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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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce, You Were Never an Evangelical

bruce gerencser false jesus

Just when I think I’ve heard it all, a Christian comes up with a new argument to deconstruct, discredit, and minimalize my story. Yesterday, a man who considers himself the smartest man in the room told me that none of the churches I pastored were Evangelical; that, in fact, all of them were cults, and I was a cult leader. How this real man of genius came to this stupid conclusion is beyond me, but I thought I would make an attempt to respond to his baseless assertions.

First, let me list the churches I pastored and their denominational affiliations:

  • Montpelier Baptist Church — GARBC
  • Emmanuel Baptist Church — IFB
  • Somerset Baptist Church — IFB, Reformed Baptist
  • Community Baptist Church — IFB, Sovereign Grace
  • Olive Branch Christian Union Church — Christian Union
  • Our Father’s House — Non-denominational
  • Victory Baptist Church — Southern Baptist

I also preached revival meetings, youth rallies, and special services for varying flavors of IFB and non-denominational churches, along with churches affiliated with the GARBC, Baptist Bible Fellowship, Freewill Baptists, Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, Pentecostal, Church of the Nazarene, and Christian Union.

Every one of these churches and sects was Evangelical in doctrine and practice — without exception. No amount of deconstruction or gaslighting will change this fact.

Every church and denomination had an official statement of doctrine. I was required to embrace and preach the doctrines found in these statements. I did so without objection. Why? Because I believed these things, at the time, to be true.

Take the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, the official doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention, the doctrinal statement of the National Association of Evangelicals, the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. I wholeheartedly embraced all of these documents.

Let me give Pastor Bruce Gerencser a test to determine if he really was a circumcised Evangelical:

  • Do you believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God? Yes
  • Do you believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Yes
  • Do you believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory? Yes
  • Do you believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential? Yes
  • Do you believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life? Yes
  • Do you believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation? Yes
  • Do you believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ? Yes

Taken from the official doctrinal statement of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Anyone suggesting that I was never was an Evangelical is an agenda-driven liar out to obfuscate my past.

If this man still doubts my Evangelical creds, I offer him up unassailable proof: I have Jesus & Bruce 4ever tattooed on my back — my Evangelical tramp stamp.

So there . . . 🙂

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

How to Evangelize Evangelicals

whining evangelical

I am of the opinion that Evangelical Christianity is, overall, psychologically, socially, educationally, and politically harmful. This has become increasingly clear now that Evangelical beliefs are front and center in debates over global warming, same-sex marriage, LGBTQ civil rights, abortion, immigration, and a host of other issues. If Evangelicalism were all about personal salvation and piety, I would have no need to write this post, but since many Evangelicals are Heaven-bent on establishing the Kingdom of their God on earth and forcing the moral and immoral teachings of the Bible on all of us, it is imperative that atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-Evangelicals find effective ways to combat Evangelical influence, dominance, and control.

Far too many atheists think that the best way to reach Evangelicals is to argue with them, post anti-Christian memes, or engage in monkey-esqe shit-throwing contests on social media. While these types of activities might make atheists feel good or elicit laughs, they do nothing when it comes to turning back the Evangelical horde. The primary reason this is so is that Evangelicals are conditioned to believe that attacks and harassment from unbelievers are persecution. Evangelicals are taught to view such persecution as the normal part of living a godly life in a wicked, sin-filled world. 2 Timothy 3:12 says: Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Remember this the next time you feel inclined to put an Evangelical in his place. You are just feeding his persecution complex when you do. While it might make you feel good in the moment to gut a creationist on social media, ask yourself, what is it that I have accomplished by doing so? If the goal is societal transformation, then rational freethinkers and secularists must find effective ways to evangelize Evangelicals.

The purpose of this blog is to help people who have doubts about Christianity or who have already left Christianity. My goal has NEVER been to evangelize Evangelical zealots or apologists. I see myself as a facilitator, helping people on this journey we call life. If I can help someone move away from Fundamentalist thinking (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? ) then I have done my job, even if that person ultimately doesn’t become an atheist. I feel no compulsion, as Evangelicals do, to make atheists of all nations. That said, it would be dishonest of me to not admit that I desire to see bloom an atheistic, humanistic, secularistic world; one devoid of religious superstition. The question then, for me, is how best to evangelize questioning, doubting Evangelicals. And believe me, Evangelicalism is a huge mission field, one with millions and millions of people who have serious questions and doubts about their beliefs and practices. The percentage of Americans who are atheists, agnostics, or indifferent towards organized religions (nones) continues to grow. Younger Americans, in particular, have had enough of Evangelicalism and its incessant moralizing and culture war. Recent revelations about sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement have caused countless young and old Evangelicals to leave their churches. Spilling onto the internet, these doubting, questioning, disaffected Christians are looking for help and answers. I want this blog to be one place where such people can find help.

Evangelical zealots and apologists find my writing offensive. Their minds are closed off to any view but their own. That’s why I don’t spend time engaging diehard Evangelicals. Doing so is a colossal waste of time. Such people arrogantly believe that they are absolutely right. Armed with supernatural truth — the Bible — given to them by a supernatural God, Evangelical zealots believe it is their duty to take the word of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible to the ends of the earth. Years ago, I told my counselor that I didn’t understand why Evangelical zealots didn’t accept my story at face value. I naively thought that if I just told my story they would understand where I was coming from. My counselor chuckled and replied, “Bruce, you assume they give a shit about what you think. They don’t!” Needless to say, my naiveté was forever shattered. And it is for this reason, I don’t argue with Evangelical zealots. Per the comment rules, such people are given one opportunity to say whatever it is they want to say. After that, it is time for them to move on. It’s people with doubts and questions that interest me, not people who are taking daily intravenous injections of Fundamentalist Kool-Aid.

I have found that the most effective way to evangelize Evangelicals is for me to simply tell my story. I was part of the Christian church for fifty years, and spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I pastored churches affiliated with the IFB church movement, Southern Baptist Convention, Sovereign Grace Baptists, Christian Union, along with a nondenominational church. I trained for the ministry in the 1970s at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an IFB institution. I attended countless preacher’s meetings and conferences, and after I left the ministry in 2005, my wife and I visited over 100 churches. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) My life experiences have given me a story to tell, and it is that story that resonates with doubting, questioning Evangelicals. I am humbled that that thousands of people read this blog each day, most of whom will never leave a comment. I know of numerous other non-Evangelical writers who have taken a similar tack, and they, too, attract a large number of readers. If my email is any indication, the story-telling approach is working.

If you are a former Evangelical and you want to help people who have doubts and questions, I encourage you to tell your story. Either start a blog or write a guest post. Your story matters. Thousands of people lurk in the shadows of this blog. Telling your story just might be the thing that helps them to finally see the bankruptcy of Evangelicalism. If you need help setting up a blog or would like to write a guest post, please send me an email via the contact page. I am here to help.

Another way to effectively reach Evangelicals is to get them to read books that challenge their core beliefs. Personally, I try not to get into doctrinal debates with Evangelicals, choosing instead to attack the foundation upon which their house stands: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Protestant Christian Bible. Successfully destroy the foundation, and down comes the house. Take debating creationists. It’s almost impossible to deliver them from their delusions, from the notion that the universe is 6,023 years old. Why? Biblical inspiration and inerrancy demand that they accept Genesis 1-3 as “science,” and reject anything that doesn’t conform to the creationist worldview. Ken HamAnswers in GenesisCreation Museum, and the Ark Encounter — a colossal monument to Evangelical ignorance — all testify to what happens when one embraces inerrancy (and literalism). Challenge their beliefs about the Bible, interjecting questions and doubts, and it then becomes easier to rebuff their creationist beliefs. Once this is accomplished, other beliefs can then be successfully challenged.

I have found that Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books are often effective in disabusing Evangelicals of their beliefs about the nature of the Bible. Once an Evangelical doubts that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, the church door is open and he has taken his first step towards freedom.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

Let me leave you with one more way we can evangelize Evangelicals. As Evangelicals, we were taught the importance of our “testimony” before the world. Think of all the nasty, arrogant, hateful Evangelical zealots who have visited this blog and commented over the years. Have their words not testified to the worthlessness of that which they preach? Their words speak volumes, do they not? The same can be said of the preachers who are featured in the Black Collar Crime series. What’s the takeaway here? That how we live is far more important than what we say. If we fail to practice what we preach, our words are worthless. Atheists, who typically follow the humanist ideal, need to understand that Evangelical doubters and questioners are watching how we live our lives. They want to see if atheism/humanism has made any difference in our lives. They want to see what it is that moves us, gives us purpose and meaning, and helps us get through the day. If we truly want to evangelize Evangelicals, then our lives must testify that there is a better way; that love, kindness, happiness, and fulfillment can be had without kowtowing to a mythical deity; that freedom rests not in religious dogma, but in rational, skeptical living.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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Evangelicals Love to Fuss and Fight

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 is 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 hair styles, 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 denominations 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 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 here in Ohio. As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I witnessed numerous conflicts and church splits. While 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 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 doctrine and practice. Scores of churches and pastors left denominations such as the SBC and the American Baptist Convention, establishing their own fellowship groups or quasi-denominations. In the intervening sixty years, IFB churches and pastors have continued to squabble, 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 erring 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 three decades 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 the “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 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 and/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, 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, 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.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Bruce Gerencser