In the late 1980s, I planned to take Polly and our four children at the time to a dirt track race at Midway Speedway in Crooksville, Ohio. The STARS (Short Track Auto Racing Series) were making a Saturday night appearance at the track — a one hundred-lap event. Scores of big-name racers planned to be at this event. On the scheduled night it rained, forcing the track to move to Sunday.
At the time, I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. We had two services on Sunday: 11:00 am and 7:00 pm. I was facing a dilemma. I had tickets for the race, but I had to be present and accounted for Sunday night at the church. I couldn’t tell the church that I couldn’t be there because I had tickets to a “worldly” racing event. Doing so would have been considered a sin. Yet, I really, really, really wanted to go to the race. My two oldest sons really wanted to go to the race. All our dirt track racing heroes would be there. And a hundred laps? Wow, most late model races were 25-50 laps.
So, I went to the Lord in prayer, seeking his guidance and wisdom. Just kidding. I concocted a plan to hold a “special” communion service at 5:00 pm, one that would be finished in less than an hour. And it was. My family and I quickly said our goodbyes and out the door we went. I am sure some members wondered why we were in a hurry.
The race was everything I thought it would be. On our way home, the guilt set in. Instead of taking the night off or telling congregants why I couldn’t be there, I manipulated them so I could do what I wanted. The good news? I prayed for forgiveness, and Jesus magically forgave me. 🙂
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.
We have already covered some basic WTF-worthy aspects of Evangelicalism. Here are a few more WTF-worthy items for your enjoyment.
Sunday School/Bible Study
These were small groups segregated by age group, or by gender, or by marital status. Larger churches would have children’s Sunday school classes segregated by school grade. Children’s classes would be focused on a Bible story, perhaps singing, and an age-appropriate craft or game. Teens were generally segregated by gender and school grade, and life issues would be discussed in “context” with Bible verses. Adult classes could be segregated by gender or by marital status (couple’s classes) where life issues would be discussed in “context” with Bible verses, or Bible stories would be discussed in general.
Students stand, Bible in hand at their side. The moderator calls out a Bible citation. The first student to find the verse and read it allowed correctly scores a point. (KJV Bibles only; no tabs separating books of the Bible allowed).
Pledging Allegiance to the American flag, Christian flag, and the Bible
This was done every day during Vacation Bible School and was done occasionally at church and occasionally at school. As an adult, I realized that this was a part of indoctrination of children into the concept of Christian Nationalism, that the USA was founded as a Christian nation and that our initial purpose has gone astray due to laws allowing “sin” and due to immigration of people who are not True Christians. And liberals – let’s not forget the liberals.
Vacation Bible School (VBS)
Summer Jesus-themed fun for the 12-and-under crowd, complete with Kool-Aid (the literal and the figurative). There was generally a theme for the week (or 2 weeks depending on the church and their ability to muster up volunteers) with Bible stories, games, songs, and crafts. Children were encouraged to invite friends, and churches often advertised with mailed fliers and banners outside the church. A successful VBS ended in a plethora of baptisms the following Sunday.
An emotion-filled trip for the middle school and high school “Youth Group” to go on with the purpose of saving souls and reminding us to live our lives for Christ (i.e., don’t have sex, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes; don’t listen to rock music or see rated-R movies; witness to friends; be “in the world but not of the world”). By the end of the trip there would be a lot of crying, and a successful youth trip ended with a plethora of baptisms scheduled for the following Sunday service.
Often, a guest pastor or pastors, and sometimes guest musical groups, would be invited to preach with the goal of scaring, I mean, saving souls. Members would be encouraged to bring guests. Revivals could last for a weekend or for an entire week with special programming. Successful revivals ended in a plethora of baptisms scheduled for the following Sunday service.
Communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper, was celebrated with grape juice and crackers/wafers. Supposedly before Jesus was arrested, he shared a meal with his disciples. He broke bread and told them that the bread was his body, broken for them, to eat in remembrance of him. He told them to drink wine, as it was his blood shed for them, to drink in remembrance of him. Baptists believe this is a symbolic gesture of Christ’s offering his body as sacrifice for our dirty, filthy sins. In our church, only baptized members of our particular congregation were allowed to participate in communion, which was conducted quarterly (closed communion). Baptists eschewed alcohol so grape juice was substituted for wine. We (made fun of) disagreed with Catholics who thought that the bread and wine actually converted into the body and blood of Christ through Jesus’ Power.
This is the one hundred and eightieth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section. Let’s have some fun!
Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism features a video clip from the Catholic program Take 2 with Jerry & Debbie. A woman by the name of Mary called in to tell a story about giving a hospitalized woman a communion wafer. The woman ate the wafer and immediately puked it up. The sick woman evidently received spoiled meat — remember the wafer is literally the flesh of Jesus. What did Mary do? She gathered up the puke-covered Jesus and put him in a bag. Faced with an existential crisis of leaving Jesus in a plastic bag, Mary decided to the eat the puke-covered Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
Lesson of the day? Sincere religious beliefs will make some people do bat-shit crazy stuff.
Those of us raised in Evangelical churches likely remember the Old Testament story about how God fed the Israelites with manna (bread) from heaven during the forty years they spent wandering in the desert (Exodus 16). Every morning, millions of Israelites would arise from their sleep to find the ground covered with God-sent manna. God commanded them to gather up enough manna to feed themselves that day. Any manna left to the next day, the King James Bible says, “bred worms, and stank.” On the sixth day, the Israelites were commanded to gather up a double portion of manna. The seventh day was the Sabbath, and no work was to be done on this day.
In the New Testament, the writer of gospel of John speaks of Jesus being manna sent down from Heaven by God. John 6:48-58:
I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.
All Christian sects believe that there are at least two sacraments: baptism and communion (Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist). In this post, I want to focus on the sacrament of communion. Common to communion practice is the use of wine (or Welch’s grape juice if you are teetotaling Baptist) and bread (crackers, wafers). Often, the bread is unleavened. Roman Catholics, in accordance with John 5:53-56, believe that when they eat a communion wafer they are literally eating the body of Jesus and when drinking the communion wine, believe they are drinking the blood of Jesus (transubstantiation). It is for this reason that priests must consecrate the bread and wine, miraculously changing it into the flesh and blood of the Son of God.
Lutherans take a different approach to communion, one deemed heretical by the Catholic Church (consubstantiation). Lutherans believe that the when they take communion, the wine and bread supernaturally become the body and blood of Jesus without materially changing.
Baptists and other non-Catholic, non-Lutheran sects believe that communion is meant to be a memorial, a reminder of Jesus’ flesh-and-blood sacrifice on the cross. Baptists find justification for their communion belief in Luke 22: 19,20:
And he [Jesus] took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.
Calvinistic Baptists prefer to use Mark 14:22-26 or Matthew 26:26:30 as their communion proof texts because these passages refer to Jesus’ blood being shed for many, thus proving, in their minds, the doctrine of limited atonement (or particular redemption). Nah, nah, nah, Jesus didn’t die for everyone!
Many Christian sects, both Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic, believe that communion is a ‘means of grace’ — a way in which God confirms his grace among his people. Wikipedia’s article on the ‘means of grace’ explains it this way:
The means of grace in Christian theology are those things (the means) through which God gives grace. Just what this grace entails is interpreted in various ways: generally speaking, some see it as God blessing humankind so as to sustain and empower the Christian life; others see it as forgiveness, life, and salvation.
In 1 Corinthians 11:23-32, the Apostle Paul writes to the Church at Corinth about the practice of communion. Here’s what he had to say:
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
In Baptist churches, this passage from 1 Corinthians 11 is often read before churches take communion. Congregants are asked to examine themselves before taking communion, rooting out and exposing any sin in their lives. People who take communion with unconfessed sin on their accounts risk God making them sick or killing them for their disobedience.
In my Calvinistic days, I took the whole “unconfessed sin” very seriously. One Sunday, I preached two sermons on confessing and forsaking sin. Come Sunday night, after I served up a second helping of fear and guilt, it was time for communion. I told the solemn, sober crowd that only those who were willing to confess and forsake ALL sin should take communion. We had a lot of smokers in the church at the time. I said to them, if you are going to go home light up a cigarette after church, then you aren’t serious about forsaking your sin. I went on to mention several other common sins among the faithful, and then I asked those who were ready to take communion to please come forward. No one moved, not even my wife and children. I had so put the “fear” of God in them, that none of them wanted to risk God’s judgment. I quickly closed the service with prayer, knowing that I had to rethink my communion strategy come next week. The next Sunday evening, I apologized to the church, explaining to them that I had taken things too far, and that none of us, including Pastor Bruce, was without sin. Normal communion practice resumed and, as far as I know, God did not afflict anyone with sickness or death.
This is the place where I must confess how big a hypocrite I could be as a pastor. One summer Saturday evening, my sons and I attended a STARS dirt track race at Midway Speedway in Crooksville, Ohio. All the big-name drivers were there, and we arrived early so we could get good seats. Part way through the race, it began to rain, forcing the night’s events to be postponed to Sunday. No, I thought, NOT Sunday. Not the Lord’s Day. Not during the time we held our evening service. I knew I couldn’t skip church. What would everyone think of me if I skipped church to go to a race? I quickly cooked up in my mind a way to “do” church and still make it to the races. I announced during Sunday morning church that we were having an oh, so special Sunday night service at an earlier time. No preaching, no singing; just communion and testimonies about God wondrous saving grace. Sure enough, my scheme worked, allowing us to make it to the rack track on time. I had twinges of guilt over my communion plan, but once the races started, all thoughts of bread and wine faded, and into my nostrils came the sweet, sweet smell of racing fuel.
Christian churches either practice open, close, or closed communion. Open communion churches allow any Christian in attendance to partake of communion. Close communion churches — usually Baptist — only allow Christians of like faith to take communion. For example, a Methodist attending a Baptist church couldn’t take communion, whereas a Baptist who attended a church with similar doctrines and practices could. Churches that practice closed communion only allow members in good standing to take communion. This practice is common among Landmark and Missionary Baptist churches.
In 1994, I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. (See I am a Publican and a Heathen) Community was a Sovereign Grace church, as was Hillburn Drive Grace Baptist Church, a nearby church pastored by Jose Maldonado, a former member of Community. (See Jose Maldonado Says I Never Was a Christian) One Sunday night, I preached at conference held at Hillburn Drive. During the service, the church had communion. I thought, as a visiting pastor and friend, that it would be okay for me to partake of communion. Maldonado came to me and let me know that their church practiced closed communion, so I would not be permitted to join them in communion. Everyone in the building, save me and a friend of mine from Ohio who was also preaching that night, took communion.
Regardless of what the bread/wine is or means or who is allowed to partake, all Christian sects believe that taking communion is essential to Christian faith and practice, and believers who do not take communion are being disobedient to God and his commandments. I should note, in passing, that there are some hyper-dispensationalist Evangelicals who believe that communion was commanded in a previous dispensation and is not to be practiced in this present dispensation. Other than a few outliers, Christians believe communion to be a vital part of their worship of the Christian God. Whether taken (or offered for those who don’t like the use of the word taken) weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, or whenever we get around to it, communion is practiced by hundreds of millions of Christians. Of course, Lutherans think Catholic and Baptist communion is heretical. Catholic think the same about Baptist and Lutheran communion, and Baptists think that all sacraments but theirs are anathema. So much for there being ONE Lord, ONE Faith, and ONE Baptism (Ephesians 4:5).
So, having written the previous 1,800 words, all I really want to know is this: Can someone be a Christian and gluten intolerant?
I know, funny stuff, right?
That’s it! Now you know everything you will ever need to know about communion. I’ll take mine B positive and rare the next time I take communion at a local blood cult.
Archbishop Charles Chaput, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia, reminded civilly divorced and remarried Catholic couples that they are NOT allowed to engage in sexual intercourse. Those who ignore Catholic teaching on divorce and remarriage, according to Archbishop Chaput, and have sex are committing adultery and are not permitted to take communion. CBS News reports:
The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia is closing the door opened by Pope Francis to letting civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion, saying the faithful in his archdiocese can only do so if they abstain from sex and live “as brother and sister.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is known for strongly emphasizing strict adherence to Catholic doctrine, issued a new set of pastoral guidelines for clergy and other leaders in the archdiocese that went into effect July 1. The guidelines reflect a stance taken by St. John Paul II.
Civilly remarried couples must have their previous marriages annulled before they can receive the Sacrament of Penance and eat the body of Christ and drink his blood. Having had a son and daughter-in-law go through the annulment process, I think I can safely say that Catholic marriage annulment is a way for the Church to get around the teachings of the Bible. Using theological sleight of hand and a mountain of paperwork, civilly divorced Catholics can have the Church wave a magic wand over their marriages and VIOLA! the marriage is jettisoned into outer space, never to heard of again. My wife and I, along with several of our older children, had to sign papers of behalf of my son, stating that has past marriage was defective and that he is of good moral character. I signed the papers because my son and daughter-in-law — who are already civilly married — can be viewed as married in the eyes of Church. I told them, at the time, that I thought the whole marriage annulment process was bullshit — a wink-wink, pretend-pretend act that says a previous marriage never took place. The things we do for our children.
It is time for the Catholic Church to enter the 21st century. While some people see Pope Francis as a reformer, patiently dragging Neanderthals such as Archbishop Chaput into the modern era, I tend to see a man who is long on words and short on concrete action. The Pope says all the right things, but within the walls of Catholic Churches things remain just as they have been for the past hundred years. I will believe Pope Francis is a serious reformer when he issues papal decrees allowing women to be priests, same-sex couples to be married, and allows civilly divorced and remarried Catholics to be members in good standing — allowing them to take communion. I will believe the Pope is serious about reform when he roots out every last child abuser from within the Vatican and Catholic parishes. The Pope talks about the importance of good works, yet he himself is long on words and short on works. If Pope Francis wants to show that he truly cares about Catholic parishioners, how about telling Archbishop Chaput to shut the fuck up and stop attacking civilly divorced and remarried couples. And if the Archbishop refuses to obey the Vicar of Christ? Remove him from office. If the Catholic Church ever hopes to stop hemorrhaging members, it must embrace 21st century life, complete with its changing gender roles and sexual practices.
Millions of Roman Catholics are civilly divorced and remarried. Many of them hide their marital past from the church, thus allowing them to take communion. Suggesting as Archbishop Chaput does that these couples should sleep in the same bed night after night without engaging in sexual intercourse is absurd. To avoid adultery, civilly divorced and remarried couples are required to treat each other like siblings. As I read Chaput’s words, “undertaking to live as brother and sister is necessary for the divorced and civilly remarried to receive reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance, which could then open the way to the Eucharist,” I thought, the Catholic Church is promoting incest.
By the way, there are Evangelical sects who hold to a similar view on divorce and remarriage. I plan to write a post on this subject at a later date.