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Tag: Arminianism

Short Stories: The Day My Preacher Friend Fired Me

bruce gerencser 1987
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987

In July of 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in the rural southeast Ohio community of Somerset. Over the course of eleven years, the church grew from sixteen to two hundred people. However, by early 1989, attendance stood at fifty due to people leaving the church and the church ending its bus ministry (4 busses). That same year, I embraced Evangelical Calvinism and started a tuition-free private school for church children. My ministry emphasis went from evangelism and topical/textual preaching to edifying the saints and expositional preaching. While I still preached on the street and attempted to win souls, my focus was on the church congregation, instructing them in the “doctrines of grace.”

I started preaching at the age of fifteen. Last night, Polly asked me if I remembered the first sermon I preached, the text I used. She was surprised when I told her I did: An Ambassador for Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:20. A preacher’s first sermon is much like having sex for the first time — both memorable experiences, moments in your life you don’t forget. I stopped preaching in the spring of 2005. I pastored my last church, Victory Baptist Church (now closed) in Clare, Michigan, in 2003. I briefly thought about pastoring again, candidating at two churches: New Life Southern Baptist Church in Weston, West Virginia, and Hedgesville Baptist Church in Hedgesville, West Virginia. Though both churches were interested in me becoming their pastor, I declined, and that was that . . . almost. My friend, Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church in Millersport, Ohio, believed, at the time, that I just needed to get back on the proverbial horse and start preaching again. Believing that it was impossible for me not to be a preacher,– For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (Romans 11:29) — Bill was insistent that I get back to doing what God had called me to do. Bill even went so far as to offer to buy me an unused church building in Zanesville, Ohio, to start a new church in. He was sorely disappointed when I “prayed” on the matter and said no.

Three years later, Bill received my infamous letter, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter detailed my reasons for leaving Christianity. Alarmed and disturbed by my letter, Bill jumped in his car and drove more than three hours north to rescue me from unbelief. After he returned to his home outside of Lancaster, Ohio, I sent Bill the following letter:

Dear Friend,

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a hundred-dollar bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen such a bill in the plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first church bus. You helped us buy our church building. In later years, you gave my wife and me a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I a Calvinist.

One day you came to a place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become (whether I view it as good or bad).

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three-plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced I had no other option but to open the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always . . .

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way. But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace.

Do you know what troubled me the most? You didn’t shake my hand as you left. For 26 years we shook hands as we came and went. The significance of this is overwhelming. You can no longer give me the right hand of fellowship because we no longer have a common Christian faith.

Over the course of three hours, you constantly reminded me of what I used to preach, what I used to believe. I must tell you forthrightly that that Bruce is dead. He no longer exists. That Bruce is but a distant memory. For whatever good may have been done I am grateful, but I bear the scars and memories of much evil done in the name of Jesus. Whatever my intentions, I must bear the responsibility for what I did through my preaching, ministry style, etc.

You seem to think that if I just got back in the ministry everything would be fine. Evidently, I cannot make you understand that the ministry IS the problem. Even if I had any desire to re-enter the ministry, where would I go? What sect would take someone with such beliefs as mine? I ask you to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a pastor again. Does not the Bible teach that if a man desires the office of a bishop (pastor) he desires a good work? I have no desire for such an office. Whatever desire I had died in the rubble of my 25-plus-year ministry.

We talked about many things, didn’t we? But I wonder if you really heard me?

I told you my view on abortion, Barack Obama, the Bible, and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ.

You told me that a Christian couldn’t hold such views. According to your worldview that is indeed true. I have stopped using the Christian label. I am content to be a seeker of truth, a man on a quest for answers. I now know I never will have all the answers. I am now content to live in the shadows of ambiguity and the unknown.

What I do know tells me life does not begin at conception, that Barack Obama is a far better President than George Bush, that the Bible is not inerrant or inspired, and that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven (if there is a Heaven at all).

This does not mean that I deny the historicity of Jesus or that I believe there is no God. I am an agnostic. While I reject the God of my past, it remains uncertain that I will reject God altogether. Perhaps . . .

In recent years, you have told me that my incessant reading of books is the foundation of the problems I now face.Yes, I read a lot. Reading is a joy I revel in. I read quickly and I usually comprehend things quite easily (though I am finding science to be a much bigger challenge). Far from being the cause of my demise, books have opened up a world to me that I never knew existed. Reading has allowed me to see life in all its shades and complexities. I can no more stop reading than I can stop eating. The passion for knowledge and truth remains strong in my being. In fact, it is stronger now than it ever was in my days at Somerset Baptist Church.

I was also troubled by your suggestion that I not share my beliefs with anyone. You told me my beliefs could cause others to lose their faith! Is the Christian faith so tenuous that one man can cause others to lose their faith? Surely the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than Bruce (even if I am Bruce Almighty).

I am aware of the fact that my apostasy has troubled some people. If Bruce can walk away from the faith . . . how can any of us stand? I have no answer for this line of thinking. I am but one man . . . shall I live in denial of what I believe? Shall I say nothing when I am asked of the hope that lies within me? Christians are implored to share their faith at all times. Are agnostics and atheists not allowed to have the same freedom?

I suspect the time has come that we part as friends. The glue that held us together is gone. We no longer have a common foundation for a mutual relationship. I can accept you as you are, but I know you can’t do the same for me. I MUST be reclaimed. I MUST be prayed for. The bloodhound of heaven MUST be unleashed on my soul.

Knowing all this, it is better for us to part company. I have many fond memories of the years we spent together. Let’s mutually remember the good times of the past and each continue down the path we have chosen.

Rarer than an Ivory-billed woodpecker is a friendship that lasts a lifetime. Twenty-six years is a good run.

Thanks for the memories.

Bruce

Bill never responded to my letter.

I saw Bill one more time a few years ago at a funeral service I held for a former member of Somerset Baptist. We briefly talked after service. I’m sure Bill was disappointed over the secular service I performed for our fellow church member (the deceased had left Christianity), but he said nothing. Two years ago, Bill — true to Jesus and Fundamentalist Christianity to the end — died.

Now to the subject of this post: the day my preacher friend (Bill) fired me. I could write thousands and thousands of words about my friendship with Bill Beard (and his wife, Peggie). Today, I want to focus on a story that took place in the fall of 1989. At the time, Bill was pastoring a Nazarene church he had started outside of Thornville, Ohio (now called Together Ministries Nazarene Church). Bill asked me to preach a revival for his church. Bill knew that I had embraced five-point Calvinism, and I knew his church was Arminian, with many members, including Bill and his wife, believing in sinless perfection (an absurd theological belief if there ever was one). I am sure readers sense an MMA fight waiting to happen.

Bill was a southern gospel aficionado. He had a different group scheduled for each night of the six-night meeting. On the first night, a quartet sang a dreadful song that suggested there were steps to salvation. I believed they were preaching heresy, works-based salvation. So, when it came time for me to preach, I made an “off-handed” comment about the song. Later in my sermon, I made an “off-handed” comment about “sinless perfection” — the belief that Christians can reach a state where they no longer sin. I put the word “off-handed” in quotes for this reason: I never made off-handed comments when preaching. I invested hours in preparing and crafting my sermons. Polly “fondly” remembers my epic OCD sermon outlines. Before I had a word processor or a computer, I would write my outlines long-form, and Polly would type them for me.

Many preachers are known for chasing rabbits, turning their sermons into a hot mess of incoherence. Polly’s father was a consummate rabbit chaser. Great with people, but a terrible preacher. I mean t-e-r-r-i-b-l-e. I worked with my father-in-law for two years, hearing him preach hundreds of sermons. I tried to teach him how to outline a sermon and deliver a coherent, structured message. But, Dad couldn’t make the magic happen. I, on the other hand, never chased a rabbit I didn’t intend to chase; and shoot, skin, and eat for dinner. I destroyed all of my sermon outlines — dumb idea, Bruce (please see Short Stories: The Night I Set My Life on Fire) — in the early 2000s, but I have no doubt I put handwritten notes on my sermon outline for the first night of the revival service that said: works-based gospel song, sinless perfection. These were prompts meant to remind me that I needed to point my shotgun at these rabbits and shoot them dead. And I did.

I was quite proud that I, as a preacher of the true gospel, had preached this gospel to several hundred Arminians. Good job, right? God was pleased with me, right? Right? I brought several Calvinistic acolytes with me, Rick and Lewis — men who daily immersed themselves in the doctrines of grace. Rick and Lewis, both single men in their late 20s and early 30s, praised me for my defense of free grace, my denunciation of works salvation and sinless perfection. Bill and his church had a far different view of my sermon. Shocker, right? Jesus, I poured gasoline on a centuries-old blazing theological bonfire.

The next day, I was sitting in the Somerset Baptist auditorium, pondering and praying about that night’s sermon. Through the oversized oak auditorium doors walked Bill. I was surprised to see him, but it was not uncommon for Bill to stop by the church when he was out and about (this was in the days before cellphones). Bill, of course, wanted to talk to me about the previous night’s sermon. Bill told me that he and his church’s board had decided not to have me preach again. Bill was profusely apologetic, but I understood why he was firing me. Bill handed me several hundred dollars, thanked me for preaching, and left. This was the first and only time this happened to me. At the time, I believed I was fired for preaching the “truth.” Years later, I concluded that my dismissal was the result of arrogance and disrespect. As a Calvinist, I knew there were certain theological subjects I should avoid when preaching to an Arminian congregation. Instead, I disrespected the congregation by stomping on their cherished beliefs.

Bill would later leave the Church of the Nazarene due to perceived “liberalism.” Bill, who had no post-high school education, was asked by denominational leaders to take classes part-time at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Bill was exposed to ideas that directly challenged his rigid, absolute Fundamentalist beliefs for the first time. (Bill was King James-only.) Unfortunately, he rejected out of hand what his professors tried to teach him, leaving his church and the Church of the Nazarene denomination.

Bill took his outrage and rigidity to a new church, Lighthouse Memorial Church, and a new denomination, Christian Union. I preached special meetings for Bill’s new church. (Bill and his wife donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a new church building. Bill farmed 2,000 acres near the church.) I have an old VHS recording of a sermon I preached at Bill’s church. It is the only extant recording of a sermon I preached. I plan to have it converted into a digital recording that I will share on this blog and my YouTube channel.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

I Wish Evangelicals Would Make Up Their Minds About My Salvation

saved or lost

My writing can be found all over the Internet: on social media, Reddit, websites, and private discussion groups. Recently, an ex-Catholic Reddit group was talking about my deconversion. Many of the participants actually found my story helpful, and for that I am grateful.

In other places, my writing is used as fodder to deconstruct my life. One such discussion can be found in the Christianity subreddit. Titled, “Former decades-long pastor who became an atheist proves how ridiculous the concept of “Once-Saved-Always-Saved is” participants argued back and forth about whether I was a Christian in the past or whether I was presently still a believer. Let me give you several examples

Shamus:

That “pastor” never knew Christ personally. He admits it [I most certainly did not]. What he did do, however, is just go through the motions. Putting on the show. Saying all the right things. [This is a baldfaced lie.]

That is what is called a false convert. One can be a false convert for a day, or for an entire lifetime.

No sinner is saved by saying some words. If all one knows is ABOUT God, but one does not KNOW God…then they too are just going through the motions.

As the cliche goes: relationship, not religion.

Roll2Tide:

God’s word is forever true. This pastor’s salvation will forever be secured from God’s perspective.

Separately, this pastor is free to change course and reject that salvation, which he is currently doing.

The OSAS is most commonly spoken to or about a person who is afraid of having their salvation taken from them, and virtually never about a person trying get rid of salvation.

If that pastor doesn’t understand these things………I mean, seriously, this is vacation bible school level knowledge.

RicketyTicketyTock:

So, without getting into pretentious acronyms and big words that try and prove a point. I was raised in the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church as well, from birth until I was 18, I didn’t leave because I lost my faith, I left because I didn’t agree with the ridiculously strict rules that we were made to live by. That being said, they believed in the idea that if you asked Christ to be your personal savior then you were saved from that point on, forever. If you made a mistake, if you hurt someone, then it didn’t mean you lost your salvation. They also believe that there is no one sin that is greater than another, that all sin is sin, so whether you tell a white lie to your child or commit murder, sin is sin and there is no measure that a sin can be so bad that you lose your salvation.

The Bible tells us that no man can do anything to separate a saved individual from God, the only way to have your name removed from The Lamb’s Book of Life is to remove scripture from The Bible. No man can remove your place in heaven, not even yourself.

BigCountryRon:

No it doesn’t. I don’t care if you are an atheist or not, if it has been confirmed through confirmation, you are always a Catholic.

Dude is still saved.

TheApostleJeff:

None of those passages in scripture you quoted speak to OSAS, they speak to patterns / habits / fleshly behaviors that are so dominant that anybody displaying them regularly does not have eternal life in them.

I’d argue the pastor in discussion was never saved, nor were the ‘Christians’ he is comparing himself to. As evidence – nobody who has tasted and seen the Lord is good and then walked in that freedom for 40 years would ‘leave the faith’.

At the end of the day, nobody knows who is truly saved and who isn’t but God

There were sixty-eight comments in this discussion thread. According to these Christians, I was: never saved, still saved, or lost my salvation.

Which is it, Christians? If the Bible is the inspired Word of God and true in all that it says, why can’t the followers of Jesus figure out whether I was or still am a Christian? The Bible says that there is ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, and ONE BAPTISM. One faith, but Christians argue amongst themselves about what that faith is. And yet, they expect unbelievers to figure out which salvation shtick is true.

Perhaps the real issue here is the fact that the Bible can be used to prove almost anything. That’s why Arminians, Calvinists, and once-saved-always-saved Baptists wage war against one another over which of them is right. Allegedly, getting saved is the most important decision you will make. Why, then, can’t the author of the Bible, God, make the matter crystal clear?

I’m waiting God. . .

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved?

saved or lost

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Yes.

No.

Maybe.

What do I mean by the word “saved”? Delivered. Redeemed. Set free. Born again. Regenerated. Bought by the blood. Justified (looked at by God just as if I never sinned).

The Bible says:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9,10)

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8.9)

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3,4)

Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9)

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16)

Oops. Scratch that last one. Don’t want to start a war between the Baptists and the Campbellites (Churches of Christ); sects who famously fight over the Greek word eis (for) in Acts 2:38. The Baptists believe people are baptized eis (because) their sins have been remitted, but the Campbellites — who were excommunicated by the Baptists for preaching baptismal regeneration — believe people are baptized eis (for, in order to) have their sins remitted. Neither group believes the other is “saved.”

Most Christians interpret the aforementioned verses, and others, in a basic, generic way:

I am a sinner. Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. Three days later Jesus resurrected from the dead. Believing this message to be true, I admit I am a sinner, I repent (turn from or change my mind) of my sins, and, by faith, I trust Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me. I am trusting Jesus to save me and keep me until I die. By putting my faith and trust in Jesus, I know I will go to heaven when I die. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

There are three basic schools of thought when it comes to salvation. I know there are various shades of each of these. Please, spare me the emails and comments that say I didn’t properly describe YOUR TRIBE. This post is not a doctoral thesis on “Christian Soteriology Through the Ages.”

Once Saved, Always Saved

There is the “once saved, always saved” school. According to this school of thought, once a person is saved, he can never be un-saved. No matter what the person does, no matter how the person lives, he is saved forever. A person can stop attending church, stop doing ANYTHING that remotely suggests that he is a Christian, yet “once saved, always saved.” One noted Evangelical writer, R.B. Thieme, even said that a person could go to the altar and be saved and then leave the church, curse God, and live like a heathen the remainder of his life . . . it matters not, “once saved, always saved.”

This is the soteriological belief of most Baptists and Evangelicals. Salvation becomes “fire insurance.” People don’t want to go to Hell, so they get saved. Whew, that’s over. Next! How ’bout them Cowboys!

Coupled with this belief is the notion that the believer will be rewarded someday for doing the right things in this life. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

So, people might be “once saved always saved” but if they don’t live right, they will lose their Heavenly rewards. The nature of this loss of rewards is never clearly defined. Maybe their mansions won’t have indoor plumbing or satellite TV? (John 14:1-6)

Some “once saved, always saved” believers realize that their version of salvation really looks bad. They know their brand of salvation makes it looks like they are preaching a “live like hell, still go to heaven” gospel.

To counter this, they teach that Christians who live carnally (worldly, fleshly) will be chastised (beaten, corrected) by God in this life. If a carnal Christian is not chastised, it is proof that he was never “really” saved. The Bible says in Hebrews 12:8: But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Countless once-saved-always-saved Baptists have told me that I am still a Christian. No matter what I do, no matter what I believe, I can never, ever lose my salvation. I suppose if this is the case, then there will be a lot of atheists in Heaven.

Conditional Salvation, Arminianism

Arminian sects believe in conditional salvation. Arminian sects include Freewill Baptists, Methodists, Wesleyans, Churches of Christ, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of the Nazarene, Pentecostals, and others.  They believe a person is saved by grace, but kept by works (works they perform by and through the power of God, so it is really all of grace). In this school of thought, people can only know they are saved in the present moment. Their future salvation is conditioned on them doing the right things.

A believer can do certain things that will result in the loss of salvation. Some Arminian groups believe you can only lose your salvation one time. In other words, “once saved, once lost, always lost.”

The Bible says in Hebrews 6:4-6:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Other Arminian groups believe a person can repeatedly be saved, lost, saved, lost, saved. They often talk about a line that is crossed, when a person goes from a state of grace to being lost again. I have asked repeatedly over the years exactly where that line is, and no Arminian can tell me. I have been told by more than one Arminian preacher, “You just KNOW when you have crossed the line.”

Arminians have no problem explaining my life. It is quite simple to them; I once was saved, and now I am lost.

Perseverance (Preservation) of the Saints, Calvinism

The final school of thought is the Calvinistic school. Calvinist groups such the Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, some Southern Baptists, Sovereign Grace Baptists, and Episcopalians, to name a few, adhere to what is commonly called the five points of Calvinism (which were actually articulated as a reply to the Arminians). Point number five is the perseverance (preservation) of the saints.

The perseverance of the saints is “once saved, always saved” with a twist.  Calvinists believe salvation is a work done totally by God. From start to finish, it is God who does it all. A person cannot believe, exercise faith, or do anything apart from God giving them the power to do so. Those whom God saves, God keeps. Now, God only saves a certain number of people. God knows exactly how many he will save. They are the elect. They have been predestined to salvation. No one but the elect will be saved. Everyone else need not apply.

The God who saves is the God who causes believers to persevere to the end. If they don’t persevere to the end, then that is proof they were never saved to start with.

After hearing my deconversion story, Calvinists conclude I never was saved.  I didn’t persevere. I had received common grace, but not God’s special, saving grace. In other words, God toyed with me, and then said “fuck you, go to Hell.” The contradiction in their conclusion is that they cannot know if I might yet persevere in the future. Perhaps, I am just going through an atheist phase, and I will return to Christianity at some later point and time.

Calvinists cannot know for sure they are saved. They can HOPE they are. They can constantly examine their lives to see if they are availing themselves to the means of grace, but until they die, they cannot know for sure they have made it to the finish line. They MUST persevere to the end to be sure. They are hoping God comes through for them, but they won’t know for sure until the end. After all, they too could be deluded. They too could be following a false Christ. Perhaps God is just toying with them too, and they will end up bunking in Hell with atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Steven Hawking, Steve Gupton, Gandhi, Bruce Gerencser, and all those who preached the false gospel of Arminianism.

Imagine a person going from church to church trying to find out the one true Christian message of salvation. You would think Christians could agree on the most basic of truths: salvation.

But they don’t.

I am convinced that Christians better hope that God is a universalist. If not, Hell is going to be filled with Christians.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce, Have You Committed the Unpardonable Sin?

bible made me an atheist

Bob, a regular reader of this site, asked me the following question:


I do have a question for you and was curious on your answer.

I know you know the scriptures as far as what they say, so you will most likely have an answer.

Based on the scriptures concerning blasphemy it is my understanding from past teachings that blasphemy definition by Pharisee’s was saying that a person could forgive sins or someone claiming to be God. Jesus then talked about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and no forgiveness.

Based on these few scriptures, in your opinion from what you know of your past Bible teachings, do you think that you have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit? Not because of your walking away, but rather by the things that you have said? I am asking based on your knowledge of what the Bible says, not whether you believe in the Bible today.

Hopefully I have worded this respectfully enough for an answer.

Wonderful question. Hopefully, I can provide an adequate and satisfactory answer.

Matthew 3:22-30 says:

And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.

Ligonier Ministries, the teaching ministry of Reformed Evangelical R.C. Sproul, interprets Mark 3:28-30 this way:

Although Jesus does not specifically define this sin, the context reveals this transgression as the persistent, knowing, verbal attribution of the work of God to Satan.

First, Mark’s comment “for they were saying” (v. 30) as he narrates Jesus’ response to the scribes shows that the blasphemy Jesus has in mind is a verbal sin. The scribes were sinning with words, with statements against our Savior. Moreover, the same comment from Mark means unforgivable blasphemy is a persistent sin. “Were saying” is in the progressive voice, which conveys ongoing action. The scribes spoke against Jesus not merely one time; rather, they were so hardened against Him that they continued to associate Him with Satan.

Such hardness is particularly noteworthy because it came from the resident biblical experts. So, we cannot understand what Jesus means by the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit unless we recognize the scriptural knowledge of our Lord’s opponents. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus held the religious leaders to a high standard. Christ expected them to know the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament, so well that they could rightly identify God’s work (Matt. 23; John 3:1–15). So, the blasphemy of the Spirit does not arise from mere ignorance. When people know the Scriptures well and yet not only fail to recognize Jesus as Messiah but also openly reject Him, they are standing on perilous ground.

Blasphemy of the Spirit, then, is not the occasional bad thought or episode of anger against God. Such things are sins, to be sure, but they are not the persistent, deliberate rejection of the Lord’s work that shows itself in a willful attribution of God’s actions to Satan himself. Such blasphemy is unforgivable not because the Lord is unwilling to forgive but because a person guilty of such sin has fully and finally hardened his heart against the grace of God.

What, exactly, is the unpardonable sin? While Evangelicals disagree among themselves about the unpardonable sin — what it is and who can commit it — Sproul’s interpretation is held by many Christians. As an Evangelical pastor, my interpretation aligned with Sproul’s; that the unpardonable sin is ascribing the works of God (Jesus) to Satan; that those who commit the unpardonable sin cannot be saved/redeemed.

Bob wants to know, based on my knowledge of the Bible, if I believe I have committed the unpardonable sin? The short answer is no. While I certainly, with great gusto, blaspheme God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit, I have never ascribed the works of God to Satan. The reason for this is simple: much like God himself, I believe Satan is a myth. It would be silly of me, then, to give credit to Satan for works allegedly performed by God.

The “works of God,” without exception, are the handiwork of humans, as are works ascribed to Satan. Gods, regardless of the sect, are fabricated by humans, and the only “powers” deities have are those which we give to them.

Now, if I transport this discussion back to the days when I was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, and I had run-in with Bruce Gerencser, the atheist, I most certainly would have said that he was a blasphemer against God; that he had committed the unpardonable sin.

Having said that, the notion that there is an “unpardonable sin” leads to all sorts of problems theologically for Evangelicals.

Is there a difference between the “unpardonable sin” and reprobation, as found in Romans 1:18-32?

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

According to Romans 1:18-32, when a person, who by nature, knows God exists and refuses to acknowledge his existence and worship him, that person becomes vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart is darkened. Southern Baptist evangelist Rolfe Barnard preached a sermon on reprobation where he said that for the reprobate, the lights go out on their way to Hell. In other words, God gives humankind the “light” of creation, conscience, and divine revelation (the Bible). The person on a path to reprobation rejects the light given to him by God, and, bit by bit, the God’s light within him becomes dimmer, until God says, “that’s it for you,” and he unplugs the light. According to Barnard, countless people are as good as in Hell as if they were already there. Once God turns out the light in a person’s soul, there’s no hope for them. That person has crossed a line of no return.

In a sermon from Luke 11:35 titled, When the Lights Go Out on The Road to Hell, Barnard said:

I want to talk some tonight, if God’s Spirit will help me,
about this last danger. I am speaking on “When the Lights Go Out on the Road to Hell.” And they are going out for men and women all about us. I can’t prove it, but I believe that America is made up largely of men and women who cannot be saved. I believe they have played and trifled with truth too long. And there is one thing that God Almighty gets angry about; it’s the people who treat lightly any move that God makes to bring light on our pathway. That sure is serious.

There comes a time when God Almighty will reprobate a
man, will reject a man. He rejected Pharoah. He rejected the nation of Israel; and it appears to be by the blank expression on people’s faces that many, many people in America have been rejected, because God has had them under His long-sufferance to the point where He cannot be God and deal with them any more. And so He just rejects them and they begin to live in hell here on this earth and
hell in time to come.

Both the unpardonable sin and reprobation lead to the same place: outside of the saving grace of God. Once a person reaches this place, they can’t be saved, and their eternal destiny is sealed — even though they may live for another fifty years.

These Biblical “truths” lead to several glaring problems for Evangelicals.

First, Evangelicals are fond of saying that no sin is so bad that God can’t or won’t save you. No matter what you’ve done, God is willing and able to save you, the thinking goes. However, it seems that the unpardonable sin and reprobation place a person beyond God’s wonderful, matchless grace.

Second, most Evangelicals — Arminians excepted — believe that once a person is saved, he cannot lose his salvation/fall from grace. He can lose his eternal rewards, but once saved, he can never become unsaved. Thus, since I was saved at the age of fifteen, no matter what I say or do, I am still safe in the arms of Jesus, and when I die, I will go to Heaven.

How is it possible to square once-saved-always-saved with the fact that someone can commit the unpardonable sin or God can give them over to a reprobate mind? Doesn’t this contradict what Evangelicals say about the nature of God’s saving grace?

Arminians — the children of Jacob Arminius and John Wesley — have no problem explaining these contradictory beliefs. According to Arminian theology, a follower of Jesus can fall from grace. Hebrews 6:4-6:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Hebrews 10:26,29 says:

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

….

Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches. At the age of fifteen, I made a credible public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. For thirty-five years, I lived my life as a committed, devoted follower of Jesus. No one, at that time, doubted that I was a Christian.

Today, according to Hebrews 10, I am sinning willfully. I have trampled under my feet the blood of Jesus and have contemptuous disregard for the Holy Spirit. According to Hebrews 6, if those who have been enlightened by God, tasted the Heavenly gift, been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come, reject these things, if they fall from grace, it is impossible for them to be saved again.

The Message translation, poignantly translates Hebrews 6:4-6 this way:

Once people have seen the light, gotten a taste of heaven and been part of the work of the Holy Spirit, once they’ve personally experienced the sheer goodness of God’s Word and the powers breaking in on us—if then they turn their backs on it, washing their hands of the whole thing, well, they can’t start over as if nothing happened. That’s impossible. Why, they’ve re-crucified Jesus! They’ve repudiated him in public!

I think it is safe to say, that I have repudiated Jesus in public. Thus, I have fallen from grace, lost my salvation (which I can never regain), committed the unpardonable sin, and God has turned me over to a reprobate mind! In other words, when it comes to God/Jesus/salvation, I’m fucked!

Of course, these things do not worry me in the least. Since I reject the Bible and its teachings, believe the Christian God is a myth, and reject the central claims of Christianity, I am not concerned one whit over whether I am saved/lost or a reprobate. I admit that in the eyes of Christians, I daily, without apology, commit the unpardonable sin; that my writing, if judged by the teachings of the Bible and the gaseous pronouncements of so-called men of God, is, in every way, blasphemous. Anyone who promotes reason, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry is, according to Evangelicals, a blasphemer. Refuse to accept the Bible as the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God? Deny the existence of God? Reject the claims of Christianity? Believe that Jesus was a but a man who lived and died, end of story? Find the “miracle” stories found in the Bible silly and laughable? You, my friend, in thought, word, and deed have committed the unpardonable sin. In the eyes of Evangelicals, you are a reprobate. See you in Hell.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Is There Only One Plan of Salvation?

saved or lost

To hear many Evangelical preachers tell it, salvation is a transaction between God and humankind. Humankind is wicked, vile, and sinful, unable to do good and headed for eternity in the Lake of Fire. God, in his infinite wisdom, made a way for us to have our sins forgiven. Once we avail ourselves to this super-duper sin-erasing way, we have a ticket to Heaven that cannot be canceled. The moment we pray to Jesus and ask him to forgive us of our sins and come into our lives, one of Heaven’s angels puts a door hanger on a room in the Father’s House that says RESERVED.

Countless American Christians have prayed the sinner’s prayer and are certain that when they die, they will wake up in Heaven. They have successfully pulled the handle on God’s Salvation Dispensing Machine® and down the chute came a Fire Insurance policy that guarantees payment upon death. It is the only insurance that pays off to you AFTER you die.

Eternal security, also known as once-saved-always-saved, is a central tenet of many an Evangelical preacher’s soteriology. Once in the family, you can never leave the family. God’s family is like the mob, once you are in, you are in for life. What better thing to offer sinners than a guaranteed home in Heaven that costs them nothing more than a few heartfelt words?

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen

The Bible says in Romans 10:9,10,13:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Arminians — those who believe you can lose your salvation — object to the doctrine of eternal security. According to their theology, Christians can and do lose their salvation. Good works are necessary to maintain one’s salvation.  Calvinists also object to the doctrine of eternal security. They emphatically believe that a person must persevere, hold on until death. And if they don’t, this is proof that they were never really Christians.

Based on what I have written above, this means that someone such as myself, a reprobate, a denier of God and his offer of salvation, a man who once was saved, who once followed Jesus is either:

  • Still saved because once I was saved, I can never lose that salvation
  • Unsaved because I lost the salvation I once had
  • Never was saved

Over the years I have had numerous Christians tell me that one of these three statements is an accurate description of my present state. All of them are quite certain that they are 100% right about my standing with God and where I will end up when I die.

Every Christian sect would agree that salvation and eternal destiny are THE most important issues every person must decide. Amos 4:12 says, PREPARE to meet thy God. Surely then, God has made the whole salvation thing crystal clear, right? Nope.

Take the aforementioned verses in Romans 10:9,10, 13. It seems clear that belief = salvation = eternity in Heaven.  John 10:28 says:

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

and 1 John 5:13 says:

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

and Hebrews 8:38, 39 says:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These are the verses on which the once-saved-always-saved believers hang their hats. Of course, Arminians and Calvinists both have arguments and rebuttals to the once-saved-always-saved interpretations. I once heard an Arminian preacher explain John 10:28 this way:

No man can pluck you out of God’s hand but you can jump out by yourself.

The point I am trying to make is that the whole notion of Christian salvation is hopelessly convoluted, complex, and contradictory. Right now, Evangelical preachers reading this post are:

jumping man

They are certain that THEIR soteriology, THEIR plan of salvation, is the right one. As I have stated numerous times, the Bible teaches multiple plans of salvation, with each plan contradicted by other Bible verses. Let me illustrate this. We already know what the once–saved-always-saved preacher says. Are there verses that contradict his salvation plan?

Hebrews 3:12-14 says:

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end;

This passage seems to be quite clear. A brother (brethren) can have an evil heart of unbelief and walk away from God. He will only have salvation and eternal life if he is steadfast to the end.

Can a person, for a time, fall away, and then come back to Jesus? Is it possible for someone such as I to repent of my sin, renounce my atheism, and return to following Jesus? Countless Evangelical preachers would say, YES! It’s never too late. As long as you are a living, breathing soul, you can be saved.

But wait a minute!

billy mays

Doesn’t Romans 1 and 2 talk about people who can’t be saved, people who have been given by God over to a reprobate mind? Isn’t it too late for them? And what about the Jews? John 12:37-40 says:

But though he (Jesus) had done so many miracles before them (the Jews), yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

God blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts of the Jews so they would not understand and be converted. In other words, these Jews couldn’t be saved. Does this no-salvation-for-you only apply to Jews alive during the days Jesus walked the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem? Evangelicals argue endlessly over the Jews and whether they can be saved or even need to be saved.

Now, if I can, let me land this plane. Consider a few passages from the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 6:4-6 says:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

As a Christian, I was once enlightened and I tasted of the heavenly gift. I was made a partaker of the Holy Ghost, tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come. I am now an atheist and I have repudiated all that I once said I believed. According to Hebrews 6:4-6, it is IMPOSSIBLE for me to ever be saved again. Why? Because I make a mockery of Jesus’s atoning work on the cross.

The writer of Hebrews reiterates this in Hebrews 10:29-31:

Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Granted, theologians and preachers of every persuasion have explanations for the multiple, contradictory plans of salvation. Many will dismiss the Hebrews quotes with a wave of the hand, saying, these verses apply to the Jews not us. Others will open their sect’s systematic theology book, turn to the section on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) and “prove” that any salvation scheme but theirs is wrong and will likely lead to eternal damnation and hellfire.

Here’s my point. If Christian theologians and preachers can’t agree on something as basic as salvation, what hope is there for those not trained in theology? How can people, without the preacher telling them, read the Bible and find out for themselves the way to Heaven?

From cover to cover, the Bible is a convoluted, contradictory mess. Try as theologians and preachers might to “harmonize” the Bible to fit their respective theological systems, they remain unable to simply answer the question, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16 and Mark 16) Even with the passage that asks the question what must I do to be saved, Christian preachers argue amongst themselves over whether salvation requires baptism.

All of what I have detailed here is evidence that the Bible is very much a human-made book. Surely, if the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible as many Christians sects and preachers believe, one would think that the manner in which someone is saved, how one comes into right standing with God, would be clear. It’s not.

Let me finish this post with Bruce Gerencser’s salvation plan:

Live well, do good works, and die. The only heaven and hell you will experience in this life is what you and your fellow human beings create.

Straight from the mouth of Bruce Almighty, written down on this inspired, inerrant, and infallible page. Thus saith Bruce.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce Gerencser