we miss out on salvation!…

As a result of the aforementioned books and tapes, I embraced five-point Calvinism. At the time, I thought God had taken the blinders off my IFB-darkened eyes.  In classic, there is no middle ground, charge hell with an empty squirt gun fashion, I became a vocal proponent of Calvinism. This change of soteriology (doctrines concerning salvation), and a later a change of ecclesiology (doctrines concerning church polity, discipline) and eschatology (doctrines concerning end times), destroyed whatever connections I had with pastors and churches in the IFB church movement.

I spent the last five years of my time as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church radically changing and restructuring the church. I stopped giving altar calls and I went from preaching topical/textual sermons to preaching expository sermons. Instead of choosing a new and different text each week, I began preaching systematically through various books of the Bible. I preached over one hundred sermons from the gospel of John.

It was not uncommon for me to spend several full days studying and preparing a sermon. This study and preparation became the focus of my ministry. (Calvinism appeals  to people such as myself who love reading and who enjoy intellectual pursuits.) I also came to see that I had a duty to reach the members of Somerset Baptist Church with the TRUE gospel, the gospel of sovereign grace. I feared that many of the church members were unsaved. I spent the first half of time in Somerset getting them saved and I spent that last half trying to get them unsaved.

I began traveling to preaching meetings at Calvinistic churches. At these meetings I met men such as Don Fortner and Henry Mahan. Mahan would later come to Somerset and hold a meeting.  I also began associating with Reformed Baptist pastors. Men such as Al Martin and Walt Chantry were prominent voices in the Reformed Baptist movement, as were men associated with the Southern Baptist Founder’s GroupAl Mohler is a prominent member of the Founder’s Group.

Every month, I would travel seventy miles to a General Association of Regular Baptist  Churches (GARBC) church in Mansfield, Ohio, pastored by Mark Furman, a Calvinistic pastor, so I could attend a meeting of like-minded pastors. This meeting was called The Pastor’s Clinic. Several pastors would present a paper on a particular theological subject, we would discuss the papers, and then eat lunch before heading for home. I found the meetings intellectually stimulating and they helped assure me that the Calvinistic gospel was the TRUE gospel.

Under my leadership, Somerset Baptist Church began a tape lending library similar to that of the Chapel Library.  We sent preaching tapes free of charge to anyone who requested them. I also began publishing a monthly newsletter titled, The Sovereign Grace Reporter. This newsletter was sent to hundreds of Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic pastors. The newsletter incited rage among my non-Calvinistic friends and their outrage ruined a fifteen-church Youth Fellowship I had started years before. I knew that the newsletter would provoke some of the pastors, but I didn’t care. I thought, they need to hear about the TRUE gospel.

I lost almost all of my professional connections, save a friendship I had with Keith Troyer and another with Polly’s uncle James (Jim) Dennis. At the time, Keith was pastor of the Fallsburg Baptist Church in Fallsburg, Ohio and Jim was the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath Ohio.

Jim Dennis was not a five-point Calvinist, in the classic sense of the word, but his soteriological beliefs were closer to the Calvinistic position than the one-point Calvinist/Arminian position of the IFB church movement.  Keith Troyer was a young pastor when I met him. I think I am about ten years older than he. I began to give Keith books written by Calvinistic writers, and, for a time, he was greatly influenced by me and the books I gave him. Many people believe that I had a negative influence on Keith. Whatever influence I may or may not have had, Keith is not a Calvinistic pastor. He currently pastors Grace Baptist Church in Greenville, Pennsylvania. With both of these men, I could freely talk about Calvinism. Both men would later come and preach for me, not only at Somerset, but at Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio (which was originally named Grace Baptist Church).

Through the publication of the Sovereign Grace Reporter, I came into contact with men such as Andy Sandlin and Pat Horner. Both Sandlin and Horner were originally part of the IFB church movement. Sandlin, for many years, was associated with Rousas Rushdoony and the Chalcedon Foundation. Horner was a sovereign grace Baptist pastor who pastored  Community Baptist Church  in Elmendorf, Texas.

While Andy I had much more of a casual relationship, Pat and I began to develop a friendship. Over time, Pat become comfortable enough with me that he invited me to speak at his church’s annual Bible conference in March of 1993. At this conference, I came into contact with numerous sovereign grace Baptist pastors.  Both Polly and I were overwhelmed by the friendliness and vibrancy of Community Baptist Church.

Over the course of the summer, Pat Horner and I continued to keep in touch. Pat eventually asked if I would consider coming to Elmendorf to be the co-pastor of the church. He knew I was beginning to “feel” that my work in Somerset was done and that perhaps God was leading me to go somewhere else. He also knew I was gifted when it came to evangelism and he hoped I could help with planting new churches, along with starting a Christian school.  After considering Pat’s offer for several weeks, I came to the conclusion that God wanted me to stay in Somerset. I called Pat and declined his offer.

A few weeks later, I was sitting in my office and suddenly a flood of emotion came over me. I began weeping uncontrollably. I began thinking about the church in Texas and Pat’s offer. And, in that moment, I changed my mind and decided to accept the offer to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas.

move to community baptist church

One of the trailers used to move our belongings to Community Baptist Church

I called Pat and asked him if the offer was still open. He said, yes, and a few weeks later Polly and I drove to Texas to meet with the church elders and the church family. They overwhelmingly agreed that I should come to Texas and become the co-pastor of the church. In March of 1994, men from Community Baptist Church came to Ohio, helped us pack up our furniture and goods, and we moved 1,400 miles to a new and exciting ministry opportunity.

What should have been a wonderful time for my family and  me, over the course of seven months, turned into disaster that resulted in me resigning from the church and Pat Horner and the church excommunicating me.

From late September, 1994 to today, Pat Horner and the Community Baptist Church consider me a publican and a heathen.

In the next post in this series, I will discuss how we settled into Elmendorf and my conflicts with the church that ultimately led to our leaving.

121915

I am a Publican and a Heathen Part Two

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner

Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

Our family arrived in Elmendorf, Texas the first week of March, 1994. I had resigned from Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio, and after closing down the church and Christian school, I packed up my family and moved us to Elmendorf so I could become co-pastor of Community Baptist Church.

Community Baptist Church was an Sovereign Grace (Calvinistic) Independent Baptist church started in the 1980s by Pat Horner. The church worshiped at a ramshackle former Southern Baptist church building on Labus Road outside of Elmendorf. The church property included several acres of land that housed a double-wide mobile home in which Pat Horner and his family lived, an old mobile home where Joe Buitron, the groundskeeper/handyman, and his family lived, and a brand-new 14×70 mobile home the church purchased for my family.

gerencser girls

Our girls playing in a sand pile near our mobile home. This was before we learned what fire ants were!

This enclave of mobile homes was called The Compound. Each mobile home was close enough to the other two that the occupants could easily see what was going on at each mobile home. When we moved to Texas, we did not watch TV. I remember how judgmental I felt when I saw the glare of a TV in the bedroom window of Pat Horner’s home, late on almost every Saturday night. I thought then, why is he watching TV? Shouldn’t he be praying and preparing for the Lord’s Day as I am?

The church was quite welcoming and we were excited to be there. Community Baptist Church was a vibrant church, filled with young adults and their children. There was an air of excitement in the church, a hunger for the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. I spent many a Sunday evening after church talking theology with the men of the church. They had questions and I was delighted to dispense to them what knowledge I had about the Calvinistic interpretation of the Bible.

tim conway

Tim Conway, preaching at a nursing home. Conway is now pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio.

There was quite a bit of movement in and out of the church membership. Not long before I became co-pastor of the church, two men from Kalamazoo, Michigan moved to Elmendorf so they could be part of the church. Their names were Craig Mussulman and Tim Conway. Conway is now the Calvinistic Fundamentalist pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, Texas. Mussulman still live in San Antonio, but I do not know where he attends church. Joe Maldonado, who had preached for me in Somerset in 1993, had left the church by the time I got there. He became the pastor Hillburn Drive Grace Baptist Church.  A few Hispanic families from the church, with Horner’s blessing, joined with Maldonado at the Hillburn Drive church.

When we moved to Elmendorf, a family from Ohio moved with us. Larry and Linda Johnson were members of Somerset Baptist Church, and when we decided to move they packed up their belongings and moved to Elmendorf a week or so later. Larry and Linda had three children and Larry was a heating and air conditioning contractor.

The Gerencser’s first act as co-pastor and family was to officially join the Community Baptist Church.  The church, a Sovereign Grace (Calvinistic) church, had strict membership requirements. The church’s Covenant had this to say about church membership:

…In recognizing the church’s authority to receive me into, and dismiss me from, its membership, I purpose when seeking to remove myself from her membership to seek the counsel, the approval, and the blessing of the church in seeking to join myself to another church of like faith and practice…

…If, however, the church does not agree with my reasons for leaving, I recognize that the church may release me from its membership disagreeing with me and expressing their displeasure of my actions but, at the same time, allowing me the liberty of conscience to leave…

…Finally, in the event of sin on my part with regard to any biblical matter, I recognize the church’s biblical right to take disciplinary action toward me, which seeks my restoration…

As I would later learn, church members were routinely disciplined for violating the membership requirements.

One requirement stood out above all others. Since  people had to have the church’s permission to join the church, they also had to have the church’s permission to leave the church. Members could not just leave and go somewhere else. If they did not ask for the church’s permission to leave, the church (Pat Horner) would call a meeting and discipline the errant church member. I would suffer this same fate when I resigned and moved back to Ohio.

larry linda johnson

Larry and Linda Johnson, a couple from Ohio that moved to Texas when we did. They still live there.

A week or so after we joined the church, the Johnson family arrived in Elmendorf, and as we did, they joined the church. However, before the Johnsons joined the church, Pat Horner and I had our first conflict. Before potential members  could join the church, they had to meet with Horner so he could grill them about their salvation experience and what they believed. Larry Johnson met with Horner and afterward Horner came to me and said he doubted Larry was a “real” Christian. The reason? Larry talked too much about God and not enough about Jesus.

I was able to convince Horner that Larry was a “real” Christian and he permitted the Johnsons to join the church. I was quite sad when the Johnson family, convinced by Horner that I was a bad man, later turned against me.

Every year, in March, Community Baptist Church held a week-long Bible conference. I preached several times during the 1993 conference and I was scheduled to preach several times during the 1994 conference.

The conferences were housed in a large tent that held several hundred people. Calvinistic Baptist pastors from around the state of Texas would come to the Bible conference, and Calvinistic Baptist pastors from as far away as Ohio and Louisiana would preach during the conference. The women of the church would provide meals each day for everyone in attendance. The food, music, and preaching were outstanding.

The 1994 conference took place a week or so after we moved to Elmendorf. After we settled into our new mobile home, I began helping with conference preparations. Along with John Sytsma, a wealthy owner of a nearby ostrich farm, I set up the sound system for the conference. Our “work” would fuel the second conflict I had with Pat Horner.

On the first morning of the conference, the sound kept cutting in and out. John and I could not figure out why this was happening. During lunch, Horner angrily lit into me about the sound problem and he let me know that I had better get it fixed. I had never seen the angry side of Pat Horner before, and I would see a lot  more of it before I left the church. Horner must have realized that his angry display was inappropriate because he came to me later in the day and apologized. This would be the first and last time Horner apologized for anything. John Sytsma later left the church and is now an elder at Tim Conway’s church, Grace Community Church, San Antonio, Texas.

Over the next seven months, Pat Horner and I would have skirmishes that became increasingly combative and angry. I do not blame Horner for this. Each of us was temperamental with aggressive type-A personalities. We were both in charge of the same real estate and this led to frequent conflict. Sometimes I would win these battles, but most of the time Horner was the victor.

We argued about everything from my dog getting under the church and chewing the phone line to whether or not it was okay to shoot the neighbor’s feral pig. Horner threatened to shoot my dog if it ever did any like this again, and he wanted to shoot the pig, but I was able to convince him that it was wrong to shoot the neighbor’s pig.

We argued over the church budget and the church bulletin. I was of the opinion that the church needed to know everything about church finances. Horner took the position, How much do they need to know? I won this battle and the church was provided with a complete statement of income and expenses each month. This exposed the slush fund Horner had used for years to give money to preachers and families in the church. I am in no way suggesting he was dishonest. Our disagreement was over whether the church should know about the fund.

Since I was quite proficient when it came to computers and desktop publishing, I took on the responsibility of the church bulletin. Horner was a micro-manager, and he refused to let me print the bulletin until he reviewed it first. Every week, I would get the bulletin back with things circled he felt needed to be corrected. His micromanaging quickly got under my skin.

Our conflict over the bulletin turned into open warfare and it took an English major in the church to settle it. Horner was a Texan and I hailed from the rural Midwest. Our speech and writing patterns were very different from each other. Let me give you an example: I would say “the barn needs to be painted.” Horner would object and say, no, “the barn needs painting.”

We frequently butted heads over things such as this. Finally, Rhonda Galaviz, wife of Mexican missionary Andres Galaviz, told Horner and me that my usage was technically correct and it was considered a colloquialism from the Midwest. While this settled the proper English debate, Horner would continue to have a problem with the way I did the bulletin. Not long after that incident, I gave the bulletin job to someone else.

joe buitron

Joe Buitron, the church handyman

Joe Buitron and his family lived on The Compound directly across the street from my home. Joe took care of the grounds and fixed whatever needed fixing. He was a jack-of-all-trades. There was nothing he couldn’t fix or repair. Joe worked long hours, especially when we began building a new church facility. The church paid him $200 a week and allowed him and his family to live in a small mobile home on church property. Joe was grossly underpaid, and making ends meet was a constant struggle. I finally brought his financial struggles to Horner and the elders, and after a bit of shaming, they gave Joe a pay raise.

The Buitrons were in need of a washer (and maybe a dryer). This need was brought before the church so they could “pray” about it. The praying went on for weeks, yet God had not yet directed the church to buy the hardworking family of six a washer. Finally, I had enough of all the praying and I bought a washer for the Buitrons. I never understood the whole praying thing when it was in my power or the church’s power to take care of a need. To this day, I wonder if some church members thought I played “God.”

In my next post in this series, I will discuss how my conflicts with Horner came to a head, and how I ultimately left Community Baptist Church.

121915

I am a Publican and a Heathen Part Three

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner

Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

Pat Horner and I had a common theology: Calvinism. Outside of that, we were very different from one  another. From the way we preached to how we interacted with parishioners, we were as different as night and day. I thought it was important for me to get to know each family in the church, so I did a lot of in-home visiting. When someone was in the hospital, I would visit them. When someone had a family member die, I would attend the funeral. Pat did none of these things. He was much more standoffish than I was. This is not a criticism of him as much as it is an example of how different our personalities were.

This difference began to be a problem when parishioners started to favor me over Pat. After services, I would talk theology with the young men of the church, and they found me easy to talk to. It wasn’t long before  Pat began to criticize for being too familiar with parishioners. He told me that it was important to maintain a space between pastor and parishioner. I was told the same thing in college: the pastor can’t be friends with anyone in the church because it will hinder his ability to minister.

Both Pat and I preached expositionally (preaching verse-by-verse, in context), but our styles were very different. I tended to be more human, earthy, and at times humorous in my preaching. Pat tended to be more dogmatic and rarely used illustrations. To him, it was all about doctrine. While I thought it was important, I knew that it was also imperative for me to make a human connection with parishioners. More than once, Pat criticized my preaching for being too light or not doctrinal enough. Again, I suspect this had to do with the fact that, personality-wise, we were very different from one another.

After a few months, I gathered up a few willing church members and we started two new Sovereign Grace churches, one in Floresville, Texas and the other in Stockdale, Texas. Every Sunday morning we would hold a service at Floresville and then drive 20 miles to Stockdale and hold another service. During the week, I would take groups from Community down to Floresville and Stockdale and go door to door evangelizing and inviting people to church. While we worked hard to get the churches established, neither church did well attendance-wise.

I also started a street preaching ministry and a nursing home ministry. Being the workaholic I am, I was busy and I loved it. Later in the summer of 1994, I helped the church start a Christian school. There were fifty children in the school. Many of the church families homeschooled before the school was started.  Several teachers were hired, along with a school principal. Once the school was up and running, I had little to do with it.

community baptist church new building

Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas, 1994

During this time, Community was building a new 10,000 square foot building. Pat had a construction background, so he was well suited for overseeing the project. A group of Calvinistic church builders came in and helped frame, roof, and side the building. The concrete slab was poured by a group of undocumented immigrants, and various men in the church took care of the plumbing, electric, and HVAC.

The busy-ness helped to distance me from the increasing conflict between Pat and I. It seemed like every time we got together there was conflict and we bickered like two old married people. Neither of us was a shining example of temperance, deference, or respect. In the fall of 1994, I realized that things were not going to work out for me at Community, so I talked to Pat and the elders about it. Things quickly went south, like Mexico-City-south, and it became evident to me that Pat and I were headed for a messy divorce.

I told Pat that they we needed to sit down and talk. I asked John Sytsma, one of the elders, to join the meeting. John did his best to bring peace, but it was not to be. We got into an angry shouting match and I finally told Pat to leave my office. The next day or so, Pat gathered the elders together at John Sytsma’s house and had a secret meeting where I was the topic of discussion. I found out about the meeting and crashed it. I was still a pastor and I should have been included in the meeting.

bruce preaching at stockdale

Bruce Gerencser, preaching at Community Baptist Church, Stockdale, Texas, 1994

Pat and I exchanged angry words and he told me that I had to stop pastoring the churches in Floresville and Stockdale and come and sit in the services at Community for a while. He told me that I was not fit to be a pastor. I suggested that I was willing to leave the church and pastor one of the new churches I started, but Pat would have none of it. Finally, when it became evident Pat had his mind made up, I said, Fine, I resign. Pat replied, You can’t resign without our permission. My last words to him were, Really? Watch me. A few days later, Polly and I packed everything up in a U-Haul truck and we moved back to Ohio. As we were driving down the lane from our home, the church was holding a special meeting to deal with the “Bruce Gerencser problem.”  Of course, Pat was the moderator of the meeting.

Several church families begged us to stay. Some even suggested that Pat should be the one to go. But, I was not going to be party to a church split. Besides, all those that were in my corner when we moved later went over to Pat’s side. I knew that nothing I said or did would make a difference. As the old gambler said, You got to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them. It was definitely time for me to fold my hand.

I am often asked, What happened?  I think what happened was that two strong-willed men with very different personalities wanted to own the same piece of real estate. Due to the fact that we both were quick-tempered, conflict came easily. I regret the conflict, but my time as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church taught me a lot about myself and I left Texas a very different man. For the first time I saw what I had become, and I didn’t like what I saw. It was at this point that my fundamentalism began to die. It was a slow death, but this was the moment when I saw what fundamentalism had done to me and I knew that I needed to change. Pat, however, is still a fundamentalist Calvinistic Baptist. He later left the church, started another church, and last I heard was working a secular job and doing mission work in India.

In my final post in this series, I want to write about how the church dealt with the “Bruce Gerencser problem.”  I also want to write about the vicious discipline the church (Pat Horner) used to manipulate and control parishioners.

121915

I am a Publican and a Heathen Part Four

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner 1994

Jose Maldonado. Bruce Gerencser, Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church

This post concludes the I Am a Publican and a Heathen series. This series details my experiences as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf Texas. In March 1994, I left a pastorate of eleven years and moved to Texas so I could co-pastor a thriving, growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church. The church was founded by Pat Horner. Pat and I became acquainted through a newsletter I published — The Sovereign Grace Reporter. In March 1993, I packed up my family — five children in the backseat and two adults and a child in the front — and drove to Texas to preach at Community’s annual Bible Conference. Polly and I were enthralled with the church and its growing motivated, young membership. Later in the year, Pat called and asked me if I would be willing to come and work with him. After talking it over with Polly, I decided that God wanted me to remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church. A few weeks later, in what can only be described as a deep emotional experience, I change my mind about working with Pat. I telephoned Pat and told him that I believed that God was now telling me to come to Texas. Several weeks later, Polly and I drove to Texas to meet with the church membership. They overwhelmingly were in favor of me becoming one of their pastors. Little did I know that less than a year later I would be packing up my family and, with a broken heart, moving back to Ohio. If you have not read the previous posts in this series (Part One Part Two Part Three), I encourage you to do so. They provide important context that will make this post easier to understand.

Community Baptist Church believed that since the church had to approve entrance into the membership, no one could leave the church without their permission. Leaving without church approval was viewed as a betrayal of the covenantal relationship between members. People who left the church or stopped attending were routinely disciplined (Matthew 18:15-20), resulting in excommunication. The church believed that excommunicated members were to be considered publicans and heathens. The only way disciplined members could remove this “mark” (Titus 3:10,11,Romans 16:17, and 2 Thessalonians 3:14,15)  was to humbly come before the church, admit their sin, and plead for reinstatement.

Pat Horner was a former Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, a fact that he, to this day, likes to hide. The reason this is important is that while Pat disavowed IFB theology when he embraced the five points of Calvinism, he continued to believe that God-honoring churches were to be ruled by pastors (elders). While Community had a plurality of elders, it was quite clear that Pat was the elder above all others. Looking back on my decision to co-pastor Community, I now know that I grossly overestimated the ability of both Pat and myself to work with each other. Both of us had spent our careers as men who controlled every aspect of the churches we pastored. We may have had elders and deacons who were supposedly equal in power and authority, but these officeholders were little more than façades that covered up ego-driven, authoritarian rule. While I did not remain such a pastor, it is, to this day, hard for me to think about how controlling I was. I know that authoritarianism robs people of self-determination and self-worth. Lording over people and treating them as subjects in one’s own little kingdom causes great psychological damage. I suppose, then, my facing church discipline at the hands of Pat Horner was some sort of karmic justice. The monster that I had fed and used to control “sinful” church members finally devoured its creator. All I can do now is to use my experiences as a platform to help others who have been emotionally eviscerated by pastors and churches who believe that God has given them absolute control over the lives of others. While I am hesitant to say such beliefs and practices are cultic — who wants to admit they were a cultist? — any fair-minded person would conclude that they are.

During my time at Community, I participated in several public disciplinary meetings, including one in which I was in charge of the proceedings. Errant members were disciplined for all sorts of “sins,” but most of them were excommunicated because they stopped attending church. Since these dropouts did not notify the church (Pat) about their leaving, they were, by church vote (almost always a rubber stamp to Pat’s request) removed from the membership. In many instances, other local Calvinistic churches refused to accept as members those who had been excommunicated. The only way for excommunicated members to join the new church was for them to return to Community and confess their “sin” before the congregation. Once duly humbled, these wayward members would then be granted a release from their membership. They were then free to join up with a new church. This applied, of course, only to sound Calvinistic Baptist churches. Members leaving to join up with non-Calvinistic churches were not granted releases. Pat believed that Calvinism was the true gospel and that non-Calvinistic churches were heretical and taught a false gospel. This thinking permeated the church. I was asked on several occasions if I believed that Arminians (Methodists, Free Will Baptists, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, et al.) were Christians. I did my best to sidestep such questions, knowing that saying yes would cause church conflict. One leader in the church would later remark after I left that he knew I was never a “real” Calvinist. This man did not like my emphasis of God’s love. He preferred Jonathan Edwards’ brooding, violent, sin-hating God.

As I mentioned, I was in charge of one of the disciplinary meetings. Pat had gone to Mexico for a few weeks, so it was up to me to make sure that the authoritarian machine was firing on all eight cylinders. During this time, I began to have problems with a man who had been ordained by the church. He was unhappy with Pat and with me, revealing, at least in my mind, that he had a “rebellious” heart. This man was disloyal and refused to submit to pastoral authority, so I determined that the best course of action was to strip him of his ordination. After several conference calls with Pat, I brought the matter before the church and the man was defrocked. He would later humble himself before “God” and have his ordination reinstated. (The very threat of discipline was often enough to get church members to change their behaviors.)

In early October 1994, after all the events described in Part Three of this series, Pat decided to bring me before the church for the purposes of discipline and possible excommunication. Several days before this meeting a few church members pleaded with me to make things right with Pat. They knew that excommunicating me had nothing to do with sin. This was all about two arrogant, self-righteous, bull-headed men who couldn’t get along with each other, yet I was the one who had to make things right. They knew that this was a power struggle over who would control the church, a power struggle I knew I couldn’t win. And it is for this reason I decided not to attend the disciplinary meeting. Tim Conway, now the pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, told me that if I would straighten things out with Pat that perhaps he would be willing to help me start a new church in San Antonio. (Conway denies he ever said this.) I knew that a number of church members preferred me above Pat. Many of them found my congenial, at times humorous, preaching appealing. I knew that if I decided to stay in San Antonio and start a new church that a number of people would join with me. And it is for this reason that I chose not to stay and start a new church. I can say with a little bit of pride that, over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I never experienced or fomented a church split. Members would come and go, but I never had a large group of people leave at one time with the express purpose of starting a new church. While causing a split at Community would have been in some ways gratifying — a poking of my fingers in the eyes of Pat Horner — I knew that church splits rarely grew into successful, growing congregations.

It took Polly and me a matter of a few days to pack up our belongings in a U-Haul truck. Several church members helped us load our worldly goods on the truck and a few others stop by to plead with us to attend the disciplinary meeting scheduled for Saturday. Some of them were quite emotional, weeping as they begged me not to go. I told all of them that nothing good would come from the disciplinary meeting. Pat had his mind made up. Either Bruce Gerencser was going to submit himself to the will of Almighty Pat or Pat was going to kick his ass out of the church. I refused to submit myself to Pat’s slander of my character, knowing that he had spent days making sure that key church members would vote his way. As anyone who has ever been a member of a Baptist Church knows, there are cliques and power groups within the church. Identifying these groups and appealing to them is the best way for a pastor to get what he wants. I had practiced this very method in the churches that I pastored. Since Pat had all his ducks in a row, it was futile for me to defend myself. As Kenny Rogers sang (The Gambler), You’ve got to know when to hold ’em / Know when to fold ’em / Know when to walk away / And know when to run. I knew that I did not have a winning hand, so I folded and moved back to Ohio.

Around 6 o’clock on an early October Saturday night, the Gerencser family tearfully drove out the long lane from their church provided-home to Labus Road. As we drove by the church, we passed a parking lot filled with cars. The meeting called for the purpose of dealing with the “Bruce Gerencser problem” was underway, and as I predicted, the church excommunicated me. To this day they consider me a publican and a heathen. My later loss of faith is proof to many of them that the decision they made on that October night in 1994 was right. Ironically, the church did not excommunicate Polly or our children. The church (Pat) determined that they were under my control and unable to think for themselves. This, of course, is exactly how I viewed the church. Under the control of Pat Horner, they pretty much did what he told them to do. My excommunication was a done deal the moment I stood up to Pat and he then determined that he would smack me down like a defiant teenager.

After returning to Ohio, Pat and I exchanged several nasty letters, the type you would expect from a couple who had gone through an acrimonious divorce. In later years, after a lot of reflection and soul-searching, I made several attempts to reconcile with Pat, hoping that in doing so it would put an end to all the gossip and lies that were being spread by not only him but other leaders in the church. Pat would have none of it, saying that the problem I had was with the church, not him. After trying several times to smoke the peace pipe, I gave up, believing, at the time, that the record would be set straight when we got to heaven. Since I now know that there is no heaven or God to adjudicate our disagreement, and Pat is unwilling to admit his part in my decision to resign from the church, all I am left with is this series of blog posts. People will believe what they want to believe. All I can do is tell my side of the story.

Pat left Community several years after I did, starting several churches and leaving them. He is no longer a pastor. (Community is now pastored by Kyle White.) He is still actively involved in “ministering” to Sovereign Grace churches in Mexico and India. Pastors Tim Conway and José Maldonado, both former members of Community Baptist Church, have in recent years publicly “exposed” Bruce Gerencser for who he really is. (Please read Jose Maldonado Says I Never Was a Christian and Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser.) Evidently, in their eyes, my current atheism is a threat, and like their former fearless leader, Pat Horner, they want to do what they can to eliminate my influence on others. Sadly, for them anyway, their attempts to do so have miserably failed. This series of posts has been read by tens of thousands of people. In recent years, I have received letters from people who were also disciplined by Pat and Community Baptist Church. While all of these people are still Christians, they appreciated my willingness to shine the light on the horrific disciplinary practices used by many Calvinistic pastors and churches. An untold number of good people have been psychologically harmed by hammer-wielding pastors out to bludgeon them into submission.

While my time at Community Baptist left psychological scars that remain to this day, I do believe that being excommunicated helped make me into the man I am today. When I arrived at Community I was on a path that was sure to damage not only myself and my family, but also those who lovingly called me pastor. In Pat Horner and the church I was able to experience firsthand the logical conclusions of my authoritarianism and Calvinistic beliefs. I can only imagine what I might have become had I continued on this path. Thankfully, being filleted and hung out to dry forced me to take a hard look at my life and beliefs. My excommunication was the first step towards leaving Evangelicalism. In the following years, I realized how damaging authoritarianism was, not only to me and my family, but also to the churches I pastored. While I remained, to some degree, conservative, my view of people and my interaction with them greatly changed. I owe Pat Horner and Community Baptist Church a great debt of gratitude for helping me become a better man, ultimately leading me to renounce my Christian faith and embrace atheism. While they most likely view my de-conversion as a sure sign that I never was a Christian, I am grateful that Pat and the church were instrumental in forcing me to take a hard look at the kind of man I was and how my beliefs were harmful to others. My only regret is that the same did not happen for Pat. He remains unapologetically a hard-core Sovereign Grace Baptist preacher. The damage that he has caused his great, but those stories are best left untold. Perhaps someday members of his family or former congregants will dare to tell their stories, and maybe then Pat will have his own honest reckoning. I have done my best to be honest and open about the time I spent at Community Baptist Church. I willingly admit my culpability in the problems between Pat and I.  Peel away all the theology and what’s left is a story about two 30-something Type-A  men who could not or would not find common ground to work with each other. Their failure to do so is a story that has repeated itself countless times in countless churches. Despite appeals to the Bible and God, one truth remains — people are people. Pastors such as Pat and I can easily be driven by personal wants, needs, and desires. In our case, both of us wanted to be the king of the hill, and as anyone who has ever played the game knows, there can only be one king.

[signoff]