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The Age of Accountability

The Age of Accountability

At what age does God hold a person accountable for their sins? Evangelicals believe that all humans have a sin nature. This sin nature was inherited at conception from Adam, and humans have no say in the matter. From conception (or at birth) all humans become sinners. We don’t become sinners, we are sinners. Of course, babies and children don’t naturally understand this, so their parents and pastors must explain humankind’s inherent sinfulness. Children are taught early to understand the difference between right and wrong; that “wrong” is sin. Once these tender ones can parse the difference between right and wrong and know that their sin is an affront to God, they have reached the age of accountability.

Evangelical Calvinists tend to reject the notion of there being “an age of accountability.” No need, since God predestines certain people to be saved, with the rest of the unwashed masses predestined to Hell. There’s not one thing any of us can do to change God’s mind about our eternal destiny. Before the foundation of the world, God determined who was in and who was out. At what age children become accountable for their sin is irrelevant in Calvinistic soteriology.

Some Evangelicals believe that the age of twelve is when children become accountable before God for their sins. There’s no Scriptural foundation for this belief. Evangelicals who believe that twelve is the age of accountability don’t worry as much about their children’s sins. No need. God can’t judge them and send them to Hell until they are twelve.

I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. IFB churches and pastors take a very different approach to the age of accountability. They believe that children are accountable for their sins the moment they understand the difference between right and wrong; the moment they understand disobedience and rebellion, not only against God, but parents, pastors, and other authority figures.

Of course, children learn these things quickly in IFB homes. Sin, holiness, obedience, disobedience, and rebellion are often topics of discussion. The goal is to make children aware of their sinfulness so they can, at ages as young as four or five, understand God’s solution for sin — Jesus — and get saved. Children raised in zealous IFB homes typically get saved when they are young, and then as teenagers, they rededicate their lives to the Lord. While I was “saved” at the age of five, I use my rededication at age fifteen as my salvation date. Was I really saved at age five? I doubt it. I knew very little about the Bible or Christianity — just what I heard from my parents, pastors, and Sunday school teachers. While I certainly could have mouthed the IFB-approved plan of salvation, it wasn’t until I was fifteen that I truly understood what it meant to get saved (and later baptized, called to preach).

Why all this pressure to convert children as soon as possible? First, parents don’t want their progeny to suddenly die without being saved and go to Hell. Second, churches know that if children are not converted when they are young, it becomes increasingly unlikely they will be once they reach an age when they are developing rational, skeptical thinking skills. It’s easy to convince a five-year-old of an upright, walking talking snake. However, teens are not as gullible. Walking, talking snake, preacher? Sure. Early and frequent indoctrination and conditioning are key to keeping children in the church. Hook them when they are young and they will often stay (or move to a different cult that they think is less legalistic).

Churches have children’s church/junior church for two reasons. First, partitioning church services according to age allows children to be segregated from their parents. Kids have fun while being conditioned and indoctrinated with Evangelical beliefs, practices, and ways of life. Parents will not have to mess with their kids during worship services — ninety minutes of freedom from those demons God gave them. (For the record, I was not a fan of segregating children from their parents. Only one of the churches I pastored had a junior church.)

Second, splitting children away from their parents allows trained child and youth workers to use high-pressure methods to evangelize their charges. Scare the Hell out of children, and out of fear of judgment and death, they will pray the sinner’s prayer and get saved! For the record, I think such practices are child abuse.

What did your parents, churches, and pastors believe about the age of accountability? At what age were you saved? Did you get saved more than once? Did you fear as a child dying and going to Hell? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Calvinist Admits There’s Nothing Anyone Can Say to Change Her Mind About Homosexuality

bible head vice

By DebbieLynne Kespert, The Outspoken Tulip: Discipling Women For Discernment Through Doctrine, Why I Can’t be Convinced, June 6, 2023

Recently I had an amiable conversation with a non-Christian on the topic of homosexuality. We clearly disagreed, which surprised neither of us, but we parted on good terms and met a few days later having no awkwardness.


She asked me a question that I’ve thought about several times since our discussion. I didn’t give her a full response at the time (and I’m not even sure it would have furthered the discussion if I had), but in pondering the situation, I determined that her question needed to be addressed among Christians.

She wanted to know how she could convince me that her position on homosexuality is right.

My short answer had merit, actually — I simply said that she couldn’t. In a way nothing more needed to be said. As a non-Christian, she wouldn’t have accepted that I stand on the Bible as my reason for viewing homosexuality as a sin. Years ago, when I cited the authority of Scripture as the reason for another position I held, she dismissed my convictions by saying, “Well — I don’t believe the Bible.” It didn’t matter to her if I believed the Bible, apparently. She just wanted it made clear that she rejected its authority.

And that’s fine. I don’t expect any non-Christian to accept Scripture as God’s Word. Only the Holy Spirit can show someone that He speaks through the Bible. All I can do is pray that He will open her eyes to the fact that the Bible indeed has the authority to say what is and isn’t sin.

Those of us who are Christians, however, need to be sure that Scripture is our bottom-line reason for any position we take. As I said, the world won’t accept the Bible as a valid authority, but we know that no higher authority exists. For that reason, we must base everything we believe on God’s Word, confident that the Bible accurately reflects His perspective.


Admittedly, some arguments for homosexuality, women’s rights, abortion and cohabitation seem powerfully compelling, They can really tug at your heartstrings and make you feel guilty for standing firmly on Biblical convictions. I’ve also experienced that false guilt.

But as Christians, we don’t have to let the world’s emotional manipulation bully us into compromise. Rather, we can rest assured that God has spoken and that we can trust His judgments over the judgments of the world. We’ll become increasingly unpopular, to be sure. but we’ll be planted on the solid rock of Christ’s words.


So I can’t be convinced to change my stance on homosexuality because I’ve based my stance firmly on what God says in His Word. Unless someone convinces me that I can’t trust the Bible, I can’t be convinced to abandon my position.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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My Response to Tim Conway, Pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, Texas

liar liar pants on fire

Almost thirty years ago, I resigned from a church I had been pastoring in Mt. Perry, Ohio for eleven years, and accepted the co-pastor role at Community Baptist Church in Elemendorf, Texas. A man named Pat Horner — a former Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) who started the church — would be my fellow pastor.

I first “met” Pat in late 1992. He was receiving a newsletter I published, The Sovereign Grace Reporter. He had also listened to tapes of my sermons that Somerset Baptist Church made available through the mail via the CHARIS Tape Library. In early 1993, Pat extended an invitation to me to preach at Community’s annual Bible conference. I accepted, and in March 1993, Polly (who was seven months pregnant) and I, along with our five children, piled in a rented Chrysler automobile and drove 1,400 miles to Elmendorf, Texas. I preached several times during the conference, and all in all, we had a delightful time.

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner 1994
Jose Maldonado. Bruce Gerencser, Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church

In the fall of 1993, Pat Horner and his family and Jose Maldonado — the pastor of Hillburn Drive Grace Baptist Church in San Antonio — and his family drove to Ohio to speak at our Bible conference. Again, we had a delightful time. Weeks later, Horner called me and asked if I would be interested in moving to Elmendorf to become Community’s co-pastor. He was looking for someone to jumpstart the church’s evangelism efforts and start a grades K-12 Christian school. I was well suited for both tasks. I told Horner I would pray on the matter and get back to him. A week or so later, I called Horner and turned down his offer, saying God still had work for me to do in Mt. Perry. Keep in mind, Horner had already talked to the church about me becoming their pastor.

A week or so after that, after a deeply emotional experience in my study that I attributed to the Holy Spirit, I called Horner and asked if he was still interested in me becoming Community’s co-pastor. He said yes.

In early 1994, Polly — who recently had a baby — and our three youngest children, traveled once again to San Antonio to preach and meet with the congregation on two successive nights at John Sytsma’s home. Sytsma was one of the church’s elders. Once again, we had a delightful time. I answered lots of questions, ate lots of Mexican food, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Polly would say the same, if asked.

Horner later called me and said the church voted unanimously to call me as their co-pastor. I accepted their call, and in late February of 1994, we packed up our meager belongings and moved to Elmendorf — a small non-descript rural community outside of San Antonio.

I looked forward to becoming the church’s co-pastor. The church bought us a brand-new mobile home to live in and paid me a living wage. No benefits, no insurance, but roughly $26,000 a year — twice as much as the church in Mt. Perry was paying me.

I hit the ground running. During the seven months I was co-pastor of the church, I started a street preaching ministry, a nursing home ministry, a visitation ministry, started a Christian school with fifty-five students, and started two churches, one in Stockdale and another in Floresville. While I certainly had help, I was the primary engine that drove these ministries. The fact that many of them ceased to exist after I left speaks volumes about who was the prime mover behind them.

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

One young man in the church was a man named Tim Conway. Conway had recently moved to San Antonio from Michigan. He married a woman in the church named Ruby. Conway later left Community Baptist and started Grace Community Church in San Antonio. Conway, who has no formal theological training, is a hardcore Fundamentalist; a Calvinist through and through.

I had numerous conversations with Conway. He would often join group discussions I had with the men in the back of the church after Sunday evening services. I typically preached on Sunday nights, so these discussions were an opportunity for me to interact with the men about the content of my sermons and any other theological question they might have. Horner was not interested in interacting with congregants as I was, rarely joining such discussions. In fact, Horner rarely interacted with anyone outside of the services. I visited church members in their homes, hoping to get to know them better. I had always done this in every church I pastored. I also stopped by local hospitals to pray with members before having surgery and visited with them afterward as they recovered. Again, this was my custom, as a winsome, friendly, down-to-earth preacher — a people person. Horner was none of these things. He and I had very different personalities. I made a grave mistake when I either ignored these differences or wrote them off as “different strokes, for different folks.”

Our personalities crashed from the get-go. Horner could be temperamental, and, at times, a bully. I could be temperamental too. At first, I ignored or quietly suffered his ill-behavior, but over time, I began to push back. It was not long before I came home and told Polly that we had made a huge mistake coming to Texas.

I decided that my best option was to leave Community and pastor one of the churches I started. At this point, I didn’t want to move back to Ohio. Instead, the proverbial shit hit the fan. Horner and I met with fellow elder John Sytsma to try to hash out our difference, without success. That meeting ended with me throwing Horner out of my office.

The next day, Horner held a secret meeting at John Sytsma’s home to discuss what he was going to do with me. I found out about the meeting and crashed it. Things quickly turned ugly. Horner told me that I was no longer qualified to be a pastor; that I had to return to Community and sit. Voices were raised, accusations were made, and I finally decided I was done. I said to Horner and other men, “I resign.” Horner replied, “you can’t resign.” My last words to him were “watch me.” And with that, I left the meeting, returned to our mobile home, and told Polly that we were moving back to Ohio. Two days later, as we drove out the church drive for the last time, Horner had called a meeting to deal with the “Bruce Gerencser problem.” The church excommunicated me.

I did not attend the meeting because there was no need to do so. I had already resigned, and I had no interest in butting heads one more time with Horner. After we left, Horner did his best to smear my name, even going so far as to say that congregants in the next church I pastored were all unsaved. His gossip made its way to me through other preachers, much like an angry ex-wife’s words about her former husband.

In 2010, Tim Conway preached a sermon titled, Wolves and a Snake. This sermon was published on June 3, 2023 on YouTube.

Video link

Conway mentioned me two times in his sermon, first at the 14:11 mark, and then at the 42:19 mark.

Here’s what he had to say:

This is exactly the kind of situation that happened down at Community Baptist Church. When Craig and I were down there, a man came in from outside the church — and way too fast. He was made a co-pastor in the church. Made a co-pastor, it was back in the mid-90s. And you know what? He would do and say basically what Absolom said. If he found one of the brethren with a grievance against the pastor of the church, he would say, “you are good and right.” Just like Absolom. Kinda like, “Oh that I were a judge in the land, I’d take care of this thing. You’re right to find fault. You are right, there’s an issue.” He would basically take people’s gripes and people’s grievances against the other pastor, and he would give ear to it. Not only would he give ear to it, he’d fan the fire. Folks, I’ll tell you what eventually happened. God’s man rose up eventually and said, “these charges that are being leveled against me out there in secret,” — and that’s where the wolf operates. In secret. Now sometimes when they get enough of a following, they will come public because they believe, like Absolom did — did he not? Once he had a big enough following, what does he do? He comes public and he drives David out. But typically, they start out in kind of subtle fashion. As soon as Pat called this guy to the floor, “if you got charges against me level them publicly,” the man didn’t even come to the meeting, and he left the church. And that’s basically the conduct of a wolf.


Listen, you know what this tells you? And I can remember this when this man came into Community Baptist Church. I’ll tell you this. Pat Horner was God’s man. But Pat has some rough edges. And what happens is, the smooth guy comes in and he hits those rough edges. and what happens is, when the guy, the true God-called man, with his rough edges, comes to confront Mr. Gentleman, guess what it looks like to people. He’s just being a hard guy. He’s beating up on Mr. Nice Guy. And you see that can even go to swelling that following. Let me tell you this, when the wolf comes, and you have to confront him, you are generally going to get bit when you do it. Because you’re going to come across as the bad guy. Because this person has got a following. They’re nice, they’re smooth, they pull people after them. Brethren, be aware, be aware. Watch out for them Learn to spot them. How do you spot them? Well, folks, they divide. How are they divisive? Typically, when you are alone with them, there in your house, you are in their house, you are somewhere off, walking with them, you’re wherever. Even out in the parking lot. They are like Absolom. They question things. They don’t outright attack many times. But they will question things.

Let me be clear, Conway is a liar. There’s not one ounce of truth to his claims, outside of him saying I was Mr. Gentleman and Mr. Nice Guy. I will even cop to being a smooth guy. I took my job seriously. If my sermons came off as well-crafted and smooth, that was on purpose. Is it my fault that some members were more attracted to me and my sermons? I suspect Horner was jealous over the favor I had with some members, especially younger congregants. I did nothing to court this other than be myself.

Conway voted to call me as co-pastor, as did every other member. Why didn’t any of them, including Horner and John Sytsma, discern that I was, as Conway says later in his sermon a dog, false Christ, false apostle, false prophet, false teacher, deceiver and antichrist, enemy of the cross, demonic, a man who led people to hell and destruction, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, driven by my lust? Sure must of been a bunch of weak, shallow-minded, carnal people if they couldn’t discern that Satan was in their midst. Either that or Conway is lying.

Conway accuses me of trying to get people to follow me. Again, this is absolutely untrue. My goal was to extricate myself from a very bad situation, akin to being married to the wrong person and trying to divorce him. I wasn’t interested in causing harm to the church, nor Horner, for that matter. I just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge.

tim and ruby conway
Ruby and Tim Conway, Stockdale Baptist Church

Conway conveniently forgets that I met with him and his wife at their apartment two days before we moved back to Ohio. I made it clear to Conway that I had no interest in splitting the church (which I could have easily done); that I had never been part of a church split, and that I didn’t plan to do so now. Conway asked me to reconsider leaving, saying that if I stayed and started a new church in San Antonio, he would go with me. So much for me trying to draw people away.

Conway owes me a public apology. Of course, none will be forthcoming. Conway’s metaphorical car doesn’t have reverse gear. He is a hardcore Fundamentalist, a Calvinistic version of a garden-variety IFB preacher. Why he has a pathological need to periodically mention me in his sermons I do not know.

In November 2015, Conway preached a sermon titled The Futility of the Mind. In the sermon, Conway said:

Futile, vain, empty, pointless, to no avail. And right here in Ephesians chapter 4, futility of mind is the characterization of the Gentiles. That’s how you are no longer to be. Christian, we are to put away futility. No longer. You must no longer. Futility of mind is a picture of people using their mind in ways that are just a waste of time. They are a waste of effort. You want some examples? Brethren, I know this about all of us. We all want to be happy. That is what mankind is striving after. Mankind wants to feel good, and mankind strives after that. You want an example of futility of mind? Futility of mind is man who is forever and always trying to figure out how to be happy while he is an enemy of God. That, folks, is futility. That is vain. That is worthless.


Or how about this: The futility that people walking around just spending their time; I was thinking about, some of you know about Bruce Gerencser, who was one of the co-elders down at Community Baptist Church when Ruby and I were down there, who apostatized and basically became an Atheist. What futility to spend your life trying to convince yourself there is no God. You see, these are the futile ways or futility that comes to nothing. Nothing at all.

In the same year that Conway first preached his Wolves and a Snake sermon, his buddy Jose Maldonado preached a four-part sermon series about me.

Here’s a short audio clip from one of the sermons:

If you have the stomach for it, you can listen to the Apostasy and Its Awful Consequences! (also titled “Why Bruce Gerencser Was NEVER, EVER a Christian!) series on Sermon Audio.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

If you would like to read the sermons and not listen to them, here are PDF transcriptions of the sermons.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Please see Gone but Not Forgotten: Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser

I have written extensively about my tenure as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. If you want a complete explanation of what happened in Elemendorf, please read the following series, I am a Publican and a Heathen:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

To Tim Conway I say, I may be a [hot] dog, false Christ, false apostle, false prophet, false teacher, deceiver and antichrist, an enemy of the cross, demonic, leading people to hell and destruction, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, driven by my lust, but one thing I am not: a liar. I will await your retraction, and if not received, I will conclude that you are not a true Christian. Just remember, Tim, all liars shall have their part in the Lake of Fire. You can disagree with my atheism all you want, but you don’t get to smear my good name and attack my character without being called into account.

Do better, Tim, do better. And for the love of Loki, find some sermon illustrations that aren’t thirty years old. 🙂


I left a comment on Conway’s video, providing a link to this post. It was immediately deleted. 🙂 Makes one wonder what they are trying to hide. Maybe you will have better luck leaving a comment.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Much Like Mutual Orgasm, God Has “Perfect” Timing


Imagine for a moment a passionate, uninhibited couple making love. As their naked bodies writhe in unison, they reach a point of sexual release. And in that perfectly timed moment, both simultaneously have an orgasm. Nothing is better, at least to me, than such moments in life. My wife and I have been married for 45 years. We have made love a time or two. Okay, at least six times. 🙂 As any long-married couple will tell you, not every sexual encounter leads to skyrockets in flight, afternoon delight. Sometimes, the sex is just good or okay. But there are also times when the sex is magical, when it seems that everything is perfectly aligned, leading to the type of momentary experience I mentioned above.

As I was reading a comment on social media from an Evangelical talking about God’s “perfect” timing, I thought about how this notion is quite similar to a couple having mutual orgasms. Bruce, you have a “dirty” mind, some Evangelical is sure to say. Yep, I do. Now that we have THAT out of the way . . .

Most Evangelicals believe that their God not only created the universe, but also controls every aspect of their lives. Calvinists, in particular, preach up the sovereignty of God, believing that everything that happens — past, present, and future — is ordained and decreed by God (including orgasms).

Most Evangelicals believe that their God is involved in not only life’s big things, but also what is considered minutiae, the trivial things of life. According to Evangelical orthodoxy, the Triune God of the Protestant Bible is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. God is all-powerful, present everywhere, and knows everything. According to the Gospels, God cares for the fallen sparrow and knows the very number of hairs we have on our heads. He is a God of detail; a God who pays close attention to the small stuff. Years ago, I preached a sermon about the cliché, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I rejected this notion, telling congregants that God sweated the small stuff and so should they. Nice guilt inducing sermon, but I digress. A cursory reading of the Bible reveals that the Christian deity most certainly cares about our every behavior. The Bible story that illustrates this best is that of Uzzah and the Ark of Covenant. 2 Samuel 6:1-8 states:

Again, David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubims. And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. And David was displeased, because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah: and he called the name of the place Perezuzzah to this day.

Uzzah, being a good Jew, saw the Ark shaking, and fearing the embodiment of God’s presence would fall, he put out his hand to steady it. How did God reward Uzzah for his quick save? He smote him — love the King James Bible! — and Uzzah died.

According to the Rational Christianity website:

The Ark of the Covenant was an embodiment of God’s presence with the Israelites. The atonement cover (or “mercy seat”) that covered the ark was God’s throne (2 Sam 6:2) and God’s presence was above it (Lev 16:2); it was also the place where God met Moses and gave him commands (Ex 25:22). If someone approached the ark, they would effectively be in God’s presence – a sinner standing before a holy God who does not tolerate evil (Ps 5:4-6) – and would die as a result of their sins. For this reason, God had given the Israelites many rules concerning the Ark of the Covenant. It was to be kept in the Most Holy Place in the temple, hidden from view by a curtain (Ex 26:33). Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and then only after he had undergone ceremonial cleansing, made sacrifices to atone for his sins and the nation’s sins, and burned incense to conceal the atonement cover (Lev 16). When the ark was moved, it was covered with at least 3 layers of cloth by the priests to protect others from seeing it (Num 4:5-6, 15, 18-20); the priests/Levites carried it and everyone else had to stay about a thousand yards away (Josh 3:4). These laws enforced the concept of God’s holiness: sinful people couldn’t be in his presence, not even the high priest.

Hence, when Uzzah touched the ark, he was profaning it and disobeying God; he should have grabbed the poles used for carrying the ark instead, for that was their purpose (Ex 25:14-15)

God sure made his point, didn’t he?

Another Bible story that punctuates God’s attention to triviality is found in Acts 5:5-11:

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

Acts 4 details the story behind the aforementioned passage of Scripture. Recent Jewish converts were selling their lands and houses and giving the proceeds to the Apostles so they could buy a Lear jet. Verses 34 and 35 state:

Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

Married converts Ananias and Sapphira wanted to do their part, so they sold a parcel of land, planning to donate the money to the Apostles. Being good Independent Baptists, however, Ananias and Sapphira decided to short God a few bucks so they could take a vacation to Rome. Somehow, the Apostle Peter, who just weeks before denied knowing Jesus, found out about Ananias’ and Sapphira’s greed and exposed their subterfuge. Once exposed, God rained judgment down upon their heads, killing them both. As a pastor, I said on more than one occasion that if God still killed Christians today for lying as Ananias and Sapphira did, churches would be empty. One little lie, and God struck both of them dead. Damn, Jesus, your Father sure has a temper!

It’s clear from Holy Writ that the Evangelical God cares about everything Christians do. Thus, it is not surprising that Evangelicals believe that Jesus sits in Heaven hearing their prayers, making sure that their requests align with his will. And at the exact moment a prayer lines up with the perfect will of God, the request is granted, leading the recipient to praise God’s “perfect” timing.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Evangelicals believe that these verses teach that there is a time (and purpose) for everything. Evangelicals are known for divining what happens in their lives as God’s “perfect” timing. Meet a man at Starbucks you later marry? God’s “perfect” timing. Find a red Ford Fiesta at a price you can afford? God’s “perfect” timing. Need a house to rent and find one that’s just the right price? God’s “perfect” timing. Receive a call from a church wanting you to be their next pastor? God’s “perfect” timing. Leaving a church to pastor another church? God’s “perfect” timing. Having sex with your secretary in your study? God’s “perfect” timing. Okay, I am kidding about the last one. That aside, Evangelicals believe that whatever unfolds in their lives is according to some sort of divine clock God uses to determine what will and won’t happen in their lives.

Bruce, this is nonsense! Yes, it is, but this doesn’t change the fact that most Evangelicals view God as the controller of their lives (as do many Catholics, Muslims, and other religious people). In the real world, there’s no master string-puller. Luck, and not divine decree, often facilitates many of the events in our lives. Back in my college days, I believed the Evangelical God brought my wife and me together. After all, I had planned to enroll at Prairie Bible Institute in Canada, but at the last minute God — also known as a lack of money — “led” me to register for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I planned to have fun dating as many girls as I could, eventually settling on one to marry when I was a junior or a senior. God, however, had other plans for me — a beautiful, dark-haired seventeen-year-old preacher’s daughter. I dated one girl for a couple of weeks, but then I decided to ask Polly out on a date. Talk about God playing matchmaker!  Six months later, I asked Polly to marry me, and in July we will celebrate forty-five years of marriage. God’s will? God’s timing? Pfft! Luck, just plain luck, and raging hormones. Two years before meeting Polly, I was wildly in love with a college girl I met while attending a Baptist church in Sierra Vista, Arizona. We talked about marriage, and for six months we had one hell of a torrid relationship — within the boundaries of no-sex-before-marriage Christianity — barely. And then, POOF! our relationship was over and I moved back to Ohio. Years later, I would conclude that had this girl and I married, one of us would have ended up in prison for murdering the other. Both of us had similar personalities: outgoing and temperamental. Was our failed relationship God’s “perfect” timing for our lives? Of course not. We were lucky that we dodged a bullet.

As I look back over my life, I can see luck playing out time and time again. Not always, of course. Sometimes, I can see that things happened because of decisions I made or decisions that were made by others. Who is absent in this survey of my life, however, is the Christian God.

The next time you are having an awesome roll in sheets with your lover, I hope when you achieve mutual orgasm, you will be reminded of God’s “perfect” timing. 🙂 Or at the very least, how lucky you are to have had such a wonderful experience.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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The Doctrine of Regeneration

Graphic from the Monergism Website

Someone brought up the doctrine of regeneration recently in the comment section. I suspect that most people have no idea — including Evangelical Christians — what regeneration is all about.

By definition, regeneration means the “giving of life” by God to sinners. No one is saved apart from being regenerated. Many Evangelicals believe regeneration and being born again are one and the same. When God saves you, you are regenerated — given new life.

Wikipedia defines regeneration this way:

Regeneration, while sometimes perceived to be a step in the Ordo salutis (‘order of salvation’), is generally understood in Christian theology to be the objective work of God in a believer’s life. Spiritually, it means that God brings a person to new life (that they are “born again”) from a previous state of separation from God and subjection to the decay of death (Ephesians 2:5). Thus, in Lutheran and Roman Catholic theology, it generally means that which takes place during baptism. In Calvinism (Reformed theology) and Arminian theology, baptism is recognized as an outward sign of an inward reality which is to follow regeneration as a sign of obedience to the New Testament; as such, the Methodist Churches teach that regeneration occurs during the new birth.

While the exact Greek noun “rebirth” or “regeneration” (Ancient Greek: παλιγγενεσία, romanized: palingenesia) appears just twice in the New Testament (Matthew 19:28 and Titus 3:5), regeneration represents a wider theme of re-creation and spiritual rebirth.

Furthermore, there is the sense in which regeneration includes the concept “being born again” (John 3:3-8 and 1 Peter 1:3). Regeneration is also called the “second birth”. When Christians believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation, they are then born of God, “begotten of him” (1 John 5:1). As a result of becoming part of God’s family, man believes to become a different and new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17)

As you can see, Christian sects have a variety of interpretations of what regeneration is and when it happens — just like with every other doctrine. The Bible says ONE Lord, ONE faith, and ONE Baptism, but modern Christians didn’t get the memo.

From 1988 to 2003, I was an Evangelical Calvinist. Calvinists have a different take on regeneration from that of other Christians. Calvinists are the intellectual party. They spend countless hours arguing and debating the finer points of Christian theology. I know I did. One Sunday night after church, the men sitting in the gates and I argued about whether Arminians are real Christians; about whether famous preachers of yesteryear such as D.L. Moody and Charles Finney were True Believers®. Some of the men believed the five points of Calvinism and the gospel were one and the same. Thus, Arminians were not Christians. Moody and Finney were in Hell. I objected to their claims, saying that the five points of Calvinism were NOT one and the same as the gospel and that Finney and Moody, who were greatly used by God in the nineteenth century, were most certainly saved. We argued back and forth, without resolution. Later on, a rumor was floated among the members that I was not a “true” Calvinist. If I learned anything about Calvinists, it is that they love (and even relish) doctrinal skirmishes.

One argument among Calvinists is whether regeneration precedes faith. Most Calvinists say yes. Unsaved sinners are dead in trespasses and sins, unable to believe unless God gives them the ability to believe. Dead people can’t do anything, right? Once God gives a sinner life, he or she can then exercise faith — which is also a gift from God. For the Calvinist, salvation is the work of God from start to finish. Arminians also believe that salvation comes from God alone, but they also believe that human volition plays a part. This leads some Calvinists to label Arminians as heretics — saying they believe in “works” salvation.

Who is right? Opine away in the comment section. Personally, I left the ministry believing that the measure of one’s relationship was not right beliefs, but good works. This led to the keepers of the Book of Life labeling me as a “works salvation” preacher. To that charge, I gladly pleaded guilty. While I no longer believe in the existence of God, I still believe that the measure of all of us is not what we believe, but what we do. Don’t tell me, show me.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Short Stories: The Chapel Library Tape Lending Library

cassette tapes

In the late 1980s, I left the theology of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement and embraced Evangelical Calvinism. Over the next fifteen or so years, I preached what is commonly called the “doctrines of grace.” I abandoned preaching topical/textual sermons and started preaching expositionally, verse-by-verse through books of the Bible. I preached over 100 sermons from the Gospel of John alone. I also preached through Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, Hebrews, Revelation, and many of Apostle Paul’s epistles. My library was filled with books written by Puritan authors and modern Calvinistic writers. My book collection quickly surpassed 1,000 books, mostly of a Calvinistic persuasion.

My turn towards Calvinism was fueled by tapes and literature from Chapel Library, a cassette tape and publishing ministry of the Mt. Zion Bible Church in Pensacola, Florida. I remember reading an ad for Chapel Library in a Christian publication, advertising their free tape-lending library. Chapel Library sent me a printed catalog, and I ordered my first box of tapes.

The tapes — ten or twelve of them — came in a duct-tape-covered plastic rectangle tape box. Every two weeks, after listening to the tapes, I would return them and order another set of tapes. I listened to sermons by Rolfe Barnard, Martyn Lloyd Jones, Henry Mahan, Al Martin, Walter Chantry, and other Calvinistic preachers. I later bought a tape duplicator and copied the tapes Chapel sent me. I then made the tapes available to church members. Eventually, I started our own tape lending library, the CHARIS Tape Lending Library.

I kept this large collection of tapes for years, through three pastorates. One night, in a fit of spiritual angst and depression, I threw the tapes into our backyard and set them on fire. I explained this event in a post titled, The Night I Set My Life on Fire:

During the last three years of my time at Our Father’s House, I became increasingly disenchanted with Evangelical Christianity. Deeply influenced by authors such as Thomas MertonWendell Berry, and John Howard Yoder, I fully embraced pacifism and changed my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. I now see that the seeds of my unbelief were planted during this period of time.

One night, after a long, depressing self-reflection on Evangelicalism and my part in harming others in the name of God, I gathered up all the ministry mementos I had collected over the years, piled them in the yard, doused them with gasoline, and set them on fire. In a few minutes, 20 years of sermons notes, recorded sermons, letters, and church advertisements went up in smoke. At the time, I found the consuming fire to be quite cathartic. This was my way of breaking with my past. Little did I know that eight years later I would torch the rest of my ministerial and Christian past and embrace atheism.

I have fond memories of the days when my Chapel Library tape orders arrived. Much like a child on Christmas, I excitedly opened my tape box and started listening to the tapes in my car, on my Walkman, on the portable tape recorder I purchased for use in my office, or on our awesome Fisher stereo that cost us $500. Virtually every day I would listen to the sermons of eloquent orators, men who taught me much about the art of preaching and the gospel according to John Calvin. These taped sermons were instrumental in my personal and spiritual growth.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Evangelicals Love to Fuss and Fight While the World Goes to Hell

evangelical betrayal of jesus
Cartoon by Bob Englehart

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 15:34,35)

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. (1 Peter 3:8-11)

These Bible verses and others present a strong argument for unity and love being essential to Christian faith. The writer of 1 John makes it clear that anyone who does not love his brother is not a Christian. Several times in the New Testament, the Law and the Prophets are summed up thusly: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In the Gospels, professing followers of Jesus are commanded to love even those who hate them. And speaking of unity, the writer of Proverbs 6 lists seven things God hates, one of which is “sowing discord among the brethren.”

Love and unity are essential to Christianity, yet rarely, if ever, demonstrated by Evangelicals. Instead, Evangelicals are known for fussing and fighting over everything from theology to music styles. Countless internecine wars have been fought over matters as trivial as hairstyles, wearing jewelry, women wearing pants, which Bible translation to use, whether to give altar calls, and how often churches hold services. No matter is too trivial for Evangelicals to fight over. One need only look at how many Evangelical sects there are and how fragmented individual churches are to see that Evangelicals never received the “Love and Unity” memo. And thanks to the Internet, the MMA machinations of Evangelicals are on display for all to see, complete with violent personal attacks on fellow Christians deemed heretics.

What’s heresy? In the Evangelical world, heresy is any belief different from mine. One need only watch Arminians and Calvinists go toe to toe over who has the “true” gospel. Each side casts the other as heretical, calling into question the opponent’s salvation. As a long-time Calvinist, I met numerous pastors who believed Arminianism was a false gospel, and anyone who believed it was unsaved! And now that Calvinism has made huge inroads within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and has infected numerous SBC colleges and seminaries, non-Calvinistic Baptists are saying that John Calvin’s progeny are preaching a false gospel. Some go even so far as to suggest that Calvinism leads to atheism!

Years ago, I pastored a church affiliated with the Christian Union (CU) denomination. In the early 1900s, CU suffered a schism over the doctrine of sanctification. This led to the establishment of a new denomination called the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. Both denominations have a strong, but aging/dying, presence in Ohio. As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I witnessed numerous conflicts and church splits. While virtually all Evangelicals are Fundamentalists theologically, (see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) some sects, pastors, and churches take it to the extreme. Such is the case with the IFB church movement. The narrower beliefs become the more likely it is that there will be division. One oft-told joke about how the IFB church movement got its start comes from a story about Abram and Lot in Genesis 13:

And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south . . . And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land. And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.

Much like Abram (Abraham) and Lot, the IFB church movement came to be when they said to their former denominations or churches, you go your way and I’ll go mine. The IFB church movement was birthed from denominational battles over various points of Christian doctrine and practice. Scores of churches and pastors left denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the American Baptist Convention, establishing their own fellowship groups or quasi-denominations. In the intervening seventy years, IFB churches and pastors have continued to squabble, fuss, and fight, resulting in a plethora of church splits and new, more “pure” groups. Each group believes they have the truth, and those who believe differently are either deemed heretics or heterodox brethren. This infighting is the main reason IFB churches tend to turn over their memberships every few years. The IFB churches I pastored had a steady stream of members from other churches visiting our services — church hoppers, I called them. These devoted followers of Christ were disgruntled or upset with their current churches, so they left, looking for greener pastures. One church I pastored took in over twenty-five members from one nearby IFB church. They loved my preaching, that is until they didn’t, and off they went to find a new church to attend. Many of them returned to their old church once the offending pastor left. Some of them were instrumental in starting new IFB or Bible Fellowship churches in the area.

I follow and read numerous Evangelical blogs and news sites. One thing is certain: Evangelicals continue to fuss and fight, not only with liberal/progressive Christians, mainline denominations, but amongst themselves. Proverbial blood runs in the streets, a never-ending stream thanks to perceived offenses and heresies. The last thirty-five years have given rise to what is called “discernment ministry.” These ministries believe God has called them to be gatekeepers or monitors of the Book of Life. They alone know what “truth” is, and they aren’t shy about calling out anyone and everyone who violates their standard of orthodoxy. Long-time readers — all the way back to 2007-2008 when I was still a Christian — might remember a previous iteration of this blog attracting the attention of “discernment” preachers such as the late Ken Silva and a man who called himself Pastor Boy (he is now divorced and no longer in the ministry). (Please see the post, Rob Bell and Homosexuals on Silva’s “discernment” blog. I was still a Christian when Silva and I got into a debate about homosexuality.) I was working my way through what it was that I actually believed theologically, and these esteemed discerners of “truth,” and others like them, decided that I was a false prophet and a heretic. My later deconversion was proof to them that they were right about me; that I never was a True Christian®.

It seems to me that there is a huge disconnect between what the Bible says about love and unity and how Evangelicals practice their faith. Evangelicals are roundly condemned as preachers of hate, even more so since they climbed into bed with the Republican Party and Donald Trump. Millennials and Generation Z are leaving Evangelical churches in record numbers. Many of them are abandoning organized religion altogether, and an increasing number of them have become agnostics or atheists. Why are Evangelical churches hemorrhaging young adults? Separatism and anti-culturalism, along with social Fundamentalism — anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-public schools, anti-science, and anti-women, to name a few — are driving the train as it leaves the station. Evangelicalism is losing two generations of potential congregants, leading to widespread panic among church leaders and church growth gurus. Of course, Evangelical extremists see such departures as a good thing; that doctrinal purity is far more important than love and unity. Quality rather than quantity, they say. We need to love what God loves and hate what God hates! Of course, the beliefs and practices they love and hate are, oh so ironically, the very things they say their God loves and hates.

I am well aware of what the Bible does and doesn’t say on these issues. I long ago concluded that the Bible can be used to prove anything and that when asked which sect has the “truth,” I reply, all of them. They all have proof texts to support their versions of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Thus, everyone is right. Here’s my advice to Evangelical truth seekers.  Want to find the “true” church? Choose the one which has the best potlucks.

Christianity in general, and Evangelicalism in particular, is split into thousands of sects, and countless independent congregations, each believing that they are the holders of the one true faith. Lost on Protestants and Catholics and Evangelicals and Mainline Christians alike is what their fussing and fighting says to the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Where’s the love and unity? worldlings ask. Where are the believers who practice what the Bible says about love in 1 Corinthians 13?

What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others. What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others. Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails! (CEV)

Where, oh where, can we find such faith? Not among Evangelicals, that’s for sure. I am an atheist for many reasons, one of which is the lack of love and unity among Christians. If I looked at Christianity as a whole and saw people loving God and loving their neighbors, I perhaps would pause and reconsider the value of being a follower of Jesus. If I saw a group united in doctrine and practice, I might, at the very least, ponder the historic claims of Christianity. However, all I see is the fussing and fighting, and this tells me that whatever Christianity might have been twenty centuries ago, THAT version of Christianity no longer exists. What we have today is a religious version of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). While it is unlikely that anything or anyone will successfully “save” me from atheism/agnosticism/humanism, if I truly saw love and unity in action, I might, at the very least, admire those who follow after Jesus. Until then, I will continue to treat Evangelicalism as a blight on the human race, a worldview that causes great harm. Want to change my opinion of you, Evangelicals? Repent.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Seven

i have a question

What was it about Calvinism that attracted you, theologically and psychologically?

Calvinism is a theological system with points of doctrine that build upon one another. Pull any of the five points: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints (TULIP), from the system and it collapses upon itself. Of course, the same could be said of any theological system. That said, Calvinism is the most complex, intricate theological system ever created by human minds.

It was the order and complexity of the system, then, that caught my attention. I have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and I am a perfectionist. (See Christian Perfection: A Personal Story.) I desire, crave, and need order. Theologically, Calvinism provided me just what the doctor ordered. As I read and studied the Bible, listened to preaching tapes of Calvin-loving preachers, and devoured countless Calvinistic books, I began to “see” the truthiness of the doctrines of grace, along with its attendant doctrines such as the Sovereignty of God.

The primary reason I became an atheist is that Christianity no longer made any sense to me. (See The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) The opposite was true with Calvinism. It simply, at the time, based on my reading and study, made perfect sense to me. Calvinism best explained certain Bible verses that had always perplexed me. Yet, at the same time, it created new interpretive problems for me. As a non-Calvinist, I found that words such as world and all meant everyone without discrimination (i.e. For God so loved the world — John 3:16). Calvinism, due to the doctrines of election and predestination, requires adherents to reinterpret verses that imply that Jesus died for everyone, Jesus loves everyone, etc. Of course, Arminians do the same with verses that speak of election and predestination.

I have long argued that the Bible is a book that can be used to prove almost anything. Whatever your theological beliefs might be, there’s support for them in the Bible. I’ve concluded, then, that all theological systems are Biblically “true” and that all sects – Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Methodists, to name a few —  are right when they claim their beliefs are the faith once delivered to the saints.

How is Calvinism different from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology?

While IFB churches are autonomous, each with its own set of beliefs and practices, they do, generally, have a common set of beliefs. (See What is an IFB Church?) When I entered the ministry in the 1970s, I didn’t know one IFB pastor who claimed the Calvinist moniker — not one. There were several pastors who, if rumors were true, had Calvinistic tendencies. Calvinism was routinely derided, criticized, and deemed heretical — antithetical to soulwinning and church growth.

In the late 1980s, Calvinism began to make inroads into the IFB church movement. Some IFB preachers embraced Amyraldism (four-point Calvinism). Wikipedia explains Amyraldism this way:

It is the belief that God decreed Christ’s atonement, prior to his decree of election, for all alike if they believe, but he then elected those whom he will bring to faith in Christ, seeing that none would believe on their own, and thereby preserving the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. The efficacy of the atonement remains limited to those who believe.

The issue, of course, was for whom did Jesus die? Evangelical Calvinists believe Jesus died on the cross only for the elect — those chosen by God from before the foundation of the world. Four-point Calvinists, uncomfortable with the doctrine of limited atonement (particular redemption), concocted a system that said, the atonement of Christ is sufficient to save everyone in the world, but efficient for only the elect. Got that?

While Calvinism continues to make inroads in IFB churches, many Calvinistic pastors tend to keep their beliefs to themselves. They preach Calvinism without ever mentioning Calvinistic buzz-words. Over time, congregations are converted without ever realizing they’ve changed.

Classic IFB beliefs are laughingly called one-point Calvinism. Yes, God is the one who saves sinners, but it’s up to them to decide whether to believe. As with Arminian churches, emphasis is placed on man’s ability to choose (free will). Calvinists, on the other hand, focus on the sovereignty of God and the inability of man. As you can see, these two theological systems are disparate, so much so that the two groups are continually at war, each believing the other is heretical.

Evangelical Calvinists generally believe that IFB churches preach works salvation, and they alone preach salvation by grace. Carefully examining Calvinism, however, reveals that they too preach salvation by works. In fact, outside of Pelagian sects, all Christian sects/churches preach some form of salvation by works. (Let the howling begin.)

There are numerous other theological differences between IFB theology and Evangelical Calvinism, but I have shared enough of the differences to show that these two groups generally don’t “fellowship” with each other. Calvinists view IFB (and Southern Baptist) churches as targets for subversive theological change. Pastors hide their Calvinistic beliefs, hoping, over time, to win them over to the one true faith. This approach has led to all sorts of church conflict.

Why would your change of theology cause friends and colleagues in the ministry to shun (abandon) you?

In the IFB church movement (and many other Evangelical sects), fealty to the right doctrine is paramount, as is following certain social practices. Some tolerance is granted for being slightly off the theological center, but major deviations result in shunning or being labeled a heretic/liberal. Calvinism was certainly considered antithetical to IFB doctrine and practice, so I was not surprised when many of my preacher friends distanced themselves from me as they would a gay man with AIDS. I moved on to new fellowship groups, those with Calvinistic, reformed beliefs and practices.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Six

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner 1994
Jose Maldonado. Bruce Gerencser, Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church

As I ponder why I became a Calvinist, several things come to mind. This post will look at these things, and then in Part Seven of this series, I will answer questions about Calvinism that readers of this series submitted.

I knew nothing about Calvinism when I started pastoring churches in 1979. None of my professors at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — mentioned Calvinism other than to say the college was against it. Students were told that they were not allowed to talk about or promote Calvinism. One student in my sophomore year ignored the Calvinism ban and was expelled.

As a young IFB pastor, I held to and preached an admixture of Arminianism and Calvinism, often called Calminianism. This approach is common among Evangelicals. This syncretism causes all sorts of interpretive problems, not that Calvinism and Arminianism don’t have their own problems. No soteriological system is perfect, each having unique interpretive problems. A pastor must determine which system best fits his reading of the Bible. For me, it was Calvinism.

As I read the various passages of Scripture about predestination, foreknowledge, election, regeneration, and the sovereignty of God, it became crystal clear to me that Calvinism best explained these things. I still believe this today. I am well aware of the verses that contradict Calvinism, especially verses that talk about human volition. However, there are also verses that say human free will is a myth — a belief science seems to reinforce. On balance — for me, anyway — Calvinism best fit the Biblical narrative. Arminianism best fit how I wanted things to be, and that’s why in the early 2000s, I stopped preaching up Calvinism from the pulpit, choosing more of a Mennonite approach to interpreting the Bible.

Every theological system finds its proof in the pages of the Bible. That’s why I believe every system is “right.” The Bible can be used to prove almost anything. Christians fight endless internecine wars over theological rightness, bloodying each other up before returning to their respective corners. These wars, of course, betray the teachings of Christ and Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:1-6:

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Christianity is hopelessly divided along theological lines and interpretations of particular Bible verses. The best a pastor can do is choose which theological system best fits his reading of the Bible. From there, it is up to him to decide how best to interact with preachers, churches, and parachurch organizations that differ from him theologically. Personally, I chose to have an ecumenical spirit; I willingly and happily embraced all those who claimed to be Christians — Calvinists or not. I was able to hang on to my Calvinistic theology while at the same time embracing brothers and sisters in Christ who differed with me.

From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio — a nondenominational congregation. I preached from a Calvinistic perspective, but I had room in my worldview for people who might see things differently. Unity was more important to me than theological fidelity. That’s why the advertising slogan on the entrance door for the church said “The Church Where the Only Label that Matters is Christian.”

our father's house west unity ohio
1990s Bryan Times Advertisement for Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

As a pastor, I was an avid reader. While I received a subpar, almost Sunday School-like education at Midwestern, I spent twenty or so hours each week reading and studying the Bible. Unfortunately, more than a few of my preacher friends never moved intellectually beyond what they were taught in college. I chose to apply myself in the privacy of my study, reading theological tomes and biographies, along with using numerous commentaries in my sermon preparation.

I became a Calvinist in the late 1980s, at a time when there was a resurgence of Calvinistic thinking among Evangelicals — especially Southern Baptists. Even among IFB pastors, Calvinism made inroads. I found that the Calvinistic books available to me were intellectually stimulating in ways that no book from IFB publishers such as the Sword of the Lord could provide. I had a deep love and appreciation for authors from the Puritan era. I had an account with Cumberland Valley Bible and Book Service in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Rare was the month that an order from Cumberland Valley didn’t arrive at our house. These deliveries were like Christmas for me.

As an IFB pastor, I felt constant pressure to perform. Since humans had free will, it was up to me to convince them of their need of salvation. If they didn’t get saved, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was to blame. Calvinism delivered me from the need to perform. Often when men embrace Calvinism, they lose their passion for soulwinning. That was not the case for me. I was just as passionate before Calvinism as after; the difference being that instead of the pressure being on me, it was on God. I was called to faithfully preach and teach the Word of God. It was up to God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to regenerate sinners and draw them to faith in Jesus Christ.

I stopped giving altar calls, believing that they were manipulative. I was content to preach the Bible and leave it up to God to save sinners. Of course, numerically, the number of people allegedly saved under my ministry precipitously dropped. From 1983-1994, over six hundred people made public professions of faith in Christ. From 1995-2002, the number dropped to almost zero. Yet, if you asked me which church was healthier spiritually, I would say the latter.

My goal changed over the years, moving from being a hellfire and brimstone preacher, to more of a teacher. I started the ministry as a textual or topical preacher. After embracing Calvinism, I started preaching expositionally — verse by verse, passage by passage, book by book. I preached over one hundred sermons from the gospel of John alone (my favorite book of the Bible). While I never lost a desire to win people to Christ, the focus of my ministry changed from quantity to quality. Instead of striving for raw attendance numbers, I chose to focus on the last half of the Great Commission, “teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you.”

Embracing Calvinism caused me a lot of conflict within the IFB circles I ran at the time. I lost numerous friends and acquaintances over my change in theology. This was exacerbated by the fact that I sent out a monthly newsletter titled The Sovereign Grace Reporter. This newsletter contained articles promoting Calvinism. They could have, at times, a polemical tone.

In the mid-1980s, I started a multi-church monthly youth meeting (rally). At its height, there were fifteen participating churches. The group blew up after several pastors took issue with my Calvinism. These men feared that I would infect their youth with Calvinism. One man accused me of being the “keeper of the book of life.” I tried to reason with him, but, in classic IFB fashion, he stood up, denounced me, and stomped off. This put an end to our group.

If you have any questions about this series or Calvinism in general, please leave your comments on the Do You Have Questions About Calvinism? post. I will start answering these questions later this week.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Is God Impartial?

open arms of Jesus

Church of Christ preacher Al Shannon believes that the Christian God is impartial. Quoting Acts 10:34 and Romans 2:11, Shannon states:

Our God is impartial. “For there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom.2:11); “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Since all men are his creation, he must make no difference in them.

Shannon goes on to give seven examples of God’s impartiality:

  • He has declared all under sin.
  • God has provided a common Savior and gospel for all.
  • God extends the same invitation [of salvation] to all men.
  • God requires the same conditions of pardon be met by all men if they are to be saved.
  • God has given one standard [the Bible] to be followed.
  • God has provided one church [Church of Christ] for all.
  • God will judge all as individuals and upon their own life.

Is Shannon right? Does the Christian God act impartially towards people, giving everyone the same opportunities to believe in and worship the right God? Is God really an equal opportunity deity, dispensing to one and all the wonders of his grace?

Calvinists, of course, would reject Shannon’s proofs out of hand. In the Calvinistic scheme of things, the Christian God, through a divine lottery, predestined certain people to be saved. These “winners” — also known as the elect — are the only people who will be saved. Before the first humans were created, God, through a process known only to him, chose to save certain people. Over the thousands of years humans have lived on planet Earth, this God has been regenerating (giving spiritual life) only the people on his will call list. These lucky winners will, at some point in their lives, be given eyes to see and ears to hear the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, and upon hearing it they will — without fail — repent and call on Jesus to save them from their sins. And if they are truly saved, these elect people will persevere in faith until they die. Failing to persevere to the end means that those who failed were not truly elect. (See Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved?)

For Calvinists, then, God is quite discriminating. God only chooses to save some people. Thus, when Jesus died on the cross for human sin, his atonement was only on behalf of the elect. No true Calvinist will ever say that Jesus died for everyone. There are “Calvinists” who adopt Amyraldianism, believing that Jesus’ atonement was “sufficient” to save everyone, but only “efficient” for the elect. Realizing that particular redemption/limited atonement makes God look bad, these four-point Calvinists attempt to put a better face on their deity’s partiality towards a very small portion of the human race — past, present, and future. Regardless of how the atonement is viewed, ALL Calvinists believe that only a certain number of people will be saved. All others need not apply.

Shannon, of course, is not a Calvinist. In fact, as most Church of Christ preachers do, Shannon considers Calvinism to be heretical — a cult. (Calvinists return the favor, saying that the Churches of Christ are a cult that preaches works salvation.)  According to Shannon, every person who has ever been born has an equal opportunity to be saved. Shannon’s God makes an indiscriminate offer to all: repent, be baptized, persevere in good works, and you shall be saved.

While there are certainly Bible verses that suggest that God is impartial, there are other verses that suggest otherwise. As I mentioned above, Calvinists can make a strong case for the notion that God’s love, grace, and salvation is discriminating, and reserved only for those upon whom God has chosen to bestow his favor. Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike spend significant amounts of time and energy challenging each other’s Biblical interpretations — proving that the Bible can be used to prop up virtually any system of belief.

We don’t have to get into the theological minutia of this internecine war to conclude that Shannon’s claim — God is impartial — is false. In fact, the Old Testament provides overwhelming proof of the partiality of God. For those of us raised in Sunday School, we heard numerous stories and lessons about God choosing Abraham and his seed to be his chosen people. Abraham’s seed was later renamed Israel (the Jews). According to Deuteronomy 7:6-8:

For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

A special people. So much for the impartiality of God. Showing that he indeed had a favorite, God commanded the Israelites to commit genocide, killing countless non-Jewish men, women, children, and unborn fetuses. So much for God being pro-life! God wanted ethnic and theological purity, going to great lengths to ensure that the only people left living were his “special” people.

In Genesis 6 through 9, the Bible records the mythical story of Noah and his gopher wood and pitch floating zoo. It is likely that millions of people lived on the face of the earth at the time God opened the windows of heaven and flooded the earth, killing everyone save Noah, his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law. Out of millions of people, God only found eight people he was willing to save. So much for the impartiality of God. Imagine the poor sinners living on the island of what is now called Japan. One day it started raining and in a matter of days everyone on the island died. On judgment day, these people, having never heard of the Jewish/Christian God will stand before Jehovah and be judged for their “sins.” I can only imagine their confusion. Born at the wrong time, in the wrong place, these resurrected drowning victims will be told that they should have known what they could not possibly know: that there is one true God and Jesus is his name. Off to Hell they go without ever clearly understanding why. Perhaps a Calvinist will pipe up on that day and say, Ha! You weren’t chosen by God! Burn motherfuckers, burn! Oh, sorry, Lord about saying motherfucker. I forgot about that “thing” with you and Mary.

Even in the New Testament, we see a Jesus who had no interest in anyone save his chosen people — the Jews. It was not until the writing of the Apostle Paul that we hear of non-Jews being saved and made a part of God’s family. Jesus’ disciples, all of whom were circumcised Israelites, spent their time preaching the gospel to only the Jews. Deeply versed in the teaching of the Old Testament, the Apostles knew that the Jews were God’s chosen people. While Christianity (Paul’s version) certainly spread to the outposts of the Roman Empire, it is clear that Jews were the intended target. In Romans 11, Paul reminds Gentiles that the Jews were God’s original chosen people. Gentiles were, according to Paul, grafted into the Jewish branch. Gentiles should feel lucky that God became upset over Israel’s unbelief and decided to let them in on salvation and eternal life. In other words, God is similar to a jilted lover. Spurned by his one true love, he seeks out and marries another person.

Most of the people who have and yet will grace the pages of human history will die in their sins without ever knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Born at the wrong place and time, these “sinners” will worship the God of their culture, thinking that their devotion will be enough to grant them favor with God and an eventual home in Heaven. Most of these people will never “hear” about Jesus or the “right” Christian gospel. (See Is There Only One Plan of Salvation?Does the Bible Contain Multiple Plans of Salvation?One, Two, Three, Repeat After Me: Salvation Bob Gray Style, and Church of Christ Preacher Al Shannon Says There are Only 2 Million Christians in the Whole World). They will die in ignorance, yet Al Shannon’s God and the God of millions of Christians will eternally torture billions of people in the flames of Hell for things over which they had no control. For the people God saved, all they can say is lucky me, it sucks to be you. Those who are saved will owe all praise, glory, and honor to Jesus.

Every Christian sect believes that God alone saves. Those who find themselves on the winning side of the ledger will have no reason to boast. It is God, through the merit and work of Jesus, who saves sinners. This is, contrary to Shannon’s assertions, the perfect example of partiality and discrimination. It is also one of the reasons many people reject Christianity and its God. These unbelievers see God as a capricious deity, a divine bully who is running some sort of cosmic scam — one in which he allows billions of people to think they are on the right path to salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life, only to find out that God was just playing with them. Similar to a cat catching a mouse in his mouth and letting it go, only so he can catch it again, the Christian God toys with the human race, knowing that just as sure as the cat eventually will kill the mouse, he will sentence the vast majority of people to a life worse than death — eternal torture in the flames of the Lake of Fire.

As with the idea that God loves everyone unconditionally (see Does God Love Us Unconditionally?), the idea that God is impartial sounds good to those who value fairness and justice; actually reading the Bible proves otherwise.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

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Bruce Gerencser