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Tag: Community Baptist Church Elmendorf Texas

“Feeling” God

feeling the holy spirit

One of the proofs given by Evangelicals for the existence of the Christian God is that they “feel” Him in their lives. Countless Evangelicals have said, I KNOW my God is real because He lives in my heart! Among Charismatics and Pentecostals, this “feeling” God is taken to extremes, resulting in speaking in tongues, bodily contortions, and all sorts of physical phenomena. Even among Baptists — especially South of the Mason-Dixon Line, God’s presence can be evidenced by those “feeling” God running the aisles, standing on pews, waving towels/hankies, raising hands, and shouting AMEN!

I have been asked numerous times whether I ever “felt” God in my life. Such questioners want to know if what I had was a head salvation, one rooted in the intellect, and not the “heart.” Never mind the fact that humans do not have “hearts” in the sense that Evangelicals use the word. The Bible, in fact, says, as a man THINKS in his HEART so is he. Biblically speaking, the heart is the mind, the intellect, and not the blood-pumping organ. Who hasn’t heard a sermon about missing heaven by eighteen inches — the distance between the human brain and heart.  That said, when asked if I ever “felt” God, the answer is an emphatic, no-doubt-about-it YES!

Let me give several examples of when I “felt” God.

One of my favorite get-alone-with-God places was the auditorium of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Somerset Baptist was a rural church, and I would, on many occasions over the twelve years I pastored the church, sit in the quiet, empty auditorium and speak out loud to God. On more than a few occasions, I “felt” not only God’s presence, but also God speaking to me.

Another occasion of “feeling” God also took place at Somerset Baptist in November of 1993. Several months prior, Pat Horner and Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, extended to me an invitation to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist. After praying over the matter, I decided God wanted me to stay in Somerset. In November, I was kneeling in my office praying when all of a sudden, I “felt” God’s overwhelming presence. God said to me, I want you to become co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. I began to weep uncontrollably, telling God that I would do whatever it was He wanted me to do. The rest of this story can be found in the series I am a Publican and a Heathen.

Music has played a part in my “feeling” God. Hearing songs such as I Can Only Imagine by MercyMeBecause of Who You Are, Use Me Here, Nails in Your Hands by Everybodyduck, and Who am I, Praise You in This Storm, and Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns, often elicited deep feelings of God’s presence. There were times that I was so overwhelmed by God’s presence that I was weeping uncontrollably and had to pull the car off on the berm until my tears subsided.

I also “felt” God when certain hymns were sung. In particular, singing It is Well With My Soul often resulted in me “feeling” God. It should not be surprising, then, that many Evangelicals “feel” God while engaged in singing praise and worship music. The lyrics and music are deliberately crafted to bring worshipers into the “presence” of God. I have personally witnessed and experienced all sorts of emotional experiences during praise and worship sessions. It was as if God personally showed up and was in the midst of the congregation.

Let me give one more example of “feeling” God. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I preached 4,000+ sermons. There were numerous occasions while I was preaching that I “felt” God, and I could see that others “felt” God too. I have been in services where the presence of God was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. I have seen countless people “feel” God as He took my words and used them for His honor and glory. Or so I thought, anyway.

I know for certain that I have “felt” God and that “feeling” Him was a regular part of my life as a Christian, both before and during my time in the ministry. How, then, do I square this fact with what I now know to be true — that there is no God?  Early in the deconversion process, this question troubled me. I knew that I had “felt” God. I knew for certain that God had visibly and deeply moved me emotionally. Based on these experiences, how could I now say that these intimate connections with God were not what I claimed they were?

Were these experiences real? Of course, they were. I grew up in a religious culture where it was common for people to “feel” God and to have Him speak to them through prayer, Scripture, and the preaching of the Word. God was everywhere, and those who sought Him would find Him. I read numerous books authored by Christian mystics going all the way back to the Puritan era. I desired more than anything to be filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Any honest evaluation of my Evangelical upbringing will conclude that “feeling” God was very much a part of what it meant to be Christian. While salvation rested not on subjective feelings, but the objective words of God, “feeling” God was a reminder that you were God’s child and he was always with you.

Understanding “feeling” God became clearer to me when I examined other emotional experiences in my life. Watching my grandchildren play can, at times, elicit similar feelings, as can making love and having an intimate, quiet night on the town with Polly. Several years ago, Polly and I watched our youngest son graduate from Northwest State Community College and our youngest daughter graduate from Bowling Green State University. As I watched each of them walk the aisle and receive their diplomas, I was overwhelmed emotionally, my mind flooded with gratitude and joy over their accomplishments — accomplishments that would NOT have happened had I remained an Evangelical pastor.

I have similar feelings watching certain movies. The same can be said for sporting events. Years ago, I stopped by a high school track meet to take some photographs. One of the events had a runner who was definitely not as good as the rest of the competitors. I watched as she got farther and farther behind until she was half a track behind everyone else. Yet, while everyone else was cheering the winners, I found myself deeply moved emotionally over the last-place finisher’s determination and grit.

I now know that “feeling” God is as real as other emotional experiences I have had in my life. God need not be real for me to “feel” Him/Her/It. Practitioners of non-Christian religions can share similar experiences of “feeling” their God or being overwhelmed emotionally. Feeling such things are a part of our DNA. Sadly, Evangelicals think that their “feeling” God is objectively true, and all others are false; that there is a BIG difference between “feeling” God and the emotional experiences humans have through relationships and interactions with the natural world. Who among us can look at the star-filled skies and not feel a sense of awe and wonder. Must we believe in God to have such feelings? Of course not. All of us have the capacity to feel, no God needed.

Did you “feel” God as a Christian? How do you explain these experiences now that you no longer believe in God?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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

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

I Am a Publican and a Heathen — Part Five

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

Twenty-seven years have passed since I loaded up my wife and six children and moved us to San Antonio, Texas, so that I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. While I only pastored the church for seven months, I was deeply affected by what took place during this time.

After we returned to Ohio in the fall of 1994, we purchased a fairly new mobile home in the small community of Frazeysburg. I took a job as the general manager of a Charley’s Steakery restaurant at Colony Square Mall in Zanesville. We spent six months in Frazeysburg, six painful months of trying to put our life back together. In March of 1995, we returned to rural northwest Ohio to assume the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Church in Fayette.

The time between leaving Community and returning to northwest Ohio was filled with struggle and darkness. Resigning as co-pastor of Community didn’t put an end to the conflict between Part Horner and me. I was forced to repeatedly answer for what happened by ministerial colleagues and friends. Larry and Linda Johnson, a couple who moved to Texas with us and who remained behind after we left, demanded that I account for my actions. Wanting to openly and honestly respond to them, I gave them a first-person written account of what happened between their pastors. (The Johnson’s are still members of Community.)

Several weeks after sending my letter to Larry and Linda, I received a response. Not really a response, but more of a scathing attack on my character. The Johnson’s had taken my letter to Horner, and after he read it, he took out a red pencil and circled all the times I used the word “I” in the letter. According to the Johnson’s, this was proof that I was prideful. Instead of trying to understand their friend and former pastor, the Johnson’s (up to that point, a thoughtful, kind couple) decided to judge me. Horner had convinced them that I was the problem, that I was filled with pride, that I needed to grovel before him and repent, taking all the blame for what happened between us. That, of course, I was unwilling to do.

It is generally believed at Community that I am a prideful man. And what I write below will likely only reinforce that belief. I concluded a long time ago that Pat Horner poisoned the well when it came to how church members viewed me. He controlled the narrative, and since I was not there to defend myself, he was free to lie about me and distort what really happened between us. I can only imagine what he has said behind closed doors about me. The fact that I am an atheist only reinforces his opinions about me; that the church was justified in excommunicating me; that I never was a True Christian®.

In 2018, Pastor Kyle White and Community published a book titled, A Stone of Remembrance: The 35th Anniversary of Community Baptist Church. Edited by Lynn Tagawa, the book tells a triumphal and sanitized version of the church’s history. I am mentioned one time in the book, albeit my last name is misspelled. What I find interesting is the other places the editor, and by extension Pastor White, refuse to mention me by name or downright distort (lie about) the work I did while I was there.

Did you notice all the first-person pronouns I used in the previous paragraph? I know, I know, I am such a prideful man. Or perhaps I am telling a story from my perspective — you know, a FIRST PERSON account.

On page 20, the book states:

A time of grief was shared in 1994 as the newly called co-pastor determined he could no longer labor among us and suddenly and un-biblically returned to his home in another state. This event left a scar on the ministry but God was gracious to heal the church.

This account, of course, fails to mention who the co-pastor was and why exactly he returned to Ohio. It fails to mention any of what has been detailed in the previous four parts of this series.

The book mentions several ministries that were started in 1994, but fails to mention that I was the driving force behind them. On page 24, the book, for the first and only time, mentions me by name (Bruce Gerenscer), saying that I was one of the principals of the church’s Christian school. This statement is patently false. One of the reasons for my hiring was to help get the school up and running. I had experience operating a private school, so it fell on me to do the things necessary to ready the school for the fifty students it would have that fall. Once everything was in place, I moved on to other projects — mainly evangelistic. At no time was a principal. I provided help and counsel when needed, but the church hired one of its members, Vic Koger, to be the school’s principal.

As I mentioned previously, I started two new churches while I was co-pastor of Community Baptist. In Part Three of this series, I wrote:

I gathered up a few willing church members and we started new Sovereign Grace Baptist churches in Floresville and Stockdale. Every Sunday morning, we would hold a service at Floresville and then drive 20 miles to Stockdale and hold another service. We would then eat lunch together, then hold an evening service at the Floresville church. During the week, I would take groups from Community down to Floresville and Stockdale, knock on doors, evangelize, and invite people to church. While we worked hard to get the churches established, neither church did well attendance-wise.

Having started several churches in Ohio, I was a seasoned church planter. Again, one of the reasons the church hired me was for my church planting skills. Three families, along with Polly and our children, helped me plant these churches. None of the families from Community: Wayne Hendricks, Robert and Vivian Box, and Tim and Ruby Conway, had church planting experience. To put it bluntly, I was the job boss. I organized the services, did most of the preaching, and spent several days every week knocking on doors in Stockdale and Floresville, trying to evangelize sinners and find prospective members. On occasion, members of Community helped with these endeavors. I am not suggesting that starting these churches was a one-man show, but I was the primary mover.

Imagine my surprise, then, to read on page 28:

In 1994, Robert Box was sent with one family to start Stockdale Baptist Church in Stockdale, Texas.

In 1996, Wayne Hendricks was sent with two families to start Grace Baptist Church in Floresville, Texas.

Neither of these claims is true.

Community also produced a video to highlight their 35th anniversary. Some photos were taken from this blog to use in its production, including one of our daughter with Down syndrome, Bethany. Surprisingly, I appear in one photo taken at a nursing home service (another ministry I started). I suspect, however, the photo was used not because I was in it, but because Tim Conway was in the frame.

Video Link

This concludes the I Am a Publican and a Heathen Series. There are many things that happened while I was co-pastor of Community Baptist Church that I have refrained from sharing; personal stories that would cast a negative light on some church members or cause harm. I remain, at heart, a pastor, and these secrets will remain untold (even though telling them would cast me in a better light or provide more context for readers). The overarching story here is the conflict between Pastor Pat Horner and Pastor Bruce Gerencser. I have tried my best to be forthright and honest. I hope this series helps readers understand my life in a fuller way.

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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

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

Bruce, You Were Religious, but Lost

religious but lost

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

I have been told countless times that the reason I am an atheist today is that I never met the R-E-A-L Jesus or that I was religious, but lost.  Several years ago, a man by the name of Ralph Ugarte left a comment in which he let me know that I had met a false Jesus. Filled with pride, as a pastor, I was all about self and good works. On most days — pardon what comes next — I want to tell Fundamentalist zealots such as Ugarte to go fuck themselves with a stick wrapped in barbed wire. Not today. What follows is Ugarte’s comment. By the way, Ugarte came to this site via a search for Tim Conway, pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, Texas. This explains his mention of Pat Horner, the man with whom I had a falling out while he and I co-pastored Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. Conway was a member of Community during my tenure there. (Please read the series I am a Publican and a Heathen.) All told, Ugarte read the aforementioned seriesDear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,  Why I Hate Jesus, and the ABOUT page.

Ugarte wrote:

Hello Mr. Bruce, I have a big problem with a lot of things that you’re saying. I’ve read your series of “I am a Publican and a Heathen” and I understand the problems and controversy you may have had with Pat Horner and some other leaders of the church. What I don’t understand is, what does any of this have to do with Jesus and God?

I also don’t want to place judgement on you, but you kind of placed it on yourself from the things you say, e.g., “RELIGION, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life”, “My being is so intertwined with RELIGION”, “I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in RELIGIOUS work”, “To say that the CHURCH was my life would be an understatement”, “As I have come to see, the CHURCH was actually my MISTRESS, and my adulterous affair with her…”.

The funny thing is, you never mentioned you did these things for Jesus, which kind of completes the puzzle, in that you were just RELIGIOUS. You made the CHURCH and your religious practice your GOD. While in your so-called church, you did the same things and are no different than what you hated in Pat Horner, PRIDEFULNESS. How? Well here’s an example “Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What, do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?” Religion and politics? Is that what Jesus is to you, some religion? Well, here’s some true facts from me. I am not writing you some powerful unknown message. You know the message already, but the truth is that it was never in your heart. You kept it stuck somewhere in your head where your pride layed [sic] and you exalted yourself because you had the opportunity to teach and preach to others. Truth is, the real church was not in San Antonio, Texas as you believed. It is every where within the true servants of Christ throughout the world. Truth is, everyone in that Community was not saved, and those who were, are the true body of Christ. The simplest messages that you should have known and taken to heart years ago got lost somewhere in your religious pride. You became the Pharisees. Then when your local church no longer wanted you, you dump Jesus with it. Please tell me where that decision came from. Where in the bible does it say that the church is above Jesus? You know the scriptures. You’ve read the books. Jesus is the head of the church. So why would you glorify and have an adultress [sic] relationship with the church? How did the church become more important than Jesus? And how could you let that happened?

And yeh, maybe you’re right, “The church robbed me of so much of my life.” Yes, I believed that local church may have done you an injustice by allowing you to preach and teach without confirming your heart and desires to do so were for God alone, but it was also your fault because you fell in love with it. You fell in love with the glory of preaching and being a leader.

The truth is, I was you. I also was a member of a church where I got into arguments with the leaders, but not for the same reason that you did. The church I attended was also full of pride and did not recognize that they were missing the heart of Jesus. I spoke of these things and I was threaten to be excommunicated from the church because they felt I was insulting them and causing divisions. So I decided to leave on my own. And what did I do, I also dumped Jesus with it.

Now years later, I realized that I was wrong. I realized that there is no perfect church in this world. There is no church where everyone within the organized church is truly saved and walks with God 24 hrs a day. That doesn’t exist. So what am I to do.

I now walk with God regardless of what any church says or believes. If I want to know the truth, then I find it myself within the bible or by talking to God. I do attend a local church now, and yes, they are not perfect in their doctrines. Yes, members fall and may still be in bondage and may not be saved with their eyes opened. Yes, all who attend do not fully serve God and carry their cross. But then maybe that’s why I am there, to help others. Not as a so-called leader within the church. Not as a pastor. But as an example of what Christ is. That is how I serve the church of Jesus. I do it for him because he did it for me.

So what’s your excuse now?

The reason I typically no longer answer comments and emails such as this one is that I am tired of explaining myself. No matter what I tell Ugarte, his mind has made up — I was not what I claimed to be. When people won’t allow you to tell your story on your own terms and accept what you say at face value, it is a waste of time trying to convince them that they are wrong. That said, I do think such comments and emails are helpful in showing doubting and questioning Evangelicals the true nature of Fundamentalist Christianity. While I am sure Ugarte thought he was setting me straight, what he has really done is remind people why they are glad they are no longer Christians. Letters and comments such as his help make new atheists, and for that I am grateful.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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

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

I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part Four

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

This series details my experiences as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf Texas. In March 1994, I left a pastorate of eleven years and moved to Texas so I could co-pastor a thriving, growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church. The church was founded by Pat Horner. Horner and I became acquainted through a newsletter I published — The Sovereign Grace Reporter. In March 1993, I packed up my family — five children in the backseat and Polly, seven months pregnant, in the front — and drove to Texas to preach at Community’s annual Bible Conference. Polly and I were enthralled with the church and its growing, motivated, young membership. Later in the year, Horner called and asked me if I would be willing to come and work with him. After talking it over with Polly (and God), I decided that God wanted me to remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church. A few weeks later, in what can only be described as a deeply emotional experience, I change my mind about working with Horner. I telephoned Horner and told him that I believed that God was now telling me to come to Texas. Several weeks later, we drove to Texas to meet with the church membership. They overwhelmingly were in favor of me becoming one of their pastors. Little did I know that less than a year later I would be packing up my family and, with a broken heart, moving back to Ohio.

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

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

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

As I mentioned above, I was in charge of one of the disciplinary meetings. Horner had gone to Mexico for a few weeks to do missionary work, so it was up to me to make sure that the authoritarian machine was firing on all eight cylinders. During this time, I began to have problems with Wayne Hendricks — a man who had been ordained by the church and was supposed to be helping me at the church I planted in Floresville. Hendricks (married to Horner’s sister-in-law, I believe) was unhappy with Horner and with me, revealing, at least in my mind, at the time, that he had a “rebellious” heart. This man was disloyal and refused to submit to pastoral authority, so I determined that the best course of action was to strip him of his ordination. After several conference calls with Horner, in which he agreed with my assessment, I brought the matter before the church and Hendricks was defrocked. He would later humble himself before “God” and have his ordination reinstated. (The very threat of discipline was often enough to get church members to change their behavior.)

In early October 1994, after all the events described in Part Three of this series, Horner decided to bring me before the church for the purposes of discipline and possible ex-communication. Several days before this meeting a few church members pleaded with me to make things right with Horner. They knew that ex-communicating me had nothing to do with sin. This was all about two arrogant, self-righteous, bull-headed men who couldn’t get along with each other, yet I was the one who had to make things right. They knew that this was a power struggle over who would control the church, a power struggle I knew I couldn’t win. And it is for this reason I decided not to attend the disciplinary meeting.

I knew that some church members preferred me over Horner. Many of them found my congenial, at times humorous, preaching appealing. I knew that if I decided to stay in San Antonio and start a new church, that some people would join with me. And it is for this reason that I chose not to stay and start a new church. I can say with a little bit of pride that, over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I never experienced or fomented a church split. Members would come and go, but I never had a large group of people leave at one time with the express purpose of starting a new church. While causing a split at Community would have been in some ways gratifying — a poking of my fingers in the eyes of Pat Horner — I knew that church splits rarely grew into successful, growing congregations.

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

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

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

Horner left Community four years after I did, starting several churches and leaving them. Best I can tell, he is a missionary in India, perhaps Nepal. Pastors Tim Conway and José Maldonado, both former members of Community Baptist Church, have in recent years publicly “exposed” Bruce Gerencser for who he really is. (Please read Jose Maldonado Says I Never Was a Christian and Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser.) Evidently, in their eyes, my current atheism is a threat, and like their former fearless leader, Pat Horner, they want to do what they can to eliminate my influence on others. Sadly, for them anyway, their attempts to do so have miserably failed. This series of posts has been read by tens of thousands of people. In recent years, I have received letters from people who were also disciplined by Horner and Community Baptist Church. While all of these people are still Christians, they appreciated my willingness to shine the light on the horrific disciplinary practices used by many Calvinistic pastors and churches. An untold number of good people have been psychologically harmed by hammer-wielding pastors out to bludgeon them into submission.

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

In 2018, Community Baptist Church celebrated its thirty-fifth anniversary. Community published a book, edited by Lynne Tagawa, detailing their history. I will conclude this series with a review of this book, along with a few comments about a video released by the church at the same time.

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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

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

I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part Three

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

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

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

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

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

After a few months, I gathered up a few willing church members and we started new Sovereign Grace Baptist churches in Floresville and Stockdale. Every Sunday morning, we would hold a service at Floresville and then drive 20 miles to Stockdale and hold another service. We would then eat lunch together, then hold an evening service at the Floresville church. During the week, I would take groups from Community down to Floresville and Stockdale, knock on doors, evangelize, and invite people to church. While we worked hard to get the churches established, neither church did well attendance-wise.

If you have been reading this series you can likely intuit that starting these churches and spending Sundays away from Community allowed me to distance myself from Horner.

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

community baptist church new building
Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas, 1994

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

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

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

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

Several church families begged us to stay. Tim Conway had me come over to his home to talk about the matter. Conway suggested that I stay and start a new church; that several families would be willing to leave Community with me and start a new work. While I was flattered by Conway’s offer, I told him that I could not be part of anything that caused a church split.

Shortly before I left, John Sytsma came to me and suggested that perhaps Horner should be the one to go. But, again, I didn’t want to do anything that caused further harm to the church. Weeks later, all those that were in my corner when we moved went over to Horner’s side. Imagine what would have happened to my family and me had we stayed. I knew that nothing I said or did would make a difference. As the old gambler said, You’ve got to know when to hold em, and know when to fold em. It was definitely time for me to fold my hand.

I am often asked, What happened? I think what happened was that two strong-willed men with very different personalities wanted to own the same piece of real estate. Since we both were quick-tempered, conflict came easily. I regret the conflict, but my time as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church taught me a lot about myself, and I left Texas a very different man. For the first time, I saw what I had become, and I didn’t like what I saw. It was at this point that my Fundamentalism began to die. It was a slow death, but this was the moment when I began to see what Fundamentalism had done to me, and I knew that I needed to change. Unfortunately, Horner is still a Fundamentalist Calvinistic Baptist. In 1998, Horner left Community, started several churches, and last I heard he was working a secular job and doing mission work in (Nepal?) India. Speaking of Horner (and John Sytsma), Lynn Tagawa, editor of A Stone of Remembrance: The 35th Anniversary of Community Baptist Church (2018), states:

During this time [2003-2008] the church experienced the great loss of Pat Horner and John Sytsma from its membership, along with the long time responsibility of overseeing their missionary endeavors.

Why they left is not mentioned. Sytsma is currently an elder at Tim Conway’s church — Grace Community Church in San Antonio.

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

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser